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Other News: New Home Construction Surges in Jan.; Caterpillar Plans Layoffs

Construction of new homes and apartments surged more than 22 percent in January, and the Caterpillar company plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees across five factories.

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    In other news today, there was surprisingly good news on the housing front, and it sparked a new rally on Wall Street. The Commerce Department reported construction of new homes and apartments surged more than 22 percent in February.

    In response, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 178 points to close above 7,395. The Nasdaq rose 58 points to close at 1,462.

    Caterpillar will cut more jobs as the demand for heavy machinery continues to fall. The company announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five factories across Illinois, Indiana and Georgia. That's in addition to 22,000 jobs Caterpillar already planned to eliminate.

    Pope Benedict XVI journeyed to Africa today and denounced the use of condoms to fight the AIDS pandemic. On his flight from Rome, the pope said sexual abstinence is the best way to stop the disease. He said, "You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."

    Later, the pontiff arrived in Cameroon, his first stop on a week-long trip. He's expected to visit charities, talk to Muslim leaders, and meet bishops from across Africa.

    In Pakistan, judges schooled in Islamic law began hearing cases in a northwest region. A total of seven religious courts open in the Swat Valley under a deal to make peace with Taliban militants. The deal also called for a cease-fire, which has generally held since mid-February.

    On this St. Patrick's Day, President Obama praised U.S.-Irish ties, and he named a new ambassador to Ireland. The nominee is Dan Rooney, owner of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers football team. The president also met with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, and he noted his mother's family can be traced back to Ireland.

    For the occasion, water in the White House fountains was dyed green. It's a nod to tradition in Chicago, the Obamas' hometown, where the river is dyed green.