Business Tidbits

Documents on Wal-Mart Bribery Released

NEW YORK (AP) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s CEO Mike Duke found out in 2005 that the retailer’s Mexico unit was giving bribes to local officials, according to emails obtained by lawmakers. The emails contradict earlier claims by Wal-Mart senior executives that they weren’t aware of any bribes.

Democratic congressmen Elijah E. Cummings and Henry A. Waxman, who are investigating the bribery charges, released emails Thursday that indicate Duke and other senior Wal-Mart officials were informed several times, starting in 2005, about bribery in Mexico. U.S. law forbids American companies to bribe foreign officials.

The lawmakers shared the emails, which they say they got from a confidential source, with Wal-Mart on Wednesday, and sent a letter to Duke asking for a meeting to discuss them.

Ford’s Souped-Up Dividend Could Lure New Investors

(AP) – Ford may get a longer look from curious investors after rolling out a more souped-up dividend on Thursday.

The nation’s No. 2 automaker is doubling its quarterly payout to 10 cents a share, just nine months after paying its first dividend in more than five years.

The dividend increase is another milestone in Ford’s comeback. It has strengthened its image with customers, along with its balance sheet. Ford is expected to report its fourth consecutive annual profit when it releases earnings in a few weeks. In 2011, the company posted its largest profit since 1998.

U.S. Unemployment Aid Applications Up to 371,000

WASHINGTON (AP) – Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits ticked up slightly last week, the latest sign of slow but consistent gains in the job market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 6,750 to 365,750. It had fallen to a four-year low the previous week.

New Federal Rules Aim to Curb Risky Mortgages

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators for the first time are laying out rules aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay their loans.

The rules unveiled Thursday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on the risky “interest-only” and “no documentation” loans that helped inflate the housing bubble.

Lenders will be required to verify borrowers’ financial records. The rules discourage them from saddling borrowers with debt payments totaling more than 43 percent of their annual income, including credit-card debt and student loans.

Herbalife Defends Itself Against Ackman’s Claims

NEW YORK (AP) – Herbalife came out Thursday against claims made by hedge fund manager William Ackman that the business amounts to a pyramid scheme.

But Ackman didn’t back down, saying that Herbalife “distorted, mischaracterized, and outright ignored large portions” of Pershing Square Capital Management’s December presentation.

Herbalife executives refuted Ackman’s allegations during a meeting earlier in the day, laying out everything from its business operations to its customers.

Critics have questioned the company’s business model, which uses a network of distributors to sell its nutritional supplements and weight-loss products in more than 80 countries.