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Economy Briefs

- - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ENERGY

Booming production pushes down price of natural gas

NEW YORK | The price of natural gas dropped back to near a 10-year low Wednesday after Exxon Mobil and other energy companies declined to cut production.

Exxon, America's biggest natural gas producer, has led a push by major industry players into U.S. gas drilling over the past few years that has boosted production to the highest levels ever. Supplies in storage are well above average, and some experts estimate the nation has enough natural gas to meet its needs for a century.

Investors hoped that Exxon would follow smaller competitors such as Chesapeake Energy and shut down some natural gas rigs. But when it released its quarterly and annual earnings results Tuesday, Exxon said it hasn't pulled back.

On Wednesday the price of natural gas fell 12 cents, or nearly 5 percent, to finish at $2.38 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. That follows an 8 percent drop Tuesday. Natural gas hit a 10-year low of $2.32 per 1,000 cubic feet Jan. 19.

ECONOMY

Manufacturing expands at fastest pace since June

U.S. manufacturing activity grew in January at the fastest pace in seven months, boosted by a rise in new orders. And builders ended a poor year for construction by spending more on homes and projects for the fifth straight month.

The reports bolster other data showing the U.S. economy started the year strong.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Wednesday that its manufacturing index rose last month to 54.1 from 53.1 in December. Readings more than 50 indicate expansion.

Consumers are buying more cars and trucks, while businesses ordered more machinery and other equipment. That has driven manufacturing, which expanded for the 30th straight month.

Both new orders and order backlogs rose to nine-month highs. Increasing order backlogs suggest manufacturers are lacking the capacity to meet demand. That could mean more growth in production and employment in the near future, economists said.

INVESTIGATION

MF Global's missing cash mostly accounted for

Investigators have located almost all the $1.2 billion first reported missing when securities company MF Global went under last year.

People briefed on the matter told the Associated Press the money has been tracked to other customer accounts and banks.

Investigators for financial regulators and trustees representing the company and its customers have been trying to track down the money. MF Global, headed by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, failed in October after a disastrous bet on European debt.

Brokerages are supposed to keep customer money separate from company funds. The people said the company misused the money to meet other financial needs as it collapsed.

BANKS

Settlement in WaMu bankruptcy approved

WILMINGTON, DEL. | Investors in Washington Mutual will drop a lawsuit against the failed bank under a settlement approved by a Delaware judge.

Under the agreement approved Wednesday, investors will get a general unsecured claim of $9 million, a subordinated claim of $10 million and about 9 percent of the reorganized common stock in the bank if its latest reorganization plan is approved.

The investors argued they held warrants entitling them to cash recoveries if Washington Mutual won a lawsuit filed against the federal government 17 years ago, and thus held debt claims against the company.

But the judge ruled last month that the warrants allowed only an equity interest in Washington Mutual Inc., seriously reducing the investors' potential recovery in bankruptcy.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports