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Stocks make nominal gains

NEW YORK, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. stock indexes held onto gains Wednesday as two reports showed a recovery in the housing market taking hold.

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The U.S. Commerce Department said 750,000 private housing construction projects were started in August, 2.3 percent more than July's 733,000 starts on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The report follows Tuesday's report from the National Association of Home Builders that said its confidence index in September rose for the fifth consecutive month.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday existing home sales in August rose 7.8 percent from July, with 4.82 million single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums and co-ops sold in the month, using a seasonally adjusted annual rate.

It was the sixth consecutive month existing home sales were higher than the same month 12 months earlier.

By close of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average added 13.32 points, or 0.1 percent, to 13,577.96. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index added 4.82 points, or 0.15 percent, to 3,182.62. The Standard and Poor's 500 gained 1.73 points, or 0.12 percent, to 1,461.05.

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On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,731 stocks advanced and 1,271 declined on a volume of 3.4 billion shares traded.

The benchmark 10-year treasury rose 9/32 to yield 1.781 percent.

The euro rose to $1.305 from Tuesday's $1.3048. The U.S. dollar fell to 78.36 yen from 78.82 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index added 1.19 percent, 108.44 points, to 9,232.21.

In London, the FTSE 100 index gained 0.35 percent, 20.32 points, to 5,888.48.


Chick-fil-A retreats from anti-gay stance

CHICAGO, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A gay rights advocacy group in Illinois said fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has agreed to stop donating money to anti-homosexual groups.

The Civil Rights Agenda said the restaurant chain "is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas."

The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday the restaurant chain had agreed after meetings with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group to change its official mission to reflect its intention "not to engage in political or social debates."

The restaurant chain inserted itself into the same-sex marriage debate this summer, when company President Dan Cathy said Chick-fil-A was "guilty as charged" of supporting groups that oppose homosexuality.

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Another civil rights group, Equality Matters, reported that Chick-fil-A has donated about $5 million to Christian groups, such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, between 2003 and 2010, of which $2 million was donated in 2010 alone.

The Civil Rights Agenda said the restaurant's senior director of real estate had sent a letter to Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno pledging to stay out of politics.

Moreno had pledged to block Chick-fil-A's attempt to open an outlet in his Chicago district, but he has reconsidered that stance and was now willing to let the restaurant in, the newspaper said.


American Airlines to cut 4,400 jobs

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. carrier American Airlines said it sent out 11,000 layoff notices to union workers, but only 4,400 were actually expected to be dropped.

The company said federal law required it to inform workers that might lose their jobs. However, "far fewer people will be laid off than what we anticipated last February," airline spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

The airline had been expecting to cut 8,500 jobs, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported Wednesday.

The airline is required by federal law to send WARN notices to employees that could be laid off and the number that fit the definition categorically came to 11,159, the newspaper said.

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The airline has offered workers a buyout program, offering $12,500 or more in severance pay to Transport Workers Union employees with higher compensation paid to workers with longer employment records.

About 1,000 workers have taken the airline up on the offer. The workers have until Sept. 25 to sign up for the buyout program.

Hicks said pilots were not among those sent layoff notices, because a federal law requiring retirement at age 65 begin in December and that will trim pilot numbers low enough to match restructuring plans.


Mortgage rates hit MBA survey lows

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. mortgage activity fell slightly in the week ending Friday despite interest rates hitting 22-year lows, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

The trade group said mortgage activity fell 0.2 percent from the previous week, although refinancing activity rose 1 percent from the previous week.

Mortgage activity was flat despite interest rates reaching lows for the history of the survey, the MBA said.

The trade group has been conducting its weekly survey since 1990. It covers 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications. Respondents to the survey are mortgage lenders, including banks and thrifts.

In the week ending Friday, interest rates for 30-year, fixed-rate conforming mortgages fell from 3.75 percent to 3.72 percent with points rising from 0.44 to 0.45.

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The average interest rate for 30-year contracts on jumbo loans -- loans larger than $417,500 -- did not hit a record low, but fell from 4 percent to 3.99 percent with points rising from 0.3 to 0.35.

Loans for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages reached a record 3.03 percent, dropping from 3.07 percent. Points for 15-year, fixed rate contracts rose from 0.38 to 0.39.

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