Sony and cable providers target set-top boxes

Sony Electronics and six of the top U.S. cable TV providers settled a dispute that had kept TV manufacturers from making sets that include the interactive capabilities of set-top cable boxes. Sony agreed to use the cable industry’s interactive standard, called tru2way, rather than its own. (Chicago Tribune, free registration) TVs and other devices using the Java-based technology will be able to order video-on-demand and record digital video, among other advances. (MarketWatch) Sony saw the writing on the wall, said Richard Doherty at the Envisioneering Group. “Cable is still the big dog,” he said, “and they want to make sure a Sony TV is at the end of that cable.” (Los Angeles Times, free registration)

Realtors agree to share with online rivals

The National Association of Realtors has reached agreement in a legal fight with regulators who accused Realtors of stifling competition from independent, Web-based brokers. The settlement, which needs court approval, will open the Realtors’ centralized home-sale listings to lower-cost online competitors. (The Washington Post, free registration) Realtors charge a 5 percent to 7 percent commission per home sale, while online brokers commonly charge 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent. Home buyers paid $93 billion in commissions in 2006. (Bloomberg) Without access to the multiple-listing services, said Glenn Kelman of online broker, “we’d have died a slow, grisly death.” (Los Angeles Times, free registration)

Burberry profits, and ambitions, rise

British luxury fashion brand Burberry Group reported a 14 percent rise in adjusted annual profit, to $408 million, as consumers continued to buy expensive handbags and trench coats. Burberry’s shares have risen 27 percent in the past two months on unexpectedly strong sales and takeover talks, with U.S. leather purveyor Coach named as a potential buyer. (Reuters) Profits rose 15 percent in the second half of the fiscal year. Burberry said it plans to increase wholesale revenue by 10 percent and increase its own retail space by 13 percent, especially in the U.S. “We are under-penetrated in the U.S. market in terms of the number of stores,” said CFO Stacey Cartwright. (Bloomberg)

Despite costs, bankruptcies are on the rise

Personal bankruptcy filings rose 38 percent last year, to 822,590, despite a 2005 law that makes bankruptcy harder and more expensive. The filings cut across all demographics, and not just people who experienced sudden life changes, like divorce or job loss. Declining housing prices are playing a role, both because homeowners can’t rely on their house for credit and because Chapter 13 filings freeze foreclosure. But it isn’t the only cause. “It is pretty widespread because there are widespread problems in the economy,” said University of Maryland economist Peter Morici. “Americans have been spending 105 percent of their income for the last three or four years.” (The Washington Post, free registration)