- - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REPORTS

Consumer confidence rises near recent high

NEW YORK — Americans are gaining faith that the economy is on the upswing. The monthly Consumer Confidence Index surged to the highest level since April and is approaching a post-recession peak.

The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose almost 10 points to 64.5, up from a revised 55.2 in November. Analysts had expected 59. The level is close to the post-recession peak of 72, which the index reached in February.

The surge in December builds on another big increase in November, when the index rose almost 15 points from the month before.

BANKING

MetLife to sell deposits to move out of banking

NORWALK, Conn. — MetLife said Tuesday it plans to sell its U.S. retail deposit business to GE Capital as it moves away from being a bank holding company.

Financial terms were not disclosed. MetLife Inc., which offers insurance and employee benefit programs, said in July that it was exploring the sale of its banking operations to focus on its other business.

GE Capital’s banking business, GE Capital Financial, will acquire $7.5 billion in deposits. About $3 billion in other deposits are not part of the deal, but will be transferred out of MetLife Bank in the next six months. It has not yet been determined where the $3 billion will be transferred, said company spokesman John Calagna.

MetLife Bank began operating in 2001, offering retail savings products via the Internet.

Banks are facing tighter regulation under financial system overhaul of the Dodd-Frank Act.

HOUSING

Survey shows prices still falling across the country

U.S. home prices fell in most major cities for the second straight month, further evidence that the housing recovery will be bumpy and weigh on the broader economy in 2012.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday showed prices dropped in October from September in 19 of the 20 cities tracked.

The decline reflects the typical fall slowdown after the peak buying season. Prices had risen modestly in April through August in at least half of the cities tracked.

Still, home prices have fallen roughly 32 percent nationwide since the housing bubble burst five years ago and are back to 2003 levels, according to the index.

TRANSPORTATION

Natural gas fuel stations could spur vehicle growth

NEW ORLEANS — The United States has record supplies of natural gas and plenty of reasons to promote natural-gas powered cars, but so far consumers, manufacturers and fuel suppliers haven’t shown much interest.

Now, a major natural gas developer plans to vastly increase the number of truck stops that offer liquid natural gas.

The T. Boone Pickens-backed Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is embarking on a major expansion of natural gas fueling and plans to add liquefied natural gas pumps at 150 truck stops nationwide over the next 24 to 36 months.

“We’ve mapped out a strategy to cover every major interstate in the domestic United States,” said James Harger, Clean Energy Fuels chief marketing officer.

ENERGY

Oil prices top $101 amid good economic news

The price of oil breached the $100-per-barrel mark in light holiday trading on growing consumer confidence and prospects for stronger demand.

Benchmark crude rose $1.52 on Tuesday to $101.19 per barrel in New York. Brent crude rose $1.21 to $109.17 per barrel in London.

Prices have risen in the past week as encouraging U.S. economic news pointed to stronger future demand. A private survey released Tuesday showed consumer confidence this month surged to levels not seen since April and was near a post-recession peak.

Tensions in the Middle East have also boosted oil prices. Sectarian violence in Iraq and a diplomatic standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions have stoked worries about crude supplies in the region.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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