November 15, 2006

It’s on the Verge; Hang in There

Filed under: General — Tom @ 2:25 pm

The new service I discussed with members of the Alliance on Saturday and that other readers may be vaguely aware of will be rolling out in the next 24-36 hours “or so.”

Stay tuned.

Post-Election Life-Related Headlines and Stories You Didn’t See

Filed under: Life-Based News,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 2:24 pm

From the reality-based Life News:

  • Nov. 10Pro-Life Advocates Won Majority of Races Against Abortion Advocates

Though numerous pro-life lawmakers were defeated in the Congressional elections on Tuesday, pro-life groups say they did better than some political observers forecasted. They also say that pro-life candidates would have done worse if not for their stands against abortion.
In a statement provided to LifeNews.com the National Right to Life Committee said it was involved in 87 highly contested races for the House and Senate and the group won 53 percent of those contests.

“Unfortunately as the races developed almost all of these races involved protecting incumbent pro-life Republicans,” Darla St. Martin, the associate executive director of National Right to Life, told LifeNews.com.

With the tenuous political climate for Republicans on other political issues, that made it more difficult to defend their seats.

Another pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List, said that, for the fifth consecutive election in a row, more of its candidates own than lost.

  • Nov. 10Terri Schiavo’s Former Husband Michael Campaigned for Losing Candidates

After he successfully won a court order to kill Terri Schiavo via euthanasia, the disabled woman’s former husband Michael pledged to take on pro-life advocates and formed a political action committee to defeat them. However, the candidates Michael campaigned for during the 2006 mid-term elections didn’t fare very well.

In fact, every candidate Michael personally campaigned for during the election cycle went down to defeat.

  • Nov. 10Pro-Life Democrats Win Elections, But Abortion Advocates Still Rule

….. one new pro-life Democrat will join the Senate, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, and six new pro-life Democrats will head to the House.

However, the election of these new pro-life Democrats doesn’t mean they will replace abortion advocates.

Some pro-life groups are upset that most of the candidates ran against established pro-life lawmakers with long-standing voting records.

Casey, for example, simply knocked off pro-life leader Rick Santorum, the sponsor of the partial-birth abortion ban, while candidates running for the House — such as Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana — merely defeated pro-life lawmakers who had already been pushing for a pro-life agenda.

Darla St. Martin, the associate executive director of National Right to Life, told LifeNews.com that the pro-life Democrats elected Tuesday have no record and she worries their voting habits won’t match their rhetoric.

“As for those Democrats who were elected after running as ‘pro-life,’ the pro-life movement will judge them based not on the label they chose to wear, but on how they vote in the confrontations to come,” she explained.

NRLC, which surveys Congressional candidates on their views on a myriad of pro-life issues, sent Schuler a candidate questionnaire to complete. He didn’t return it — which has St. Martin concerned.

Other groups are unsure altogether whether the pro-life Democratic candidates are truly pro-life.

  • Nov. 10Poll: Stem Cell Research, Michael J. Fox Ads Didn’t Help Candidate

Fox News asked Missouri voters whether the embryonic stem cell research ad campaign made voters more or less likely to vote for McCaskill, who Fox endorsed in the commercials.

A whopping 71 percent said the ads made “No difference” in their vote.

Only 7 percent said the ads made them more likely to support McCaskill but a larger group of voters, 18 percent, said Fox’s commercials made them less likely to support her.

Of those voters who said it made them less likely to vote for her some 94 percent ended up supporting pro-life Sen. Jim Talent, who opposed embryonic stem cell research funding.

As a result, the Fox ads provided Talent with a 10 percent edge on the issue of stem cell research because they turned off more voters than they encouraged to back McCaskill.

The Fox News poll also found that the issue of stem cell research in general didn’t provide any advantage to McCaskill.

Almost half of voters said embryonic stem cell research made no difference in how they voted.

And among the 25 percent who said the issue was extremely important to their vote, 59 percent favored Talent while just 39 percent backed McCaskill.

….. The poll found McCaskill was victorious only because she prevailed on other issues that had nothing to do with stem cell research.

Foreclosure News: ‘Trend That Bears Watching’

Filed under: Economy — Tom @ 10:26 am

From RealtyTrac (the link has data for each state; para breaks added by me for readability):

NATIONAL FORECLOSURES INCREASE 17 PERCENT IN THIRD QUARTER
By RealtyTrac Staff
U.S. Foreclosures Up 43 Percent From 2005
Colorado, Nevada and Florida Post Nation’s Highest Foreclosure Rates

IRVINE, Calif. – Nov. 1, 2006 – RealtyTrac™ (http://www.realtytrac.com/), the nation’s leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties, today released its Q3 2006 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report showing that 318,355 properties entered some stage of foreclosure nationwide during the third quarter of 2006, a 17 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 43 percent yearly increase from the third quarter of 2005.

The nation had a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 363 households during the quarter, slightly higher than last quarter’s rate of one foreclosure filing for every 425 households, but lower than the first-quarter rate of one foreclosure filing for every 358 households.

….. “Higher interest rates and a general softening of the real estate market are the two key factors contributing to the 43 percent increase in foreclosure filings from the third quarter of 2005,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “What our third quarter research appears to be showing is that the first wave of adjustable rate mortgages is having a negative impact on the number of homes going into foreclosure. With the volume of these loans — more than $1 trillion of them due to adjust over the next 15 months — this is a trend that definitely bears watching.”

Though this link is to an article back in April, the rate of foreclosures is still currently low in historical context. Of course the big question is whether it will stay acceptably low.

An argument that the current situation is not a serious problem for the real estate market or the economy as a whole comes from Christopher Cagan:

Delivering the results of his research as part of an economists’ panel on the last day of California Realtor Expo 2006 in Long Beach last week, Christopher Cagan, Ph.D., Director of Research and Analytics for First American Real Estate Solutions, said that even with $1 trillion of adjustable-rate mortgages ready to reset to higher interest rates in both 2007 and 2008, he believes the number of defaults and foreclosures resulting from the increased mortgage payments will be “painful but won’t break the economy or the market.”

Basing his comments on data collected on first mortgages — with an emphasis on those originated between 2004 and 2005 — Cagan said, “We have to figure out who has equity and who doesn’t. All those who bought or refinanced in 2003 or earlier are likely to have equity.”

The principal takeway from Mr. Cagan’s white paper (PDF) is this:

The cautious and conservative figures used here suggest that the impact of reset sensitivity (that means interest rate adjustments — Ed.) and subsequent default will be one percent or less of annual mortgage lending, and well below one-half percent of total mortgage debt outstanding. While individuals and firms who are heavily involved in the riskiest loans may suffer, on a national basis mortgage payment resets will represent a far smaller drag on the market than what occurred in the early 1990s.

Hope he’s right.

___________________________

UPDATE: Biz Weak has a slide show that identifies the areas with the highest foreclosure rates. They are (the national % of households in foreclosure is 0.27%):

Detroit (1.249% of households)
Ft. Lauderdale
Denver
Miami
Dallas
Indianapolis
Ft. Worth
Atlanta
Las Vegas
Memphis (0.69% of households)

Another Fun Economic Fact

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:08 am

Mass layoffs of 50 or more employees at once are on track for their lowest number since 2000:

MassLayoffs0196thru0906

Just another chapter in the Greatest Story Never Told.

A Real Estate Practice That Should Be Disclosed

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage — Tom @ 8:03 am

Agent incentives beyond the trivial create conflicts of interest, especially those of the type described in the last paragraph of the excerpt:

….. Although there are no national data on the practice, real-estate agents and builders agree that incentives have become much more widespread in recent months, especially in areas such as Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Washington, D.C., where inventories of unsold homes have soared. Builders and sellers also are offering lots of incentives to buyers, including free kitchen upgrades, help with closing costs and even new cars.

The problem with agent incentives is that consumers may not know their agents have a potential conflict of interest when they show and discuss certain properties. Of course, agents can’t make buyers want to buy an unsuitable home, and most buyers have strong ideas of their own. But agents can have a big influence on which homes consumers see. And agents’ influence can be particularly strong with newcomers to an area who don’t know which builders are considered most reliable and which neighborhoods most appealing.

GoldStar Homes of Texas, based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, recently has been offering a $2,000 bonus atop the usual commission on some of its new houses. The company resorts to these extra payments “if we need to move some homes,” says Paul Garrett, project manager for GoldStar.

Las Vegas builder American West is offering agents a $15,000 bonus to sell homes in its Glen Eagles development, provided they come in with a full-price offer within 30 days. The bonus drops to $10,000 for negotiated offers and those that take longer. “The goal is to try to push them to make a full-price offer,” says Jeff Canarelli, vice president of sales at the builder. It is up to the broker to decide whether to give the bonus back to the buyer, he says.

Jim Duncan, who is apparently in the business, suggests:

If they do not disclose any additional fees that they may receive, they are, in my book, not serving their clients’ best interests.

I agree.

Toyota Terrific; US Car Companies, Not

Filed under: Biz Weak,Business Moves — Tom @ 7:58 am

From Biz Weak’s Nov. 20 issue (link is free for now; scroll down to eighth item), Toyota is in sizzle mode, and the Big 3 are in a big chill:

On Nov. 7 the Japanese carmaker posted quarterly net income of $3.5 billion, a rise of 33.6% on a year earlier, for the three months ended Sept. 30. The key factors: a revved-up North American biz and a weaker yen. For the same period, GM (GM), Ford (F), and DaimlerChrysler (DCX) unit Chrysler posted combined losses of $7.4 billion.

Habitat for Humanity Homeowners Getting Hustled

Biz Weak cites some examples:

The guiding principle of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976 to build affordable houses for underprivileged families, comes from the Old Testament: “If a brother living near you becomes poor, you must provide for him …do not make a profit on the goods you sell him.” But that ethos doesn’t carry over to the many banks, brokers, and mortgage servicing companies that deal with Habitat families and, increasingly, are profiting handsomely from the financially naive.

….. Many ….. families are being bombarded with offers to refinance out of 0% loans. Jordan Ash, director of the Financial Justice Center at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an advocacy group, says lenders are targeting Habitat families with phone calls, mailings, and even personal visits. Habitat affiliates in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, say many clients are getting mail solicitations that look to be from Habitat but are not. “I probably get two phone calls a week,” says Dawn Daniels-McNear of the Columbus affiliate.

Some Habitat homes have actually gone into foreclosure.

The seemingly obvious Money Tip of the Day comes from a lender quoted in the article who is trying to do something about the problem:

“You can’t get a better deal than 0%. There’s absolutely no reason to refinance,” says Chris Miller, senior vice-president for loan servicing at NovaStar Financial Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. The firm has launched a pilot program with Habitat to provide mortgage servicing, job counseling, and credit education for free. Miller says many customers come for advice about refinancing, unschooled in the basics and unaware that they currently pay no interest.

The other suggestion of the day goes to the lending sharks: Just because you can take advantage of people, it doesn’t mean you should, and it doesn’t make it right.

Positivity: Munich Opens Landmark Synagogue

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:02 am

A symbol of rebirth for Germany’s Jews:

Published: 2006/11/09 14:41:49 GMT

Munich opens landmark synagogue
A new synagogue has been opened in the heart of the German city of Munich, 68 years after Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler ordered its predecessor torn down.

The sacred Jewish scrolls of the Torah were paraded through the streets to the cubic building in the city centre.

The new synagogue is seen as a symbol of the rebirth of Munich’s Jewish community, which was all but wiped out by the Nazis in World War II.

The ceremony came 68 years after the Nazi Kristallnacht anti-Jewish pogrom.

Kristallnacht – “night of broken glass” – was a nationwide wave of assaults on Jews and their property in Germany that preceded the Holocaust.

German President Horst Koehler was among hundreds of officials and religious leaders at the synagogue inauguration on Thursday.
The synagogue bears the name of its predecessor – Ohel Jakob (Jacob’s Tent).

Construction of the synagogue, along with a Jewish community centre and museum, cost 71.5m euros (£48m; $91.4m).

Some 9,300 Jews now live in Munich – the country’s second largest Jewish community.

At the ceremony President Koehler warned that “still today our dream of a normal Jewish life in Germany clashes with the reality that there is open and latent anti-Semitism and the number of violent acts motivated by right-wing extremism is rising”.

“It is the duty of all of us to get involved and act to prevent people being abused, injured or even murdered due to their religion, origin or appearance,” he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.