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A house in the Hamptons that was on sale recently for $39-million. (Mark Lennihan)
A house in the Hamptons that was on sale recently for $39-million. (Mark Lennihan)

Top Business Stories

Why that lovely place in the Hamptons is far cheaper now Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following today. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

Hamptons prices fall They're still pricey, of course, but homes in the Hamptons, the Long Island retreat, are going for less these days. Prices fell 14 per cent in the third quarter, compared to a year earlier, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. That's largely because buyers were going for cheaper properties, Bloomberg News reports.

The median price declined to $696,000 (U.S.) from $810,000, according to the study reported by Bloomberg. That's the second-lowest in the six-year history of the report. Eleven homes went at over $5-million, down from 20 a year earlier. For luxury properties, or those in the top 10 per cent of prices, costs in the Hamptons and the North Ford fell 14 per cent, to $3.7-million.

Many jobs in the financial sector have been lost, and New York's jobless rate is high.

"I see the East End as joined at the hip with Wall Street," Miller Samuel president Jonathan Miller told Bloomberg. "Going forward, that's a concern. The next couple of quarters are not quite clear at the moment."

China hits the right note China's economy is beginning to take on a Goldilocks feel - not too hot, not too cold - good news for those worried about inflation and arguably better news for those who feared the engine of the global recovery was faltering. A soft landing, in other words.

Statistics released today showed China's economy at a 9.6-per-cent pace in the third quarter from a year earlier, down from 10.3 per cent in the previous three-month period. Numbers for September alone showed industrial output up by 13.3 per cent from a year earlier, slower growth than expected. Consumer prices on an annual basis rose 3.6 per cent, up just slightly from 3.5 per cent.

Earlier this week, the People's Bank of China raised interest rates for the first time in about three years, sending fears through stock, currency and commodity markets.

"Chinese officials are likely feeling quite pleased with the way the data are playing out," RBC Dominion Securities senior strategist Brian Jackson said in a research note. "Policy measures put in place earlier this year appear to have helped steer the Chinese economy through a middle course between overheating and a serious downturn. This, in turn, indicates that the economy is strong enough to tolerate further gradual policy normalization, in line with recent currency appreciation against the [U.S. dollar]and the decision earlier this week to hike policy rates."

Still, they noted, "with inflation reaching a new high and growth likely to pick up again in coming months, it seems increasingly clear that Beijing still has more to do to keep the Chinese economy on an even keel."

Mark Williams, senior China economist at Capital Economics in London, agreed that there's no worry now about China's economy overheating and that "the latest growth figures should at least have reassured policy makers that China's economic slowdown has bottomed out."

G20 to act on currency fight The G20 will pledge to avoid "competitive devaluation" as exchange rates are poised to dominate a two day meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in Gyeongju, South Korea.

When the talks wrap up Saturday afternoon, the G20 will surely agree on wording of some kind on exchange rates, given the attention it is generating around the globe. Yet there is growing worry the G20's talk will be just that amid signs its co-operative spirit is fading, The Globe and Mail's Bill Curry reports from Gyeongju.

China has shown little interest in allowing its currency to rise and the United States is expected to soon launch another round of quantitative easing, a policy involving bond purchases that will likely devalue the dollar.

BHP promises Potash benefits BHP Billiton Ltd. says it is willing to forgo billions of tax savings and structure its operations to avoid the benefits of a merger to persuade the Saskatchewan government and Ottawa regulators to allow it to acquire control of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan .

Marius Kloppers, the chief executive of Australian-based BHP Billiton PLC, told The Globe and Mail at his company's annual meeting that he believes the outspoken opposition of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall can be overcome. Mr. Wall said this week he opposes the deal because the merger of Potash with BHP's existing Canadian potash-mining operations would cost the province an estimated $3-billion in tax revenues.

Mr. Kloppers said he would be willing to structure the deal - at this point a hostile bid - so that the existing operation would remain in the British branch of his $200-billion company and Potash would be part of the Australian side, so that there would be no tax benefits to be gained and Saskatchewan would continue to receive the same revenues. As well, he would move BHP's worldwide potash head office operations into Saskatchewan, providing a net benefit.

Caterpillar profit surges Caterpillar Inc. , one of those barometers of the economy, posted a sharply higher profit for the third-quarter and raised its full year target.

Caterpillar, whose equipment is used in sectors like construction and mining, earned $792-million (U.S.) or $1.22 a share, compared to $404-million or 64 cents a year earlier. Revenue climbed 53 per cent.

Sales of machinery surged 84 per cent, with a strong showing in North America at 89 per cent. Demand in developing countries was also particularly strong.

"So far this year, due to higher demand, we have increased our workforce by more than 15,000 people globally, including more than 6,000 full-time employees and 9,000 people added to our flexible workforce," said CEO Doug Oberhelman. "I am pleased that we have put so many people back to work this year, and with continued global economic growth, we will add people in 2011 but remain keenly focused on cost control."

He also urged the U.S. government to take some key steps.

"While we are expecting positive economic growth in the United States, the recovery is weaker than we've seen historically, particularly given the depth of the 2009 recession," he said in a statement. "To drive economic growth, we encourage government policy makers to advance pro-business initiatives and a growth agenda. In addition, they should avoid policy decisions that may create trade tensions between the United States and other key trading partners and avoid tax policy that puts U.S. multinationals, like Caterpillar, at a competitive disadvantage compared with non-U.S. competitors."

Nokia posts solid quarter Nokia Corp. today posted better-than-expected earnings and unveiled plans to slash 1,800 jobs as its new CEO, Canadian-born Stephen Elop, begins to put his stamp on the world's biggest cellphone manufacturer.

Nokia said it earned $737.9-million (U.S.) in the third quarter, a turnaround from a loss of $779.9-million a year earlier. Sales climbed 4.7 per cent.

The job cuts are related to its Symbian Smartphone unit. Symbian is the biggest operating system for smart phones, but is being increasingly challenged by the iPhone from Apple Inc. and the Android system from Google Inc.

France in turmoil France remains the scene of protests, street battles between police and demonstrators, snarled transportation and empty gas stations. Even Lady Gaga doesn't want to go there, calling off planned concerts in Paris.

Marseille's airport was blockaded as the Senate prepared to vote on the key issue in France's austerity drive, raising the retirement age past 60.

Like other European countries that have unveiled harsh austerity measures to bring down the debts they ran up during the crisis, social unrest has been growing in France.

Even though President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered authorities to force strikebound fuel depots to open again, one-quarter of the country's gas stations are still without gas, reports say.

Private equity has stakes in foreclosure firms Wall Street, it seems, never misses a trick. Several private equity firms, or groups they control, have interests in some of the busiest law firms specializing in foreclosures in several states, The New York Times reports today.

Some of the firms, the newspaper says, are now under scrutiny or face actions over allegations related to the foreclosure document crisis in the United States. Law firms in question deny any wrongdoing.

Foreclosure is a booming business in the United States. The interests of private equity in these so-called foreclosure mills began about five years ago as the housing markets was just beginning to melt down, the newspaper said.

From today's Report on Business

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