Subdivision Tips, South Australia (C: +61431138537), https://www.facebook.com/RealEstateSA5000/

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bomb kills 18 at Shi'ite funeral in Iraq

30 Sep 2011 15:42
Source: Reuters // Reuters

(Adds quote, background)

HILLA, Iraq, Sept 30 (Reuters) - At least 18 people were killed when a large car bomb exploded among mourners crowding into a Shi'ite funeral in Iraq's Hilla city on Friday, local authorities and witnesses said.

The blast left burned bodies and damaged vehicles near a Shi'ite mosque where relatives had gathered in a tent for the funeral of a local sheikh, witnesses said. Ambulances ferried three or four people at a time from the scene.

"I was standing on the other side of the funeral tent, and suddenly the place turned into hell, all my relatives were cut down and their bodies were burned," said Haider Qahtan, 37, whose hand was injured in the blast.

At least 18 people were killed and 48 more wounded, a police official at the scene said.

Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad, is a mainly Shi'ite city on a route used by pilgrims visiting Shi'ite holy sites in the south of the country.

Violence in Iraq has eased since the sectarian strife took the country to the brink of civil war a few years after the U.S. invasion. But Sunni Islamists tied to al Qaeda and Shi'ite militias still carry out daily attacks.

Sunni insurgents often target Shi'ite pilgrims with car bombs and suicide attacks in an attempt to rekindle sectarian tensions and test Iraq's government as the last U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.

Recent attacks and incidents in the Sunni heartland of Anbar in western Iraq and in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala have fueled worries of resurgent sectarian violence. (Reporting by Kareem Raheem; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bank of America to charge debit card use fee

inShare
33
Share this

Email
Print
Related News
Special Report: How a rogue trader crashed UBS
Mon, Sep 26 2011
Special report: Nevada's big bet on secrecy
Mon, Sep 26 2011
Greece sharpens austerity; IMF warns on banks
Wed, Sep 21 2011
Existing home sales up but price outlook grim
Wed, Sep 21 2011
UBS chief confident of board support despite trading loss
Wed, Sep 21 2011
Analysis & Opinion
Why U.S. credit cards fail overseas
Employee rewards site raises $24 million from Sequoia Capital
Related Topics
U.S. »
Money »

By Joe Rauch
Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:05pm EDT
(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp plans to charge customers who use their debit cards to make purchases a $5 monthly fee beginning early next year, joining other banks scrambling for new sources of revenue.

U.S. banks have been looking for ways to increase revenue as regulations introduced since the financial crisis limited the use of overdraft and other fees.


The Dodd-Frank Act's Durbin amendment, due to go into effect on October 1, caps fees banks can charge merchants for processing debit card transactions at 21 cents per transaction from an average of 44 cents, potentially costing banks billions of dollars.

Banks also face broader operational challenges as low interest rates and higher capital requirements hit profitability, and the sluggish economy depresses loan demand.

Other large U.S. banks including Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co and SunTrust Banks Inc are testing or planning monthly debit card fees.

"The economics of offering a debit card have changed," Bank of America spokeswoman Anne Pace said on Thursday. Bank of America is the largest U.S. bank by assets.

Senator Richard Durbin, architect of debit card interchange fee reform, bashed the proposed monthly fee. "Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers," he said in a statement. It's overt, unfair, and I hope their customers have the final say."

A FEE TOO FAR?

Even before introduction of the Durbin amendment's rules on debit fees, Bank of America's fee income was dropping at its deposits and card services units. The bank's deposits unit reported fee income of $1 billion in the second quarter of 2011, down 34 percent from $1.5 billion a year before.

Card services, which includes the bank's credit and debit card operations, reported fee income of $1.9 billion, down 23 percent from $2.5 billion in second quarter 2010.

"This might be a fee too far," said Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program for the U.S. PIRG, a federation of state public interest research groups.

Mierzwinski said such fees could push customers to smaller banks that have not introduced checking and debit-related fees.

Pace said customers expect certain features for their accounts, like overdraft and fraud protection, and the fee would offset some of those costs.

The fee will be waived for the bank's premium or platinum privileges accounts tied to its Merrill Lynch brokerage. It will also not be charged for using the card to access the bank's ATMs, Pace said.

She declined to say how much the bank expects to earn through these fees or how many customers would be affected.

Some banks have pushed back against debit fees.

Citigroup Inc said earlier this month that it would not impose debit card usage fees as part of a broader account restructuring.

The head of banking products for Citi's U.S. consumer bank said customers had told the bank that a debit card fee would be "a huge source of irritation."

(Reporting by Joe Rauch in Charlotte, North Carolina, editing by Gerald E. McCormick


================

Obama to announce actions on housing, student loans


inShare
15
Share this

Email
Print
Related News
Obama touts foreign policy successes in Iraq, Libya
Sat, Oct 22 2011
Analysis: Will Obama's foreign policy success help?
Fri, Oct 21 2011
U.S. readies stronger lifeline for homeowners
Fri, Oct 21 2011
UPDATE 3-Obama signs long-delayed trade pacts into law
Fri, Oct 21 2011
Competing fiscal plans blocked in divided Senate
Fri, Oct 21 2011
Analysis & Opinion
The Fed’s data snafus
India markets weekahead: Await breakout or breakdown
Related Topics
Politics »

WASHINGTON | Mon Oct 24, 2011 12:55am EDT
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama this week will announce a series of actions to help the economy that will not require congressional approval, including an initiative to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, according to a White House official.

The actions come as Obama is facing resistance from Republicans to a $447 billion jobs package he has urged Congress to pass.

The first of the initiatives will be unveiled during Obama's three-day trip to western states beginning Monday.

He will discuss the changes in mortgage rules at a stop in Nevada, which has one of the hardest-hit housing markets in the country.

The Obama administration has been working with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to find ways to make it easier for borrowers to switch to cheaper loans even if they have little to no equity in their homes.

The FHFA intends to loosen the terms of the two-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which helps borrowers who have been making mortgage payments on time but who have not been able to refinance as their home values have dropped.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the changes should boost refinancing because they will let banks avoid the risk of any "buy-back" on a HARP mortgage as long as borrowers have made their last six mortgage payments and they prove that they have a job or another source of passive income.

They are also set to reduce loan fees that Fannie and Freddie charge and waive fees on borrowers that refinance into loans with shorter terms, the Journal said.

Pricing details won't be published until mid-November, and lenders could begin refinancing loans under the retooled program as soon as December 1, the newspaper reported, citing federal officials. Loans that exceed the current limit of 125 percent of the property's value won't be able to participate until early next year, the report said.

In Denver Wednesday, Obama will announce a student loan initiative.

"The only way we can truly attack our economic challenges is with bold, bipartisan action in Congress," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told The New York Times.

"The president will continue to pressure Congressional Republicans to put country before party and pass the American Jobs Act, but he believes we cannot wait, so he will act where they won't."

(Reporting by Caren Bohan and JoAnne Allen. Editing by Sandra Maler and Chris Wilson)

==============


Obama tests go-it-alone steps for U.S. economy
By Jeff Mason | Reuters – 4 hrs ago
7219
Email
Print
RELATED CONTENT

President Obama announces the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqin the briefing …
POLITICS SLIDESHOWS

Vice President Joe Biden
35 photos - 3 hrs ago

News Corp. executive James Murdoch
16 photos - Tue, Jul 19, 2011
See latest photos »
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama launched the first in a series of executive actions on Monday aimed at bypassing Republicans in Congress to show American voters he is serious about tackling a jobs and housing crisis that endangers his re-election.
Trying to seize the initiative and demonstrate he will take steps on his own if lawmakers do not act, Obama began a campaign-style swing through Western states seen as crucial to his chances of winning a second term in the November 2012 election.
Armed with the new slogan "We can't wait," the president started the three-day trip in economically hard-hit Nevada, a key political battleground and the state with the highest home foreclosure rate. He then goes to California and Colorado.
Obama's strategy is aimed at further painting Republicans as obstructing economic recovery, most recently by impeding his $447 billion jobs package in Congress, and making clear he is not powerless to act.
Questions remain about whether go-it-alone remedies -- the first of which was Monday's announcement of a expanded mortgage refinancing program to help struggling homeowners keep their homes -- can do much to revive the anemic economy and reduce stubbornly high unemployment.
"I'm here to say to the people of Nevada, the people of Las Vegas: we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won't act, I will," Obama told a small crowd of homeowners in front of the home of a family that he had visited to chat about aid for the housing market.


U.S. homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth got new help with word that a federal housing regulator is easing the terms of a program that helps so-called "underwater" borrowers who have been on time with payments but are unable to refinance.
The plan, which does not require congressional approval, is the latest effort to shore up the weak U.S. housing market. The lingering problem is crucial to the economic recovery and remains a political liability for Obama.
It was unclear whether Obama's approach, which falls short of an overarching plan some experts have called for, will give enough of a boost to the battered market to spur growth.
A lawmaker earlier this month estimated an expanded program could help as many as 600,000 to 1 million additional borrowers. But that is only a fraction of the estimated 11 million homeowners who are classified as underwater.
STUDENT LOAN PROGRAM
Obama will lay out a new student loan initiative in another swing state, Colorado, on Wednesday and keep rolling out at least one new initiative each week, said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
Other executive steps are likely to include help for small businesses, and the White House said that on Tuesday it will unveil action to help boost jobs for military veterans. It did not say how many jobs it expected this step to create.
But aides to the president, who has operated by executive order before, appeared to concede his options for acting on his own authority can have only a modest impact compared with his broader stimulus program now stalled in Congress.
"They are not a substitute for congressional action, which is why he continues to urge Congress to wake up," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Obama, who shed his jacket in the warm Nevada afternoon and spoke without the help of a teleprompter, insisted the unilateral measures would "make a difference" but acknowledged it would take time for the housing market to heal fully.
The president's latest moves come after Republicans defeated his full jobs plan in Congress and then voted down Obama's first efforts to get his proposals through piecemeal, despite polls showing strong public support for the package.
Brendan Buck, spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, accused Obama of campaigning instead of working to find common ground.
"The best way to achieve the outcome they are looking for would be to pick up the phone and work with Republicans instead of starting a fresh new campaign," Buck said.
Obama is seeking to capitalize on public displeasure with Congress after a summer of legislative gridlock.
Obama's public approval ratings have fallen to close to 40 percent, the low of his presidency, because of discontent with his economic stewardship.
Congress, where Republicans control the House and Obama's Democrats control the Senate, is even more unpopular. Its approval rating fell to about 12 percent after budget battles pushed the government to the brink of a shutdown and an unprecedented default on the national debt.
The states on Obama's tour were chosen deliberately.
Each has large populations of Hispanics, a voting bloc Obama's campaign is eager to win over. Nevada and Colorado are "swing states" which alternate allegiance between Republicans and Democrats, making them valuable election prizes.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, JoAnne Allen and Margaret Chadbourn; writing by Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason; editing by John O'Callaghan and Todd Eastham)=============The U.S. Senate on Dec. 17 passed a bill to extend the current reduced rate of Social Security tax and the provision of long-term unemployment benefits through Feb. 29, 2012. To pay for these measures, the legislation would increase mortgage guarantee fees charged by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by 10 basis points per year through 2021. Although some details of the bill may change before final ratification, this aspect of the bill currently has bipartisan support. The language passed by the Senate requires the funds received by Fannie and Freddie as a result of the fee increases to be deposited directly with the Treasury, and does not allow them to be considered a reimbursement of subsidies from the federal government. Slushie MaeFannie, Freddie role funding tax cut is perilous19 December 2011 | By Daniel IndiviglioU.S. lawmakers are struggling with the details of extending the Social Security payroll tax reduction. But both sides want to pay for it by raising the guarantee fees charged by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That’s a needed change, but siphoning the extra money straight to Treasury sets a perilous precedent. Fannie and Freddie currently charge somewhere in the 20 to 30 basis points range for single-family mortgage guarantees. The current plan in Congress would force them to hike their average fees by 10 bp from the 2011 level for the next 10 years. This revenue would pay for the continuation of the lower payroll tax and the extension of long-term unemployment insurance benefits for just a few months, through the end of February 2012. Raising the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge makes sense. The two enterprises have been on a Treasury drip-feed since September 2008, costing taxpayers over $150 billion so far in direct subsidy since then. More income in theory would reduce that need, if they were allowed to keep it. Moreover, higher fees from the two government-run lenders should make it easier for private-sector lenders to compete again. For now, almost all U.S. mortgages rely on a federal guarantee. Such a small fee hike won’t suddenly cause private financing to thrive, though it would be a step in the right direction. But the objective of stabilizing the finances of the two companies would be dangerously undercut by the way Congress wants to do things. As approved by the Senate, the extra revenue from higher guarantee fees would be paid directly to the Treasury. This would set a precedent for using Fannie and Freddie as a piggy bank to close a politically troublesome budget gap – and sticking the already bleeding institutions with a 10-year obligation that will fund just a few months of federal spending. Whether Uncle Sam should be involved in the mortgage market at all is questionable.((Uncle Sam, National Icon Born: c. 1812 Birthplace: United States Best Known As: Cartoon symbol of the United States Uncle Sam is the cartoon embodiment of the government of the United States of America, a character who appeared in newspapers and magazines beginning in the first part of the 19th century. The commonly accepted version of his origin, or at least the best explanation anyone's been able to supply, is that he was modelled after Samuel Wilson, a meat purveyor to the United States army during the War of 1812. Known as "Uncle Sam," Wilson put his initials on his goods. The initials U.S. were also taken to stand for United States. Over the years Uncle Sam evolved into a tall, white-haired man with beard, sporting patriotic colors and a top hat. The most common modern image can be traced to his depiction by James Montgomery Flagg from 1916, for a military recruitment poster calling "I Want YOU For the U.S. Army.")) But a history of dodgy governance and massive losses mean that Fannie and Freddie need to be phased out. The latest idea from Congress makes it likely the two behemoths (Something enormous in size or power.)will still be around in a decade. It’s further evidence that lawmakers of all stripes can’t resist deferring hard decisions until there is no easy sleight(A clever or skillful trick or deception; an artifice or stratagem.) of hand left.================Dec. 20, 2011 3:30 AM ETHouse GOP to reject stopgap payroll tax cutANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press AIM ShareHouse Speaker John Boehner at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, as Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., listens at right. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)More NewsVideoHouse GOP to reject stopgap payroll tax cutDec. 20, 2011 3:01 AM ETHouse GOP out to reshape Senate's payroll tax cutDec. 19, 2011 7:34 AM ETPayroll tax bill faces uncertain House prospectsDec. 18, 2011 8:01 AM ETSenate OKs payroll tax cut, huge spending billDec. 17, 2011 10:51 PM ETHouse passes $1T budget bill, avoids shutdownDec. 16, 2011 2:51 PM ETAdvertisementAdvertisementWASHINGTON (AP) — With the Senate adjourned for the holidays, House Republicans are moving to shelve a bipartisan two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that cleared the Senate over the weekend and are demanding instead that their fellow lawmakers return to the Capitol for negotiations.After a spate of bipartisanship last week, the combatants are back in full-throated warfare over President Barack Obama's payroll tax initiative and other expiring measures, including jobless benefits for almost 1.8 million people who will lose them next month if Congress doesn't act.Instead of accepting a two-month stopgap Senate measure that would ensure fighting continues into February, Republicans said they would move Tuesday to set up an official House-Senate negotiating panel known as a conference committee. The Senate's top Democrat said he would refuse to negotiate until the House passes the short-term version.Both sides insist they want to extend the provisions before a Dec. 31 deadline, but that will prove difficult. After overwhelmingly passing a two-month extension Saturday, senators raced for the exits in the belief that the House would see no alternative but to go along. The Senate isn't scheduled to resume legislative work until Jan. 23.The Senate's short-term, lowest-common-denominator approach would renew a 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security payroll tax, plus jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and would prevent a huge cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The 2 percentage point tax cut provides about a $1,000 annual tax cut for a typical earner making about $50,000 a year.But House Republicans quickly erupted in frustration at the Senate measure, which drops changes to the unemployment insurance system pressed by conservatives, along with cuts to Obama's health care law. Also driving their frustration was that the Senate, as it so often does, appeared intent on leaving the House holding the bag — leaving it no choice but to go along."With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, it would be unconscionable for Speaker (John) Boehner to block a bipartisan agreement that would protect middle-class families from the thousand-dollar tax increase looming on January 1st," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who negotiated the two-month extension with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The 2 percentage point tax cut provides about a $1,000 annual tax cut for a typical earner making about $50,000 a year.Both sides were eager to position themselves as the strongest advocates of the payroll tax cut, with House Republicans accusing the Senate of lollygagging on vacation and Senate Democrats countering that the House was seeking a partisan battle rather than taking the obvious route of approving the stopgap bill to buy more time for negotiations.Just a couple of weeks after many Republicans made it plain they thought that the payroll tax cut — the centerpiece of Obama's autumn jobs agenda — hadn't worked and that renewing it was a waste of money, Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting touting their support for the president."Do you want to do something for 60 days that kicks the can down the road?" said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. "Or do you want to do what the president asked us to do? And we're people who don't agree with the president all that often.""I've never seen us so unified," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said as he left a two-hour, closed-door meeting Monday night where Republicans firmed up their plans. He said the payroll tax cut that has been in effect this year failed to create any jobs, but he favored extending it for another 12 months because "it's tough to raise taxes when you're in a down economy."Congress' approval ratings are in the cellar, in part because of repeated partisan confrontations that brought the Treasury to the brink of a first-ever default last summer, and more than once pushed the vast federal establishment to the edge of a partial shutdown.This time, unlike the others, Republican divisions were prominently on display.The two-month measure that cleared the Senate, 89-10, on Saturday had the full support of McConnell, the Republican leader, who also told reporters he was optimistic the House would sign on. Senate negotiators had tried to agree on a compromise to cover a full year, but were unable to come up with enough savings to offset the cost and prevent deficits from rising.The two-month extension was a fallback, and officials say that when McConnell personally informed Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of the deal at a private meeting, they said they would check with their rank and file.But on Saturday, restive House conservatives made clear during a telephone conference call that they were unhappy with the measure.Ironically, until the House rank and file revolted, it appeared that Republicans had outmaneuvered Democrats and Obama on one point.The two-month measure that cleared the Senate required the president to decide within 60 days to allow construction on a proposed oil pipeline that promises thousands of construction jobs. Obama had threatened to veto legislation that included the requirement, then did an about-face.The president recently announced he was delaying a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, meaning that while seeking a new term, he would not have to choose between disappointing environmentalists who oppose the project and blue-collar unions that support it.Associated Press==================End of the nightmareU.S housing in recovery, but morphing in shape20 December 2011 | By Martin HutchinsonPrintEmailSaveA 9.3 percent rise in home starts in November suggests the U.S. housing market is now in a stable recovery, even if its contours are shaping up quite differently than in past rebounds. Broad housing indicators continue to gather strength, helping the economy, but with a new reality of lower home ownership and more multi-family rentals. If house prices continue to decline and rents rise in 2012, the sector’s current huge subsidies may become irrelevant, perhaps even economically damaging. Evidence for the housing recovery extends beyond the most recent housing starts figures. The National Association of Home Builders index of builder confidence rose two points in November, to its highest level in four years, finally pushing it above the nadir of the early 1990s recession. Inventories of unsold homes have been worked down substantially in both the new home and existing home sectors. But the shape of the market is changing. The sharp 25.3 percent November increase in multi-family unit starts, together with the continued gradual retreat in the home ownership percentage from its 2004 high, suggests a future with more apartments, more rentals and more affordable cheaper housing stock. Though the religion of home ownership became public policy in recent decades, economically the move to rentals isn’t a problem. Workers can be employed building apartments as well as houses. While existing home prices are down a modest 4.7 percent from a year ago, rents are up 2.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With house prices down and renting rebounding, current housing market subsidies become less relevant. When the average existing home sells for $162,000, a government guaranteed mortgage limit of $729,750 is excessive. The home mortgage tax deduction is also irrelevant, when at today’s 3.94 percent mortgage rate the interest on a $150,000 mortgage is $5,910 compared to the standard deduction of $11,600 for married filers. These subsidies wastefully divert investment into housing, forcing millions of people into homes they cannot afford and contributing to the massive U.S. fiscal imbalances. It’s also true that most of these tax benefits accrue to the relatively wealthy. A healthy housing market is essential to America’s economic recovery regardless of whether people rent or buy their abodes. Next year may finally mark housing’s bottom.=====================California Attorney General Sues Fannie, Freddie Demanding AnswersPublished December 20, 2011| Associated Press Print Email Share CommentsSAN FRANCISCO – California's attorney general filed lawsuits against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Tuesday, demanding that the companies that own some 60 percent of the state's mortgages respond to questions in a state investigation.Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office filed the lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court, is investigating Freddie Mac's and Fannie Mae's involvement in 12,000 foreclosed properties in California where they served as landlords. She also wants to find out what role the companies played in selling or marketing mortgage-backed securities.The essentially identical lawsuits ask the mortgage firms to respond to 51 investigative subpoenas(A writ requiring appearance in court to give testimony) that call on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to identify all the California homes on which they foreclosed. They also want the mortgage firms to reveal whether they have information on the decreased value of those homes due to drug dealing or prostitution, as well as explosives and weapons found on those vacant properties."Foreclosures not only affect the families who lose their homes, but also the safety, health and welfare of the entire community," the lawsuit said.Harris also called on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to disclose whether they have complied with civil rights laws protecting minorities and members of the Armed Forces against unlawful convictions and foreclosures.The suits also seek to determine whether the companies are in compliance with California's securities and tax laws.The companies were taken over by the federal government and put into conservatorship under the Federal Housing Finance Agency in September 2008 to save them from collapse.An attorney representing the Federal Housing Finance Agency said in a letter attached to the lawsuits that the 51 subpoenas were "frequently vague and ambiguous," and said state attorneys general did not have the authority to issue subpoenas against the federal conservator."The burden to collect that information would be nothing short of staggering," the letter said. Representatives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said the companies would not comment on the lawsuits Tuesday.The lawsuits could determine whether states have a right to investigate the mortgage firms while they are under federal control. Harris argues that since the mortgage companies own properties in California, they are subject to state law and demands.Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy home loans from banks and other lenders, package them into bonds with a guarantee against default and then sell them to investors around the world. The two own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans.The companies have so far cost American taxpayers more than $150 billion -- the largest bailout of the financial crisis. They could cost up to $259 billion, according to the FHFA.Two former CEOs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last week became the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. In a lawsuit filed in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against six former executives at the two firms, including former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron.The executives were accused of understating the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that the companies held just before the housing bubble burst.Harris has created a task force that is pursuing criminal charges and civil judgments in mortgage fraud cases. She has said that her office would not join a planned 50-state settlement over foreclosure abuses that federal officials and other state attorneys general are negotiating with major U.S. banks.She said the settlement gave bank officials too much immunity from civil litigation.Harris said 768,330 residential mortgages were foreclosed on in California between January 2007 and June of this year.Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/20/california-attorney-general-sues-fannie-freddie-demanding-answers/#ixzz1h9QCmtvR=======================Stimulating reformMortgage reform might actually help U.S. economy30 December 2011 | By Daniel IndiviglioU.S. lawmakers have punted the problem of mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, probably until 2013 at least. But reforms could take years to implement and a start is long overdue. Removing the government presence from the mortgage market all at once would be too disruptive to contemplate. Through its various housing agencies, Uncle Sam currently backs about 95 percent of new lending. But a plan should be put in place to gradually wean the market off federal guarantees over, say, a decade. A clear path to reform would eliminate uncertainty about the future of housing finance in general and the discredited Fannie and Freddie in particular. As banks are fond of saying when faced with new regulations, knowing what is coming helps remove uncertainty. It would allow financial firms, investors, realtors and borrowers alike to prepare. One perhaps unexpected side-effect of setting a date for the end of government guarantees could be a boost for the housing market. Without federal subsidies, mortgage loans would become more expensive in the future. This, paired with prevailing ultra-low interest rates, should encourage even cautious buyers to enter the market, clearing inventory and getting housing activity going. Several proposals to reset housing finance policy are floating around Congress. All would wind down Fannie and Freddie and reduce the government’s role. One would replace them with a government agency backing up to 50 percent of mortgages. Another would create private sector firms that buy government reinsurance. Yet another, unveiled in early December and sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson, would largely privatize the mortgage market over 10 years. The Treasury laid out a roughly similar range of options early in 2011, but never sounded enthusiastic about full privatization of the market. That’s unfortunate, since it merits serious consideration. But lawmakers aren’t known for boldness, especially in an election year. The housing lobby could easily paint a picture of Washington’s reforms threatening the American Dream. But perhaps the powerful constituencies eager for the government to remain involved in the mortgage market - including most lenders, investors and realtors - need to think again, along with politicians. Finalizing reform in 2012 could bring certainty, a swifter housing rebound, and more stability to the U.S. economy.=============================In 2011, several bills to overhaul the U.S. housing finance market were introduced in Congress. All would do away with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but each chooses a different path for mortgage financing.One bill, sponsored by Representatives Gary Miller and Carolyn McCarthy, would create a government agency to back up to 50 percent of the mortgage market. Another bill, sponsored by Representatives Gary Campbell and Gary Peters, would create at least five private firms to finance mortgages. They would be backed by reinsurance purchased from the government. A third bill, sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson, would wean the mortgage market off government support over a 10-year period. =========================UPDATE 2-BofA investor lawsuit wins class-action statusMon, Feb 06 19:01 PM EST* BofA accused of hiding Merrill losses, bonuses* Investors who owned stock, call options claimed lossesBy By Jonathan StempelFeb 6 (Reuters) - Investors suing Bank of America Corp won class-action status for their lawsuit accusing the bank of fraudulently misleading them about the 2008 takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co and the size of Merrill's losses and bonus payouts.U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel in Manhattan on Monday rejected the second-largest U.S. bank's argument that the investors could not prove they suffered losses by relying on materially misleading statements or omissions.Among the other defendants who were also sued and opposed class certification were former Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis, former Merrill Chief Executive John Thain, former Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Joe Price, and Bank of America's board of directors.Lewis had won initial praise for saving Merrill from possible collapse when he agreed to buy it on Sept. 15, 2008, the day Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc went bankrupt.But investors later faulted the bank for not disclosing the scope of Merrill's soaring losses, which reached $15.84 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, before Dec. 2008 shareholder votes on the merger. They also objected to Merrill's having paid $3.6 billion of bonuses despite the losses.Merrill losses forced Bank of America in January 2009 to get a second bailout from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, and contributed to a 93 percent drop in the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank's stock price.The lawsuit consolidated litigation that had been brought nationwide, and names pension funds in Ohio, Texas, the Netherlands and Sweden as lead plaintiffs.It covers a variety of investors who owned Bank of America stock or call options between September 2008 and January 2009.Class certification lets plaintiffs pursue their case as a group, which can cut costs, and can lead to larger recoveries than if plaintiffs were to sue individually.Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson declined to comment. David Hoffner, a lawyer for Thain, had no immediate comment. Lawyers for the remaining defendants and the investors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.AVOIDING WASTEIn his ruling, Castel pointed to comments by Lewis on a Jan. 2009 conference call about "much, much higher deterioration" of Merrill assets than expected to support the plaintiffs' claims that Merrill's losses should have been revealed sooner.He also said the record supported claims that the alleged misrepresentations about the bonuses were material.Class certification was also appropriate because litigation of each claim separately "would likely result in wasteful and repetitive lawsuits," he added.Bank of America, Lewis and Price are also defendants in a civil fraud lawsuit led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He took over that case from his predecessor Andrew Cuomo, who is now New York's governor.The law firms Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann; Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer; and Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check were named lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the class-action case.Bank of America shares closed Monday up 13 cents at $7.97. They closed at $33.74 on the last trading day before the Merrill takeover was announced, and bottomed at $2.53 on Feb. 20, 2009.The case is In re: Bank of America Corp Securities, Derivative, and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-md-02058.============================

Government to seek court approval of $25 billion mortgage pact
Sat, Mar 10 00:51 AM EST
image

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) - A previously announced $25 billion settlement between five major banks accused of abusive mortgage practices and government officials will be filed in federal court on Monday, people familiar with the matter said late Friday.

The pact unveiled February 9 is expected to result in payments and other mortgage relief for about one million borrowers, but must first be approved by a judge.

Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and Ally Financial Inc agreed to the settlement after 16 months of negotiations with state attorneys general and federal agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the fine print took another month to finalize.

Negotiators had hoped to file a settlement on Friday, but the deal was held up at the last minute over a disagreement between Nevada and Bank of America, people familiar with the matter said.

The state and the bank had negotiated a separate side deal to resolve an older lawsuit filed by the state.

The nature of the Friday disagreement was not immediately clear. Representatives of Nevada and Bank of America could not immediately be reached for comment after business hours.

The larger deal, to be spread out over three years, requires the banks to cut mortgage debt amounts and provides $2,000 payments to certain borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure.

It releases the banks from civil government claims over faulty foreclosures and the mishandling of requests for loan modifications. Forty-nine states signed the pact.

The probe that led to the settlement discussions started after evidence emerged late in 2010 that banks robo-signed thousands of foreclosure documents without properly reviewing paperwork.


(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha; editing by Carol Bishopric)

=======

Government details mortgage pact, promises tough oversight
Mon, Mar 12 17:05 PM EDT

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The government released the fine print of its landmark $25 billion mortgage settlement, and promised to closely police the banks' pledges to bring widespread housing relief, even while letting them dodge admission of wrongdoing.

The deal, announced last month and filed on Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C., requires five major banks to help struggling borrowers to settle accusations they pursued faulty foreclosures and misled borrowers who sought loan modifications.

The banks did not admit to the accusations laid out in the complaint, but the government said its intention was to "remediate harms allegedly resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct."


A judge still has to approve the settlement, and any hearing on the deal would likely be contentious. (Involving or likely to cause contention; controversial: )

The Association of Mortgage Investors on Monday promised to intervene in court, saying that investors in mortgage-backed securities were excluded from settlement talks, and could be financially harmed by mortgage writedowns or modifications.

The group said in a statement that it planned to ask the court to place a cap on modifications for investor-owned loans and seek other changes.


The Obama administration has heavily promoted what it characterizes as an historic settlement to provide some relief to about 1 million struggling homeowners.

The deal will be spread out over three years and requires the five banks - Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial - to cut mortgage debt amounts and restructure troubled loans.

They are also paying $5 billion in cash to the federal and state governments, including $1.5 billion to fund $2,000 payments to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure.


While the Obama administration's previous efforts to jumpstart a housing recovery have not lived up to their initial promises, officials believe this time may be different.

The settlement includes an independent monitor who will ensure banks comply with the new mortgage payment processing standards through a "very specific" sampling process, test questions, and error thresholds, an Obama administration official said in a briefing with reporters on Monday.

The results will be publicly reported, said the official, who declined to be named.

Consumer advocates supported the idea that the new settlement could go further than past efforts.

"The bank servicers have really done a terrible job of servicing homeowners' mortgages," said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

The settlement "gives them direction on how they are to behave" and includes "pretty strong penalties," he said.


Throughout the talks, critics questioned whether the government was aggressive enough in pursuing the alleged misconduct. On Monday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development again defended its efforts in a memo entitled "Myth vs. Fact."

State and federal negotiators also described the talks as akin to herding cats, with so many parties involved. The 99-page official complaint, for example, includes 51 pages of signatures.


RELIEF MATH

The settlement documents - filed as one lawsuit and five separate consent judgments with the banks - provide little detail about the misdeeds government investigations uncovered.

Instead, the documents devote hundreds of pages to detailing how different types of relief will count toward the banks meeting their obligations under the settlement.

The settlement benefits are spread over 3-1/2 years, but includes incentives for much of the assistance to go out in the first year of the settlement.

Banks are required to provide 30 percent of the relief in the form of cutting mortgage debt for borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth, but the banks receive different amounts of credit for different scenarios.

Banks only get credit for reducing debt for homes where the borrower owes up to 175 percent of the current value, for example.

They get full credit if they own the loan, but 45 cents of credit for every dollar of reduction on a loan they service for a separate investor.

Banks are expected to bring a borrower's monthly payments to within 31 percent of a borrower's income, and establish a new loan value that is no greater than 120 percent of the value of the home.

According to the settlement documents, the banks are also paying tens of millions of dollars to resolve whistleblower lawsuits alleging lenders defrauded the government in seeking federal mortgage insurance for some risky loans. The banks are paying $95 million, for example, to settle a case brought by Lynn Szymoniak, a homeowner who was featured on CBS' "60 Minutes" last year for uncovering details about banks' so-called robo-signing of foreclosure documents. Szymoniak will get $18 million from the settlement.

ALLY GETS ITS OWN MODIFICATION

Some banks negotiated separate requirements.

Ally Financial, for example, negotiated a steep discount on the fine part of its settlement, based on an inability to pay it, according to people familiar with the matter.

It was expected to pay some $250 million, but the Justice Department cut it to around $110 million, these people said.

In exchange, it committed to solicit all borrowers in its own loan portfolios and to offer to cut principal for delinquent borrowers down to 105 percent of the home's value. It also offered to refinance underwater borrowers who are current on their payments.

A spokeswoman for Ally, Gina Proia, said Ally had modified 28 percent of its servicing unit's portfolio since 2008, and agreed to implement a "broader menu of consumer relief options."

Bank of America, which had the largest exposure to the settlement due to its 2008 purchase of the troubled subprime lender Countrywide Financial, also agreed to offer deeper cuts for its underwater borrowers.

The bank has agreed to contact more than 200,000 borrowers and will potentially cut their debt to the current value of the home. In exchange, Bank of America can avoid up to $850 million in payments.


(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha in Washington and Rick Rothacker in Charlotte N.C.; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

=============

Home building permits near 3.5-year high
Tue, Mar 20 13:12 PM EDT
image

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Permits for homebuilding neared a 3.5-year high in February, suggesting a budding recovery in the housing market was still on track even though groundbreaking activity slipped.

New building permits surged 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 units last month, the highest since October 2008, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.

The jump in permits, which exceeded economists' expectations for an advance to a 690,000-unit pace, reinforced views the housing market was improving and that home building would add to economic growth this year for the first time since 2005.

"The data provides further evidence of a rebound in housing activity. Housing is being nursed back to health, but getting out of rehab takes time," said Eric Green, chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

Financial markets largely ignored the data.

While green shoots are emerging in the housing market, an oversupply of unsold homes is depressing prices and starts are still less than a third of the 2.27 million rate peak reached in January 2006.

In February, housing starts slipped 1.1 percent to a rate of 698,000 units, but there was more new construction activity in January than previously reported. Moreover, starts were up 34.7 percent from February last year, the biggest year-on-year rise since April 2010.

Construction of single-family homes - the lion's share of the market -- dropped 9.9 percent last month, but groundbreaking for multi-family housing projects soared 21.1 percent.

Over the past year, starts on single-family homes have risen 17.8 percent, while multi-family starts have nearly doubled as demand for rental properties has risen, with many Americans moving away from homeownership.

HOUSING COMEBACK

While home building now accounts for only about 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, it remains a major force in the economy. Economists estimate that for every one house built, about 2.5 jobs are created.

Permits last month were boosted by a 4.9 percent rise in approvals for single-family home projects to their highest level since April 2010. It was the fifth straight month that building permits for single-family homes had increased.

Permits usually lead home construction by about a month, meaning that starts will likely reverse their slide in March.

Permits for multi-family homes rose 5.6 percent to a 245,000-unit rate.

The data followed a report on Monday that showed sentiment among home builders held at a near five-year high in March.

"Builders are not just spending money on permits unless they absolutely intend to use them. We will see housing starts above 700,000 units next month," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

"We are likely to see as much as a 20 percent increase in housing starts this year compared to last year. That is a healthy gain and it's going to add lots to jobs and lots to GDP and that's all that really matters," he said.


(Editing by Andrea Ricci)

=====

Americans brace for next foreclosure wave
Thu, Apr 05 02:22 AM EDT
image
1 of 3

By Nick Carey

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio (Reuters) - Half a decade into the deepest U.S. housing crisis since the 1930s, many Americans are hoping the crisis is finally nearing its end. House sales are picking up across most of the country, the plunge in prices is slowing and attempts by lenders to claim back properties from struggling borrowers dropped by more than a third in 2011, hitting a four-year low.

But a painful part two of the slump looks set to unfold: Many more U.S. homeowners face the prospect of losing their homes this year as banks pick up the pace of foreclosures.

"We are right back where we were two years ago. I would put money on 2012 being a bigger year for foreclosures than 2010," said Mark Seifert, executive director of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio's People (ESOP), a counseling group with 10 offices in Ohio.

"Last year was an anomaly, and not in a good way,"
he said.

ESOP in Ohio engages in "hits" on Chase branches -- they say Chase is the least accommodating major bank when it comes to working with struggling homeowners -- where they try to hand letters to bank mangers calling on chief executive Jamie Dimon to lobby FHFA head Edward DeMarco for principal reductions. A Chase spokeswoman said the bank has made "extensive efforts" to work with homeowners, helping 775,000 borrowers stay in their homes since early 2009, avoiding foreclosure "more than twice as often as we have had to foreclose." Housing groups like ESOP maintain, as they have throughout the housing crisis, that unless the FHFA embraces widespread principal reduction, many more under water borrowers face losing their homes.

"Until banks engage in meaningful principal reduction as a matter of course," ESOP's Seifert said after a recent protest at a Chase branch in Cleveland, "this crisis will not end."


In 2011, the "robo-signing" scandal, in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly reviewing individual cases, prompted banks to hold back on new foreclosures pending a settlement.

Five major banks eventually struck that settlement with 49 U.S. states in February. Signs are growing the pace of foreclosures is picking up again, something housing experts predict will again weigh on home prices before any sustained recovery can occur.


Mortgage servicing provider Lender Processing Services reported in early March that U.S. foreclosure starts jumped 28 percent in January.

More conclusive national data is not yet available. But watchdog group, 4closurefraud.org which helped uncover the "robo-signing" scandal, says it has turned up evidence of a large rise in new foreclosures between March 1 and 24 by three big banks in Palm Beach County in Florida, one of the states hit hardest by the housing crash

Although foreclosure starts were 50 percent or more lower than for the same period in 2010, those begun by Deutsche Bank were up 47 percent from 2011. Those of Wells Fargo's rose 68 percent and Bank of America's, including BAC Home Loans Servicing, jumped nearly seven-fold -- 251 starts versus 37 in the same period in 2011. Bank of America said it does not comment on data provided by other sources. Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank did not comment.

Housing experts say localized warning signs of a new wave of foreclosure are likely to be replicated across much of the United States.

Online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac estimated that while foreclosures dropped slightly nationwide in February from January and from February 2011, they rose in 21 states and jumped sharply in cities like Tampa (64 percent), Chicago (43 percent) and Miami (53 percent).

RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore said the "numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide as some of the barriers that have been holding back foreclosures are removed."

One big difference to the early years of the housing crisis, which was dominated by Americans saddled with the most toxic subprime products -- with high interest rates where banks asked for no money down or no proof of income -- is that today it's mostly Americans with ordinary mortgages whose ability to meet payment have been hit by the hard economic times.

"The subprime stuff is long gone," said Michael Redman, founder of 4closurefraud.org. "Now the folks being affected are hardworking, everyday Americans struggling because of the economy."


"HARD TO CATCH UP"

Until December 2010, Daniel Burns, 52, had spent his working life in the trucking industry as a long-haul driver and manager. When daily loads at the small family business where he worked tailed off, he lost his job.

Unable to cover his mortgage, Burns received a grant from a government fund using money repaid from the 2008 bank bailout. That grant is due to expire in early 2013 and Burns is holding out on hopeful comments from his former employer that he might get his job back if the economy recovers.

"If things don't pick up, I will be out on the street," he said, staring from his living room window at two abandoned houses over the road in the middle-class Cleveland suburb of Garfield Heights, the noise of traffic from a nearby Interstate highway filling the street.

Underscoring the uncertainty of his situation, Burns' cell phone rings and a pre-recorded message announces that his unemployment benefits are due to be cut off in April.

A bit further up the shore of Lake Erie, Cristal Fell, who works night shifts entering data for a trucking company in Toledo, has fallen behind on her mortgage a second time because her ex-husband lost his job and her overtime was cut.

"Once you get behind it's so hard to catch up," she said.

Fell, a mother of four, hopes the economy will gather enough speed to help her avoid any risk of losing her home. Her ex-husband has found a new job and she is getting more overtime, so she hopes she can catch up on her mortgage by the fall.

Burns and Fell are the new face of the U.S. housing crisis: Middle class, suburban or rural with a conventional 30-year fixed mortgage at a reasonable interest rate, but unemployed or underemployed. Although the national unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3 percent from its peak of 10 percent in October 2009, nearly 13 million Americans remain jobless, meaning many are struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments.

Real estate company Zillow Inc says more than one in four American homeowners were "under water" or owed more than their homes were worth in the fourth quarter of 2011. The crisis has wiped out some $7 trillion in U.S. household wealth.

"We're seeing more people coming through who have good loans with reasonable interest rates," said Ed Jacob, executive director of non-profit lender Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Inc, which provides foreclosure counseling. "But in many households only one person works now instead of two, or they had their hours cut."


"The answer to the housing crisis now is job creation."

EARLY SIGNS OF UPTICK?

Zillow expects the resurgence in foreclosures this year, combined with excess inventory of unsold, bank-owned homes will contribute to a 3.7 percent national decline in prices before the market hits bottom in 2013 and stays there until 2016.

"The hangover from this crisis will far outlast the party of the boom years," said Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.
Getting through the remaining foreclosures and dealing with the resulting flood of homes on the market in the wake of the bank settlement is a necessary part of the healing process for the U.S. housing market, he added.




According to leading broker dealer Amherst Securities, some 9.5 million homes are still at risk of default and in February it said it expected to see the uptick in foreclosures start to hit in March and April.

There is other evidence that many of the foreclosures that did not happen in 2011 will happen this year.

A January report by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project in New York found that in the first half of 2011 the number of 90-day pre-foreclosure notices in New York City outnumbered court foreclosure actions by a ratio of 14 to one, indicating that while proceedings were initiated against many homeowners, they were left incomplete.

"Now the banks have a settlement, foreclosure numbers for 2012 are going to be high," said NEDAP co-director Josh Zinner.


A recent survey by the California Reinvestment Coalition, an umbrella group of nearly 300 non-profit groups in the state, of member agencies found 75 percent of respondents expected increased demand for their foreclosure prevention services in 2012 but more than a third had to scale back services because of funding cuts.

"Funding is a major concern given what our members expect for this year," said associate director Kevin Stein.




All this has non-profits intensifying calls for the Federal Housing Finance Agency to drop its opposition to allowing the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac it regulates to reduce principal for underwater homeowners.

Principal reduction involves reducing the amount borrowers owe in order to make a loan modification affordable for struggling homeowners. Republicans and the FHFA oppose principal reduction because of the risk of "moral hazard"- that homeowners who do not need help will seek to abuse largesse and have their mortgages reduced too.




(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Martin Howell and William Schomberg; Desking by Andrew Hay)

===========

BofA board $20 million settlement called inadequate
Sat, Apr 21 14:54 PM EDT


(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp directors, who were sued by shareholders for allegedly paying too much for Merrill Lynch & Co in 2008, must defend a proposed $20 million settlement of the claims in federal court in New York, court papers show.

Calling the settlement "grossly inadequate," lawyers in a similar Delaware case have asked P. Kevin Castel, the judge overseeing the New York matter, to order the parties agreeing to the deal to justify its terms.

Castel directed that parties submit necessary documents by May 4.

The New York Times first reported that the Delaware plaintiffs objected to the settlement in New York as inadequate.

Damages in the case could reach $5 billion, according to the plaintiffs in the case being handled in Delaware Chancery Court, the paper said.

Larry Grayson, spokesman for BofA, declined to comment on the matter.

Lawyers in the Delaware case complained that if the settlement in New York were approved, their clients' damages claims would be wiped out ahead of a scheduled October trial, the newspaper said.

Court papers show the settlement was struck on April 12 by lawyers representing two public employee pension funds that had sued the directors of Bank of America for breach of fiduciary duty. The funds are the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System and the Hollywood Police Officers' Retirement System in Florida.

Bank of America has been the subject of much litigation over Merrill, including its failure to more quickly disclose that Merrill was on its way to losing $15.8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 and was also paying out $3.6 billion in bonuses to employees.

Castel's colleague in New York, Judge Jed Rakoff, grudgingly approved a $150 million settlement by the bank of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges over the Merrill takeover, after earlier rejecting a $33 million accord as inadequate.


(Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Chicago and Jon Stempel in New York; Editing by Vicki Allen)
========== ============= Iranian hackers target Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citi Fri, Sep 21 17:40 PM EDT By Jim Finkle and Rick Rothacker (Reuters) - Iranian hackers have repeatedly attacked Bank of America Corp, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc over the past year as part of a broad cyber campaign targeting the United States, according to people familiar with the situation. The attacks, which began in late 2011 and escalated this year, have primarily been "denial of service" campaigns that disrupted the banks' websites and corporate networks by overwhelming them with incoming web traffic, said the sources. They said there was evidence suggesting the hackers targeted the three banks in retaliation for their enforcement of Western economic sanctions against Iran. Whether the hackers have been able to inflict more serious damage on computer networks or steal critical data is not yet known. Iran has beefed up its cyber capabilities after its nuclear program was damaged in 2010 by the Stuxnet virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States. Tehran has publicly advertised its intentions to build a cyber army and encouraged private citizens to hack against Western countries. The attacks on the three largest U.S. banks originated in Iran, but it is not clear if they were launched by the state, groups working on behalf of the government, or "patriotic" citizens, according to the sources, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The hackers also targeted other U.S. companies, the sources said, without giving specifics. They said the attacks shed new light on the potential for Iran to lash out at Western nations' information networks. "Most people didn't take Iran seriously. Now most people are taking them very seriously," said one of the sources, referring to Iran's cyber capabilities. Iranian officials were not available to comment. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup declined to comment, as did officials with the Pentagon, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and Secret Service. A U.S. financial services industry group this week warned banks, brokerages and insurers to be on heightened alert for cyber attacks after the websites of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase experienced service disruptions. Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on Friday that he believes Iran was behind the attacks. "I think this was done by Iran and the Quds Force, which has its own developing cyber attack capability," Lieberman said during a taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program. The Quds Force is a covert arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. "I believe it was a response to the increasingly strong economic sanctions that the United States and our European allies have put on Iranian financial institutions," he said. (http://cs.pn/Q320Up) Tensions between the United States and Iran, which date back to the revolution in 1979 that resulted in the current Islamic republic, have escalated in recent years as Washington has led the effort to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb and imposed tough economic sanctions. DISRUPTIVE CAMPAIGN Denial-of-service campaigns are among the oldest types of cyber attacks and do not require highly skilled computer programmers or advanced expertise, compared with sophisticated and destructive weapons like Stuxnet. But denial-of-service attacks can still be very disruptive: If a bank's website is repeatedly shut down, the attacks can hurt its reputation, affect customer retention and cause revenue losses as customers cannot open accounts or conduct other business. Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase have consulted the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency on how to strengthen their networks in the face of the Iranian attacks, the sources said. It was not clear whether law enforcement agencies are formally investigating the attacks. The Iranian attackers may have used denial-of-service to distract the victims from other, more destructive assaults that have yet to be uncovered, the sources said. Frank Cilluffo, who served as homeland security adviser to former U.S. President George W. Bush, told Reuters he knows of "cyber reconnaissance" missions that have come from Iran but declined to give specifics. "It is yet to be seen whether they have the wherewithal to cause significant damage," said Cilluffo, who is now director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. Security experts said Iran's cyber capabilities are not as sophisticated as those of China, Russia, the United States or many of its Western allies. Jim Lewis, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, said Iran has been testing its cyber technology against Israel and other Gulf states in recent years. "It's like the nuclear program: It isn't particularly sophisticated but it makes progress every year," said Lewis, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. (Additional reporting Mark Hosenball, Andrea Shalal-Esa and Jim Wolf in Washington, Joseph Menn in San Francisco and David Henry in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu, Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler) ============= Freddie Mac wins dismissal of shareholder lawsuit Wed, Sep 26 21:08 PM EDT By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) - A federal judge has again dismissed a lawsuit accusing Freddie Mac of misleading shareholders by understating its subprime mortgage exposure and overstating its capital strength ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan said the allegations made in an amended lawsuit failed to show that Freddie Mac officials, including former Chief Executive Richard Syron, intended to mislead shareholders, or withheld significant information from them. He also said Freddie Mac had made a "bevy of truthful disclosures" about its credit and risk exposures during the period covered by the lawsuit, including over loans it guaranteed and its activities in nontraditional markets. "It defies logic to conclude that executives who are seeking to perpetrate fraudulent information upon the market would make such fulsome disclosures," Keenan wrote. Shareholders led by the Illinois-based Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund had accused Freddie Mac of hiding its risks after revealing a $2 billion quarterly loss on November 20, 2007. The lawsuit covers losses by investors in Freddie Mac common and preferred shares from that date until September 7, 2008, when U.S. regulators seized Freddie Mac and larger rival Fannie Mae and put them in a conservatorship under the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keenan had in March 2011 dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit, which was first filed in August 2008, but given the plaintiffs a chance to amend their complaint. He refused on Wednesday to give them another chance. The shareholder lawsuit is separate from a civil fraud lawsuit that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been pursuing against Syron and other former Freddie Mac officials. Defendants in that case have denied wrongdoing. The case, whose title has a different named plaintiff, is Kuriakose v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-07281. (Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Gallagher) ========= BofA pays $2.4 billion to settle claims over Merrill Fri, Sep 28 18:05 PM EDT By Martha Graybow and Rick Rothacker (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp agreed on Friday to pay $2.43 billion to settle claims it hid crucial information from shareholders when it bought investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co at the height of the financial crisis. The settlement, among the biggest of its kind to stem from the 2008 meltdown, underscores how Bank of America is still suffering from decisions it made during the crisis, even as competitors are moving on. The second largest U.S. bank likely lost money in the third quarter in large part because of the agreement, while other major banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co are expected to earn billions of dollars each. As Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008, Bank of America agreed to buy Merrill Lynch. But in the weeks after that agreement, the bank tried unsuccessfully to scrap the deal. Merrill Lynch generated more than $15 billion of losses and its executives agreed to award employees up to $5.8 billion of bonuses. Bank of America's shareholders voted to approve the deal in December 2008. After the merger closed, Bank of America shares fell sharply, and investors sued, saying Merrill's losses and bonuses should have been disclosed before the vote. Bank of America denied the lawsuit's allegations, but CEO Brian Moynihan said the bank agreed to settle to remove uncertainty and put the case behind it. The Merrill Lynch deal, as well as the bank's 2008 purchase of subprime lender Countrywide Financial, have ended up costing Bank of America billions, with the bank's mortgage business alone losing more than $35 billion since the Countrywide deal. But the Merrill Lynch acquisition has also given much needed revenue to Bank of America. While the bank does not break out its results from Merrill Lynch, its wealth management and investment banking units, which owe much of their business to Merrill, generated nearly $160 billion of revenue from 2009 through June, or 43 percent of the bank's overall revenue. Friday's settlement, which requires court approval, would resolve a case set for an October 22 trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Investors sued the company and executives including former Chief Executive Ken Lewis, but Bank of America said it was footing the bill for the settlement. At a brief hearing before Judge Kevin Castel on Friday afternoon, the judge told lawyers,
"This is, needless to say, a good development," referring to the settlement. Few expect the settlement to face the obstacles that Bank of America experienced in 2009 when settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission over this same acquisition. A judge rejected the bank's initial settlement and forced both parties to renegotiate it.
LONG-SOUGHT DEAL In September 2008, Bank of America's Lewis told his shareholders that buying Merrill Lynch was a real opportunity. The investment bank had the biggest retail brokerage on the Street, which gave Bank of America a new channel for selling products like credit cards. As the deal started to look bad toward the end of 2008, Lewis tried to back out of it. But then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pressured him to go through with the transaction. In January 2009, when Bank of America closed on its Merrill Lynch purchase, it received a $20 billion government bailout to shore up its balance sheet. Bank of America has since repaid the money. Lewis retired at the end of 2009. The deal helped the financial system but hurt Bank of America's shareholders, said Gary Townsend, chief executive of Hill-Townsend Capital in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Bank of America shares have slid more than two-thirds since the Merrill deal was announced in September 2008. "It's good to get a bad tooth removed. But the question is, 'How expensive was Ken's mistake back in 2008?,'" Townsend said. Lewis, when contacted by Reuters, declined to comment on the settlement. The Merrill deal was valued at $50 billion when announced, but the final price was around $29.1 billion as Bank of America's shares fell. Bank of America's acquisitions have continued to bring it pain. Since the financial crisis, the bank has agreed to pay more than $16 billion in 12 settlements with mortgage investors and other accords linked to takeovers, counting an $8.5 billion pact that still needs court approval. On top of that $16 billion, Bank of America is on the hook for $11.8 billion in payments, mortgage modifications and loan refinancings as part of a $25 billion settlement this year over allegedly faulty handling of foreclosures. EXPECTED LOSS The bank expects to incur total litigation expenses of about $1.6 billion in the third quarter. It said that expense, a U.K. tax charge and a charge related to improvements in the company's credit spreads would hit quarterly results by about 28 cents per share. That would likely trigger a loss for the period. Analysts had expected profit of 14 cents per share when the bank releases results on October 17, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit included the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The case was originally filed in 2009 by former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, now director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Four to five million shareholders could be eligible to share in the settlement, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Payouts will depend on the number of shares owned, he said. Bank of America shares slipped 9 cents to $8.88 on the New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trading. Prior to this accord, the largest crisis-era investor class action settlement involved allegations Wachovia, now part of Wells Fargo & Co, misled investors about the quality of loans sold before the financial downturn, according to NERA Economic Consulting. Wells Fargo agreed last year to pay $590 million to resolve that lawsuit, on top of $37 million that auditor KPMG LLP agreed to pay. Overall, the largest securities fraud settlements in U.S. history include the $7.2 billion agreement with investors stemming from the collapse of Enron; the $6.2 billion WorldCom settlement; and the $3.2 billion agreement over the accounting scandal at Tyco International, according to Stanford Law School's Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. Under the Bank of America settlement, the bank will also make changes to its corporate governance through January 1, 2015. Some of the changes already were part of a February 2010 settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including provisions on independence of the board compensation committee and an annual shareholder vote on executive pay. The plaintiffs' law firms leading the case are expected to apply for $150 million in fees, said Tierney, the Ohio attorney general's spokesman. The law firms include Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann; Kaplan Fox and Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check. The fee, which would be subject to court approval, works out to 6 percent of the settlement fund. (Additional reporting by Grant McCool and Nate Raymond in New York, Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Tanya Agrawal in Bangalore; Editing by Supriya Kurane, Jeffrey Benkoe and David Gregorio) ============= Bank of America to settle with Fannie Mae, sell mortgage assets Mon, Jan 07 10:06 AM EST 1 of 2 (Reuters) - Bank of America on Monday announced roughly $11.6 billion of settlements with mortgage finance company Fannie Mae and a $1.8 billion sale of collection rights on home loans, in a series of deals meant to help the bank move past its disastrous 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp. The settlements and transactions and other charges will result in Bank of America posting only a small profit for 2012's fourth quarter. The bank is due to report results on January 17. Bank of America is paying $3.6 billion to Fannie Mae and buying back $6.75 billion of bad loans from the mortgage company to clear up all claims that government-owned Fannie Mae had made against the bank. Fannie Mae and its sibling, Freddie Mac, have been pushing banks to buy back loans they sold to the two companies that never should have been sold to them because the loans did not meet the companies' criteria for purchasing. Bank of America said most of the settlement would be covered by reserves, and another $2.5 billion, before taxes, that it set aside in the fourth quarter. A separate settlement over foreclosure delays will result in Bank of America paying $1.3 billion to Fannie Mae, the mortgage company said. Bank of America had already set aside money to cover most of that, but took another $260 million charge in the fourth quarter to cover the balance. Bank of America also sold the rights to collect payments on about $306 billion of loans to Nationstar Mortgage Holdings and Walter Investment Management Corp. Nationstar is paying $1.3 billion for the right to service some $215 billion of loans, while Walter Investment is paying $519 million for the right to service about $93 billion of mortgages. Reuters first reported that Bank of America was talking to Nationstar and Walter Investment on Friday. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bangalore and David Henry in New York.; Editing by Dan Wilchins and Maureen Bavdek) ======================== US banks agree an $8.5 billion foreclosure settlement Get short URL Published: 08 January, 2013, 00:13 TAGS: Scandal, USA, Banking, Finance (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst) Owners of wrongfully repossessed houses could now get up to $125,000 as ten major US banks agree to settle federal complaints. This will end a foreclosure review process begun by a 2011 enforcement action. Under the new agreement, those people who had their homes seized and then sold would get the biggest pay offs, while banks who failed to modify people’s loans in light of a change of income would get off more lightly. The settled compensation is anywhere between $1000 and $125,000. The initial 2011 enforcement review was ordered because banks and mortgage companies had bypassed steps in the foreclosure process and had mishandled people’s paperwork. The banks involved include the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, MetLife Bank, PNC Financial Services and Sovereign. Monday’s settlement was announced by the Office for the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve and covers up to 3.8 million people who had their homes repossessed in 2009 and 2010. Of those about 400,000 borrowers may receive payments. About $3.3 billion would be in direct compensation payments to borrowers, while $5.2 billion would pay for assistance such reducing loans or the interest rates at which they are paid back. The deal “represents a significant change in direction” from the original 2011 agreements said Thomas Curry, a spokesman for the OCC said in statement. Both banks and consumer watch dogs had complained that the 2011 settlement required loan-by-loan reviews, which were time consuming and costly without reaching many home owners. Banks were also paying large sums to consultants to review the files and some people questioned the independence of those consultants. Curry said that the new deal ensures “That consumers are the ones who will benefit, and that they will benefit more quickly and in a more direct manner”. But some consumer advocates have said the new settlement lets the banks off the hook, as under the old deal some payments could have been much higher.
“It’s another get out of jail card for the banks, it caps their liability at a total number that’s less than they thought they were going to pay going in,” said Diana Thompson, a lawyer with the national Consumer Law Centre.
================== Consumer watchdog tightens mortgage lending rules on banks Thu, Jan 10 00:12 AM EST By Emily Stephenson and Margaret Chadbourn WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than five years after the housing market collapsed, the U.S. government's newly created consumer watchdog said Thursday it will force banks to verify a borrower's ability to repay loans to ward off the kind of loose lending that helped push the U.S. economy into recession. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said its new guidelines would also protect borrowers from irresponsible mortgage lending by providing some legal shields for lenders who issue safer, lower-priced loan products. Lenders and consumer groups have anxiously awaited the new rules, which are among the most controversial the government watchdog is required to issue by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. "When consumers sit down at the closing table, they shouldn't be set up to fail with mortgages they can't afford," Richard Cordray, the bureau's director, said in a statement. The new rules are intended to combat lending abuses that contributed to the U.S. housing bubble, when shoddy mortgage standards led American households to take on billions of dollars in debt they could not afford. The U.S. economy is still feeling the after-effects of the bubble, which sparked a global credit crisis after it burst in 2006. As the housing market imploded, banks sharply tightened the screws on lending. Regulators said the new rules would head off future crises by preventing irresponsible lending, without forcing banks to restrict credit further. Lenders will have to verify a potential borrower's income, the amount of debt they have and their job status before issuing a mortgage. And because lenders are likely to want the heightened legal protection that comes with offering certain "plain vanilla" loans, the rules could go a long way in determining who gets a loan and who can access low-cost borrowing rates. SAFE HARBOR FOR LENDERS Dodd-Frank directed regulators to designate a category of "qualified mortgages" that would automatically be considered compliant with the ability-to-repay requirement. The rule was first set in motion by the Federal Reserve and then handed off to the consumer bureau in July 2011. The consumer protection bureau said on Thursday that it would define "qualified mortgages" as those that have no risky loan features - such as interest-only payments or balloon payments - and with fees that add up to no more than 3 percent of the loan amount. In addition, these loans must go to borrowers whose debt does not exceed 43 percent of their income. These loans would carry extra legal protection for lenders under a two-tiered system that appears to create a compromise between the housing industry and consumer advocates. Bank groups had lobbied the bureau to extend a full "safe harbor" to all qualified loans, preventing consumers from claiming in lawsuits that they did not have the ability to repay them. But consumer advocates wanted a lower form of protection that would allow borrowers greater latitude to sue. Under the rules announced on Thursday, the highest level of protection would go to lower-priced qualified mortgages. Such prime loans generally will go to less-risky consumers with sound credit histories, the bureau said. Higher priced loans would receive less protection. Lenders would be presumed to have verified the ability to repay the loan, but borrowers could sue if they could show that they did not have sufficient income to pay the mortgage and cover other living expenses. CREDIT AVAILABILITY Some lawmakers and mortgage lenders had warned against a draconian rule that could exacerbate the current credit crunch and set back a housing market that has become a bright spot in an otherwise tepid economic recovery. Consumer bureau officials said they were sensitive to concerns about credit tightening, and they baked into the rules several provisions meant to keep credit flowing and to smooth the transition to the new regime. The new rules establish an additional category of loans that would be temporarily treated as qualified. These mortgages could exceed the 43 percent debt-to-income ratio as long as they met the underwriting standards required by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or other U.S. government housing agencies. The provision would phase out in seven years, or sooner if housing agencies issue their own qualified mortgage rules or if the government ends its support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two housing finance giants it rescued in 2008. Regulators also proposed creating a qualified mortgage category that would apply to community banks and credit unions. Banks will have until January 2014 to comply with the new rules, the consumer bureau said. (Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Lisa Shumaker) ================== Jan. 17, 2013 3:49 PM ET Taxpayers will ease banks' costs in mortgage deal By MARCY GORDON Banks say new agency's oversight is slow, costly Jan. 15, 20135:25 PM ET Wells Fargo nets record profit, but mortgages slow Jan. 11, 20131:15 PM ET Banks prepare for earnings; mortgages cast a pall Jan. 10, 20133:11 PM ET Greek unemployment hits new high Jan. 10, 20137:35 AM ET New federal rules aim to curb risky mortgages Jan. 10, 20133:01 AM ET Advertisement Advertisement Buy AP Photo Reprints WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumer advocates have complained that U.S. mortgage lenders are getting off easy in a deal to settle charges that they wrongfully foreclosed on many homeowners. Now it turns out the deal is even sweeter for the lenders than it appears: Taxpayers will subsidize them for the money they're ponying up (To pay (money owed or due). The Internal Revenue Service regards the lenders' compensation to homeowners as a cost incurred in the course of doing business. Result: It's fully tax-deductible. Critics argue that big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers during the financial crisis are again being favored over the victims of their mortgage abuses. "The government is abetting the behavior by not preventing the deduction," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "The taxpayers end up subsidizing the Wall Street banks after the headlines of a big-dollar settlement die down. That's unfair to taxpayers." Under the deal, 12 mortgage lenders will pay more than $9 billion to compensate hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were seized improperly, a result of abuses such as "robo-signing." That's when banks automatically approved foreclosures without properly reviewing documents. Regulators reached agreement this week with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Last week, the regulators settled with 10 other lenders: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, MetLife Bank, PNC Financial Services, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank and Aurora. The settlements will help eliminate huge potential liabilities for the banks. Many consumer advocates argued that regulators settled for too low a price by letting banks avoid full responsibility for wrongful foreclosures that victimized families. That price the banks will pay will be further eased by the tax-deductibility of their settlement costs. Companies can deduct those costs against federal taxes as long as they are compensating private individuals to remedy a wrong. By contrast, a fine or other financial penalty is not tax-deductible. Taxpayers "should not be subsidizing or in any way paying for these corporations' wrongdoing," said Phineas Baxandall, a senior tax and budget analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocate. Spokesmen for several of the banks in the mortgage settlement didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Bank of America declined to comment. In some rare cases, federal regulators that have reached financial settlements with companies have barred them from writing off any costs against their taxes, even if they might be legally entitled to do so. The Securities and Exchange Commission did so, for example, in 2010 in a $550 million settlement with Goldman. That case involved civil fraud charges over the sale of risky mortgage bonds before the financial crisis erupted. It was the largest amount ever paid by a Wall Street bank in an SEC case. But the SEC defined nearly all the $550 million as a civil penalty. That meant it couldn't serve as a tax deduction for Goldman. The agency cited "the deterrent effect of the civil penalty." In that case, the SEC appeared to want to send a message at a time of public anger over Wall Street excess, said James Cox, a Duke University law professor and expert on the SEC. Cox noted that when they negotiate financial settlements, companies consider whether they can deduct some of their costs. Similarly, when BP agreed in November to plead guilty and pay a record $4.5 billion in the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster, the Justice Department got BP to agree not to deduct the cost of the settlement against its U.S. taxes. The total BP will pay includes about $1.3 billion in fines. But it also includes payments of $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences. Normally, those payment would have been tax-deductible. The banks that just settled with regulators over their mortgage abuses are getting off lightly, Cox suggested. When the amount companies must pay in a settlement "is just the cost of doing business, there's not very much deterrence value there," he said. At least one lawmaker, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wants regulators to bar the tax deductibility of the lenders' costs. Brown made his argument in a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and other top regulators. The Fed and the comptroller's office, a Treasury Department agency, negotiated the foreclosure abuse settlements with the banks.
"It is simply unfair for taxpayers to foot the bill for Wall Street's wrongdoing," Brown wrote in the letter dated Thursday. "Breaking the law should not be a business expense." Unfair, too, in the eyes of Charles Wanless, a homeowner in the Florida Panhandle who is fighting his lender over foreclosure proceedings. As Wanless sees it, the government is giving help to banks that it refuses to give to troubled homeowners, who still must pay their full share of taxes. "The government comes after us for every little bit of money we have," Wanless said.
Associated Press Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. =================

Six injured in Islamabad blast

Six injured in Islamabad blast
By Asad Ahmed - Sep 29th, 2011 (No Comment)
2
Islamabad: At least six people including a woman have been injured from a huge blast which took place in a hotel in Islamabad on late Thursday.
According to The News Tribe correspondent in Islamabad, the blast took place on the fourth floor of City Hotel in Blue Area of Pakistani capital which located near Parliament House where a landmark meeting of All Parties Conference was going on to devise a strategy against US allegations.
The blast severely damaged the hotel building. The explosion was also so powerful that it was heared to far flung areas the window panes whereas the window panes of nearby buildings shattered .
Rescue teams have started evacuating people from the hotel while clearing the debris.
Inspector General Police Islamabad Bin Yamin told media that the reason of the blast could be gas leakage, adding that bomb disposal squad has started collecting evidences to inform the exact reason of the incident.
He said the injured were the passengers of PIA who were staying in the hotel for their flights to move to their destination.
The injured were rushed to PIMS Hospital for treatment.

China orders checks on chemical plants after protests

29 Sep 2011 14:52
Source: Reuters // Reuters

BEIJING, Sept 29 (Reuters) - China on Thursday ordered nationwide safety and environmental checks at plants that make dangerous chemicals, threatening to suspend those that cannot fix problems, in response to protests that broke out in the port city of Dalian in August following a toxic spill scare.

The powerful state planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, said all plants which contain dangerous chemicals like paraxylene "must immediately conduct full self-inspections and eliminate hidden risks in a timely manner," Xinhua news agency said.

"Those manufacturers that can not rectify their problems must suspend production at once."

Xinhua said the move was prompted by August demonstrations in Dalian demanding the relocation of the factory at the centre of pollution worries.

China's leaders have vowed to create a more "harmonious society" with cleaner air and water, even at the cost of slower economic growth. But environmental disputes like these pit citizens against local officials whose priority often remains attracting fresh investment and revenue. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Iraqi oil ministry sets 15 October date to sign Akkas gas field contract

Iraqi oil ministry sets 15 October date to sign Akkas gas field contract
By Leigh Elston | 28 September 2011 14:36 GMT


Iraqi Cabinet Approves Akkas deal
Posted on 28 September 2011. Tags: Akkas, gas, KazMunaiGas, KOGAS, Ukaz

Iraq’s cabinet has approved a contract with South Korea’s KOGAS to develop the Akkas [Ukaz] gas field in western Anbar province, the country’s largest, according to a report from Reuters.
The cabinet approved the deal on Sept. 13 and the source said it will be signed Oct. 15.
“Final signature of Akkas gas deal with Kogas will take place Oct. 13,” Sabah Al Saidi, deputy head of the Iraqi Oil Ministry’s petroleum contracts and licensing directorate, told Dow Jones Newswires.
Iraq asked KOGAS to develop Akkas on its own after Kazakh company KazMunaiGas pulled out.
(Sources: Dow Jones, Reuters, AKnews)