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Thursday
Dec162010

Foreclosure Filings Drop 21 Percent in November

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(IRVINE, Calif.) -- Foreclosure activity decreased 21 percent in November, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac.

The foreclosure listing firm says over 262,000 households nationwide received foreclosure notices last month, marking a 21 percent drop from October and a 14 percent drop from the same time period last year.

RealtyTrac's Rick Sharga says the latest figures are "the lowest total, in terms of foreclosure activity, since November of 2008."

Sharga says the drop in foreclosures is largely due to the robo-signing controversy that occurred last month.  "In terms of the robo-signing problems, we're going to see artificially-lower numbers of foreclosure activity for the fourth quarter of this year and we'll probably see accelerated rates of foreclosures in the first quarter of next year," he explains.  "But, by the second quarter of 2011, the numbers should all be back to normal."

"There's no data right now to suggest that foreclosure activity should be diminishing," Sharga adds.  "Unemployment continues to be stubbornly high.  Demand for properties is weak.  Lending is difficult to get."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec162010

Christmas Comes Early: Top CEO Bonuses of 2010

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a tough economic year, when even some CEOs have had to scrimp and save, others are finding big bonuses beneath the tree.

Aaron Boyd, head of research for Equilar, an executive compensation data firm, says it's still too early to say how generous a year 2010 will turn out to be for chief executives of America's biggest companies.  Most S&P 500 companies don't report their bonus numbers until March or April.  A minority, however -- companies with fiscal years ending early -- file their proxies sooner, allowing analysts like Boyd to get a peek at coming attractions.

His look at some 60 companies that have already filed shows that the CEOs of H.J. Heinz, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Nike and News Corp were the top five biggest bonus winners listed.  William R. Johnson, the chairman and president of H.J. Heinz, came in first on the list with a bonus of $8,589,063, followed by Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison with $6,453,254.  The remaining three CEOs scored bonuses within the $4 million range.

What's noteworthy about their bonuses, says Boyd -- apart from sheer size -- is that all were pre-determined by formulas that take into account how the CEOs' companies performed.

"Companies are moving away from payouts based purely on the discretion of the board," he says.  The trend is toward bonuses tied more closely to performance.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec162010

Poll: Americans Feel They Have Less Money this Holiday Season

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A third of Americans feel they're in more financial trouble this holiday season than they were last year, according to a new Consumer Reports poll.

The poll found that 31 percent of consumers feel worse off financially than they did in 2009, but that they remain optimistic about the holiday season.

Greg Daughtry, the executive editor of Consumer Reports, says, "It's going to be a good holiday season but people are going to be really, really value conscious."

Americans surveyed said they plan to spend an average of $679, which is down about $20 from last year's average.  But, as Daughtry notes, "In past years, they've tended to exceed what they said they'd planned to spend."

The poll also found that more consumers will be making their purchases with cash instead of credit cards this year.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec152010

President Obama to CEOs: 'I Want to Dispel Any Notion We Want to Inhibit Your Success'

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- "I want to dispel any notion we want to inhibit your success,” President Obama told 20 CEOs Wednesday morning, according to a source in the room. “We want to be boosters because when you do well, America does well."

The relationship between the president and the business community has been strained, with many executives complaining that the president too often uses big business as a whipping boy or a scapegoat while pursuing policies -- health care legislation, Wall Street regulations -- that they perceive as bad for business.

Wednesday’s meeting didn’t result in any concrete achievements, but participants described it as constructive.

The president asked the CEOs for “specific recommendations" and said the "overarching theme will be competitiveness and growth. There is no reason we should not be aligned in that conversation. It is one the American people want to hear."

Of primary concern to the president is the $1.8 trillion in corporate wealth currently sitting in banks and equivalent places not being spent on job creation. The 20 companies in the room represent at least $200 billion in cash and equivalents as of the third quarter.

“How do I get companies sitting around the table to start investing in job-creating enterprises?" the president asked.

CEOs discussed the need to increase exports through trade deals with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia; regulations they find burdensome; and needing more certainty in taxes -- wanting, for instance, the research & development tax credit to be made permanent.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Dec152010

Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says

Photo Courtesy - PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With just days to go until Santa shimmies down those chimneys, letters to the big jolly guy are coming in fast and furious.

But this year, mixed in with the letters asking for toys and video games, are an increasing number of requests for warm coats, food and help paying the electric bill to keep the heat on.

"The common theme this year seems to be a single mom with young kids, the parent has left, they don't know who the father is, or the father left and they can't pay the bills," said Pete Fontana, head of the United States Postal Service Operation Santa in New York.

It's Fontana's post office in midtown Manhattan -- right across the street from Penn Station -- where most of the letters to Santa arrive each year from around the world. He's expecting about two million letters this year.

Post offices in two dozen other locations across the country also accept letters. Most are addressed simply to "Santa Claus, North Pole."

Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, Fontana said, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers' wishes.

"We had one little girl write in and say all she wants is a winter coat for her mom. Nothing for herself," he said. "We had another letter for grandparents and they wanted to put a turkey with the trimmings for the holiday dinner … but they couldn't even get their medicine."

Other letters are similarly heartbreaking.

Eight-year-old Skayla told Santa that her mother doesn't have a job and her father lives in the Dominican Republic, leaving it up to her grandmother to buy everything. She asked for clothes and shoes for herself, her seven-year-old sister and their infant brother, even including their sizes.

"Thanks Santa," she wrote," I LOVE YOU."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec152010

Mom to Sue McDonalds in Happy Meal Battle

Photo Courtesy - David Paul Morris/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Monet Parham, a mother of two and a health educator, plans to join the Center for Science in the Public Interest in filing a lawsuit Wednesday against McDonald's, forcing them to either offer lower-calorie meals or get rid of the toys in their Happy Meals.

Like many mothers, Parham wants to feed her daughter one thing, but the girl often wants to eat something else.  It's a battle between the Happy Meal and Parham, who said it's a fight she just can't win.

"I can tell them 'No' all day long, but then they see commercials that convince them you've really got to have this," Parham said.  Her six-year-old daughter, Maya, especially likes the toys that come with McDonald's Happy Meals.  With a smile, the first-grader says opening a Happy Meal is like "a birthday present."

"I object to the fact that McDonalds is getting into my kids' heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat," Parham said in a CSPI statement announcing the lawsuit.

"McDonalds knows that kids like toys more than they like the burgers, so they dangle these little toys in front of kids to pester their parents to take them to McDonalds," Michael Jacobson of the CSPI said.  "It's a trick that works.  It's unfair to kids, they are being totally manipulated and it's unfair to parents who have the company going behind their back using this toy trick to get their kids to pester them." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Senate Tax Cut Plan Has Something for Everyone

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Like gluttons at a buffet party, politicians couldn't help loading their plates with goodies for various industries and individuals in this week's 83-15 Senate tax package vote.

Not only did the Senate vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, they carved out special provisions for everything from tax credits to Hollywood producers to breaks for rum production in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

These 60 or so benefits or business "extenders" that assist specific industries added substantially to the estimated $858-billion cost of the bill over the next two years, a gargantuan meal at the U.S. taxpayers' expense that will have to be paid for in future years.

"These extenders come up every year or so in Washington just when you think they're going to expire," said Mark Robyn, staff economist with the Tax Foundation. He said the extender provisions are meant to stimulate the economy and investment but there are ongoing debates about whether they work.

More than two dozen amendments to the Senate bill have been filed addressing breaks for even more sectors -- it's unclear if or when these will come to a vote. The House has yet to get its collective hands on a bill.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Federal Reserve: Recovery Continuing, But Insufficient

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it will keep interest rates unchanged and continue its massive quantitative easing program.

The announcement after the one-day meeting of the central bank’s decision-making body marks the 17th in a row where the Open Market Committee decided to keep a key federal interest rate target unchanged at zero to 0.25 percent.

In November, the governors announced a $600 billion program, dubbed QE2, designed to stimulate spending by having the fed buy up Treasury bonds during the next eight months. The fed governors believed the additional money would lower borrowing costs for American consumers and businesses, but since the program was announced, interest rates have gone up slightly. The committee said they are going to continue the program, but will adjust the size and duration of the easing based on incoming data about the health of the economy as they originally planned.

The fed’s assessment of the overall economy continues to be tepid. Many analysts expect the Fed to keep  a steady hand over the next few months as they assess the effectiveness of their massive QE2 program and hope that recent good economic news continues to speed the recovery toward a more robust pace of growth.

The Dow pulled back slightly after the announcement.

The first meeting for the FOMC is scheduled for January 25 & 26.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

November Retail Sales Up More Than Expected

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Silver Bells of holiday retail rang a bit louder and clearer Tuesday as the Commerce Department released figures that showed retail sales up more than expected in November.

The government said retail sales were up 0.8 percent last month, well above the 0.6 percent increase economists had expected.

“Gains were fairly broad-based across big-box retailers, apparel stores and online vendors,” said Diane Swonk, an economist with Mesirow Financial. “We also saw more spending at the gas pump as energy prices picked up. The weak spots were electronic store sales and restaurant tabs. Middle and lower income households, in particular, tend to make trade-offs and eat out less when prices at the pump rise.”

Consumer confidence polls have suggested spending would be more conservative.

The better than expected results have some retail groups revising their expectations for the holiday season. The National Retail Federation initially thought holiday spending would be up 2.3 percent this year, but revised its outlook Tuesday morning to a 3.3 percent annual growth.

“The start to the holiday season has surpassed all expectations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “While employment data is still a concern, we are starting to see improvement in other economic indicators that support an increase to our forecast.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Want to Buy a Foreclosed Home? Try Google Maps or Zillow

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With mortgage rates at their highest level in six months, this may be an opportune time for buyers.

Real estate websites are offering better tools to research foreclosed homes for sale, sometimes at a steep discount. Earlier this month, RealtyTrac announced that in the third quarter of this year, the average sales price of properties sold in some stage of foreclosure was over 32 percent below the average sales price of properties not in foreclosure.

Google Maps began offering a search feature last year for foreclosed properties. It is growing in popularity, though it is not very novel, said Justin McHood of MortgageCommentator.com.

McHood, who writes about mortgage topics for Zillow.com, one of the largest real estate websites, said a number of sites are simply rehashing what is known as "multiple listing services," regional listings of properties for sale. Last month Zillow.com had 12.5 million visitors, up 60 percent from last year, according to Bohutinsky. Despite the "biggest real estate downturn of our lifetime," she said Zillow.com is growing, as is the number of other real estate websites.

RealtyTrac.com is a real estate website that specializes in foreclosed properties, with over 2 million listings, according to senior vice president Rick Sharga. Although all foreclosed properties are listed in public records, he estimates that less than 6 percent of public foreclosure databases are online. Sharga said RealtyTrac.com fills that gap by hiring contract employees to hand collect those records in court houses in 2,200 counties nationwide.

Fannie Mae launched a website in June, HomePath.com, which lists the properties it owns. HomePath.com gets 15 to 19 million hits per month and generates about 800 leads a day to listing brokers, according to Janis Smith, a spokeswoman for Fannie Mae. More than 87,000 families purchased HomePath properties in the first half of 2010, according to Terry Edwards, executive vice president, Credit Portfolio Management at Fannie Mae.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio