(AP) -- A bill moving through the Legislature protects people in homeowner associations from retribution if they take steps to reduce water use for landscaping.
AB2104 passed the Assembly Thursday on a 71-1 vote without debate.
The bill's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, said associations have been finding ways to force their members to maintain lush lawns despite existing laws that seek to protect homeowners.
Her bill aims to reduce loopholes that are being used by the associations.
Under her bill, associations, apartment projects and housing cooperatives could not ban water-saving plants or prohibit their members from following local water conservation rules. It now heads to the Senate.
Four other bills targeting homeowner associations would spare homeowners from fines for letting their lawns die during a drought.
Beazer's sharp drop
(AP) -- Beazer Homes USA Inc. said Thursday that completed home sales and new orders fell sharply in the first three months of the year.
New home orders fell 9 percent to 1,390 in the January-March period, while completed sales, or closings, slumped 13 percent to 977, the company said.
The Atlanta-based homebuilder, which builds homes in 16 states, attributed the weak sales trends to severe winter weather and a 6 percent decline in how many areas, or communities, it was selling homes. The drop was steepest in the West.
CEO Allan Merrill said Beazer (NYSE: BZH) remains optimistic about this year's spring home selling season, which traditionally begins in mid-February and typically sets the pattern for residential hiring and building construction for the rest of the year.
Beazer said it expects to report a profit for fiscal 2014.
It has not reported an annual profit since 2006 amid the housing bust and the country's slow economic recovery.
Beazer ended the fiscal second quarter with its backlog down 2 percent to 2,163 homes under contract. Backlog is a key indicator of potential future revenue.
Its stock is down nearly 15 percent in 2014, but has risen 39 percent over the past 12 months.
(Bloomberg) -- Mexico will spend as much as 300 billion pesos ($22.9 billion) through 2018 on water works including dams, drainage tunnels, wastewater treatment and desalination plants.
The northern city of Monterrey will get an aqueduct eventually stretching 520 kilometers, David Korenfeld, head of the National Water Commission, said last month.
An expansion plan for the Cutzamala system, that supplies Mexico City with water, calls for a 70-kilometer aqueduct.
The spending goal is part of President Enrique Pena Nieto's plan to invest as much as 4 trillion pesos in infrastructure projects from highways to energy during his six-year term, which ends in late 2018.
The Mexican government may also propose a new water law in an attempt to modernize the sector, Pena Nieto said.
Paint retailer quits
(Bloomberg) -- Sherwin-Williams Co., the largest U.S. paint retailer, terminated its agreement to acquire the Mexican operations of Consorcio Comex SA after antitrust regulators blocked the deal.
Either party may cancel the deal since the acquisition wasn't completed by March 31 without being in material breach of the agreement, Cleveland-based Sherwin (NYSE: SHW) said Friday.
Mexico City-based Comex, the country's largest paint maker, on April 1 said Sherwin had breached the agreement.
Christopher M. Connor, Sherwin-Williams chairman and chief executive officer, was seeking to double sales in Latin America when he agreed in 2012 to buy Comex for $2.34 billion, including the assumption of debt.
Mexican regulators repeatedly blocked the sale of the local unit and Sherwin in September acquired the United States and Canada operations for $165 million.
Sherwin Thursday asked the Supreme Court of New York to declare the company had used commercially reasonable efforts to complete the acquisition and had not breached the agreement.
Property tax 'jacket'
(AP) -- A fast-tracked plan to overhaul two Chicago pension programs slowed in the Illinois House Thursday, as nervous lawmakers said they fear backlash for a massive property tax increase even if they don't directly approve it.
House Speaker Michael Madigan wanted quick House approval for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan after the mayor said he has agreement with major unions covering 57,000 workers and retirees to reduce by half a $20 billion pension debt over 40 years.
But half the cost for municipal workers' and laborers' pensions would be covered by a five-year, $750 million property tax hike that the Chicago city council must approve.
“Legislators are concerned about wearing the jacket for that property tax increase,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and pension expert
Street View fine
(Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. paid a 1 million-euro ($1.37 million) fine in Italy after the local regulator found its Street View cars drove incognito across the country, violating the privacy of citizens caught on camera without their knowledge.
It's Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) largest penalty yet after a series of clashes with data privacy regulators across the 28-nation European Union.
Street View cars have also triggered fines for collecting data from unrestricted wireless connections to gather people's personal communications.
The owner of the world's biggest Internet search engine, which had about $60 billion in cash at the end of last year, already took steps to make its Street View cars more easily identifiable and to alert people that the mapping service’s cars plan to pass through their neighborhood, the Italian regulator said Friday.
Blackstone wind farm done
(Bloomberg) -- Blackstone Group LP said it finished building its 1.2 billion-euro ($1.7 billion) wind farm in the German North Sea.
WindMW GmbH, a joint company of Blackstone (NYSE: BX) and Windland Energieerzeugungs GmbH, installed the last of 80 wind turbines of the 288-megawatt project near Helgoland Thursday, the developer said Friday.
Grid operator TenneT TSO GmbH promised the plant can be connected to the land-based electric network and start operating this year, Brigita Jeroncic, a spokeswoman for WindMW, said.
The project will be Germany's largest offshore wind energy plant, capable of supplying 360,000 homes.
Cubs offering shares
(Bloomberg) -- The Chicago Cubs are trying to sell minority ownership shares in the ballclub as the team seeks help in financing renovation of its 100-year-old Wrigley Field.
Sal Galatioto, founder of the New York-based sports advisory firm Galatioto Sports Partners, said Thursday that he was retained by the Ricketts family to sell a minority piece of the Major League Baseball team.
The Chicago City Council last July 24 gave the Cubs final approval for a $500 million renovation project that includes a giant video board.
Forbes magazine reported in March that the Cubs had a valuation of $1.2 billion, trailing only the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox in value among the 30 MLB teams.
Galatioto represented the Ricketts family when it bought the Cubs from billionaire investor Sam Zell for $845 million in 2009.
Wood burning debate
(AP) – Wood burning stoves have ignited a debate between the Obama administration and South Dakota lawmakers who oppose new regulations that would require more efficiency from an iconic feature of many rural homes.
The dispute has crackled since January, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule changes that would dramatically tighten emissions requirements on new wood-powered heaters, though does not impact ones already in homes.
The EPA estimated that as much as 13 percent of all soot pollution in the United States is a result of inefficient wood-fired stoves and boilers.
The dispute pits several mostly urban states, mainly in the northeast, against some rural states such as South Dakota, which says the rules would impose an unfair burden on people in remote areas.
About one in four South Dakota homes has a fireplace or wood stove.
Bad bank transactions
(Bloomberg) -- Ireland's state-owned bad bank agreed to buy Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and KBC Groep NV loans to Ireland’s largest shopping mall, its first purchase of debt that didn’t belong to the country’s bailed-out lenders, people familiar with the matter said.
The National Asset Management Agency's (NAMA) purchase of RBS (NYSE: RBS) unit Ulster Bank and KBC’s combined 30 percent stake of a syndicated loan to the Dundrum Town Centre, a 1.6 million-square-foot mall in south Dublin, gives it full control of the debt, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
“This appears to be a sensible move by NAMA as it gives the agency control of loans linked to what is the jewel in the crown of Irish retail,” said Philip O'Sullivan, an economist at Investec Plc in Dublin.
NAMA also agreed to sell real estate loans with a face value of 4.5 billion pounds ($7.5 billion) to affiliates of private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP.
The sale of the Project Eagle portfolio is NAMA's biggest deal since it was created in 2009, the bad bank and New York-based Cerberus said Friday.
The loans are to Northern Ireland-based borrowers that are secured by assets in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries, according to Lazard Ltd., which advised NAMA.
Street going to CDOs
(Bloomberg) -- Wall Street's financial engineers are getting creative again.
Commercial real estate investor H/2 Capital Partners bundled a hodgepodge of its holdings -- from bonds tied to skyscrapers and malls to junk-rated bank loans -- into about $400 million of securities.
The deal, similar to the pre-crisis transactions known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), included one portion that Moody's Investors Service gave its highest rating of Aaa.
The investment firm is seizing on a revival of the types of transactions that fueled the property boom in 2006 and 2007, showing the lengths to which investors are going to bolster skimpy yields across credit markets.
Such offerings are giving commercial property investors a wider range of options to fund acquisitions, according to Richard Hill, a debt analyst at Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS).
“Investors are willing to take on more risk in the hunt for yield,” the New York-based analyst said this past week. Such deals “in the right hands can be a very powerful and productive tool, but in the wrong hands they can be destructive.”
Sales of CDOs tied to commercial real estate are accelerating after the market lay dormant for five years.
The first post-crisis offering wasn't completed until September 2012, Morgan Stanley data show.
About $3 billion of securities in 15 deals have been sold since, with six of the offerings brought to market in the second half of 2013, Hill said.
(Bloomberg) -- Blackstone Group LP led a 94 million-pound ($156 million) equity financing for London-based residential developer lender Pluto Finance as a housing shortage in England drives up home prices.
Blackstone, based in New York, was part of a group of investors that also included Clearbell Capital LLP, Pluto Finance said Friday.
Pluto said it plans to lend 360 million pounds to residential developers in London and the south of England over the next four years.
“We clearly see the difficulty that homebuilders small and large alike are facing in getting full funding for quality schemes with planning consents,” Chad Pike, senior managing director at Blackstone, said.
Pluto is able to “complete transactions quickly and to efficiently manage loan disbursements and construction oversight,” he said.