Nation and world business highlights for Aug. 29

Nation and world business highlights for Aug. 29
By The Associated Press Modified: August 28, 2013 at 10:02 pm •  Published: August 29, 2013
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Business briefs

Fewer in U.S. sign home contracts

— Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy U.S. homes in July, but the level stayed close to a 61/2 -year high. The modest decline suggests higher mortgage rates have yet to sharply slow sales. The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales declined 1.3 percent to 109.5. That's close to May's reading of 111.3, which was the highest since December 2006. The small decline suggests sales of previously owned homes should remain healthy in the coming months.

Plaintiffs may join Whirlpool suit

— An attorney representing plaintiffs in two lawsuits against Whirlpool said Wednesday he plans to add up to 12 plaintiffs to those complaints within the next two weeks. One lawsuit was brought on behalf of three homeowners and the other on behalf of landlords who own 12 properties in an area affected by a chemical leak from Whirlpool, the Southwest Times-Record reported. According to Whirlpool, a plume of trichloroethylene — or TCE, a known carcinogen — leaked into groundwater at the plant site, then later into a neighborhood to the north. The chemical was used at Whirlpool as a degreasing solvent between the late 1960s and early 1980s, according to the company. The company closed its Fort Smith plant in 2012.

Disney studio plan OK'd

— A gigantic new Disney studio planned for oak-studded ranch land north of Los Angeles has won the approval of Los Angeles County — a milestone in the effort to build the half-million square feet of new production space. County supervisors signed off on Tuesday on the Golden Oak Ranch project in the Santa Clarita Valley, although it still needs state and federal approval, the Los Angeles Times reported. Disney/ABC Studios has spent the past four years attempting to build a high-tech production center in the area that Walt Disney selected decades ago to be the backdrop for his movies and television shows.

Dairy scare called false alarm

— A botulism scare that damaged New Zealand's international reputation for providing top quality and safe dairy products was likely a false alarm. New Zealand government officials said Wednesday they had found no sign of botulism bacteria after retesting ingredients used in recalled milk products. Dairy company Fonterra sparked a global recall of infant formula this month after announcing it had discovered the presence of botulism bacteria in some of its whey protein concentrate. But New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries announced Wednesday that its own extensive retesting of the concentrate indicated the presence of another, less dangerous type of bacteria. Officials said the bacteria they found poses no health risk but could spoil the product in high quantities.