- - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

HOUSING

Cash purchases help raise home sales

Investors lifted U.S. home sales last month, plunking down cash to grab cheap homes at risk of foreclosure. But purchases made by first-time homebuyers fell, a troubling sign for the weak housing market.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.1 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. That is a 3.7 percent increase from the February pace, but far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market.

Foreclosures or short sales — when the lender agrees to accept less than what is owed on the mortgage — rose to make up 40 percent of all purchases. Deals made entirely in cash accounted for 35 percent of all resold homes. The Realtors group says that’s the biggest percentage since it has been tracking all-cash sales.

TECHNOLOGY

Libraries to lend e-books on Kindle

NEW YORK | Owners of the Kindle from Amazon.com will be able to download e-books from 11,000 U.S. libraries later this year, the company said Wednesday.

Most U.S. libraries already provide e-books, which work with nearly all e-readers except the Kindle. E-readers are also accessible on many smartphones and tablets such as the iPad.

Amazon.com Inc. says it is working with OverDrive Inc., which runs e-book systems for public libraries, to make the system compatible with the Kindle.

According to OverDrive, Kindle e-books will have the same lending terms as existing library e-books. Most libraries lend their books for three weeks at a time. The e-books on Kindle will no longer open after that period.

OIL

Crude settles above $111 per barrel

NEW YORK | Oil settled above $111 per barrel Wednesday as the dollar weakened and the government reported an unexpected drop in U.S. crude supplies. Gas pump prices also edged higher to $3.84 for a gallon of regular.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil for June delivery gained $3.17 to settle at $111.45 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price of oil has increased 20 percent since the beginning of the year as investors anticipated rising global demand and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East threatened oil fields and shipping lanes that are vital to world supply.

The surge in oil has cooled as industry groups monitored the effect of higher prices on petroleum demand and the global economy. The International Energy Agency, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and others have said that they see signs that consumers are using less fuel as prices rise. In the U.S., retail surveys by MasterCard SpendingPulse indicate that motorists have cut back on gasoline purchases for the past seven weeks.

AUTO

Hyundai to guarantee trade-in value of new cars

NEW YORK | Hyundai Motor Co. said Wednesday that it will guarantee the trade-in price of new cars sold in the U.S. starting May 1.

Analysts said it’s the first time an auto company has made such a guarantee. Although the program probably won’t cost Hyundai much, it likely will increase the number of return customers to the brand, since buyers can apply the trade-in value only to new Hyundais.

The company will guarantee the value of a car that is traded in after two, three or four years.

The offer is the most recent in a series of innovative marketing programs from the automaker, which surprised the industry in 1999 with a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. The company recently ended a program that promised to buy back cars if the buyers lost their jobs. It was called the Hyundai Assurance Program.

ELECTRIC CARS

Nissan to take new orders for Leaf

NEW YORK | Nissan Motor Co. will resume taking U.S. reservations for its Leaf electric car on May 1, Nissan Americas Chairman Carlos Tavares said Wednesday.

Mr. Tavares said Leaf production remains on track despite the March 11 earthquake that devastated Japan and briefly closed the plant where the Leaf is made. The first shipment of Leafs made after the earthquake is due to arrive in Los Angeles next week, he said. There are 127 Leafs on that ship.

Nissan stopped taking U.S. reservations for the Leaf in September when it reached 20,000 reservations. The Leaf went on sale in December, and the company has delivered about 500 Leafs to U.S. buyers so far, Mr. Tavares said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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