Attack on ship sends ripple in oil prices

Oil prices rose sharply Friday on news that a ship under contract to the U.S. Defense Department fired warning shots at two boats in the Persian Gulf. Retail gas prices as expected rose further into record territory, nearing $3.60 a gallon. Crude prices rose on initial reports that a U.S. ship had fired on two Iranian boats; the news raised concerns that a conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces could cut oil supplies from the region. A Navy spokeswoman said the origin of the boats was unclear. The news was enough to send light, sweet crude for June delivery up to $119.55 before the contract retreated to settle up $2.46 at $118.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Consumer confidence plunges to 26-year low

U.S. consumer confidence fell more than forecast in April to a 26-year low as record fuel prices and rising unemployment threatened to reduce spending. The Reuters/University of Michigan sentiment index decreased to 62.6, from 69.5 the previous month. The measure was down from a preliminary estimate of 63.2 issued on April 11. Consumers are growing increasingly anxious because the economy has lost almost a quarter million jobs so far this year, gasoline is up 17 percent and property values have fallen. Sales of houses and cars have declined as a result, contributing to a slowdown that may bring an end to the six-year expansion.

Wachovia will pay $144 million settlement

Wachovia Corp. has agreed to pay an estimated $144 million to settle federal allegations that it failed to stop telemarketers charged with taking advantage of thousands of elderly consumers. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Friday that Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia didn't act quickly enough to block telemarketers and payment processors who maintained their accounts at the bank. The marketers got customers' bank account numbers while selling products including vouchers for discount travel and groceries and medical discount plans. Wachovia did not admit any wrongdoing, but will pay up to $125 million in claims, $8.9 million toward consumer education programs and a $10 million fine.