CHARLOTTE -- Bank of America Corp. is exploring a program that would allow homeowners on the brink of foreclosure to remain in their homes by becoming renters.

Such an ambitious program would likely draw interest from thousands of families still struggling with their mortgages. But it faces many hurdles and is unlikely to get off the ground nationwide.

The bank has applied for a trademark for the phrase "Mortgage to Lease," presumably what would become the name of the program.

The name of the program seemingly coincides with comments made by the head of the unit dealing with Bank of America's troubled mortgages, Ron Sturzenegger, late last year. He told HousingWire the bank is exploring programs that would involve a short sale to an investor, who would then lease it back.

While confirming that the bank is in the very early stages of exploring such a program, a Bank of America spokesman said nothing has been announced or is imminent.

Oil prices near highs of 2011, cost of gas follows

NEW YORK -- Oil prices are approaching last year's highs as tensions increase over Iran's nuclear program. The rise pushed gasoline prices on Friday to a national average of $3.65 per gallon, the highest ever for this time of year.

Western nations fear Iran is building a nuclear weapon and have been trying to force it to open its facilities to inspection. Iran has refused, turning away international inspectors this week for the second time this month. The United Nations said Friday that Iran has responded to the recent scrutiny by speeding up production of higher-grade enriched uranium, feeding concerns that it is developing a bomb.

As both sides dig in for a protracted standoff, investors are snapping up oil contracts in case fighting breaks out in the heart of the one of the world's biggest oil-producing regions.

New homes sales slide after four straight gains

WASHINGTON -- Sales of new homes dipped in January but the final quarter of 2011 was stronger than first estimated.

The Commerce Department said Friday that new-home sales fell 0.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 321,000 homes. That followed four straight months of gains in which home sales rose 10 percent.

The gains came after the government upwardly revised October, November and December's figures. December's annual sales pace of 324,000 was the highest in a year.

Penney reports income for 4Q hurt by charges

NEW YORK -- J.C. Penney Co. reported a loss of $87 million in the fourth quarter due in part to costs related to its bold new pricing strategy that involves ditching blockbuster sales for everyday low prices.

In recent years, Penney has suffered because its core middle-income customers have been among those hardest hit by the weak economy. It's also failed to make its stores fun places to shop. But under new CEO Ron Johnson, the retailer is overhauling just about every aspect of its business, including pricing.

At the core of the retailer's plan is making pricing in its stores more predictable for customers and breaking the cycle of heavy discounting that has depressed the chain's profits and hurt its image. The new plan officially kicked off on Feb. 1, right after the end of the company's fiscal fourth quarter.

Designer Cole wants to buy firm, take it private

NEW YORK -- Fashion designer Kenneth Cole is offering to pay about $148.5 million to buy the rest of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., saying it would compete more effectively as a privately-held company.

But it appears investors want more than he is offering.

Cole, who serves as chairman and chief creative officer, currently holds about 47 percent of the stock and approximately 89 percent of its voting power.

The offer disclosed Friday would give stockholders $15 per share in cash, a 15 percent premium to the company's Thursday closing price. The deal values the whole company at $280 million.