Reuters blog archive
from Felix Salmon:
John Kemp might just have delivered the perfect John Kemp column yesterday: 1,700 words on an obscure commodity you probably didn't even realize was a commodity. In this case, it's a noble gas: the Federal Helium Reserve (yes, there's a Federal Helium Reserve) is at risk of imminent shutdown, which in turn threatens everything from the semiconductor industry to MRI scanners. Already, at least one particle accelerator had to delay operations "because of problems obtaining fresh supplies of helium."
Kemp's column is based in large part on a 17-page GAO report which includes this chart, showing the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of refined helium. (Another thing you didn't know: helium comes in both "crude" and "grade A refined" versions.)
As you can see from the chart, the problem here isn't finding crude helium, so much as it is refining the stuff into something usable. Reports Kemp:
Problems at helium refineries in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, as well as start up delays with new refining facilities in Qatar in 2006, led to shortages and rationing, as well as price spikes for some customers.
from Unstructured Finance:
By Matthew Goldstein
It's no secret that housing in the U.S. has become an investors market, especially if it's an investor with cash to burn.
For more than a year now, we and just about everyone else in the financial media have been writing about how Wall Street-backed firms are looking to buy-up the wreckage of the housing bust on the cheap and rent out those homes until the time is right to sell them for a sweet profit. And it should come as no surprise that much of that buying is being done with cash because it's the easiest way for an investor get a deal done quick.
By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The cure for the U.S. housing malaise may sustain its disease. A new Senate bill seeks to forbid Congress from raising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s mortgage guarantee fees to pay for federal spending. It sounds sensible. But in the alternate universe that is Washington, it may kill one of the few ways available to reduce taxpayer support for housing and bring back private capital.
from Unstructured Finance:
By Matthew Goldstein
Many cash-strapped, unemployed or underemployed people are still struggling with too much consumer and household debt. But there is one kind of debt that is getting smaller and smaller--mortgage bonds issued during the U.S. housing bubble by Wall Street banks and finance firms that isn't guaranteed by either Fannie Mae of Freddie Mac.
The outstanding dollar value of so-called private label residential mortgage bonds, or non-agency mortgage debt, is $909 million, according to stats compiled by CoreLogic and mutual fund firm Doubleline Capital. At its peak in July 2007, the total of private label mortgage debt was $2.2 trillion.
from Global Investing:
All eyes on the Hungarian central bank this week. Not so much on tomorrow's policy meeting (a 25 bps rate cut is almost a foregone conclusion) but on Friday's nomination of a new governor by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Expectations are for Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy to get the job, paving the way for an extended easing cycle. Swaps markets are currently pricing some 100 basis points of rate cuts over the coming six months in Hungary -- the question is, could this go further? With tomorrow's meeting to be the last by incumbent Andras Simor, clues over future policy are unlikely, but analysts canvassed by Reuters reckon interest rates could fall to 4.5 percent by the third quarter, compared to their prediction for a 5 percent trough in last month's poll.
A rate cut is also possible in Israel later today, taking the interest rate to 1.5 percent. Recent data showed growth at a weaker-than-expected 2.5 percent in the last quarter of 2012 while inflation was 1.5 percent in January, at the bottom of the central bank's target range. But most importantly, according to Goldman Sachs, the shekel has been strengthening, having risen 7 percent against the dollar since November and 6.8 percent on a trade-weighted basis in this period. That could prompt a rate cut, though analysts polled by Reuters still think on balance that the BOI will keep rates unchanged while retaining a dovish bias. A possible reason could be that house prices -- a sensitive issue in Israel -- are still on the rise despite tougher regulations on mortgage lending.
In the wake of a historic housing crisis that has just recently begun showing signs of a turnaround, foreclosure counseling services are coming under strain. The foreclosure mess may be over for big banks, which recently settled with regulators for $8.5 billion.
Not so for homeowners, who continue to face a bureaucratic morass in dealing with lenders and servicers. According to a new report from the Philadelphia Fed, the city of Philadelphia’s already weak infrastructure for dealing with the fallout from the foreclosure crisis is fraying at the edges.
The American Dream distorted almost beyond recognition by mass foreclosures, women working on straight commission, men not working at all, and an alleged "higher power" who wants you to be rich beyond your wildest dreams, is the subject of the Women's Project Theater's production of "Bethany," a new play by the young playwright Laura Marks.
The central character, Crystal, (played by America Ferrera, star of the "Ugly Betty" television series) is trying to regain custody of her daughter, Bethany, who has been placed in foster care because foreclosure has left her mother homeless.
U.S.home resales unexpectedly fell in December, but the drop was not large enough to suggest the recovery in the housing sector is running out of steam.
The National Association of Realtors said on Tuesday that existing home sales dropped 1.0 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million units.
from Photographers Blog:
By Aly Song
“Right now, buying a house like this would cost me more than 2 million yuan, but the government only offered me 260,015 to move, where could I go?” 67-year-old Luo Baogen said while smoking a cigarette in front of his partially demolished “nail house”, standing alone in the middle of a road in Wenling city, China’s eastern Zhejiang province. “Nail house” refers to the last houses in an area owned by people who refuse to move to make room for new developments.
About 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Shanghai, this house quickly became an Internet hot topic after local news reports bearing dramatic photographs went public last week.