Business briefs

WASHINGTON — In the midst of a long-running housing boom aided by low interest rates, those consumers who weren't actually buying homes were fixing up the ones they have.

The nation's professional remodelers were busier in this year's second quarter than they have been at any time in the past two years, and most expect business to keep improving at least through the next few months, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported.

"Surging home sales, steadily rising home values — against which people borrow to finance improvements — and a low-interest-rate environment all contributed to the pickup in remodeling in the second quarter, said Mike Weiss, chairman of the NAHB Remodelers Council. "Moreover, signs of an improving economy and rejuvenating consumer confidence mean the future is looking even brighter for professional remodelers."

The remodelers' quarterly index gauging current market conditions rose 7.2 points from the first quarter of this year to a reading of 53.6, its highest mark since the second quarter of 2001. On a year-over-year basis, the index rose by three points.

Another index, a barometer of remodelers' future expectations, also climbed to its highest level in two years, rising to a level of 54.8, up 4.5 points from the first quarter. The index is up 2.6 percent from its year-ago level.

"What's remarkable is that almost every category under the future expectations index showed gains from both the first quarter of this year and the year-ago period," said David Seiders, NAHB chief economist. "Remodelers are registering substantially more calls for bids, commitments for work over the next three months and backlogs of jobs in the pipeline that they have since the beginning of the year. That's a good basis for a truly optimistic outlook."

The strongest region for professional remodeling was the West. Every region reported gains from the previous quarter with the exception of the northeast, where current conditions rose, but the future expectations slid by several points.

WASHINGTON — Lured by low-interest auto loans, Americans took on more debt during July, the Federal Reserve reported.

Consumer debt rose by $6.0 million to a seasonally adjusted level of $1.8 trillion, with most of the increase coming form "non-revolving" loans for cars, mobile homes, education, boats and vacations. Revolving debt, typically for credit cards, rose only $300 million, following a big $1.3 billion decline in June.

June consumer credit was revised upward to a gain of $100 million form an initially reported $400 million drop.

WASHINGTON — Wholesale sales rose a modest 0.4 percent in July, the Commerce Department reported, lifted by sales of machinery, petroleum products, drugs and groceries.

The slight gain moderated an even larger increase of 1.6 percent in June.

The sales didn't do much to put a dent in wholesaler inventories, however, which remained unchanged for the second month in a row, the agency reported. The inventory/sales ratio — which measures how long it would take to work off inventories at the current sales pace — slipped to 1.21 months from 1.22 months in June, the lowest since march.

MINNEAPOLIS — Target Corp. has approved a quarterly dividend of $0.07 cents a share. The dividend is payable Dec. 10 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 20.

Home & Textiles Today Staff | News & Commentary

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