Daily Archives: February 24, 2013

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Ecuador’s President explains why his country is seeing the lowest unemployment in 30 years

Ecuador’s President explains why his country is seeing the lowest unemployment in 30 years

Correa may have had luck, but it wasn’t good luck: he took office in January of 2007 and the next year Ecuador was one of the hardest hit countries in the hemisphere by the international financial crisis and world recession. That’s because it was heavily dependent on remittances from abroad (eg workers in the US and Spain); and oil exports, which made up 62% of export earnings and 34% of government revenue at the time. Oil prices collapsed by 79% in 2008 and remittances also crashed. The combined effect on Ecuador’s economy was comparable to the collapse of the US housing bubble, which contributed to the Great Recession.

 

And Ecuador also had the bad luck of not having its own currency (it had adopted the US dollar in 2000) – which means it couldn’t use the exchange rate or the kind of monetary policy that the US Federal Reserve deployed to counteract the recession. But Ecuador navigated the storm with a mild recession that lasted three quarters; a year later it was back at its pre-recession level of output and on its way to the achievements that made Correa one of the most popular presidents in the hemisphere.

 

How did they do it? Perhaps most important was a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, about 5% of GDP (if only we had done that here in the US). A big part of that was construction, with the government expanding housing credit by $599m in 2009, and continuing large credits through 2011.

 

But the government also had to reform and re-regulate the financial system. And here it embarked on what is possibly the most comprehensive financial reform of any country in the 21st century. The government took control over the central bank, and forced it to bring back about $2bn of reserves held abroad. This was used by the public banks to make loans for infrastructure, housing, agriculture and other domestic investment.

 

It put taxes on money leaving the country, and required banks to keep 60% of their liquid assets inside the country. It pushed real interest rates down, while bank taxes were increased. The government renegotiated agreements with foreign oil companies when prices rose. Government revenue rose from 27% of GDP in 2006 to over 40% last year. The Correa administration also increased funding to the “popular and solidarity” part of the financial sector – co-operatives, credit unions and other member-based organisations. Co-op loans tripled in real terms between 2007 and 2012.

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CitiMortgage sued by soldier over mortgage interest rate

CitiMortgage sued by soldier over mortgage interest rate

This week, CitiMortgage requested a case against them be dismissed, as an active duty member of the military has sued them, alleging SCRA violations. This case could ultimately change the wording of the SCRA regarding protected interest rates.

South Carolina Army sergeant, Raymond Wray filed a federal lawsuit accusing CitiMortgage of violating the 70+ year old Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which limits interest rates to 6.0 percent for military on active duty. Filed in the U.S. District of South Carolina, court documents reveal that the home Wray bought in 1997 for $68,000 was initially at a 12.99 percent interest rate.

When Wray enlisted in the Army two years later, he requested CitiMortgage, who had purchased his loan, to reduce his rate due to his becoming an active duty member of the military. The SCRA covers mortgages that were acquired prior to a servicemember’s enlisting in the military.

Wray, who continues to be on active duty, alleges the SCRA was violated when the bank refused the request, rather used a subsidy program under which the company agreed to make up the difference between his 12.99 rate and the 6.0 percent rate, meaning he was paying less principal toward his home and gaining less equity in it.

CitiMortgage filed for dismissal this week

CitiMortgage has just filed for a dismissal, as Judge Cameron McGowan Currie has set jury selection will begin this year. CitiMortgage claims that paying less principal is not recognized under the SCRA, and that his effective interest rate was capped at 6.0 percent, per the Act.

Wray says he will be seeking class-action status on behalf of any other soldiers who have had the same experience with CitiMortgage. He is seeking unspecified damages and also wants CitiMortgage to be ordered to pay his legal fees.