Business Roundup for Friday, February 21

A sale pending sign is posted in front of a home in California (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks are slightly higher in afternoon trading on Wall Street. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is going for its third straight week of gains. Online travel booking company is higher on strong earnings. Groupon shares plunged after the online deals company said it expects to post a loss this quarter and issued a weak outlook for the year.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of existing U.S. homes plummeted in January to the worst pace in 18 months. The National Association of Realtors says sales fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million units last month. That was down 5.1 percent from the December pace. Cold weather, limited supplies of homes on the market and higher buying costs held back purchases.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Railroads that haul volatile shipments of crude oil have reached an agreement with U.S. transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging voluntary safety measures, after a string of explosive and deadly accidents. It calls for railroads to slow down oil trains through major cities, increase track inspections and bolster emergency response planning along the routes. A copy of the agreement between the U.S. Transportation Department and the railroads was obtained by The Associated Press.

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Federal officials say many farmers caught in California's drought will receive no irrigation water this year from a vast system of rivers, canals and reservoirs interlacing the state. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it will continue to monitor rain and snowfall, but at this point there's not enough water in the Central Valley Project to give water to farmers. Last year, Central Valley farmers received 20 percent of their normal allowance, and that figure is now set at zero.

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit's emergency financial manager has filed a plan to bring the city out of bankruptcy. It aims to pour money into the city's aging infrastructure and clean up the city's blighted neighborhoods by demolishing decrepit homes. Retirees would see cuts to benefits and some Wall Street creditors would see just a fraction of what they're owed. The plan still needs approval from a bankruptcy judge and will likely be subject to numerous appeals and challenges in the months to come.

NEW YORK (AP) — The deadline for Bernard Madoff's victims to sign up for a relief fund has been extended. The previous deadline for petitions to the Madoff Victim Fund was Feb. 28. It is now April 30. The fund will distribute assets forfeited in the Madoff case. It's separate from a bankruptcy court proceeding that has recovered money to redistribute to burned Madoff clients. So far, the victim fund has received more than 9,000 claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fannie Mae has now had eight profitable quarters in a row. It reports net income of $6.5 billion from October through December. After Fannie pays a dividend of $7.2 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month, it will have more than fully repaid the $116 billion it received from taxpayers. The government rescued Fannie and sibling Freddie Mac in 2008. The two companies own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages.

NEW YORK (AP) — Verizon has completed a deal worth about $130 billion to take over all of Verizon Wireless. New York-based Verizon Communications has acquired a 45 percent stake in its wireless division from Vodafone Group, issuing about 1.27 billion shares of common stock to the British cellphone carrier's shareholders. Both companies' shareholders approved the transaction last month.

BALTIMORE (AP) — Athletic gear maker Under Armour has signed an eight-year deal with U.S. Speedskating, despite a controversy over the suit it provided the team at the Sochi Olympics. Under Armour spent years developing a new speedskating suit that some have blamed for a poor showing by American speedskaters in Sochi. The team reverted to an older Under Armour suit, but results didn't improve. Under Armour says it's ready to try again and hopes to move past the controversy.

HONG KONG (AP) — International stock markets generally posted gains today and Japanese stocks jumped the central bank in Asia's second biggest economy signaled its lavish monetary stimulus could continue for longer than anticipated. Benchmark crude oil fell to just above $102.50 a barrel. The dollar gained against the euro and edged lower against the yen.

SYDNEY (AP) — The market turmoil sparked by the Federal Reserve's steps toward removing the U.S. economy from life support is expected to be a top agenda item when finance chiefs from the world's biggest economies meet in Sydney this weekend. The Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting is a precursor to the main G-20 summit that will be held in the Australian city of Brisbane in November.

WASHINGTON (AP) — American agriculture has experienced a boom, with market values of crops, livestock and total agricultural products reaching record highs even as the amount of U.S. farmland declined. A new government survey says the number of U.S. farms dropped to 2.1 million in 2012, about a 4 percent drop from five years earlier. But some of the big farms got bigger. The average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres. The survey is taken every five years.

LONDON (AP) — U.K. media are reporting that taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland is set to cut up to one quarter of its workforce amid massive restructuring. The Financial Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers are reporting Friday that cuts of between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs will be announced next week when the bank, which is 80 percent owned by the taxpayer, releases its results. The reports say the bank will further shrink its investment banking operations and leave overseas businesses in Asia.

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