Foreclosures Slow, But Still High

In its latest Foreclosure Market Report, RealtyTrac noted on Thursday that default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions occurred on a little more than 308,500 residential properties nationwide in February. That's 6 percent more than February 2009, but 2 percent fewer than in January 2010.

March 12, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user ulybug

In its latest Foreclosure Market Report, RealtyTrac noted on Thursday that default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions occurred on a little more than 308,500 residential properties nationwide in February. That’s 6 percent more than February 2009, but 2 percent fewer than in January 2010.

February’s numbers also represented the smallest year-over-year increase since early 2006, the company noted. “This leveling of the foreclosure trend is not necessarily evidence that fewer homeowners are in distress and at risk for foreclosure, but rather that foreclosure prevention programs, legislation and other processing delays are in effect capping monthly foreclosure activity–albeit at a historically high level that will likely continue for an extended period,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio in a statement.

Nevada is seeing a slowing pace of foreclosures–down 30 percent this February from the same month in 2009–but even so the state is suffering the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, and has for 38 months in a row now, RealtyTrac said. One in 90 residences in metro Vegas saw some kind of foreclosure action in February.

Fed Says Debt Down, Except That of Governments

According to the Federal Reserve’s quarterly Flow of Funds report released on Thursday, household debt contracted by 1.7 percent in 2009, the largest decline in that figure since the Fed took an interest in tracking household debt in 1946. Actually, it’s the only annual decline since 1946 (household debt was up 0.1 percent in 2008). Business debt also declined 1.8 percent last year, since everyone was seriously spooked by the recession.

On the other hand, the debt held by state and local governments, who are obliged to deal with the recession’s fallout while simultaneously suffering contracting revenues, grew 4.8 percent last year. Infamously, federal government debt ballooned 22.7 percent–a little less than in 2008, which saw a 24.2 percent spike.

Public saving might be nonexistent, but personal saving also shot up during 2009. U.S. households managed to salt away $472 billion during the course of the year, a record, and more than the totals of 2007 and ’08 put together.

Some Colorable Claims Against Lehman Bros.

A 2,200-page report released Thursday beat the dead horse Lehman Brothers over its role in its own collapse in the fall of 2008, which touched off the worldwide panic. Bankruptcy examiner Anton R. Valukas said that the 158-year-old company did a lot of things wrong before its demise, but especially engaging in accounting legerdemain that concealed its vast financial problems during its final months.

“Unbeknownst to the investing public, rating agencies, government regulators, and Lehman’s board of directors, Lehman reverse engineered the firm’s net leverage ratio for public consumption,” Valukas wrote. In layman’s terms, the august Wall Street firm cooked the books–and Valukas said that the top executives knew all about it, including CEO Richard S. Fuld Jr.

Valukas also wrote that there are “colorable claims”–lawyerese for valid ones–against Lehman’s auditor Ernst & Young for its “failure to question and challenge improper or inadequate disclosures in those financial statements.”

Wall Street was set for a down day, but rallied to end slightly in positive territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 44.51 points, or 0.42 percent, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq each gained 0.4 percent.