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Industry Briefs

Colony doubles up

(AP) -- Colony Financial Inc. said Friday that it doubled the size of its offering of common stock to 10 million shares and priced it.

The Los Angeles-based real estate finance and investment company also granted the offering's underwriters -- Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) and BofA Merrill Lynch -- an option to buy up to an additional 1.5 million shares. The offering is expected to close on or about Wednesday.

Colony (NYSE: CLNY) said it plans to invest at least $45 million of the net proceeds from the offering in CSFR Operating Partnership LP, an investment vehicle for single-family rental homes that the company has an associate general partner interest.
Wells Fargo lending

(Bloomberg) -- Wells Fargo & Co., the largest U.S. home lender, reported a 24 percent rise in fourth quarter profit as the bank made more money from mortgage banking and squeezed more income out of revenue.

Net income advanced to a record $5.09 billion, or 91 cents a share, from $4.11 billion, or 73 cents, a year earlier, the San Francisco-based bank said Friday.

Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf, 59, has expanded in mortgages, where Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) originated nearly 1 in 3 as of September and used the biggest U.S. branch network to challenge JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s (NYSE: JPM) status as the most profitable bank.

“Origination activity remains elevated and gain on sale margins are still relatively healthy” for mortgage lenders, RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Morford wrote in a Jan. 9 report.

A refinancing boom helped mortgage lenders originate $511 billion in the fourth quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Washington-based trade group.

Originations hit $1.75 trillion for all of 2012, with 71 percent driven by homeowners retiring their old loans for new ones as interest rates hovered near record lows.
Great Park vote

(AP) -- After an eight-hour meeting, the Irvine City Council has voted for an audit and reorganization of plans for the Great Park, the former military base that officials intended to turn into one of the nation's largest urban parks before financial problems slowed plans.

The Orange County Register reported that the heated meeting spilled from Tuesday into Wednesday before the council voted unanimously to seek proposals from auditors to look at the park's books since 2005.

In closer 3-2 votes, the council voted to terminate contracts with two firms that had been paid millions for consulting and marketing for the park, and to get rid of four non-elected members of its board.

More than $220 million has been spent on the Great Park since plans were approved in 2002.
Coliseum objection

(AP) -- The California Legislature's black caucus doesn't like parts of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum deal with the University of Southern California.

The nine caucus members are in favor of USC management of the stadium but they object to inclusion of area parking lots.

The Los Angeles Times reported the caucus wants the parking lots turned into South Los Angeles parks.

USC's Trojan football team plays games at the Coliseum and the university demanded the parking lots as part of the management agreement.

The California Science Center owns the parking lots and the land on which the Coliseum and several museums sit. It's collectively known as Exposition Park.

The caucus told center board chairman Robert Stein in a letter that giving up control of the parking lots gives away control of the park. The caucus said that's totally unacceptable.
Extinction again?

(AP) -- An Orange County petting zoo may be losing its dinosaur.

The Orange County Register said the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission refused Tuesday to grant approval for a 40-foot-long dinosaur statue named Juan -- placing it on the road to extinction.

The owner of Zoomars Petting Zoo bought the 13-foot-tall apatosaurus from an auction house in June for $12,000 but installed it without city approval.

Carolyn Franks has been fighting city orders to remove it ever since.

Critics say the statue doesn't belong in the city's historical district because dinos never roamed the area.

Since the Planning Commission rejected her approval bid, Franks now has only one chance -- an appeal to the City Council.
Streamlining housing

(AP) -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is hoping to streamline the state's public housing system by eliminating 240 local public housing authorities and replacing them with six regional agencies aimed at ridding the system of corruption and saving taxpayer dollars.

Patrick proposed a bill Thursday that he said would help modernize the system that shelters 300,000 low-income families and elderly residents.

There are now 83,000 public housing units in the state.

The proposal would consolidate public housing management -- including budgeting, planning and administrative functions -- into six central offices. Local communities would retain control over land use and redevelopment decisions.

The proposal follows revelations in 2011 that the former head of the Chelsea Housing Authority had been taking home a $360,000 annual salary.

Patrick demanded the resignation of Michael McLaughlin after it was shown he was one of the country's highest-paid public housing officials. McLaughlin stepped down.

Stephen Merritt, executive director of the Norwood Housing Authority, and other members of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, which represents the state's 242 local housing authorities, said they have a plan that would streamline housing services and strengthen accountability without dismantling the current local system.
MBIA sues

(Bloomberg) -- MBIA Inc. sued Flagstar ABS LLC claiming it made misrepresentations to induce the bond insurer to issue policies for two mortgage-backed securitizations that defaulted, leading to more than $165 million in claims payments.

MBIA, based in Armonk, N.Y., alleged that Flagstar sponsored two securitizations known as 2006-1 and 2007-1 and avowed that it had originated or acquired all of the loans and each complied with underwriting guidelines, according to the complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The 2006 transaction, which had a principal balance of about $400 million, defaulted, resulting in losses totaling about $51 million and claim payments of more than $32 million, MBIA said.

The 2007 transaction, with a principal balance of about $625 million, also defaulted, leading to losses of more than $174 million and resulting in $133 million in loan payments, the bond insurer claims.
Texas lawyer

HOUSTON (AP) -- A former lawyer in Houston who pretended to be a real estate investment tycoon has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for running a $7.8 million Ponzi scam.

A federal judge in Houston on Friday sentenced 68-year-old Billy Frank Davis and ordered him to repay the more than 20 victims. Davis on Oct. 15 pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

Prosecutors said Davis falsely portrayed himself as a leader in the real estate business while using money from investors to fund his personal lifestyle.

Investigators said Davis had known some of the victims for more than 20 years and exploited their friendships.
Solar power nixed

(AP) -- Utility regulators in Ohio have nixed plans for American Electric Power Co. to use power from a southeast Ohio solar farm to meet its renewable energy requirements, putting the project's future in jeopardy.

Regulators said the utility hadn't demonstrated that investing in the Turning Point project would benefit ratepayers, nor that it was necessary to meet the company's renewable energy requirements.

The solar farm planned near the wildlife conservancy called The Wilds was projected to create hundreds of jobs and produce enough electricity to power 25,000 homes.

AEP (NYSE: AEP) had agreed to purchase power from the facility for 20 years to help fulfill state renewable energy rules.
Drought counties

(AP) -- Thirty of Colorado's 64 counties have been designated as primary natural disaster areas due to severe drought and heat, making farmers and ranchers there and in adjacent counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that overall, 43 Colorado counties are eligible for aid.

Laramie County in Wyoming is among the contiguous counties in other states that also are eligible for aid.

The Department of Agriculture has also declared a drought disaster in 104 of Kansas' 105 counties, clearing the way for farmers and ranchers to seek low-interest emergency loans.

Eighty-eight counties were designated primary disaster areas, meaning they've had severe drought for at least eight consecutive weeks.

Sixteen neighboring counties were designated contiguous disaster areas.

Gov. Sam Brownback took the occasion to note that Kansas is entering the third straight year of severe drought.
Canadian permits

(Bloomberg) -- Canadian construction permits in November recorded the sharpest drop in 19 months as builders scaled back plans for industrial facilities and condominiums.

The value of permits granted by municipal governments fell 17.9 percent to C$6.2 billion ($6.29 billion), the lowest level since January 2012, after a revised 15.9 percent gain in October, Statistics Canada said Friday.

Residential permits declined 6.8 percent to C$3.77 billion in November, as the value of multiple-unit projects decreased 10.8 percent and single-family permits dropped 4 percent.

Non-residential construction permits fell 30.6 percent to C$2.43 billion, as industrial projects such as factories recorded a 60.7 percent drop. Industrial construction permits more than tripled in the prior month.

Permits for institutional projects such as schools dropped 49.1 percent, while commercial projects such as offices rose 5.9 percent, the statistics agency said.

The value of permits was 0.2 percent higher in November than the same month a year earlier.
Global solar

(Bloomberg) -- The global solar market will rise 22 percent to 33.4 gigawatts in 2013, with gains in China, the United States and India more than offsetting declines in Germany and Italy, Deutsche Bank predicted Friday.

The Chinese market, the second biggest in 2012, will more than double to 10 gigawatts this year from 4 gigawatts last year, Deutsche (NYSE: DB) said.

The Indian market will more than triple to 4 gigawatts and the U.S. will rise 29 percent to 4.5 gigawatts, the bank's analysts, led by Vishal Shah, predicted.

Those gains will help offset declines in European markets, led by Germany and Italy, where demand will be cut in half, according to the bank.

Those two countries were the biggest and third-largest markets in 2012, it said.
REIT IPO revived

(Bloomberg) -- Toronto-based Agellan Commercial Real Estate Investment Trust revived its initial public offering that was postponed last month, paring the size by 12 percent and raising the yield, according to two people familiar with the sale.

Agellan aims to raise C$135 million ($137 million) by selling units for C$10 apiece that yield 7.75 percent, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details haven't been made public.

Agellan initially sought to raise C$154 million with units yielding 6.5 percent to 7 percent, according to November sale documents.

The company was formed to own and operate industrial, office and retail properties in the United States and Canada. The company plans to use the proceeds to buy 23 properties comprising 47 buildings with about 4.2 million square feet of space, mostly in Ontario and Texas.
BlackRock in China

(Bloomberg) -- BlackRock Inc., the world's largest asset manager, is buying more debt from lower-rated Chinese property developers as a pick-up in the economy cuts junk-bond yields to the lowest in almost eight years.

“The operating environment for property companies and their ability to fund themselves has improved,” said Joel Kim, head of Asia-Pacific fixed income in Singapore at BlackRock (NYSE: BLK), which managed $3.67 trillion as of Sept. 30.

Rising demand from global funds, encouraged by a seven-month increase in new home prices in the world's second-largest economy, has helped developers in mainland China and Hong Kong sell the most dollar bonds in 11 months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
German property

(Bloomberg) -- German property prices and rents rose more slowly last year as demand for space in smaller cities was hurt by a migration of workers to larger ones.

The BulwienGesa Real Estate Index, which combines commercial and residential prices and rents, rose 3.1 percent in 2012, the real estate research firm that compiles the data said Friday.

In small cities such as Bremerhaven and Chemnitz, values rose 1.9 percent, BulwienGesa AG said. The index climbed 3.4 percent in 2011.

Germany's population has been shrinking since 2002. At the same time, inhabitants have moved to hubs such as Berlin and Munich, where jobs are generally easier to find.

Property prices in large cities are also rising because investors are seeking a safe place to put their money amid the European debt crisis.

The index will probably show “moderate” growth in 2013, BulwienGesa said.
Thai cleanup

(AP) -- A Thai court on Thursday ordered the government to clean up a lead-polluted creek and pay nearly $4 million in compensation to local villagers, as part of a legal battle that lasted almost a decade.

Over the past 15 years, toxic waste from a lead mine and treatment factory established in 1967 have contaminated water, soil and aquatic animals, and affected villagers living near the 12-mile-long Klity creek in Kanchanaburi province, 181 miles west of Bangkok.

The businesses owned by Lead Concentrates Co. were ordered to shut down in 1998.

But more than 150 ethnic Karen residents in the remote village of Lower Klity have been forced to shun their only water source since 1999, when the Public Health Ministry prohibited using the creek for water and banned fishing there.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled Thursday that the government's Pollution Control Department did not attempt to mitigate the damage in a timely manner.
Grid law is short

(Bloomberg) -- RWE AG's renewable energy unit said a new law designed to ease grid connection delays for German wind farms doesn’t go far enough.

The law aims to spur investment in links to the grid by reducing risks for network operators, with utilities able to pass on costs exceeding caps to consumers through higher power bills.

Developers have suffered delays in connecting farms to the grid as they seek to meet Germany's target of 25 gigawatts of sea-based turbines by 2030 to help the country shift away from nuclear generation.

Utilities including RWE AG and EON SE had threatened to halt investments unless the issues are resolved.
Singapore curbs

(Bloomberg) -- Singapore added more measures to curb speculation on residential and industrial properties after home prices climbed to a record and the value of logistics buildings doubled over the past three years.

The stamp duty for homebuyers will increase Friday by between 5 and 7 percentage points, the government said Thursday.

Permanent residents will have to pay the additional tax when they buy their first home, while Singaporeans will have the levy starting with their second purchase, according to the notice.

This follows government efforts since 2009 to rein in residential property prices.

The government will also tighten the loan-to-value limits for buyers seeking a second mortgage, it said, referring to the amount they are allowed to borrow relative to the value of their properties.

The cash down payment will also rise to 25 percent from 10 percent starting from the second loan, it said.
Polish property

(Bloomberg) -- Poland's commercial property market attracted 2.8 billion euros ($3.7 billion) of investment last year, the most since 2007, according to Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

Spending on commercial property in central Europe's largest economy rose 8 percent in 2012, accounting for 75 percent of total investment in the region, the New York-based property broker, said Friday.

The value of transactions fell in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania from the previous year.

“We now see continuing momentum in Poland and expect activity to step up in the Czech Republic,” said Charles Taylor, partner at Cushman & Wakefield. “We forecast volumes in the region to be marginally ahead in 2013, with Poland continuing to be the clear favorite.”

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