Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:
Foreclosures: U.S. foreclosure filings dropped to a five-year low in September as fewer homes were on track to be seized by lenders.
It was the second-consecutive monthly decline in filings, although there remains a sharp divergence along state lines, according to a report Thursday by foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc.
On a national level, overall foreclosure filings last month — including home repossessions — fell 7 percent from August and 16 percent from September 2011. There were 180,427 foreclosure filings reported for September, the fewest since July 2007 in the midst the housing market bust.
The number of homes entering the foreclosure process, so-called foreclosure starts, fell to 87,066 in September, down 12 percent from August and 15 percent from a year earlier. It was the second-straight month of declines following three months of increases, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac reported.
Foreclosure starts since peaked in April 2009 at around 203,000. But the current level is still well above the 34,000 starts recorded in May 2005, before the collapse of the housing market.
Foreclosure starts declined in September on an annual basis in 31 states, with the biggest drops in California, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Texas, the new report showed. They are among the so-called non-judicial states, in which court approval isn’t required for foreclosures.
Spain: The Spanish government’s dilemma over whether to request a European bailout has become more acute following a downgrade of the cash-strapped country’s credit rating.
Standard & Poor‘s late Wednesday cut its rating on Spain’s debt by two notches to BBB-, just a step above junk status, or non-investment grade. By indicating that it’s a riskier asset to hold, S&P’s downgrade may make it more expensive for the Spanish government to borrow money as it might scare off some of its bond investors.
The agency said it was concerned by the deepening economic recession, which has seen unemployment rise to nearly one in four and fueled social discontent. It also noted that the government’s hesitation in requesting a European financial lifeline was “potentially raising the risks to Spain’s rating.”
Though S&P’s warning may nudge the Spanish government to make a bailout request sooner rather than later, rival agency Moody’s has indicated it may cut its rating for Spain in the event of a bailout request.
The Spanish government said the downgrade was unjustified but argued that it would have little, if any effect, on its plans to raise money in the money markets.
Greek Unemployment: Unemployment in Greece hit a record high of 25.1 percent in July as the country’s financial crisis continues to exact its heavy toll, official figures showed Thursday.
And all indications are that unemployment in Greece will continue to rise. The Greek economy has shrunk by around a quarter since the recession started in 2008 and youth unemployment has pushed way above 50 percent. The economy is expected to enter a sixth year of recession next year.
Greece’s statistical authority said 1.26 million Greeks were out of work in July, with more than 1,000 jobs lost every day over the past year. In the worst-affected 15-24 age group, unemployment was 54.2 percent. In July 2008, a year before Greece’s acute financial crisis broke, there were only about 364,000 registered unemployed.
Stocks: The stock market headed higher in early trading Thursday, latching on to a piece of encouraging news about U.S. unemployment and ignoring worrisome developments in Europe.
The major stock indexes all rose, putting the market on track for its first up day this week. For the Dow Jones industrial average, its 41-point gain in early trading was a reversal from triple-digit declines on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In early trading, the Dow was up 41 points to 13,386. The Standard & Poor’s 500 was up eight to 1,441. The Nasdaq composite index was up 19 to 3,071.