December Home Sales Hit Milestone Pace

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sales of previously-owned homes hit  a milestone pace in December, providing a bit of good news to end a year in real estate that’s been short on positives.

The National Association of Realtors says people purchased existing homes at an annual pace of 5.28 million units. It’s the first time the pace has been above the five million mark since the government’s tax incentive program ended in June.

Economists were surprised by the strong sales of homes in December; they’d been expecting sales at around a 4.8-million-unit pace.

Some experts say a recent uptick in mortgage rates might be pushing some buyers to move quicker than they expected to so they can lock in lower interest rates.

About 4.9 million existing homes were sold during the 2010 calendar year. That’s the lowest number of annual sales since 1997 and is about five percent fewer homes sold than 2009. Housing analysts say the expiration of the Federal government’s tax credit program for home purchases slowed things down in 2010.

But December’s strong performance is giving people confidence that the housing market might stabilize in the next year.

“The December pace is near the volume we’re expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the realtors group. “The recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain.”

The median price of a home sold in December was $168,800, down one percent from the price a year ago.

Prices will likely start showing a little stability in the next few months as the supply of homes for sale is ticking lower. Realtors say there were 3.6 million “For Sale” signs on yards at the end of December. That’s 8.1 months supply given the current pace of sales and is getting really close to the six month supply economists say we need to see to get historically normal home price appreciation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is It A Hoax? YouTube Sensation Gets $1 Million 

Photo Courtesy - You Tube(NEW YORK) -- Craig Rowin, a mild-mannered 27-year-old who has humored his friends for years, has become the latest Internet sensation by asking some of the richest Americans to "Give Me One Million Dollars."

Two months ago Rowin -- a comedian with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City – posted a plea for cash on YouTube. "Just give me a chunk," he implored, checking off names of some of the richest Americans.

On Thursday, in another video, he said he found a benefactor and has produced a notarized letter from that millionaire's lawyer.

Just because Rowin asked -- and for no particular reason.

Why does he want the money? "It would be awesome," said Rowin.

What will he do with the money? "I might go on a trip," he said.

Rowin said he received a phone call from the would-be philanthropist:

"Hi Craig, Benjamin, I was hoping to catch you in person," the caller said. "I want to talk about how to make you a millionaire."

Rowin has said he will reveal the man's last name when he collects the check at a Feb. 2 performance of the Upright Citizens Brigade in Manhattan.

The videos have already gotten 53,000 hits -- and climbing -- on YouTube.

"It still hasn't sunk in yet," said Rowin, who had made a personal plea to Steven Spielberg, Warren Buffet and even the Chilean coalminers who he assumed had culled book deals.

"And if you are unable, sorry," he said, checking off the names of potential donors. "You guys are all heroes."

Rowin, who for full disclosure worked as a film editor for, told us, "Today is crazy."

Media outlets -- from local newspapers to Canada -- were hounding the low-key comedian today for interviews.

He insists the videos are not stunts, but longtime friends say they can't be sure.

"It's ridiculous, it can't be true," said Terry Nicol, a 29-year-old engineer from Philadelphia who follows Rowin's comedy. "But I don't want to mess up anything for him."

Nicol said he had seen the YouTube video posted on Facebook Wednesday night, "but I woke up a Philadelphia sports blog and there it was. Then all the other Internet sites had stories with hundreds of comments. "

Nicol, who has followed the comedian's career since he was in an improv group at Connecticut Colleges, said Rowin is "one of the funniest people I know."

"He has a nonchalant humor and is pretty deadpan and always has a two-day growth of beard," he said. "He's also a really sweet guy. I am really happy for him that he has gotten so popular."

"It's not surprising it would eventually come to this," said the friend. "But what is going to be his punch line? I can't figure that out."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Walmart to Introduce Healthier Packaged Food at Stores

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Walmart is expected to announce a plan Thursday that will reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in its packaged foods, according to The Washington Post.

The retailer's proposal stemmed from discussions it had with first lady Michelle Obama, a known advocate of eating healthy and reducing childhood obesity.  The first lady, who backs the company's initiative, will be in attendance when the announcement is made in Washington, D.C.

Under the plan, thousands of foods will have to reduce sodium, added sugars and trans fats.

"No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," Walmart President and CEO Bill Simon said in a statement posted on the company's website.

As part of the healthy iniative, Walmart is also planning to drop prices on fruits and vegetables. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jobless Claims Drop by 37,000

Photo Courtesy - Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After going up for two weeks, claims for unemployment benefits dropped for the week ending Jan. 15, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The number of people filing for jobless benefits decreased to 404,000, marking a drop of 37,000 claims from the previous week's total of 441,000.

The four-week average also came down to 411,750, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous average of 415,750.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Boeing to Cut 900 Jobs at Southern California Plant

Photo Courtesy - Boeing(LOS ANGELES) -- Boeing Co. announced Wednesday it will cut 900 of the 3,700 jobs at its Long Beach plant in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Times reported the job cuts, which the company said stemmed from declining orders of its C-17 cargo planes.  The factory is expected to close by next year's end unless Congress intervenes or a slew of orders are placed.

According to Boeing, the cuts will be part of 1,100 jobs being dropped across the U.S. related to the C-17 planes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Apple Accused of Evading Concerns over Pollution in China

Photo Courtesy - Apple(BEIJING) – Apple has been accused of avoiding inquiries into pollution and occupational health hazards in China, reports the Financial Times.

A Chinese environmental group has ranked Apple last on a list of 29 multinational technology companies based on how they addressed concerns over such hazards at their factories, calling the company’s unresponsiveness evasive.

The report comes after a year-long effort by the group to change environmental and safety practices at the companies.

Also on the lower end of the list are technology giants Nokia, LG, SingTel, Sony and Ericsson.

None, however, were hit harder than Apple, who the group claims did not respond to questions regarding a poisoning incident at a facility that produces touchscreen modules for Apple.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Issa Prepares for First Oversight Hearing on Foreclosure Crisis 

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) – Darrell Issa has announced that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will meet next Wednesday, his first meeting since taking over as chairman.

The hearing, “Bailouts and the Foreclosure Crisis:  Report of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program,” will focus on government oversight of the foreclosure crisis and the transparency of TARP.

“TARP was conceived by a Republican Administration, approved by a Democratic Congress, and has operated for two years under the current Administration,” Issa said. “It’s a fitting subject for bipartisan oversight in the new Congress.”

Invited to witness the hearing are Neil Barofsky, Special Investigator General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


National Mayoral Convention Focuses On Job Creation

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Mayors from around the nation have converged on the nation's capital in hopes of figuring out how to create more jobs in their hometowns. Over the course of several days, the mayors will be meeting with legislators both Republican and Democrat, cabinet members, and President Barack Obama.

Elizabeth Kautz, mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota and president of the United States Conference of Mayors, said, “The jobs picture for cities and suburbs remains extremely challenging."

The United States Conference of Mayors released an economic report showing that nearly one-third of the nation's 363 metro areas will still have an unemployment rate greater than 10 percent at the end of the year.

“This data is solid proof that Congress needs to be laser-beam focused on jobs creation,” said Kautz. “We are in the middle of a ‘jobs emergency’ that demands decisive and swift action," Kautz said.

The report also predicts that 42 percent of metropolitan areas will not gain back their pre-recession job levels until after 2014.

“As we try to slog our way out of this jobs recession, there are still families all over the nation that are suffering tremendously from prolonged unemployment. Without job growth in metropolitan areas, there can be no sustained national recovery. Our cities and our metro economies are centers of our national economy. We ignore them at our own peril," Kautz said.

The group of mayors are calling for community development block grants to be given to cities across the country so that money can be spent on job creation projects. All of the details of their plan are outlined in their 2011 Metro Agenda.

“The nation’s mayors are calling on all levels of government, as well as the private sector, to work closer together to build a bold vision for what cities and metropolitan areas will look like in the coming decades. And job creation is the key to that vision," Kautz said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Banker with Brain Tumor Dedicates Final Months to Help Investors

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- When an author talks about a deadline, it's usually not meant to be taken literally. But The Investment Answer came about as a response to co-author Gordon Murray's diagnosis with a brain tumor.

Six months ago, Murray was diagnosed with a a glioblastoma -- the same type of tumor that finally took Ted Kennedy's life. Murray had already been through this before and knew the toll that treatment would take.

"You go through an initial period of sadness, but then you realize, 'Okay, I can't do anything about it, so let's just make the most of what we have,'" Murray said. "I could have a great, quality six months, or I could take the risk with the chemo, the radiation, and all these other drugs they throw in you, but it might actually make things worse."

Murray decided to forgo treatment, and time became a precious commodity, not to be wasted. As he started calling relatives and friends to tell them the news, one friend had an idea as to how Murray should spend his final months.

Murray told his friend and financial planner Dan Goldie about his diagnosis and, "literally, without missing a beat, he said, 'Do you want to do that book you've always wanted to do?'" Murray recalled.

The book is a how-to guide to investing for retirement, a subject Murray knows a thing or two about. For 25 years, he was one of those "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street, managing huge institutional investments at Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse First Boston.

One of the main goals of the book is to demystify investing, to take it back from the whiz kids on Wall Street. The investment book is his offering of atonement, if not for his sins, then perhaps for the sins of the Street.

"I wanted to feel good about what I had done, because you go back to the mid-to-late '70s, Wall Street performed a function that was actually good for Main Street... match investors who need to raise money with investors who have money," Murray said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Facebook Suspends Data-Sharing Feature over Privacy Concerns

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- Facebook has announced that it will temporarily suspend a feature that provides members' addresses and phone numbers to external websites and applications.

The social network implemented the feature only a few days ago but plans to reinstate it after changing the way the site asks for permission. The new feature had stirred the concerns of privacy advocates.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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