The world’s health when China sneezes

Even before the Olympics start, China is starting to show signs of an economic slowdown, and its effects are being felt around the world. Chinese factory orders are slowing sharply, exports are nearly flat, and the real estate market is growing weaker. These trends, in turn, have contributed to lower worldwide prices for copper, tin, zinc, aluminum, and gasoline. The slowing down of China’s growth, to as low as 9 percent, from 11 percent, is a positive development for global inflation, but a poor one for global growth prospects. “China has slowed down a lot already, but it’s going to slow down more,” said senior China economist Hong Liang at Goldman Sachs. (The New York Times)

Société Générale posts 63 percent profit drop

Société Générale, France’s second-largest bank, reported a 63 percent drop in quarterly profit, to $1 billion. A $290 million loss at its investment banking unit ate away at the higher profits at its international retail banking and consumer credit units. (Reuters) The results beat analysts’ expectations. Société Générale is still reeling from massive trading losses it blames on trader Jerome Kerviel; Kerviel’s assistant was charged as an accomplice yesterday. The bank reported $896 million in credit-related writedowns, less than half the amount from the previous quarter. “The pace of writedowns slowed down,” said analyst Pascal Decque at Natixis Securities. “It’s rather a relief.” (Bloomberg)

Northern Rock reports loss, government pledge

British mortgage lender Northern Rock, in its first earnings report since being nationalized six months ago, said it lost $1.2 billion in the first half of the year. The loss was bigger than analysts had expected. Northern Rock said it repaid more than a third of its debt to the Bank of England during the period. (MarketWatch) Still, the British government is extending up to $5.9 billion to shore up Northern Rock’s capital reserves. (Bloomberg) Britain’s Barclays, also hit by the housing crunch, agreed to sell its life insurance business to Swiss Re for $1.48 billion in cash. Swiss Re reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit of about $570 million. (Reuters)

A place reserved for women, sort of

The female-only hotel floor is making a comeback, after a quarter-century absence, but among the modifications is that men can often book rooms there, too. Floors for women travelers at the new Crowne Plaza Milwaukee and the Millennium Premier Hotel in New York’s Times square offer amenities like Victoria’s Secret robes, hair dryers, yoga mats, and spa services. Not all women are impressed. “Women don’t aspire to be isolated after working years to be assimilated,” says former Wyndham Hotels vice president Cary Broussard. Other hotels, sensitive to the criticism, are offering women special rooms on the traditionally male “concierge” floors, for an extra $40. (The New York Times)