Home-sales data drive stocks higher

NEW YORK -- Stocks rose Friday after a strong report on new-home sales offset mixed news from corporate earnings reports and Greece's debt problems.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed higher for the 11th time in the past 12 trading days.

Friday's gains wrapped up the index's eighth consecutive weekly gain, which matches the longest winning streak for the Dow since a two-month stretch that ended in January of 2004.

Sales of new homes jumped 27 percent in March, bouncing off a record low in February. It was the best month since July and the biggest monthly gain in 47 years.

Geithner revises estimate of bailout

WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is telling Congress that the administration believes the cost of the government's heavily criticized financial bailout effort could be as low as $87 billion.

Geithner made the new estimate in a letter Friday that was obtained by the Associated Press. A year ago officials were estimating the bailout could cost as much as $500 billion.

The new estimate said the biggest losses will occur from the government's support of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That loss was put at $85 billion.

Health reforms to cost Merck $170M this year

TRENTON, N.J. -- The drugmaker Merck & Co. said Friday the federal health care overhaul will reduce its revenue by about $170 million this year and by roughly double that amount next year, less than the impact some rivals have reported.

Merck also said it expects to take a non-cash charge of about $150 million in the first quarter, due to elimination of the tax benefit for providing prescription drug coverage to company retirees.

Merck said new rebates to the Medicaid program, required in the legislation passed last month, and other changes will reduce revenue by $170 million for all of 2010. In 2011 the company said it expects unfavorable sales impact of about $300 million to $350 million.

Alcoa's chief gets title of board chairman

PITTSBURGH -- Alcoa said Friday that it has elevated its chief executive officer, Klaus Kleinfeld, to chairman of the board of the aluminum maker. He succeeds Alan Belda, who is retiring after 40 years with Alcoa.

Kleinfeld, 52, has been president and CEO of Alcoa since 2008 and a board member since 2003. Alcoa operates a large smelter near Goose Creek.

Reorganization OK'd for Century 21 outlet

A federal judge this week approved the bankruptcy reorganization plan proposed by Century 21 Properties Plus, the locally based real estate firm said Friday.

The franchise will remain open. Owner Tim Rash said in a statement that the company has 125 agents and two local offices. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge John Waites approved the agency's plan of reorganization at a hearing in Charleston on Wednesday.

Century 21 Properties Plus sought bankruptcy protection last spring, listing $375,000 in assets and more than $1.5 million in liabilities. Court documents showed that Century 21 Real Estate was owed the most money with a claim of $515,374.