tampabay.com

Housing news puts charge in stock markets

By TIMES WIRES
Published April 4, 2007


New York

Stocks surged Tuesday on signs of resilience in the housing market and the U.S. consumer, with falling oil prices giving investors an extra reason to rally. The Dow Jones industrials gained more than 120 points to reach a five-week high. The National Association of Realtors' index for pending sales of existing homes rose in February at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7 percent. The index is well below where it was a year ago but stronger than investors expected, reassuring them that the housing sector, while weak, is not being pummeled by the struggling subprime mortgage sector. Fears that lending problems will spill over into the rest of the economy have been a major factor behind the market's volatility of the past several weeks. The uptick in home sales was slight but buoyed investors who had been bracing for the worst.

Washington

Feds seek to close 125 tax-prep sites

The government said Tuesday it is trying to shut down more than 125 Jackson Hewitt tax-preparation stores in four states for systematic "tax-fraud schemes." The Justice Department accuses the franchises of bilking the government out of more than $70-million through fraudulent practices such as using phony W-2 forms, bogus deductions and fuel tax credits and false earned income tax credit claims. The suits, filed in federal courts in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Raleigh, N.C., also allege managers and employees at the Jackson Hewitt franchises took kickbacks for filing fraudulent returns. Jackson Hewitt, with more than 6,500 franchises, several in the Tampa Bay area, is the nation's second-largest tax preparer, behind only H&R Block Inc.

Miami

Cruise company to add another giant

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said Monday it ordered a second 220,000-gross-ton ship at the cost of about $1.4-billion, which would give the company the world's two largest cruise ships by 2010. The ship, part of the Royal Caribbean International brand's Project Genesis, will hold 5,400 passengers, the Miami-based company said. The ship will be built in Finland and will become the 24th vessel in the Royal Caribbean International fleet when delivered by August 2010. Royal Caribbean announced last year it was building its first Project Genesis ship, with delivery projected in fall 2009. That ship will become the largest in the world when completed - bigger than Royal Caribbean's 160,000-gross-ton Freedom-class vessels, which includes Freedom of the Seas.

Indianapolis

Insurer links bonus to health index

WellPoint Inc. employees will have a personal stake in the health of the company's customers, thanks to a new plan that ties a portion of their annual bonuses to it. The nation's largest health insurer unveiled a plan Tuesday to link 5 percent of every annual bonus to a new measurement called the Member Health Index. The index will monitor 20 clinical areas to determine whether patient care is improving. If the index reaches an improvement goal set by the company, WellPoint's roughly 42,000 employees will see the result in their bonus check.