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Economy Briefs

- - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

REAL ESTATE

Growing interest leaves home builders less gloomy

U.S. home builders are growing a little less pessimistic about the depressed housing market after seeing more people say they might be open to buying a home this year.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose four points to 25 in January. That's the highest level since June 2007.

Even with the fourth straight increase, the general mood is dim. Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. The index hasn't reached 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom.

The index is rising because builders are seeing a rise in people shopping for a home, not because they are seeing more sales. In fact, 2011 may end up being the worst year for new-home sales on records dating back half a century.

INTERNET

Zappos, Amazon sued over customer data breach

LAS VEGAS — Online retailers Zappos.com and Amazon.com are being sued in Kentucky by a Texas woman alleging that she and millions of other customers were harmed by the release of personal account information.

Officials representing Zappos in Nevada and parent company Amazon in Seattle declined comment Wednesday on the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Ky.

The lawsuit was filed Monday, after Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh alerted employees and customers by email Sunday that names, phone numbers and email addresses of the shoe retailer's customer may have been accessed in a hacker attack. The company said customers' credit card and payment information weren't stolen.

Zappos urged customers to reset passwords to Zappos.com accounts and any other websites where they use similar passwords.

Zappos said the hacker gained access to its internal network and systems through one of the company's servers in Kentucky. Zappos is based in Henderson, near Las Vegas. It is owned by Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc.

FLORIDA

Jury: Bank owes $67M to Ponzi victims

MIAMI — A federal jury decided Wednesday that Toronto-based TD Bank owes an investment group $67 million for its role in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme operated by a now disbarred attorney, Scott Rothstein.

The verdict came in a lawsuit filed by Coquina Investments, based in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was the first to go to trial of several pending lawsuits filed by wronged investors against the bank and others. Coquina attorney David S. Mandel said the jury "sent exactly the right message to TD Bank."

Once a prominent South Florida attorney, Rothstein is serving a 50-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to running a massive scam involving investments in phony legal settlements that imploded in 2009. The 49-year-old lawyer has been cooperating extensively with federal prosecutors, and more people are expected to face criminal charges; seven besides Rothstein have already been charged.

The scheme was one of the largest frauds in South Florida history and triggered the failure of the once high-flying Fort Lauderdale law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

GREECE

Crucial debt talks resume

ATHENS — The Greek government resumed stalled talks with its private creditors in Athens on Wednesday in the hope of sealing a $128 billion debt relief deal needed to avoid a disastrous default this spring.

Charles Dallara, a top official at the Institute of International Finance, a global banking association, returned to Greece after negotiations stalled last week, and held a nearly three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

"A very crucial meeting, that lasted several hours, has just finished at the prime minister's office," Mr. Venizelos told Parliament shortly afterward. "The meetings between the Greek government and the IIF have resumed and they will continue [Thursday]."

Earlier, he said the talks "are without a doubt at a very sensitive stage."

The so-called private sector involvement, or PSI, deal is meant to write off half of the debt Greece owes private bondholders. Creditors would get most of the remaining debt in new bonds with extended repayment periods, as well as a cash payment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports