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Confidence measure reaches 5-month high

NEW YORK --- An index of U.S. consumer confidence rose in November to the highest level since June, with consumers more optimistic about future business conditions and job prospects, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

The index rose to 54.1; economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a reading of 53. Confidence for October was revised to 49.9 from a previous estimate of 50.2. It takes a level of 90 to indicate a healthy economy, which hasn't been approached since the recession began in December 2007.

Home prices tumbling in many metro areas

NEW YORK --- Millions of foreclosures and weak demand from buyers are forcing home prices down in most major U.S. cities.

Prices are falling even in places such as San Francisco and San Diego, which posted increases a few months ago. Analysts say many markets won't improve until they see fewer foreclosures and more job gains.

A report Tuesday underscored the weakness. Home prices declined in 18 of the 20 cities, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index. Prices fell 0.7 percent in September from August, marking the second straight monthly drop.

Motorola will split into two companies Jan. 4

NEW YORK --- Motorola Inc. will split into two companies effective Jan. 4, finalizing the breakup of one of the founders of the U.S. electronics industry.

Motorola is splitting its consumer-oriented side, which makes cell phones and cable set-top boxes, from the side that sells police radios and barcode scanners to government and corporate customers.

Shareholders of record Dec. 21 will receive shares in both the consumer business, Motorola Mobility, and the professional business, Motorola Solutions.

The breakup is motivated by the desire to present two simple stories to investors.

Lost natural gas costs government millions

BILLINGS, MONT. --- The government is losing tens of millions of dollars in potential royalties from energy companies that let immense volumes of natural gas escape into the atmosphere, congressional investigators said in a new report.

The Government Accountability Office report says about 50 billion cubic feet of natural gas has been needlessly lost every year during production on federal lands. That translates into $23 million annually in lost revenues.

More than just royalties are at stake: The lost gas could fuel roughly 700,000 homes and is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of more than 3 million cars.

The GAO's Frank Rusco said the government could curb the practice through stricter regulations.

He said technology to capture the escaping gas is available and economical.

In other news

MERCK & CO. ON Tuesday named as its new CEO the executive who engineered the company's legal strategy after the Vioxx recall. Kenneth C. Frazier will be in the top spot as Merck absorbs Schering-Plough.

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