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WALL STREET

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.

REAL ESTATE

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.

BANKS

Bank of America sells half of its China bank stake

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

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