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Pending home sales at ’07 level

A measure of Americans who have signed contracts to buy homes increased last month to its highest level in 2 1/2 years, the latest sign of improvement in the once-battered housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent in November from October to 106.4. That’s the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit caused a spike in sales. And after excluding those months when the tax credit was available, it’s the best reading since February 2007.

The increase followed a 5 percent gain in October and suggests higher sales of previously occupied homes in the coming months. There’s generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

In November, signed contracts to buy homes rose in the Northeast and West and ticked up slightly in the Midwest. They were unchanged in the South.

Home sales are on track to rise 10 percent this year to their highest level in five years, buoyed by ultra-low mortgage rates and steady job gains. The Realtors’ group says sales may rise in 2013 to about 5.1 million. That’s still below the more than 5.5 million that is considered consistent with a healthy market.

American Airlines merger in jeopardy

An American Airlines merger with US Airways Group Inc. may not occur during the AMR Corp. unit’s bankruptcy unless pilot groups from the carriers agree on interim contract terms, American’s pilot union has warned.

If an accord isn’t reached “in the very near future, in all likelihood there will be no merger before American Airlines exits restructuring,” Keith Wilson, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said in a message on the union’s website.

The agreement would set wages, working conditions and terms to protect seniority until a joint contract for pilots at Fort Worth, Texas-based American and their counterparts at the US Airline Pilots Association is negotiated, he said.

American filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 29, 2011.

Joblessness increases in area Ohio counties

Unemployment last month rose in three of the four Ohio counties bordering northeast Indiana, data released Friday shows.

Joblessness in Van Wert County remained unchanged at 7 percent. Williams County’s rate increased to 6.9 percent in November from 6.8 percent in October; Paulding increased to 6.2 percent from 5.9 percent; and Defiance inched up to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent.

The four counties still fared better than a year ago November. Williams County then had a 9.1 percent unemployment rate; Defiance, 8.2 percent; Van Wert, 8.1 percent; and Paulding, 7.8 percent.

Dockworkers avert strike

Dockworkers along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico agreed Friday to extend their contract for more than a month, averting a weekend strike that could have crippled major ports from Boston to Houston and bottled up billions of dollars’ worth of cargo.

Talks aimed at reaching a new contract covering the 14,500 longshoremen will continue during the extension, which runs through Feb. 6.

A walkout would have crippled the flow of products, including electronics and clothing.