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Economy Briefs

- - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CONSUMERS

Confidence index rises in April

NEW YORK | Americans' confidence in the economy grew in April as fears about the job market eased, outweighing the pain from rising prices at the gas pump.

The increase comes after an unexpected drop in March. But the measure had risen for five consecutive months before that to hit a three-year high in February.

The Conference Board said Tuesday the index rose to 65.4 from a revised 63.8 in March. Economists expected a smaller rise to 64.8, according to FactSet.

The index is still far from the reading of 90 that indicates a healthy economy. It hasn't approached that level since the recession began in December 2007, even though the recession officially ended in June 2009.

Still, the index's 40-point increase since its all-time low of 25.3 in February 2009 reflects how far the economy has come.

HOUSING

Home prices fall in most major cities

Home prices are falling in most major U.S. cities, and at least 10 major markets are at their lowest point since the housing bubble burst.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index showed home prices declined in 19 metro areas from January to February and 11 markets experienced faster price declines compared with the previous month.

The index, which was released Tuesday, fell for the seventh straight month. It is slightly above the level hit in April 2009, the lowest point since the bubble burst. Analysts expect the March index will fall past the low point.

High unemployment, stricter lending rules and fears that prices will fall further are among the reasons why few people are buying and selling homes. A record number of foreclosures are forcing down home prices in most metro areas, and prices are expected to keep falling through this year.

INTERNET

Deals program launched on Facebook

The world's social media monster has set its sights on one of the hottest business models in e-commerce, as Facebook took its first steps to cash in on the profitable bulk-discount formula pioneered by Groupon.

Facebook launched a deals program Tuesday in five U.S. cities, following on the popularity of Groupon and other services that offer deep discounts -- for example: $50 worth of food at a local eatery for $25.

By allowing small businesses to leverage the Internet while helping consumers score great deals, these group-couponing services have become some of the fastest-growing businesses in the world.

Facebook now wants a part of that. It hopes to exploit its existing networks of friends and family when it begins testing offers in San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas and Austin, Texas.

AUTO

Ford posts best 1st-quarter profit in 13 years

DETROIT | Ford posted its best first-quarter profit in 13 years, as its new, more fuel-efficient vehicles reached showrooms during a surge in gasoline prices.

New arrivals such as the Ford Explorer and Fiesta small car are selling well. Company profits are growing around the world. And Ford is charging more for its cars, helping offset higher commodity costs.

Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said its profit jumped 22 percent to $2.6 billion profit, its best first-quarter performance since 1998. It was the company's eighth straight quarterly profit in its long climb back from near-bankruptcy five years ago.

Ford's quarterly revenues rose 18 percent to $33.1 billion, far higher than the $30.5 billion analysts were projecting.

RECALL

Toyota recalls 51,000 Tundra trucks

TORRANCE, Calif. | Toyota is recalling about 51,000 of its Tundra trucks to inspect rear drive shafts that may include a component that could break.

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. said Tuesday an estimated 0.5 percent of the vehicles may have a faulty slip yoke because of improper casting during the foundry process.

The company is aware of one slip yoke failure. There are no reports of accidents or injuries related to the condition.

The recall involves only Tundras from the 2011 model year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports