- - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

HOUSING

Existing home sales up 4.3 percent in January

The housing market is flashing signs of health ahead of the spring-buying season.

Sales of previously occupied homes are at their highest level since May 2010. More first-time buyers are making purchases. And the supply of homes fell last month to its lowest point in nearly seven years, which could push home prices higher.

Sales have now risen nearly 13 percent over the past six months. While they are still well below the 6 million that economists equate with a healthy market, the gains have coincided with other changes in the market that suggest more sales are coming.

“The trend is clearly upward,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that resales increased 4.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million.

HEALTH CARE

Health overhaul grants awarded to 10 states

Federal officials say another 10 states are getting a total of $230 million to set up new health insurance markets under President Obama’s overhaul.

Seven of them - Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania - have either adopted a plan or are making substantial headway. But a recent Associated Press analysis found uneven progress among states setting up the new insurance exchanges, a linchpin of the law.

In two states announced Wednesday - Kentucky and Tennessee - it’s not clear whether policymakers will follow through. In Arkansas, officials concede that Washington will have to take the lead.

More than 30 states have received federal exchange establishment grants, but only 13, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted a plan. States have until Jan. 1, 2013.

BRIBERY

British man gets probation in Halliburton bribery case

A British man has been sentenced to probation for helping a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary steer massive bribes to Nigerian officials to win more than $6 billion in construction contracts from 1994 through 2004.

Wojciech Chodan, 74, was sentenced Wednesday in Houston federal court to one year of unsupervised probation and fined $20,000.

SCANDAL

Former PM’s wife sues Murdoch in phone hacking

LONDON &mdash The wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair is suing Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company over phone hacking, her lawyer said Wednesday.

Cherie Blair was suing “in relation to the unlawful interception of her voicemails,” lawyer Graham Atkins said in an email, making her one of the most high-profile people to have challenged Mr. Murdoch’s News International over the illegal eavesdropping campaign waged against politicians, celebrities, athletes and others in the public eye.

MINING

W.Va. mine boss charged with fraud in deadly blast

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The superintendent of the West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 29 men was charged Wednesday with conspiracy to defraud the federal government, becoming the highest-ranking employee to face criminal prosecution in an investigation that appeared to be moving steadily up the corporate ladder.

Former Upper Big Branch mine boss Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., is named in a federal information, a document that signals a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors. He is the second employee of Massey Energy, the company that owned the mine at the time of the 2010 tragedy, to face prosecution.

ENERGY

Montana can’t collect rent for riverbeds under dams

The Supreme Court sided with a power company Wednesday in a dispute with Montana over who owns the riverbeds beneath 10 dams sitting on three Montana rivers.

In a case that reached back to the travels of Lewis and Clark more than 200 years ago, the court voted unanimously to void a state court ruling that could have cost the company, PPL Montana, more than $50 million.

CYBERSECURITY

Porn-site users’ data is compromised

LONDON — Users of a chat service linked to the heavily trafficked YouPorn website have had their personal information compromised after a third-party service provider failed to secure its data, YouPorn’s owners said Wednesday.

Luxembourg-based Manwin Holding SARL said the chat site had been disabled and would remain offline until an investigation was carried out.

It remains unclear how many people were affected by the breach, but thousands of leaked email address and password combinations purportedly linked to the chat service were circulating online.

YouPorn is one of the 100 most-popular sites on the planet, according to Web information company Alexa.

From wire dispatches and staff reports