Visa draws $17.9 billion in record IPO

Credit card giant Visa Inc. sold 406 million shares in its initial public offering at a higher-than-expected $44 apiece, raising $17.9 billion. The shares start trading today under the ticker symbol “V”. Visa easily topped the previous top U.S. IPO, AT&T Wireless’s $10.6 billion offering in 2000. (Bloomberg) Visa makes its money from credit and debit card transaction fees, and doesn’t carry consumer debt on its books. That makes it well-positioned to thrive in a downturn, analysts say, especially if people rely more on credit cards to get by. “Even if people can’t pay back the debt, Visa still makes money,” said Aite Group analyst Gwenn Bezard. “It’s a very attractive company.” (AP in Yahoo! Finance)

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China Mobile soars, Sony Ericcson warns

China Mobile, the world’s largest phone carrier, reported a 37 percent jump in quarterly profits, to a better-than-forecast $3.8 billion. China Mobile has about 370 million subscribers—more than the U.S. population—and plans to sign up an additional 80 million this year. The jump in customers comes as growing prosperity in urban areas is spreading out to rural China. (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, slower growth in Europe’s cellphone market caused Sony Ericcson to warn that its first-quarter earnings could fall by half, to about $237 million. “When consumer uncertainty increases,” said analyst Janne Rantanen at Swedish bank Carnegie, cellphone buyers “postpone purchases or buy lower-end models.” (Reuters)

U.S. wireless spectrum reaps $19.6 billion

The U.S. auction of a block of the radio spectrum brought in a record $19.6 billion in bids. The winners, mostly wireless companies, were not immediately identified. (The Washington Post, free registration) The 700-megahertz band will be freed up as TV broadcasters switch to digital service. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Google were among the bidders in the blind auction; Verizon was seen winning the valuable “C” block for $4.74 billion. (Reuters) The new spectrum allows carriers to “add capacity and extend their nationwide footprints,” said RBC Capital analyst Jonathan Atkin, and also “start building out 4G,” or the powerful next-generation of wireless service. (Bloomberg)

Switching sides, for jobs and redemption

As home foreclosures mount, some of the mortgage brokers and loan officers who contributed to lax lending have switched careers—to mortgage counselors. The new careers are partly due to layoffs in the mortgage industry, and the related boom in nonprofits trying to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, but ex-brokers also say they like helping people. Mortgage industry refugees often make very effective advocates for distressed homeowners, but it can be a tough sell to overcome mistrust on the nonprofit side. “Not all of us ate our own young and spat out the blood,” former broker Bill Whitehouse told his current boss at one Boston-based nonprofit. (The Wall Street Journal)

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