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Housing Starts Strongest in Nearly Two Years

A pickup in job growth and record-low mortgage rates helped fast-track housing starts to their strongest performance in nearly two years in November, with rental property construction ahead of single-family home starts. Housing starts surged by 9.3 percent month-over-month to hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000, up from 627,000 in October. The Commerce Department reported the data Tuesday via the Census Bureau. Continuing trouble in the euro zone helps keep mortgage rates at record lows.

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Trade Groups Criticize Payroll Tax Extension Bills

The House voted to send a payroll tax extension bill into a bicameral committee Tuesday, increasing uncertainty over whether Congress will include a pay-as-you-go provision that would hike fees on lenders originating mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Senate version of the legislation passed earlier this weekend with stipulations that would raise mortgage fees on lenders with GSE loans by one-tenth of 1 percent, and extend the payroll tax for two months, according to news outlets.

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Issa: Countrywide Gave Lawmakers Discounted Loans

A congressional investigation turned up evidence that Countrywide Financial Corp. lavished four members of Congress and an unknown number of GSE executives with discounted mortgages between 1996 and 2008, Rep. Darrell Issa said Friday. Issa addressed members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which he chairs, by releasing an open letter to the public. He did not disclose the names of any members of Congress implicated by evidence in the investigation.

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November Home Sales Rise 8.1%: RE/MAX

November home sales rose higher this year than figures for the same last year, as markets began to stabilize, according to a recent housing report from RE/MAX. The real estate company said that November marked the fifth straight month for year-over-year sales increases, topping off 1.4 percent above figures seen in October, as home sales fell for the seventeenth consecutive month. Median sales prices for homes taken off the market in November meanwhile averaged $181,322, 1.4 percent more than prices seen in October.

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Homebuilder Confidence Up Two Points: NAHB

Inching forward by the largest margin since May 2010, homebuilder confidence ticked up two points from a downwardly revised 21 for single-family homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Current sales conditions climbed two points to 22, according to the NAHB, while sales expectations for the next six months moved up to 26, reflecting a one-point increase. The index recorded a three-point gain in prospective buyer traffic that accelerated the measure to 18, the highest seen since May 2008.

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Two New Banks Fail, Raising National Tally to 92

Two banks went under over the weekend, interrupting a failure-free last two weeks and raising the national tally to 92 for the year ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô a number in line with earlier forecasts from the FDIC as the New Year approaches. Phoenix, Arizona-based Western National Bank and Panama City, Florida-based Premier Community Bank each shuttered their doors, with regulators appointing the FDIC to serve in its traditional role of receiver. Both bank failures cost the FDIC's insurance fund a combined $68.8 million.

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Reports: Morgan Stanley to Eliminate 1,600 Jobs

Amid declining share and revenue across the industry, financial services firm Morgan Stanley announced that it will eliminate about 1,600 jobs, or about 2.6 percent of all employees, multiple news outlets said Friday. The move arrives for the financial services firm amid continued problems for the investment trading industry and debt crises for euro zone countries. Earlier this year Bank of America, Citigroup, and MetLife all followed the same route by announcing job-slashing measures.

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Zillow Releases Mortgage Rates This Week


In line with record-low mortgage rates, Zillow found interest rates for the 30-year fixed-rate loan hovering around 3.78 percent this week. The real estate finance Web site culled figures from anonymous online quotes, which it used in the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. The rate for a 15-year loan stayed around 3.11 percent, with rates for 5-year and 1-year adjustable-rate mortgages nearing 2.52 percent. By state, mortgage rates also fell nationally, with New York leading the way in a decline by 13 basis points from last week.

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Frank Criticizes Efforts to Weaken Reform Law

Following his announced resignation two weeks ago, Rep. Barney Frank showed few signs of slowing by denouncing provisions that made it into a proposal that recently cleared the House Financial Services Committee. He referred prominently to a provision from the Private Mortgage Investment Act ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô drafted by Rep. Scott Garrett and passed by the House Financial Services Committee 18-15 ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô that aims to repeal the risk-retention rule from the Dodd-Frank Act and do away with the GSEs.

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SEC Files Suit Against Former GSE Execs

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against former executives with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Friday over their alleged roles in securities fraud. The SEC suit purports that Fannie├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔÇ×┬ós executives underreported considerable exposure to forces in the market, with $4.8 billion in single-family loans on the books. For its part, the suit alleges, Freddie misled investors with claims that the GSE attached a different name to $43.3 billion in single-family loans in a report it filed publicly back in February 2007.

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