Real Estate Outlook: Index Says Positive Growth Underway

You might not hear much about them on TV or in the papers, but there are some economic signs popping up right now that are — at the VERY least — encouraging for housing and real estate. Take the gold standard of all forward indicators for the U.S. economy — the Conference Board’s “Index of Leading Indicators,” which is based on a broad survey of industry data and predicts economic activity three to six months down the road.

The latest Conference Board index registered its first increase in six months. Now I know that all we hear about these days is recession: it’s either already here or it’s about to happen.

But the index suggests that there should be positive growth underway in the second half of the year, if not sooner. Continue reading

Charlotte Only Major City Where Housing Prices Are Still Rising!

Charlotte was the sole major U.S. city where housing prices have risen over the last year, according to results revealed today for a widely watched index.Housing prices dropped in February at the fastest rate ever, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller found. The results indicate that the housing slump is gaining momentum and showing no signs of letting up.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 cities fell by 12.7 percent in February versus last year, the largest decline since its inception in 2001. Seventeen of the 20 metro areas reported record annual declines.

The index dropped 10.7 percent in January and 9.1 percent in December.

“There is no sign of a bottom in the numbers,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P, noting that all 20 metro areas have declined for six straight months.

Half of the cities saw home values plunge by double digits led by Las Vegas at 22.8 percent and Miami at 21.7 percent. Those two areas experienced the sharpest appreciation in 2004 and 2005 with annual increases above 50 percent and 30 percent.

Only Charlotte posted a positive return of 1.5 percent year-over-year.

The narrower 10-city index declined 13.6 percent in February, a record drop in its two-decade history.

Battleship N.C. Passes Torch to Submarine

The Battleship North Carolina Memorial really comes alive this weekend. The annual reunion for former crew members of the USS North Carolina begins today.

Meanwhile, in celebration of the Wilmington commissioning of the new North Carolina – the Navy’s latest nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine – a massive fireworks display will be shot from the battleship memorial’s grounds on the west bank of the Cape Fear River, beginning at 9:15 p.m. Friday. Best view of the pyrotechnic show will be from the downtown Wilmington riverfront, with an appropriate musical soundtrack simulcast by radio station WGNI at 102.7FM. Continue reading

GE-Hitachi Expanding in Castle Hayne!

The state will pay GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy as much as $25.7 million over 12 years to expand its operations in Castle Hayne and create 900 new jobs during the next five years, Gov. Mike Easley announced Wednesday during remarks at Cape Fear Community College’s North Campus.

Speaking before a group of elected and business leaders at the college’s McKeithan Center, Easley joined GE-Hitachi CEO Jack Fuller in celebrating the expansion, which will include a state-of-the-art laser uranium enrichment facility, a technology that GE-Hitachi has exclusive rights to.

“It sounds good, it sounds safe and it’s going to be good for this area,” Easley said.

The 900 jobs will pay on average about $85,000, Easley said, which is more than double the county average of about $33,000.

GE-Hitachi also received a $900,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund to aid its facility expansion.

Last fall, the New Hanover County commissioners awarded GE-Hitachi an economic incentive package worth $10 million over 12 years to expand and add new jobs.

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Today’s Fed Statement

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower its target for the federal funds rate 25 basis points to 2 percent.

Recent information indicates that economic activity remains weak. Household and business spending has been subdued and labor markets have softened further. Financial markets remain under considerable stress, and tight credit conditions and the deepening housing contraction are likely to weigh on economic growth over the next few quarters. Continue reading

Tax Rebate Checks To Go Out Early!

The U.S. Treasury will start sending tax rebate checks to Americans next week, ahead of its previous schedule, and aims to pump $50 billion into the U.S. economy by the end of May, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Thursday.

“We will start a bit earlier. We’re a little bit ahead of schedule, so we will start right on Monday with direct deposits,” Paulson told Reuters in an interview.

Previously, the Treasury had planned to begin tax rebate payments in early May as part of a $152 billion stimulus plan passed in February.

The checks had to wait until after the Internal Revenue Service processed the bulk of tax returns filed before April 15.

But Paulson noted the economy is facing stiff headwinds from high fuel prices and a protracted housing downturn, so the administration wants to rush funds to consumers to keep the economy from deteriorating further.

He said the distribution of rebate payments totaling more than $100 billion will be largely completed by the end of June, well before his previous goal of summer’s end.

More than 800,000 electronic payments will be sent to tax filers per day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, with an additional 5 million sent on Friday, May 2.

“Close to 8 million people will get their stimulus payments next week,” he said.

“You add that to the incentives for business to make investments, we think that will give the economy a boost, upwards of 500,000 jobs,” Paulson added.

He said the economy had slowed down significantly, noting that “last quarter was a tough quarter,” with continued downside risks from housing and from financial market turmoil.

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Bargain Basements: Countrywide Sells Home for $1

Psst, looking for a cheap place to live? Just how cheap can you buy a home for in some of America’s biggest cities?

Check out Countrywide’s website of homes they have for sale:

On that site, you can find homes as low as:

–$1 in Detroit (!)

–$950 in Cleveland

–$1,200 in Buffalo, N.Y.

–$1,900 in St. Louis

–$5,900 in Pittsburgh

–$7,900 in Dallas

–$9,900 in Chicago

–$9,900 in Jacksonville, Fla.

–$24,900 in Denver

–$28,900 in Worcester, Mass.

–$39,900 in Sacramento

–$53,900 in Las Vegas

Blast From The Past!

This historical perspective, compiled from past Star-News articles archived at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Randall Library, takes readers back to the Cape Fear region of 75, 50 and 25 years ago. Reports from 1908 are unavailable.

75 years ago

April 21, 1933: An Associated Press report with a dateline from Berlin said, “Never within the memory of the oldest chancellory servant has there been such an overwhelming flood of presents as Chancellor Adolf Hitler received for his 44th birthday anniversary.” Continue reading

Experiences Guide Relay for Life Leaders!

Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society’s national signature event, celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer, remembers those lost and empowers individuals to fight back against the disease. Businesses, civic clubs, churches, friends and families take turns walking in relay fashion while they celebrate the critical role the American Cancer Society plays in the fight against cancer.

“The vital research and programs of the American Cancer Society are leading the way to eliminating cancer as a major health problem,” said Debbie Johnson, co-chair of this year’s Pender County Relay. “As a 6-year breast cancer survivor myself, I’m proud to participate in Relay For Life. More funds raised translate into more lives saved.” Continue reading