Nation roundup for November 13


WTC now nation’s tallest building

NEW YORK (AP) — They set out to build the tallest skyscraper in the world — a giant that would rise a symbolic 1,776 feet from the ashes of ground zero.

Those aspirations of global supremacy fell by the wayside long ago, but New York won a consolation prize Tuesday when an international architectural panel said it would recognize One World Trade Center as the tallest skyscraper in the United States.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, considered a world authority on supersized skyscrapers, announced its decision at simultaneous news conferences in New York and Chicago, home to the 1,451-foot Willis Tower, which is being dethroned as the nation’s tallest building. Measuring the height of a building would seem to be a simple thing, but in the case of the new World Trade Center tower it is complicated by the 408-foot-tall needle atop the skyscraper’s roof.

The council’s verdict rested on a conclusion that the needle should be counted as part of the building’s total height. Without it, the tower would be just 1,368 feet tall, the same height as the original World Trade Center. That would make it smaller than not only the Willis, but also a 1,397-foot apartment building being built a short subway ride away near Central Park.

Bus seat belts delayed 45 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a drunken driver on a California highway slammed into a bus carrying passengers to Las Vegas, killing 19, investigators said a lack of seat belts contributed to the high death toll. But 45 years later, safety advocates are still waiting for the government to act on seat belts and other measures to protect bus passengers.

Over the years, the National Transportation Safety Board has repeated its call for seat belts or some other means to keep passengers in their seats during crashes involving the large buses used for tours, charters and intercity passenger service. About half of all such motorcoach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus.

The board has also repeatedly recommended stronger windows that don’t pop out from the force of a collision and help keep passengers from being ejected, and roofs that withstand crushing. Those recommendations are nearly as old as the seat belt recommendation.

Stocks fall after earnings reports

NEW YORK (AP) — Disappointing company earnings and falling oil prices pulled stocks back from record highs on Tuesday.

NRG Energy slumped after the company lowered its earnings forecast, leading other power companies lower. News Corp. fell after the media company posted an unexpected revenue decline due to weakness at its Australian newspapers. Energy stocks declined after oil dropped to a five-month low.

Winners included airlines. The gains were led by JetBlue Airways after the Justice Department said it cleared the way for American Airlines and US Airways to merge, creating the world’s biggest airline.

This year’s 24 percent surge in the stock market has slowed in November. The Standard & Poor’s 500 has edged up 0.6 percent this month after an average monthly increase of 1.7 percent in the previous 10 months.

Late mortgage payments decline

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fewer U.S. homeowners are falling behind on their mortgage payments, aided by rising home values, low interest rates and stable job gains.

The trend brought down the national late-payment rate on home loans in the third quarter to a five-year low, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Tuesday.

The percentage of mortgage holders at least two months behind on their payments fell in the July-September quarter to 4.09 percent from a revised 5.33 percent a year earlier, according to the firm, whose data go back to 1992.

The latest rate also declined from 4.32 percent in the second quarter.

The last time the mortgage delinquency rate was lower was the third quarter of 2008. Within a few years of setting that mark, foreclosures began to mount as home values tumbled from housing-boom highs.

leaving many homeowners in negative equity — owing more on their mortgage than the value of their home. The dynamic drove mortgage delinquencies higher, peaking at nearly 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The rate of late payments on home loans has been steadily declining over the past five quarters. At the same time, U.S. home sales and prices have been rebounding over the past two years, while foreclosures have been declining.

Moderate but stable job gains, still-low mortgage interest rates, and tight supply of homes for sale have helped fuel the housing rebound. That’s also made it easier for homeowners to refinance, catch up on payments or sell their home, avoiding foreclosure.

Even so, the mortgage delinquency rate is still above the 1 to 2 percent average historical range. That suggests that many homeowners still are struggling to make their payments. It also reflects that many home loans made during the housing boom remain unpaid but have yet to work their way through the foreclosure process.

Loans made in the years after the housing boom are generally being paid on time, so as more of the older loans listed on banks’ books as unpaid get resolved, the overall mortgage delinquency rate should continue to decline, said Tim Martin, group vice president of U.S Housing for TransUnion’s financial services business unit.

“The new mortgages are still performing very well, at very low delinquency rates,” Martin said. “That’s why we’re expecting more improvement to come.”

TransUnion forecasts that the national mortgage delinquency rate will drop to just under 4 percent by the end of year.

All the states posted an annual drop in late-payment rates during the third quarter, with California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah registering declines of more than 30 percent.

TransUnion draws its data from 52 million installment-based mortgages in the U.S.

 

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