Record 16% drop in July home prices

A closely watched index released Tuesday showed home prices tumbling by the sharpest annual rate ever in July, but the rate of monthly declines is slowing.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index fell a record 16.3% in July from a year earlier, the largest drop since its inception in 2000. The 10-city index plunged 17.5%, the biggest decline in its 21-year history.

No price gains
Prices in the 20-city index have plummeted nearly 20% since peaking in July 2006. The 10-city index has fallen more than 21% since its peak in June 2006.

No city in the Case-Shiller 20-city index saw annual price gains in July, the fourth straight month that has happened.

However, the pace of monthly declines is slowing, a possible silver lining. Between May and July, for example, home prices fell at a cumulative rate of 2.2% - less than half the cumulative rate experienced between February and April.

But there's "no evidence of a bottom," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P.

Trouble in Vegas
Las Vegas prices plunged the most at nearly 30%, with Phoenix diving 29% and Miami 28%. Prices in the seven cities in the Sunbelt all fell between 20% and 30% from a year ago.

Only seven cities showed positive or flat returns from June to July, down from nine that showed month-over-month gains in June. Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis all posted positive returns for three months or more

Bush: Congress must act

President Bush said Tuesday he was "disappointed" by the House's rejection of the $700 billion bailout plan and urged Congress to take action to save the economy.

"Unfortunately, the measure was defeated by a narrow margin," Bush said in a brief televised address at the White House. "I'm disappointed by the outcome, but I assure our citizens, and citizens around the world, that this is not the end of the legislative process."

Bush said he expects lawmakers to move forward with legislation. The House is adjourned for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah and is not scheduled to return to session until Thursday at noon. The Senate is in session on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that he would meet with some key Democratic senators - including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. - working on a bailout plan.

For his part, Bush said the nation is facing "the real prospect of economic hardship."

"Our economy is depending on decisive action from the government," Bush said. "The sooner we address the problem, the sooner we can get back on the path of growth and job creation. This is what elected leaders owe the American people, and I am confident that we'll deliver."

Bush is meeting with his team Tuesday morning to review options, a senior Bush administration official told CNN. On Monday night, White House staffers were in contact with Republican congressional leaders and Democratic staffers, the official said.

The official said that even Republicans who oppose the plan understand the seriousness of the situation and "want to get this done."

The Senate's lead Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that lawmakers will pass a bill. "I want to reassure the American people that we intend to pass this legislation this week," he said.

On Tuesday, Bush spoke to Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain about the financial crisis, according White House spokesman Tony Fratto. The presidential candidates "offered ideas and reaffirmed what they have said publicly - that this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed," Fratto said.

Stock market reaction
The bailout package, a collaboration of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and leaders from both parties, was rejected by the House in a 228-205 vote Monday. Two-thirds of Republicans and about one-third of Democrats voted against the bill.

Following the defeat, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 777 points, its biggest one-day point decline ever. The decline of nearly 7% was the largest percentage decline since the Black Monday crash of 1987.

The bill, if approved, would have allowed the federal government to buy troubled mortgage-related investments from finance companies, freeing them up for lending, to pull the economy out of its credit freeze. Proponents of the bill believe it would prevent the United States from sliding into a serious financial crisis, but opponents saw it as an unbearable burden to taxpayers and a rescue for Wall Street.

"That, no question, is a large amount of money," said Bush, referring to the $700 billion. "We're also dealing with a large problem. But to put that in perspective, the drop in the stock market yesterday represented more than a trillion dollars in losses."

Oil slips amid growing global woes

Oil prices fell to near $103 a barrel Monday on concern that economic growth will slow across the globe despite a tentative agreement in Washington on a $700 billion bailout package to stabilize the U.S. financial system.

By midday in Europe, light, sweet crude for November delivery was down $3.50 to $103.39 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.13 Friday to settle at $106.89.

In London, November Brent crude fell $3.39 to $100.15 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Bailout plan goes to House
Congressional leaders and the White House agreed Sunday to a rescue of the ailing financial industry after lawmakers insisted on sharing spending controls with the Bush administration. The biggest U.S. bailout in history won the tentative support of both presidential candidates and goes to the House of Representatives for a vote Monday.

"The bailout package reduces the chance of a complete meltdown," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore. "But worries on the demand side will continue to weigh on oil prices."

The plan would give the administration broad power to use hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to purchase devalued mortgage-related assets held by cash-starved financial firms.

Congress insisted on a stronger hand in controlling the money than the White House had wanted. The government would take over huge amounts of devalued assets from beleaguered financial companies in hopes of unlocking frozen credit.

"It's still a crisis situation," Shum said. "The market is concerned about the depth and breadth of this global downturn."

JBC Energy in Vienna, Austria, also was cautious about the effects the rescue package could have on U.S. economic growth.

"The latest government reports show sales of new homes at a 17-year low in August and orders for durable goods falling stronger than expected," JBC said in a research note. "It is far from certain that (the bailout) will prevent an economic downturn."

Dollar stronger
Prices were also pushed down by a stronger dollar. Investors often buy crude futures as a hedge against a weakening dollar and inflation, and sell when the dollar strengthens.

While the dollar gained as details of the bailout package become known, analysts said the euro was weaker also because of growing economic problems in Europe.

"It is also a question of the euro losing ground due to a continued deterioration in the euro zone," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland. "With the rate of bank failures increasing in Europe and the economy slowing more rapidly than expected, pressure will continue to mount on the (European Central Bank) to lower (interest) rates."

The 15-nation euro fell Monday to $1.4361 from $1.4614 on Friday while the dollar rose to 106.23 yen from 106.01.

"The bailout should inject confidence in the markets in the short-term," Shum said. "Longer term, it increases money supply, inflation and likely weakens the dollar - all of which supports oil prices."

Gas prices fall for 10th straight day

Gas prices fell for their 10th straight day, dropping almost 19 cents during the period, according to a nationwide survey of credit card swipes at gas stations.

The average price of unleaded regular fell by 1.6 cents to $3.667 a gallon on Saturday, from $3.683 a gallon, according to survey results from the motorist group AAA.

Gone are the high prices that followed Hurricanes Ike and Gustav weeks ago. But prices are slightly higher than a month ago, when the national average for a gallon of unleaded was $3.660. They are 30% higher than a year ago, when the average was $2.805.

The record high was on July 17, when the nationwide average for gas prices was $4.114 a gallon.

For now, Hawaii and Alaska are the only two states where gas costs more than $4 a gallon. In Alaska on Friday, the statewide average for unleaded was $4.284 a gallon, according to AAA, and the average was $4.262 in Hawaii.

The cheapest gas was in New Jersey, where the average was $3.394 for a gallon, and in Oklahoma, at $3.370 a gallon.

Oil prices slip on fresh demand worries

Oil prices retreated Friday as the largest bank failure in the nation's history and uncertainty about the fate of the $700 billion bailout raised fresh concerns about the economy.

As Wall Street buckles, without clarity as to when relief should arrive from Washington, and the economy continues to sag, demand for oil will remain weak, sending oil prices lower.

Oil eased $2.46 to $105.56 a barrel. On Thursday, crude futures for November delivery settled up $2.29 to $108.02 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as the oil market focused on the way that the bailout plan would work to devalue the dollar.

Crude oil is traded in U.S. currency around the world, and so a devalued dollar means that crude oil becomes more expensive in dollar terms.

But as oil prices resumed their slide Friday, inflationary concerns took a back seat to the continued collapse of the economy, which was initially weakened by the meltdown of the housing industry.

Federal regulators seized Washington Mutual (WM, Fortune 500) and announced Thursday night that JP Morgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) had acquired the bank's $307 billion in assets and $188 billion in deposits. The acquisition marks another sting in a biting chain of failures on Wall Street in the past couple weeks, pulling into focus just how weak the U.S. economy has become.

There were hopes that the $700 billion bailout plan that President Bush announced Saturday in an attempt to loosen credit on Wall Street would be passed quickly. However, a proposed settlement fell through Thursday when Congressional Republicans raised objections.

The heated disagreements across party lines and the inability of key lawmakers to reach an agreement was one more sign that the already beleaguered economy may have to weather through a prolonged period of distress. On Friday, President Bush made a brief televised statement promising a rescue plan will pass..

The longer the economy remains under high stress and credit markets stay frozen, the weaker demand for oil becomes.

Oil hit a record high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11, but has fallen more than $40 since as weak demand has overpowered otherwise significant supply concerns.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike both smashed through the Gulf of Mexico, shutting down the production and refinery rich region for a period. Recovery in the region has been slow.

And violence in Nigeria has continued, threatening pipelines and limiting oil production from the region.

Oil prices slip on economic uncertainty

Oil prices slipped Thursday as investors weighed supply delays in the Gulf of Mexico against concerns that the U.S. credit crisis will slow global economic growth and hurt crude demand.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery was down 24 cents at $105.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe. The contract fell 88 cents to settle at $105.73 on Wednesday.

About 66% of oil production and 61% of natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico remains shut-in after the passage of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service. The Gulf area is home to a quarter of U.S. oil production and 40% of refining capacity.

Mexico's state oil company said Tuesday it temporarily reduced oil production because U.S. refineries damaged by Ike have canceled shipment orders.

Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, lowered its daily output by 250,000 barrels a day. The company said it expects production to be back to normal by the end of the week. Pemex produced an average of 2.75 million barrels a day in August, the latest available output figure.

OPEC's decision earlier this month to cut production by 520,000 barrels a day and militant threats to Nigerian oil operations have added to the supply shortage.

In addition, Royal Dutch Shell PLC was forced to close one of its gasoline-making units at Pernis, Europe's largest oil refinery, on Wednesday night after a mechanical fault. The closed unit has a daily processing capacity representing 10 % of the total 400,000 barrel daily capacity of the refinery, which is located in the Netherlands.

"We don't know when it will reopen," said spokesman Wim van de Wiel.

Crisis may impact crude demand
Traders are also concerned about the turmoil in the U.S. financial system will impact economic growth and crude demand from the world's biggest economy.

President Bush strongly urged Congress to act quickly to pass a $700 billion financial industry bailout, warning Americans in Wednesday speech that failing to act fast risked dire economic consequences such as disappearing retirement savings, rising foreclosures, lost jobs and closed businesses.

"Markets hate uncertainty, and this thing is hanging over everybody's head," said Gavin Wendt, head of mining and resources research at consultancy Fat Prophets in Sydney. "I don't think anyone is too keen to take a position in oil either way right now."

With the administration's original proposal facing significant changes in Congress, top House leaders issued an upbeat statement late Wednesday saying there was progress toward revised legislation that could pass. Bush summoned presidential candidates Barack Obama, John McCain and legislative leaders to an extraordinary White House summit in hopes of hashing out a deal.

Oil investors are also eyeing the impact the bailout plan may have on the value of the dollar. Investors often buy crude futures as a hedge against a weakening dollar and inflation.

The price of oil "depends on the dollar, it has nothing to do with oil demand and supply," Chakib Khelil, the president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, told journalists at a press conference in Algiers on Wednesday.

He said that oil prices would rise if the dollar weakens, as investors would use oil to hedge against the depreciating currency.

The dollar fell slightly in morning trading on Thursday against both the 15-nation euro and the Japanese yen. The euro bought $1.4708, up from $1.4658 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar slipped to 105.89 Japanese yen from 105.93.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures for October delivery fell 3.33 cents to $2.9800 a gallon, while gasoline prices rose 0.5 cents to $2.5997 a gallon. Natural gas declined 8.5 cents to $7.594 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, November Brent crude fell $1.71 to $100.74 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Oil rises as market waits

Oil prices rallied Wednesday as the market waits to hear from Congress about the proposed $700 bailout plan and for weekly supply data from the government.

Oil climbed $1.24 at $107.85 a barrel. On Tuesday, oil slipped $2.76 to settle at $106.61 a barrel as the market refocused on how the dour economic situation has crimped demand.

Bailout plan: The oil market has been waiting to hear from Congress about a $700 billion proposed bailout plan for beleaguered financial services companies. The debate over the rescue was very heated Tuesday.

The plan could pull oil prices higher, depending on the specific terms of the plan and depending on the economy's reaction to whatever plan is adopted.

If the bailout were passed and served to jumpstart the lethargic economy, the oil market hopes that demand for energy would recover to healthy levels. If the economy recovers and demand for oil recovers, then oil prices jump.

Dollar: At the same time, the plan involves a unprecedented shot of liquidity to the market and the sheer quantity of dollars being pumped into the market would devalue the greenback. Crude oil is traded in U.S. currency across the globe, and so when the dollar loses value, crude prices increase.

In the past couple sessions, oil prices have zig-zagged, and the dollar's volatility has contributed to the movement in the price of oil.

On Wednesday, "the dollar is down just a bit again and that is always positive" for oil prices, said Neal Dingmann, senior energy analyst for Dahlman Rose.

Demand: However, the fact that the economy is in desperate need of a lifeline highlights just how weak the economy is, and raises fresh concerns about demand. A limping economy does not have a healthy, growing appetite for oil.

The market continues to swing off the perceived level of demand for energy and the level of demand for energy swings off the strength of the economy. Therefore, the oil market watches the broader economy for clues on a daily basis.

Goldman Sachs Group (GS, Fortune 500) announced Tuesday that it will receive a $5 billion investment from Berkshire Hathaway. Goldman will sell $5 billion of preferred stock to Warren Buffett's company, which was a much-needed vote of confidence for the investment bank in a time of unprecedented uncertainty on Wall Street.

"When you have support either from Buffett or the Treasury Secretary," said Dingmann, "any support for the underlying financial markets boosts the overall market, or thus overall demand, which is positive for oil prices."

Supply report: The government's weekly supply oil data was due out later Wednesday from the Energy Information Administration. The market watches the report very closely in order to gauge demand for energy. The report should also give some indication of the stage of recovery of the Gulf region after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

"This will definitely give us another glimpse on the aftereffects of how the storm has played out," said Dingmann.

Crude oil stockpiles were expected to increase by 1.6 million barrels, according to a consensus estimate of industry analysts surveyed by Platts, a global energy information provider.

Gasoline stocks were expected to drop 5.1 million barrels and the Platts survey forecast that distillate stocks - used for heating oil and diesel fuel - would be 1.8 million barrels lower than the previous week. The Platts survey forecast that refinery utilization or run rate would fall 3.5 percentage points to 73.9%.

Gustav, Ike: Hurricane Gustav slammed the Gulf of Mexico on Labor Day and Hurricane Ike hit the Coast of Texas nearly a week later. The storms shook the production and refinery-rich region.

The Minerals Management Service reports that 23 manned oil platforms have been destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Of the 694 remaining platforms, 203 production platforms, equivalent to 29.3%, were still evacuated.

According to the most recent situation report from the Department of Energy, 76.6% of production in the region remained shut in and 65.5% of natural gas production was still shuttered. With 6 refineries in Texas still shut down, nearly 1.7 million barrels per day less oil have been processed in the region, according to the DOE.

Gas prices: Down 10 cents in 4 days

Gas prices fell another 2 cents, marking the fourth straight decline after rising more than 18 cents in 8 days following Hurricane Ike, according to a nationwide survey of credit card swipes at gasoline stations.
The average price of unleaded regular dropped 2 cents to $3.757 a gallon, from $3.777 a gallon, according to the survey released by motorist group AAA.
While prices have remained under $4 for some time, they are still much higher from a year ago, when gas was selling for less than $3 a gallon.
Current prices are about 34% higher from a year earlier at this time. Still, prices are 54 cents, or 13%, down from the record high price of $4.114 a gallon set on July 17
Gas prices had been moving higher following the devastation left behind by hurricanes Ike and Gustav.
More than 30 refineries, which convert crude oil into usable gasoline, had shut down or were operating with reduced capacity in the Gulf region after the storms hit. The number has since fallen by more than half, restoring gasoline supply to retailers and easing consumer prices.
Many crude pipelines in Texas and Louisiana had also shuttered ahead of the hurricanes. Those are slowly coming back on line.
Lower oil prices have also helped lower the cost of retail gas. Crude has been moving lower since mid-July amid weakening demand, losing more than a third of its value since it reached a record of near $150 just two months ago.
But oil prices rallied back above $104 a barrel Friday amid growing optimism that the government's various rescue plans will help ease the credit crisis currently stifling the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, only three states now continue to report gas prices above $4 a gallon: Alaska, Hawaii and Illinois. Alaska continues to be the state with the most expensive gas prices, at $4.339 a gallon. The cheapest gas can be found in New Jersey, where gas cost $3.468 a gallon, according to AAA's Web site.