Archive for January, 2011

Fannie and Freddie’s Big Foreclosure Backlog

Friday, January 28th, 2011 | Finance News

Fannie Mae (fnma.ob.OB) and Freddie Mac (fmcc.ob.OB) are trying to sell their huge backlog of foreclosed homes in an orderly way to avoid flooding the market and depressing prices. As foreclosures mount, though, analysts say the companies may be forced to reconsider that approach.

The government-controlled mortgage companies' inventory of foreclosed residential property has quadrupled in three years and now stands at a record $24 billion. The number of properties they own has increased fivefold to nearly 242,000, representing roughly a third of all repossessed homes in the U.S. And the total keeps growing as they take possession of homes faster than they can sell them. In the first nine months of 2010 Fannie and Freddie took in 319,243 foreclosed properties and disposed of 210,105. At the same time, U.S. housing prices have been falling. In the most recent reading, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home values in 20 cities fell 1.6 percent in November from the previous year, the biggest 12-month decrease since December 2009.

Officials at Fannie and Freddie say they are committed to an approach consistent with their mission as backstops for the housing market. They have been trying to stabilize neighborhoods by selling homes at prices close to market levels and giving preference to buyers who plan to live in the homes rather than investors who might rent them out or try immediately to resell them. Fannie and Freddie are also investing in some properties, spending millions on maintenance to make them competitive with other homes on the market in their neighborhoods. "We don't want a reduced value to initiate a quick sale," says David Wendling, senior director of REO (real estate owned) sales at Freddie Mac. "The focus has always been on supporting neighborhood values."

Of the 74,621 properties Freddie Mac sold in the first nine months of 2010, 67 percent went to buyers who intended to occupy them, according to company data. At Fannie Mae, about 80 percent of sales are to owner-occupants, says company spokeswoman Amy Bonitatibus. "We don't hold anything back that is available to be sold," says Jane Severn, director of REO disposition at Fannie Mae. "We're doing the opposite, pushing our homes out to the market as soon as we can."

Some real estate analysts say the companies will have to find a way to dispose of properties more quickly. The number of homes subject to a foreclosure filing may rise by 20 percent this year, up from a record 2.87 million properties in 2010, RealtyTrac, an Irvine (Calif.) data company, predicts. The market currently can absorb about a million foreclosures a year, the Mortgage Bankers Assn. estimates. Fannie and Freddie themselves estimate in regulatory filings that it will take "a number of years" to bring their foreclosure inventory down to pre-2008 levels.

As their holdings of unsold homes increase, Fannie and Freddie eventually will need to drop prices and turn to investors, analysts predict. "I think they're just (postponing) the inevitable," says Michael Slaughter, a partner at New Providence Capital, a Dallas-based private lender. "If they don't start with a systematic distribution of these properties to investors who have cash today and will buy them at the right price, they're going to end up selling the entire portfolio to Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS - News) or BlackRock (NYSE:BLK - News) at a tenth of what they can get for them today."

The bottom line: Fannie's and Freddie's strategy of not flooding the market with foreclosed homes may come under pressure as their inventory builds.

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Oil prices rise before US growth data

Friday, January 28th, 2011 | Finance News

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LONDON (AFP) – World oil prices climbed on Friday before the release of economic growth data in the United States, which is the world's biggest consumer of crude.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March rose 65 cents to $98.04 per barrel in London trade ahead of US gross domestic product (GDP) data, due for publication at 1330 GMT.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for March, gained 28 cents to $85.92 a barrel.

"Without any doubt, focus will be on the US GDP release today," said Filip Petersson, an analyst at SEB Commodity Research.

"The outcome versus (analyst) expectations is most likely going to decide where crude oil prices will end up today. A positive surprise could send Brent above $100 a barrel even though we believe that the staying power at that level is limited.

"A negative surprise could release some more strength from Brent as several fundamental supports have weakened lately, for example temperatures have risen and Chinese product demand should be easing," Petersson added.

Amid high US inventories, OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia this week suggested that the cartel could still raise its crude output to meet an increase in demand.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could raise output to meet a "two percent" increase in demand during 2011, Saudi's oil minister Ali al-Naimi said on Monday.

Speaking at the Annual Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, Naimi added that he expected average oil prices to be around last year's level of $80 despite a recent spike towards $100 a barrel in London.

Meanwhile the gap between Brent and New York has widened to a record, at more than $12 dollars, owing to the high level of crude stockpiles at the Cushing storage depot in Oklahoma.

"There's such a negative sentiment towards them (the Cushing inventories), everyone is clearing their positions, shifting across to the Brent," said Matt Smith of research group Summit Energy.

Smith also cited the poor US economic data out Thursday: higher jobless claims and disappointing orders of durable goods for additional pressure on New York crude.

S&P's shock downgrade of Japanese sovereign debt also fed market weakness, added Phil Flynn of PFGBest Research.

Standard & Poor's on Thursday cut Japan's credit rating for the first time since 2002, accusing the government of lacking a "coherent strategy" in efforts to ease the highest debt of any industrialized nation.

"Every time there is a concern about sovereign debt there's a bearish sentiment towards oil," said Flynn.

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Palin issues scathing response to Obama speech

Friday, January 28th, 2011 | Finance News

JUNEAU, Alaska – Sarah Palin has issued a scathing response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, attacking his economic policies and "recycled rhetoric," which she says no longer inspires hope.

In a lengthy missive on Facebook, Palin didn't mention the call for unity that Obama made in his speech Tuesday.

Rather, she focused her attention on his economic proposals, calling his ideas for investments in areas like high-speed rail "half-baked." She says they'd put the nation on a "bullet train to bankruptcy." She also said Obama doesn't understand that debt is the biggest problem facing the nation.

She noted the speech was dubbed "Winning the Future," and suggested that the acronym of that title, "WTF," is an apt way to describe the speech.

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