The news at a glance

The latest bid to help homeowners; Citigroup settles massive mortgage fraud suit; U.S. companies sue China’s solar sector; Murdoch survives shareholder revolt; Standard of living falls at fastest rate ever

Housing: The latest bid to help homeowners

The federal government is revamping an underused program to help more troubled homeowners refinance their mortgages, said Steve Goldstein in The 2009 Home Affordable Refinance Program has aided fewer than a million homeowners, but President Obama announced this week that its rules will be relaxed so that as many as 1.6 million more borrowers can secure lower interest rates. Homeowners will now be able to qualify for better rates no matter how far their home values have declined, and some refinancing fees will be eliminated. But the plan “does have its limitations.” Only loans guaranteed before May 31, 2009, by government-owned mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be eligible.

President Obama knows that doing more to address the housing crisis is critical not only to preventing another recession but also to getting re-elected, said Zachary Goldfarb in The Washington Post. He has now acknowledged that his earlier housing initiatives have fallen far short, largely because he and his advisers “rejected a get-tough approach with banks.” This latest effort is a bid to break with the administration’s record of offering programs that underperform and come “too late” to help many underwater homeowners.

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Banks: Citigroup settles massive mortgage fraud suit

Citigroup has agreed to pay a $285 million settlement over accusations that it misled buyers of risky mortgage securities, said Daniel Wagner and Marcy Gordon in the Associated Press. The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Citigroup created a $1 billion portfolio of risky securities and “designed the investment to fail,” and then bet against the portfolio without telling unsuspecting investors. Citigroup “neither admitted nor denied” the allegations, but it will refund investors’ money, with interest. “We are pleased to put this matter behind us,” the company said in a statement.

Trade: U.S. companies sue China’s solar sector

Seven U.S. solar panel manufacturers last week accused China’s solar industry of unfairly manipulating the U.S. market, said Keith Bradsher in The New York Times. The firms filed a case at the Commerce Department alleging that Chinese companies, which dominate the solar panel market and receive generous government subsidies, dump panels in the U.S. “for less than it costs to manufacture and ship them.” The U.S. solar industry is not expanding to meet rising demand, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), because “China is cheating.”

Hacking scandal: Murdoch survives shareholder revolt

Rupert Murdoch survived a bid to strip him of his News Corp. chairmanship last week, said Dawn C. Chmielewski and Meg James in the Los Angeles Times. News Corp. has been under “increasing pressure to make dramatic changes to its management” after this summer’s phone hacking scandal. But Murdoch, whose family controls 40 percent of the company’s voting shares, prevailed at a contentious shareholders meeting. Murdoch “at times ridiculed” his detractors and declared himself “personally determined” to end the scandal.

Economy: Standard of living falls at fastest rate ever

Another week, another grim U.S. economic statistic, said Ron Scherer in Americans’ standard of living has “fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years” than at any time since the U.S. government began measuring it five decades ago. The average American has $1,315 less in disposable income now than in 2008. Another economic indicator, the so-called Misery Index, which is the sum of the country’s unemployment and inflation rates, also hit a 28-year high.

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