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Engineering a bullet

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A bullet train linking Northern and Southern California will be an audacious engineering feat, because the line must cross two mountain ranges and a half-dozen earthquake faults, experts said.

Planners foresee the 141-mile segment from Bakersfield to Los Angeles running through vast tunnels, delving through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, plunging 500 feet underground in some places and soaring over canyons on viaducts 200 to 330 feet high, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It is the project of the century,” said Bill Ibbs, a civil engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley who has worked on high-speed rail projects around the world.

The $68 billion first phase of the project is expected to run more than 500 miles between San Francisco and the Los Angeles and Anaheim areas by 2029.

Eventually, supporters hope for high-speed lines running all the way from Sacramento to San Diego.
Military solar

(AP) -- Thousands of military homes in southern New Mexico and West Texas will be fitted with solar panels as part of a $1 billion plan by a California company to bring solar to military installations across the country.

SolarCity on Tuesday announced it will be installing photovoltaic panels on homes at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and Texas' Fort Bliss.

The company is already working with housing managers at bases in Arizona, California, Colorado and Hawaii.

In all, SolarCity aims to install photovoltaic systems on as many as 120,000 military homes over five years.

Company officials said the systems at Fort Bliss and White Sands will be capable of offsetting more than half of the electricity typically used in each community.

Army officials said Fort Bliss has a goal of being energy self-sufficient by 2018.
Windy tax credit

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said at a teleconference that uncertainty over the future of the wind energy production tax credit already has hurt the industry -- which employs 75,000 people and drives more than $10 billion a year in economic development.

Branstad and Kitzhaber lead the Governor's Wind Energy Coalition, which represents 28 states.

The credit was first signed by President George H.W. Bush and backed by a number of prominent Republicans. But legislation to renew the tax break stalled in Congress this summer amid opposition from conservative House Republicans, who argued it was wasteful spending.

Wind energy companies already have started shrinking their workforces.

The Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has allowed its Colorado workforce to decline by 500 jobs, and announced last week it plans to cut its global workforce by another 3,000 by the end of next year due to uncertainty over the tax credit.
Sandy repairs

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City is pouring $500 million into repairing public schools and hospitals damaged by Superstorm Sandy -- and that's just for starters.

With 23 schools and two city-owned hospitals still closed two weeks after the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials announced plans Monday to put up $200 million for critical fixes to schools and $300 million for hospitals.

That may well not be the final price tag, but it's enough to get going robustly on needs including new boilers, new electrical systems and roof repairs, city officials said.

Before Sandy, the city was grappling with a projected $2 billion budget gap for the next 18 months; the city has since spent more than $134 million on storm recovery. Officials plan to seek federal reimbursement for the school and hospital repairs.
Home Depot profit

(Bloomberg) -- Home Depot Inc., the largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, posted third-quarter profit as the recovering U.S. housing market prompted customers to spend more on home repairs.

Net income climbed 1.4 percent to $947 million, or 63 cents a share, from $934 million, or 60 cents, a year earlier, the Atlanta-based company said Tuesday. Excluding some items, profit was 74 cents.

Sales rose 4.6 percent to $18.1 billion, topping the $17.9 billion average estimate.

U.S. real estate values are rebounding after a five-year decline, sending homeowners back to stores for remodeling supplies.

Sales at Home Depot (NYSE: HD) locations open at least a year rose 4.2 percent, the sixth straight quarterly increase, as customers visited more often and spent more per trip.

The average transaction value in the third quarter rose 2.9 percent to $54.55 while the number of purchases climbed 1.7 percent to 331 million.

Americans' real estate holdings have risen in value for two straight quarters and are worth $730 billion more than at the end of 2011, Federal Reserve data show.
$60M apartment

(AP) -- A luxury Hong Kong apartment in a Frank Gehry-designed building has sold for nearly $60 million, the property developer said Tuesday, the latest sign of the city's overheated housing market.

Swire Properties Ltd. said it sold the 620 square meter (6,683 square foot) apartment on the ninth floor of its Opus development for 455 million Hong Kong dollars ($58.7 million). It did not say who the buyer was.

Local property agents said it was the highest price ever paid for an apartment in the southern Chinese financial center.

The sale comes amid growing concern over surging property prices in Hong Kong driven by ultra-low interest rates and an influx of wealthy mainland Chinese buyers.

Prices have doubled since the end of the global financial crisis in 2009, according to a widely watched index.

The apartment is one of just 12 units in the building, which is perched on the side of Victoria Peak and affords commanding views of Hong Kong.

Swire has already sold one other unit for HK$430 million ($55.5 million) and leased out another that comes with its own pool for HK$850,000 ($110,000) a month.

Gehry designed the building with external glass-enclosed columns which twist around the building to mimic the appearance of reeds swaying in the breeze.
Bubble feared

(Bloomberg) -- Allianz SE, Europe's biggest insurer, said low interest rates have caused a bubble in the government bond market and may do the same to equities unless central banks tighten monetary policy.

“We have a bubble in sovereign debt, looking at German Bunds, with central banks flooding the markets with liquidity,” Maximilian Zimmerer, member of the company's management board in charge of its finance department, said Tuesday.

Allianz's asset management division has reduced its exposure to German debt as interest rates have fallen to “unattractive levels,” Zimmerer said.

The price of equities may also become over-inflated in the next two years unless policy makers raise interest rates, he said.

Allianz (PNK: AZSEY) will increase real estate investments over the next five years by 10 billion euros to 30 billion euros, where returns look more attractive, Zimmerer said.

“We want to grow over-proportionally in real estate and infrastructure lending,” he said. “There are very attractive projects offering spreads of 2 percent to 4 percent.”

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