Business digest: Home construction dips, but year best since 2007

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Posted: Saturday, January 18, 2014 12:00 am

U.S. home construction slowed in December but ended 2013 with the best showing since the housing bubble burst. The Commerce Department said Friday that builders broke ground last month at a seasonally annual rate of 999,000. That’s 9.8 percent lower than November’s pace of 1.12 million, which was the fastest in five years. For the year, builders started 923,000 homes and apartments, up 18.3 percent from 2012. It was the fourth straight annual gain and the strongest since 2007, when 1.36million homes were started.

Still, economists said December’s dip in activity followed a huge gain in November. They also blamed some of the decline last month on cold weather, which may have disrupted some construction activity.

U.S. employers advertised more jobs in November and more Americans quit, positive signs for millions who are unemployed and looking for work. The Labor Department said Friday that job openings rose 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted 4 million, the most in 5½ years. And the number of people quitting increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted 2.4 million, a five-year high. Job openings haven’t topped 4 million since March 2008, just a few months after the Great Recession began. Openings at that level are generally consistent with a healthy job market. More workers quitting can also be a positive signal, because people usually quit when they either have a new job — typically for more pay — or are confident they can find one. There were 2.7 unemployed workers for each available job in November, down from 6.7 just after the recession ended in July 2009. In a healthy economy the ratio is roughly 2-to-1.

A federal agency is issuing regulations aimed at making it easier for the government to shut down intercity bus and truck companies with a pattern of safety problems, even if their most recent inspection alone doesn’t quite meet the threshold for closure.

Congress told the Federal Motor Carrier Administration to issue the new regulations in a transportation bill passed in 2012.

The National Transportation Safety Board has called for an investigation of the agency, pointing to fatal bus and truck accidents that occurred after agency inspections.

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