Consumer borrowing rises; biggest gain in three years

Americans borrowed more money in July than in any other month in more than three years. But they cut back on using their credit cards.

Consumer borrowing rose nearly $12 billion in July, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Greater demand for school and auto loans fueled the increase. A category that measures credit card use fell in July after large increases in May and June.

Total consumer borrowing increased to a seasonally adjusted annual level of $2.45 trillion. That’s barely 2 percent above the four-year low reached in September.

The increase in loans was largely because of a pickup in auto sales, said Troy Davig, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital. The March 11 earthquake in Japan caused a global parts shortage that left many auto dealers without popular models this spring. The supply chain disruptions have eased in recent months.

The category that measures auto loans rose in July by the most in more than six years.

Borrowing is usually a sign of confidence in the economy. Consumers tend to take on more debt when they feel wealthier. But an increase in credit card use can be a sign that people have fallen on harder times.

Maine & Company names DelGreco president and CEO

The Maine & Company economic development group has named Peter DelGreco president and CEO, effective Sept. 15.

DelGreco, the group’s vice president of operations and a staffer since 2004, succeeds Matt Jacobson, who is leaving to be executive vice president of corporate development for the technology firm Resilient Tier-V in Brunswick.

“Peter has been instrumental in attracting businesses to our state,” said Jacobson in a media release. “He brings the right combination of market experience and enthusiasm for doing business in Maine. We have worked closely for the past six years and I can’t think of a more capable person to succeed me.”

DelGreco has a degree in American studies from Colby College and an MBA from the University of Southern Maine.

Maine & Company is a nonprofit group that encourages companies to move to Maine or expand within the state. The group has been involved in Athenahealth’s expansion in Belfast and Carbonite’s expansion in Lewiston.

Google gains local leverage with Zagat guide acquisition

Google Inc. took its biggest step yet in creating original content for its millions of users worldwide, snapping up the restaurant ratings guide Zagat to push into the growing market of online review services that attract major advertising dollars.

The Mountain View, Calif., search giant is hoping Zagat’s ratings and reviews will help it crack local commerce, a market in which it has struggled to find the right strategy.

Zagat, the burgundy-colored pocket guides, have been a restaurant industry staple for the past 29 years.

The acquisition announced Thursday gives Google instant access to reviews, competing against popular websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and CitySearch.

Terms of the Zagat acquisition, including the deal’s price, were not disclosed. It has been reported that the company might fetch as much as $200 million.

Walmart’s layaway program back for the holiday season

Walmart announced Thursday that it is bringing back layaway for the holiday season, part of the big-box behemoth’s ongoing efforts to recover from recent missteps and draw back customers still struggling to make ends meet.

The company had discontinued layaway in 2006, during the heady days before the recession. Layaway allows shoppers to put merchandise on hold and pay for it in installments, and Walmart said that resulted in crowded storerooms and headaches for employees.

Walmart said it will bring back the program starting Oct. 17 for purchases of toys and electronics. As in the previous program, shoppers will have to pay 10 percent of the cost upfront.

Each product on layaway must cost at least $15, and the minimum purchase required is $50. However, Walmart has also added a one-time $5 service charge and a $10 cancellation fee.