Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thursday January 3 Housing and Economic stories


Do you know who owns more than a 6% stake in the maker of .223 Bushmaster rifles, like the one used last Friday to murder 20 first graders and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut? California public schoolteachers.
The company in question is Freedom Group, a privately-held firearms conglomerate formed by private equity and hedge fund group Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus created the platform in April 2006 via the acquisition of Bushmaster, after which it added another 10 makers of firearms, ammunition and accessories (including Remington, Marlin Arms and Barnes Bullets). The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) committed to invest a whopping $500 million into a $7.5 billion Cerberus fund that has helped bankroll Freedom Group. That means that it effectively could own a 6.67% stake in the gun maker, which filed to go public in late 2009 before pulling the offering in early 2011. In fact, the figure could be even higher since CalSTRS also committed $100 million to a $1 billion predecessor fund, which likely made the original investment.

New York State Budget Balanced With Gimmicks, Study Says - ( New York state relies on gimmicks and nonrecurring revenue to pay for rising pension costs and the most-generous Medicaid benefits in the U.S., said a group led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch. Annual pension contributions may increase 31 percent to $10.6 billion by 2015 from about $8.1 billion in 2013, and would probably need to rise by an additional $14.8 billion if the state were to adopt a 5 percent assumed rate of return on invested assets, instead of the current 7.5 percent, the State Budget Crisis Task Force said in a report issued today. In 2009, New York spent $9,056 per enrollee in Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. That’s 69 percent higher than the U.S. average, according to the report. Even with a cap instituted last year, the state expects to pay $22.8 billion in fiscal 2014, an 8 percent increase from last year, the group said.

Struggles Mount for Greeks as Economy Faces Winter - ( Maria Katri sent her son to live at a charitable home for poor boys after Greece's economy crashed. Now, as Greece slides deeper into depression, the widowed mother is so poor that her teenage daughter, who stills lives at home, is "jealous that her brother is having a better time than her in the institution," Ms. Katri says. The spread of economic hardship is fraying Greece's social fabric and straining its political cohesion as the country enters the harshest winter of its three-year-old debt crisis. Even the tightknit Greek family—an institution that has helped the population to absorb a collapse in employment—is under pressure as household incomes dwindle.

Spain Bad Loans Ratio Surges to 11.23% as Defaults Climb - ( Bad loans as a proportion of total lending at Spanish banks climbed to a record 11.23 percent in October as the country’s economic slump led more companies and homeowners to miss credit payments. The proportion rose from 10.71 percent in September as 7.4 billion euros ($9.8 billion) of loans soured in the month to take the total of doubtful credit in the banking system to 189.6 billion euros, the Bank of Spain said on its website today. The mortgage default rate jumped to 3.49 percent in the third quarter from 3.16 percent in the second quarter, the Bank of Spain said. Spain’s economic slump, now in its fifth year, continues to drive defaults to record highs as lenders report rising impairments of corporate, home and consumer loans as well as those linked to real estate. Doubts about the ability of Spain’s weaker lenders to withstand mounting impairments of loans linked to real estate helped push the country to seek a European bailout for its banking system in June.

Fannie and Freddie Are Not Piggy Banks - ( What does a U.S. immigration program have to do with the housing market? Nothing. Yet lawmakers are once again attempting to tap mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fund unrelated legislation, this time to cover the cost of increasing the number of green cards for foreign graduates with advanced degrees. Fannie and Freddie, it seems, have become Washington’s favorite piggy bank. Some may see this as a good thing. The U.S., after all, spent $190 billion bailing out the companies, so why not siphon some of the money back to pay for other priorities? The reality is that doing so raises mortgage costs for borrowers regardless of their credit risk, threatens to stall the housing market’s comeback and lowers the odds that Washington will ever fix the two companies.

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