More signs of a housing rebound

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — A recovery in new home construction appears to be underway, with significant increases in both housing starts and building permits last month, according to the Census Bureau.

Housing starts rose 6.9% in June to a 760,000 annual rate, the highest level in four years. That’s up an impressive 23.6% compared with a year earlier. Permits to build new homes fell slightly from revised May numbers to 755,000, but were up 19.3% compared with June 2011.

Demand for homes has been strong in many markets, according to Glenn Kelman, founder of discount broker Redfin.

“Homebuyers are like a herd of hungry goats right now, going from hillside to hillside looking for something to eat,” he said. “There’s not enough inventory to go around.”

He said many recent house hunters started out looking for existing homes in picture-perfect, move-in condition and were disappointed in what they found. Few of those homes are available because the owners are sitting on them.

“The owners are not willing to sell their homes at the current price levels,” said Kelman. And buyers have had to look to new construction to order the houses they want.

That has jump-started some long-delayed building projects, according to Dwight Johnston, chief economist at the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

“Within a 20-mile radius of Claremont, [Calif.], there were three big developments that had been dormant for years and they started building on them again,” he said.

A separate release from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported that builder confidence is at its highest level in five years.

“Builder confidence increased by solid margins in every region of the country in July as views of current sales conditions, prospects for future sales and traffic of prospective buyers all improved,” said Barry Rutenberg, NAHB’s chairman and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla.

That optimism had a lot to do with recent home price increases, said NAHB’s chief economist, David Crowe.

Home prices rose in April for the first time in seven months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index.

“Once home price increases start to kick in, buyers lose their fear of buying,” said Crowe.

With home building numbers on the rise and prices solidifying, the housing market should start contributing to national economic growth for the first time since 2007, according to Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial.

“The contribution will be even larger next year as home building continues to increase, foreclosures work their way off the market, and prices see more consistent gains,” he said.

He expects the housing market will lead economic expansion over the next two years.

One potential problem: mortgage defaults are on the rise again.Foreclosure filings rose 9% in the three months ended June 30.

Many of the foreclosed homes that come on to the market were built during the housing boom, and have many of the bells and whistles modern homebuyers want, although they’re not always in the best condition.

If many of the homes just coming into the foreclosure process now go on to be repossessed by lenders and put back on the market, the competition could hurt sales of new homes.

Turning natural gas into diesel fuel

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Near-record low natural gas prices have hurt the industry, but a technology that can turn cheap gas into more profitable diesel could keep demand high and mitigate the impact of falling costs.

A gallon of diesel costs just over $4 a gallon, off the record high of $4.85 hit in 2008. Yet natural gas is around $2.30 per million British thermal units, nearly one-seventh its record of over $15 per million Btu reached in 2008.

With prices for natural gas so low, and prices for oil-based fuels so high, the idea of building plants to convert natural gas directly into liquid diesel and jet fuel is something more companies are looking into.

“The abundance and affordability of natural gas in the United States provides opportunities to use the fuel in new ways that can enhance our nation’s energy diversity and offer environmental and economic benefits,” said Kelly op de Weegh, a spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA).

Shell is currently considering building such a plant along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Last September, South African energy firm Sasoil (SSL) said it is considering a similar plant on the Louisiana coast.

But both companies will need to weigh their options carefully.

Gas-to-liquids plants, as they are known in the industry, cost billions to build. And they need access to cheap natural gas, not only for the 4 or 5 years it takes to construct the facility, but over the 20 or 30 year timeframe the plants would operate.

“The one cause of concern is the economics of the industry,” Leslie Palti-Guzman, a natural gas analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a recent note. The high cost to build a plant, combined with the need for natural gas to stay cheap, could constrain the growth of this emerging fuel source, she said.

Reporting of fracking and drilling violations weak

The U.S. Energy Information Agency says that with oil at $100 a barrel, natural gas needs to be priced below $6 per million British thermal units for the process to be economic.

But the price swings in this industry are huge. For example, natural gas has swung from over $15 per million Btu to around $2 now. Oil prices are another big variable — they were in the $30-a-barrel range as recently as 2009.

“How the economics will work is a key driver and one we will continue to evaluate,” said Shell’s op de Weegh.

The technology is quite similar to making liquid fuels out of coal — a process developed nearly 100 years ago and used heavily by oil-strapped Germany in W.W. II and, later, by South Africa. But it’s only recently been applied to natural gas, which results in a fuel that’s cleaner than if it’s made out of coal.

In a very basic description of the process, natural gas, oxygen and water are fed into a reactor, which uses heat, pressure and catalysts to make a wax. The wax can then be upgraded to diesel, jet fuel and a variety of other refined products.

An apology to most American motorists: The process cannot easily produce gasoline.

But the diesel production might help lower prices for truckers and others that use the fuel.

Will gas crowd out wind and solar?

And finding a use for the country’s rising natural gas production is essential to avoid a steep slowdown in the natural gas drilling industry, which has generated thousand of well-paying jobs over the last few years.

To be sure, the impact on the price of diesel or natural gas is expected to be modest.

Eurasia Group lists just over 400,000 barrels a day of production capacity at both proposed and operating gas-to-liquids plants worldwide. EIA says at least 1 million barrels a day would be needed to significantly impact prices.

Still, any boost in demand would be welcome for U.S. natural gas producers.

Plus, there’s always the chance the technology will improve as more plants get built, lowering costs and leading to bigger production amounts.

“This is a nascent technology, and breakthroughs can always happen,” said Palti-Guzman. “There’s room to grow.”

30-year mortgage rate falls to record 3.53

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Mortgage borrowing got cheaper again this week, as rates on 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate loans fell to record lows.

The 30-year mortgage dropped to 3.53% from 3.56% last week, Freddie Mac said in its weekly report. The 30-year fixed rate has matched or hit new lows for 12 of the past 13 weeks. Twelve months ago, the 30-year fixed rate stood at 4.52%.

Meanwhile, the 15-year fixed rate fell to 2.83% from 2.86% last week, Freddie Mac said. A year ago, it was 3.66%.

The consistently low rates are having a positive impact on the still-recovering housing market, according to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

More signs of a housing rebound

“In part because of historically low mortgage rates, both new and existing home sales have been gradually trending upward,” he said in testimony before Congress on Tuesday.

First-time homebuyers and others who want to minimize their monthly payments usually choose 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Those who take out a $200,000 loan at the current rate would have payments of $901 a month and would pay less than $125,000 in interest over the life of the loan.

For some trade-up buyers and many homeowners looking to refinance their loans, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is the more popular choice. The higher payments enable borrowers to pay the loan off quicker and minimize the total interest paid.

At the current rate, a borrower financing $200,000 with a 15-year mortgage would pay $1,365 a month and spend a total of just under $46,000 in interest.

Related: Where home prices are rising fastest

Rates have been in a steady, slow decline all year, going above 4% for the 30-year only once, back in March. Otherwise, the weekly average rate has moved between 3.53% and 3.99%.

According to Keith Gumbinger of, a mortgage information company, that kind of stability helps homebuyers plan, execute and complete their transactions.

“Knowing that the mortgage rate you will get at the end of the buying transaction will be the same or even better than when you started can provide a potential homebuyer a strong boost of confidence, making it easier to want to start the process in the first place,” he said.

The flip side is that loans are often hard to get. Since the mortgage meltdown began in 2007, banks have moved from very liberal to very strict lending standards. Now, they closely scrutinize employment records, income and other debt, which can disqualify many borrowers.

In 2009, with default rates soaring, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hiked minimum credit scores for conventional loans to 620 from 580, presenting another potential hurdle.

Banks are also more careful about the value of the property backing the mortgage.

About 20% to 25% of home sales in contract don’t close because the homes fail to appraise at the value needed to obtain a mortgage or because of inspection problems, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

“The appraisal issue is very frustrating,” he said.

Many of those sales eventually complete but may require buyers to come up with extra cash or sellers to drop their prices to reflect the conservative appraisal values.

Gold, silver, bronze, silicon? Robot Olympics set to begin

While the world gears up for the London Olympics, humanoid robots are preparing to compete in their own Olympics.

But rather than gold medals, these robots will be fighting for gobs of money: $2 million, to be precise.

The first ever “Robotics Challenge” from the Pentagon’s military research arm DARPA (short for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is due to launch in October, and like the Olympics it will be a global competition. DARPA is encouraging participation from individuals and groups including universities and businesses large or small.

By extending the competition beyond the traditional robotics developer community, the event will hopefully showcase innovative and far more effective robots that can take the U.S. well beyond its current capabilities.

Winning teams will demonstrate robotic capabilities of the future that could someday support the Defense Department’s humanitarian mission: disaster relief, providing aid to victims and running evacuation operations.

So in what sort of events will these humanoid robots compete?

The Challenge aims to develop robots that can accomplish complex tasks in dangerous yet realistic built-up human environments — the rubble of a war-torn city, for example. They must battle through a range of such disaster scenarios before earning the robo-Olympic gold:

Some robots will be challenged to drive a utility vehicle like an ATV and to master its controls, from the ignition and brakes through to steering.

Others may walk on uneven ground and navigate debris in their path, or clear an obstruction from a doorway and open it.

The robots of the future should also be able to break through a concrete wall to locate and then fix a leaking pipe.

Fine motor skills will also be tested, such as possibly removing and then replacing a small pump and climbing a ladder followed by successfully getting across a catwalk.

Another competition: Boarding and taking the driver’s seat of an open-frame utility vehicle before driving to a specified location and navigate a 350-foot hallway littered with debris.

Not only will competitors will be expected to demonstrate their ability to use equipment, vehicles and hand tools commonly found in human environments, DARPA would like to see robots that demonstrate adaptability. Can they react on the spot to a complicated new tool?

Adaptability is important, because the complexity of any upcoming disaster cannot be entirely anticipated.

In order to achieve these results, progress will need to be made in robotic strength, endurance and dexterity. Advances will also need to be made so that operators who are not experts can control them, and to let robots continue to work effectively in spite of low bandwidth or disrupted communications.

To encourage all of this innovation, DARPA will support qualifying teams by offering robotic heads, arms, legs and torsos and even a virtual test-bed simulator.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge welcomes both robotics hardware and software development teams.  Two types of proposals will be considered for development ranging from one to five years: small projects involving one or more investigators and large projects that include multi-disciplinary teams.

Advances in physical protection or productivity could be useful to the Defense Department — particularly advances that are made in robots that can naturally interact and collaborate with humans.

Basic robots are already found in industry, education, healthcare, emergency response and defense.

Some have already proven their utility supporting U.S. forces by defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in war zones. And during the Fukishmima nuclear disaster in Japan, robots played a vital role supporting the mission.

Part of DARPA’s goal is to expand such use in humanitarian operations, particularly where there is a threat to the lives of human first responders due to biological, chemical or radiological attacks.

In such high-risk situations, state of the art robots could replace humans entirely, reducing risk and saving lives.

DARPA’s Robotic Challenge supports President Barack Obama’s National Robotics Initiative as well, a program launched in June 2011.

Its purpose is to accelerate the development of next-generation robotics that can work cooperatively with people and to encourage the use of these capabilities. A number of federal government agencies are involved, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

So if you’ve been tinkering with Rosie the robot in your garage, or assembling a working Wall-E, now is the time to unleash it on the world. Go for the $2 million prize — and go for the gold.


Homemade South Korean satellite to go boldly into space

(Reuters) – Years of rummaging through back-alley electronics stores will pay off later this year for a South Korean artist when he fulfills his dream of launching a homemade, basement-built satellite into space.

“Making a satellite is no more difficult than making a cellphone,” said Song Hojun, 34, who said he built the $500 OpenSat to show people they could achieve their dreams.

“I believe that not just a satellite, but anything can be made with the help of the Internet and social platforms. I chose a satellite to show that symbolically.”

There’s a long history of do-it-yourself satellites being launched by universities and scientific groups around the world, as well as amateur radio clubs, but Song said his is the first truly personal satellite designed and financed by an individual.

An engineering student at university, Song regularly incorporated technology into his art pieces. In a work called Apple he used light bulbs that would “ripen” — change color from green to red when people take photos of it with flashes.

After working as an intern at a private satellite company, he came up with the idea for his “Open Satellite Initiative,” which in turn led him to contact space professionals from Slovenia to Paris.

“I’m just an individual, not someone working for big universities, corporations or armies, so they open up to me and easily give out information,” said Song.

The bespectacled Song spent nearly six years combing through academic papers, shopping online at sites that specialize in components that can be used for space projects, and rummaging through electronic stores hidden in the back alleys of Seoul.

He ran a small electronics business to support himself, but the bulk of his funds came from his parents.

The cubical OpenSat weighs 1 kg (2.2 lbs) and measures 10 cubic centimeters. It will transmit information about the working status of its battery, the temperature and rotation speed of the satellite’s solar panel.

Radio operators will be able to communicate with the satellite. If all goes well, it will repeat a message in Morse code using its LED lights at a set time and location.

The components cost only 500,000 won ($440). But the cost for launching it hit 120 million won after Song signed a contract with NovaNano, a French technology company, which acted as a broker to arrange the launch, including submitting paperwork and finding a rocket.

The satellite will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in December with another satellite.

Song has been invited to talk at international universities and organizations including MIT Media Lab and CalArts, both in the United States, and the Royal College of Art in London.

“The reason why technology or science is talked about is not because it is an absolute truth, but rather because it generates interesting stories,” he said. ($1 = 1146.9500 Korean won)

A Brief Guide to Short Selling

If you think a stock is on its way down, short selling may be a useful tool. However, you should be aware of the risks associated with this style of trading.

What exactly is short-selling?
According to Joe Jennings, investment director for PNC Wealth Management in Baltimore, “To short a stock is to sell a security that is not owned by the seller. Shorting is a strategy used to take advantage of an anticipated decline in the stock price.”

An investor may borrow shares of stock from a broker and sell them on the open market, creating a short position.  At a future date, the investor must re-purchase the shares and return them to the broker, thus closing out the short position, says Jennings. Ideally, the investor would repurchase the shares at a price that is lower than the original purchase price, earning a profit.

Jeffery Born a professor at Northeastern University’s College of Business, provides the following example: “If I strongly believed that Facebook is currently over-valued at (approximately) $31.50 per share, I could act on that belief and sell the shares short. If Facebook subsequently declined in price, say to $28 per share, I could buy the shares (and they would be delivered to the individual that the broker borrowed them from) and I would make a profit of $3.50 for each share I sold short, less the transaction cost to sell (short) and then buy (back).”

Can any type of stock be sold short?
“Theoretically, yes. But logistically, no,” says Yahoo! finance correspondent Matt Nesto. While it might be easy to short any widely traded stock in the S&P 500, it becomes challenging to find a brokerage firm willing to accept a short trade for an illiquid or thinly traded stock, says Nesto.

Is there a time frame associated with short selling?
Although in theory there is no time limit that accompanies shorting shares of a stock, the lender could conceivably call the shares at will.  Additionally, given the interest expense associated with borrowing shares, maintaining a short position for an extended period of time may become costly, says Jennings.

If you take a gamble, know the risks.
First, Jennings points out that the long term trend of the stock market is to move higher.  Not only does shorting a stock involve betting against the fortunes of that company, but also betting against the long term trend of the market in general.

Second, shorting can be expensive. “Typically, the investor shorting a stock must pay interest on the borrowed shares; additionally, the investor is required to pay any dividends to the lender that are earned during the time the stock is shorted,” Jennings reveals.

Third, your potential losses are unlimited since you are betting on a stock going down. By contrast, if you went long on a stock, your losses are limited to the amount you lose if the stock goes to zero (plus any additional expenses).

According to Nesto, “The practical risks of shorting are as vast and vague as those that surround any investing.” There are lots of events that move the price of a stock higher or lower, including rumors that may not even be true.

So why sell short?
Jennings says there are two main reasons for shorting a stock: speculation and hedging.  An extremely risky tactic, speculation involves establishing a short position in an attempt to earn a profit. Hedging is employed to mitigate risk and concerns, establishing a short position in a security to offset a long position within a portfolio.

Likewise, Nesto agrees that many short sales are used as a tool to manage different portfolio risks. “Oftentimes investors will be long and short the same stock as a way to protect a big gain without having to sell. This type of hedging strategy is usually done with put and call options, but the general idea of long and short still applies,” he affirms.

Manufacturing growth slowest in 19 months: Markit

(Reuters) – Manufacturing this month expanded at its slowest pace since late 2010, hobbled by weak overseas demand for American goods, though a rise in domestic orders helped cushion the blow.

Financial information firm Markit said on Tuesday its U.S. “flash” manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index for July fell to 51.8 from 52.5 in June. July marked the fourth consecutive month of slower growth and the sector’s weakest showing since December, 2010.

The index remained above 50, indicating factory activity continued to expand, only less rapidly.

New orders for exports fell outright for the second straight month, the first back-to-back decline in nearly three years, Markit said, as recession in Europe dented demand.

“The U.S. manufacturing sector is clearly struggling under the pressure from falling exports,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. “Reassuringly, domestic demand appears to be showing ongoing signs of resilience, encouraging firms to take on more staff.”

When including domestic demand, new orders grew, though the reading of 51.9 showed the pace of growth slowed. June’s tally was 53.7. The employment index rose to 52.9 in July from 52.8.

Even so, economists worry that the broader U.S. economy, which grew at a 1.9 percent rate in the first quarter, has since lost momentum. A poll of 74 economists polled by Reuters expects April-to-June growth to have slowed to 1.5 percent.

Last year, manufacturing had been something of a bright spot in an atmosphere of otherwise sluggish growth, but it too has showed signs of slowing over the last few months.

The Labor Department said employers added fewer than 100,000 new jobs in June for the third consecutive month.

Williamson said there are more clouds on the horizon.

“Overall, the third quarter is so far shaping up to be worse than the second quarter in terms of growth, which is a growing concern for policymakers,” he said.

Wall Street is bracing for another round of monetary easing from the Federal Reserve before the year ends. The median forecast in a July poll of 16 primary dealers showed a 70 percent chance of more action.

The “flash,” or preliminary reading, is based on replies from about 85 percent of the U.S. manufacturers surveyed. Markit’s final reading will be released on the first business day of the following month.

Apple says Samsung patent royalty demands unfair

(Reuters) – Apple Inc said Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is demanding from the iPhone maker a far higher patent royalty than it pays to other licensers, at a rate the South Korean company has never sought from any other licensee.

Samsung is demanding a 2.4 percent rate on the “entire selling price” of Apple’s mobile products, the Palo Alto, California-based company said in a U.S. court filing on Wednesday. The information was contained in freshly unsealed portions of a legal brief in a high profile patent lawsuit between the two companies.

“Samsung’s royalty demands are multiple times more than Apple has paid any other patentees for licenses to their declared-essential patent portfolios,” Apple said in the documents.

However, Samsung said in a separate filing on Wednesday that its offer “is consistent with the royalty rates other companies charge” and that Apple never made a counter offer.

“Instead, it simply rejected Samsung’s opening offer, refused to negotiate further and to this day has not paid Samsung a dime for Apple‘s use of Samsung’s standards-essential technology,” Samsung said.

The legal filings do not disclose the rate Apple pays to other companies for standard essential patents. These are patents which Samsung has agreed to license to competitors on fair and reasonable terms, in exchange for having the technology be adopted as an industry standard.

In a court filing on Tuesday, Apple had said it should pay one-half of 1 cent per unit for each infringed standard essential patent.

Apple and Samsung, the world’s largest consumer electronics corporations, are waging legal war around the world, accusing each other of patent violations as they vie for supremacy in a fast-growing market for mobile devices.

One of the key issues in dispute between the companies is how to value Samsung’s standard essential patents, which some judges are reluctant to issue injunctions over.

A trial in San Jose, California, federal court is scheduled to start July 30.

UPDATE 2-Nexstar, others to buy Newport TV assets for $1 bln

* Newport sells 12 stations for $1 bln

* Nexstar buys 12, Sinclair buys 6 and Cox Media buys 4

* Sinclair expects deal to be immediately accretive

* Nexstar says it has secured committed financing for deal

July 19 (Reuters) – Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc and Cox Media Group entered into separate deals to buy 22 television stations from privately held Newport Television for about $1 billion.

A robust advertising market, the growing importance of retransmission fees and improved access for funding have set a stage for TV station mergers.

Reuters reported in March that Newport Television, owned by Providence Equity Partners, had retained Moelis & Co to explore strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company.

Nexstar bought 12 stations, Sinclair Broadcast six and Cox Media four, Newport said in a statement.

Nexstar, which said it had secured commitments for a new $645 million credit facility, paid $285.5 million for 12 stations in Utah, Arkansas, Tennessee and New York. It said the stations would immediately add to earnings.

Sinclair Broadcast said it bought the six Newport stations for $412.5 million. It also said it would buy a station from Bay Television Inc, which owns WTTA-TV in Florida, for $40 million.

Sinclair said it expects the stations to add between $55 million and $60 million to pro forma TV operating cash flow for 2012 and 2013.

Newport said it was continuing to pursue the sale of its five remaining stations in California, Oregon and New York.

Shares of Baltimore-based Sinclair were down 2 percent at $9.62 in early afternoon trade on the Nasdaq on Thursday, while Nexstar shares were up 8 percent at $6.65.

EBay avoids Europe woes as Marketplaces business grows

(Reuters) – EBay Inc (EBAY.O) posted stronger-than-expected quarterly revenue and earnings as more consumers shopped on its online marketplaces and used its PayPal payment service, and it stuck to its full-year forecasts, having avoided a major hit from Europe’s economic woes.

EBay said on Wednesday second-quarter revenue jumped 23 percent to $3.4 billion, while profit climbed 16 percent to $730 million, or 56 cents per share. That topped Wall Street estimates.

EBay’s third-quarter revenue and profit forecasts were slightly below analyst expectations. But the e-commerce giant stuck with its full-year guidance from earlier this year.

“We are increasingly confident in our outlook for 2012,” Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan said during a conference call with analysts.

EBay shares have slipped in recent weeks on concern a weak European economy might dent buying and selling on the company’s online marketplace – and lucrative cross-border transactions in particular.

However, eBay said its Marketplaces business generated its strongest organic growth since 2006 – and highlighted strong growth in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

“The results were very good,” said Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams thought Marketplaces would be growing this fast.”

Shares of eBay rose 5.1 percent to $42.53 in extended trading after the results.


EBay shares have gained more than 30 percent so far this year, outpacing those of rival (AMZN.O), on optimism that growth has resumed at the Marketplaces business and on an expansion of PayPal from its online roots into physical stores.

EBay’s online marketplaces, the largest in the world, have lagged the growth of e-commerce and for several years. But under Chief Executive John Donahoe, eBay has invested a lot to improve the buying experience on the sites, partly by prodding sellers to provide more services such as free shipping and easier returns.

Earlier this year, Donahoe said Marketplaces had turned the corner.

On Wednesday, eBay said second-quarter gross merchandise volume, or GMV, on its U.S. marketplace was $6.24 billion, excluding vehicle sales. That was up 14 percent from a year earlier. Mark Mahaney, an analyst at Citi Research, had expected $6.04 billion.

International Marketplaces GMV rose 8 percent to $9.93 billion in the second quarter, driven by strong growth in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

“Some of the initiatives in the last couple of years have definitely helped,” said Aaron Kessler, an analyst at Raymond James. “International was fairly strong – they actually saw an acceleration in International GMV for Marketplaces.”

Wedbush’s Luria said European consumers may be turning to eBay to save money as the region’s economy weakens.

“When consumers are in a pinch they often accelerate the shift of spending online,” the analyst added. “They don’t go out shopping and stay home and look for the best deals online. eBay is a way to get a deal – the same item at a lower price.”


EBay executives said the company is seeing an increase in purchases by existing customers and growth in new users.

EBay active users totaled 104.8 million at the end of the second quarter, up 8 percent from a year earlier. The number of active registered PayPal accounts rose 13 percent to 113.2 million in the same period, the company reported.

CEO Donahoe said the company’s mobile tools and services drove much of this growth. EBay and PayPal’s mobile businesses will each handle $10 billion worth of transactions this year, more than double a year earlier, he noted.

“Three or four years ago, you could only access eBay with a desktop or laptop,” Donahoe said. “Now you can access eBay anytime with a smartphone.”

In the second quarter, about 600,000 shoppers made their first purchase on eBay with a mobile device, the CEO noted.

“Mobile is a movement that consumers want and we’ve invested heavily in that,” Donahoe said. “We want to pour kerosene on that fire to keep it going.”