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S&P warns Europe of credit ratings downgrades

Standard & Poor’s on Monday warned that it may strip the eurozone’s two biggest economies, Germany and France, of their top-notch AAA credit ratings as a result of the continent’s economic crisis. The agency also said the ratings of 13 other eurozone countries were vulnerable.

Rumors of the report before the financial markets closed for the day led U.S. Treasuries to rally strongly, the euro to fall back and stocks on Wall Street to give up some of their gains for the day. The report came at the beginning of an important week in Europe, with European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to try to draw a line under the crisis.

But it was also likely to stir up further anger among some European politicians who have argued that previous credit downgrades of countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have worsened the crisis. Standard & Poor’s said it hoped to complete its review of the nations’ credit risks “as soon as possible” following the Brussels summit meeting at the end of this week.

In addition to Germany and France, S&P named the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg as those that could lose their AAA rating.

The agency said the action was “prompted by our belief that systemic stresses in the eurozone have risen in recent weeks to the extent that they now put downward pressure on the credit standing of the eurozone as a whole.”

—Graham Bowley and Julie Creswell, The New York Times

Connecticut town’s graying population part of national trend

SOUTHBURY, Conn. — Judy Plouffe and her mom are big on mother/daughter outings in this picturesque suburb off Interstate 84.

There are Friday pizza nights with their neighbors in Heritage Village, van trips to the Danbury Fair Mall and a full schedule of events at what used to be the town library. Plouffe is partial to the aerobics, pinochle and square dancing there. Her mother, Frances Lefevre, preferred the weightlifting, tai chi and Wii until health problems slowed her down, but she figures she is about ready to get back to some of her favored activities at the old library, and what is now the Southbury Senior Center.

“She does well,” said Plouffe, 64, a retired home health aide who, like her mother, is widowed. “She has problems, but any 92-year-old would. Me, I’m one of the kids around here.”

Elderly people are now a greater portion of the population than at any time since the government began keeping track, and the Northeast, not warm weather retirement meccas like the South and Southwest, has the largest percentage of people 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau.

So Plouffe and her mother have made Southbury an intriguing snapshot of the graying of the U.S. Once dairy farming country, it is now a place where the elderly are not just the dominant demographic but increasingly, the engine of the economy and the focus of town life. For now, it works. Long term, it may get more complicated.

—Peter Applebome, The New York Times

US mail may arrive a bit later

The post office had bad news Monday for all those who like to pop a check into the mail to pay a bill due the next day: Don’t count on it.

The United States Postal Service said it planned to largely eliminate next-day delivery for first-class mail as part of its push to cut costs and reduce its budget deficit. Currently, more than 40 percent of first-class mail is delivered in one day.

The agency said the slower delivery would result from its decision to shut about half of its 487 mail processing centers nationwide. The move is expected to eliminate about 28,000 jobs and increase the distance that mail must travel between post offices and processing centers. It would be the first reduction in delivery standards for first-class mail in 40 years.

Current standards call for delivering first-class mail in one to three days within the continental United States. Under the planned cutbacks, those delivery times would increase to two or three days.

The agency had announced on Sept. 15 that it would begin studying plans to close 252 of its mail processing centers.

On Monday, the Postal Service said it would “move forward” with that plan, with closings to begin as early as March. It also said it was seeking a nonbinding advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission about the closures, although agency officials said they were intent on closing the processing centers as part of a plan to save $3 billion a year by 2015.

—Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times

Astronomers resume search for evidence of life out there

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Thank you for holding, our operators are no longer broke.

Astronomers announced Monday that they had taken ET off hold and resumed searching for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations with a set of radio telescopes in Hat Creek, Calif. The project, part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, was suspended in April when the University of California’s Hat Creek Observatory ran out of money.

Astronomers from the SETI Institute had been using an innovative set of radio telescopes known as the Allen Telescope Array to try to listen in on alien broadcasts from the raft of planets newly found by NASA’s Kepler satellite. Under a new deal — as well as a public fund-raising effort that netted $200,000 — the SETI astronomers will share the telescopes with the Air Force, which is interested in using them to track satellites and space junk.

At 6:18 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday, when the stars in Kepler’s field of view rose in Hat Creek, the array was back on the job, looking for what Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute here called “technosignatures” of any inhabitants of those planets.

—Dennis Overbye, The New York Times