Friday, January 18, 2008

Housing Starts Lowest Level Since May 1991.

The contraction in new residential construction activity continued in December. Housing starts tumbled 14.2% last month to an annual rate of 1.01 million units compared to expectations for a more modest decline to a rate of 1.15 million. This was the lowest level of housing starts since May 1991. For all of 2007, 1.344 million housing units were started, 25.8% below the 2006 total and the lowest since 1995 when 1.361 million units were started. Weakness persisted in the single-family sector, with starts falling 2.9% on the month, 36.0% on the year to end at a rate of 794k. Multifamily starts, a highly volatile series, dropped over 40% in December to an annualized pace of 210k. Building permits, often used as an indicator of future building activity decreased 8.1% in December to an annual pace of 1.068 million. The pace of permit issuance suggests builders will continue to slash new starts as they try to work off high inventory levels amid sluggish new home sales. New residential starts are expected to weaken further from here and detract substantially from Q4 and Q1 economic growth.

Jobless claims fell 21k to 301k for the week that ended January 12. The large drop to such a low level is off trend for jobless claims in the past several weeks. Continuing claims for the prior week surged 66k suggests the pace of hiring remains weak and is contrary to the latest jobless claims reading. More weeks of initial claims data will be needed to understand if this week’s drop establishes a new lower trend.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Titans fire offensive coordinator Chow

January 15, 2008
By JIM WYATTStaff Writer
The Titans have fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow after three seasons.

The Titans finished 21st in the NFL in total offense last season under Chow, who said Coach Jeff Fisher delivered the news by phone.

“I’m as shocked as the next guy,’’ Chow said Tuesday. “He said he wanted to go in a different direction."

Coach Jeff Fisher released a statement:

“Over the last week, we have done a lot of self-evaluation and I think we still have work ahead of us to reach our ultimate goal. I have informed Norm that he will not be retained as our offensive coordinator. I appreciate all of the hard work and contributions he made to the organization during his time here, but I have decided to go in a different direction and will start the process of finding a new offensive coordinator. We wish Norm and his family the best in their future endeavors.”

Chow, who had recently signed a two-year contract extension with the Titans, left town last week and has spent the last few days with his family in California. He was scheduled to return to Nashville before heading with the Titans coaching staff to Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl practices.

The 61-year-old coach said he’s unsure what he’ll do now. His name has been mentioned as a possibility for the offensive coordinator’s position at UCLA, where he earlier interviewed for the head coaching job that went to Rick Neuheisel.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,’’ Chow said. “I’m disappointed. I didn’t see this coming. No one had said a word about any of this until all of a sudden … I made a lot of good friends there.’’

Asked if he thought the next offensive coaching staff could make things work with quarterback Vince Young, who threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season, Chow replied: “Obviously Jeff didn’t think that I could. I thought I was. That’s the thing. I don’t know… but it’s going to take some patience.’’

The Titans had the NFL's 27th-ranked passing offense this season, one year after Young was the league's offensive rookie of the year.

Young was blindsided by the news of Chow's firing, according to a representative.“He was shocked,’’ said Mike Mu, Young's marketing agent.

“I broke the news to him. He thought I was kidding him and didn’t believe it.’’

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Edmund Hillary, First Atop Everest, Dies - World on The Huffington Post

Edmund Hillary, First Atop Everest, Dies: "WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Sir Edmund Hillary, the unassuming beekeeper who conquered Mount Everest to win renown as one of the 20th century's greatest adventurers, has died, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Friday. He was 88.

The gangling New Zealander devoted much of his life to aiding the mountain people of Nepal and took his fame in stride, preferring to be called 'Ed' and considering himself just an ordinary beekeeper.

'Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. In reality, he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity,' Clark said in a statement.

'The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived,' she said."


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Countrywide denies bankruptcy, but stock plunges

Tue Jan 8, 2008 3:38pm EST
(Recasts first paragraph, adds analyst comment and byline)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Countrywide Financial Corp (CFC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) on Tuesday denied market speculation it might seek bankruptcy protection, but its shares suffered their biggest decline since the 1987 stock market crash on growing concern the largest U.S. mortgage lender's problems will deepen.

In late afternoon trading, Countrywide shares were down $2.03, or 26.5 percent, at $5.61 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Shares of other mortgage-related companies also slid, including lender IndyMac Bancorp Inc (IMB.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and bond insurers MBIA Inc (MBI.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Ambac Financial Group Inc (ABK.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

After traders reported rumors of a possible Countrywide bankruptcy, the company issued a statement that "there is no substance to the rumor that Countrywide is planning to file for bankruptcy, and we are not aware of any basis for the rumor that any of the major rating agencies are contemplating negative action relative to the company."


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In the Land of Many Ifs - New York Times

In the Land of Many Ifs - New York Times:

"For months, the American economy has been assailed by a wave of troubling news, from plunging housing prices to the soaring cost of oil, provoking gloomy talk of a possible recession. Yet so far the economy has found a way to shrug it all off and keep growing.

How much longer can the expansion carry on? As a new year unfolds, analysts expect a verdict soon: Either the negatives finally metastasize and drag the economy down, or a fresh source of growth emerges, helping to sustain consumer spending despite the ongoing worries about housing and tight credit.

“There are even odds of a recession,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “It literally could go either way.”

The year that just ended was not for the faint of heart. As mortgage debt became synonymous with toxic waste, banks got spooked and tightfisted. Job growth slowed. Inflation fears grew. Still, consumers kept spending, and unemployment stayed flat. American companies found enough sales abroad to compensate for weakness at home.

The bursting housing bubble remains a locus of concern. An era of free-flowing credit and speculation has led to a far-flung empire of vacant, unsold homes — 2.1 million, or about 2.6 percent of the nation’s housing stock, Mr. Zandi said. Even in the worst years of recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s, the share of vacant homes did not exceed 1.9 percent."