Countrywide must cooperate
PHILADELPHIA — A federal judge has authorized an in-depth probe of Countrywide Financial Corp.'s mortgage processing systems by bankruptcy investigators hunting for evidence that the lender systematically abuses borrowers.
Judge Thomas Agresti of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Pittsburgh gave the green light to an inquiry into "the impact of Countrywide's bankruptcy procedures on the integrity of the bankruptcy process" by the Office of the U.S. Trustee, a Justice Department arm that polices the bankruptcy courts.
In a 50-page opinion, Agresti dismissed Countrywide's pro-tests that authorizing a probe by the trustee's office could have "staggering implications" for other big mortgage lenders by triggering an investigatory "free-for-all."
The trustee's office asserted it needed to look into widespread allegations that Countrywide chronically mishandles mortgage payments, pumps up bills with improper fees and charges and ignores court orders while pursuing troubled consumers.
FALLING FACTORY ORDERS BAD OMEN
WASHINGTON — Orders to U.S. factories fell for a second straight month, a worse-than-expected performance that reinforced worries that the risk of recession is rising.
The Commerce Department reported yesterday that factory orders dropped by 1.3 percent in February, about double the downturn that economists had been expecting.
Orders had fallen an even bigger 2.3 percent in January, the largest decline in five months.
The falloff in demand was widespread, with steep declines in orders for motor vehicles, various types of heavy machinery and demand for iron and steel.
EARNINGS DROP JOLTS BEST BUY
MINNEAPOLIS — Best Buy ended its year with a 3 percent drop in its fourth-quarter earnings as the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer suffered from a weaker economy.
The company earned about $737 million in the last three months of the fiscal year, better than analysts expected. So was its guidance for the fiscal year ahead.
But that guidance assumes a weak first half of the year and a strong second half.
Best Buy said its second-half growth will come from a combination of an improving economy, and internal actions such as expanding its Best Buy Mobile phone sales from 181 stores now to the majority of its more than 800 U.S. stores over the next 18 months.