Life looks a little brighter at General Electric (GE) these days. On Nov. 19, CEO Jeffrey Immelt said that even though earnings may remain somewhat flat or even drop next year, GE should return to double-digit earnings growth in 2005. GE last had double-digit annual earnings growth in 2001, the year legendary Chairman Jack Welch retired. Immelt, who stepped into the top job days before the September 11 terrorist attacks, has beefed up GE's lucrative NBC and Medical Systems units with major acquisitions in recent months. Now, he's planning to spin off most of its life and mortgage insurance operations. "We have built a stronger company with a faster-growth set of businesses," Immelt said in a conference call. "GE is in great shape." John Inch of Merrill Lynch (MER) agrees the business mix is better, having upgraded the stock to a buy on Nov. 18. And optimistic investors sent shares up 3.6%, to $29.47, that day, demonstrating their belief that GE may finally bring good things back to life. For years, investors have been warned to tread carefully in the lightly regulated area of foreign-currency trading -- and on Nov. 19, the magnitude of the problem became clear. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced eight indictments against 47 alleged currency-scam artists who were accused of bilking investors out of "tens of millions" of dollars. Among the victims of the criminal transactions were UBS (UBS) and J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM). UBS said that it is conducting its own review, while J.P. Morgan declined to comment. The indictments stemmed from an 18-month undercover operation. According to prosecutors, the alleged scams were comparatively simple: Most customers were sold currencies by traders who simply took clients' money and never executed any trades for them. Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz has cleared Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, of conflict-of-interest allegations. The report concluded that Perle wasn't breaking the law when he represented several businesses before the government while he was chairman of the panel, which makes policy recommendations to the Pentagon. Schmitz said that Perle hadn't worked the required 60 days for the government for ethics rules for outside advisers to apply. Nor had Perle represented the firms in matters that were brought before him at the board. Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) says he will propose a bill to close some of the loopholes he believes the case highlights. Is Christmas doomed? Investors drove shares of Toys 'R' Us (TOY) to a low of $10.37 after the company said on Nov. 17 that it might not achieve the $1.15 earnings per share it expected this year. The retailer is giving up on two money-losing chains -- Kids 'R' Us (TOY) clothing stores and Imaginarium (TOY) -- and will take a $280 million charge to close 182 stores and three distribution centers. But the worst news came from its core toy stores, where sales at units open a year or more declined 3% in the third quarter. Rival Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) started discounting its toys in September. CEO John Elyer, who has spent hundreds of millions trying to improve Toys 'R' Us, said the results were "disappointing." Giving further credence to the tech recovery, Hewlett-Packard on Nov. 19 blew past analysts' expectations with its fiscal fourth-quarter results. The computing behemoth more than doubled net profits to $862 million, while revenues gained 10%, to $19.9 billion. Just as important, Hewlett-Packard achieved its objective of delivering operating profits in its enterprise and personal systems divisions. This led CEO Carleton "Carly" Fiorina to describe the quarter as "by far our strongest" since the company's merger with Compaq Computer. -- A task force blamed Ohio's FirstEnergy for the Aug. 14 blackout.
-- Wal-Mart named Charlyn Jarrells Porter to lead its new Office of Diversity.
-- Charles Schwab (SCH) is buying SoundView Technology for $321 million. Rebounding online advertising has investors looking twice at DoubleClick (DCLK), the largest provider of interactive ad services. Its shares climbed 9.8%, to $8.51, on Nov. 19, after Smith Barney Citigroup (C) analyst Lanny Baker raised his rating from sell to buy.