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Credit eased, late mortgage payments up

Mortgage delinquencies for first-time buyers have climbed to a four-year high as tight credit standards imposed after the U.S. housing crash start to loosen.

The share of borrowers who are late on their Federal Housing Administration loans, which primarily go to first-time homebuyers, rose to 10.4 percent in the fourth quarter from 9 percent a year earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. While hurricanes in Florida and Texas near the end of last year played a part, delinquencies rose in most states, according to Marina Walsh, the group's vice president of industry analysis.

More than 10 percent of FHA borrowers this year have credit scores below 620, compared with 2.62 percent in 2014. Credit scores can range from 300 (lowest) to 850 (highest). And 51 percent of FHA buyers had debt-to-income ratios of more than 43 percent -- up 8 percentage points from 2014, according to Mortgage Bankers Association data.

-- Bloomberg News

Mortgage rates climb 5th week in row

WASHINGTON -- Long-term U.S. mortgage rates climbed for the fifth-straight week amid investors' growing concern about inflation.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. said Thursday that the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages shot up to 4.32 percent this week, up from 4.22 percent last week and the highest since December 2016. A year ago, it stood at 4.17 percent.

The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans, popular among homeowners who refinance, rose to 3.77 percent from 3.68 percent last week and the highest since May 2011. It was 3.39 percent a year ago.

The rate on five-year adjustable rate mortgages rose to 3.57 percent this week from 3.53 percent last week and the highest since April 2011. It was 3.21 percent a year ago.

-- The Associated Press

Judge's focus on pipeline, environment

BATON ROUGE -- A federal judge is hearing testimony about the environmental impact of a crude-oil pipeline that's getting built in a Louisiana swamp.

Environmental groups on Thursday asked U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick for a preliminary injunction to suspend construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline through the Atchafalaya Basin, an environmentally fragile swamp, until their lawsuit over the project is resolved

The groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, accusing the Corps of violating the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for companies to build the 162-mile-long pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.

-- The Associated Press

Amazon kicks off Whole Foods deliveries

Online retail giant Amazon plans to roll out two-hour delivery at Whole Foods this year to those who pay for Amazon's $99-a-year Prime membership. It is the company's biggest move since it bought the organic grocer last year.

Amazon shoppers will be able order meat, seafood, alcohol and other Whole Foods grocery items through the Prime Now app and website. Deliveries started Thursday in Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Dallas; and Virginia Beach, Va., and will expand nationwide this year, Amazon said.

While convenient, not everyone wants other people picking out their eggs or fruit.

"There are always going to be people who want their bananas a little green," said Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst at NPD Group.

-- The Associated Press

Teva chief touts restructuring progress

JERUSALEM -- The chief executive officer of Teva Pharmaceuticals on Thursday said he is making "strong progress" on the company's restructuring plan, even as the company posted a huge loss and forecast a challenging 2018.

Kare Schultz said he remained confident about the company's long-term prospects, laying out a two-year turnaround timeline and predicting a "clear move upward" in 2020.

Teva posted a loss of $11.54 billion, or $11.41 a share, in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with a loss of $973 million, or $1.10 a share, for the same period a year earlier. Revenue fell to $5.46 billion from $6.49 billion. It cited the weak U.S. generics market, where drugmakers face intense pressure from payers to lower prices, as the main reason for its loss.

Teva, the world's No. 1 maker of generic drugs, has been hit hard by price pressure and competition in its core generic business, the loss of patent protection on its blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone and a more than $30 billion debt load stemming from its acquisition of the generics business of Allergan. The struggling company announced plans in December to cut 14,000 jobs, over one-quarter of its global work force.

-- The Associated Press

Toyota's truck line grows; ax out for cars

More American buyers are paying up for tricked-out Toyota Motor Corp. trucks, while car shoppers probably don't need as many models to choose from. So the Japanese automaker is shaking up its lineup accordingly.

It's debuting new TRD Pro versions of the 4Runner sport utility vehicle and Tacoma and Tundra pickups this week at the Chicago Auto Show that are souped-up with off-road equipment. More than 40 percent of those three models' U.S. sales are TRD versions -- and that number is trending higher.

Meanwhile on the car side, executives are reviewing the company's sedan offerings and may prune back how many are available in showrooms, according to Jack Hollis, head of U.S. sales for the Toyota brand. The automaker is committed to keeping models like the Camry, Corolla and Prius but probably could afford to field fewer grades of some of its vehicles.

"We will look and evaluate every single one," Hollis said in an interview. The Yaris, Corolla and Prius each have several different variants, he noted. "Do we need all of them? We just want to evaluate the performance of each."

-- Bloomberg News

Business on 02/09/2018

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