Business Digest |

Dealer closings may rise 40%

U.S. new-vehicle dealership closures may rise as much as 40 percent this year as slumping sales and surging borrowing costs cut into profits, the National Automobile Dealers Association said Tuesday.

As many as 600 may shut down or consolidate with other dealers, equal to about 3 percent of the total, said Paul Taylor, an economist at the McLean, Va.,-based group. That compares with 430 a year ago. Dealers that sell cars from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler probably will account for the bulk of the closings, Taylor said. Bloomberg News

Consumer Confidence

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index is now at 59.8. That's up slightly from a revised 58.5 in August and higher than analysts expected.

But it's still about half what it was a year ago and near the lowest since the index registered 54.6 in October 1992 when the economy was coming out of a recession.

The Conference Board survey, based on a sample of 5,000 U.S. households, aims at measuring how much faith people have in the job market and in the economy now and over the next six months. Consumer spending represents about two-thirds of all economic activity. The cutoff date for responses was Sept. 23 and didn't capture Monday's stock market plunge. Associated Press

Drug research

Pfizer Inc. is shifting its research focus to diseases that have high potential for big profits and for treatment improvements, such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

The world's biggest drugmaker also is ending new research on conditions from obesity to heart disease, but research on drugs already in late-stage human testing will continue, spokeswoman Liz Power said Tuesday.

Experts said such tweaking of research strategy is standard in the pharmaceutical industry – and needed periodically as new competition and other factors affect revenue. Pfizer expects to spend up to $7.5 billion on research and development this year, a huge budget for the industry. Associated Press

Dexia lifeline

Belgium and France threw Dexia SA, the world's biggest lender to local governments, a $9.2 billion lifeline Tuesday as the widening financial crisis forced governments to prop up institutions across Europe.

Dexia rose 6.1 percent in Brussels trading after Belgium's federal and regional governments, France and the bank's largest shareholders agreed to fund a rescue and ousted CEO Axel Miller and Chairman Pierre Richard.

The capital infusion for Brussels- and Paris-based Dexia comes two days after Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg agreed to inject 11.2 billion euros into Fortis, the largest Belgian financial-services company. Britain seized Bradford & Bingley Plc, the U.K.'s biggest lender to landlords, while Germany bailed out Hypo Real Estate Holding AG.

Bloomberg News