In today’s house-o-rama, home prices fell faster last month than at any time in a key index’s two decades, dropping nearly 14 percent in February from a year earlier, according to the Case-Shiller index of ten major cities (prices dropped 13 percent in the twenty-city index).
The papers quote analysts saying there’s no sign of any turnaround, with The New York Times reporting that rising foreclosures and tighter mortgage-lending standards will further exacerbate “large inventories and a dearth of qualified buyers.” The Wall Street Journal notes that prices are still double what they were in 2000 in places like Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C.
The KB Home founder Eli Broad said he expects home prices to fall another 20 percent before bottoming, Bloomberg says in its Case-Shiller story. It quotes a Lehman Brothers economist as saying prices will fall through the end of 2009.
Even the Hamptons is getting hit hard, with sales down 29 percent and prices off 7 percent in the first quarter from the previous quarter, according to a different measure, says Bloomberg.
FBI is all over Countrywide
Countrywide reported a $893 million first-quarter loss, and nearly one in ten of all its loans were delinquent. The Los Angeles Times says it was worse than the most-pessimistic estimates, and the WSJ leads its Business & Finance column on A1 with the news, reporting on B1 that a government investigation is finding that sales executives at the company deliberately ignored obviously inflated income statements from borrowers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into a wide variety of Countrywide mortgages that didn’t require full documentation, not just the Fast and Easy loans. People involved in the inquiry say the FBI has concluded that extensive fraud occurred on the loans, and they are looking into whether the company violated securities law by failing to disclose that to investors.
The LAT notes that part of the $3 billion in charges Countrywide took in the quarter came from investors who bought its mortgages complaining that they were misled or the loans were flawed.
The WSJ reports on B4 that so-called option adjustable-rate mortgages made to borrowers with good credit are going bad at worrying rates, in some cases worse than those for subprime loans.
The Journal inside its Money & Investing section says the subprime delinquency rate has slowed each of the last three months, though that may be because at 36 percent, it just can’t sustain the past growth rate.
The FT reports on a column its op-ed pages run today by the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that calls for the government to issue loans to mortgage lenders to help reduce payments for borrowers.
In one of the other crises, food, the NYT has an interesting report on page one that taps the soaring price of chemical fertilizer as one of the big factors behind the spike in food costs.
Fertilizer prices have tripled in a year, and the paper says that’s causing farmers to cut back on purchases, which in turn lowers their yields, which further exacerbates food inflation. The Times reports that there is severe fertilizer rationing in the Midwest.
The Journal reports on A1, that like oil companies’ windfall profits from soaring energy prices, some agriculture companies, like ADM, Monsanto, and John Deere, are seeing their earnings jump from higher food costs.
Food companies say they’re not to blame for the soaring prices and are committed to working toward a solution. They say bigger profits can be used to develop new technologies that will ultimately help farmers improve productivity
Flush with more revenue than they have enjoyed in years, and eager to take advantage of the highest grain prices they’ve seen in years, farmers are paying more money for seeds, fertilizer and farm gear. That has translated into huge revenue jumps and handsome profit increases for the companies that sell these products. Growing global demand for food has been a boon to companies that buy, process and transport grains.
But others, like chicken company Tyson, are getting hit by higher grain costs.
The Washington Post continues its front-page food-crisis series, reporting in depth on how the increased demand (and subsidies) for corn-based ethanol is pushing up food prices overall. The piece says there’s even talk of a $3 billion ethanol pipeline in the Midwest.
Breaking news: um, factory farms are bad