EU probes Northern Rock bailout

The European Union opened a full investigation into the collapse and subsequent bailout and nationalization of British lender Northern Rock. EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes said it is necessary to determine if the $107 billion in taxpayer subsidies to prop up the bank will make it viable without a “distortion of competition” in the banking sector. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) In the U.S., government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have quietly started requiring a minimum credit score for individual home loans they buy, The Wall Street Journal reported. The minimum score, 580, will reportedly be waived under “documented extenuating circumstances.” (Reuters)

Nissan, Honda buck U.S. car-sales downturn

Shares of Japanese automakers Nissan and Honda rose in Tokyo trading early today, after the two car companies posted U.S. car-sales gains in March while rivals Toyota and the U.S. Big Three reported losses. Nissan car sales rose 6.8 percent in the U.S. in March, while Honda saw a 3.2 percent gain. (MarketWatch) Overall, U.S. car and truck sales dropped 12 percent for the month. ( Small cars fared better than larger ones and trucks. “It’s not because people can’t afford to buy a car,” said Edmunds analyst Jesse Toprak. “It is because they don’t know what’s going to happen and they’ve lost trust in the stability of the economy.” (AP in Yahoo! Finance)

Ervaz gains on rising steel prices

Luxembourg-listed Russian steelmaker Evraz Group, partly owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, posted a 56 percent jump in full-year profit, to $2.14 billion. The record profit narrowly missed analysts’ expectations. Evraz forecast a jump in sales of up to 65 percent in the first half of 2008, boosted by a rise in steel prices and several foreign steel and coal acquisitions. (Bloomberg) The company said it is focused mainly on Russia’s large and growing steel market. But “Evraz has practically become a global company and, after ArcelorMittal, is arguably the world’s most diversified company,” said UralSib Financial Corp analyst Dmitry Smolin. (Reuters)

Time, happiness, and TV

Money and an increased standard of living haven’t noticeably increased our level of happiness. The key to satisfaction, a new study suggests, might be in how we spend our time. People tend to be happier and feel less stress when they are doing “engaging leisure and spiritual activities,” like visiting friends, reading books, and fishing, the study found. But we’ve decreased the amount of time spent on these activities over the past four decades, even though we have more free time at our disposal. The extra time has gone to “neutral downtime,” mainly watching TV—men now spend 17 percent of their day in front of the TV; women, 15 percent. (The Wall Street Journal)