The Briefcase: U.S. pending home sales rise
by From wire reports
December 29, 2012 11:57 PM | 765 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WASHINGTON — A measure of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes increased last month to its highest level in two and a half years, the latest sign of improvement in the once-battered housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent in November from October to 106.4. That's the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit caused a spike in sales. And after excluding those months when the tax credit was available, it's the best reading since February 2007.

The increase followed a 5 percent gain in October and suggests higher sales of previously occupied homes in the coming months. There's generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

Justice Dept. investigating HP

NEW YORK — Autonomy, the British business software company now owned by Hewlett-Packard Co., is facing a Justice Department investigation over improper accounting under previous management, according to HP.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Thursday, HP said Justice officials had informed the company on Nov. 21 that they were opening an investigation into the allegations, which HP said in November that it had uncovered after a senior Autonomy executive came forward.

HP also reiterated that it provided information to the SEC and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office related to “accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and misrepresentations at Autonomy.” HP said it was cooperating with all three government agencies.

Champagne sales falling

PARIS — Europeans are finding fewer reasons to pop open a bottle of Champagne as another year of economic troubles and high unemployment saps the region's appetite for the finer things. But while the latest industry figures show that sales might be on the wane in Europe, other markets, particularly Japan and the United States, are developing a taste for a glass of bubbly.

In what is certain to be bad news for the vineyards, France — Champagne's largest market — is drinking fewer bottles. Sales of Champagne for the country were down 4.9 percent, and 5 percent elsewhere in the 27-country European Union, in the first nine months of 2012, compared with the same period in 2011, according to CIVC, the national association of growers and producers of the wine.

Nineteen months of rising unemployment and growing fears that the worst is yet to come have taken their toll on France — nearly seven in 10 French are worried about their country's future, according to a recent poll.

British firm invests in Nook

LONDON — Pearson, the U.K. publisher and education company, is to take a 5 percent stake in Barnes & Noble's NOOK e-reader as technology companies seek new inroads into the potentially lucrative business of digital textbooks for schools.

Pearson PLC will pay $89.5 million cash for a 5 percent stake in NOOK Media LLC which includes the bookseller's e-reader and tablets, its digital bookstore and its 674 stores serving U.S. colleges. Barnes & Noble will hold 78.2 percent of the business and Microsoft will have about 16.8 percent, the company said Friday.

Major tech companies have looked for inroads into the industry, seeing tablets like the iPad and the NOOK as replacements for the dozens of books that students must lug to and from school each day.

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