- - Thursday, January 26, 2012

BAILOUT

Report: Taxpayers still owed $133B from bailout

Companies that were bailed out during the financial crisis still owe U.S. taxpayers nearly $133 billion. Treasury’s plans to recoup that money have been slowed by the volatile stock market and weakness among smaller banks.

Some of the money will never be recovered.

That’s the conclusion of the acting inspector general for the government’s financial bailout. Some bailout programs, like the effort to reduce home foreclosures, will last as late as 2017, the inspector general said. Those programs could cost an additional $50 billion or more.

Among the largest bailed-out companies, American International Group Inc. still owes taxpayers around $50 billion, General Motors Co. owes about $25 billion and Ally Financial Inc. about $12 billion.

The 371 banks that still owe money include Regions Financial Corp., which owes $3.5 billion; Zions Bancorporation, $1.4 billion; Synovus Financial Corp., $967.9 million; Popular Inc., $935 million; First Bancorp of San Juan, Puerto Rico, $400 million; and M&T Bank Corp., $381.5 million.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress authorized $700 billion for the bailout of financial companies and automakers, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program. About $413 billion was lent. So far, the government has recovered about $318 billion, or 77 percent of it.

Treasury bailed out companies in the form of loans. It converted its loans to some of the biggest recipients into common shares in those companies. Those shares are now trading below Treasury’s break-even prices.

UNEMPLOYMENT

More seek aid, but trend is positive

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 377,000, up from a nearly four-year low the previous week. But the longer-term trend is pointing to a healthier job market.

Applications have trended down in the past few months. The four-week average has declined to 377,500. When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it tends to signal that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Some economists say the figures suggest further job gains ahead.

The nation has added at least 100,000 jobs for six straight months. And the unemployment rate has declined to 8.5 percent, its lowest in almost three years.

REAL ESTATE

New-home purchases fall, 2011 worst ever for sales

Fewer people bought new homes in December. The decline made 2011 the worst year for new-homes sales on records dating back nearly half a century.

The Commerce Department said Thursday new-home sales fell 2.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 307,000. The pace is less than half the 700,000 economists say must be sold in a healthy economy.

About 302,000 new homes were sold last year. That’s less than the 323,000 sold in 2010, making last year’s sales the worst on records dating back to 1963. And it coincides with a report last week that said 2011 was the weakest year for single-family home construction on record.

The median sales prices for new homes dropped in December to $210,300. Builders continued to slash price to stay competitive in the depressed market.

Still, sales of new homes rose in the final quarter of 2011, supporting other signs of a slow turnaround that began at the end of the year.

INTERNET

Google+ opens to teenagers

SAN FRANCISCO | Google on Thursday opened up Google+ to teenagers, just days after loosening the rules about using real names on the social network.

The age limit had previously been 18, but Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president for product management, announced users could now be as young as 13.

Facebook, the world’s leading social network with more than 800 million members, also has an age limit of 13.

Mr. Horowitz said Google+ is implementing several safety features aimed specifically at teens.

“With Google+, we want to help teens build meaningful connections online,” he wrote in a post on his Google+ account.

Google+ organizes online connections into circles such as friends and family and one of the safety features is a reminder to a teen whether they really want share a post publicly outside of their circles.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports