Tuesday Trends sample: Home sales rising, early-stage investing mixed and mining falling
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Home sales: The Wisconsin Realtors Association says home sales increased in February for the eighth consecutive month, with sales of existing homes rising 15.6 percent last month over February 2011. That includes growth in every sector of the state, from a high of 22.6 percent growth in the Southeast region to just 1.8 percent in the North region; the WRA analysis attributed lower growth in that region to higher unemployment rates. Home prices declined by a modest 1.7 percent -- to $115,000 -- compared to one year ago. The report said the inventory of unsold homes and the number of new home listings were also down last month.
Early-stage investing: Wisconsin companies set a record for angel investments in 2011, according to the annual “Wisconsin Portfolio” report produced by the Wisconsin Angel Network. But the analysis also showed a decline in venture capital financing and overall early stage investing from 2010 totals. State firms raised more than $152 million in early stage funding in 2011, down from $180.9 million in total early stage investments charted by WAN and the Wisconsin Technology Council for 2010. Venture capital investing accounted for $91.7 million of last year's total, down about 30 percent from 2010's total of $130.7 million but still above Wisconsin’s five-year average. Meanwhile, angel investments increased from $50.2 million in 2010 to $61.1 million last year, an increase of about 20 percent and a new record for the period since WAN began collecting data in the early 2000s. Since 2003, when angel network-only investments were pegged at $1.74 million, there has been a 35-fold increase in angel group and individual investments reported through WAN and the Tech Council. Tech Council President Tom Still says that while the state has one of the highest per capita totals in the nation for angel investing groups, other states are catching up. He also noted lawmakers' failure to pass venture capital legislation before the end of the 2011-2012 -- a proposal that would have enabled companies to accelerate growth from the angel investing stage.
Mining: Despite a last-minute push by the governor and the scheduling of another public hearing in the state Senate, the 2011-2012 legislation session comes to a close without passage of long sought iron mining reform legislation. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, votes with Democrats to reject a version of mining legislation passed in the Joint Finance Committee, effectively killing the measure in that chamber. That night, the president of the company looking to build an iron mine in Iron and Ashland counties says it's heard the Senate's message and will leave the state, sparking an outcry between lawmakers and groups on both sides of the issue. Dems take the blame in some circles for failing to produce a single vote for the bill; Republicans take flak for being unable to hold together their majority, develop a bipartisan compromise or nail down one Dem before staging a vote on the bill. Other observers fault mining company Gogebic Taconite, saying the company put forth a poor effort building a coalition for the bill and failed to articulate that it would need the JFC version to pass -- or else would pull out. The governor says he won't rule out calling a special session to pass the bill, but says it will take something very similar to the version already rejected in the Senate to lure Gogebic Taconite -- or any other company, for that matter -- back to the state. Finally, GOP Sen. Rich Zipperer schedules a public hearing on all incarnations of the mining bill for this week, only to cancel late last week after he says senators aren't changing their minds. Dems reiterate their charges that the hearing was only scheduled to prevent a floor vote on the alternative mining bill floated by Schultz and Dem Sen. Bob Jauch of Poplar.