- - Monday, August 29, 2011


Insurers drive stocks higher after weak Irene

NEW YORK — Stocks rose broadly Monday, led by insurance companies, after it became clear that the tropical storm caused far less damage than many had feared.

A consulting firm predicted that the damages paid by insurers would be about $2 billion to $3 billion, less than the $6 billion the industry paid out after Hurricane Isabel struck the region in 2003.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 255 points, or 2.3 percent, to close at 11,539. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 33 points, or 2.8 percent, to 1,210. The Nasdaq composite index rose 82, or 3.3 percent, to 2,562.

More than 10 stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was below average at 3.6 billion shares.


Contracts to buy homes fell in July

The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes fell in July, further evidence that the depressed housing market remains a drag on the economy.

The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements fell 1.3 percent in July to a reading of 89.7. A reading of 100 is considered healthy by economists. The last time the index reached that level was in April 2010, the final month that buyers could qualify for a federal tax credit.

Contract signings are usually a reliable indicator of where the housing market is headed. There’s typically a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

But a growing number of buyers have canceled contracts after appraisals showed the homes were worth less than they bid.


Bank of America sells half of its China bank stake

NEW YORK — Bank of America Corp. is selling half of its stake in China Construction Bank Corp. to raise cash and shore up its capital base.

The nation’s largest bank by assets said Monday it will sell 13.1 billion shares in the Chinese bank for $8.3 billion to a group of investors it declined to name. The sale, which had been expected, will generate a gain of $3.3 billion for Bank of America.

The news came four days after the Charlotte, N.C. bank got a $5 billion investment from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which provided a big boost to Bank of America’s battered stock. The billionaire investor made investments in other major companies such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping restore confidence in them when they were out of favor.


Prisons ask Facebook to disable inmate accounts

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington prison officials have asked social media giant Facebook to disable inmate accounts.

Department spokesman Chad Lewis says inmates are not allowed to have Internet access. He says Facebook accounts are sometimes set up by relatives or by inmates with contraband cell phones.

Mr. Lewis told Northwest News Network that so far the communications have mostly been with friends and family and not for criminal activity. But the department is asking Facebook for the same deal the company recently struck with California prisons, where some sinister activity had been alleged.

California officials say they found an inmate who used social media to track down his victim.


Ford workers authorize strike

DETROIT — Workers at a Ford Motor Co. plant near Kansas City, Mo., have voted to let their union leaders call a strike against the company.

United Auto Workers members at Ford’s Claycomo plant voted 3,049 to 18 in favor of authorizing a strike, local union President Jeff Wright said in an e-mail Monday.

The vote is standard procedure in contract negotiations and doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a strike. UAW President Bob King has said he’s not thinking about a work stoppage and is optimistic that both sides can reach a deal without one.

Workers at the Claycomo plant voted on Thursday and Saturday, and were among the first in the company to cast ballots. All Ford workers represented by the UAW will vote on the same issue by Sept. 2.

Contracts between the union and Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC expire on Sept. 14. Negotiations with all three carmakers are under way.


Magna invests in electric car research

TORONTO — Magna International Inc. is spending $439 million in U.S. dollars to research and develop electric vehicle technology in Ontario.

Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello and Magna said Monday that the province will help fund 19 research and development projects over the next six years.

The projects include developing concept electric cars, parts for hybrid vehicles, metallic components, alternative energy and ways to improve fuel efficiency.

The province said the plan will create 728 jobs and also help protect about 1,300 jobs at Magna’s factories in Ontario.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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