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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Home sales last year fell to lowest level in 13 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people who bought previously owned homes last year fell to the lowest level in 13 years, and economists say it will be years before the housing market fully recovers.

High unemployment and a record number of foreclosures are deterring potential buyers who fear home prices haven't reached the bottom. Job growth is expected to pick up this year, but not enough to raise home sales to healthier levels.

"We built too many houses during the boom, and now after the crash, it will take us a long time to get back to normal," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales dropped 4.8 percent to 4.91 million units in 2010. That was slightly fewer than in 2008, which had been the weakest year since 1997.

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Fixed mortgage rates rise

NEW YORK (AP) -- Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages rose slightly this week, following increases in Treasury yields.

Freddie Mac says the average rate rose to 4.74 percent this week from 4.71 percent the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November.

The average rate on the 15-year loan slipped to 4.05 percent from 4.08 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

Rates have changed little in the new year after spiking more than half a percentage point in the last two months. Investors sold off Treasury bonds during that stretch, driving yields lower. Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note.

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Wegmans repeats at No. 3

Wegmans Food Markets Inc. has done it again, ranking No. 3 on the Fortune magazine list of "100 Best Companies to Work For." The Rochester-based grocery chain ranked No. 3 last year, and No. 5 the year before.

Wegmans has appeared on the list every year since the list began in 1998.

"There is nothing more important to us than being a great place to work," CEO Danny Wegman said in a release. "When our people feel valued and cared about, they in turn, make our customers feel the same."

No other Western New York-based companies made the list this year. However, Mattel, parent company of East Aurora-based Fisher-Price, is ranked No. 69, up from No. 78 last year.

The list is complied by Fortune in conjunction with the the Great Places to Work Institute.

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Straight talk on business

Businesses and entrepreneurs wanting help in growing or starting a company will again have an opportunity to learn from experts at the 15th annual Straight Talk forum on Saturday.

The program, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration's Buffalo District office and SCORE Buffalo Niagara, is a half-day seminar featuring speakers and discussions, one-on-one business counseling, information booths with business resources and networking.

Topics include building a good credit record, accessing government contracts, applying for a small-business loan, marketing a business, successful small-business stories, and dealing with permit, license and tax issues. Another seminar is targeted at veterans.

The program will be held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $15 if preregistered and prepaid, $20 at the door, or $10 for students. Veterans are free, with identification. Admission also includes eight free follow-up classes on Tuesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Medaille College, starting Feb. 8.

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Buffett leaving Post board

Warren Buffett is retiring from the board of Washington Post Co., the publishing company in which his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is the largest shareholder.

Buffett, 80, will remain a director until the end of his term in May and won't seek re-election, Washington Post said Thursday in a statement. Berkshire owns The Buffalo News, and Buffett is the newspaper's chairman. -- Bloomberg News

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