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HOME SALES

Uptick in first-time buyers doesn't help sales

Fewer people purchased previously occupied homes in April, a troubling sign that the weak housing market remains a drag on the economy.

Sales fell 0.8 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million units, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That is far fewer than the 6 million homes a year economists say represents a healthy market.

Purchases made by first-time homebuyers did increase, but not nearly enough to signal that a housing recovery is on the way.

First-time buyers are critical because they typically improve their properties and invest in their communities, a combination that helps home values rise.

AIRLINES

Delta and Air France to cut Europe flights

Delta Air Lines, Air France-KLM and Alitalia will sharply reduce flights across the Atlantic starting this fall, after airlines added too much flying on those routes just as fuel prices shot up.

The change will leave travelers between the U.S. and Europe with fewer choices. Delta began adding more trans-Atlantic flying toward the end of 2010. In November, it announced new flights from Boston and Miami to London, as well as additional flights from New York to Paris and Seattle to Amsterdam, among others.

Delta and its partners said they will cut flying capacity by 7 percent to 9 percent starting this fall. The reduction means the amount of flying they do will drop about 15 percentage points compared with the growth they had planned, Delta President Edward Bastian said Thursday.

TECHNOLOGY

Amazon: E-book sales surpass printed books

NEW YORK — Amazon.com Inc. said Thursday that, after less than four years of selling electronic books, it's now selling more of them than printed books.

The online retailer said that since April 1, it has sold 105 e-books for every 100 printed books, including printed books for which there is no electronic edition.

The comparison excludes free e-books, which would tip the scales further if they were included.

Printed books include both hardcover and paperback books. Amazon said in July that e-book sales had outstripped hardcover sales.

It's now selling three times as many e-books as it did a year ago.

COURTS

Debt collector sued over robo-signing

NEW YORK — Minnesota sued Encore Capital Group Inc., one of the largest U.S. debt collectors, claiming it using fraudulent "robo-signed" affidavits in collection cases, a practice that critics say also infects home foreclosures.

The lawsuit filed Thursday against Encore's Midland Funding LLC and Midland Credit Management Inc. units follows a ruling by an Ohio federal judge that Minnesota's case would not interfere with a $5.2 million class-action settlement of similar claims.

"Midland has perverted the justice system by filing robo-signed affidavits in court and hounding citizens for debt they don't owe," Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said.

Encore Chief Executive J. Brandon Black said in an emailed statement that the company changed its affidavit process in 2009, thinks its practices are "legally sound," and will work with Ms. Swanson to resolve the matter.

He added that "because 95 percent of consumers ignore letters sent by the company, the legal channel is often the only remaining option."

Based in San Diego, Encore often buys debt from credit card companies. Through year-end, it had invested about $1.76 billion to buy 33 million accounts with a face value of $54.7 billion, or about 3 cents on the dollar.

CORPORATE FUNDING

Comcast apologizes for cutting off nonprofit

Comcast is apologizing to a Seattle nonprofit called Reel Grrls after a company executive decided to cut off funding to the organization in retaliation for a Twitter posting questioning Comcast's hiring of Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker.

In a statement, Comcast said Thursday that the decision by Steve Kipp, a vice president of communications based near Seattle, was not authorized by the company and that corporate funding for Reel Grrls is "not in jeopardy."

Reel Grrls teaches cinematography, script writing and media production skills to teenage girls. Its tweet noted that Mrs. Baker is joining Comcast as a lobbyist shortly after she voted to approve its takeover of NBC Universal, which was completed in January.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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