BUS BRIEFS Report suggests economic recovery cooling

NEW YORK -- A closely watched barometer of future economic activity fell in September for the fourth consecutive month, suggesting that the recovery might be cooling. A separate report from the Labor Department, however, suggested modest improvement in the job market.

The Conference Board, a private research group based in New York, said Thursday that its Index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.1 percent last month, following declines of 0.3 percent each in August and July and 0.1 percent in June.

The index is a composite of economic measures such as manufacturing and interest rates, and is considered a good indicator of where the economy is headed over the next three to six months.

More fines possible for Qwest

DENVER -- U.S. prosecutors said Thursday Qwest Communications isn't off the hook, even though the company agreed to a $250 million civil fine for its "addiction" to fraudulent accounting.


The Securities and Exchange Commission set the fine, accusing senior managers of directing a scheme to record one-time revenue from the sale of assets as recurring revenue from operations.

After the settlement was announced, Denver U.S. attorney's spokesman Jeff Dorchner said federal prosecutors are still investigating the company for possible criminal violations.

Dorchner said the investigation includes the SEC's allegations, but he declined to say whether it was broader.

Google post-IPO earnings surprise skeptics

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google Inc. is making everyone who snubbed its unconventional initial public offering of stock regret their decision.

In the latest rebuke to its skeptics, Google wowed Wall Street with its first quarterly earnings report as a public company, propelled by a continued surge in online advertising distributed by its Internet-leading search engine.

The Mountain View-based company said Thursday that it earned $52 million, or 19 cents per share, during the three months ended in September. That compared to $20.4 million, or 8 cents per share, at the same time last year.

The quarter offered Google the first chance to demonstrate how the company held up during a much-scrutinized IPO that has turned hundreds of its employees into millionaires. Investors were impressed with what they saw: shares of Google surged 12 percent, or $17.77, to $167.15 in early Friday trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Google released its results after the stock market closed Thursday.


AT&T; reports gargantuan 3rd-quarter loss

NEW YORK -- AT&T; Corp. lost $7.12 billion in the third quarter as the company absorbed its jolting retreat from the consumer local and long distance telephone business. A top beneficiary of that withdrawal, SBC Communications Inc., posted a profit of $2.09 billion, inflated by the sale of a phone book publishing operation.

The loss of $8.95 per share AT&T; reported Thursday was largely the result of a charge of $12.47 billion to write down the book value of AT&T's; telephone network now that it's expected to generate far less revenue.

The charge, which AT&T; warned of two weeks ago, also included severance costs for the elimination of at least 7,500 more jobs tied to the consumer pullback and the continuing struggles of its business services unit.

Excluding the charges and a related tax benefit of $4.38 billion, AT&T; would have reported a profit of $262 million, or 33 cents a share. In the same quarter last year, AT&T; earned $418 million. Despite the loss, AT&T; surpassed Wall Street's deflated expectations for both revenues and savings from cost-cutting efforts.

Microsoft first-quarter earnings up 11%

SEATTLE -- Microsoft Corp. said its fiscal first-quarter earnings rose 11 percent, beating analysts' expectations, as the software company benefited from stronger-than-expected computer and server shipments.

But company shares fell slightly in after-hours trading Thursday as analysts expressed concern about the prospects for long-term corporate contracts and the lengthy wait for a new version of Windows.


For the three months ended Sept. 30, the Redmond-based company reported earnings of $2.9 billion, or 27 cents per share, compared with earnings of $2.61 billion, or 24 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

HCA posts 26% drop in 3rd-quarter earnings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital operator, reported today that earnings fell 26 percent in the third quarter, in line with a lowered outlook released last week.

Nine days after warning investors that hurricanes, uninsured patients and a decline in per-patient income were hurting the bottom line, the Nashville-based company posted net income of $227 million, or 47 cents per share, on revenues of $5.8 billion. Before the bad news, analysts had been expecting earnings of 60 cents a share.

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