Money Matters - Simplified

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Existing home sales down in October

Washington -- Sales of existing homes fell in October after two months of gains, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

Sales of single-family homes, including co-ops, condominiums and townhouses, dropped 2.2 percent to an annual rate of 4.43 million units per year from a 4.53 million annual figure for September.

The jump in sales came in lower than the consensus forecast, which called for a 1.1 percent sales decrease.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said the industry is experiencing "an uneven recovery."

In addition, a "temporary foreclosure stoppage in some states" triggered by increased challenges in court over paperwork procedures had put a drag on the market, he said.

Crude oil prices hold near $82

New York -- Crude oil prices fell slightly but held above $82 per barrel Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Prices resumed their downward trend after climbing Thursday on news U.S. inventories had dropped by 7.3 million barrels last week.

Prices have been battered most of the week by concern over a bailout for Irish banks and officials in China suggesting tighter monetary policy was needed to curb inflation.

January delivery light, sweet crude opened at $82.76, then lost 63 cents to $82.13 per barrel. Heating oil prices shed 1.95 cents to $2.2938 per gallon. Reformulated blendstock gasoline prices shed 3.1 cents to $2.1275 per gallon.

Gold, oil and dollar slide Friday

New York -- Gold and oil prices fell in New York with the dollar down slightly Friday.

The dollar index fell 0.12 percent from 78.65 to 78.53.

Gold and oil prices also lost some ground. In late afternoon trading, gold prices on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange shed $1.40 to $1,351.60. Crude oil prices for January delivery lost 34 cents to $81.61 per barrel.

The dollar was mostly lower with some gains. The U.S. standard rose against the Australian dollar, the South Korean won, the British pound and the Russian ruble. It also rose against the South African rand. It fell against currencies from India, Taiwan, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark.

Crude oil prices dip below $74 a barrel

New York -- Crude oil prices fell in New York Thursday, slipping below $74 a barrel as equity markets lost ground on Wall Street.

Light, sweet crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $1.05 from a prior settlement to $74.37 per barrel.

No. 2 New York Harbor heating oil for September delivery fell 0.0200 cents to $2.0049 per gallon. Reformulated gasoline blendstock prices fell 0.00312-cent to $1.93 per gallon. Henry Hub natural gas prices lost 0.073-cent to $4.166 per million British thermal units.

At the pump, the national average price for unleaded regular gasoline was virtually unchanged from Wednesday's $2.737 per gallon to $2.730 Thursday, AAA's Fuel Gauge Report said.

Report: Small-business optimism down

Chicago -- The reading of small-business optimism by the National Federation of Independent Business fell from a level of 92.2 in May to 89 in June, the federation said.

The optimism index found that a net of just 1 percent of small firms indicated they planned to hire in the coming months, Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an international outplacement firm based in Chicago, reported Tuesday in a release on business activity.

Small businesses represent more than 99 percent of all U.S. employers and account for about 60 percent of gross job creation, Challenger said.

Wholesale sales fell in May

Washington -- U.S. wholesale inventories rose 0.5 percent in May from April while sales fell 0.3 percent, the U.S. Department of Commerce said Friday.

For the month, sales of durable goods was up 0.5 percent, while non-durable goods sales on the wholesale level were down 1 percent, largely due to a decline in petroleum sales.

Excluding petroleum, sales rose 5.9 percent.

Inventory followed the same pattern with durable goods inventories up 0.7 percent and non-durable goods inventories up only 0.1 percent at the end of the month.

The inventory-to-sales ratio for May was 1.34, indicating it would take 1.34 months to sell off the inventory in warehouses at the current pace of business activity.