Home sales numbers grow
WASHINGTON — 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
WASHINGTON — 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
PROVO, Utah — 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
WASHINGTON — 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
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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.
Texas company owes back pay
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A Texas company that profited for decades by supplying mentally disabled workers to an Iowa turkey plant at wages of 41 cents per hour must pay the men $1.37 million in back wages, a federal judge ruled late Tuesday. The judgment against Henry's Turkey Service in Goldthwaite is the third of more than $1 million against the company after state authorities in 2009 shut down a dilapidated bunkhouse in rural Iowa where the men had lived since the 1970s. The 32 employees had been paid $65 per month to work the processing line at a huge turkey plant in West Liberty after Henry's improperly deducted fees for room and board, care, transportation and other expenses out of their pay and Social Security checks, U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle ruled. The amount they were paid never changed during the 30-year period they worked at the plant, regardless of whether they worked more than 40 hours per week, he found.
Japan Airlines has $8.5B IPO
TOKYO — Japan Airlines Co. capped an $8.5 billion initial public offering, the biggest this year after Facebook's, with a modest return to the Tokyo Stock Exchange: Its share price rose only 1 percent in the first day of trading. The shares closed at 3,830 yen ($48.69), barely above their 3,790 yen IPO price, after briefly topping 3,900 yen shortly after trading opened. The carrier, also known as JAL, was delisted after it went bankrupt in 2010 but has since carried out cost cuts and restructured to return to solid profitability. Its 663 billion yen ($8.5 billion) IPO nearly doubled the 350 billion yen that went into its government-backed bailout.
Pipeline fire death toll rises
REYNOSA, Mexico — The death toll in a pipeline fire at a distribution plant near the U.S. border has risen to 29, Mexico's state-owned oil company said Wednesday. At least 46 others were injured, and more might be missing. Juan Jose Suarez, director of the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos company, told local media earlier in the day that at least five workers had not been seen since the blast. President Felipe Calderon said the quick reaction of emergency teams prevented a “real catastrophe,” by controlling the fire before it reached the huge tanks of a neighboring gas processing plant.
From Wire Reports