Biz Bits

Housing construction declines in February


WASHINGTON --- Housing construction fell in February as winter blizzards held down activity in the Northeast and South.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments fell 5.9 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 575,000 units, slightly higher than the 570,000 that economists were expecting. January activity was revised up to a pace of 622,000 units, the strongest showing in 14 months.

Economists characterized the February dip as weather-related, though they said any housing rebound this year is likely to be modest at best, given a variety of headwinds from record home foreclosures to high unemployment.

Greece receives some relief on credit rating

BRUSSELS --- Greece won some respite from financial market pressure Tuesday as ratings agency Standard & Poor's took the country off credit watch for a possible downgrade -- a day after eurozone governments laid out a vague blueprint for possible loans to help the indebted country.

S&P's announcement that it was no longer considering a downgrade after Greece made bigger budget cuts is the strongest sign yet that markets might see less chance of the country failing to repay its debts.

A Greek default would be a serious blow for Europe's currency union, showing that eurozone countries are unable or unwilling to lend their own money to one of their members.

PepsiCo cuts sugary drinks from schools

NEW YORK --- PepsiCo plans to remove sugary drinks from schools worldwide, following the success of programs in the U.S. aimed at cutting down on childhood obesity.

The company said Tuesday it will remove full-calorie, sweetened drinks from schools in more than 200 countries by 2012, marking the first such move by a major soft drink producer.

Both PepsiCo Inc., the world's second-biggest soft drink maker, and No. 1 player Coca-Cola Co. adopted guidelines to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools in 2006.

GE promises increase in dividend in 2011

HARTFORD, CONN. --- General Electric Co. says it will increase its dividend in 2011, two years after the industrial and commercial conglomerate reduced it to save money as its financial arm struggled in the recession.

The company also sees potential for retiring its preferred stock and opportunities for stock buybacks.

GE cut its quarterly dividend in 2009 to 10 cents per share from 31 cents. It has remained at 10 cents per share since then. It was GE's first dividend cut since the Great Depression.