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National business briefs for Feb. 19

National business briefs for Feb. 19
Published: February 18, 2014

Business briefs

Homebuilders’ confidence falters

U.S. homebuilders’ confidence in the housing market declined sharply this month as severe weather keeps many would-be buyers at home. Storms and cold weather dampened builders’ outlook for sales ahead of the spring home-selling season and could further slow the pace of home construction. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Tuesday slid to 46. That’s down from January’s reading of 56 and is the lowest level since May. Readings below 50 indicate that more builders view sales conditions as poor rather than good.

Foreign Treasury holdings rise

Foreign buyers of U.S. Treasury securities increased their holdings to a record in December even though the two largest holders of U.S. government debt — China and Japan — reduced their shares. The Treasury Department says total foreign holdings rose 1.4 percent in December to $5.79 trillion, surpassing the old record set in March of $5.73 trillion. China, the largest foreign buyer of Treasury debt, reduced its holdings to $1.27 trillion in December. That marked a 3.6 percent drop from China’s November level of $1.32 trillion, a record for that country. Japan, the second-largest buyer, trimmed its holdings to $1.18 trillion in December. That was down 0.3 percent from November’s total, a record for Japan.

Short-term Treasury rates slip

Interest rates on short-term Treasury bills fell Tuesday to the lowest levels in two weeks. The Treasury Department auctioned $30 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 0.050 percent, down from 0.095 percent last week. Another $30 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 0.075 percent, down from 0.110 percent last week. The three-month rate was the lowest since these bills averaged 0.040 percent two weeks ago on Feb. 3. The six-month rate was the lowest since those bills averaged 0.060 percent, also on Feb. 3. The discount rates reflect that the bills sell for less than face value. Separately, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday the average yield for one-year Treasury bills was 0.12 percent last week, unchanged from the previous week.

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