Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The stock market managed modest gains Friday as investors shook off the latest round of downbeat economic developments.
According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously owned homes fell 7.2 percent in January, marking the second consecutive month of steep declines. Earlier in the week, the Commerce Department reported new home sales also fell last month.
The government also revised its previous estimate of 4th quarter gross domestic product from 5.7 percent to 5.9 percent. While news of economic expansion certainly is a welcome development, analysts attributed much of the growth to businesses rebuilding inventories, predicting growth will slow in the months ahead.
Wall Street eked out modest gains Friday, despite continued weakness in the financial sector. Shares of American International Group -- better known as AIG -- announced it lost $8.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009. That's an improvement from a year earlier but weaker than analysts expected. AIG fell 10 percent on the news Friday.
In contrast, the outlook for most of the agricultural sector has been decidedly upbeat in recent days. USDA predicted earlier this month that net farm income will rise considerably in 2010. And this week a leading advocacy group reported despite rejection in some parts of the world, farmers continue to embrace biotechnology.
An annual report released this week by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, or ISAAA, says the growth of biotech crops around the world is helping meet the challenges of feeding a rapidly growing global population.
According to ISAAA, the production of biotech crops worldwide increased by 7 percent in 2009. Fourteen million farmers in 25 countries grew 330 million acres of genetically modified, or GM, crops, up from 308 million acres in 2008.
The U.S. remains the top country in terms of biotech acreage, accounting for almost half of the world's GM crops. More than 158 million acres were planted by American farmers last year including corn, cotton, soybeans and canola, among others. Brazil and Argentina follow the U.S. in biotech production.
Europeans, however, remain skeptical of biotech crops. The 27-member European Union has approved only one genetically modified crop, maize Monsanto 810. The EU claims consumer opposition remains high due to perceived threats to human health and the environment, adding that GM crops are on the decline in European countries which formerly favored their use.
And in India, debate over GM food is growing louder. Last week, the country halted the commercial release of the world's first genetically engineered eggplant.
Biotech experts say the greatest potential for growth probably is in China. In late November, the government gave its blessing to GM varieties of rice and maize.
ISAAA estimates the number of biotech farmers worldwide will reach 20 million by 2015.