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March 19, 2013 at 12:19 PM
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Gains fade in U.S. markets

NEW YORK, March 19 (UPI) -- U.S. stocks returned to positive territory Tuesday morning, but gains faded by midday.

The Department of Commerce said building starts rose in February, rising sharply over a year ago, adding to the data showing the housing market making a comeback.

In Cyprus members of Parliament considered a bill that would raise less than the $5.8 billion required for the country to qualify for a $13 billion European Commission bailout. The uncertainty over what comes next hung over markets in Europe, Tuesday.

In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 45.21 points, or 0.31 percent, to 14,406.85.

The Nasdaq shed 17.50 points, or 0.54 percent, to 3,220.09.

The Standard and Poor's 500 dropped 8.61 points, or 0.55 percent, to 1,543.49.

Ten-year U.S. treasury bonds rose 13/32 to yield 1.911 percent.

Against the dollar, the euro was at $1.2886 from Monday's $1.2956. Against the yen, the dollar was lower at 94.82 yen from 95.21 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 rose 2.03 percent, adding 247.60 points to 12,468.23.

Home equity rebound could push spending

IRVINE, Calif., March 19 (UPI) -- A rebound in home equity prices can push consumers to spend, boosting the U.S. economy, an economist at research firm CoreLogic said.

With the percentage of U.S. homes considered "underwater" falling, spending could increase and more homeowners could feel more confident taking out loans, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

A recent CoreLogic report said there were 1.7 million fewer homes considered underwater in the fourth quarter of 2012 than there were in the same period in 2011. The percentage of homes worth less than what was owed on their mortgages -- the definition of underwater -- fell from 25.2 percent at the end of 2011 to 21.5 percent a year later, the report said.

"Home equity is the biggest source of wealth, so if equity is increasing that has a very large effect on household spending and consumer psychology," CoreLogic economist Sam Khater said.

Increased confidence among homeowners can also have a direct effect on the housing market, making it easier for people to move to better jobs if the chance to do so comes up.

When a home is worth less than what is owned to the bank homeowners tend to hold on, waiting for a point where they could at least break even before putting a home on the market.

More homes on the market means it is easier to move. It also means more commission checks for real estate agents.

"All the things that fed on the downside feed positively on the upside," said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank.

A retirement squeeze is on

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- Saving enough for retirement is a concept that is slipping away for many U.S. workers, a new national survey found.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute, in a report to be released Tuesday, found 57 percent of respondents to a survey indicated they had $25,000 or less in total savings and investments, a figure that excludes the equity they might have in their homes.

The Wall Street Journal reported those indicating they had such a small amount saved has grown. In 2008, 49 percent indicated they had $25,000 or less squirreled away.

More than a quarter of the respondents in the current survey -- 28 percent -- indicated they had no confidence in their ability to fund a comfortable retirement. In the 23-year history of the survey, that is the highest that has been, the Journal said.

The survey, which was conducted in January, included responses from 1,003 workers and 251 retirees.

"Workers are recognizing there is a crisis," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Boston College Center for Retirement Research.

One one hand, having enough to retire is a matter of having a strong economy. But the other side of the coin is life expectancy, which the Society of Actuaries in September said had increased by a year for men and 1.5 years for women from 2000 to 2012.

Men who turn 65 in 2013 are expected to live to age 85.5. Women turning 65 this year are expected to live to 87.7, the society said.

More years in retirement means workers have to save that much more to retire comfortably and companies are helping much less than in the past.

Using Department of Labor figures, the percentage of U.S. workers in the private sector covered by defined benefit plans has dropped from 28 percent in 1979 to 3 percent in 2011, the Employee Benefit Research Institute said.

China FDI rebounds in February

BEIJING, March 19 (UPI) -- China's foreign direct investments rebounded in February with a 6.32 percent jump, ending eight consecutive months of decline, the government said Tuesday.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said February FDI inflows rose 6.32 percent year-on-year to $8.21 billion, noting it was the first such turn around after falling for eight consecutive months since last June.

The numbers were even more impressive when compared with January when FDI fell 7.3 percent year-on-year to $9.27 billion.

China had blamed the decline in the previous months on the global economy and rising labor costs at home.

"The rebound is a heartening fact," ministry spokesman Shen Danyang told a news conference as reported by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

EU investments in China surged 34.01 percent to $1.21 billion in February, while those from the United States dropped 5.37 percent to $497 million.

Shen said the overall February rebound showed the competitiveness of China's economy and foreign investors' confidence in the country's business environment and growth prospects.

However, he said it would be hard to judge the FDI situation for the entire year based on the latest data.

"Our general estimate is that FDI remain steady for the whole year, which means significant rises and drops are not likely," Shen said.

FDI into China for all of 2012 was down 3.7 percent year-on-year to $111.72 billion.

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