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Philadelphia Fed factory activity lowest since March 2009

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Factory activity in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region plummeted in August, falling to the lowest level since March 2009, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index dropped to minus 30.7 from positive 3.2 the month before and was far below economists’ expectations for positive 3.7, according to a Reuters poll.

Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region’s manufacturing. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

It is seen as one of the first monthly indicators of the health of U.S. manufacturing leading up to the larger national report by the Institute for Supply Management.

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Oil markets heavily traded by speculators

And article is out in the Wall Street Journal on oil markets.

Corporations, Foreign Funds Appear on List of Investors During Oil’s Peak

The world of oil investors reached far beyond Wall Street in recent years as foreign pension funds, corporate icons and even an Ivy League endowment placed big wagers on oil prices, according to a list compiled by U.S. regulators.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission list shows that just before crude prices reached record highs in 2008, investments tied to millions of barrels of oil were held by a diverse group of at least 219 investors.

The CFTC never identified specific investors publicly, but The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the list. It offers a rare glimpse of the secretive world of oil trading, where buying and selling often takes place away from public markets.

The list could fuel calls for a crackdown on oil speculators, a label critics apply to those who trade in oil but don’t use or produce it.

Banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS – News) and Morgan Stanley (MS – News), which have long played a central role in oil trading, dominate the list. Also featured prominently are producers and consumers such as BP PLC (BP – News) and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL – News), which buy and sell large amounts of oil products.

A range of investors were in the market, too. Yale University, Singapore’s government, hedge funds Brevan Howard and D.E. Shaw & Co., as well as pension funds for Texas teachers and Danish workers all held positions, according to the list.

Also featured were a handful of individuals, including Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK – News), one of the nation’s largest producers of natural gas. Cascade Investment LLC, the investment arm for Microsoft Corp. (MSFT – News) co-founder Bill Gates, appeared.

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Home sales drop in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people who bought previously occupied homes plunged in July. The third decline in four months suggests the depressed housing market won’t help the U.S. economy recover this year.

Home sales fell 3.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.67 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That’s far below the 6 million that economists say must be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.

And this year’s pace is lagging behind last year’s total sales. The 4.91 million last year were the weakest sales figures in 13 years.

Falling home prices have kept many people from selling their houses and taking new jobs in growing areas. They have also made people feel less wealthy and that has reduced the consumer spending that drives about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

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