Morning Business Memo:
It's a huge payout, the largest ever to a U.S. financial regulator. One of Britain's largest banks has agreed to pay $340 million to New York State. Standard Chartered will settle allegations that it broke U.S. money laundering laws, hiding illegal transactions with Iran. Benjamin Lawsky, head of New York State's Financial Services Department, accused Standard Chartered of hiding thousands of financial transactions involving Iranian clients. The British bank said it "strongly rejects" how regulators characterized its dealings with Iran, but it agreed to the fine and to monitoring of its risk controls for at least two years.
Cautious may be the best word to describe U.S. consumers. New numbers on loans debt and spending clearly show that Americans are carefully watching their household budgets. Credit card late payments are down to their lowest levels in years. July retail sales rose 0.8 percent, compared with June, the largest increase in five months. "The good news is sales are coming back but off a very low base and we're still digging ourselves out of the trench that we've dug," economist Diane Swonk says. "The strongest sales on a year-over-year basis are in gains in Internet shopping: non-store retailers." Sales at many malls are virtually flat compared with a year ago. But banks are easing up on some restrictions for auto loans, and this has helped lead to a boost in car sales this year.
Facebook shares have tumbled 46 percent since the IPO in May. Many more Facebook shares could soon flood the stock market. Early investors and a handful of directors will become eligible Thursday to sell stock they own in the social networking company. Many Facebook employees have the same right to sell their shares this fall. It's conceivable none of them will sell. But if they do, up to 1.91 billion more shares could flood the stock market, more than four times the 421 million shares that have been trading since Facebook's initial public offering. "Lock-up" periods, which prevent insiders from unloading shares too close to an IPO, generally start to expire 90 days after a stock makes its public debut.
Tobacco companies are fuming over a ruling by Australia's highest court. The world's toughest law on cigarette marketing was upheld, and in December, tobacco companies in Australia will no longer be able to display their colors, brand designs and logos. Packs instead will come in a uniformly drab shade of olive and feature graphic health warnings and images of cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs and sickly children. "This is a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco-related illness. For anyone who has ever lost someone, this is for you," two government ministers said in a statement. "No longer when a smoker pulls out a packet of cigarettes will that packet be a mobile billboard." Global tobacco firms worry the Australian law could set a precedent. They challenged the new rules on the grounds that they violate intellectual property rights and devalue their trademarks.