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sales of new houses soared unexpectedly in April as US consumers rushed to lock in low mortgage rates amid escalating home prices, the Commerce Department said. Total sales of single-family homes shot up 9.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 978,000, the second-strongest monthly rate on record. Wall Street economists had expected a modest slowdown to about 890,000.

Almost two years after becoming the biggest single failure in Japan's troubled financial sector, once-proud Yamaichi Securities officially was declared bankrupt by a Tokyo court. But the ruling did not spell out how a $4 billion loan should be repaid to the Bank of Japan, which announced it would "exercise its rights" to collect the funds. If no other source can be found, analysts said, taxpayers would end up shouldering the burden. Yamaichi ceased operations in November 1997 after 100 years in business.

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