Feb. 22 - Summary of business headlines: Hewlett-Packard has yet to staunch the bleeding as computer and printer sales to consumers fall; Toll Brothers posts surprise loss; Existing home sales hit 1-1/2 year high; White House wants to cut corporate taxes; Wall Street sees modest decline. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Earnings at technology company Hewlett-Packard were down from a year ago, but not as deep as feared. Revenues, however, came in at $30 billion, which was down from the same time last year, and was behind the $30.7 billion analysts were looking for. A steep drop-off in consumer-driven sales of computers and printers is to blame. This is HP's first full earnings report since Meg Whitman took over as CEO. In other earnings news, Toll Brothers posted a surprise quarterly loss. The luxury homebuilder was hurt by a rising number of contract cancellations. The results were a shock given modest signs a rebound may have started in the beleaguered housing sector. Existing home sales rose to a 1-1/2 year high in January, pushing inventories to their lowest point since March 2005. But home prices continued to fall as foreclosures made up more than one-third of all purchases last month. Economists, looking at the data, say they were encouraged ahead of the start of the key spring home buying season. The White House wants to cut corporate taxes. According to a proposal by the Obama Administration, the corporate tax rate would be lowered to 28 percent from 35 percent, but in exchange many loopholes will be closed and many deductions taken away. Wall Street, however, was focused on a different number as the S&P 500 failed to hold above a 10-month high, resulting in modest pressure for the Dow and Nasdaq as well. Stocks headed lower across Europe with investors unconvinced the Greek debt crisis has been resolved. Conway Gittens, Reuters