Housing Market on the Rise

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More Americans signed contracts to buy homes last month, a hint the housing market might be coming off the bottom. The National Association of Realtors' pending homes index rose in most parts of the country. Contract signings are now more than 19 percent up on the record low which was last June. Completed sales of new and existing homes have been way below normal levels, but despite that, stock averages are up after a strong gain last week.

Consumer spending rose in February, but most of that rise went for higher gas prices. The Commerce Department says spending rose seven-tenths of one percent. There was also a strong gain in January as earnings were also up, but oil prices slipped from their recent highs to about $104 a barrel. Gold is down $6 an ounce and the ten year treasury is at 3.43 percent.

The airlines latest attempt to hike domestic fares has crumbled. United and Continental pushed fares up last week, but discount carriers refused to go along, despite high fuel costs. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Gas and Oil Prices: It's Not Just About the Middle East 

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Gas prices are still at their highest levels since 2008, in part because of the Japan earthquake and turmoil in the oil-producing Middle East. But analysts say the price of oil and gas would still hover at a surprisingly high level despite geopolitical concerns.

Oil futures settled at $105.40 a barrel Friday, the third consecutive day above $105, according to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group.

On Monday, the Department of Energy will release its weekly gas prices and analysts expect they will remain mostly unchanged. Last week's national average was $3.51 per gallon for regular gas, an increase of 74 cents from a year ago, and .05 cents from the prior week. Last week was the 13th consecutive week that the average was above $3 a barrel. The last time gas passed was above $3.50 was Sept. 29, 2008, when the weekly average was $3.64.

Robert Powell, Middle East analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit, estimates that even without the current conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, oil would still be around $90 a barrel. Why? The simple rules of supply and demand, he said.

"The fourth quarter of last year was pretty robust globally," Powell said.

In fact, the Commerce Department announced Friday the U.S. economy grew quicker than first thought. Gross domestic product in the U.S. grew at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent, revised from 2.8 percent.

Charles Dewhurst, national energy practice leader at BDO, agrees with Powell that without the recent global events, oil prices would be around $90 a barrel. He points to events in Libya and Japan, in particular, as contributors to the high price of oil.

"My perspective is there probably is a $15 price premium right now because of those two events," Dewhurst said. "The Japanese economy is going to need its electric power from oil-based sources as a backup to their nuclear problems. Their demand for oil has already increased."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tax Tip: Online Payment Agreements for Taxes You Owe

IRS [dot] gov(NEW YORK) -- If you owe money to the IRS, you may be able to pay it back over time.

Eric Smith, who's with the IRS, says you can go on the agency's website to set up a payment plan.

"The online payment agreement option on allows you to find out in a matter of a few minutes whether you qualify for a payment agreement with the IRS," says Smith.

Once qualified, you can agree to pay a certain amount of your debt each month.  Smith says a "monthly payment agreement is the best way to take care of a tax debt that you can't pay all at one time."

He says the IRS knows "many people are facing very severe financial difficulties" and the agency understands that.

Ignoring your taxes can lead to penalties, but Smith says if you contact the IRS it will listen.

"Anybody for any reason can get in a tough spot from time to time.  We're willing to work with people to try to work out those tax debts, those tax obligations," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Padded Bikini Top for Seven-Year-Olds Draws Parents' Ire

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Would you buy your pre-teen daughter a push-up bikini top? One major retailer hopes you will.

Abercrombie & Fitch, a popular store among teenagers, recently introduced the "push-up triangle," marketing the swim top to girls as young as seven or eight.

But of the parents Good Morning America spoke to, the reaction was unanimous -- no one would buy one for their child.

"I won't be buying them for my eight-year-old," one parent said.

"I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it. Then, I realized, it's so crazy, it must be true," Dr. Michael Bradley, a child psychologist, told Good Morning America on Saturday.

Bradley said the American Psychological Association has warned in the past that retailers were going after young girls.

"They're targeting girls as young as age four to be sexualized creatures," Bradley said.

In response to the public outcry, Abercrombie renamed the top on its online store the "striped triangle." The padding remains, however, as does the outrage. Many viewers wrote in to the GMA shoutout board and Facebook page.

"Padded bathing suits for young school girls is vulgar," one person wrote. "Geez, we live in a scary society. I hope parents tell their children they are perfect the way they are!"

It's hardly the first time the racy company has strayed into controversial territory. A few years ago, Abercrombie offered thongs for the 10-year-old set with the words "wink, wink" stitched on the front. The company's advertisements have also raised concerns over the years for being too revealing.

And Abercrombie isn't alone. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart was criticized for its plans to introduce a line of make-up products directed at girls aged eight-to-12.

Tweens spend roughly $24 million on beauty products each year.

Bradley said the consequences on young girls may be many.

"We're shaping their beliefs," he said. "We're actually teaching them that this is their primary value in this culture."

He also said it can shape their behavior, harms their body image and can add unnecessary anxiety.

The onus does lie with the parents, however, to keep their children out of the swimsuits, Bradley said. He advised to use the moment as a teaching moment if your child really wants the product. He said to avoid a shouting match by asking questions that spark a discussion.

"These guys really should be ashamed," said Bradley. "I hate to get this in their faces like that, but it's just wrong. It's hurting people."

Abercrombie has showed no signs they plan to pull the product from its store's shelves. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Harry & David Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Gail Oskin/WireImage(MEDFORD, Ore.) -- Harry & David Holdings Inc., a retailer known for its gift baskets, Fruit of the Month Club and gourmet treats, announced Monday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Medford, Oregon-based company said it reached an agreement with about 81 percent of its senior noteholders on a reorganization plan that will get rid of the majority of the company's debt.  The noteholders also vowed to support a $55 million rights offering that will provide the company with the adequate amount of equity financing to come out of the bankruptcy.

Despite the bankruptcy filing, Harry & David said it will continue to conduct business online and at its stores nationwide.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Would a Receipt Make Paying Income Taxes Less Despised? 

Ryan McVay/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- Would an itemized receipt from the federal government make paying income taxes less painful, maybe even fun?

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and public policy experts thinks so, and it has begun a campaign to make the IRS provide every U.S. taxpayer with exactly that.

A receipt, they say, would show where each cent of your annual tax payment goes, making abstract government programs more concrete and personal opinions on tax cuts, or hikes, better grounded in facts.

"Presumably, Americans will never like paying their taxes," David Kendall and Ethan Porter write in an article laying out the proposal in the journal Democracy published this month. "But with the right policy proposals -- and with their implementation -- they might not despise doing so."

The document, envisioned as no more than one page, would allow taxpayers to see and make sense of proportional differences in federal funding for programs such as NASA, environmental protection, foreign aid and veterans affairs, they say.

It would be mailed to taxpayers who file with paper forms and emailed to those who file electronically, according to the proposal.

The receipt would identify the total tax paid and itemize how much proportionally went to the top 32 federal budget expenditures. More comprehensive data could be found online.

"With a well-designed receipt, myths and misconceptions about taxing and spending that refuse to die would be met with a mortal blow," Kendall and Porter wrote.

One of the most common myths, according to polls, is that U.S. taxpayers spend more on foreign aid than they do on Social Security or Medicare.

A household with $50,000 of income that paid $6,883 in 2010 federal income taxes, for example, would learn that the largest portion of its money went to defense programs ($1,375), social security ($1,334) and Medicare ($845).

Only $43 went to foreign aid.

"During this tough economy, American taxpayers deserve to know exactly how the government is spending their hard-earned dollars," Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who is sponsoring legislation to create a tax-receipt system, said in a statement.

"That kind of transparency is the first step towards addressing our exploding debt and deficit."

Federal debt per American is $45,000. Interest payment on the debt is the sixth-largest, federal-budget expenditure.

"Taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes, how much Uncle Sam is borrowing on their behalf and what they get in return for it," Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who also supports the tax-receipt legislation. said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Global Oil Prices Dropping; US Stock Futures Up After Strong Week

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Global oil is seeing a drop in prices Monday amid news that rebel forces in Libya are making gains.

West Texas crude futures fell to $105 a barrel overnight as Libyan rebels reportedly took control of at least two oil ports.  Their leaders say oil production will be resumed in the country soon.

Meanwhile, European and U.S. stock futures are up Monday morning after strong gains the week before.  Last week, the Dow and other averages saw their strongest weekly gain -- around three percent -- since last July.

The Asian stock market, however, is trending lower with more concerns about the dangerous radiation leak from Japan's cripped nuclear power plant.  Japanese automakers and other industries in the country are also still facing a huge challenge with rolling power blackouts and some parts suppliers knocked out by the earthquake.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Robert Gibbs to Manage Facebook's Communications?

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- He might have been on the top of the heap when he was White House press secretary, but now Robert Gibbs can say that he really has “friends” in high places.

According to a story in Monday’s New York Times, Gibbs is talking with officials at social networking site Facebook to assist in the management of their communications.

Those familiar with the negotiations say that discussions are still in the planning stages and could ultimately lead nowhere.

While Gibbs had talked about taking a major role in President Obama’s presumed reelection campaign, Facebook is apparently pressuring Gibbs to take a private sector job ahead of the company’s much publicized initial public offering, which could happen by early 2012.

A job with Facebook could turn out to be extremely lucrative for Gibbs because his compensation package would probably include a salary and shares ahead of the IPO.  It’s expected to be one of the biggest public offerings in history, given Facebook’s estimated value of $60 billion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Seven New York IT Workers Reportedly Win $319 Million Jackpot

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(ALBANY, N.Y.) -- A handful of New York state government workers may be able to quit their jobs, if reports are true that the group of seven were the lucky ones who hit the $319 million Mega Millions jackpot in Friday night's drawing.

Emanuel Biondi, Public Employees Federation Council leader for New York's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, told CNN the big winners were seven information technology professionals at the agency.

No one has stepped forward to claim the prize or state that they're holding the winning ticket.  The state lottery office has been closed since the drawing Friday night.

The winning ticket was purchased at Coulson's News Center, a mainstay downtown news and convenience store in the state capital of Albany, according to the Mega Millions website.

"It's very neat to know someone who comes into my store is going to be very wealthy from a ticket we sold them.  It makes me feel warm inside," Steve Hutchins, owner of Coulson, told

The winning numbers were 22-24-31-52-54, with Megaball number 4.  The jackpot is the sixth-highest in the game's history.  The largest jackpot was $390 million in March 2007.

If the winner or winners take the prize in a one-time lump sum, the payment will be $202.9 million after taxes.

Steve Gallucci, the manager of Coulson's, told ABC affiliate WTEN-TV in Albany that he doesn't yet know who won.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Inventor of Super Glue Dies at 94

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(KINGSPORT, Tenn.) -- Harry Wesley Coover Jr., the inventor of Super Glue, passed away over the weekend at his Kingsport, Tennessee home.  He was 94.

Coover came up with the idea for the adhesive during his time working for Tennessee Eastman Company.  While there, he took notice of new refractometer prisms that were accidentally glued together and saw that as an opportunity to create the product that came to be known as Super Glue.

The ultra-powerful adhesive with a vast variety of uses, technically known as cyanoacrylate, has since become a staple in kitchen drawers as well as businesses.  Physicians and veterinarians have even been known to use Super Glue to close wounds when sutures aren't available.

Last year, Coover was honored at the White House with the National Medal of Science.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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