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NY mortgage aid

(AP) -- The New York attorney general said the $60 million initiative to provide counseling and legal services to homeowners at risk of foreclosure reached 3,600 in the first three months including 547 in the Buffalo and Niagara Falls region.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 4,245 loans are in foreclosure and 7,592 are 90 or more days delinquent in the Buffalo/Niagara region.

Seven organizations in the region are sharing $1.1 million in the initiative.

Of the 547 getting legal help or counseling, 223 are already in active negotiations or have been formally offered loan modifications.

ResCap suit

(Bloomberg) -- Residential Capital LLC sued mortgage-bond buyers including AIG Asset Management LLC and Allstate Insurance Co. to prevent them from collecting money ahead of other creditors in the company's bankruptcy.

Mortgage investors who lost money on securities they bought from ResCap shouldn't be given priority over unsecured creditors, ResCap said in a complaint filed Tuesday U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.

The lawsuit is a response to an attempt by affiliates of AIG, Allstate (NYSE: ALL), Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Prudential Insurance Co. of America to get paid before unsecured creditors, ResCap said.

Should the insurers succeed, they may end up collecting twice for almost identical claims at the expense of unsecured creditors, ResCap said.

Smithsonian renovation

(AP) -- The Smithsonian American Art Museum plans to close its Renwick Gallery near the White House next year for its first major renovation in 40 years.

The museum announced Tuesday that the historic building would reopen in 2016.

The Smithsonian said it plans to replace the National Historic Landmark's infrastructure and enhance its historic features with modern upgrades.

Museum Director Elizabeth Broun said the Renwick was Washington's first structure built as a museum. It was designed in 1859, originally as a public museum for William Corcoran's private art collection. It was called the “American Louvre” when it opened, symbolizing the nation's aspirations.

Congress proposed razing the building in 1956, but first lady Jacqueline Kennedy led a campaign to save it.

The Renwick housed the Smithsonian's craft and decorative arts since 1972.

NJ utility upgrade

(AP) -- New Jersey's largest utility company is proposing to spend $3.9 billion over 10 years to protect its electric and gas system against future storms like Sandy.

PSE&G said it wants to strengthen distribution lines, protect utility stations from storm surges and make the electrical grid easier to repair.

During Superstorm Sandy, 2 million of the company's 2.2 million customers lost power.

The company said 800,000 of them wouldn't have been knocked out if the proposed upgrades were in place. The rest would have had service returned sooner.

The company said customers won't see bills go up much higher because the price of natural gas has been dropping. The company anticipates lower electricity prices, too.

RI foreclosure outreach

(AP) -- Two Rhode Island organizations are getting grants totaling $215,000 to help with foreclosure education and outreach.

The funding is part of the landmark National Mortgage Settlement reached last year.

The initiative provides counseling for those facing foreclosure, housing workshops, computer literacy and adult education. It also includes a public awareness campaign targeting minority and immigrant homeowners.

Canadian resales

(Bloomberg) -- Canadian home resale prices fell for a fifth straight month in January in 11 major cities, the longest string of declines since the country's 2009 recession, according to the Teranet-National Bank Composite House Price Index.

National prices fell 0.3 percent during the month, according to a report Wednesday by National Bank Financial.

Prices were up 2.7 percent from a year earlier, the slowest pace since November 2009.

Barratt, Taylor sales strong

(Bloomberg) -- Barratt Developments Plc and Taylor Wimpey Plc, the United Kingdom's two largest homebuilders by volume, rose to the highest in almost five years after competitor Galliford Try Plc said 2013 sales are off to a “cracking start.”

Barratt rose 2.2 percent to the highest price since April 2008. Taylor Wimpey jumped 2 percent to the highest since May 2008. Galliford Try gained the best since November 2007.

Six of the seven stocks in the Bloomberg EMEA Home Builders Index advanced.

Under the Bank of England's six-month-old Funding for Lending Scheme, which offers incentives for financial institutions to increase mortgage availability, loan approvals rose to an 11-month high in December.

The figure is still about half the level of 2007.

Galliford Try's sales in the first seven weeks of 2013 averaged 0.67 housing units per outlet a week compared with 0.46 for the entire second half of last year, Galliford Chief Executive Officer Greg Fitzgerald said. Growth will probably continue month-on-month through May, he said.

The housing market will be sustained as demand outstrips supply, Fitzgerald said. Industry output of 115,000 homes a year compares with a government target of 240,000 a year, he said.

Russian quits over Florida condos

(AP) -- A senior lawmaker from the pro-Kremlin party resigned his seat in Russian parliament on Wednesday after an anti-corruption campaigner alleged that he owns properties in Florida worth more than $2 million.

Vladimir Pekthin, chairman of the State Duma's ethics committee, told the parliament that he is stepping down to protect his party from the scandal.

The lawmaker became the center of the scandal last week when the anti-corruption crusader, Alexei Navalny, published copies of deeds and other legal documents indicating that Pekhtin and his son own two condos in Miami Beach and a villa in Ormond Beach, Florida.

The market value of one of the two condos is about $1.3 million, Navalny said.

The resignation also comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill that would prohibit Russian officials from holding bank accounts abroad.

Pekhtin has denied owning the properties although he admitted that his signatures on the deeds were genuine. Last week he told Izvestia daily that he “owns practically no property abroad.”

Pekhtin insisted that the condos and villas belong to his 35-year-old son, Alexei.

Pekhtin said that he does not speak English and thought that “warranty deed” meant that he was signing on the deals as a trustee. He describes the scandal as a “legal misunderstanding.”

Olympic golf dispute

(AP) -- The International Olympic Committee has been officially notified about a legal dispute over the ownership of the site of the planned 2016 Olympic golf course.

The IOC and 2016 Rio committee have downplayed the issue as golf prepares to make its return to the games for the first time in 110 years.

The court document named Nawal El Moutawakel, president of the coordination commission for the 2016 Games, and the IOC's coordination commission, along with the local Public Olympic Authority.

There has been a long legal dispute over the land that is claimed by two different companies.

Local organizers say they have enough guarantees from the businessman who said he is the current owner, but a judge has already said that any contracts made over the land will eventually be deemed illegal and nullified in case a court ruling goes against him.

Swimming in pollution

(AP) -- A Chinese businessman angry about a filthy river has come up with an equally dirty dare: He'll give an environmental official about $32,000 just for swimming in the polluted waterway.

Businessman Jin Zengmin posted on his microblog photos of a garbage-filled river in his hometown of Rui'an city in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

He dared the local environmental protection chief, Bao Zhenming, to swim in it for a cash prize of 200,000 yuan.

The challenge, made Saturday, reflects growing frustration among the Chinese public over widespread pollution and lack of governmental action. It quickly inspired at least one other offer: A posting Tuesday under an alias on an online forum offered a 300,000 yuan ($48,000) cash prize to the environmental protection chief in the nearby county of Cangnan if the official swam in polluted rivers there.

Jin said on his microblog that a rubber shoe factory has been dumping wastewater into the river, and that the area had an exceptionally high cancer rate.

JinkoSolar agreement

(Bloomberg) -- JinkoSolar Holding Co., a Chinese solar manufacturer, agreed to supply China Three Gorges Corp. with 600 megawatts of panels to build power projects in western China.

Deliveries will start this year and will run through 2015, Shangrao, China-based JinkoSolar (NYSE: JKS) said Wednesday. Terms of the agreement weren't disclosed.

London subway link

(Bloomberg) -- London's proposed subway link to 16,000 new homes near the U.K. capital’s iconic Battersea Power Station would be financed by local developers and companies under a plan announced Wednesday.

The two-mile spur from the existing Tube will be funded via a 1 billion-pound ($1.53 billion) loan raised by the Greater London Authority and backed by the government.

Repayments would come from local business rates, made available using legislation on so-called enterprise zones, Wandsworth Council said. The new route, which could open by 2019.

Buyers reserved three-quarters of homes to be built on the site of the renovated power station within five days of them going on sale in January, and the area will also house the new U.S embassy.

Battersea Power Station, featured on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album “Animals,” has frustrated developers since it closed more than 29 years ago. Malaysia’s SP Setia Bhd. and Sime Darby Bhd. bought the site for 400 million pounds in July.

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