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USDA

Agency: Food prices to rise 3.5% in ‘11

U.S. consumers could see food costs spiking to levels seen during the food crisis of 2008 as higher commodity and energy prices force companies to raise prices on products lining grocery store shelves, the Agriculture Department said on Thursday.

Food prices are forecast to rise a sharp 3.5 percent this year — nearly double the overall inflation rate. The bulk of the increase is expected in the second half of 2011, when the recent uptick for commodities, such as corn and soybeans, makes its way through the food system. Just last month, USDA forecast an increase of 2.5 percent in 2011.

Food prices soared to 4 percent in 2007 and rose to 5.5 percent a year later — the biggest increase since 1990 — as stockpiles ran low around the world.

MORTGAGES

Freddie Mac posts $1.7 billion loss

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac has posted a loss of $1.7 billion for the October-December quarter of last year, and a $19.8 billion loss for all of 2010.

The government-controlled mortgage buyer is also asking for an additional $500 million in federal aid. That’s up from the $100 million that Freddie Mac sought in the July-September quarter.

The government rescued Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae in September 2008 to cover their losses on soured mortgage loans. It estimates the bailouts will cost taxpayers as much as $259 billion.

Freddie Mac’s October-December loss attributable to common stockholders works out to 53 cents a share. It takes into account $1.6 billion in dividend payments to the government. It compares with a loss of $7.8 billion, or $2.39 a share, in the fourth quarter of 2009.

VIRGINIA

Tougher rules OK’d for abortion clinics

RICHMOND | Legislators voted Thursday to make Virginia the first state to require clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same standards as hospitals.

The Senate deadlocked on the issue, and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast the tie-breaking vote after hours of floor debate over two days.

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