Business briefs: Pending sales of new homes increase in July

The number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase previously occupied homes increased in July but remained well below last year’s levels, a sign that demand for housing remains weak. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday its seasonally adjusted index rose 5.2 percent from a month earlier to a reading of 79.4. A reading of 100 indicates the average level of sales activity in 2001, when the index started. The reading was above that threshold from March 2003 through April 2007. It sank during the recession, only to surge above 100 a year ago when the government first offered tax incentives to spur sales. When the credits expired in April, the index sank. June’s reading of 75.5 was the lowest on record.

Verizon offers prepaid smart phone service

Verizon Wireless on Thursday announced it’s opening up access to smart phones for customers who pay ahead for service, such as people with poor credit and those who don’t want to be tied down by long-term contracts. Prepaid service has long been the domain of low-end phones, but such companies as Sprint Nextel Corp. and Leap Wireless International Inc. have recently introduced smart phones for their Boost, Virgin Mobile and Cricket brands. Verizon Wireless, the country’s largest cellular carrier, said that it started to sell smart phones for prepaid service in its stores on Thursday and will start selling them online on Sept. 28.

Cost-cutting pares H&R Block losses

H&R Block Inc. says its fiscal first-quarter loss narrowed 2 percent as it reduced staffing and other expenses. The Kansas City, Mo.-based tax preparer posted a net loss of $130.7 million, or 41 cents per share. Adjusted for $21.2 million in charges related to closing 400 offices and eliminating 400 jobs, the company says its loss was 36 cents per share. Revenue slipped slightly to $274.5 million, from $275.5 million last year. Wall Street expected an adjusted loss a loss of 41 cents per share on $265.1 million revenue. The nation’s largest tax preparer typically sees losses in its first two fiscal quarters outside the normal tax season.

Dell drops out of 3Par bidding war

Dell Inc. is walking away from a bidding contest with rival Hewlett-Packard Co. for data-storage maker 3Par Inc. Dell said Thursday it won’t match HP’s offer to pay $33 per share for 3Par, or about $2.07 billion. Dell’s decision came barely an hour after 3Par announced it had received Dell’s revised offer of $32 per share and then the even stronger bid from HP. In a statement, 3Par said Dell’s revised offer contained new terms that it found unacceptable, including a multiyear reseller agreement with Dell that would remain in effect even if 3Par were to be bought by another company. The board of 3Par deemed HP’s offer superior. It’s 83 percent above Dell’s first offer and more than three times what 3Par stock was trading at then.

From Herald news services