NEW YORK — After a strong opening day, CNN "Moneyline" host Lou Dobbs sagged in the ratings during his first week back on the air competing for the lucrative business news audience.

Dobbs' return is being closely watched by a cable network eager for some good news and a competitor, CNBC, which wants to maintain its edge.

"Moneyline" drew 393,000 viewers for Dobbs' May 14 return, airing 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. EDT. CNBC's "Business Center," had 356,000 viewers during that same hour, and fewer during its entire telecast, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Yet "Moneyline" immediately sank behind "Business Center" for the rest of the week, to a low of 115,000 viewers on Friday, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In head-to-head competition, "Moneyline" averaged 224,400 viewers for the week, below its 262,000 average for the year before Dobbs started. CNBC's average of 326,200 viewers last week was virtually identical to what it had been receiving for the year.

Although the audiences are small, the cable networks fight furiously because the business news viewers are the kind of wealthy consumers that advertisers pay a premium to reach.

Dobbs had said before his return that his competitiveness should be better judged after a year, not a week. CNN executives said "Moneyline" had shown modest growth among the 25-to-54-year-old demographic that it was targeting and was up from its April averages.

"The show is showing very positive signs of growth," CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. "Nobody is expecting a turnaround overnight."

CNBC executives, meanwhile, said they were delighted the curiosity factor seemed to wear off quickly.

"We expected a high (CNN) rating on Monday," said Pamela Thomas-Graham, CNBC's president. "I think that we were quite interested to see how quickly it changed through the week. It's just gratifying to us because it reinforces that people view CNBC as the place to go for information."

Dobbs also drew criticism after The Washington Post reported that he was to receive a fee of at least $30,000 for a speech over the weekend to Ford Motor Co. executives. Dobbs interviewed Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser on "Moneyline" last week.

CNN policy discourages staff from accepting compensation from people they cover for fear that it will create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Dobbs had arranged some speaking dates before rejoining CNN and network management let him keep the commitments, Robinson said.

Dobbs donates all of his speaking fees to charity, she said.

But CNBC spokesman Paul Capelli said the action "lowers the standard of journalism, jeopardizes journalistic integrity and calls into question the journalist's ability to report objectively."

"It's surprisingly inappropriate," he said.

However, CNBC confirmed that one of its own business reporters, Maria Bartiromo, gave a speech to Ford executives in January. Bartiromo accepted no compensation for the engagement, Capelli said. It's not uncommon for network anchors to give speeches and donate the proceeds to charity, Robinson said.

"Lou is a premier business journalist and we have the utmost confidence that Lou and all those who work at CNN will always maintain the highest ethical standards," she said.