Senate May Try to Revive Financial-Rescue Legislation


U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, left, and Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, speak to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 29, 2008. Photographer: Jay Mallin/Bloomberg News

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate will try to salvage a $700 billion financial-rescue package after the measure was defeated in the House of Representatives. The lawmakers won’t have a lot of room to negotiate.

While the legislation will need to be tweaked enough to win over reluctant House Republicans, the lawmakers will risk losing votes from Democrats if they veer too far from the delicate compromise that congressional leaders hammered out with the U.S. Treasury.

“They’re not going to totally revamp the bill,” said Pete Davis, president of Davis Capital Investment Ideas in Washington, who spoke to House and Senate leaders yesterday. “They’ll make some minor changes and pass it. This is all about political cover.”

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The $55 trillion question

The financial crisis has put a spotlight on the obscure world of credit default swaps – which trade in a vast, unregulated market that most people haven’t heard of and even fewer understand. Will this be the next disaster?

(Fortune Magazine) — If Hieronymus Bosch were alive today to paint a triptych called “The Garden of Mortgage Delights,” we’d recognize most of the characters in the bacchanalia and its hellish aftermath. Looming largest, of course, would be the Luciferian figures of Greed and Excessive Debt. Scurrying throughout would be the Wall Street bankers who turned these burgeoning debts into exotic securities with tangled structures and soporific acronyms – CDO, MBS, ABS – that concealed the dangers within. Needless to say, we’d see the smooth-tongued emissaries of the credit-rating agencies assuring people that assets of lead could indeed be transformed into investments of gold. Finally, somewhere past the feckless Fannie Mae executives and the dozing politicians, one final figure would lurk in the shadows: a hulking and barely recognizable monster known as Credit Default Swaps.

CDS are no mere artist’s fancy. In just over a decade these privately traded derivatives contracts ballooned from nothing into a $54.6 trillion market. CDS are the fastest-growing major type of financial derivatives. More important, they’ve played a critical role in the unfolding financial crisis. First, by ostensibly providing “insurance” on risky mortgage bonds, they encouraged and enabled reckless behavior during the housing bubble.

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Home Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Declined 16.3% in July

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) — House prices in 20 U.S. cities declined in July at the fastest pace on record, signaling the worst housing recession in a generation had yet to trough even before this month’s credit crisis.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index dropped 16.3 percent from a year earlier, more than forecast, after a 15.9 percent decline in June. The gauge has fallen every month since January 2007, and year-over-year records began in 2001.

The housing slump is at the center of the meltdown in financial markets as declining demand pushes down property values and causes foreclosures to mount. Banks will probably stiffen lending rules even more in coming months to limit losses, indicating residential real estate will keep contracting and consumer spending will continue to falter.

“The fact that house prices quickened their slide before the worst point in credit markets hit this month does not bode well,” said Derek Holt, an economist at Scotia Capital Inc. in Toronto.

Read moreHome Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Declined 16.3% in July

Phoenix Lander sees snow falling on Mars


In this artist conception, the Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 and the first project in NASA’s Mars Scout missions, landed on Mars on May 25, 2008. (UPI Photo/NASA)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says its Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds, vaporizing before reaching the planet’s surface.

And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says that, plus soil test experiments, have proven evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water — both processes that occur on Earth.

“A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and surface interact on Mars detected snow from clouds about 2.5 miles above the spacecraft’s landing site,” NASA said, adding data shows the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, of Canada’s York University, the lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. “We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.”

Since landing May 25, Phoenix has also confirmed a hard subsurface layer at its far-northern site contains water-ice. NASA said determining whether that ice ever thaws will help answer whether the environment there has been favorable for life, a key aim of the mission.

Published: Sept. 29, 2008 at 3:40 PM
Source: UPI

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Canadian laser gadget finds snow in Martian sky

OTTAWA – Trust a Canadian weather instrument to find snow. Even on Mars.

A Canadian university’s laser aboard a NASA Mars lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds about four kilometres above the landing site, and vaporizing before reaching the ground.

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Financial crisis: Mortgage lending plunges 95 per cent as housing market suffers

The value of mortgages lent to British homebuyers fell 95 per cent last month, according to the Bank of England.


Mortgage approvals hit a record low after banks tightened lending Photo: PA

It said mortgage lending dived to just £143 million during August – its lowest since this data was first collected in April 1993 and a fraction of the £2.998 billion lent in July.

The bank also revealed that mortgage approvals fell to 32,000 last month from 33,000 in July.

While marginally higher than analyst forecasts, it was the lowest since data began being collected and means approvals are running at less than a third of their 109,000 total in August 2007.

Read moreFinancial crisis: Mortgage lending plunges 95 per cent as housing market suffers

U.S. Stocks Plunge After House Votes Against Bailout Plan

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) — U.S. stocks plunged and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index tumbled the most since 1987 after the House of Representatives voted down a $700 billion plan to rescue the financial system.

Sovereign Bancorp Inc. tumbled 66 percent and National City Corp. slid 52 percent, leading financial shares in the S&P 500 to an 11 percent slide. The MSCI World Index of 23 developed markets sank 6 percent, the most since its creation in 1970

“It’s pretty much a nightmare,” said Michael Nasto, the senior trader at U.S. Global Investors Inc., which manages $5 billion in San Antonio. “This is the worst we’ve seen it since the credit mess started. Until we know exactly why they didn’t pass it, we’re going to be selling off for a while.”

The S&P 500 sank as much as 87.02 points, or 7.2 percent, to 1,125.99. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 631.13, or 5.6 percent, to 10,512 at 2:09 p.m. The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 148.4, or 6.8 percent, to 2,034.94.

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Gold and silver dealer reports an unprecedented shortage of metals

A surge for demand in gold and silver has resulted in an unprecedented shortage of the metals for retail investors in recent days, according to Gold and Silver Investments, a Dublin-based firm that allows retail investors to speculate on movements in the value of precious metals.

Gold and Silver Investments director Mark O’Byrne said the supply of gold and silver available for small retail investors suffered a dramatic deterioration within hours on Friday, as wholesalers reported that government mints and refiners, the primary suppliers of the metals, had stopped offering new supplies.

‘‘It’s absolutely unprecedented,” said O’Byrne, who said the shortages were likely to drive up the costs of gold and silver in the secondary market.

‘‘This did not happen even in the 1930s and the 1970s, and will result in markedly higher prices in the coming months.”

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Treasuries Are Dead Money With Yields Below Inflation

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) — The rally in U.S. Treasuries may be running out of steam after yields fell to the lowest since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

Renewed concern about the stability of the banking system sparked a run on Treasuries that drove bill rates down to 0.02 percent. Concern is so widespread that investors are buying 30- year bonds even though their yields are the furthest below inflation since at least 1980.

“It’s like the Mark Twain quote, `I am more concerned with the return of my money than the return on my money,”’ said James Evans, a senior vice president at New York-based Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. who helps oversee $15 billion in fixed- income assets.

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