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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

$8.62 billion pulled out from bond mutual funds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Investors retreated from bond mutual funds last week at the highest level in two years, pulling out $8.62 billion in the week ended Dec. 15, the Investment Company Institute said Wednesday.

That's the largest single-week pullback from bonds since the week ending Oct. 15, 2008, when investors took out $17.60 billion.

The trend is driven mostly by an uptick in interest rates, which drives bond prices down.

"The pullback in demand from bonds happens when bond prices start to go down. They look a lot less attractive particularly since stocks have been going up a little," said Loren Fox, senior research analyst at New York-based Strategic Insight, a mutual fund industry consultant.

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Sony launches music service

TOKYO (AP) -- Sony Corp. on Wednesday launched a music streaming service in a bid to boost sales of its consumer electronics and break Apple's dominance of the online music business.

The Japanese company's "Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity" is a digital music service based on cloud technology that does not involve downloading tracks like Apple's iTunes, which started in 2001.

Instead, a subscription gives users access to a catalog of about 6 million songs, which can be streamed across Sony's Internet-connected devices like the PlayStation 3, personal computers and Bravia TVs. The service can be synchronized with a user's existing music files, including iTunes, Sony said.

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Skype hit by outage

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Internet calling service Skype SA was experiencing an outage Wednesday, though it was not immediately clear how many of its millions of users were affected. The company said in the afternoon that it was fixing the problem and it expected service would return in several hours.

A little before noon EST, Skype tweeted on its Twitter feed that some users might have trouble signing in to its service and that it was looking into the cause. Two hours later, Skype said its engineers and site operations team were working to fix a problem.

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6 banks repay on bailout

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Treasury Department says six banks have repaid government bailouts worth a combined $2.66 billion.

The banks are returning taxpayer money that they received in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

The banks that repaid their bailouts on Wednesday are Huntington Bancshares, First Horizon National Corp., Wintrust Financial Corp., Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., Heritage Financial Corp. and the Bank of Kentucky Financial Corp.

Treasury requires banks wishing to repay their bailouts to raise money from private investors first. That shows that the banks are strong enough to stand on their own.

The banks also paid the government a total of $13.7 million in dividends that they owed in exchange for the loans.

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Bank ends marketing deal

First Niagara Financial Group has terminated its marketing relationship with an Albany-area mortgage brokerage that operated under the bank's moniker, after deciding instead to build out its own sales team in eastern New York.

The Buffalo-based bank has been working with Homestead Funding Corp. for the past five years to provide "outsourced" mortgage loans to the bank's customers in the Capital District under the name First Niagara Mortgage.

At the same time, the bank maintained its own sales force throughout its branch network in other parts of the state and now in Pennsylvania.

However, with the bank's rapid expansion in the last two years -- first in Pennsylvania and now in New England with a pending merger -- executives decided to move to one sales system. So the bank developed its own team of mortgage lenders in the Albany area that are directly employed by First Niagara, and canceled the agreement with Homestead under which it used the bank's name.

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