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The news at a glance

Investing: Those disappearing dividends; Mortgages: Freddie Mac’s CEO leaves in a hurry; China: Bribery scandal at Morgan Stanley; Scandals: Arrest in Stanford case; Computers: Apple’s show goes on without Jobs

Investing: Those disappearing dividends“Barely halfway into the year’s first quarter, dividend cuts by the nation’s biggest companies have already broken the record set last quarter,” said Mark Jewell in the Associated Press. In all, 26 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index have cut $16.6 billion in dividends so far this year, eclipsing the $15.9 billion cut during the preceding quarter. Leading the pack is General Electric, which last week slashed its quarterly dividend for the first time since 1938. The 68 percent cut, to 10 cents a share from 31 cents, will save the company $9 billion a year.

Even though GE has plenty of company, said Paul Glaser in The Wall Street Journal, its dividend cut was the real shocker. GE’s dividend was “long considered sacrosanct by investors,” and as recently as February, CEO Jeffrey Immelt dismissed talk of a dividend reduction. His swift reversal, said portfolio manager Eric Boyce, “is egg on his face.” In addition to GE, blue chips JPMorgan Chase, Dow Chemical, Motorola, and Pfizer have all trimmed their payouts, and New York Times Co. has eliminated its dividend entirely.

Mortgages: Freddie Mac’s CEO leaves in a hurryFreddie Mac CEO David Moffett resigned this week, just six months after taking the top job at the government-controlled mortgage financier, said Zachary Goldfarb in The Washington Post. Moffett, the former finance chief at U.S. Bancorp, wants to return to the private sector, Freddie Mac said. But associates said he chafed at “the intense scrutiny by federal regulators and the short leash” they put him on. He never gained “the independence he sought as chief executive,” colleagues said.

China: Bribery scandal at Morgan Stanley Investment bank Morgan Stanley last week fired its top real estate executive in China, after saying it had uncovered evidence that he bribed Chinese officials to win deals, said David Barboza in The New York Times. The fired executive, Garth Peterson, “was a star dealmaker” who led the firm’s charge into Chinese real estate in 2004, “when prices began a spectacular three-year ascent.” The firm’s holdings have recently declined sharply in value, and now the losses are compounded by “a black mark on an otherwise sterling reputation.” Peterson was not available to comment.

Scandals: Arrest in Stanford caseU.S. authorities made their first arrest last week in the case of Stanford Financial Group, which stands accused of selling $8 billion in fraudulent certificates of deposit to 30,000 investors, said Scott Gordon in MSNBC.com. FBI agents arrested Laura Pendergest-Holt, chief investment officer of Stanford Financial, accusing her of lying under oath to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is investigating Stanford. Pendergest-Holt and firm founder Allen Stanford are childhood friends from Mexia, Texas.

Computers: Apple’s show goes on without JobsFor the first time in 10 years, Steve Jobs last week missed Apple Inc.’s annual shareholders’ meeting, said Jon Swartz in USA Today. But “the ailing CEO was not far from the thoughts of investors.” Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, is taking a leave from Apple until June to deal with an unspecified health problem. Apple board member Arthur Levinson said he expects Jobs, 54, to return to the company at the end of June but offered no health updates.

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