Business News

Today's Morning Brief

With four trading days left in 2012, the focus for investors will no doubt be the ongoing "fiscal cliff" issue, with a deadline looming and little else in the way of market-moving news to influence stocks. A positive year is limping to the finish at this point, with the major averages down in three of the past four sessions.

There are no earnings reports on today's calendar, but there will be a few economic reports for investors to consider. The most prominent is out at 9am ET, when the October Case-Shiller report on home prices is released. Economists think the 20-city index will show a 3.7% increase in home prices compared to a year earlier. We'll also get the Mortgage Bankers Association's weekly report on mortgage applications at 7am ET.

One usual Wednesday report will not be out today, due to yesterday's Christmas holiday. The Energy Department's weekly report on oil and gasoline inventories has been pushed back to Friday morning at 11am ET.

We'll be watching retail stocks such as Wal-mart (WMT), Target (TGT), Macy's (M), and others, as holiday spending waned going into Christmas Day. A MasterCard SpendingPulse report says spending growth was just 0.7% from a year ago, the smallest growth since 2008 and well below the 3-4 percent growth that many analysts were expecting.

Some Netflix (NFLX) customers were impacted by a service outage during the Christmas holiday, an incident that Netflix blames on servers operated by (AMZN). Service was disrupted on Christmas Eve, but was fully restored by yesterday morning.

Toyota (TM) is expecting global sales of its Toyota and Lexus brands to be up 2.5% to 8.9 million vehicles in 2013. The automaker has set its 2013 production target at 8.7 million vehicles, about the same as this year.

NYSE Euronext (NYX) is being sued by the New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund over its $8.2 billion deal to be acquired by IntercontinentalExchange. The fund, which holds NYSE Euronext shares, says the deal undervalues the stock.

Facebook's (FB) Instagram unit has been hit by a class action lawsuit, stemming from a change in service terms. The suit accuses the photo sharing service of breach of contract as well as other claims. Facebook says the suit is without merit and that it will fight it vigorously.

Google (GOOG) is cutting into Microsoft's (MSFT) dominance in business applications, according to an article in Today's New York Times. The article says the cloud-based Google Apps service – which had been mostly popular with small businesses – is now being adopted by such large users as Swiss drugmaker Hoffmann-La Roche and the U.S. Interior Department.

Herbalife (HLF) has retained a legal firm to help defend itself against attacks by hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ackman is, in his words, is "enormously short" the stock. He's accused Herbalife of operating a pyramid scheme, but Herbalife characterizes Ackman's stance as a malicious attack.