Department stores aim for the middle

Middle-market retailers such as J.C.Penney, Kohl’s, and Dillard’s are locked in a tough battle for back-to-school shoppers, launching new proprietary designer labels to attract attention and raise profit margins. Mid-tier department stores are in third place this season, after discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and high-end luxury stores. “They’re in a tougher position because they don’t compete on price,” said Deloitte retail analyst Stacy Janiak. “But they also have other tools at their disposal.” (Los Angeles Times) Discounter Target, meanwhile, is aiming for fashion-conscious middle-tier shoppers with a series of temporary “pop-up” stores in Manhattan that aim to sell clothes by brand-name designers at low-tier prices. (The New York Times)

France’s GDF Suez buys U.S. power firm

Paris-based GDF Suez, the world’s No. 2 utility, agreed to buy U.S. hydroelectricity producer FirstLight Power Enterprises. According to French newspaper Le Figaro, GDF Suez is paying $1.9 billion for the U.S. firm, which has 15 plants in Connecticut and Massachusetts. (Bloomberg) GDF Suez said the deal will make it the third-largest provider of electricity for businesses in the U.S. (Reuters) GDF Suez yesterday reported a 14 percent rise in first-half profit, to $5 billion, on higher energy prices and strong demand from Europe. ( Separately, No. 2 European oil firm BP said it agreed to buy a quarter of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s Fayetteville Shale natural-gas properties in Arkansas for $1.9 billion. (Bloomberg)

Google steps into Web browser wars

Google is releasing a new Web browser today, jumping into a heated but lopsided fight between Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s growing Firefox browser. The new browser, Chrome, will be available for free download in 100 countries, on the Windows platform. (The New York Times) Its main target is Microsoft, which Google already competes against in Web search, online advertising, e-mail, and other productivity applications. Microsoft just released a test version of IE8, its latest browser, that makes it easier to block ads from Google. In return, Google’s browser is “the first truly serious threat that Microsoft has faced from a well-funded platform,” said analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. (Los Angeles Times)

Fewer viewers, but Hollywood reaps record bounty

The comedy “Tropic Thunder” topped the U.S. box office Labor Day weekend, ending a record-breaking summer haul for the U.S. film industry. Superhero films, notably “The Dark Knight,” brought in 30 percent of the $4.2 billion domestic gross. Still, last weekend was the sixth consecutive shortfall in revenue and audiences, compared with last year. “The summer is ending with a whimper,” said Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo. “The slate is rather weak at this point.” (Los Angeles Times) Overall, movie attendance dropped 4 percent this summer, versus last summer, but higher ticket prices mostly made up for that fall; 20th Century Fox had its worst losing streak in almost a decade. (The New York Times)