February 9, 2008 in Business

Region in brief: Home sales off sharply but prices are holding

The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane County home sales in January dropped 42 percent compared with the same period last year, while average prices dipped from December, according to data from the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Sales closed on 201 homes last month, compared with 349 in January 2007.

The average price hit $207,085, a 6.6 percent increase from a year prior. But the average home sold in December cost $219,869.

Sales totaled $41.62 million for the month, down from about $67.8 million last year.

The market is coming off record highs and probably will continue to moderate, said Rob Higgins, SAR executive vice president.

“Although the numbers, especially on unit sales, are down,” he said, “the prices are holding their own and in fact appreciating, and I think that’s a very positive sign.”

Sales also were dampened by recent snowy weather, he said.

– Parker Howell

Spokane

S&P upgrades Avista Corp. rating

A third debt-rating agency has restored an investment-grade rating to Avista Corp., a change that reflects the Spokane utility’s improving financial condition.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said Friday that the upgrade to BBB- was based on the sale of Avista Energy, a subsidiary involved in the high-risk business of traded electricity and natural gas, plus increases in Washington customers’ electricity and natural gas rates. The new rates took effect Jan. 1.

Moody’s and Fitch, two other agencies, restored Avista’s investment-grade rating last year.

“To have an investment-grade rating with both Moody’s and S&P is a significant milestone for the company,” said Scott Morris, Avista chairman and CEO.

Corporate credit ratings are sometimes compared to consumer credit scores. A higher score allows Avista to borrow money more cheaply, because more lenders will be willing to compete for its business.

– Becky Kramer

Washington D.C.

Feds won’t change livestock grazing fee

The fee for grazing livestock on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service will be the same as last year, $1.35 per animal unit month, the two federal agencies announced Friday.

An animal unit month is the amount of forage needed to sustain a cow and a calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

The fee is adjusted annually on March 1 to take into account private grazing rates, cattle prices and the cost of livestock production.

It applies to public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service in 16 Western states, including Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon.

The formula used for calculating the grazing fee was established by Congress in 1978. Under a 1986 presidential order, the fee cannot fall below $1.35 per AUM and any increase or decrease cannot exceed 25 percent of the previous year’s level.

– Associated Press

Boeing contracts cost more than projected

Three multiyear military contracts with Boeing Co. cost the government at least $3 billion more than originally projected, a federal watchdog agency said Friday.

In a study of three multiyear Defense Department procurement programs, the Government Accountability Office found unit cost overruns ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent due to increases in labor expenses and material costs, among other factors.

None of the programs delivered the anticipated savings that the government had hoped for by awarding funding for more than one year, the GAO said.

The GAO conducted the study for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

– Associated Press

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