Business briefs: Weather slows construction, job recovery

The housing market remains a significant risk to the economy, data Wednesday showed, as bad weather across much of the country hammered the construction industry. Along with icy storms, the real estate recovery is facing man-made headwinds. On Wednesday, the government said buyers will face higher fees and tougher standards for home loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, a popular source of loans for first-time buyers. Unemployment is expected to remain high throughout the year, which will drive the foreclosure rate to new records. Construction of new homes and apartments fell 4 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 557,000 from an upwardly revised 580,000 in November, the Commerce Department said.

U.S. Bancorp profits double in 4th quarter

U.S. Bancorp said on Wednesday that its fourth-quarter profit more than doubled from a year ago, as mortgage banking revenue grew. The bank also benefited from growth in traditional deposits, giving it a cheap source of money for loans. Total average deposits rose 15.3 percent from a year ago to $36.4 billion. The company has raised what it pays depositors and is aiming to be about in the middle of the pack, after being near the bottom in the past. It still wrote off more bad loans during the quarter, and expects those write-offs will increase in this quarter as well,

Skype sale boosts EBay quarterly profits

EBay Inc. said Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit more than tripled, largely because of the sale of its Skype telecommunications business. The company also saw growth in its PayPal payments business and a holiday shopping season that was healthier than the year before. EBay, which runs online auctions and e-commerce sites, earned $1.36 billion, or $1.02 per share, in the quarter that ended in December. That compares with $367 million, or 29 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. When excluding one-time items, eBay earned 44 cents per share — 4 cents more than analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected. Revenue rose 16 percent to $2.37 billion, beating analyst estimates. EBay sold Skype in November and reported a gain of $1.4 billion from Skype in the quarter. In after-hours trading, eBay gained 77 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $23.

Shareholders OK Berkshire stock split

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. says shareholders have approved splitting the company’s Class B shares 50-for-1 as part of the company’s $26.3 billion acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. The stock split will enable Berkshire to offer even small BNSF shareholders Berkshire stock as part of the acquisition of the nation’s second-largest railroad. The stock split will make Berkshire’s Class B stock much more affordable at roughly $67 per share. But the Class A shares, which remain the most expensive U.S. stock at over $100,000, won’t be split.

From Herald news services