Business Notes


Humana's profits fall, and so do its shares

Humana Inc. said Monday its third-quarter profit tumbled nearly 40 percent, dragged down by a bitter dose of investment losses and an expected decline in premiums from its Medicare prescription drug plans. The health insurer also lowered its earnings projections for the fourth quarter and full year, but forecast sharply higher earnings next year. Investors were less than pleased, however, sending shares tumbling $5.47, or 15.1 percent, to close at $30.80. In the three months ended Sept. 30, Humana earned $183 million, or $1.09 a share, down from $302.4 million, or $1.78 a share, in the same period last year. Third-quarter results included a loss of $108.3 million, or 40 cents a share, related to a downturn in the company's investment and securities lending portfolios and the sale of distressed financial institution securities.


New home sales rise

Sales of new homes unexpectedly rose last month, as many home buyers seized on builder discounts and rushed to take advantage of expiring down-payment assistance programs and other incentives. Economists had expected sales of new, single-family homes to drop from August levels, but instead they rose 2.7 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 464,000 homes, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Automakers may get aid

Momentum is building in Washington to aid wounded U.S. automakers with cash to help their finance arms and possibly even money to help seal a deal for General Motors Corp. to acquire Chrysler LLC. The U.S. Department of Energy is trying to free up $5 billion of a $25 billion federal loan package to help make the GM-Chrysler deal work, The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site Monday. The White House said Monday that the financing arms of the automakers might be eligible for federal help under the $700 billion financial rescue package.

Wal-Mart chief optimistic about holiday sales

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with its emphasis on low prices and improved merchandise, is stealing market share from competitors and is well-positioned for the holiday season, CEO and President Lee Scott told investors Monday. The company, nevertheless, is scaling back the growth of its namesake stores in the United States and focusing on remodeling existing locations as it responds to a tough consumer spending climate.

Arch Coal triples earnings

Coal producer Arch Coal Inc. said Monday its third-quarter earnings more than tripled, beating Wall Street's expectations. But the miner lowered its earnings outlook for the year, citing near-term softening of coal demand.Yet even with the weakening global economic backdrop, Arch's chairman and chief executive told analysts the St. Louis-based company remained on pace for its best financial showing ever. Arch, one of the world's biggest coal producers, reported net income of $97.8 million, or 68 cents a share, compared with $27.2 million, or 19 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue during the July-through-September period rose to $769.5 million from $599.2 million.

Gas falls another 25 cents

Pump prices continued to tumble in the past week, falling more than 25 cents to a national average of $2.656 a gallon, new government figures show. In some places, gasoline is now selling for less than $2 a gallon. A weekly report released Monday afternoon by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed the Gulf Coast had the lowest prices with an average of $2.46 a gallon, down 27.4 cents in the past week. The Midwest was next lowest at $2.497, followed by the East Coast ($2.684), the Rocky Mountain region ($2.762) and the West Coast ($3.05). Prices have fallen nearly 50 cents in the past two weeks and are down almost 22 cents from a year ago. Nationally, the average price for diesel fuel was $3.288, down 19.4 cents in the past week, the EIA reported.

UPS to deploy hydraulic hybrid vehicles

Shipping giant UPS Inc. is bullish on the prospects of fuel savings and environmental benefits from hydraulic hybrid technology. Officials with the Atlanta-based company announced that they will deploy two new HHVs in Minneapolis in the first quarter of next year. It will then deploy five more of the vehicles later in 2009 and in early 2010. The hybrid system combined with a low-emission diesel engine, yields a 45 percent to 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, UPS said.

Compiled from Staff, wire reports