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San Diego 6th fastest

SEATTLE -- Redfin, the technology-powered real estate broker, announced a list of the nation's fastest real estate markets, as defined by having the most homes going under contract in 24 hours or less.

Redfin has coined the term "Real Estate Flash Sales" to describe this new phenomenon in the real estate market.

Of 15 real estate markets across the United States with the most flash sales recorded in the last five months, San Diego was ranked sixth with 135 sales, the highest-ranked California market.

Others in the state were Los Angeles, seventh with 132, Sacrament eighth with 128, and San Jose 15th with 74.

Phoenix was ranked No. 1 with 540 flash sales, Chicago second with 261, Houston third with 188, Dallas fourth with 184 and Austin fifth with 163. Las Vegas was 11th with 100.

Except for Chicago and Baltimore (with 97) and Washington DC (with 87), all the cities were in the West.

The ranking is based on data collected from the local Multiple Listing Services (MLS), public records and information collected from Redfin real estate agents about all homes listed for sale across the company's 21 U.S. markets from Oct. 1, 2012 through Feb. 26.

The inventory shortage plaguing real estate markets across the country, paired with extremely high homebuyer demand have caused the pace of the market to accelerate dramatically.

Redfin also reported that San Diego County's inventory of homes for sale dropped by 50.1 percent in February 2013 from a year ago, and that 49.8 percent were sold in two weeks or less.

All of the top markets were in California. San Jose had the quickest under-contract period, with 63.1 percent of those surveyed going into escrow in two weeks or less, followed by San Francisco with 56.6 percent earning the distinction, Ventura at 52.6 percent and Los Angeles at 51.3 percent.

Return to profit

(AP) -- Sterling Construction Co. returned to a profit in its fourth quarter, free of a hefty impairment charge.

But the contractor for road, water and sewer projects also cautioned that its revenue growth excluding acquisitions will likely be limited this year as it deals with tight government spending.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Sterling earned $2.9 million, or 1 cent per share. That compares with a loss of $43.6 million, or $2.72 per share, a year earlier.

The prior-year period included a goodwill impairment charge of $67 million.

Revenue increased 39 percent to $158.1 million from $114 million due to more activity in most of its markets, particularly California and Texas.

Sterling's (Nasdaq: STRL) full-year loss narrowed to $297,000, or 26 cents per share, from a loss of $35.9 million, or $2.24 per share, in the previous year.

Annual revenue climbed 26 percent to $630.5 million from $501.2 million.

The Houston company's shares have traded in a 52-week range of $7.12 to $11.88.

Goldman turned away

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in an investor lawsuit over mortgage-backed securities whose value plummeted during the 2008 financial crisis.

The justices Monday left intact a federal appeals court ruling that partially backed the NECA-IBEW Health and Welfare Fund, which is pressing the case.

At issue was whether NECA, which bought certificates from two of 17 disputed Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) trusts, had legal “standing” to sue on behalf of investors in the other 15 offerings.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said NECA's claims were similar to those stemming from five other offerings, all of which contained loans made by a Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) unit and GreenPoint Mortgage Funding Inc.

The appeals court said NECA had standing to press those claims, though not any claims concerning the other 10 trusts.

The standing issue is separate from the question of class action status, which the lower courts haven't yet considered.

The case is Goldman Sachs v. NECA-IBEW Health and Welfare Fund, 12-528.

Restoring Raccoon Island

(AP) -- A coalition of volunteers from around the country spent the week in Terrebonne Parish, La., working to restore Raccoon Island with a new tool for rebuilding land.

The Courier reported the New York-based Restore the Earth Foundation partnered with San Francisco-based For the Bayou.

Volunteers from AmeriCorps and other groups placed 4,000 land-building Gulf Saver bags on the island in just four days to help stabilize and restore it.

Gulf Saver bags are biodegradable sacks of soil mixed with nutrients that support, feed and protect planted native vegetation.

The bags help stabilize plants in the face of storm surge, wave action and erosion, said Leslie Carrere, executive director of projects and programs at the Restore the Earth.

The volunteers hope the bags, planted with black mangroves and spartina wetland grasses will take root on the island to help it better resist continued erosion.

First used as a trial project in Pass a Loutre after 2010's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Carrere said areas planted with the Gulf Saver bags grew productively over the next two years.

About 95 percent of the plants survived their first year. The marsh created at Pass a Loutre also survived Hurricane Isaac last year.

Raccoon Island, part of Terrebonne's Isle Dernieres barrier island chain, protects Terrebonne communities against storm surges.

It is also host to a vibrant and diverse array of nesting shorebirds and hosts the largest brown pelican colony in Louisiana.

The $400,000 project was built with grants from For the Bayou, the Coypu Foundation and the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries helped with the project.

Bridge blown up

(AP) -- An outdated Central Texas highway bridge has been demolished using explosives instead of a tear-down process that could have taken two months.

Hundreds of bystanders gathered Sunday morning in Marble Falls to watch the former U.S. 281 bridge come down.

The Texas Department of Transportation has been working on a $30 million project to replace the four-lane bridge over the Colorado River with two roomier spans.

Experts opted for explosives instead of taking apart the 77-year-old metal-and-concrete bridge. Contractors will remove debris from the water and recycle as much as possible.

A new northbound bridge opened in December. A new southbound bridge will be built in the same space as the old span.

Land grabs 'bad'

(Bloomberg) -- Land grabs are a “bad idea” because they reduce trade volume in agricultural commodity markets, said Ruth Rawling, Cargill Inc.'s vice-president of corporate affairs for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“We're against land grabbing because it takes productive land and all the resources on it out of the market,” Rawling said at a commodity conference in Geneva. “It reduces the size of the market, from our perspective that is a bad idea.”

A global rush to buy farmland triggered by the 2007-2008 jump in food prices continued in recent years, with international investors focusing on the poorest countries with weak land-rights security for deals, according to an April 2012 report by the Land Matrix research group.

Many land deals are aimed at supplying a single market, reducing the ability of trade to compensate for production shortfalls in one region with surpluses in another, according to Rawling, who called land grabs “a failure of policy.”

“In agriculture you have weather problems, and the great strength of the market being as broad as possible is that weather problems in one area can be resolved by surplus production somewhere else,” Rawling said.

Suntech default

(AP) -- Suntech Power Holdings Ltd., one of the world's biggest solar panel manufacturers, said Monday it has defaulted on a $541 million bond payment in the latest sign of the financial squeeze on the struggling global solar industry.

The company is “exploring strategic alternatives with lenders and potential investors,” David King, who was named CEO last year, said.

Suntech was due to make a $541 million bond payment on Friday but ran short of cash following heavy losses over the past year.

The company said it reached agreement with holders of 60 percent of the bonds to postpone payment but Monday's announcement said the bonds' trustee had declared a default.

It said that triggered defaults on other debts to the International Finance Corp. and Chinese lenders.

Bank to buy urban planner

(Bloomberg) -- China Development Bank International Holdings Ltd. agreed to buy 40 percent of China New Town Development Co., which plans new urban areas in the mainland and prepares land plots for sale to developers.

The unit of the world's largest policy lender signed a non-binding agreement to subscribe for 3 billion shares in the company at 24.6 Hong Kong cents each, China New Town Development said to the Hong Kong stock exchange Sunday.

The stake of controlling shareholder SRE Investment Holding Ltd. will fall to 20 percent from 33 percent.

China solar subsidies

(Bloomberg) -- China, forecast to become the largest solar-power market this year, may abolish some subsidy programs for the largest projects to preserve incentives for smaller ones and avoid duplication, an industry official said.

The new policy would keep in place help for plants owned by the final user of the power, while trimming back subsidies established to start utility-scale projects, Meng Xiangan, vice chairman of the China Renewable Energy Society in Beijing, said.

Should the government confirm the move, it would reduce incentives under the Golden Sun program just as China strives to install more photovoltaic equipment than any other country and as its manufacturers are hurting.

China's Suntech Power Holdings Co. (NYSE: STP), the world’s biggest solar-panel maker in 2011, became unprofitable and stopped paying its debts last week.

The government picked hundreds of developers last year, including Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. and Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL), to get subsidies as demand for their solar devices slumped in Europe.

Meng didn't mention names of companies that could be most affected by a policy change.

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