- Falling U.S. Mortgage Rates May Aid Economy Outside Housing. Mortgage rates for U.S. homes set a record low for the sixth straight week, potentially freeing up money for consumers to spend elsewhere. Investors seeking the relative safety of bonds backed by government-controlled home finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac drove the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage down to 4.54 percent in the week ended today from 4.56 percent last week, McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac said. The average 15-year rate was 4 percent, also a record in the data going back to 1971, the company said in a statement. “It’s not going to help out everybody but it will help,” said Dana Johnson, chief economist at Comerica Inc. in New York. “Lower rates are a mechanism by which the economy can strengthen over time.”
- Well's Fargo's(WFC) Stumpf Sees New Costs for Customers. Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf said customers, not just the bank, will bear the financial burden for U.S. regulations that cover services ranging from home loans to credit cards. “I can’t guarantee that we won’t pass on some of those costs,” Stumpf, 56, said in an interview at his San Francisco office. “We’ll try to tighten our belt and absorb some of the costs of compliance, but some costs may change and customers might pay for their financial services in new ways.” Stumpf’s comments add to evidence that new rules mean new expenses for consumers as banks make up for lost revenue and increased costs. JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said July 15 the legislation may translate into higher fees and credit- card rates, and Bank of America Corp.’s Brian T. Moynihan told shareholders a day later he’s looking for ways to soften the impact on annual revenue, which the lender said could be $2.3 billion. Wells Fargo, with the biggest U.S. branch network, is already passing on costs by charging for checking accounts and raising interest rates on credit cards and loans, said Richard Bove, a banking analyst at Rochdale Securities LLC. The bank ended free checking last month by adding a $5 monthly fee for customers who don’t meet certain conditions. “This bank does not intend to sit there and get nailed,” said Bove, who recently upgraded Wells Fargo shares to a “buy.” “Wells Fargo has moved well ahead of the crowd, and everyone will follow.”
- Jobless Claims in U.S. Declined 11,000 Last Week to 457,000. The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance fell to 457,000 last week, a figure that signals the labor market will be slow to improve even as the economy grows. Initial jobless claims dropped by 11,000 in the week ended July 24 from a revised 468,000, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. “The underlying pace of claims has not made any measurable improvement,” said Ellen Zentner, senior U.S. macro economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York. “Businesses are investing in equipment but other than that there’s little impetus” for them to hire, she said. The four-week moving average of claims, a less-volatile measure, dropped to 452,500 last week, the lowest since May 8, from 457,000, today’s report showed. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits, which tends to track the jobless rate, rose to 3.6 percent in the week ended July 17 from 3.5 percent in the prior week.
- Exxon(XOM) Profit Rises Most Since 2003 as Output Climbs. Exxon Mobil Corp. posted its biggest profit increase since 2003, exceeding analysts’ estimates, as rising production helped the largest U.S. oil company take advantage of gains in energy prices. Second-quarter net income jumped 91 percent to $7.56 billion, or $1.60 a share, from $3.95 billion, or 81 cents, a year earlier, Irving, Texas-based Exxon said today in a statement. Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest energy company, capitalized on jumps in oil and fuel prices by boosting production. Exxon’s output climbed 8.4 percent to the equivalent of 4 million barrels of oil a day.
- Fed's Fisher Says Firms May Not React to More Accommodation. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher said the U.S. economy faces a “slow slog” and further monetary accommodation may not help revive “dispirited” businesses. “As long as our economic players, businesses and consumers, are beset by unmanageable uncertainty, they will refrain from making decisions that provide the stuff of economic growth,” Fisher said in a speech today in San Antonio. The regional Fed chief, 61, said he expects growth below 3 percent for a “prolonged period,” buttressing the Fed’s Beige Book business survey yesterday which showed the recovery slowing in some areas over the past two months. Businesses “are increasingly distressed by the lack of consistent direction coming from Washington,” Fisher said. “They are confused and dispirited by random refereeing.” It’s possible “further monetary accommodation might make the situation worse” if the Fed is seen as “politically pliable” and “prone to substituting such accommodation for fiscal discipline.” Fisher reiterated his view that the Fed will not “monetize” the nation’s debt by effectively printing money to finance the shortfall, and said “neither inflation nor deflation will be tolerated” by policy makers. The banking industry “appears to be on a very slow mend,” and yet “uncertainty reigns,” he said.
- North Korea Gets China Cooperation Deal After U.S. Sanctions. North Korea signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement with China today, a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced further trade sanctions to halt the regime’s nuclear-weapons program. Liu Hongcai, the Chinese ambassador to North Korea, and Ri Ryong Nam, the nation’s Minister of Foreign Trade, signed the agreement during a ceremony held in Pyongyang, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. China has so far refused to condemn North Korea for the attack on the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. China accounted for 79 percent of the North’s 2009 international trade, according to the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. China provides almost 90 percent of energy imports and 45 percent of the country’s food, according to a July 2009 report by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
- Bunge(BG) Cuts Profit Forecast as Soybean Margins Shrink. Bunge Ltd., the world’s second- largest sugar trader, reduced its full-year earnings forecast after soybean-processing margins in the U.S. and South America shrank. The shares dropped the most in more than a year. Profit excluding some one-time items will be $3.25 to $3.50 a share this year, the White Plains, New York-based company said today in a statement. It had previously forecast earnings of $5.30 to $5.80, and analysts had projected $5.25, the average estimate in a Bloomberg survey. “The miss was broad-based across all segments, though agribusiness, sugar, and fertilizer were the clear underperformers,” Vincent Andrews, a New York-based analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in a report today. Bunge dropped $5.61, or 10 percent, to $48.36 at 9:30 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the biggest intraday percentage decline since April 23, 2009. The shares fell 15 percent this year through yesterday.
- Volatility Trade Buffett Embraces Backfiring for Hedge Experts. A bullish stock market trade embraced by the smartest money is backfiring. And that has investors wondering if what Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(GS) know about derivatives is obsolete. Goldman Sachs, the world’s most profitable securities firm, reported losses from derivatives last quarter after selling insurance that protected clients against stock swings during the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s biggest retreat in more than a year. Buffett, the chairman of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., underwrote $37 billion of the contracts since 2004, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show. The combination of hedging by insurance companies, tighter regulation of bank speculation and reluctance among securities firms to write derivatives known as variance swaps means speculators who sold them are now facing losses, according to Morgan Stanley and Societe Generale SA. Money-losing trades in both rising and falling markets show the hazards of the business for even Wall Street’s most sophisticated investors.
- German Unemployment Fell for 13th Straight Month as Exports Boom. German unemployment fell for a 13th month in July as companies from Infineon Technologies AG to Deutsche Lufthansa AG benefit from the strengthening global economy. The number of people out of work declined a seasonally adjusted 20,000 to 3.21 million, the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg said today. That’s the lowest since November 2008. Unemployment was forecast to fall 20,000, according to the median of 34 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The adjusted jobless rate declined to 7.6 percent.
- JPMorgan(JPM) to Open Full Saudi Branch in Emerging-Market Expansion. JPMorgan Chase & Co. plans to become the first U.S. bank to open a full-service commercial branch in Saudi Arabia this year, six years after Citigroup Inc. exited a venture in the world’s biggest oil exporter.
- High-Frequency Trading Faces EU Probe, Regulator Says. High-frequency trading will be investigated by regulators to “better understand any risks,” Europe’s top market watchdog said in a report on proposed industry rules.
- Most Pakistanis View U.S. as Enemy, Want War Over, Survey Finds. Two-thirds of Pakistanis oppose the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and roughly six in 10 think the U.S. is an enemy, according to a new survey.
- Bullard Urges FOMC Purchase Treasuries If Deflation Risk Grows. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said the central bank should resume purchases of Treasury securities if the economy slows and prices fall rather than maintain a pledge to keep rates near zero. “‘The U.S. is closer to a Japanese-style outcome today than at any time in recent history,” Bullard said, warning in a research paper released today about the possibility of deflation. “A better policy response to a negative shock is to expand the quantitative easing program through the purchase of Treasury securities.” “The most likely possibility from where we sit today is that the recovery will continue through the fall, inflation will start to move up and this issue will all go away,” Bullard said to reporters on a conference call today. “Suppose we get another negative shock, another surprise. We have to be prepared in that event to have a plan in place to do something.” Bullard, a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee this year, said using Fed communications to pledge rates will stay near zero may prove to be detrimental. While some people say rates near zero will accelerate inflation, such an interest rate policy may also cause a broad-based decline in prices, he said. “Under current policy in the U.S., the reaction to a negative shock is perceived to be a promise to stay low for longer, which may be counterproductive because it may encourage a permanent, low nominal interest rate outcome,” he said in a paper released by the St. Louis Fed.
- Oil Rises for First Time in Week as Dollar Weakens Versus Euro. Oil gained as much as 2.5 percent as the dollar fell to a 12-week low against the euro. Unemployment also dropped in Germany, and confidence in Europe’s economy improved.
Wall Street Journal:
- Evidence Ties Manning to Afghan Leaks. Investigators have found concrete evidence linking Pfc. Bradley Manning with the leak of classified Afghanistan war reports, a U.S. defense official said.
- Redbox Parent Coinstar(CSTR) Explores Beauty Kiosk Business. Coinstar Inc. (CSTR) may try to do for makeup what its Redbox unit has done for movie DVDs. The DVD-vending and coin-counting machine maker is recruiting a vice-president-level manager to oversee a new venture in the beauty or cosmetics space.
- U.S. Needs to Articulate Credible Fiscal Consolidation Plan - Moody's. The U.S. government needs to articulate clearly a credible plan to tackle its bulging debt profile in order to keep its triple-A credit rating, Moody's Investors Service's lead sovereign analyst for the country said Thursday. In contrast to the U.S., the credit health of Asian countries remains broadly positive and their resilience has been highlighted by Europe's debt crisis, which looks to have peaked, Steve Hess, senior credit officer in the sovereign risk group at Moody's told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.
- Comeback Heralded for Japanese Electronic Giants. Buoyed by a long-awaited turnaround in its television and video game businesses, said Thursday it swung to a net profit of ¥25.7 billion, or $293.9 million, in the April-June quarter and raised its outlook for the full year. The company’s chief financial officer said it was time for Sony to “go on the offensive” amid signs that a global economic recovery was finally pulling Japan’s electronics giants out of a long slump.
- White House Proposal Would Ease FBI Access to Records of Individual's Internet Activity. The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation. The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history. What officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel. The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. "You're bringing a big category of data -- records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information -- outside of judicial review," said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.
- D.C. Area Jobless Rate Rises Again as Labor Force Grows. Unemployment in the Washington region rose to 6.4 percent in June from 6 percent the previous month, according to federal government data released Wednesday, highlighting the fragility of the recovery in the local labor market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data contrasted with numbers it released last week on the District, Maryland and Virginia that showed their unemployment rates had dropped in June. The difference is attributable in part to Wednesday's data not taking in the entire states of Maryland and Virginia. At the same time, experts say the Washington area's relatively positive labor market has been drawing job seekers from outside the region faster than it has been adding jobs.
- OMB Nominee Got $900,000 After Citigroup(C) Bailout. President Obama's choice to be the government's chief budget officer received a bonus of more than $900,000 from Citigroup Inc. last year -- after the Wall Street firm for which he worked received a massive taxpayer bailout. The money was paid to Jacob Lew in January 2009, about two weeks before he joined the State Department as deputy secretary of state, according to a newly filed ethics form. The payout came on top of the already hefty $1.1 million Citigroup compensation package for 2008 that he reported last year.
- Obama Mocks Polls But Spends More On Them($4.4M) Than Bush Did. During his daily press briefing on July 13, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was peppered with questions about why the president's popularity numbers are in decline and his policy positions are so difficult to sell. ABC News's Jake Tapper sought reaction to the network's newest poll showing that 51 percent of respondents would rather have Republicans running Congress. CNN's Ed Henry wanted to know why, in that same poll, "six in 10 Americans have little or no faith in the President to make the right decisions." CBS's Chip Reid then pointed to his own network's poll showing that only 13 percent of respondents thought the president's economic programs had affected them personally. Exasperated, Gibbs deployed a classic rejoinder: mocking the polling-obsessed media culture.
- Cable News Rating July 2010: Fox Dominates, MSNBC Tops CNN. Fox News continued its domination of cable news ratings in July. The network averaged 1.85 million viewers in primetime for the month--more than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined. How did individual programs do? Below see the top 30 programs in cable news for July 2010.
- Big Drop in U.S. Agricultural Sales to Cuba. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell 35 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2009, largely because of the island's shortage of hard currency, according to a recent report. The report by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based group that monitors bilateral trade, showed U.S. sales to Cuba from January to May of this year hit $182 million, compared with $278 million for the same period last year. U.S. exports to Cuba already had seen a 24 percent drop in 2009 -- $528 million, compared with 2008, when they hit a record of $710 million, according to the report issued Tuesday.
- The Barack Obama-Nancy Pelosi Event. President Barack Obama’s endless summer of fundraising is heating up — with the addition of a big-money August house party to help out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s imperiled Democrats, POLITICO has learned. Obama plans to headline an Aug. 16 fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Los Angeles — the first such appearance by the president on behalf of Pelosi since White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rankled House Democrats by suggesting they could lose their majority.
- US Commercial Paper Market Grows for 3rd Week - Fed. The U.S. commercial paper market expanded for the third straight week, showing companies are able to use it to borrow as an alternative to tight bank lending, Federal Reserve data showed on Thursday.
- 20 Years after German reunification, labor costs in the eastern part of the country are still almost 28% lower than in the west.
- China may face deflationary pressures in the second half of this year, citing Wang Ziaoguang, head of macroeconomic research under the National Development and Reform Commission. China's economic growth path may be "W-shaped," Wang said. The effects of China's property curbs should be seen in the first quarter of next year, Wang said.