Business News You Need Today: Aug. 17, 2010


Here's news from the business world and other money matters to watch out for Tuesday (last updated at 7:28 a.m. Eastern time):

Housing Finance Reform Set To Begin: Mortgages were at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis. And despite numerous pieces of legislation that have been debated and signed into law during President Obama's first term, reforming housing finance laws -- including what to do about giant mortgage-backers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- remains a task yet tackled. But as DailyFinance's Dan Burrows reports, the Obama administration today takes the first step in that process, holding a public forum on how mortgages are financed in the U.S.

GM IPO Still Looms: Reports suggest General Motors could file papers with regulators to begin its much-anticipated initial public offering today. The IPO had been expected as soon as last Friday, but news Thursday that current CEO Edward Whitacre would be stepping down Sept. 1 likely delayed the filing. GM is expected to file an initial $100 million prospectus. How much U.S. taxpayers will get back of their $61 billion investment in the Detroit auto giant will be determined later this year, when GM's stock hits Wall Street.

Business Lending Loosening: The economic recovery has been stifled in part by the unwillingness of banks to lend money to small businesses. A new report by the Federal Reserve, however, shows that banks have eased lending standards for small businesses for the first time in nearly four years. In the new survey, which the agency released Monday, the Fed found that the loosening of loan standards was occurring primarily at the country's largest domestic banks.

Net Neutrality Debate Rages On: In the wake of reports of a deal struck between Google (GOOG) and Verizon Communications (VZ), critics of the companies' plan to alter current "net neutrality" standards have accused the search-engine giant of going over to the dark side. But as DailyFinance's Sam Gustin reports, the agreement reached between the corporate giants offers a pragmatic solution in dealing with the increasing demand for bandwidth on the nation's Internet superhighway.

German Economy Set For Expansion: Germany's economic outlook is getting brighter. That's the latest assessment by the country's economics ministry, which credits upbeat sentiment from manufacturers and services companies. "The course for the next months is set on expansion," the ministry said in its August monthly report, released Tuesday. Still, it stressed that Europe's largest economy remains dependent on foreign demand. Last week, Germany reported strong 2.2% growth in the second quarter, the highest in 20 years.

Aegon To Repay Dutch Gov't: Aegon (AEG) has reached a deal with European Union regulators to repay the €2 billion ($2.56 billion) in support it received from the Dutch government at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, the insurer said Tuesday. Aegon said it will repay the money, "market conditions permitting," by the end of 2011, including a payment of €500 million this month. As part of the deal the company will keep its dividends frozen and not pursue any acquisitions until the money is paid back, the Associated Press reported.

Clothing Prices May Rise: Cotton prices have been on a tear in recent weeks, hitting $85 a bale Friday, up from $75 a bale last month. U.S. cotton farmers are well-placed to take advantage of the higher commodity prices, following natural disasters that have limited crop yields in Pakistan and Russia. But while higher prices are good news for farmers, it may mean consumers will pay more for T-shirts, jeans and other cotton goods.

Harvard Tops 'Best Colleges' List: Latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report show that Harvard University regained sole ownership of the top spot in the magazine's annual survey of the nation's top colleges. Last year, Harvard and Princeton University tied for first. On the 2011 list, however, Princeton fell to No. 2. Yale and Columbia universities took third and fourth place, respectively, while Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania tied for fifth. Rounding out the top 10 are California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, Duke University and University of Chicago.