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Dec. 22, 2009 at 6:02 PM
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Crude oil ends day above $74 a barrel

NEW YORK, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices rebounded from lower intraday trading to top $74 a barrel Tuesday on the U.S. Mercantile Exchange.

Oil traded lower earlier during the session after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed not to change output quotas and as data on gross domestic product showed the U.S. economy grew slower than anticipated, MarketWatch.com reported.

Crude oil prices picked up 68 cents before closing at $74.40 a barrel on the exchange, after falling as low as $72.72 earlier during the day.

"We're seeing a little bit of a bounce, although the dollar is trading higher," Dan Flynn, energy trader at PFGBest Research, told MarketWatch. "People could be trading into the inventories (data)."

OPEC had agreed to set their quotas at 24.845 million barrels a day starting from the beginning of the year.

Gasoline closed up 1.97 cents at $1.8888 a gallon. Heating oil rose slightly, 0.0142 cent, to $1.9486 a gallon, and natural gas rose 4.6 cents to $5.715 per million British thermal units.

At the pump, the national average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline dropped to $2.585 per gallon Tuesday, down from Monday's $2.59, AAA said.

Duke Energy to spend $93M for violations

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Duke Energy will spend $85 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations at its Indiana plant and pay a $1.75 million fine, federal officials said Tuesday.

The company agreed to reduce harmful air pollution and pay the penalty under a settlement to resolve the violations, the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said in a joint release.

The settlement also requires Duke Energy to invest $6.25 million on environmental mitigation projects, the agencies said.

The agreement, filed in federal court in Indianapolis, resolves violations found at the company's Gallagher coal-fired power plant in New Albany, Ind., across the Ohio River from Louisville. The settlement is expected to reduce the plant's sulfur dioxide emissions by almost 35,000 tons per year, an 86 percent reduction when compared to 2008 emission levels, the Justice Department said.

The settlement also requires Duke to spend $6.25 million on environmental mitigation projects, including $250,000 for the U.S. Forest Service to address acid rain in downwind national forests, $5 million for at least one project such conversion to hydro-generation or hybrid vehicle fleets, and $1 million for environmental mitigation projects allocated among the states -- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- that joined the settlement.

Home sales pushed higher in November

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Sales of existing U.S. homes jumped 7.4 percent in November, continuing an eight-month upswing, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

After rising 10.1 percent a month ago, sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops in November rose to an adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million units compared to 6.09 million in October, reaching the highest monthly rate since February 2007.

"This is clearly a rush of first-time buyers not wanting to miss out on the (federal) tax credit," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

Yun said sales would continue to rise after a short reprieve. "There are many more potential buyers who can enter the market in the months ahead," he said in a statement. However, "we expect a temporary sales drop while buying activity ramps up for another surge in the spring," he said.

In November, the inventory of houses on the market fell 1.3 percent to 3.5 million existing homes, a 6.5 month supply at the current pace of sales. The national median price in the monthly survey was $172,600, down 4.3 percent from a year ago, NAR said.

Unemployment funds straining state budgets

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Labor said 25 states have borrowed $24 billion from the federal government to cover depleted unemployment benefit funds.

An additional 15 states are on track to run out of unemployment compensation funding by 2011, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Debates on unemployment benefits have spread through several state capitals. In Indiana, "there's immense pressure, and it's got to be faced. Our system was absolutely broke," said State Rep. David Niezgodski.

Indiana's Gov. Mitchell Daniels Jr. described the level of aid as "Rolls Royce benefits," triggering a protest in the state capital. West Virginia has frozen benefits at 2009 levels and in Kentucky, a budget task force recommended trimming benefits 9 percent and raising taxes to cover weekly unemployment checks that average $309.

With unemployment at 10 percent, Wayne Vroman at the Urban Institute, said only a third of states had adequate funding levels before the recession began.

"If you fund a program adequately, you don't need to come to these kinds of difficult decisions," he said.

Stock indexes closes up on home sales news

NEW YORK, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. stock indexes closed up Tuesday, lifted by a strong report on existing home sales tempered by a lower gross domestic product for the third quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 50.79 points, or 0.5 percent, to finish the session at 10,464.93 points. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.4 percent, 3.97 points, to 1,118.03. The Nasdaq Composite finished up 15.01 points, a gain of 0.7 percent to 2,252.67 points.

Trading was light in the holiday-shortened week as investors and traders stayed away for Christmas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Those who were on trading floors told the Journal they were optimistic that the market's 2009 rally could last a bit longer.

The National Association of Realtors said existing-home sales in November rose 7.4 percent, but the U.S. Commerce Department lowered its third-quarter gross domestic product estimate to a 2.2 percent annual rate from the 2.7 percent rate economists expected, the Journal said.

In late afternoon trading, the New York Stock Exchange listed volume was 3.64 billion shares.

The U.S. Treasury 10-year note slid 17/32 to yield 3.746 percent.

Internationally, the dollar closed 1,4241 against the euro, compared with 1.4252 Monday. Against the yen, the dollar finished 91.83, compared with 91.80 Monday.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index rose 1.91 percent, 194.56, to 10,378.03.

In Britain, the FTSE 100 index rose 0.65 percent, 34.67, to 5,328.66.

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