Is Europe closer to solving its debt mess? Perhaps. But many crucial details still need to be worked out. Twenty-three of the 27 European Union countries have agreed to give up crucial powers over their own budgets in an attempt to overcome the region's crippling debt crisis. But Britain has said no, leading the opposition to a change in the European Union Treaty. British Prime Minister David Cameron declared Britain would never adopt the euro. All 17 members of the single- currency zone will participate in a new intergovernmental agreement on tougher fiscal rules, which include automatic sanctions by the European Commission for those who fail to reduce budget deficits. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the plan. "I have always said, the 17 states of the euro group have to regain credibility," she said. "And I believe with today's decisions this can and will be achieved." U.S. and European stocks rose in response to reports of progress during the European summit.
More signs of life for the U.S. car industry. Ford plans to pay a dividend to shareholders for the first time in more than five years. The automaker says its finances are improving. About half of all U.S. automotive plants that have closed since 1979 are being reused, and much of that activity has come during the recent hard times for the industry and real estate market. The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Center for Automotive Research's report found that of the 267 assembly and parts plants closed during that period, 128 have found or are finding new life.
The Federal Reserve says Americans' household wealth in the summer faced the worst quarterly loss in more than two years. Pension funds, stocks and homes all lost value. Apart from housing, there has been some improvement in the fourth quarter.