Money in a Minute: Headlines for March 22, 2011

JAPAN: No quick fix seen at Japan’s nuclear plant

While power is gradually being restored to Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors, the ordeal is far from over. “Restoring the power to all six units at the tsunami-damaged complex is key, because it will, in theory, power up the maze of motors, valves and switches that help deliver cooling water to the overheated reactor cores and spent fuel pools,” the Associated Press reports. But “in another setback, the plant’s operator said Monday it had just discovered that some of the cooling system’s key pumps at the complex’s troubled Unit 2 are no longer functional – meaning replacements have to be brought in.”

CARS: Panic buying raises prices on Prius, Fit

Rising gas prices and the Japanese earthquake have made hybrid cars a hot commodity. “Americans have begun snapping up Toyota Prius, Honda Fit and other fuel-efficient models made only in Japan,” USA Today reports. “The intensity first spurred by rising gas prices has been amplified by predicted shortages of many models as the Japanese auto industry remains disrupted by the March 11 earthquake and its aftermath.”

CELL PHONES: AT&T-Mobile: Merger brings efficiencies, but will consumers see the benefit?

When AT&T announced it was buying T-Mobile, the big news wasn’t the price tag – $39 billion. It was the result: the nation’s largest cell phone company with 130 million customers. But will the deal, still under government scrutiny, help those customers? “Consumer rights groups have denounced it as harmful to competition,” CNN Money reports. “AT&T and T-Mobile have defended it as the product of economic logic and a long-term boon for their customers.”

COMMUNICATIONS: Sprint teams up with Google Voice

While AT&T and T-Mobile get most of the media attention, another development in telecommunication might also be significant. “Google and Sprint just announced that the two companies would soon be integrating their voice services,” CNN Money reported yesterday. This could allow cell phone users to access a host of never-before-seen services.

HOUSING: Existing home sales in U.S. slump; prices decline to lowest since 2002

While economists have predicted an uptick in jobs this year, they were surprised by February’s drop in the sale of previously owned homes. “Purchases decreased 9.6 percent to a 4.88 million annual rate, less than the 5.13 million median forecast of economists,” Bloomberg reports, “sending prices to the lowest level since 2002 and indicating the market is struggling to recover.”

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