NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Here are the top stock market headlines for the morning of Wednesday, March 24, 2010.

Wednesday's Early Headlines

  • Durable Goods Orders Rise as Expected -- New orders for durable goods rose 0.5% last month, compared to forecasts of a 0.6% rise. Excluding transportation, orders rose 0.9% in February, slightly above the 0.6% consensus.
  • Fitch Downgrades Portugal -- Fitch Ratings downgraded Portugal's credit rating to AA- from AA with a negative outlook. The rating still remains in Fitch's "very high quality" range, although news of the downgrade pressured the euro, lifted the U.S. dollar and weighed on gold prices.
  • Bank of America to Reduce Mortgage Principal -- Reuters reports that Bank of America (BAC) will announce plans to start forgiving mortgage loan principal for troubled homeowners who owe more than 120% of their home's value or are battling ever-expanding "negative amortization" loans. Bank of America pledged to offer an "earned principal forgiveness" of up to 30% in two stages, according to a summary of the program obtained by Reuters. First, Bank of America will offer an interest-free forbearance of principal, which can turn into forgiven principal annually over five years if the homeowner stays current on payments. That can bring the loan value back down to 100% of the home's value over five years, Reuters reported, citing the summary as well as sources close to the matter.
  • JPMorgan Could Get $1.4 Billion Tax Refund -- JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is closing in on a deal that would allow it to benefit from a tax refund of as much as $1.4 billion, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The law, which is a little-noticed plank in the economic stimulus bill, allows companies to apply losses from 2008 or 2009 against taxes paid in the previous five years, instead of the previous two years, the newspaper notes.
  • Rio Tinto Shanghai Trial Ends; No Verdict -- The trial in Shanghai of four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto (RTP) on charges of taking bribes and stealing commercial secrets ended Wednesday as expected, though no verdict was announced. Defense lawyer Tao Wuping said the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court finished hearing the case by midday, somewhat earlier than anticipated, because proceedings went very smoothly.
  • MF Global Taps John Corzine -- MF Global (MF) has hired former New Jersey Governor and Goldman Sachs (GS) head John Corzine as its chairman and chief executive. Corzine's appointment is effective immediately.

Wednesday's Earnings Roundup

  • General Mills (GIS) said it had third-quarter adjusted earnings of 97 cents a share, which was above the Thomson Reuters average estimate for a profit of 93 cents a share. Revenue of $3.63 billion was up 2.6% from a year ago and matched the consensus estimate. Looking ahead, General Mills upped its full-year earnings guidance range to $4.57 to $4.59 a share, compared to the consensus of $4.60 a share.
  • Lennar (LEN) reported a first-quarter loss of 4 cents a share, which surprised analysts who expected an average loss of 30 cents a share. Revenue was down 3% from a year ago to $574.4 million, although that was better than estimates.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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