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Wal-Mart returning layaway in time for holiday season

NEW YORK – After seeing high customer demand for layaway during last year’s winter holiday season, Wal-Mart is expanding the interest-free pay-over-time program for Christmas.

The new program will last a month longer than last year’s and will include more items than the toys and electronics featured last year.

The world’s largest retailer says its mostly lower-income shoppers are still having a hard time stretching their dollars to the next paycheck. A little more than three years into the economic recovery, shoppers, particularly in the low-income bracket, remain particularly hard hit by unemployment and other financial worries.

The return of layaway is also occurring after the discounter, based in Bentonville, Ark., saw its sales momentum slow at its namesake U.S. business according to its latest quarterly results, though business has rebounded from a more than two-year slump.

The announcement, made Monday, also presages what’s expected to be another intensely competitive holiday shopping season where merchants will do whatever it takes to lure shoppers into stores.

“Last year, millions of Americans relied on layaway at Wal-Mart to provide a great Christmas for their families,” said Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart’s U.S. store division, in a statement. “Because of their feedback, we’re offering the service again this year and making it better than ever.”

Early Facebook investor Thiel among insiders selling

NEW YORK – Peter Thiel, one of Facebook’s earliest investors, was among the insiders selling stock in the social network after a lockup expired last week.

A regulatory filing says that Thiel, a former CEO at PayPal, sold about 20 million shares of Facebook through affiliates such as his Founders Fund and other entities last week. The shares were sold on Thursday and Friday for between $19.27 and $20.69.

Thiel first invested $500,000 in Facebook in 2004 and sold 16.8 million shares in the company’s May initial public offering.

Fox to distribute DreamWorks movies

LOS ANGELES – DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the movie studio behind “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar,” said Monday that its films will be distributed by 20th Century Fox starting next year.

The five-year deal replaces an existing distribution agreement DreamWorks has with Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures.

DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said his company will continue to pay an 8 percent fee on gross sales in theatrical and home video markets, the same as its existing deal.

But its fee on such products as online movie rentals and movie downloads will drop to 6 percent as it benefits from the lower cost of delivering digital goods.

DreamWorks will also distribute its content to TV providers in the U.S. without paying a fee through a long-term deal with Netflix Inc.

“This deal is an absolute win-win,” Katzenberg said on a conference call.

DreamWorks’ animated titles will join those of News Corp.’s Fox. Its Blue Sky Studios produced the computer-animated hits “Ice Age” and “Rio.”

Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman said that having one studio release both DreamWorks’ and Fox’s animated titles will help planning and give it some leverage with theater owners.

“It works very well to coordinate it,” he said.