PRESS DIGEST - Wall Street Journal - Aug 1

Thu Aug 1, 2013 1:29am EDT

Aug 1 (Reuters) - The following are the top stories in the Wall Street Journal. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

* The U.S. economy registered subpar growth and low inflation in the first half of the year, factors that led the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to keep its easy-money policies in place. The Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at a 1.7 percent annual rate in the second quarter, enough to ease fears of a full-on summertime economic stall, but still a sluggish pace by historic standards. ()

* A federal judge invalidated a rule on fees charged for debit-card transactions, agreeing with retailers' arguments that the Federal Reserve was too lenient on banks when it capped the fees. The decision will likely force the Federal Reserve to slash those fees, further crimping a once-lucrative business for banks and card companies like Visa and MasterCard. ()

* The Obama administration declassified and released documents Wednesday that described past violations of a secret court order by National Security Agency programs set up to amass records on phone calls and Internet transactions. ()

* Economic gains in the United States and upgrades to the nation's energy-transport infrastructure are helping oil shrug off the downturn in other industrial commodities. Crude prices are up 14 percent this year on the New York Mercantile Exchange, despite slowing growth in China and surging production in the United States. ()

* Ambulance company Rural/Metro Corp is preparing for the possibility of a bankruptcy filing within the next couple of weeks, said people familiar with the plans, as it is negotiating with creditors. ()

* United States is pumping more oil and natural gas than it has in decades, but the boom hasn't been enough to prop up the sagging output of America's two biggest energy producers, Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp. ()

* Facebook Inc's stock briefly touched its IPO price of $38 on Wednesday, hitting a marker that felt out of reach in autumn of last year, when the stock was in free fall. While shares eventually drifted lower to settle at $36.80, Facebook is still within striking distance of $38, a fact not lost on Facebook's investors, many of whom were burned in the company's botched IPO. ()

* Activist investor William Ackman's brash move to buy a 9.8 percent stake in Air Products and Chemicals Inc is drawing attention to a large but little understood company that has been struggling with sliding profits as natural gas becomes more expensive. ()

* The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing the way International Business Machines Corp reports sales in its cloud-computing business, the company said in a securities filing on Wednesday. The filing offered no details of what practices in particular the SEC might be questioning. IBM defended its standards, saying its reporting is the result of a rigorous and disciplined process. ()

* Asia-Pacific law firm King & Wood Mallesons is merging with British law firm SJ Berwin LLP, creating a firm with more than 2,700 lawyers in over 30 offices around the world. The combination is a significant move into the British and European legal markets for the company, whose formation in 2012 was the largest law firm merger not to involve a U.S. or U.K. partner.