Charleston Classic 2009

South Carolina's Devan Downey drives past La Salle's Kimmani Barrett on Thursday night game during the Charleston Classic basketball tournament held at the College of Charleston.

Grace Beahm

Grim holiday sales likely, reports say

NEW YORK — With Black Friday just around the corner, two new forecasts Wednesday pointed toward a tough holiday season for retailers.

Traffic at retailers is expected to decline 9.9 percent over the holiday season as consumers limit spending, according to a report from ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales and visits to stores, at more than 50,000 U.S. locations.

Meanwhile, total sales are expected to rise 0.1 percent, compared with a 2.5 percent gain during the 2007 holiday shopping season, the firm said.

Fitch Ratings also offered a bleak outlook, saying the 2008 holiday season may be the weakest for retailers over the past two decades. Promotions will be "substantial" and broad-based to boost traffic and clear out inventory, Fitch said.

Rules tweaked for home loan swaps

WASHINGTON — The government will let more borrowers qualify for a new $300 billion program that lets troubled homeowners swap risky loans for more affordable ones.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced changes to expand "Hope for Homeowners." Launched Oct. 1, the program is off to a slow start.

Lenders blamed drawbacks to the program's original design for their lack of participation.

Among complaints: Lenders were required to forgive large portions of defaulting loans. Under new rules, lenders would be allowed to take a smaller loss.

Microsoft open to limited Yahoo deal

BELLEVUE, Wash — Microsoft is no longer interested in buying all of Yahoo, CEO Steve Ballmer said Wednesday, though he told investors that the company would still be "very open" to a collaboration on Internet search.

"Let me be clear," Ballmer said at Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting. "We are done with all acquisition discussions with Yahoo."

Yahoo spurned a takeover bid from Microsoft in May, and later rejected Microsoft's offer to buy only its search engine. Ballmer has said repeatedly of late that the buyout remains off the table.

Upstate employer to expand payroll

FOUNTAIN INN — A Lake Forest, Ill.-based maintenance product supplier said it will add at least 200 jobs at its Upstate plant over five years as part of a $27 million expansion

The Greenville News reported that W.W. Grainger currently employs around 330 workers at its 1 million-square-foot Fountain Inn warehouse, where changes will be made so it can handle more products.

Force Protection Inc. gets new UK order

Ladson-based armored truck maker Force Protection Inc. said Wednesday it has received an order to make and deliver 24 more Cougar vehicles to the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The cost of the vehicles will not exceed $15 million, the company said. The blast-resistant trucks are to be delivered next year. Last week, Force Protection said the British defense agency had ordered 14 more of its Buffalo vehicles.

Both orders are modifications to existing contracts.