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Jan. 7, 2013 at 2:20 PM
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Markets stumble

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. stock indexes turned lower Monday following a week of strong gains prompted by a tax deal that derailed a predicted economic downturn.

The tax code agreement on Tuesday that raised taxes for individuals earning $400,000 and families earning $450,000 per year or more settled worries about the so-called "fiscal cliff," a combined $500 billion tax increase/spending cut adjustment that was would have kicked in Jan. 1 without the new tax law. It was predicted to send the U.S. economy into a second recession.

But political leaders were not through posturing and decisions on spending expected in March have the potential to rattle investors. During the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the discussion on taxes was closed. President Barack Obama had said earlier spending cuts were dependent on further changes in the tax code, MarketWatch reported.

Fed settles mortgage abuse with 10 banks

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Reserve said 10 banks agreed to pay $8.5 billion to close down a foreclosure fraud and lending abuse review.

The central bank said borrowers could be eligible for payments of "hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, depending on the type of possible servicer error."

In the settlement, $3.3 billion is to go to direct payments to eligible borrowers and $5.2 billion is to be used in other forms of mortgage assistance, such as loan modification, the Fed said.

The Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had ordered the 10 banks to undertake loan reviews after widespread foreclosure abuses were discovered as banks tried to process a mountain of foreclosures that arose during the recent recession.

Many banks hired so-called "foreclosure mills," that went through the foreclosure process so quickly, they were accused of cheating homeowners of due process entitled by law.

The loan reviews were set up for banks to self-police the loans for errors. But the reviews proved time consuming and costly. That prompted the settlement in which "the participating servicers would cease the Independent Foreclosure Review, which involved case-by-case reviews, and replace it with a broader framework allowing eligible borrowers to receive compensation significantly more quickly," the Fed said.

The agreement covers more than 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010.

The banks involved include Aurora, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, MetLife Bank, PNC, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of American which announced Monday that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with the Federal National Mortgage Association to close down a dispute over mortgages that did not meet Fannie Mae's standards.

Holiday hiring highest since 2006

CHIC, Ill., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. retail hiring for the 2012 holiday season returned to pre-recession levels, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said Monday.

The firm said hiring for October, November and December reached 728,300 in 2012, up 10.3 percent from the same months of 2011, when 660,200 seasonal jobs were added.

Retail hiring for the end of 2012 was at the highest level since 2006, when 749,900 jobs were added to the economy.

Chief Executive Officer John Challenger said the hiring for 2012 was "remarkable for a few reasons."

Challenger cited the gain in e-commerce, where businesses typically do not hire as many extra employees during the holidays as brick and mortar stores, and "stubbornly low" wages through the economic recovery, which meant that consumers did not have much to spend this year relative to other years.

But 2012 included an early Thanksgiving, which may have accounted for the extra hiring, given the day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday," signifies the start of the holiday shopping season.

The early Thanksgiving may also help explain why hiring for December 2012 tailed off sharply compared to November.

Retailers added 149,600 jobs in October 2012. In November, 490,400 jobs were added. And in December hiring dropped to 83,300, the firm said.

Crude oil stalls at $93 per barrel

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The price of crude oil shed 8 cents during the weekend, settling at $93.19 a barrel Monday morning on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Gasoline added 0.74 cents to reach $2.7717 a gallon.

Home heating oil gained 1.65 cents to $3.0346 a gallon.

The price of natural gas rose 0.56 cents to $3.343 per million British thermal units.

At the pump, AAA reported the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline fell to $3.297 per gallon from Sunday's $3.299.

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