- - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CONSUMERS

Confidence remains weak in September survey

NEW YORK — Consumers’ confidence remained weak in September after dropping to a post-recession low the month before. That has left economists to wonder just what it will take to get Americans feeling good about the economy again.

A survey of consumer confidence shows that Americans who were worried in August because of a downgrade of U.S. long-term debt, wild stock markets swings and other concerns, continue to be spooked. Economists say the problem is that not much has changed to make consumers feel financially secure. The stock market is still volatile. Worries about the global economy persist. And perhaps worst of all for confidence, U.S. jobs are still scarce.

REAL ESTATE

Spring buying boosts home prices for fourth month

Home prices rose for a fourth straight month in most major U.S. cities in July, buoyed by seasonal buying. But the housing market remains depressed, and prices are expected to decline in the coming months.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday shows home prices increased in July from June in 17 of the 20 cities tracked.

Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis posted the biggest monthly percentage gains. Prices fell in two cities among those hit hardest by the housing crisis — Las Vegas and Phoenix.

PRIVACY

OnStar changes policies because of privacy concerns

ALBANY, N.Y. — The OnStar automobile communication service used by 6 million Americans is changing its policies after privacy issues were raised about keeping former customers connected and collecting data on driving habits.

The service said Tuesday that customers’ concerns prompted the change.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust for our more than 6 million customers.”

OnStar no longer will maintain its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued. Customers also will no longer have to take action to “opt out” of the data collection system once they drop the service.

HIRING

Best Buy to cut seasonal staff during holidays

NEW YORK | Best Buy Co. will hire about half as many seasonal staff as last year and increase the hours its regular staffers work as part of its plans for the crucial upcoming holiday season.

The largest U.S. electronics retailer also plans to expand free tech support and other services and allow a longer window for product returns during the holidays. It also will promote under-$100 deals to coax shoppers into its stores.

Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, earlier this month reported its second-quarter net income fell 30 percent and revenue was nearly flat at $11.35 billion, falling short of analysts’ expectations, as the company continues to battle for market share with online retailers and discount stores.

TECHNOLOGY

Google to finance home solar systems

NEW YORK — Google announced Tuesday that it will provide $75 million to build 3,000 residential solar electricity systems across the country.

The search giant will own the panels, and will be paid over time by customers who purchase the electricity the panels produce.

Google is creating a fund with a San Francisco company called Clean Power Finance that local solar installers will be able to tap so they can offer financing plans to prospective buyers. The plans allow homeowners to install a $30,000 solar electricity system on their house for little or no money up front. Instead, customers pay a monthly fee that is the same or less than what they would otherwise be paying their local utility for power.

Google will earn what it calls an attractive return on its investment in two ways. It gets the monthly fee from homeowners, and, as the owner of the systems, Google will get the benefit of federal and state renewable energy subsidies.

The systems will not carry the Google brand, however. Instead, local installers will offer the financing deal under their own brands.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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