New mortgage rules: That's what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is promising this morning before a House committee. "We are looking closely at some mortgage lending practices," he said in prepared remarks. He offered no details, other than to note that a full review of consumer protection regulations was under way. Bernanke also said that the financial system remains in a "relatively strong position" but that "the shift in risk attitudes combined with greater credit risk and uncertainty about how to value those risks has created significant market stress." From the NYT:
Mr. Bernanke’s call for consideration of stricter regulation of mortgage lending practices signals a shift from the policy of the Fed and other federal regulatory institutions over the past several years. The regulators were reluctant to block mortgage products that might have a useful purpose for certain kinds of people, and did not want to interfere with the markets. Now, the Fed chairman said, “improved and more timely disclosures may not be sufficient in some cases” for protecting consumers. “We are looking closely at some mortgage lending practices, including prepayment penalties, escrow accounts for taxes and insurance, stated-income and low-documentation lending and the evaluation of a borrower’s ability to repay.”
Scary numbers: Commodity traders are placing long-term bets on home prices - and the outlook isn't exactly bullish. Based on light trading, the betting on the Chicago Merc is that prices in L.A. and Orange counties will fall by 15.4 percent by November 2011. As noted by the OC Register's Jon Lansner, that’s an average annual loss of 3.7 percent over the next four years. Other regions would do even worse (SF down 26.2 percent by 2011, Vegas down 19.2 percent, Miami down 29.1 percent). Keep in mind that these are only bets and not real forecasts. Still, it gives you an idea of the mood out there.
Speaking of which...: Let's see, gas prices are going back up, the value of my house is dropping, my stocks are looking shaky - am I really going to be in the holiday shopping mood this year? Not likely, according to the National Retail Federation, which sees a 4 percent rise in spending. That would be the smallest holiday sales gain in five years, but not a disaster. Merchants are touting smaller luxuries, such as scented candles (oh boy!). (Bloomberg)
Southwest changes boarding: There are still no assigned seats, but the airline will start numbering boarding passes so that passengers don't have to line up an hour before the flight leaves. This is largely in response to complaints from business passengers, who didn't necessarily want assigned seats, which takes a lot more time, but did want a more equitable system for folks who check in early. The open boarding policy makes reservations simpler and requires less work at the gates. (NYT)
NBC offers dowloads: Folks are spending more time on computers and cell phones, so why not take programming to those platforms? Well, because others have tried with only limited success. But NBC is set to start a free downloading service called NBC Direct that will include many of the network's shows (with commercials) a week after broadcast. The announcement comes just a few weeks after NBC Universal pulled its programs from iTunes over disputes about prices and privacy protection. Under the new system, the files would degrade after seven days. From the NYT:
NBC’s move comes as companies throughout the television business search for new economic models in the face of enormous changes in the business. Networks continue to lose audience share, and viewers — especially many of the highly prized viewers under 30 years old — are increasingly demanding control of their program choices, insisting on being able to watch shows when, where and how they want. At the same time viewers are finding more and more ways, like TiVo machines, to avoid watching the commercials that have long provided the bulk of television revenue.
Cruise crime hearings: Some progress is being made in better dealing with crime at sea, but passenger advocacy groups say it's not enough. Once again, victims presented their harrowing stories during a House subcommittee hearing, where they argued that more regulation is needed in the $32-billion cruise business. Industry and law enforcement officials testified that between April 1 and Aug. 24, the FBI received 207 reports of serious crimes, including four missing Americans, 41 sexual assaults and 13 thefts of items valued at more than $10,000. (LAT)
Jobs deposed: This isn't in connection with an ongoing inquiry into backdating stock options, but an SEC lawsuit against the company's former general counsel, Nancy Heinen. She was sued for allegedly backdating a 7.5 million share-option grant to the Apple CEO in 2001 and an earlier grant to his executive team. Heinen's lawyers sought to depose 45 people. From Bloomberg:
The SEC alleges Heinen directed her staff to prepare documents that falsely stated the company's board approved the grants on the earlier date, the SEC said in its lawsuit. She has denied the claims. Deposition testimony is used at trial or during evidence gathering. Miles Ehrlich, Heinen's attorney, didn't respond to a message left after business hours. The SEC said April 24 that it wouldn't sue Apple over the backdated options and declined to say whether the investigation of the Cupertino, California-based company was still active. Apple found ``no misconduct'' by Jobs and said he wasn't aware of the accounting implications of backdated options, the company said in December.
Eisner gets Topps: You can come out now - this never-ending saga for control of the baseball card and Bazooka bubble gum company appears to have ended. A majority of Topps shareholders approved the $385 million takeover by Eisner's Tornante Co. and private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners. Crescendo Partners, an activist hedge fund and vocal opponent of the deal with Eisner, voted against the merger. (NY Post)