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After 15 years, lawsuit against UBS over Enron collapse is dismissed

A federal judge in Houston has thrown out a lawsuit accusing UBS Group AG of hiding fraud by its client Enron Corp from retail customers, a decision that may end a 15-year legal battle stemming from the energy company's December 2001 bankruptcy. In a 228-page decision on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon said UBS PaineWebber brokerage customers failed to show that the Swiss bank intended to defraud them into buying Enron securities. The customers accused UBS of trying to generate more fees by taking part in five transactions with Enron, such as loans and note offerings, that had no legitimate business purpose, and which were designed to create a facade that Enron was healthy. But the judge said "it was Enron (and its accountants and lawyers) ... that was responsible for using these transactions to 'cook its books,' creating its allegedly fraudulent financial statements," and ultimately defraud the investing public. The plaintiffs failed to specify "exactly what nonpublic, material information the UBS entities knew about Enron, who discovered it, when, how, and under what circumstances and why it was fraudulent," Harmon wrote. Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment. UBS did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The plaintiffs chose to sue independently of other Enron investors who pursued similar claims in nationwide litigation. Harmon dismissed claims against UBS by another group of Enron investors last Aug. 2. A $7.2 billion securities class-action settlement in 2006 with several banks and other defendants over Enron's collapse remains the largest on record.

Once ranked seventh on the Fortune 500 list of large U.S. companies, Enron went bankrupt on Dec. 2, 2001. Its demise led to reforms including the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and was the basis for the Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room."Several executives went to prison, including former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling for fraud and other offenses.

Trump softens immigration stance, takes measured tone in speech WASHINGTON President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House.

White House supports FISA reauthorization for national security : official WASHINGTON The Trump administration supports the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act governing the collection of electronic surveillance, a White House official said on Wednesday.

Murder-carjacking suspect captured in Kansas: police A man accused of killing his girlfriend and another woman in Mississippi last week was captured on Wednesday after he crashed his stolen car while being chased by police on a highway in Kansas, authorities said.

Higher customer traffic boosts Wal Marts sales; margins under pressure

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT. N) on Tuesday reported higher-than-expected U.S. sales, helped by more customer visits to its stores and accelerating online activity, and shares of the world's largest retailer rose more than 3 percent. Investors shrugged off an 8 percent drop in gross profit margins stemming from Wal-Mart's continued efforts to cut prices to make them more competitive, along with discounts offered after the holiday season. The results buck a string of disappointing holiday sales figures from rivals including Target Corp (TGT. N), which reports earnings on Feb. 28. Wal-Mart said it expected earnings per share of 90 cents to $1 for the current quarter and $4.20 to $4.40 for this fiscal year. Analysts' estimates were within both ranges. The company said sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 1.8 percent, excluding fuel price fluctuations, during the fourth quarter ended on Jan. 31. Analysts on average were expecting a 1.3 percent increase in comparable sales, which include e-commerce, according to research firm Consensus Metrix. Under Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon and new e-commerce chief Marc Lore, Wal-Mart has been trying to catch up with online rival Inc (AMZN. O). In October, the company said it would slow the pace of new store openings to focus on expanding its e-commerce business. Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said comparable sales were up at all store formats due to a steady improvement in stores, strong growth from e-commerce and a growing contribution from the online grocery business."We've now seen nine consecutive quarters of traffic growth in our stores," Biggs said on a conference call with reporters. "Clearly, we're gaining traction."

U.S. store visits rose 1.4 percent, compared with a year-earlier increase of 0.7 percent. Despite lower food prices, Biggs said comparable sales rose in Wal-Mart's grocery business, which accounts for nearly 53 percent of overall revenue. A delay in refund checks from the Internal Revenue Service has curbed customer spending somewhat, Biggs said. He still expects comparable sales to rise 1 percent to 1.5 percent in the first quarter ending on April 28. Net income attributable to Wal-Mart fell to $3.76 billion in the fourth quarter from $4.57 billion a year earlier, reflecting the impact from discontinued real estate projects and severance.

Excluding items, earnings per share of $1.30 exceeded the analysts' average estimate of $1.29, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 1 percent to $130.9 billion, with the depreciation of the Mexican peso to the U.S. dollar curbing growth. Excluding currency fluctuations, sales came to $133.6 billion. E-COMMERCE ACCELERATES

Online sales increased 29 percent, accelerating from 20.6 percent in the third quarter. That business added 80 basis points to fourth-quarter comparable sales. Lore said Wal-Mart had a "nice uptick" in online sales after it recently made two-day shipping free in the United States. The retailer will keep looking for acquisitions "wherever it makes sense," he added. Wal-Mart recently acquired online outdoor clothing and gear retailer Moosejaw for $51 million in cash, its third purchase in about six months. The company announced a 2 percent dividend increase to $2.04 a share annually. Shares of Wal-Mart were up 3.5 percent at $71.78 in morning trading. At Friday's close, they had risen 0.4 percent since the start of the year.