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Nation/World business briefs, Sept. 20

Nation/World business briefs, Sept. 20
Modified: September 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm •  Published: September 20, 2012
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Nation

Home sales numbers grow

A jump in sales of previously occupied homes and further gains in home construction suggest the U.S. housing recovery is gaining momentum. The pair of reports Wednesday follows other signs of steady progress in the housing market after years of stagnation. New-home sales are up, builder confidence has reached its highest level in more than six years and increases in home prices appear to be sustainable. Sales and construction rates are still below healthy levels, economists caution. But the improvement has been steady.

Arsenic levels studied in rice

The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice as consumer groups are calling for federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food. So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat. The agency has studied the issue for decades but is in the middle of conducting a new study of 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products — short and long-grain rice, adult and baby cereals, drinks and even rice cakes — to measure arsenic levels. Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.

Security provider purchase set

Blackstone is leading a group that has agreed to buy home security provider Vivint for more than $2 billion. Provo, Utah-based Vivint is one of the largest providers of home automation and security services in North America. Its shareholders include Goldman Sachs, Peterson Partners and Jupiter Partners. Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Vivint will be acquired by a fund managed by the New York-based investment firm on behalf of its private equity investors.

Retirement fund pays secret fees

The District of Columbia government is taking a portion of workers' retirement contributions for “administrative expenses” without telling them, and part of the cut goes to the former accounting firm of embattled businessman Jeffrey Thompson. The company that runs the plan, ING, takes a small portion of the balance and returns it to the city — $212,000 in the most recent fiscal year. The money is supposed to cover the cost to the city of overseeing the plan. Among the expenses paid from that amount is a fee to Washington-based Bazilio Cobb Associates for an annual audit. The accounting firm — formerly known as Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, or TCBA — changed its name in July after Thompson, who's at the center of a wide-ranging federal probe of corruption in district government, left the firm and sold his ownership stake.

HCA accepts $16.5M settlement

The Justice Department and HCA have reached a $16.5 million settlement over violations of federal laws that restrict financial relationships between hospitals and physicians. The case arose after subsidiaries of the Nashville-based hospital chain gave financial benefits to Diagnostic Associates of Chattanooga, a physicians group, to get more patient referrals to HCA facilities, the Justice Department said in a news release Wednesday. The financial transactions in 2007 involved HCA Physician Services in Nashville and Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga. Officials said rental payments for offices leased from the physicians group exceeded fair market value, and members of the physician group were released from a separate lease obligation.

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