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Economy Briefs

- - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

REAL ESTATE

Home prices dropped in November in most cities

U.S. home prices fell for a third straight month in nearly all cities tracked by a major index. The declines show most homeowners are not reaping the benefits from some signs of an improving housing market.

Prices dropped in November from October in 19 of the 20 cities tracked, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Phoenix was the only city to show an increase.

The declines partly reflect the typical fall slowdown after the peak buying season.

Still, prices fell in 18 of the 20 cities in November compared to the same month in 2010. Only Washington and Detroit posted year-over-year increases.

Prices in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle and Tampa dropped to their lowest points since the housing crisis began. And prices have fallen 33 percent nationwide since the housing bust, to 2003 levels.

INDUSTRY

Cruise bookings fall after Concordia shipwreck

NEW YORK — The frightful images of a sinking Italian cruise ship have scared off some cruise passengers, at least temporarily, during the industry's peak booking season.

Travel agents, who book more than two-thirds of cruise passengers worldwide, have been nervously watching bookings ever since the Costa Concordia, which is owned by Carnival Corp., ran aground Jan. 13.

On Monday, they got a new reason to be nervous: Bookings fell significantly for Miami-based Carnival Corp. after the Costa accident. Attention is now focused on Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which reports earnings Thursday. An increase there could show that passengers are fleeing Carnival over safety fears. A decrease could indicate an overall distrust of all cruise lines.

CONSUMERS

Confidence falls in January

NEW YORK — It looks like Americans are starting to doubt that the economy in 2012 will be that much better than it was last year.

Consumer confidence fell in January after two straight months of big gains as Americans became more worried about their incomes, rising gas prices and overall business conditions, a private research group reported.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index is at 61.1, down from a revised 64.8 in December. That comes after the index rose by more than 20 points last month from 40.9 in October amid growing signs of an improving economy.

Economists watch the confidence numbers closely because consumers' spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. A reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy, a level that hasn't been reached since the recession began in 2007. The current reading shows how quickly Americans' confidence can wane in the still-fragile economy.

From wire dispatches and staff reports