Average state gasoline price increases 1.5 cents to $3.69

A price-monitoring website says the average retail gasoline price in Maine has risen 1.5 cents per gallon in the past week to $3.69.

According to MaineGasPrices.com, Sunday’s average price for regular unleaded was $1.01 per gallon higher than a year ago, but 12.5 cents per gallon lower than a month ago.

The national average has increased 2.8 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.61. But it’s still 91.6 cents per gallon higher than it was a year ago.

 Obama taps economist with labor expertise as adviser

President Obama on Monday tapped a prominent labor economist to join his cadre of advisers and help steer a fall jobs agenda that will be critical to Obama’s re-election bid.

In nominating Alan Krueger as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the president gains an economist with expertise in the labor market and unemployment, a key drag on the U.S. economy and Obama’s presidency.

Krueger, a former Treasury Department official and Princeton University economist, has called for hiring tax credits for businesses and increased government spending on infrastructure, two programs that Obama aides are considering proposing this fall.

The appointment drew support from both liberal and conservative economists, but was immediately denounced by GOP political leaders who noted his past advocacy of ending tax breaks for big oil companies and capping greenhouse emissions to encourage corporate moves toward a clean-energy economy.

Bank of America sells part of Chinese firm to raise cash

Bank of America Corp. is selling half of its stake in China Construction Bank Corp. to raise cash and shore up its capital base.

The nation’s largest bank by assets said Monday that it will sell 13.1 billion shares in the Chinese bank for $8.3 billion to a group of investors it declined to name. The sale, which had been expected, will generate a gain of $3.3 billion for Bank of America.

The news came four days after the Charlotte, N.C., bank got a $5 billion investment from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Bank of America shares rose 40 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $8.16 Monday after news of the sale came out.

Number of contract signings to buy homes slides in July

The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes fell in July, more evidence that the housing market remains a drag on the economy.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its index of sales agreements fell 1.3 percent in July to a reading of 89.7.

A reading of 100 is considered healthy by economists. The last time the index reached that level was in April 2010, the final month in which buyers could qualify for a tax credit.

Contract signings are usually a reliable indicator of where the housing market is headed. There’s typically a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

But the Realtors group said a growing number of buyers have canceled contracts after appraisals showed the homes were worth less than they bid.

Reduced hurricane damage gives stock market a boost

Stocks rose broadly Monday after it became clear that Hurricane Irene caused far less damage than many had feared. An increase in U.S. consumer spending also helped, as did as did rare good news from Greece: a merger of two major banks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 254 points.

Insurance stocks rose sharply as analysts lowered their estimates of how much damage the storm would cause. Allstate Corp. rose 8.5 percent, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. rose 13 percent and Travelers Cos. Inc. rose 5.1 percent.

Kinetic Analysis Corp., a consulting firm, sharply lowered its estimate of storm damage from $20 billion late Thursday to $7 billion late Sunday as the storm weakened.

Of that amount, insurers would probably have to cover up to $3 billion, Kinetic said. That’s less than the $6 billion paid out after Hurricane Isabel struck the region in 2003.

Utilities companies also rose after it became clear their storm-related expenses would be lower than earlier estimates.