News Briefs

Under-construction apartments burn in Indianapolis

Indianapolis (AP) — Fire gutted a luxury apartment complex under construction a few blocks from the Statehouse early Thursday.

No injuries were reported.

The $28 million Cosmopolitan on the Canal complex was considered a total loss, Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Reith said. The cause of the fire, which broke out around 3:30 a.m., was not determined.

Jerry Collins, president of the developer, Flaherty & Collins Properties, said the complex was fully insured and he plans to rebuild.

The project included 218 apartments, a parking garage, a cafe, a fitness center and retail space. The company had hoped to begin renting units in May.

About 125 firefighters brought the fire under control. A portion of the structure collapsed and firefighters were still working on the smoldering structure hours later.

Mayor Greg Ballard said firefighters kept the flames from spreading to adjacent buildings.

The upper floor of the nearby Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana headquarters sustained some damage, Reith said. The building is a 1879 Italianate home that the organization restored and expanded in a $2.1 million project.

Hovnanian CEO reports sales perked up in February

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc.’s chief executive said Wednesday its recent sales trends suggest there is demand for new homes despite buyers’ uncertainty over the economy, but criticized the recently enacted economic stimulus package saying it hasn’t dented the housing downturn.

“The final stimulus plan was essentially a nonevent from housing’s perspective,” Ara Hovnanian said. “This lack of action to date will mean that even more time is required before we see the housing markets stabilize.”

Builders have been pressing lawmakers to offer bigger tax incentives to coax reluctant buyers off the fence.

The executive’s remarks came a day after the Red Bank, N.J.-based builder reported that, after paying preferred stock dividends, it lost $178.4 million in the three months that ended Jan. 31. Revenue plunged 66 percent from a year earlier and net contracts dropped 36 percent.

Still, the executive told analysts that its home sales eclipsed the 500 mark in February — the first time monthly sales have been above that level in six months.

In addition, contracts per community more than doubled the pace set in the last three months of 2008, the executive said.

While the company’s net contracts are up compared to recent months, they remain “off significantly” from where they were this time a year ago, Hovnanian said.

Hovnanian’s contract cancellation rate, meanwhile, dropped to 31 percent from 42 percent in the fourth quarter and 38 percent in last year’s first quarter.

Enel SpA reports 35 percent rise in 2008 profits after acquisition

Milan (AP) — Italian energy company Enel SpA reported Thursday a 35 percent increase in 2008 profits, helped by the acquisition of Spain’s Endesa.

Rome-based Enel SpA said full year net profit rose to $6.76 billion.

Revenues were up by 40 percent, while debt dropped 10 percent.

The company did not release quarterly figures.

Enel also presented a five-year strategic plan on Thursday, which includes an $10.23 billion capital increase by the end of 2009.

Enel acquired Endesa last month after buying a 25 percent stake from the construction group Acciona.

China plans subsidies and construction work for unemployed migrants

Beijing (AP) — China announced plans Thursday to assist millions of unemployed migrant workers with increases in grain subsidies and rural infrastructure projects, a top Agriculture Ministry official said.

The collapse in global demand for Chinese goods has forced 20 million migrants out of work and back to their rural villages.

The government will try to increase job opportunities by ramping up the development of agriculture and rural infrastructure projects. Plans call for providing work in rural areas for migrants on infrastructure projects, including irrigation, construction and transportation.

Although the total number of rural laborers employed in urban areas increased in 2008 by 4.78 million, a 3.6 percent rise, it was still 2.4 percent less than the previous year and represented the slowest growth since 2000.

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