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Building permit applications take steep fall

By TIMES WIRES
Published May 17, 2007


WASHINGTON

Construction of new homes posted a small gain in April but applications for building permits plunged by the largest amount in 17 years, a dramatic sign that the nation's housing industry is still in a steep slump. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments rose by 2.5 percent in April compared with March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.528-million units. Even with the improvement, housing construction is 25.9 percent lower than a year ago. And in a worrisome sign for the future, builders cut their requests for new construction permits by 8.9 percent in April. That was the sharpest drop since a 24 percent fall in February 1990.

LAKE BUENA VISTA

Disney launching travel channel

HSN, the TV shopping channel that offers point-and-click buying on some video-on-demand cable TV systems, is getting some company. Walt Disney World is launching a travel channel on Cablevision and Time Warner systems that airs in 9-million homes in other states. The channel will carry concerts, special events and reality shows highlighting vacations at Disney World. Viewers click their remote to have brochures sent to their homes or get a call from a Disney reservations center within 15 minutes. Disney creates the programming and pays the cable operators to show it.

LAKELAND

Officials propose big citrus tax hikes

Florida citrus officials are proposing the highest taxes on farmers in at least a decade to fund research and marketing for the beleaguered industry. A bad harvest last year and another expected this year have slashed fruit supplies and sent prices skyrocketing. Consumers have responded by buying 11 percent less juice this year, according to the most recent AC Nielsen data available. The Florida Citrus Commission heard plans Wednesday to hike taxes for farmers by 18 percent to 26 cents for each 90-pound box of oranges made into juice. The grapefruit tax was slated for a 14 percent raise to 40 cents per box. The rates are not final, and will be revisited next month.

ROCHESTER, N.Y.

Equity firm buying Bausch & Lomb

Warburg Pincus is buying Bausch & Lomb Inc., the eye-care product maker beset by product recalls and accounting woes, for about $3.67-billion in cash. Bausch & Lomb's share price rose 8 percent after Wednesday's announcement, exceeding the price the equity firm agreed to pay and suggesting that investors may expect a rival bid for the 154-year-old company. Warburg Pincus agreed to pay stockholders $65 per share.

NEW YORK

Greenspan hired as consultant

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has been hired as a special consultant by Pacific Investment Management Co., a Newport Beach, Calif., unit of Allianz AG. Greenspan will participate in Pimco's quarterly economic forums and speak privately with the bond manager about Fed interest rate policy, the Wall Street Journal reported and Pimco confirmed. The company would not disclose the length of the agreement, or details about fees.