U.S. home sales increased in November for the second straight month, but sales plummeted 7 percent from a year ago amid growing affordability pressures and more in Wednesday’s Markets In Brief.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes rose 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.32 million last month. But higher mortgage rates have caused sales over the past 12 months to plunge at the steepest pace since May 2011, when the real estate sector was still in the grips of the housing bust.

The average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.63 percent last week, up from 3.93 percent a year ago. Borrowing costs for home loans began to climb after President Donald Trump increased the federal budget deficit by signing tax cuts into law last year. Mortgage rates have slumped in recent weeks as the falling stock market has signaled concerns about the U.S. economy.

The declining stock market has created an additional drag for would-be buyers seeking to buy more expensive homes, as sales of properties worth more than $1 million declined from a year ago.

The median sales price in November was $257,700, up 4.2 percent from last year. Price gains have moderated in the past year, though they’re still climbing faster than the 3.1 percent increase in average hourly wages during the past year.

As home sales have slipped in the past year, more properties are sitting on the market and inventory has risen 4.2 percent to 1.74 million units.

Sales dropped 8.2 percent last month in the West, where housing is generally more expensive. Purchases increased last month in the Northeast, Midwest and South. All four geographic regions have seen declining sales over the past year.


Trust for US Bondholders Sues Venezuela Over Defaulted Debt

A trust representing holders of Venezuelan bonds has gone to New York federal court demanding payment on more than $34 million in unpaid debt.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday is believed to be the first by a long list of investors not being paid by Venezuela’s socialist government as it confronts a cash crunch worsened by hyperinflation and collapsing oil production.

It was filed by Florida-registered Casa Express Corp., which says it represents investors in dollar-denominated bonds issued in 1998 and 2002.

Last year Venezuela stopped paying interest on $65 billion in bonds issued by the government and state oil company PDVSA. Creditors had been reluctant to sue for fear of racking up huge legal fees with no repayment scenario in sight as long as President Nicolas Maduro remains in power.

FedEx Plans Buyouts After Weak International 2Q Shipping

FedEx Corp. delivered a disappointing earnings report Tuesday and said it plans to offer buyouts to some of its workers and reduce spending to make up for weak international shipping, especially in Europe.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based company said it had a fiscal second-quarter profit of $935 million, or $3.51 per share. That’s up $775 million, or $2.84 per share, a year ago.

But the 11 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research were expecting earnings of $4.05 per share.

“While the U.S. economy remains solid, our international business weakened during the quarter, especially in Europe,” said FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith. “We are taking action to mitigate the impact of this trend through new cost-reduction initiatives.”

The package delivery company said it expects to record a charge related to buyouts for its U.S. employees between $450 million and $575 million in its fiscal fourth quarter. FedEx says the buyouts should save it between $225 million and $275 million annually.

FedEx expects to deliver a record number of packages again this year during the peak holiday season as online shopping continues to grow.

The company reported revenue of $17.82 billion in the period, exceeding Wall Street forecasts. Nine analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $17.71 billion.

FedEx expects full-year earnings in the range of $15.50 to $16.60 per share. Analysts had been expecting $16.31 a share, according to FactSet.

FedEx’s stock was down $11.05, or 6 percent, at $173.96 in after-hours trading following the release of the earnings report.

EU Reaches Deal With Italy on Budget

The European Commission says it has reached an agreement with Italy to avert legal action over the country’s budget plans, which the EU’s executive arm had warned could break euro currency rules.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that the “agreement is not ideal” but allows the Commission to avoid legal action against Italy — “provided that the measures are fully implemented.”

The threat of action is not rare in EU terms but it came amid growing tension between the Commission and Italy’s populist government, which had vowed to resist any pressure from Brussels.

Dombrovskis said “the Italian government has come a long way” from the heated rhetoric of a few weeks ago.

New Michigan Panel to Consider Great Lakes Pipeline Tunnel

A recently established state panel in Michigan could give final approval to a proposed oil pipeline tunnel beneath a crucial section of the Great Lakes.

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority is scheduled to meet for the first time Wednesday in St. Ignace.

The three-member panel is expected to consider recent agreements between Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and Enbridge Inc. The Canadian company wants to drill a tunnel through bedrock under the straits area connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

The tunnel would hold a new section of Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries oil and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.

It would replace a more than 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer-long) dual segment of pipe that runs along the lakebed.

Environmental groups oppose the tunnel and want Line 5 shut down.

Ukraine Secures New IMF Loan After Making Reforms

The Ukrainian leader says the International Monetary Fund has approved a new loan for the country.

President Petro Poroshenko hailed the move as recognition of Ukraine’s progress in stabilizing its economy and implementing reforms.

Poroshenko said Wednesday that the IMF would quickly release the first installment, worth $1.4 billion, out of the new $3.9-billion loan package. The Ukrainian government had to raise natural gas prices for individual customers to meet the IMF’s conditions for securing the loan.

Ukraine’s National Bank said the IMF loan will help ensure financial stability in Ukraine, which will need to pay $6 billion to international creditors next year. The Ukrainian economy has been hurt by the separatist conflict that has engulfed the country’s industrial heartland in the east after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

General Mills: Fiscal 2Q Earnings Snapshot

General Mills Inc. (GIS) on Wednesday reported fiscal second-quarter net income of $343.4 million.

The Minneapolis-based company said it had net income of 57 cents per share. Earnings, adjusted for asset impairment costs and costs related to mergers and acquisitions, were 85 cents per share.

The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 81 cents per share.

The maker of Cheerios cereal, Yoplait yogurt and other packaged foods posted revenue of $4.41 billion in the period, which did not meet Street forecasts. Six analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $4.51 billion.

General Mills shares have declined 38 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has decreased almost 5 percent. The stock has decreased 37 percent in the last 12 months.

© The Associated Press. All rights reserved.