Reading mixed expectations

Asian markets closed down for the first time in four trading days, but the mood in the U.S. was mixed as investors prepared to digest fresh data from the manufacturing and automobile sectors. ( European and U.S. traders took some heart from upbeat comments by Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann. In remarks published this morning, Ackermann said he was optimistic that financial markets are steadying after the "turbulent" August. (MarketWatch) Especially for bank stocks, "soothing words are just what's needed," said Daniel Broby of Renaissance Investment Management in London. (Bloomberg)

Sony bets on video downloads

Sony is preparing to enter the digital video download market, just days after announcing it was shuttering its struggling Connect music download service. Last week, Sony also announced plans to sell its Walkman portable video player in the U.S. and Europe. (AP in the International Herald Tribune) The new service, which will integrate with Sony's PlayStation machines, is one of several to take on Apple's winning iPod/iTunes combination. "The real key is going to be who is providing the best high-definition experience for viewers," predict analyst Kurt Scherf at Park Associates. (The Wall Street Journal)

Utility giant in the works

French state-owned utility Gaz de France and Franco-Belgian rival Suez agreed to merge, creating the world's third-largest utility firm. GDF Suez will be worth more than $100 billion. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) To make it a "merger of equals," Suez agreed to spin off 65 percent of its water and waste-management operations. (MarketWatch) French President Nicolas Sarkozy brokered the deal, breaking an 18-month impasse, and the French government will own at least a 35 percent stake. Both companies' shares dropped. "Investors are hardly ever keen on a company with a stake controlled by the state," said Raimund Saxinger at Frankfurt Trust in Frankfurt. (Reuters)

Flipping channels

The slump in the actual real estate market isn't snuffing out real estate-themed shows like TLC's "Flip That House" and cross-channel rival A&E's "Flip This House." Each show draws an average of a million viewers per episode, bringing strong ad revenue, and both have been renewed for a fourth season. A new entrant, Bravo's "Flipping Out," even joined the pack in July. But with shows on foreclosures and money management on tap, the TV networks are hedging their bets. "We thought that personal finance was an interesting space for us to get into," said A&E reality TV executive Robert Sharenow. (Los Angeles Times, free registration required)