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New home sales hit low

The sickly housing market was socked with another dose of bad news on Wednesday when the Commerce Department reported that new home sales fell in January to the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1963.

Almost as disturbing was the continuing reluctance of people to apply for mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association said applications for loans to buy homes dropped last week to the lowest level since 1997.

January’s 11.2 percent drop in new-home sales to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000 came as a surprise to analysts, who had forecast an increase of 3.5 percent. It was the third consecutive month that sales fell.

The previous bottom was January 2009, after Wall Street crashed and there was considerable talk of another Great Depression. Wall Street has largely recovered, the depression talk has abated, but sales last month still fell 6 percent below the earlier trough.

That does not bode well for the expiration of tax credits for home buyers this spring, especially if mortgage rates move up to anything approaching their traditional levels.

Buyers do not seem to be flocking to houses in February, either. Applications for mortgages to buy houses fell 7.3 percent last week.

Toyota’s president offers ‘full responsibility’

WASHINGTON — Making his way through a crowd of camera crews and photographers, the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, walked into a House hearing room on Wednesday and took “full responsibility” for the problems that the carmaker has faced.

For more than three-and-a-half hours, Toyoda, with a translator at his right and the company’s North American chief executive at his left, fielded heated questions from lawmakers about the recall of more than six million vehicles in the United States and the carmaker’s delay in responding to problems of sudden acceleration.

Toyoda spoke in a calm, detached manner, and at one point faced criticism from a representative on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for failing to show adequate remorse for those who had been killed in accidents involving acceleration problems.

The first reports of sticking pedals surfaced in Britain and Ireland in late 2008, and by August 2009, Toyota began a production change on cars sold in Europe that was completed by January, weeks before it recalled millions of vehicles in the United States.

States push an expansion of gun rights

When President Barack Obama took office, gun rights advocates sounded the alarm, warning that he intended to strip them of their arms and ammunition.

And yet the opposite is happening. Obama has been largely silent on the issue while states are engaged in a new and largely successful push for expanded gun rights, even passing measures that have been rejected in the past.

In Virginia, the General Assembly approved a bill last week that allows people to carry concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and the House of Delegates voted to repeal a 17-year-old ban on buying more than one handgun a month. The actions came less than three years after the shootings at Virginia Tech that claimed 33 lives and prompted a major national push for increased gun control.

Arizona and Wyoming lawmakers are considering nearly a half-dozen pro-gun measures, including one that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. And lawmakers in Montana and Tennessee passed measures last year — the first of their kind — to exempt their states from federal regulation of firearms and ammunition that are made, sold and used in state.

Ian Urbina, The New York Times