Six Nation Debt Downgrade: Morning Business Memo

Another mass downgrade for European government ratings is a reminder the region's debt problems are far from over. Moody's slapped downgrades on six nations, including Italy and Spain. The firm warned Britain, France and Austria they could see their ratings cut in the future. Government debt ratings can play a major role in their borrowing costs because a downgrade often means countries pay higher interest rates on their bonds to attract investors. But there are exceptions. US borrowing rates fell since Standard & Poor's stripped Treasuries of their triple A status last August.

Two corporate giants are responding to longstanding complaints about conditions at suppliers' plants. Apple says an independent non-profit labor association has begun to audit working conditions for overseas employees. Until now Apple has resisted calls for outside scrutiny. Inspections are being carried out at plants in China where many iPhones, iPads and other hot selling Apple products are produced. The company's move could lead to changes throughout the electronics industry.

McDonald's says it will being working with its US pork suppliers to provide plans to phase out the use of stalls that confine pregnant sows. The Humane Society of the United States calls the fast food giant's announcement a major victory in its fight to stop the use of the stalls it considers inhumane. Some of McDonald's suppliers have already announced plans to phase out the stalls.

Two former top financial executives at Bear Stearns have reached settlements with federal regulators over civil charges they misled investors about risky mortgage securities when the housing market was collapsing. The SEC says Ralph Cioffi will pay $800,000 and be barred from the industry for three years, and Matthew Tannin will pay $250,000 and be banned for two years. Neither would admit wrongdoing. During the hearing yesterday, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, who must approve the settlement, called the fines "chump change."

Richard Davies Business Correspondent ABC NEWS Radio

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