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State grant helps Milwaukee start foreclosure prevention program

The city of Milwaukee plans to start a program to prevent foreclosures by having homeowners who are late on their payments negotiate with lenders before court proceedings begin.

The city of Milwaukee is contributing $100,000 to the effort, said Mayor Tom Barrett, and the Wisconsin Department of Justice will complete the budget with a grant Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is slated to announce this afternoon. The program would pay for mediators to work with Marquette University to help borrowers make deals with their mortgage lenders before houses go into foreclosure.

Barrett called foreclosures a “lose-lose-lose situation” because borrowers lose their houses, lenders oftentimes sell the properties at auction for less than their value, and the city is left with vacant houses that attract crime and hurt neighborhoods.

Marshfield Utilities offers $50 toilet-project rebates

Marshfield Utilities will offer $50 rebates to residents that buy and install water-efficient toilets.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin agreed to let the public water and sewer utility spend $30,000 a year on the program. The approval on May 21 makes Marshfield the fourth Wisconsin utility to offer toilet rebates. Waukesha, Madison and Kaukauna have enacted similar programs.

Efficient toilets installed through the program must be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program.

A federal bill introduced May 12 by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., would dedicate $450 million between 2010 and 2014 to encourage residents to buy and install water fixtures certified by WaterSense.

State Supreme Court orders judges to give up pay raises

Madison (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court is asking lawmakers to take away 2 percent raises that judges and justices were scheduled to receive next month.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said the decision means the judicial branch is joining other parts of government to solve the state’s projected $6.6 billion budget shortfall.

The move affects 262 circuit and appeals court judges and the seven justices on the high court.

Gov. Jim Doyle proposed the move along with furloughs and layoffs to balance the budget.

Purchasing cutbacks cause European truck sales to slump in April

Brussels, Belgium (AP) — European sales of trucks, vans and busses slumped by a record 42.4 percent in April, car makers’ association ACEA said Wednesday, as an economic recession saw businesses shy away from buying new vehicles.

The group, which represents commercial vehicle makers Scania AB, Man AG, Volkswagen AG, AB Volvo, DAF Trucks and Iveco SpA, warned that it is suffering as companies cut back on big-ticket purchases.

Some 139,870 commercial vehicles were sold in April compared to 242,746 for the same month last year, it said. It counts sales across the 27-nation European Union as well as those in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The biggest chunk of the market, vans, saw sales slump by more than half in Spain, where the end of a construction boom slowed economic growth and hiked unemployment. Van sales also were down 45 percent in Britain and by around a third in France, Germany and Italy.

ArcelorMittal seeks money from bond issue as steel demand plummets

Brussels, Belgium (AP) — ArcelorMittal SA, the world’s largest steelmaker, said Wednesday it would raise money by selling bonds to extend and refinance existing debt.

The company has reported large losses in its last two quarters as the global economic downturn caused demand to plummet for the steel that is used to construct buildings, bridges, cars and machinery.

That has hurt its ability to pay off a massive debt burden — $26.7 billion on March 31 — from cash flow and led to share and bond issues to raise money as it seeks to repay $10 billion in debt this year.

The debt comes from an aggressive expansion program in recent years as well as the cost of Mittal Steel Co.’s takeover bid for Arcelor that formed the company in 2006.

Earlier this month ArcelorMittal announced it would sell bonds to raise $2.25 billion. In April it issued $3 billion in new shares and sold another $1.25 billion in bonds.

It also plans to trim running costs by $2 billion and says it has saved $6 billion by halving output in the first quarter — and will save more than $7.5 billion in the second quarter.

Brazil steelmaker lays off 1,300 amid steel slump

Sao Paulo (AP) — One of Brazil’s biggest steel makers is planning to lay off a tenth of its work force this month as the world economic crisis slashes demand for metals.

Usinas Siderugicas de Minas Gerais said 516 workers are volunteering to leave and another 810 will be laid off, bringing total job losses to more than 1,300.

A statement from Belo Horizonte-based Usiminas said the cuts are due to “the severe contraction of demand in Brazil and in the international market” for steel.

Usiminas now employs 13,500 people.

Malaysia’s economy shrinks 6.2 percent; modest growth seen in construction

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s economy shrank a sharper-than-expected 6.2 percent in the first quarter, the central bank said Wednesday, setting the scene for the government to forecast a deeper recession this year.

The economy’s slump compared with a year earlier was largely due to a 17.6 percent contraction in manufacturing, as electrical and electronics exports plunged amid weak global demand, said Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank.

It was the biggest fall in gross domestic product since the fourth quarter of 1998, when Malaysia fell into a recession during the Asian financial crisis. GDP shrank 7 percent from the fourth quarter.

The government has forecast the economy will shrink 1 percent this year in the worst case scenario but officials acknowledged the contraction will be more severe than expected.

All sectors of the economy shrank in the first quarter, except for construction which grew 0.6 percent due to new commercial and residential developments.

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