NEW YORK - A closely watched gauge of future economic activity edged up in July, reversing the previous month's decline. The recent erratic pattern reflects uncertainty in a U.S. economy roiled by a credit crunch.

The Conference Board said Monday its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.4 percent in July, as analysts were expecting. The index fell 0.3 percent in June, after rising 0.2 percent in May.

The report is designed to forecast economic activity over the next three to six months.

The index has bounced up and down over the past few months, suggesting that economic growth is likely to continue but at a slower pace. With the latest report, the cumulative change in the index over the past six months has increased 0.1 percent.

The movement of the index over the past few months mirrors the volatility of the financial markets, said Aaron Smith, senior economist with Moody's


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Lowe's Cos., the nation's second largest home improvement chain, said Monday that its second-quarter profit rose 9 percent on higher overall revenue.

The results came in ahead of Wall Street expectations, and its shares rose 6 percent in morning trading.

But its sales fell at stores open at least a year and Lowe's trimmed its earnings outlook for the full year on Monday.

The home improvement market has been slowing amid a slump in the housing sector.

Last week, rival Home Depot Inc., the nation's largest home improvement store chain, said its second-quarter income dropped 14.8 percent. Its same-store sales dropped 5.2 percent.

The Mooresville, N.C.-based retailer said it earned $1.02 billion, or 67 cents a share, for the three months ended Aug. 3, up from $935 million, or 60 cents a share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose to $14.17 billion from $13.39 billion a year earlier.


McLEAN, Va. - Capital One Financial Corp. said Monday it will cut 1,900 jobs and shutter its wholesale mortgage banking business, a move that comes as lenders continue to struggle in the nation's housing and mortgage markets.

Capital One said it will shut down GreenPoint Mortgage and eliminate most of the jobs by the end of year. The company will 'cease residential mortgage origination' effective immediately and close GreenPoint's Novato, Calif., headquarters and 31 locations in 19 states.

The company said it will honor commitments to customers with locked rates who have loans already in the pipeline.

GreenPoint specializes in no-documentation and Alt-A mortgage loans for borrowers with slightly better credit than subprime borrowers. In his memo, Fairbank said that market has seen a 'significant reduction in liquidity and continuing volatility.'


LOS ANGELES - Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, sought to reassure customers Monday that the liquidity problems dogging its mortgage operations were not affecting its banking unit.

The assurance came amid a report that Countrywide has started laying off an undisclosed number of employees as it tries to ride out the credit crunch that has rocked the home loan industry.

The job cuts occurred in Countrywide's Full Spectrum Lending unit, which handles mortgages given to customers with minor credit problems or who can't provide full income documentation required for traditional prime loans, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an internal e-mail sent Friday to employees of that division.

Countrywide Financial spokesman Daniel Weidman did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.


NEW YORK - Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. said Monday it has finally abandoned hopes to acquire the London Stock Exchange and will sell its 31 percent in the U.K. market to focus on a takeover battle for Sweden's OMX AB.

The second-largest U.S. stock exchange had made two attempts to buy the LSE in as many years, each time being soundly rejected by shareholders. Nasdaq executives had maintained they were not interested in selling their stake, holding out hope that some kind of agreement could be worked out amid sweeping consolidation among global exchanges.

Robert Greifeld, Nasdaq's chief executive, said he would use the sale to unlock billions of dollars from the stake. At least $1 billion of the proceeds would be used to retire debt and buy back shares, but some of the cash would likely be pumped into Nasdaq's takeover battle with Borse Dubai to acquire Stockholm-based OMX.


WASHINGTON - The Federal Home Loan Bank system has increased low-cost lending to financial institutions in an effort to bolster credit stability.

As the housing crisis worsens and the Federal Reserve has swooped into the market to ensure liquidity, the 12 regional banks are making more cash available to banks and thrifts that make mortgage loans.

Created by Congress during the Depression, the self-funded home loan bank system has some 8,100 members around the country: banks, savings and loans, and credit unions, predominantly small community lenders. Eight of every 10 U.S. financial institution belongs to the home loan bank system, which is a big player in the $8 trillion home-mortgage market.


ATLANTA - SunTrust Banks said Monday it will cut roughly 2,400 jobs, more than 7 percent of its total work force, by the end of next year.

The company, which said it doesn't expect its sales to be affected by the move, will incur a pretax, one-time charge of $45 million in the third quarter of this year to cover costs associated with the job cuts.

The move is part of several initiatives meant to save on costs and improve value for shareholders. The positions do not involve customer contact, Atlanta-based SunTrust said in a statement.

As of Dec. 31, 2006, there were 33,599 full-time equivalent employees at SunTrust, according to a regulatory filing.

In May, SunTrust said it had sold 9 percent of its holdings in Coca-Cola stock and would decide by the end of the year what to do with its remaining stake.


NEW YORK - Leona Helmsley, the hotelier who went to prison as a tax cheat and was reviled as the 'queen of mean,' died Monday at age 87.

Helmsley died of heart failure at her summer home in Greenwich, Conn., said her publicist, Howard Rubenstein.

Helmsley and her husband, Harry, ran a $5 billion real estate empire that included managing the Empire State Building. She was tried in 1989 on tax evasion charges in a sensational trial that included testimony from disgruntled employees who said she terrorized both menial and executive help at her homes and hotels.

Her image was sealed when a former housekeeper testified that she heard Helmsley say: 'We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.'

She denied having said it, but the words followed her the rest of her life.


By The Associated Press

The Dow industrial average finished up 42.27, or 0.32 percent, at 13,121.35, after seeing 100-point swings higher and lower.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 0.39, or 0.03 percent, to 1,445.55; the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.56, or 0.14 percent, to 2,508.59.

Light, sweet crude for September delivery fell 86 cents to settle at $71.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Natural gas futures plummeted 97 cents, more than 13 percent, to settle at $6.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gasoline prices dropped 10.23 cents, or 5 percent, to settle at $1.9365 a gallon.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures lost 3.64 cents to settle at $1.9631 a gallon.

October Brent crude dropped 59 cents to settle at $69.85 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange in London.