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March US home sales drop as mortgage rates, home prices rise | Housing News

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Rising mortgage rates are complicating the homebuying equation during the early homebuying season, traditionally the busiest period for home sales.

Sales of previously occupied United States homes slowed in March to the slowest pace in nearly two years as a swift rise in mortgage rates and record-high prices discouraged would-be homebuyers.

Existing home sales fell 2.7 percent last month from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.77 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The announcement was in line with what economists had been expecting, according to FactSet. It’s also the slowest pace since June 2020, when sales were running at an annualised rate of 4.77 million homes. Sales were down 4.5 percent from March 2021.

The slowdown came as mortgage rates surged, with the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate home loan climbing to about 4.7 percent by the end of last month. Last week, the average hit 5 percent for the first time in more than a decade amid persistent high inflation. A year ago, the 30-year rate stood at 3.04 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

“At the moment my sense based on casually looking at data is that home sales could easily be down 10 percent this year versus last year,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Yun also suggested annual median home price growth could slow by December to 5 percent.

Rising mortgage rates are complicating the homebuying equation during the early homebuying season, traditionally the busiest period for home sales.

Rates are rising following a sharp move up in 10-year Treasury yields, reflecting expectations of higher interest rates overall as the Federal Reserve moves to increase short-term rates in order to combat surging inflation.

Higher rates can limit the pool of buyers and cool the rate of home price growth — good news for buyers. But higher rates also weaken their buying power.

For now, the housing market continues to favour sellers as buyers vie for fewer homes, which drives bidding wars, often pushing the sale price well above what the owner was asking.

The median home price in March jumped 15 percent from a year ago at this time to $375,300. That’s an all-time high on data going back to 1999, NAR said.

On average, homes sold in just 17 days of hitting the market last month. It was 18 days in February. In a market more evenly balanced between buyers and sellers, homes typically remain on the market for 45 days.

As is typical early in the year, the number of homes on the market increased in March from the previous month. Some 950,000 properties were available for sale by the end of March, up 11.8 percent from February, but down 9.5 percent from March 2021.

At the current sales pace, the level of for-sale properties amounts to a two-month supply, the NAR said, up from 1.7 months in February, and down from 2.1 months a year ago.

Real estate investors and other buyers able to buy a home without relying on financing drove a sharp increase in all-cash transactions last month. They made up 28 percent of all sales, the highest share since July 2014, NAR said.

Homes bought by investors made up 18 percent of sales, up from 15 percent in March 2021, while first-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of transactions, up from 29 percent in February and down from 32 percent in March last year.



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Can renewable energy help close power gap in India’s hot summer? | Business and Economy News

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New Delhi, India — As temperatures soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius in Hasanganj village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the nearly 14-hour power cuts in the area mean that the bananas that Ramesh, a fruit vendor who goes by one name, sells are rotting faster than normal with no fans to keep them cool. As sales dip, tempers fray at home, and his children can neither sleep nor study in the searing heat.

The power outages have “aggravated” their problems, Ramesh told Al Jazeera.

As a heatwave rippled through parts of northern India from late March through early May, demand for power shot up, loading power lines and leading to massive outages in several parts of the country as thermal plants ran low on coal.

The spate of events, especially as summer has set in sooner and hotter than expected, has renewed a call to dig and import more coal even as India’s coal production has continued to steadily rise. Global coal prices have shot up since the start of the Ukraine war, hiking India’s import costs anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent, at a time when the rupee has tumbled to record lows, making imports even more expensive.

As a result, on May 7 the environment ministry allowed certain coal mines to expand production up to 50 percent, from the current 40 percent, without seeking the environmental clearances that would normally be mandatory.

A day earlier, the power ministry ordered all power plants that run on imported coal to operate at full capacity and allowed the power producers to pass the hike in tariffs on to consumers.

“The response in the short term is that no matter what, you’ve got to pay the cost to keep the lights on, especially in the middle of a heatwave that will kill people,” said Tim Buckley, the director of Climate Energy Finance, a think-tank in Australia. “But there’s a massive, massive cost to the Indian people.”

One basic cost that Buckley is referring to is the actual price of electricity. While most thermal and renewable electricity in India is sold through long-term contracts, there is still a price difference creeping in for coal power, he says, especially for the 3 to 4 percent that is traded on the exchanges. For instance, of late, while power from domestic coal is being sold at 4-5 rupees/kwh ($0.05-0.06), that goes up to 5-8 rupees/kwh ($0.05-0.10) for power from imported coal (and went up to as high as 12 rupees/kwh or $0.15 on the spot market one day last week). Power from wind and solar, in the meanwhile, is at 3 rupees and 2.5 rupees ($0.03 and $0.04), respectively.

More importantly, adds Buckley, “50-degree heat shows that infrastructure doesn’t work. Coal power plants can’t run above 50 degrees. They break just when you need them.”

Experts say that it’s actually a reminder that India should invest more in its renewable energy to better secure its energy needs.

In fact, late last month as power companies scrambled for coal to burn as demand for fans, coolers and air conditioning rocketed, it was energy from wind plants that came to the rescue as that comes on the grid from late April and runs through August, petering off by mid-September.

“Every unit [of electricity] that wind provides, you generate that much less from coal and that ensures that you’re not in a scarcity mode anymore,” says Karthik Ganesan, a fellow and director in research coordination at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi think-tank.

INTERACTIVE_India_Coal_Shortage_1_17-05-2022-02

‘Fundamental problems’

India gets around 74.4 percent of its electricity from coal-fuelled power plants. Coal shortages are not new to the country – it faced a similar dearth last year – and are more on account of poor planning than any other reason. For instance, last year even though the coal had been dug out of the ground, it lay at the mine mouth and was then flooded under with rains just as demand for it shot up in other parts of the country. Another common problem is the fact that cash-strapped state-run power companies often don’t place coal orders in advance, leading to complaints of shortages when demand soars.

Some of these troubles arise from the fact that in India, electricity is used as political capital – political parties have over the decades offered free, or dirt-cheap, electricity to voters. But ultimately, the cost of that is being borne by the distributing companies as years of unpaid bills mount, leaving them no means to invest to upgrade infrastructure or place coal orders, among other things.

“Sooner or later the government needs to fix the more fundamental problems in the system,” said Ganesan. “Everyone is coughing up dollars [to import coal] because there’s no other option right now and we literally have to throw money at the problem … But instead of fixing the problem, we’re perpetuating it by throwing good money after bad.”

That said, the call to end coal cannot be one to say to stop investing in mining any coal at all. “We don’t want to transition to renewables in a disruptive way that we send people back 30 years…. Climate change is a reality and its impact – high temperatures and a need for air-conditioning – is also a reality,” Ganesan added.

India also needs to step up its renewables game, especially if it truly wants to pare its reliance on coal. As of April, it had 158.12GW of installed renewable energy – which it plans to ratchet up to 500GW by the end of the current decade, a questionable goal as it would need to add around 30GW of renewable power a year, double what it did last year.

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For now, it’s the privately run power companies – the ones that have been allowed to pass on the hike in tariffs to consumers – that are smiling their way to the bank, even after accounting for the increase in their costs of importing the coal.

Tata Power, for instance, will run at full capacity its 4,000MW ultra-mega power plant in Mundra in Gujarat – a plant that relies fully on imported coal. Similarly, Adani Power – a part of the diversified Adani Group, which is owned by Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani – also has a 4,620MW plant in the same region that relies fully on imported coal. (Both companies have investments in renewable power and the latter has announced commitments of $70bn in it.) And even though the state-run distribution companies – the ones that will buy the electricity from these plants – are notorious for not paying on time, or even in full, the companies are still expected to see a boost in profits.

None of that makes any difference to Ishmail Mohammad, who runs a welding business in Hasanganj village. The first couple years of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated his business as many of the local residents – who earned their living by working on construction sites in big cities – had no income to pay him to install metal grills and gates as India implemented multiple lockdowns. Now the nearly 14-hour-long power cuts are just accentuating the pain, especially as prices for the diesel that he runs his generator on, too, have shot up.

“I just can’t work,” he told Al Jazeera. “I can’t even meet my expenses. What is one supposed to do?”





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Israeli court questions ban on Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa compound | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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Court overturns a police order barring three Jews from holy site after they prayed there in violation of the status quo.

A lower Israeli court has overturned a police order barring three Jews from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound after they prayed there in violation of understandings with Muslim authorities, questioning the legal basis of such enforcement.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, located in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City and housing Islam’s third-holiest site, is referred to as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims. According to an agreement in place since 1967, non-Muslims are allowed onto the site during visiting hours, but they are barred from praying there.

Jews believe the 35-acre compound is where the Biblical Jewish temples once stood.

Israel allows Jews to visit on condition they refrain from religious rites. But the increasing number of such visits, including over the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that coincided this year with the Jewish Passover festival, has stoked the fears of Palestinians, who see this as Israeli attempts to change the holy site’s sensitive status quo.

‘A grave assault’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling Sunday’s ruling “a grave assault against the historic status quo … and a flagrant challenge to international law”.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in favour of three appellants who had been banned from the Old City for 15 days for prostrating themselves and intoning a core Jewish prayer at the compound. The ruling quoted police as saying those actions disrupted its officers’ duties and threatened public order.

Removing the ban, Judge Zion Saharai said that while he had no intention of interfering in law enforcement at the site, “the appellants’ conduct does not raise worry of harm befalling national security, public safety or individual security”.

Police had no comment. Eran Schwarz, a lawyer whose firm represented the appellants, said he expected police to contest the ruling. Magistrate’s courts can be overturned by district courts, with Israel’s Supreme Court a final course of appeal.

The ruling came a week before far-right Israelis are due to hold an annual flag march through the Old City, marking its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel later annexed occupied East Jerusalem, a move not recognised by most of the international community. The event is resented by Palestinians, who want the Old City and other parts of occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for future state.

Hamas, a Palestinian group that fought a Gaza war with Israel last year that was partly stoked by tensions in occupied East Jerusalem, described the flag march’s planned route through a Muslim quarter of the Old City as “adding fuel to the fire”.

“I warn the enemy against carrying out such crimes,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised address.

Jordan, a United States-backed Israeli security partner that serves as custodian of Al-Aqsa, has also voiced concern about the Jewish visits to the compound.



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Will Labor govt in Australia put climate change at the forefront? | Climate Crisis

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Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds

From: Inside Story

Australia’s conservative coalition has been voted out of office after nearly a decade in power.

Australia has seen unprecedented bushfires and flooding in recent years.

Extreme weather has brought climate change to the top of the agenda for voters.

And Greens and climate-focused independents made big gains in Saturday’s election, at the expense of the conservative coalition.

Australia is a major exporter of fossil fuels, and the outgoing government often objected to plans to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Neighbouring Pacific Islands say Australia is blocking climate action, even as their territories are under threat of sinking.

Uneasy ties with the island nations are spilling into security, as concerns mount in Australia and the United States about China’s recent deal with the Solomon Islands.

How will Australia’s new government tackle China’s growing influence in the Pacific?

Presenter: Hashem Ahelbarra

Guests:

Carlyle Thayer – Emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and director of Thayer Consultancy

Anna Skarbek – CEO of Climateworks Centre

Gregory Melleuish – Professor of history and politics at the University of Wollongong



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