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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
The housing recovery gains steam, Italy's division scares investors, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
 
As Italy votes on a new PM, European stocks plunge.
As Italy votes on a new PM, European stocks plunge. ThinkStock/Fuse

1. HOUSING DATA SHOWS RECOVERY PICKING UP
New data released on Tuesday suggested that the recovery of the housing market is gaining momentum. Home prices shot up by 7 percent in the last three months of 2012, according to a report by S&P Case-Shiller. And in January, the number of new homes sold climbed by more than 15 percent over the previous month, and nearly 30 percent over a year earlier, according to a Census Bureau report. There was only a four-month supply of homes available on the market — the skimpiest supply of houses and apartments up for sale since 2005, when the real-estate bubble was fully inflated. [CNN]
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2. ITALIAN VOTE SIGNALS FINANCIAL GRIDLOCK
European stocks plunged early Tuesday, after an election many hoped would push debt-plagued Italy toward much-needed economic reform instead set the stage for gridlock. Yields on government bonds jumped in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as investors braced for battles over how to restore Europe's financial stability. Protest voters backed parties opposed to austerity measures that Italy has promised to other European leaders battling crushing public debts. "The cost of austerity led to an electoral rebellion," said Enrico Letta, deputy head of the center-left Democratic Party, which won a razor-thing margin. "This is a complex situation to live and manage." [Wall Street Journal]
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3. BERNANKE SAYS STIMULUS IS WORKING
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday defended the central bank's efforts to stimulate the economy with near-zero interest rates and unprecedented bond purchases, which pump money into the system to encourage spending. Bernanke acknowledged that the policy comes with risks — it might be hard to wean people off of easy money without causing financial instability by creating new investment bubbles, for example. But Bernanke said the program is working, crediting it with helping to spur the housing market recovery and creating jobs, so it's worth continuing as long as unemployment remains high. [Bloomberg]
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4. JPMORGAN SLASHES JOBS TO SAVE BILLIONS
JPMorgan Chase announced Tuesday that it plans to slash 13,000 to 15,000 jobs from its mortgage operations by 2014. The belt-tightening is expected to save the company, the largest U.S. bank by assets, an estimated $3 billion. The job cuts will come on top of a planned reduction of JPMorgan's overall workforce by 3,000 to 4,000. The company's mortgage production revenue was up by 70 percent in 2012, but that windfall is expected to disappear quickly as the refinancing boom fueled by record-low interest rates ends and mortgage rates climb. [Forbes]
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5. WEIGHT WATCHERS EMPLOYEES REVOLT OVER WAGES
The weight-loss industry is highly competitive, and Weight Watchers is feeling the pinch. Its earnings fell by 15.6 percent last year. That's just the beginning of the company's troubles, though. Hundreds of Weight Watchers' rank-and-file workers, who hold meetings to advise customers about the diet program, are waging an open rebellion over what they say are unfairly low wages that haven't increased in a decade. "We are professionals, we have to dress nice, but we are paid less than kids who work at McDonald's," worker Tammy Williams tells The New York Times. The frustration echoes frustration over low wages that has increased as companies struggle to contain costs in the sour economy. [New York Times]

 

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