BRIEFCASE

Wells Fargo

Sales of electric autos, hybrids jumped in March

DETROIT — Americans are buying record numbers of hybrid and electric cars as gas prices climb and new models arrive in showrooms, giving the vehicles their greatest share yet of the U.S. auto market.

Consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars in March, up from 34,000 during the same month last year.

The two categories combined made up 3.64 percent of total U.S. sales, their highest monthly market share ever, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank. The previous high was 3.56 percent in July 2009, when the Cash for Clunkers program encouraged people to trade in gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars.

Banks’ reports suggest improved housing market

NEW YORK — Earnings reports from two major banks Friday painted a picture of a healing housing market, with more Americans taking out mortgages, paying them on time and taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance.

At JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the United States, income from new home loans set a record from January through March. The bank issued 6 percent more mortgages than a year ago and received 33 percent more applications.

Wells Fargo, which issues the most home loans, booked the most mortgage fees since 2009. It issued 54 percent more mortgages than a year ago and took 84 percent more applications. Also, Wells Fargo’s profit jumped 13 percent to $4.02 billion in the first three months of the year, the bank said Friday.

On a per-share basis, earnings were 75 cents, beating the 73 cents expected by analysts polled by FactSet. The bank also beat expectations on revenue. Wells Fargo is the largest bank serving the Charleston region.

U.S. inflation mild as gas prices rise more slowly

WASHINGTON — Rising gas prices slowed in March, keeping overall U.S. inflation mild. The consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday, compared with February’s 0.4 percent rise.

Excluding food and gas, so-called “core” prices increased 0.2 percent in March. Inflation has eased since last fall and is expected to stay tame.

Bernanke defends Fed response to 2008 crisis

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday that the Fed was left with few good options when it stepped in to shore up the largest U.S. financial institutions during the 2008 crisis.

In a speech to a New York conference examining the crisis, Bernanke defended the central bank’s actions to support insurance giant American International Group and help with the sale of investment bank Bear Stearns,

While there were risks associated with that support, Bernanke said that the billions of dollars in loans the Fed provided were backed by adequate collateral, and taxpayers did not lose money.

And he noted that the Fed and other U.S. regulators are better positioned to deal with a crisis because Congress passed an overhaul of financial regulations in 2010.

Goldman Sachs’ chief was paid $16.1M last year

NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein received total compensation of $16.1 million in 2011, a 14 percent increase from the year before. In a regulatory filing posted Friday, the New York investment bank detailed Blankfein’s compensation for last year. Goldman paid its chairman and CEO a salary of $2 million, a bonus of $3 million and stock awards worth $10.7 million.

Blankfein’s total pay included $9,800 in matching payments to his retirement plan, $51,467 for a car and driver and $258,701 for security services. The amount Goldman paid for his security more than doubled from the year before.

Staff and wire reports