- - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A jump in sales of previously occupied homes and further gains in home construction suggest the U.S. housing recovery is gaining momentum.

The pair of reports Wednesday follows other signs of steady progress in the housing market after years of stagnation. New-home sales are up, builder confidence has reached its highest level in more than six years and increases in home prices appear to be sustainable.

Sales and construction rates are still below healthy levels, economists caution. But the improvement has been steady.

CALIFORNIA

First leg of high-speed rail approved by feds

SACRAMENTO — The Federal Railroad Administration gave its approval Wednesday for construction on the first phase of California’s high-speed rail system, clearing the final technical hurdle for construction to start next year on a 65-mile span from Merced to Fresno.

The decision supports the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s so-called “hybrid alternative,” which state officials say is the least costly approach and the one that is least harmful to the environment. Rail authority Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales said the federal decision will allow the project to break ground next year.

UNIONS

Verizon, unions reach tentative contract

NEW YORK — Verizon and unions representing 43,000 employees have reached tentative, three-year agreements covering job security, retirement and other issues.

As the agreements were being signed Wednesday, Verizon Communications Inc. called them “fair and balanced.”

The pact comes more than a year after Verizon workers took part in a two-week strike amid tense negotiations. The company and the unions had disagreed on health care benefits, pensions and work rules.

The unions involved are the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The Communications Workers of America union, which represents 34,000 Verizon workers from Virginia to Massachusetts, said the previous contract expired in August 2011. The union says the new contract preserves existing job security language prohibiting layoffs for those hired before 2003. It also preserves the pension plan for current workers.

CALIFORNIA

Judge: Sales ban on Samsung tablet intact

SAN JOSE — A federal judge has refused to rescind a court order banning Samsung Electronics from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 computer in the U.S.

The denial issued this week in San Jose federal court is part of a bitter battle pitting Samsung Electronics against Apple Inc. in a dispute over the mobile devices made by the two companies.

A jury last month awarded Apple $1.05 billion after concluding several Samsung smartphones infringed on Apple’s iPhone patents.

But the jury rejected Apple’s allegations that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 illegally copied the iPad.

That prompted Samsung to ask U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to dissolve the ban imposed on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in June. In a Monday ruling, Judge Koh refused because a Samsung appeal of her original order is still pending.

AUTO

VW Passat sales set annual record

DETROIT — Volkswagen says it has sold more Passat midsize cars this year than any other year.

The German automaker sold 77,524 Passats as of Wednesday, beating the car’s old record of 77,523, set in 2001.

Volkswagen’s U.S. sales are up more than 32 percent through August, led by the Passat and the Jetta compact. It’s the biggest sales increase of any major automaker. The VW increase is more than double the increase in total U.S. car and truck sales.

From wire dispatches and staff reports