NEW YORK (CNN) -- CNN Money's Maribel Aber has your top business and financial news on this Tuesday, June 18.
Weather disasters cost $110 billion in 2012
From Superstorm Sandy and last year's drought to tornadoes, wildfires and a hurricane, the weather and climate disasters of 2012 caused more than $110 billion in damages, making it one of the costliest years on record for weather events, national climate data show. There were 11 disaster events last year, each one causing more than $1 billion in damages, the National Climatic Data Center said. Since 1980, only 2005 had a higher damage total at $160 billion, according to the center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The two most expensive disasters were Sandy, which caused about $65 billion in losses, and the yearlong drought, which cost about $30 billion, the center said. The drought, which affected more than half the country for most of 2012, also led to several wildfires and a fatal heatwave, the center said.
Builders say housing is back
Is the housing recovery for real? It looks that way, as a key measure of home builder confidence crossed a major threshold Monday. The National Association of Home Builders' index hit 52 in June, marking the first time it has been above 50 in seven years. A reading above 50 indicates that more builders say sales conditions are good rather than poor. The index has been posting gains for the last year, but those moves only indicated that builders thought the market was less bad than it had been. "It's further confirmation of what we've felt for six months at least -- that the housing market is back and will continue to improve," said David Crowe, chief economist for the trade group.
U.S. to buy sugar from domestic growers
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday disclosed plans to buy sugar from domestic growers, outlining the government's first direct intervention in the nation's sugar market in 13 years. The move is an attempt to whittle down a surplus that has driven prices to nearly four-year lows and is threatening to spark a wave of defaults on almost $700 million of government loans. In a news release, the USDA said it could spend about $38 million on sugar purchases. As a result of the purchases and subsequent sales, the agency estimates that some 300,000 short tons of the sweetener will be removed from the U.S. market.
NASA selects more women astronauts
NASA has selected another generation of astronauts to travel to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars, and for the first time in its history half of the new candidates are women. Four out of the eight candidates are women, "making this the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected for a class," the US space agency said.