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Offshore survey

(AP) -- A Maryland board has approved a $3.3 million contract to conduct a survey off the coast of Ocean City related to developing offshore wind.

The Board of Public Works approved the contract on Wednesday with Coastal Planning & Engineering Inc. for a high-resolution geophysical survey.

The money for the contract will come from about $30 million the state of Maryland received in a settlement agreement with Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) last year in its bid to takeover Baltimore's Constellation Energy (NYSE: CEG).

Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals to develop offshore wind have stalled in the last two regular sessions of the Maryland General Assembly.

A scaled-back version passed the House of Delegates last year, but did not clear the state Senate. O'Malley is expected to try again this year.

Rhode Island spending

(AP) -- Rhode Island has spent over 60 percent of $79 million available in a federal foreclosure prevention program, and housing officials say the state is on track to draw down the rest in the coming months.

Nearly $48 million in Hardest Hit Fund money had gone to about 2,560 homeowners by the end of December, Rhode Island Housing officials said Thursday. Over $5 million more has been approved but not finalized.

The funds generally go toward mortgage payments made on behalf of qualified homeowners.

Rhode Island Housing, the quasi-public agency that administers the Hardest Hit Fund program in the state, said it will stop accepting applications at the end of January because it expects to have the rest of the money committed.

Richard Godfrey, Rhode Island Housing executive director, described the program as highly successful -- so successful, in fact, that the agency has asked the state's congressional delegation for $35 million more.

The additional funding would allow the agency to extend the program for a year and help about another 1,200 homeowners make their mortgage payments, he said.

The Obama administration launched the Hardest Hit Fund in 2010 to provide assistance to the states most affected by the housing and economic downturns.

It operates in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

Rhode Island has spent its Hardest Hit money faster than many other states.

According to Treasury, states had committed $1.7 billion of the total -- or about 22 percent -- through November on behalf of homeowners in the program.

In Rhode Island, Godfrey said the average total assistance is about $18,500.

Arkansas buys wind

(AP) -- Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. said it has entered into an agreement to buy wind-generated electricity from a wind farm in Kansas.

The long-term agreement announced Thursday has the Flat Ridge 2 Wind Farm providing the cooperative with 51 megawatts of wind energy.

The cooperative is a wholesale electricity supplier that provides power to members with 500,000 customers.

The Flat Ridge 2 Wind Farm will provide energy to consumers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri.

Islamic takeover offer

(Bloomberg) -- Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC offered to take over mortgage provider Tamweel PJSC through a share swap, four days after the United Arab Emirates' central bank issued guidelines restricting home loans.

The offer follows the U.A.E. central bank's decision to cap mortgages for foreigners and nationals at 50 percent and 70 percent of the property values.

Dubai's real estate market is showing some signs of recovery after prices plunged about 65 percent over four years after global credit crisis, bringing the emirate to the brink of default in 2009.

Dubai's ruler in November announced developments including a new district that includes the world's biggest shopping mall.

Dubai Islamic is the U.A.E.'s biggest lender complying with Shariah banking laws.

Safety first

(Bloomberg) -- Most Germans view real estate as the safest way to save money for retirement and don't want stocks to be part of their pension, a Union Investment survey showed.

The poll of 500 financial decision makers showed 85 percent consider real estate ownership as the most reliable investment, while 37 percent view so-called Riester saving plans as secure, the fund manager said in a summary of the findings.

Seventy percent of the people surveyed regard state pensions as unsafe.

Germans are skeptical of buying equities, with 58 percent of respondents saying that stocks and funds shouldn't be part of "good" planning for old age. About two-thirds of 20- to 29- year-olds hold that opinion, fund manager Union Investment said.

UK availability

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. lenders increased the availability of mortgages and company loans "significantly" in the fourth quarter as the Bank of England's credit-boosting program began to take effect.

An index of the availability of secured loans to households rose to 26.2 from 21.9 in the third quarter, the BoE said in its quarterly Credit Conditions Survey.

The BOE's report showed mortgage demand rose in the fourth quarter, as did demand for credit from medium-sized firms, while spreads on home loans tightened "significantly."

The central bank said that defaults on mortgages fell in the three months through December, though losses from defaults rose "slightly."

Both defaults and losses were expected to remain unchanged in the first three months of 2013.

Separately, Nationwide Building Society said U.K. house prices declined 0.1 percent last month and may fall "modestly" over 2013.

An index of construction activity fell to 48.7 in December -- a six-month low -- from 49.3.

Turkish REITs

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish real estate investment trusts (REITs) slumped after the government raised value-added taxes on sales of new homes.

Emlak Konut Gayrimenkul Yatirim Ortakligi AS led declines on the Istanbul Stock Exchange National Reits Index, taking its biggest loss since May.

The new legislation raises taxes on sales of homes with appraisal values of less than 1,000 liras ($560) per square meter to 8 percent from 1 percent and for homes appraised at more than that to 18 percent.

That replaces a size-based tax in which homes larger than 150 square meters were taxed at 18 percent while smaller homes were taxed at 1 percent.

The taxes apply to construction permits issued from this year.

"Overall this is bad news for the sector," Selim Cakir, an analyst at Turk Ekonomi Bankasi AS in Istanbul, said Wednesday. "New projects will be impacted negatively."

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