We thought this ended more than a year ago:

D.R. Horton Inc., the nation’s largest home builder by volume, is touting “100% financing” for its two- and three-bedroom condominiums near the beach in Maui, Hawaii, which start at $498,000. In the Seattle area, local builder Quadrant Corp. is advertising townhouses that can be purchased with as little as $500 down. “Use your coffee budget to move into a new home,” says an online promotion. In the St. Louis area, Vantage Homes recently promoted its suburban developments with ads suggesting a new home should be on the list of things to buy for those “looking for something to spend your economic stimulus check on.”

We note that the Journal did some good early reporting on the subject two years ago.

Men of steel

The Financial Times on page one and the Journal on B1 write that Chinese steelmakers agreed to increase what they pay for iron ore by an average 85 percent, stoking inflation worries. The FT says its a record increase.

The rise suggests that demand for commodities from emerging economies remains strong, in spite of the US slowdown, fuelling fears that global inflation will continue to rise.

The Journal:

For steelmakers, the news isn’t good, though it wasn’t entirely unexpected. There are just three major mining companies. The dozens of steelmakers face more competition and thus have little leverage on prices.

Regulating energy traders

In other commodities news, several hedge-fund managers and oil analysts testified to Congress yesterday that regulation of energy speculation could send prices tumbling back to more reasonable levels, the Journal says on A3.

Many legislators are seeking to curtail—or, in some cases, outright ban—swaps and bilateral trading in the energy futures markets, and set limits on investments on foreign exchanges operating in the U.S.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell, (D., Mich.), said lawmakers should set firm limits on the size of energy speculators’ positions, require full disclosure of all energy trading from investment banks; and prevent pension funds from investing in commodities as they seek to diversify their holdings.

The Journal on A4 says coal miners are having trouble keeping up with demand because of “a lengthy permitting process, lack of capital investment and a shortage of skilled miners.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports on climate-change martyr James Hansen’s tour of the capital yesterday. He says forget about cutting oil use, stop coal now! Asked if he’s gotten to talk to the president, Hansen gave our Quote of the Day:

Hansen laughed at the thought. “Unfortunately, no, I’ve not had a chance to talk to the president,” he said. “I know that Michael Crichton did.”

The Journal’s page-one “ahed” notes that some in San Diego are making runs across the border to Tijuana to get subsidized Mexican gas. It says that “Mexicans aren’t happy about the gringo invasion and the long lines at filling stations near the border.” Ironic.

Baby with the bathwater?

The Journal reports on C1 that the Securities and Exchange Commission will propose rules that diminish the importance of credit-ratings firms like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, whose dismal performance in rating mortgage-backed securities and the like helped set off the credit bust.

The renewed effort is part of a wide-ranging regulatory push in the U.S. and Europe amid the credit crunch that has devastated many banks and investors.

The SEC will allow money-market funds to buy short-term debt regardless of what it’s rated by the credit-ratings folks. That’s one of a dozen changes, including one to “diminish the importance of credit ratings in determining the amount of capital that investment banks are required to hold.”

The question is: Is it better to have no ratings requirements at all or regulate them (largely by ending their huge conflicts of interest) to try to ensure their ratings are actually, you know, accurate? We’d say it’s the latter.

Google News gets beat

The Times on C1 looks at the overrated threat to newspapers posed by Google News, jumping off news earlier this week that the site ranked behind other news sites, including nytimes.com, in traffic.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.