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Business in brief: Itron shares rise along with grant limits

Shares of Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc. jumped nearly 13 percent in trading Tuesday after a government office announced expanded limits on federal grants for utility smart-grid technology.

Shares rose $6.42 in regular trading, to $56.42.

The U.S. Energy Department raised the maximum grant for smart grid projects to $200 million from $20 million on Monday, a move RBC Capital Markets analyst Stuart Bush said will likely cause utilities to speed projects.

Itron makes a variety of smart-grid devices, including advanced meters for electric utilities.

Bush said DOE’s new standards for judging bids from utilities will help Itron compete for projects. “We believe Itron is the best-positioned public company to benefit,” he told clients in a note. Bush rated Itron as “outperform” and raised his price target to $62 from $59.

Tom Sowa


Agency upgrades Avista’s credit 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.

Fitch Ratings said Tuesday that it upgraded Avista’s credit rating to BBB- from BB+. Fitch also raised the company’s senior unsecured debt ratings to BBB from BBB-.

Credit ratings are similar to consumer credit scores. Avista will be able to borrow money more cheaply because more lenders will be willing to compete for its business.

Avista has been working to improve its credit rating for seven years, said Scott Morris, Avista’s chairman and CEO.

Standard & Poor’s upgraded Avista’s credit rating last year, and Moody’s Investor Service upgraded it in late 2007.

Becky Kramer


Single-family home construction ticks up

Single-family home construction posted a modest rebound in April, raising hopes that the three-year slide in housing is leveling off. But a bulging supply of unsold homes, record levels of foreclosures and still-falling home prices suggest a sustained recovery isn’t likely until next spring at the earliest.

The government report Tuesday showed construction of single-family homes rose 2.8 percent in April to an annual rate of 368,000. That followed a 0.3 percent gain in March and no change in February.

But multifamily construction plunged 46.1 percent to an annual rate of 90,000 units after a 23 percent fall in March.

“I think we have probably reached the low point for this housing crash, but I don’t expect us to come roaring back,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “I think it will take another year for a recovery in housing to get going.”

Associated Press

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