Worries about Fed’s plans pull stock market down

U.S. stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve’s resolve to keep juicing the economy.

Signaling that the U.S. labor market remains in slow recovery mode, the government said more people applied for unemployment benefits last week.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 46.92 to 13,880.62. The S&P 500 index dropped 9.53 to 1,502.42. The Nasdaq composite index lost 32.92 to 3,131.49.

Higher rates help drive profits at SCE&G owner

Rate increases and customer growth help bump profits at South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.’s parent by 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, and by 8 percent for all of last year.

Fourth-quarter earnings were $105 million, or 79 cents a share, SCANA said Thursday. For the year the company’s profit was $420 million, or $3.20 a share.

The bulk of SCANA’s profits are generated at SCE&G, where net income for 2012 increased 11 percent over 2011 to $352 million. The utility’s fourth-quarter gain was $70 million, up about 8 percent from the year-earlier period.

SCE&G had 670,000 electric and 323,000 natural gas customers at the end of 2012, year-over-year gains of 0.9 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

U.S. home sales rise at 2nd-highest pace in 3 years

WASHINGTON — U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose in January to the second-highest level in three years, a sign that the housing market is sustaining its recovery and helping bolster the economy.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 0.4 percent in January compared with December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million.

That was the second-highest sales pace since November 2009, when a temporary home buyer tax credit had boosted sales.

Banks’ mortgage debt reduced by $19 billion

Five of the biggest U.S. banks have cut struggling homeowners’ mortgage balances by $19 billion, part of a total $45.8 billion in relief provided under a settlement over foreclosure abuses.

More than 550,000 borrowers received some form of mortgage relief between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, according to a report issued Thursday by Joseph Smith, the monitor of the settlement.

That translates to about $82,668 per homeowner, according to the report, which is based on the banks’ own accounts of their progress.

Wine exports from U.S. set record for 3rd year in row

New figures show U.S. wine exports grew for the third consecutive year in 2012, setting a record of $1.43 billion in revenue, the Wine Institute said Thursday, with 90 percent of those exports from California.

The European Union remained the top market for California wines, but the state’s wineries also saw significant growth in Canada and Asia.

January consumer prices flat for second straight month

U.S. consumer prices were flat in January from December for the second month in a row, the latest sign that inflation is in check. That could give the Federal Reserve leeway to continue its efforts to stimulate growth.

The consumer price index has risen 1.6 percent in the 12 months ending in January, the Labor Department said Thursday.

That’s down from a 2.9 percent pace a year ago.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices rose 0.3 percent in January.

Core prices have risen 1.9 percent in the past year, below the Fed’s inflation target.

Wire reports