Home sales still slow despite rise

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- Sales of new homes improved in September after the worst summer in nearly five decades, but not enough to lift the struggling economy.

The Commerce Department says new home sales in September grew 6.6 percent from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 307,000. Even with the increase, the past five months have been the worst for new home sales on records dating back to 1963.

Paul Dales, U.S. economist with Capital Economics, called the September home sales encouraging. But he said it doesn't change the fact that activity remains at extremely low levels.

"That's unlikely to change for a few years," Dales said.

New home sales have risen 9 percent from the bottom in May but are still down 78 percent from their peak sales pace of nearly 1.4 million homes in July 2005. A healthy sales pace is around 800,000 new homes.

Key expansion index weakens

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- A surge in demand for commercial aircraft lifted orders for big-ticket manufactured goods in September, but business spending weakened on products that signal expansion plans.

The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods rose 3.3 percent last month. Overall, it was the best showing since January. But excluding transportation, orders fell 0.8 percent after having risen 1.9 percent in August.

Spending by companies on capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.6 percent after rising 4.8 percent in August. The category, which is viewed as a good proxy for business investment in the economy, has declined in two of the past three months.

Governor to ease business burden

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Gov. Chris Gregoire is ordering state agencies to make it easier for small businesses to prosper.

In an executive order issued Oct. 26, Gregoire is telling the state departments of Labor and Industries, Revenue, and Employment Security to look at ways to reduce the costs the state imposes on small businesses. She also is ordering state agencies to find ways to streamline or eliminate regulatory procedures, and to increase exports by farms and small companies.

Berkshire defends losses in stocks

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Warren Buffett's company is defending its decision not to write down the value of its investments in Kraft Foods, US Bancorp and other stocks even though they were worth nearly $1.9 billion less at the end of 2009 than what Berkshire Hathaway Inc. paid for them.

On Oct. 25, Berkshire disclosed several letters it exchanged with the Securities and Exchange Commission between April and September about its 2009 annual report.

The SEC asked why Berkshire hadn't adjusted the value of its stock holdings to reflect losses that had lasted more than 12 months.

Berkshire officials said they're confident Kraft and US Bancorp stock will rebound within a couple years, and Berkshire is willing to hold the stocks long enough for them to recover.

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