Trade deficit hits high
The U.S. trade deficit ballooned to an all-time high of $617.7 billion last year, pushed by soaring oil prices and Americans' insatiable appetite for everything foreign, from cars to toys and food.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the 2004 imbalance rose 24.4 percent from the previous year and marked the third year in a row that the deficit had set a record. The imbalance with China swelled by 30.5 percent to $162 billion, the highest ever with any country.
For December, the deficit actually shrank. But at $56.4 billion, it still was the second worst monthly showing ever, down 4.9 percent from $59.3 billion in November.
Mortgage rates fall
Rates on 30-year mortgages fell for a sixth consecutive week as lower-than-expected employment gains helped keep the lid on inflation worries.
Freddie Mac's weekly survey of mortgage rates released Thursday showed that rates on 30-year, fixed rate mortgages averaged 5.57 percent for the week ending Feb. 10, down from 5.63 percent last week.
Low mortgage rates propelled sales of both new and existing homes to all-time highs in 2004, the fourth straight year that sales in both categories have set records.
Sara Lee names CEO, plans to sell divisions
Consumer products giant Sara Lee Corp. named a new chief executive officer Thursday and announced plans to sell or spin off businesses accounting for 40 percent of its overall revenue, including its apparel business that includes the Hanes and Playtex brands. The reorganization is aimed at sharpening its focus on its food, beverage and household products.
The company named Brenda Barnes its new chief executive officer, replacing Steve McMillan, who will remain chairman until October when he retires at age 60.
Dell revenue slips on tax-related charge
Helped by big increases in sales overseas and to U.S. businesses, personal computer giant Dell Inc. set a fourth-quarter record for revenue but saw its profit fall because of a tax charge.
Dell said Thursday it earned $667 million or 26 cents per share in the quarter ended Jan. 28, compared to $749 million or 29 cents per share a year earlier.
The results included a tax charge of 11 cents per share, which Dell said it took in anticipation of bringing foreign earnings home. Without the charge, Dell would have earned 37 cents per share.