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Bay Area price surge

(Bloomberg) -- San Francisco Bay Area home prices surged 32 percent last month, the biggest increase from a year earlier in at least 24 years, as fewer distressed and more higher-end properties sold, DataQuick said.

The median price paid for a home in the nine-county Bay Area climbed to $442,750 last month from $335,500 in December 2011, according to the San Diego-based data provider.

The median was the highest since August 2008, when it was $447,000, and the year-over-year gain was the largest in DataQuick records going back to 1988.

“At least half that increase is due to a change in market mix, with sales shifting away from low-cost distress homes toward more mid-market and move-up homes,” DataQuick said Wednesday.

The number of homes sold for less than $500,000 decreased 13 percent from December 2011, while those that sold for more than $500,000 jumped 61 percent, DataQuick reported.

A total of 7,832 new and resale houses and condominiums sold in the region last month, up 4.5 percent from a year earlier, the company said.

A tight supply of homes on the market and “a fussy home-loan environment” restrained the number of properties sold, DataQuick said.

Coliseum default

(AP) -- California said the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission has failed to make a $500,000 rent payment.

The Los Angeles Times said the stadium's landlord, the California Science Center, delivered the past due notice on Monday. News of the default was made public Tuesday.

The Coliseum could run out of money by the end of March.

The rent money is used to pay for public safety and maintenance of Exposition Park. It also supports the Science Center and California African American Museum.

The commission wants to turn stadium management over to the University of Southern California but negotiations are stalled.

The lease said if the bill isn't paid after two years' written notice, the commission will have to surrender the stadium.

Toll in Manhattan

(Bloomberg) -- Toll Brothers Inc., the largest U.S. luxury-home builder, purchased two development sites in Manhattan, expanding its condominium business in the most expensive U.S. urban residential market.

Toll (NYSE: TOL) bought the sites at 953-961 First Ave., between 52nd and 53rd streets, and 82 King St., between Hudson and Varick streets, the Horsham, Penns.-based company said Wednesday.

The buildings will also have retail space. Purchase prices weren't disclosed.

The acquisitions will be Toll's seventh and eighth buildings in Manhattan, and its 22nd and 23rd in the metro New York City area.

The company also has properties in the Brooklyn borough and in New Jersey's Hoboken and Jersey City under its City Living division.

“We have continued to expand in order to take advantage of the strong dynamics of this market,” Douglas Yearley, Toll's chief executive officer, said.

Manhattan's inventory of homes for sale plunged to the lowest in at least 12 years at the end of December, appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. said in a Jan. 3 report with Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Fourth-quarter sales surged 29 percent to 2,598, the highest for the period since at least 1987.

Toll also said it is expanding City Living to the Washington area. The company purchased a development site in Bethesda, Md., at 4915 Hampden Lane.

Construction on the property, three blocks from the Bethesda metro station, is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2013, the company said Wednesday.

Iowa prices rise

(AP) -- A new report said home prices and sales in Iowa are up significantly.

The Iowa Association of Realtors said the median sale price for a home was $125,000 in December.

That's a 7.8 percent increase compared with the same period a year before.

The average sale price for a home was about $134,000 in December, a jump of 11.6 percent compared with December 2011.

More than 2,500 homes were sold or closed last month, a slight jump compared with December 2011.

The group's housing trends report shows 34,860 homes were sold across the state in 2012. Just over 31,000 homes were sold in 2011.

Soccer at Belmont

(Bloomberg) -- The New York Cosmos, whose history includes Pele and other players among soccer's biggest names, submitted a proposal to build a $400 million, privately financed stadium at Belmont Park race track.

The plan, which includes a 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, nine restaurants, retail stores, a hotel and a residential community, was submitted to the Empire State Development Corp. on Jan. 11, the team said in a statement.

If the project is approved, the team said it expects to break ground next year. The stadium would open in spring 2016.

Major League Soccer, which has a team in Harrison, N.J., wants to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows Park that would house an expansion team.

Flushing Meadows is in New York City's Queens borough, about 12 miles from Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Defaulted loans for sale

(Bloomberg) -- Residential Capital LLC, the bankrupt mortgage company whose parent is owned by the U.S. government, won court approval to try to sell a pool of defaulted loans with a balance of about $130 million.

The mortgages are the best of about $1 billion in bad loans that ResCap was forced to repurchase after borrowers quit paying, according to papers the company filed earlier this month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.

ResCap “identified those loans that will be attractive to a number of prospective bidders, which are expected to result in the highest average market price for the loans sold,” the company said in the filing.

ResCap picked about 650 loans that have the best information about the value of the homes.

ResCap, based in New York, filed for bankruptcy in May.

The company is owned by Ally Financial Inc., a Detroit-based auto lender majority owned by U.S. taxpayers.

Last year, the company held auctions for the most valuable ResCap assets -- its loan-servicing business and a separate portfolio of mortgages.

The case is In re Residential Capital LLC, 12-12020, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Genworth gain

(Bloomberg) -- Genworth Financial Inc. posted the biggest gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on Chief Executive Officer Tom McInerney’s plan to distance the mortgage-guaranty unit from the rest of the company.

McInerney, who became CEO this month, is working to revamp the insurer after losses from the mortgage unit drained capital and threatened the firm's investment-grade credit rating.

The Richmond, Va.-based company also sells life insurance and long-term care coverage. Genworth (NYSE: GNW) said Wednesday it will create a new parent company and the outstanding senior and subordinated notes will remain obligations of the old parent.

Lumber prices surge

(Bloomberg) -- Lumber prices, which surged 44 percent in 2012, may extend the rally as the U.S. housing recovery gains traction, said Garrett Soden, the chief executive officer of RusForest AB, a Swedish forestry company.

“Housing starts are still well below the historical average,” Soden said. “There's room for demand to increase, and the market is well-placed for prices to increase.”

In the past 10 years, new-home starts averaged 1.26 million, based on government data.

A beetle infestation and reduced sawmill capacity pared lumber supplies in North America.

Price gains may spread to other regions because of production cuts in Europe, Soden said.

On Dec. 26, lumber futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. reached $399.50 per 1,000 board feet, the highest since April 2005.

Stockholm-based RusForest harvests timber and runs sawmills in Russia.

Algerian renewables

(Bloomberg) -- Gas Natural SDG SA won contracts to design solar and wind-power projects in Algeria as the North African country, the continent's largest natural-gas producer, expands in renewable energy.

The Spanish utility will devise and oversee construction of three photovoltaic plants and one wind farm over 18 months, a company official said Wednesday, declining to be named citing corporate policy.

The projects, led by state-owned Sonelgaz, will add 10 megawatts in wind power and 25 megawatts in solar energy, the official said.

Algeria intends to build large-scale renewable-power complexes starting in 2014 as part of plans to generate 40 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.

The nation may develop about 60 clean-energy projects with a total capacity of almost 22,000 megawatts, according to Sonelgaz.

So far, only one 20-megawatt solar-thermal plant and a 10-megawatt wind farm are operating, Bloomberg New Energy Finance data show.

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