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Foreclosure number increases 30 percent

WASHINGTON --- Despite halts on new foreclosures by several major lenders, the number of households threatened with losing their homes rose 30 percent from last year's levels, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

Nationwide, nearly 291,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month, up 6 percent from January, according to the Irvine, Calif.-based company. While foreclosures are highly concentrated in the Western states and Florida, the problem is spreading as the economy worsens.

"It doesn't bode well," for the embattled U.S. housing market, said Rick Sharga, vice president for marketing at RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm. "At least for the foreseeable future, it's going to continue to be pretty ugly."

The six-county Augusta metro area recorded 272 foreclosures last month, up from 262 in January but down from 302 in February 2008.

Concessions to help pay parity, Ford says

DETROIT --- Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday that recent modifications to its contract with the United Auto Workers union would help the company achieve parity with wages paid in the United States by overseas-based automakers.

In a conference call to review changes to the 2007 collective bargaining agreement, Ford said its labor and benefit costs would total $55 an hour by the end of the year, compared with estimates of $48 to $49 at foreign automaker plants in the U.S.

Cuomo acts to reveal Merrill bonus details

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a request Wednesday asking a judge to end a temporary confidentiality order that keeps private the details of bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch & Co. employees just before the firm was sold to Bank of America Corp.

Mr. Cuomo also accused Merrill of "misleading" Congress about when it determined it would pay out $3.6 billion in bonuses.

A judge is scheduled to determine Friday whether a temporary order that keeps individual bonus information confidential should be made permanent.

Bank of America has said repeatedly it would provide Mr. Cuomo with the information if he agreed to keep it confidential. Mr. Cuomo has refused.

Mr. Cuomo's office has been investigating the timing of $3.6 billion in bonuses New York-based Merrill paid to employees in December.

His office is trying to determine whether Merrill and Bank of America did not provide adequate disclosures to shareholders about them and the more than $15 billion in losses Merrill incurred during the fourth quarter. Bank of America acquired Merrill on Jan. 1.

In other news

OIL PRICES TUMBLED more than 7 percent Wednesday to $42.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as U.S. inventories swelled with surplus crude and traders started to doubt whether OPEC would cut production further.

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