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Builder reports slow start to spring sales

The peak spring home-selling season is off to a slow start, builder D.R. Horton said Tuesday, another sign that bad times in the housing market may last longer than expected.

Horton, the nation’s largest homebuilder by deliveries, said Tuesday that its sales order in the most recent quarter fell 37 percent, led by even steeper declines in California and the Southwest.

The report trumped recent indications that sales of homes, especially existing houses, had been improving.

The Fort Worth-based company said net sales orders for the quarter ended March 31 totaled 9,983 homes, down from 15,771 a year ago. The value of the orders dropped 40 percent, to $2.6 billion from $4.4 billion a year ago.


Price of Lake Tahoe homes up 20 percent

The average price of a single-family home at Lake Tahoe rose to $1.4 million in March, up 20 percent from the first quarter of 2006, a real estate agency said Tuesday.

The price for condominiums at the lake fell 10 percent over the same period, to an average of $505,563, market analysis prepared for Chase International shows.

“Lake Tahoe is unlike any other market,” said Susan Lowe, corporate vice president for Chase International, said.

“Although we’ve seen some normalization in the Truckee, Reno and Carson Valley, when it comes to single-family homes in Lake Tahoe, the bubble isn’t bursting. Instead, these properties continue to show steady appreciation,” she said.


Oil prices rebound after Monday slide

Oil prices regained some ground Tuesday after sliding nearly $3 barrel the day before on expectations of oversupply at a key North American delivery point.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose 38 cents to settle at $61.89 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. May Brent at London’s ICE Futures exchange also rose 57 cents to finish at $67.42 a barrel.

Below-normal temperatures continue to grip the Northeast and Midwest with some areas expecting snow, according to local forecasts. The weather also helped to push up prices for heating oil and natural gas on Tuesday.


Levi Strauss profits signal recovery

Levi Strauss & Co. posted its biggest first-quarter profit in a decade, providing the latest sign that the long-suffering jeans maker is finally on the mend.

The San Francisco-based company said Tuesday that it earned $86.6 million during the three months ended Feb. 25. That represented a 61 percent increase from net income of $53.8 million at the same time last year.

The performance represented Levi’s most profitable start since it made $106 million during the first quarter of 1997.

First-quarter revenue rose 7 percent to $1.04 billion, a significant improvement for a company that has registered lower annual sales in nine of the past 10 years.


Splenda confuses consumers, rival says

The marketers of Splenda have made millions by confusing consumers into thinking the yellow packets contain a natural product and not an artificial sweetener, its chief rival told a jury Tuesday in a trial that pits Splenda against its rivals in the $355 million market for sugar substitutes.

Splenda has cornered the market for sugar substitutes since its 2000 debut through false advertising that implies Splenda contains sugar, the manufacturer of Equal says.

The Merisant Co., which makes Equal and NutraSweet, says Splenda is misleading customers with its tag line, “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Splenda contains no sugar and is instead sweetened with a synthetic compound through a complex chemical process.

McNeil Nutritionals counters that it uses sugar in the manufacturing process, even if it is burned off and not part of the final product.


Yahoo to provide services to Viacom

Yahoo, the No. 2 Internet search provider behind Google, has signed an exclusive multiyear deal to provide search and advertising services to some high-profile Web sites owned by media giant Viacom.

The agreement shuts Google out of at least 33 of Viacom’s most-important online entertainment sites, including MTV.com, VH1.com, Nickelodeon.com, comedycentral.com and BET.com. Financial terms of the deal, which could be expanded to 140 more sites, were not disclosed.

The pact comes four weeks after Viacom sued Google’s YouTube video unit for copyright infringement.


Greyhound extends pact with bus drivers

Greyhound has extended a contract with bus drivers and other employees by about two weeks as the two sides try to hammer out a new labor agreement, the bus company said Tuesday.

Greyhound Lines said it would meet with the union before the contract expires and that it would operate the business as usual.

Last week, members of Local 1700 of the Amalgamated Transit Union voted more than 3-to-1 to reject a contract proposal that the company had called its final offer.

The union represents 3,300 Greyhound workers, including 3,000 drivers and about half the company’s mechanics.


Bond prices rise to recover some losses

Prices for U.S. Treasurys were modestly higher Tuesday, as the market regained losses wrought by Friday’s release of March’s payrolls report.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the 10-year Treasury note was up $1.88 per $1,000 in face value, or 0.19 points, from its level at 5 p.m. Monday. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction, fell to 4.72 percent from 4.75 percent.

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