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Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Rising sales point to better year for housing

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The housing market is flashing signs of health ahead of the spring-buying season.

Sales of previously occupied homes are at their highest level since May 2010. More first-time buyers are making purchases. And the supply of homes fell last month to its lowest point in nearly seven years, which could push home prices higher.

Sales have now risen nearly 13 percent over the past six months. While they are still well below the 6 million that economists equate with a healthy market, the gains have coincided with other changes in the market that suggest more sales are coming.

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States may tap mortgage money to fill budget gaps

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ The ink wasn't even dry on a settlement with the nation's top mortgage lenders when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon laid claim to a chunk of the money to avert a huge budget cut for public colleges and universities.

He's not the only politician eyeing the cash for purposes that have nothing to do with foreclosure. Like a pot of gold in a barren field, the $25 billion deal offers a tempting and timely source of funding for state governments with multimillion-dollar budget gaps.

Although most of the money goes directly to homeowners affected by the mortgage crisis, the settlement announced this month by attorneys general in 49 states includes nearly $2.7 billion for state governments to spend as they wish.

Some are pledging to use it as relief for struggling homeowners or to help related initiatives such as a Michigan plan to assist children left homeless by foreclosures. But several states are already planning to divert at least some of the money to prop up their budgets, and more will be wrestling with those decisions in the coming weeks.

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