JC Penney Hit By New Credit Downgrade

Morning Business Memo:

Everyday pricing at JC Penney may be a disaster, turning off shoppers used to frequent sales. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services is lowering its credit rating on the department store operator. This moves Penney further into junk status, with S&P saying the chain's performance remains weak. Concerns are growing about the firm's ability to turn its business around. Penney posted a bigger-than-expected loss and a 20 percent drop in revenue in the first quarter as shoppers were turned off by a new pricing plan that eliminates hundreds of sales in favor of lower everyday prices. The changes were put in place by a new CEO - former Apple retailing whiz Ron Johnson. He overhauled every aspect of JC Penney's business from pricing to the brands it carries. Analysts expect that the business remains challenging in the current quarter.

It may be the closest thing yet to an official pronouncement that the housing market has finally started getting better - five years after the bubble burst. David Blitzer, chief economist of Standard and Poor's, the company that releases the influential Case-Shiller report, says in most markets prices are rising. The Wall Street Journal reports "the housing market has turned - at last." A survey by Wells Fargo Securities economists finds that even as the recovery slows down "the budding recovery in the housing market appears to be gradually gaining momentum."

But the foreclosure crisis is far from over. Foreclosures fell 11 percent in the first half of this year but RealtyTrac, the firm that tracks the numbers, says banks are increasingly putting troubled property owners on notice for possible action. There could be a rise in auction sales and bank repossessions by early next year. California in particular saw a big spike in homes placed on the foreclosure path for the first time. The Mortgage Bankers Association says about 3 million U.S. homes are behind on their mortgages.

Sparks could fly at a Senate hearing next Tuesday. The Financial Times reports the global bank HSBC is set to apologize to members of a Senate investigative panel "for failing to have appropriate controls in place" to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism. According to the FT, analysts estimate the wrongdoing by the bank may cost it up to $1 billion in fines. The HSBC apology comes a week after the CEO of Barclays was forced to resign after the bank was hit by a huge fine by US and British regulators for attempting to fix LIBOR borrowing rates.

DirectTV has pulled the plug on Viacom Channels, including MTV Nikelodeon and Comedy Central. Direct TV subscribers are caught in the middle of a dispute between the satellite provider and Viacom over how much money is being paid to carry programming.

Richard Davies Business Correspondent ABC NEWS Radio twitter.com/daviesabc