Cities are considering a housing solution that makes investors furious - (www.businessinsider.com) In the foreclosure-battered inland stretches of California, local government officials desperate for change are weighing a controversial but inventive way to fix troubled mortgages: Condemn them. Officials from San Bernardino County and two of its cities have formed a local agency to consider the plan. But investors who stand to lose money on their mortgage investments have been quick to register their displeasure. Discussion of the idea is taking place in one of the epicenters of the housing crisis, a working-class region east of Los Angeles where housing prices have plummeted. Last week brought another sharp reminder of the crisis when the 210,000-strong city of San Bernardino, struggling after shrunken home prices walloped local tax revenues, announced it would seek bankruptcy protection.
Analysis: Banks behave badly redux: Is it killing confidence? - (www.reuters.com) It wasn't supposed to be like this. After the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression almost took the global economy over a cliff, tough new regulations and stronger internal controls at the world's major banks were meant to help restore confidence in the financial system. But recent headlines have some top investors and strategists questioning whether there has been any progress at all. The horror stories include the deepening scandal that big banks rigged Libor, the benchmark international lending rate; JPMorgan Chase's (JPM.N) mounting losses from disastrous credit bets and a possible cover-up attempt; and the disappearance of customer funds from Iowa futures broker PFGBest, discovered after its founder tried to commit suicide and left a note outlining a 20-year fraud.
JPMorgan Blaming Marks On Traders Baffles Ex-Employees - (www.bloomberg.com) JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)’s assertion that traders at its London chief investment office may have intentionally mismarked trades, masking losses that total at least $5.8 billion, makes little sense, according to former executives with direct knowledge of the unit’s operation. The bank restated first-quarter results, paring profit by $459 million, in part because an internal review revealed that U.K. traders had priced their books “aggressively,” Mike Cavanagh, head of Treasury & Securities Services, said in a July 13 meeting with analysts. The mispricing made losses on a portfolio of credit derivatives look smaller than they were, and executives concluded that traders may have sought to hide the “full amount of losses,” JPMorgan said in a presentation. JPMorgan requires traders to mark their positions daily so the firm can track their profits, losses and risk. An internal control group double-checks the marks against market prices monthly and at the end of each quarter, said three former executives from the CIO and a senior executive in market risk. The firm uses the control group’s prices, not what individual traders submit, to calculate earnings, making it difficult for one trader or trading desk to rig prices, the people said.
Worst-in-Generation Drought Dims U.S. Farm Economy Hopes - (www.bloomberg.com) A worst-in-a-generation drought from Indiana to Arkansas to California is damaging crops, rural economies, and threatening to drive food prices to record levels. Agriculture, though a small part of the $15.5 trillion U.S. economy, had been one of the most resilient industries in the past three years as the country struggled to recover from the recession. “It might be a $50 billion event for the economy as it blends into everything over the next four quarters,” said Michael Swanson, agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) in Minneapolis, the largest commercial agriculture lender. “Instead of retreating from record highs, food prices will advance.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared July 11 that more than 1,000 counties in 26 states are natural-disaster areas, the biggest such declaration ever. The designation makes farmers and ranchers in affected counties -- about a third of those in the entire country -- eligible for low-interest loans to help manage the drought, wildfires or other disasters.
German Court Won’t Rule on Bailout for 8 Weeks in Delay for Fund - (www.bloomberg.com) Germany’s top court will take more than eight weeks to decide whether to suspend the euro-area’s permanent bailout fund, leaving Europe’s anti-crisis coffer less than half full to respond to the debt crisis. The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe will issue a ruling on bids to halt Germany’s participation in the European Stability Mechanism and the fiscal pact on Sept. 12, it said today in an e-mailed statement. That’s more than two months after it held a hearing on the measures. “The court has held a comprehensive hearing on the issue and will now take the time it needs to reach a decision,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin today. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned the hearing last week that a delay in activating the ESM “could lead to a significant worsening” of the crisis.