ECB spends record amount to prop up Italy and Spain

The European Central Bank revealed Monday that it spent $32 billion last week — more than it has ever spent before — propping up the bond markets of Italy and Spain.

News of the big bond purchases came a day before the leaders of Germany and France meet to discuss the debt crisis that has engulfed Europe for more than a year and a half.

Speculation that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be considering proposals for the eurozone to issue jointly guaranteed government debt appear to have been dashed, however.

Today’s meeting in Paris comes after a week of turmoil in financial markets, which was partly blamed on Europe’s sprawling government debt crisis. 

Foreign holdings declined during debt-limit debate

Foreign investors cut their holdings of U.S. Treasury debt in June for the first time since April 2009. The decline came at a time of anxiety about whether the United States would raise its borrowing limit.

China, the biggest buyer of U.S. Treasury debt, increased its investment for a third straight month. But Japan, the second-largest buyer, along with Brazil, Russia, Hong Kong and a group that includes the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Netherlands and the Cayman Islands, cut their investments.

Overall foreign holdings dropped 0.4 percent to $4.5 trillion.

Much of the decline was driven by private investors. 

Lowe’s profits nearly flat amid stagnant demand

Volatile weather and shoppers’ worries about the economy muted demand during Lowe’s key early-summer selling season, leaving its second-quarter net income nearly flat, the nation’s second-largest home improvement retailer said.

Lowe’s Cos. lowered its sales forecast for the second half of its fiscal year due to consumers’ uncertainty. Lowe’s closed seven stores Sunday that it said were underperforming, eliminating 650 jobs.

The company’s net income for the three months that ended July 29 was $830 million, or 64 cents per share. That compares with $832 million, or 58 cents per share, a year earlier. 

U.S. homebuilders remain pessimistic about market

Homebuilders are just as pessimistic about the depressed housing market as they were two years ago.

The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that its index of builder sentiment in August was unchanged at 15. The index has been below 20 for all but one month during the past two years.

Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. It hasn’t hit 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom.

Separate gauges of current single-family home sales and foot traffic of prospective buyers each rose one point this month. But the outlook for sales for the next six months fell two points. 

Time Warner Cable agrees to buy Insight for $3 billion

Time Warner Cable Inc. has struck a deal to acquire Insight Communications Co. for $3 billion. The agreement will add nearly 700,000 cable subscribers to Time Warner’s base of 12 million customers.

Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator behind Comcast Corp. and the fourth-largest multichannel video programming distributor, or MVPD.

For Time Warner Cable, the Insight purchase makes sense because the cable giant already has a strong presence in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, where the majority of Insight’s subscribers live.

Insight is currently owned by the Carlyle Group, Crestview Partners and MidOcean Partners.

— From news service reports