Public invited to review, discuss SPA cruise plans

The S.C. State Ports Authority today will hold the second in a series of public meetings to discuss the design of the new cruise ship passenger terminal proposed for Union Pier. It starts at noon in the current passenger terminal at 196 Concord St.

The SPA's design team will lay out preliminary concepts for the terminal and collect additional public input. The site of the new terminal is an existing building on the north end of Union Pier.

Home prices in 18 big cities hit nine-year low

WASHINGTON -- An index of home prices in big metro areas has reached its lowest level since 2002, driven down by foreclosures, a glut of unsold homes and the reluctance or inability of many to buy.

Prices fell from February to March in 18 of the metro areas tracked by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index, which does not include Charleston. Prices in a dozen markets have reached their lowest points since the housing bubble burst in late 2006.

The nationwide index fell for the eighth straight month. Prices have now fallen further since the bubble burst than they did during the Great Depression.

Prices rose last summer, fueled by a temporary federal home-buying tax credit. But they've plunged since. Many economists think prices nationally will drop at least 5 percent more by year's end.

Apple CEO Jobs plans to give conference speech

NEW YORK -- Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs will take a break from medical leave to deliver the keynote speech at next week's Apple conference, the company said Tuesday.

Jobs went on medical leave in January for unspecified reasons, handing over day-to-day control to Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook. Jobs has remained involved in larger decisions at the company, and demonstrated the new iPad model at a news conference in March.

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off Monday. The keynote will feature new Lion software and the next version of Apple's iPhone and iPad software. Apple said the speech also will feature an "iCloud" service, but didn't elaborate.

Sporting good chain to get snapped up by KKR

NEW YORK-- The buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP said Tuesday that it has agreed to buy a majority stake in Academy Sports + Outdoors, a privately held sporting goods retailer with locations throughout the Southeast. Terms were not disclosed.

Academy Sports' president, Rodney Faldyn, will continue as president and assume the CEO job from David Gochman, the grandson of its founder. The Gochman family will keep a minority stake in the chain.

In a statement, Faldyn said the ownership change will speed up the retailer's growth and give it greater flexibility to achieve "strategic goals." The company's revenue has grown to $2.7 billion last year from about $1 billion in 2004.

Academy Sports is headquartered outside Houston. It has 131 locations in 11 states throughout the Southeast. It plans to open a store in Columbia later this year.

Late auto loan bills at lowest point since 1999

NEW YORK -- Late payments on auto loans hit their lowest level since 1999 in the first quarter, providing more data that shows consumers have gotten a handle on their debt.

TransUnion said the rate of payments that are 60 days or more past due reached its lowest point since the credit reporting agency began tracking the figure, dropping to 0.49 percent.

The improvement from 0.66 percent a year ago reflects the stronger auto sales market, which was being fed by higher consumer confidence and low interest rates, said Peter Turek, automotive vice president in TransUnion's financial services business unit. The number of auto loans started during the quarter rose 22 percent from the prior year.