Falling home prices raise fears of new bottom

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Tax credits and historically low mortgage rates have failed to lift home prices so far this year. Prices fell 0.5 percent in March from February, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index released Tuesday.

The co-creator of the Case-Shiller index, who predicted in 2005 that the housing bubble would burst, is raising concerns that the worst may be ahead. That fear is shared by other economists who point to weak job growth, tight credit and many more foreclosures ahead.

The month-to-month drop from February to March marked the sixth straight decline. Prices in 13 of the cities fell. Only six metro areas recorded price gains. One, Boston, came in flat.

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Consumer confidence rises in May

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Americans are feeling better about their job prospects, pushing consumer confidence higher in May. But signs that shoppers are slowing their spending as stocks fall could pose a roadblock on the path to recovery.

Already, reports show retailers' business weakening in May after a solid spring season. Confidence's slow climb back could take a hit if the European debt crisis continues to shrink Main Street America's retirement accounts.

The Conference Board, based in New York, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 63.3, up from April's revised 57.7. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected 59.

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EU warns Europe needs major economy reforms

BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ Europe's economy will stagnate unless governments make major reforms to boost growth â¿¿ just as they rein in spending to curb soaring debt levels, the European Union's economy chief warned Tuesday.

Low growth prospects and rocketing debt in many of the EU's 27 nations have alarmed financial markets in recent months, causing stocks to slide and the euro to fall sharply in value to a four-year low against the U.S. dollar.

EU Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn called for government action to speed up economic output, saying his forecasts show that growth will not top 1.5 percent and the jobless rate will stay close to current highs without reforms over the next five years.

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Dow dips below 10,000, then bounces back

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ A rally pushed the Dow Jones industrials back over 10,000 after the stock market sank to its lowest levels of the year Tuesday. The late-day rebound did nothing to erase lingering worries about Europe's debt crisis.

The Dow plunged more than 250 points after the opening bell and stayed under 10,000 most of the day, then charged back to finish down only 22 when signals from Washington suggested banks would not be forced to sell their lucrative derivatives units as part of financial reform.

But the market worries that even austerity measures by governments there will not be enough to fix the problem and fight off a prolonged economic slump in Europe, or even another global recession.

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BP engineers draw up plans for 'top kill'

COVINGTON, La. (AP) â¿¿ BP is going in for the kill. The trick is to do the job quickly and cleanly.

As early as dawn Wednesday, the oil company will try to choke to death the gusher at the bottom of the sea by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement â¿¿ a tactic called a "top kill" that is routinely used above ground but has never been tried 5,000 feet underwater. If it's not done just right, it could make the leak worse.

The stakes for BP are high, with politicians and others losing patience with the company over its inability to stop the oil leak that sprang more than a month ago after an offshore drilling rig exploded.

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AutoZone 3Q net income climbs on brisk parts sales

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ AutoZone Inc. said Tuesday that strong sales of automotive replacement parts and several new store openings helped drive net income up 17 percent in its fiscal third quarter.

Replacement auto parts makers like AutoZone have thrived during the recession as penny-pinching drivers opt to repair their existing cars on their own instead of buying new ones. The company said the third-quarter results mark its 15th straight quarter of double-digit growth in earnings per share.

While new vehicle sales have begun to recover in recent months, they remain below pre-recession levels and consumers are still taking a do-it-yourself approach to many of their repairs.

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Merck shareholders ask about dividend, stock price

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Shareholders of drugmaker Merck & Co. peppered its CEO at their annual meeting Tuesday with questions about what the company will do to boost its lagging stock price, raise dividends and improve performance.

The questions came after Chief Executive Richard T. Clark's upbeat presentation about progress in integrating Schering-Plough Corp.

Merck bought its New Jersey neighbor last fall, vaulting from eighth to second in the global pharmaceutical industry by revenue â¿¿ now about $40 billion a year â¿¿ behind No. 1 Pfizer Inc.

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NYC mayor announces $22M fund for tech startups

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a message for computer geeks everywhere: Forget sunny Silicon Valley and launch your company here.

Bloomberg made his pitch Tuesday at a gathering of technology entrepreneurs, announcing the creation of a city-sponsored $22 million venture fund that will invest in promising tech companies headquartered in New York.

The city's Economic Development Corporation will invest $3 million in the fund while FirstMark Capital, a New York-based venture capital fund will provide up to $19 million more.

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Microsoft top entertainment executives step down

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) â¿¿ Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that two key executives from the group that makes the Xbox 360 game system, Windows mobile phones and Zune media players are leaving the company.

The shakeup comes at a critical time for Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division. The company's phone software and Zune both lag those of competitors, notably Apple Inc. Microsoft just overhauled its mobile phone system and started selling a new brand of phones, called Kin, for younger users. And the company is hoping to improve Xbox sales with an upcoming video game system that understands body movements, code-named "Project Natal."

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Some Fed banks wanted higher emergency loan rate

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Three of the Federal Reserve's 12 regional banks made a push last month to bump up the interest rate banks pay the Fed for emergency loans, according to a document released Tuesday.

The regional banks were in Kansas City, St. Louis and Dallas. They wanted to boost the discount rate to 1 percent from 0.75 percent. The rate doesn't directly affect borrowing costs for Americans.

Late last month, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his four other board members unanimously decided to keep the current rate. By The Associated Press

The Dow finished down 22.82 at 10,043.75.

The Nasdaq composite index closed down 2.60 at 2,210.95, and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index managed a slight gain â¿¿ up 0.38 at 1,074.03.

Benchmark crude for July delivery dropped $1.46 to settle at $68.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in June contracts, heating oil fell 2.76 cents to settle at $1.8717 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 4 cents to settle at $1.9308 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3.4 cents to settle at $4.051 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude fell $1.62 to settle at $69.55 on the ICE futures exchange.

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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