How To Keep Your Job

What does 2009 have in store for workers -- and how can you position yourself to do well in this tough environment?

"Nobody seems to think the turnaround is imminent," says John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. The job market usually takes longer to deteriorate than the rest of the economy, and it can also take longer for it to improve once the economy starts gaining strength. "It seems inevitable that we're going to be mired in this for a while."

No one knows how long this recession will last. The financial services, construction, and automotive industries were hit early in the crisis and are still struggling. But other areas of the economy, including retail and the tech sectors, are also facing challenges.

Realistic, Not Resigned

State and local governments are "under tremendous budget pressures," Challenger said. The federal government, on the other hand, may end up boosting spending in an effort to stabilize the economy.

It's helpful, if you're job-hunting, to understand the outlook and the pressures individual industries face. But don't let the bad news keep you from looking.

"There are jobs in every industry," says Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career coach in Monterey, California. "It's really about knowing what you have to contribute and making sure you go the extra mile."

Job-Saving Hints

The first tip experts give for making it through this recession is to stay employed, provided you have a job and are not miserable. Even the best workers do sometimes lose their jobs. But there are ways you can make this less likely:

* Make sure your boss knows how you help the company. "If your manager doesn't understand how much you contribute, he or she cannot defend you when asked to make cost-cutting decisions," Vincent says.

* Make yourself useful. Tell your boss that you understand he or she is overloaded, and offer to help. "Make your boss look good and feel supported," Vincent says.

* Focus on core work. If your work is peripheral to the company's main goals, you're a likely layoff candidate no matter how good a job you're doing. "Try to become the expert on things that nobody else can do," Challenger said.

* Get to know your boss's boss. If your boss quits, is promoted or is laid off, your new boss won't know how essential you are. "Your boss is just as vulnerable as you are" to a layoff, Challenger says.

Landing a New Job

If you do need to look for a job during the recession -- your company is going out of business, for example -- don't despair. It is possible, with patience and hard work. Here are some expert tips:

* Cast a wide net. "You need to look online, you need to get out there and press the flesh, you need to meet people for informational interviews," Vincent says.

* Be able to explain how you would help a company. Employers who are hiring will have their pick of candidates, so you need to be able to explain clearly what you would bring to the company. "You have to do a better job of selling," Vincent says.

* Don't wait. It's tempting to take the holiday season off. But Challenger advises against it. Keep your search going until you find the job you want.

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An Overview of what Credit Report is

Learning the basics of the credit report process, and keeping your credit report free of errors, is essential to good financial health. The 3 major credit bureaus - TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian - collect, maintain, and provide your report to landlords, businesses, and employers who need to check your financial responsibility.

Why Do I Need To Check My Credit Report?
It's wise to check your credit report frequently for signs of fraud. If someone obtains your social security number, only a few additional pieces of information are necessary to commit fraud in your name. Common types of identity theft include fraudulent bank accounts, credit cards, utilities, and loans. Early detection is the key to avoid suffering long-term financial consequences.

What's In Your Free Credit Report?
Your credit report from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, the 3 major credit reporting agencies will contain 4 important sections. Each contains one piece of your total credit picture. Carefully check each report for common errors such as misspellings, name confusions, and incorrect information.

* Account report summary (current and past credit status, number of open and closed accounts, balances of accounts, historic high balances, payment history, if accounts are current or delinquent)
* Public records (bankruptcy records, government court records, liens, judgments and child support records)
* Credit Inquires (a list of everyone who has requested your report in the last 2 years)
* Detailed credit history (information about your loan payments, credit card debt and payment history)

Why Do I Need To Check My Credit Score?
A good credit score is your passport to competitive interest rates for mortgages, cars, credit card offers, job offers, insurance premuims and more. A strong score is worth money because it saves you excess costs, so don't ignore it.

For example, see how a fixed 30-year mortgage payment varies according to credit score and the interest rates it dictates. A difference of two hundred points in score can offer a savings of $448 a month for the same $200,000 house loan.
Credit Scores: ------ Monthly Payments: ------- Savings:
550 ------------------------ $1,643.00 ----------------------- $ -
650 ------------------------ $1,339.00 ----------------------- $ 304.00
750 ------------------------ $1,195.00 ----------------------- $ 448.00

If your score is below 650, your future finances may be significantly affected.

Did You Know?
* Victims of identity theft spend an average of 175 hours and $800 to clear their names.
* Only 2% of Americans know their credit score or what it measures.
* 79% of credit reports may contain errors that you are unaware of - usually an indication that you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud.

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Managing Your Career: Seven Tips for Developing References

Alesia Benedict

"References upon Request". While this phrase has become passé on resumes, every job seeker knows the importance of having good references. Even with the more commonly occurring instance of HR departments only confirming dates of employment and status for rehire, references are still a very important part of the job search.

So how do you "develop" your references? Most people think you just write down a few people's names and contact information that can attest to the fact that you are a great person, a good employee, and won't run off with the office supplies. Totally wrong! Developing good references actually requires some thought and work.

Tip 1 - Consider the field
When deciding upon whom to name as your references, it is important to think about who you select. Director supervisors and people who have true knowledge of your work performance make the best references. Higher-up execs, while perhaps having more important job titles or better name recognition might well say “Joe who?” when contacted for a reference because they don't know who you are or only have a passing exposure to your work performance. That would be embarrassing!

Tip 2 - Ask Permission
Always talk to those whom you plan to name as references in your job search! You don't want your reference to be caught off guard when contacted. Also, get their permission and make sure you have the correct contact information for them. Some might prefer to be contacted by email while others prefer a home phone or cell phone number. Mailing address for references is not necessary.

Tip 3 - Are They Competition?
An old recruiters' trick is to use an under-qualified candidate's resume as a “backdoor” to qualified candidates - the references. Good references should have direct knowledge of your work performance but ideally should be in a slightly different functional line of work than you. For example, a recruiter might contact a National Sales Manager from XYZ Company only because he is hoping to get access to the VP of Sales (the candidate's supervisor) in hopes of luring him/her away.

Tip 4 - Who Knows Whom?
When a recruiter or employer is checking references, they know the references that are listed by the candidate are going to have good things to say about the candidate. Let's face it - who is going to list someone that would say BAD things? That is why hiring professionals ask the following question of most references: “Who ELSE other than you has direct knowledge of Joe's work performance? Can you give me their number or email?” It's not so much who YOU name as a reference but rather who your reference names as a reference. To counter this, ask anyone you ask to be a reference the same question “If asked, who else would you recommend as a reference for me?” If your references name someone who you think would not be very glowing in their report, take the opportunity to steer them away and suggest an alternate person.

Tip 5 - Get it in Writing
Save yourself a lot of trouble and have your references write letters of recommendation for you. In fact, anytime you have a great achievement and receive accolades, ask your supervisor to give you a “pat on the back” in writing. Save these for the future! They are invaluable.

Tip 6 - Preserve Privacy
Never, ever publish your references' names or contact information in your resume or on the web. First of all, references should never appear on a resume simply because it is not the place for that information. References are provided during the interview, usually a second interview and it is always great if you have it prepared in advanced and can leave the data. Something tangible by which the interviewer can ‘remember you'. Putting your references' names, phone numbers, emails and addresses in an online database or in a resume that is published online is simply not something you should do.

Tip 7 - Keep it Professional
Your references should be professional people who have direct knowledge of your work performance. The “character reference” is pretty moot. Hence, do not include a pastor, a friend, a neighbor or a family member.

Before you start your job search, make sure you have your resume in tip top shape so you land interviews, and your references developed and ready to go so you are prepared on those interviews. Your references need to know if you are conducting a confidential job search or an open one so they do not accidentally let the cat out of the bag. Consider a thank you note to each reference after you win an interview as that is both courteous and will also keep them primed for the next time!

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The Federal Reserve drop short-term interest rate from 1.5 percent to 1 percent.

The Federal Reserve cut a key short-term interest rate by a half-percentage point Wednesday and expressed continued worries about the damage being done to the economy by the ongoing crisis in the financial and credit markets.

The rate cut put the central bank's federal funds rate at 1%. That matched the lowest level for this overnight bank lending rate ever -- the last time it was at 1% was from June 2003 to June 2004.

Investors had been expecting a half-point cut and some were betting that the Fed would even cut rates by three-quarters of a point to 0.75%.

The Dow Jones industrial average, which had been higher ahead of the Fed's decision, turned lower shortly after the announcement.

The fed funds rate is used to set rates for a wide variety of consumer loans, including home equity lines and credit cards, as well as for many business loans. The lower the rate, the more the Fed hopes to spur economic activity.

The Fed said in a statement that it was concerned about the drop-off in consumer and business spending due disruptions in the credit markets and warned that the economic slowdown is likely to get worse.

"The intensification of financial market turmoil is likely to exert additional restraint on spending, partly by further reducing the ability of households and businesses to obtain credit," the central bank said in its statement.

This is the ninth time that the central bank has lowered rates since September 2007 in an effort to deal with the problems in the U.S. economy and credit markets. The Fed also lowered its discount rate by a half-percentage point to 1.25%. That is the rate at which it lends directly to banks and Wall Street firms.

The Fed's last cut was an emergency half-point reduction on Oct. 8. Six other central banks around the globe also lowered rates that day in a coordinated move. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England are scheduled to meet next on Nov. 6.

While rate cuts are traditionally the key tool the Fed uses to stimulate the U.S. economy, it has had to take other steps to address the current credit crisis.

The Fed has loaned hundreds of billions of dollars to banks through a new lending facility and is starting to loan money directly to major businesses by purchasing commercial paper, which is what some banks and businesses use as their primary method to fund day to day operations.

In its statement, the Fed also appeared to concede that these actions would not lead to an immediate return of economic growth. The Fed projected improved credit markets and a return of moderate growth "over time." And it warned that "downside risks to growth remain."

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Following claims of increased Taxes under Obama fueled by such people as Joe the Plumber, the Obama Campaign has produced a website:, titled Obama-Biden Tax Calculator, where people can put in their income and choose other options that applies in order to calculate what their taxes would be.

Interestingly the site, in addition to Obama's tax savings, also calculates McCain's tax savings, and other tax credits under Obama.

On the site, it says: "Barack Obama and Joe Biden will cut taxes for 95% of working families, and provide at least three times as much tax relief for middle class families as John McCain and Sarah Palin. The Obama/Biden plan provides $1,000 of tax relief for workers and new tax benefits to help families pay for college, childcare and save for retirement."

And it also encourages visitors to tell a friend or copy the widget to their sites.

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FDIC and the Treasury Department to Solve Foreclosure Crisis?

Foreclosure activity in September rose 21 percent from a year earlier but fell by double-digits from the prior month as some state laws slowed the foreclosure process, according to a monthly report by research firm RealtyTrac.

Foreclosure filings -- default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions -- fell by 12 percent from August to 265,968 in September, according to RealtyTrac, which records property in various stages of foreclosure.

In view of these souring conditions, Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., told the Senate Banking Committee that her agency and the Treasury Department are working closely to find ways to prevent avoidable foreclosures. The plan would use the Treasury Secretary's new authority under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to provide guarantees to mortgage lenders.

"Loan guarantees could be used as an incentive for servicers to modify loans," Bair said. "Specifically the government could establish standards for loan modifications and provide guarantees for loans meeting those standards."

That way, she said, "unaffordable loans could be converted into loans that are sustainable over the long term."

Americans have made it clear they are not happy that the $700 billion financial rescue package is focused so heavily on financial institutions and less so on helping homeownwers directly.

"Now that the administration has taken strong measures to stabilize financial institutions, it is imperative that we apply the same sharp and urgent focus to help the individual homeowners whose plight is at the root cause of this crisis," said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

Bair, who worked with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in crafting the financial rescue law, has been a longtime advocate of streamlining the modification process for homeowners who realistically have a chance of affording their mortgages once modified.

After the FDIC became conservator of mortgage lender IndyMac this summer, Bair instituted a loan modification process for loans that were 60 days or more past due and which IndyMac either owned directly or serviced. About two-thirds of the 60,000 loans under IndyMac's umbrella are considered potentially eligible for the new program, she said.

"Through this week, IndyMac Federal has mailed more than 15,000 modification proposals to borrowers and has called many thousands more in continuing efforts to help avoid unnecessary foreclosures," Bair said. So far, more than 3,500 have accepted the offers and others are being "processed."

The modifications on average have cut borrowers' monthly payments by more than $380, Bair said.

Not all foreclosures are preventable since some homeowners still won't be able to afford their homes, even under modified loan terms. Bair said the loans being modified at IndyMac must provide "improved value" for the bank or for the investors who own the loans.

She added that she hoped the IndyMac modification program will serve as a "catalyst" for more loan modifications around the country.

Other witnesses at Thursday's hearing include Neel Kashkari, the Treasury's interim assistant secretary for financial stability; Brian Montgomery, the assistant secretary for housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency; and Elizabeth Duke, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Kashkari is leading the Treasury's efforts under the $700 billion bailout to buy mortgage-backed securities and invest in banks. He said Thursday that Treasury "will look for every opportunity possible to help homeowners" as it carries out the plan.

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Working Less To Achieve More, How To Do It?

Leo Babauta
It's something we're all looking for -- the perfect solution that will minimize our work life while still getting the stuff done that we need to get done. Well, that one solution doesn't exist, but with a combination of strategies, you can get to where you want to be.

Now, none of these tips will turn your life around. But they can make a big difference, and when used together, your work life might just be enjoyable, productive, low-stress and high fun. And these tips won't work for everyone. They're not meant to be used as a step-by-step guide. It's a list of strategies that work -- choose your favorites and give them a try.

1. One goal. Set a single goal that you want to accomplish this year -- I know that we probably want to do 12 goals, but it's too difficult to maintain your focus on more than one goal, and it diffuses your energy. Pick one goal for the next 12 months, and then a single 3-6 month goal that will lead to your 12-month goal. Then choose something you can accomplish within the next 1-2 weeks that will lead to the 3-6 month goal. Now focus on that short-term goal, giving it all your energy, and when it's achieved, set your next short-term goal until you've accomplished your medium-term goal.

2. Find your passion. All the rest of these tips are just window dressing if you find work you're passionate about. If you're not in a job you love, start your quest to find that job now. You don't need to quit your current job right away, but start doing some research on the web, think about what you're really interested in, talk to others who are doing what you want to do. Make this your One Goal for this year, and it could turn out to be your best year ever.

3. Work from home. This is not a miracle solution, but it's something many people would love to do. And it's completely possible -- more people are doing it every day. Is it something you want to do? Give it some thought, and find a solution that works for you. You could telecommute for your current job -- plan your pitch to your boss today, making sure to focus on how it will benefit your company. Or you could find another job that allows you to work from home -- even if the pay is a little less at first, you will have reduced costs from not having to commute or eat lunch at work or buy expensive work clothes, and you will also have increased satisfaction.

4. Come in early. If telecommuting isn't your thing, try getting to work 30-60 minutes before the rest of the crowd. Or even more. This might require you to learn to wake up early, but the benefits are many: you skip the morning traffic, you can work without distractions until the rest of your coworkers come in, you can get a jump start on your day, you can be ahead of the crowd and get more done. Getting an early start is a great way to start your work day and to become more productive.

5. Work 4 days. If you can control your work schedule (or can convince your boss to change it), try working fewer days. Working four days a week not only gives you an additional day off, but it forces you to be more productive in the days you do work. Think about it: if you knew that you had to get your work done by the end of Thursday, you will focus more on what really needs to get done, and goof off less too. What would you do less? Email? Read stuff on the Internet? Chat? Play solitaire? Those unimportant things fade away when your time is limited.

6. Work 6-hour days. Same concept as above, but reconfigured. Personally, I'd choose the 4-day workweek, but that can't work for everyone. Get in early and leave even earlier -- imagine the 7 a.m.-1 p.m. work day. With focus, it can be done.

7. Work 20 hours. This might sound impossible. And if you are a full-time employee somewhere, it might be. But you could either 1) telecommute, and get your work done in fewer hours; or 2) work for yourself. Now, I'll admit that these options won't work for everyone, but they can be done. And I'll also admit that in working for yourself, you tend to work more hours, not fewer. But if you limit your hours to 20, it will force you to focus in the same what that working four days a week does. And if you focus on only those tasks that are truly important (see next item), you can get a lot done in 20 hours a week.

8. MITs. Each day, make a list with only three items: the three Most Important Tasks you want to accomplish today. Make at least one of them related to your One Goal. The others might be something you've been procrastinating on, or a big project that's due today, or something similar. Ideally, these MITs are really important tasks -- ones that will gain you longer-term recognition or income. Now focus on these, making sure to accomplish them. It's best to do your MITs first thing in the morning, before you get interrupted by a bunch of other things. If you do only three things today (you could choose more or less than three MITs, but I've found that three works for me), make it your MITs.

9. Batch process. There are usually a bunch of smaller tasks that we have to do that aren't that important. Email, paperwork, phone calls, things like that. Instead of doing those little things throughout the day, giving you busywork to interrupt and distract you from your important tasks, batch them together and do them at one set time each day. Write these tasks down on a small list, and with an hour left in your work day (or whatever works for you), start processing them as quickly as possible, ticking them off your list.

10. Telecommute 1 day a week. If you can't convince your boss to let you work completely from home, try one day a week. You could start out by calling in sick, but still getting a lot done from home. Or tell him you want to give it a try, just for one day this week, because you think it will make you more productive.

11. Freelance as a 2nd job. This is something I do, and I earn an extra $2,000 a month doing it. It's extra work, but it helps me to pay the bills (and pay off debt and save). Eventually, if you get good at the freelancing gig, you could make it your full-time work. To do this as a second job, set aside some time each day for freelance work. I've used early mornings (I get up an hour earlier and do one assignment), my lunch hour, work time (with permission), or evenings. If you could do 1-2 assignments a day, you will be making a decent extra income, and starting yourself down the road to working for yourself.

12. Brown bag it. This isn't life-changing, but I take my lunch to work every day -- leftovers or a sandwich, usually, with snacks such as fruits on the side. How does this help? Well, it saves me a lot of money (a few thousand a year) and it allows me to work through lunch, giving me time for that freelancing gig I talked about above or perhaps allowing you to leave work early.

13. Cycle to work. Again, not necessarily life-changing, but if you can commute even just a couple times a week by bike, you will save money on gas, reduce the stress of rush-hour traffic, and get your daily exercise done at the same time. A shower at work (or at a nearby gym) helps make this easier.

14. Take high-profile projects. If you just take the grunt work, your boss might or might not appreciate it, but it certainly won't make you a star and you won't go very far. Instead, volunteer for the big projects, the ones that will make a name for both you and your company. If there aren't any available, make your own. Be sure you can do them well, but if you do, these projects will have a huge impact on your life. The tasks on these projects should be your MITs every day. If you take on high-impact projects, you can be more productive working a half day than if you worked 10 hours a day on tasks that won't matter next week.

15. Automate your business. If you have your own business, or set one up on the side, find ways to make it automated as much as possible. Everything can be outsourced, from manufacturing to mailing to advertising to taking orders to customer support to credit card processing. Put your business front online, with online ordering, and give your outsourcers the ability to make decisions (with certain limits, following rules you set) without your approval, removing yourself from the bottleneck. If it's completely automated, your business will require minimal work from you once you've got it set up. Now all you have to do is check now and then to make sure things are running smoothly, and make sure your money is being deposited in your bank account. Nice.

16. Bank your raise. If you get a raise (and if you haven't in awhile, you need to make it happen by taking on high-profile projects and then asking for the raise), don't increase your spending. Take the raise and put the entire amount in the bank, making it automatically deducted from your paycheck or checking account and sent to a high-interest online savings account. Doesn't increase your productivity, but it can increase your financial stability.

17. Clear your desk. A messy desk might be the sign of a creative mind, but in my experience (I've tried both messy and now clean desks), having a desk that's clean is much more calming, much more productive, and more organized. Most importantly, it reduces visual clutter and allows you to focus on the task at hand, increasing your productivity. Clearing your desk can take a chunk of time, but it's worth it: take all your papers (everything!) and put them in your inbox, or in a pile if they don't fit. Now process through them, one at a time, from top to bottom, filing, acting upon, delegating, trashing each document or noting tasks on a to-do list for later (and filing the to-be-acted-upon documents in an action folder). Remove other knick knacks and put any office supplies or tools in a drawer (and empty out your drawers while you're at it). From here on out, everything goes in your inbox, and you process it to empty every day using the steps outlined here.

18. Granularize. If a project or task seems too intimidating, split it into smaller tasks, and just focus on the first task you need to do. For example, instead of "Research report", just find three sources on the Internet. You can read each of these sources and take notes after that.

19. Delegate. Get out of the habit of thinking you need to do everything yourself. Relinquish control and learn to trust others. If you don't think a person can handle a task, take the time to train him to do so. It will save you tons of time and headaches later. And by delegating, you empower others while shrinking your to-do list, leaving you to focus on what's really important.

20. Eliminate. Your to-do list is a mile long. You'll never be able to do all those things. Cut it in half by crossing out stuff that doesn't really need to be done, or delegating others. And from that list, just choose the three most important things that you need to do today. Get in the habit of eliminating as many of the tasks and processes you normally do as possible, and your work life will be greatly simplified.

21. Clear distractions. In addition to clearing your desk, you can allow yourself to focus more by eliminating all distractions: email or IM alerts, Twitter, other websites (in fact, turn off the Internet), phones, visual clutter around you or on your walls. Wear headphones so your coworkers interrupt you less, or let them know that you're not available right now. Focus more, and you'll get more done.

22. Kill meetings. One of the biggest time-wasters in our work lives. Most of the time, a meeting could have been accomplished with an email or a phone call. Beg out of meetings (or if you're the boss, eliminate them) by claiming you have a project due that you need to work on. Then be very productive during the time you would be at the meeting, and show your boss how much you got done.

23. Email once a day. Don't do email throughout the day. Set one time during the day to process email, then crank through it, getting your inbox to empty (use the same steps in "clear your desk" above). If you check email throughout the day, you are allowing yourself to be distracted and at the mercy of anyone who sends you a request. And by sending out emails all day, you are generating even more responses in return, compounding the problem. Batch process, and you will get a lot more done. Same applies to reading your RSS feeds and checking your blog stats and reading your forums.

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FED Takes Over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae

US President George Bush says mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have been taken over because they posed "an unacceptable risk" to the economy.

The two companies account for nearly half of the outstanding mortgages in the US, and have lost billions of dollars during the US housing crash.

The most recent figures show about 9% of US homeowners were behind on their payments or faced repossession.

The federal takeover is one of the largest bail-outs in US history.

It was announced on Sunday by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

"Putting these companies on sound financial footing, and reforming their business practices, is critical to the health of our financial system," President Bush said.

"The actions taken today are temporary, and will support housing finance in the near term."

'Comprehensive action'

As part of the changes, the management of the two companies will be replaced while the firms will be given access to extra funding to support their business going forward.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the government was intervening in the wider interests of the financial system and of taxpayers since the financial position of the two firms was fast deteriorating.

He added that the two firms' debt levels posed a "systemic risk" to financial stability and that, without action, the situation would get worse.

"We examined all options available and determined this comprehensive and complementary set of actions best met the objectives of market stability, mortgage availability and taxpayer protection," he said.

"Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are so large and interwoven in our financial system that a failure of either of them would create great turmoil in financial markets here and around the globe."

The move is intended to keep the two companies afloat, amid fears that either could go bankrupt as borrowers default on their home loans.

The two firms will be administered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency until their long-term future is decided.

The Congressional Budget Office has said such a move could cost up to $25bn but Mr Paulson said there was no reason why taxpayers should have to directly foot the bill.

Funding guarantee

Together, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae own or guarantee about $5.3 trillion (£3 trillion) of mortgages.

But they have made a combined loss of about $14bn in the past year and officials were worried that they would no longer be able to continue functioning if such losses continued.

The Treasury's funding guarantees to the two firms - which will include it buying up high-risk mortgage backed securities used to fund the mortgage market - will last until the end of 2009.

During that period, neither Fannie Mae nor Freddie Mac will be able to make any payments to their shareholders.

But Mr Paulson warned that the move was only a short-term "stabilisation" exercise.

He said it would be up to Congress to agree proposals to reform the two firms and address their "pervasive weaknesses".

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said he "strongly endorsed" the proposals to ensure the two firms remained financially sound.

"These necessary steps will help to strengthen the US housing market and promote stability in our financial markets," he said.

Banks around the world are highly exposed to the two companies and therefore, given the febrile state of markets across the world, it had become dangerous for doubts to persist about whether they were viable and would be able to keep up the payments on their massive liabilities, says the BBC's business editor Robert Peston.

A rescue plan passed by Congress in July gave the US government the authority to offer unlimited liquidity to the two companies, and to buy their shares, in order to keep them afloat.

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Financial Crisis Still Taking Its Toll on Economy Says Ben Bernanke

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said today the financial crisis that has pounded the country — coupled with higher inflation — is taking a toll on the economy and poses a major challenge to Fed policymakers as they try to restore stability.

"Although we have seen improved functioning in some markets, the financial storm that reached gale force" around this time last year "has not yet subsided, and its effects on the broader economy are becoming apparent in the form of softening economic activity and rising unemployment," Mr. Bernanke said in a speech to a high-profile economics conference here.

While Mr. Bernanke welcomed the recent drops in oil and other commodities' prices, and believes inflation will moderate this year and next, the Fed chief also warned the inflation outlook remains highly uncertain.

The Fed, he said, would monitor the situation closely and will "act as necessary" to make sure that inflation doesn't get out of hand.

The current financial and economic environment is one of the most challenging to Fed policymakers "in memory," he acknowledged.

Given those dueling economic cross-currents— weak economic growth and higher inflation — many economists believe the Fed will leave rates where they are at its next meeting on Sept. 16, and probably through the rest of this year.

"They won't act until the coast is clear on financial stability and the state of the economy," the chief global economist at Decision Economics Inc., Allen Sinai, said. Many fear the economy will hit a rough patch later this year as the bracing effect of the government's tax-rebate checks fades.

Wall Street was buoyed by Mr. Bernanke's remarks, a dip in oil prices and growing speculation that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. could be sold. In afternoon trading, the Dow rose 135.49 to 11,565.70, the Standard & Poor's 500 index added 7.45 to 1,285.17, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 19.41 to 2,399.79.

The economy is the top concern for voters and of keen interest to presidential contenders Senators Obama and McCain, who are gearing up for their parties' conventions. Financial and credit problems are expected to smolder into next year. And, the unemployment rate, which jumped to a four-year high of 5.7% in July, is expected to keep rising.

The bulk of Mr. Bernanke's speech dealt with the need to bolster oversight of the nation's financial system to make it better able in the future to withstand future shocks.

To that end, Mr. Bernanke recommended that regulators work on ways to assess the health of the entire financial system, rather than the condition of individual banks, Wall Street investment firms or other financial companies — as is currently the focus.

"Such an approach would appear well justified as our financial system has become less bank centered," he said. "Some caution is in order, however, as this more comprehensive approach would be technically demanding and possibly very costly both for the regulators and the firms they supervise." He added that "stress tests" for a range of financial firms might also be helpful.

Mr. Bernanke's remarks come amid renewed worries on Wall Street about the financial health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The mortgage giants' stocks have gotten hammered this week as investors became increasingly convinced a government bailout is inevitable.

Although the Fed chief didn't mention the companies, he said one of the critical questions facing the country is how to strengthen the financial system and at the same time protect against "moral hazard," where financial companies might feel more inclined to gamble with risks because they believe the Fed or the government will ultimately bail them out.

"Some particularly thorny issues are raised by the existence of financial institutions that may be perceived as 'too big to fail,' and the moral hazard issues that may arise when governments intervene in a financial crisis," Mr. Bernanke said.

Mitigating that problem is another challenge facing policymakers, he said.

Mr. Bernanke repeated his call for Congress to provide new regulatory powers to insulate the economy from damage if a Wall Street firm collapses. He again urged Congress to give the central bank explicit authority to oversee systems that process payments and other financial transactions by investment firms and banks.

This year's Fed conference examines past and present financial crises, and the challenges confronting Mr. Bernanke and other central bankers as they try to help stabilize financial markets worldwide.

The Fed's handling of the credit, financial and housing debacles is likely to spur debate at the forum, which is sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and draws Fed policymakers, economists, academics and international central bank officials.

The Fed has taken unprecedented steps over the past year to battle the nation's worst credit and financial crises in decades.

To brace the wobbly economy, the Fed has slashed its key interest rate by 3.25% points, the most aggressive rate-cutting campaign in decades.

The Fed also has taken some unconventional — and controversial — actions to shore up the shaky financial system and to get credit — the economy's lifeblood — flowing more freely.

In the broadest expansion of its lending powers since the 1930s, the Fed agreed in March to let investment houses draw emergency loans directly from the central bank. As part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s takeover of Bear Stearns Cos., the Fed provided a $28.82 billion loan.

In July, the Fed said Fannie and Freddie also could tap the program. For years, such lending privileges were extended only to commercial banks, which are subject to stricter regulatory supervision.

Critics question whether taxpayers are being put at risk and if expanded safety nets will encourage financial companies to act more recklessly in the future.

But Mr. Bernanke today again defended the Fed's decisions saying they were needed to avert a financial catastrophe that could have plunged the economy into a deep recession.

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First Priority Bank Closes Today To Reopen as Sun Trust Bank On August 3

First Priority Bank of Bradenton is the eighth bank to be taken over this year by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the first bank in Florida to fail. The FDIC separately announced today the closing of First Priority Bank by the Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.

Under terms of an agreement with the FDIC, SunTrust will provide banking services to more than 4000 former First Priority customers, including operating First Priority Bank's six branches beginning on Monday, August 3 for a 90-day transition period.
During the transition period, First Priority customer accounts will be transitioned to SunTrust accounts with clients ultimately enjoying access to SunTrust's robust Southwest Florida branch network and its more than 1600 other branches throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

"Today's announcement underscores that despite the challenges facing all banks today, the current environment also presents opportunities for strong institutions like SunTrust to expand our client base," said James M. Wells III, SunTrust Chairman, President and CEO. "In addition, we are pleased to be in a position to support the FDIC in its effort to resolve a problematic situation while also offering former First Priority customers the advantages of banking with SunTrust."

During the transition period, SunTrust will work with First Priority's approximately 50 employees to identify possible job opportunities within SunTrust.

"We look forward to welcoming First Priority customers, and soon offering them the channels, choices and convenience enjoyed by existing SunTrust customers," said Margaret L. Callihan, chairman, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank, Southwest Florida. She noted that pending completion of the transition period, First Priority customers should continue to conduct their banking at their usual branch location.

SunTrust Banks, Inc., headquartered in Atlanta, is one of the nation's largest banking organizations, serving a broad range of consumer, commercial, corporate and institutional clients. As of June 30, 2008, SunTrust had total assets of $177.4 billion and total deposits of $119.8 billion. The Company operates an extensive branch and ATM network throughout the high-growth Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states and a full array of technology-based, 24- hour delivery channels.

The Company also serves customers in selected markets nationally. Its primary businesses include deposit, credit, trust and investment services. Through various subsidiaries the Company provides mortgage banking, insurance, brokerage, investment management, equipment leasing and capital markets services. SunTrust's Internet address is

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Planning For The Perfect Retirement

How are you planning to spend your retirement? Sailing in the Greek isles? Learning to cook while living in a Tuscan villa? Perfecting your golf game in Scotland? Skiing in the Swiss Alps? Or maybe just lying on the beach in Bali?

If your dreams include these or any other exotic adventures, you can't afford to wait until retirement to start exploring the world. It's time to pack your bags now--at least as far as your portfolio is concerned.

When your grandparents started saving for retirement, international investing wasn't much of an option. Their choices--if any--were limited to a handful of international mutual funds and big global companies with shares trading in New York. And back then, brokers and other financial advisers didn't have decades of academic research to draw upon or fancy Powerpoint presentations to illustrate the case for going global.

International investing has come a long way in recent years. In 1985, there were fewer than 50 global mutual funds to choose from, with combined assets of about $8 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. Now there are more than 800 funds, representing closer to $1 trillion.

Your grandfather's plain-vanilla global mutual fund has been replaced by a dizzying array of exchange-traded funds, American depositary receipts, closed-end funds and specialized regional or single-country mutual funds. Getting exposure to global markets from Stockholm to Shanghai is as easy as buying shares of IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ), and as time goes by even more offerings are sure to be on the way. Discount brokers such as E-Trade, for example, are already experimenting with ways to trade stocks listed on foreign exchanges directly from your laptop.

Trouble is, even though the current generation of investors is spoiled for choice when it comes to international markets, most folks still keep the vast majority of their money at home, just like Grandma and Grandpa did.

Sure, lots of Americans have dabbled in foreign stocks or funds, but how many have actually built truly global portfolios? It's hard to say, but based on some data that I've seen and tons of anecdotal evidence, my guess is very few. And during a market panic like the one we've seen this summer, I wouldn't be surprised to see more investors cutting back on international exposure, especially when it comes to "serious money" like 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts.

There are a few problems with this view. For starters, most Americans are already way too dependent on the U.S. economy. We own homes here and we work for companies that are based here. Before we invest a single dime of our savings, we are 100% exposed to the U.S. market. So if you only had 10% or 15% of your stock portfolio invested overseas before the subprime mess started to unfold and you start cutting back now, chances are you'll end up with almost negligible international exposure in a holistic sense.

So how much is enough? The answer will vary depending on your circumstances, but I think you need at least 20% in international stocks to even begin making a difference.

Consider the following example. Say your net worth is $1 million, half of which is a home (no mortgage) and the other half is an investment portfolio. And let's say the portfolio has 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, cash and other investments.

That leaves you with $300,000 to put to work in stocks. If you're only investing 10% of that amount internationally, you're down to $30,000 to play with overseas. So you've really only diversified a mere 3% of your net worth outside the U.S.

Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at the Wharton School, argues that at least 40% of your stock portfolio should be allocated overseas. I think you can go as high as 50% if you're not planning to retire for another 20 years or more.

Sound too risky?

It's not as far-fetched as it may seem. The U.S. represents about half of the world's market capitalization, so by that measure, a 50% allocation overseas would be just about right. And it's hardly a new concept. European investors in Switzerland, the Netherlands and other smaller markets have long taken a global approach to investing. Try asking someone from Sweden or Belgium if they think global investing is "risky." Warning: They might look at you like you're from outer space.

Part of the problem is that somewhere along the line we learned to associate "foreign" with "risky." Sure, Nigerian small-cap stocks might not be the best place to park your 401(k). But you can also lose your shirt investing in shares of a penny stock that's located in your hometown. The real risk is keeping too much of your money at home.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those gloom and doom conspiracy theorists who think America is about to go the way of the Roman Empire. But when I look overseas, I see too many opportunities to ignore.

International stocks have performed well in recent years, but they still offer one of the best combinations of value and growth that you can find in any asset class. U.S. stocks are trading at 16 times 2007 estimated earnings, with expected earnings growth in the 7% neighborhood. Compare this with emerging markets, where stocks trade for about 14 times earnings and offer 15% growth. Even stodgy old Europe is on course to deliver better earnings growth than the U.S.--and it's cheaper too, at 14 times earnings.

Planning for retirement involves making a lot of assumptions about the future. It's tough enough predicting what the economy and markets will do next quarter, let alone several decades from now.

But there's one thing I can almost guarantee. The forces of globalization will continue to boost the importance of international markets, particularly emerging economic powers like China and India. Now is the time to make sure your retirement portfolio has a meaningful stake in these markets of the future.

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Wachovia's "Problems", A Warning Sign?

Wachovia's new chief executive is slashing his way through that bank's problems, but some argue he's not being aggressive enough.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank's second-quarter loss of $8.9 billion far eclipsed its gloomy forecast earlier this month when it announced it had hired Treasury Undersecretary and ex-Goldman Sachs investment banker Robert Steel to take over as its chief executive.

Steel has an ugly task ahead of him, and an unexpected $6 billion goodwill impairment charge in the second quarter--related to commercial banking, corporate lending and investment banking--could be one sign he is trying to make a break with Wachovia's recent troubles.

"We're serious about getting on top of these issues quickly," he said on a conference call Tuesday.

But many were surprised that Steel has focused on preserving capital rather than on raising more. He didn't eliminate Wachovia's dividend entirely, cutting it to a nickel a share, which saves $2.8 billion a year.

Wachovia is closing down its wholesale mortgage origination business, firing more than 6,000 workers and leaving another 4,400 open jobs unfilled, as well as selling loans and other non-core assets. It is also cutting off commercial borrowers who only look to the bank for loans.

Still, the results don't assuage concerns about the company's ability to survive as an independent entity, though Wachovia says it intends to do so even with mounting pressures from its large exposure to real estate. Wachovia set aside another $4.2 billion for future loan losses--an amount more than twice that of its competitors--as it faces far worse conditions in Florida and California.

"The market was expecting an update of a direct capital raising plan rather than capital conservation," says Richard Ramsden of Goldman Sachs.

Some think Wachovia could raise a substantial amount of capital by selling its retail brokerage operation, now with 14,000 financial advisers and $1.1 trillion in customer assets. Last year, Wachovia bought St. Louis-based AG Edwards for $6.8 billion and merged it into Wachovia Securities. That division is valued around $22 billion, though Prudential Financial owns one-quarter of it.

Then there's the possibility that Wachovia itself could be taken over, something that has been speculated for several months. But Steel would have to do a lot of window dressing to attract potential buyers. Wachovia has the among the highest non-performing asset ratios in the industry (2.4%), and it is bound to go higher.

Without the impairment charge in the quarter, the loss would have been $2.6 billion, approximately what Wachovia had pre-announced.

Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Corp. downgraded Wachovia, citing much higher-than-expected losses in its adjustable rate mortgage portfolio, which makes up 25% of Wachovia's assets. Moody's said losses are expected to be $16 billion for the $122 billion portfolio, twice as much as previously expected. There is a possibility, Moody's said, "that Wachovia could report losses into 2009."

The view is not much better for Washington Mutual, which is not expected to return to profitability until late next year as well. Analysts at Lehman Brothers project losses of $26 billion for the largest U.S. thrift, $21 billion of that tied to mortgages.

Wamu lived up to fears. It had a second-quarter loss of $3.3 billion after taking a $5.9 billion provision for loan losses, including $2.2 billion of charge-offs. "The company now expects the remaining cumulative losses in its residential mortgage portfolios to be toward the upper end of the range it disclosed in April," the bank said. The loss was $3.34 a share, much higher than the $1.05 a share expected loss.

The Wachovia numbers tossed water on hopes that the worst was behind the bank sector. Last week, big banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup had better than expected results, which is to say they didn't do as terribly as feared.

But it's going to get a lot worse.

Loan losses and delinquencies are mounting and aren't expected to crest until later this year. That'll force banks to set aside billions of more dollars in extra reserves. Meanwhile, companies like Citigroup and JPMorgan are still writing down asset values, and many other banks will be forced to raise more capital by cutting or eliminating dividends, selling new shares or reducing their leverage.

Oppenheimer analyst Meredith Whitney, one of the most bearish of bank analysts, sees Wachovia as having the "greatest reckoning" of all banks in the coming quarters. "We are hard-pressed to find examples of financial companies that have successfully shrunk their businesses," Whitney said last week.

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How Much Can FDIC Do For Banks And Their Depositors

Shelly Banjo

The failure of IndyMac Bank has depositors worrying about what funds are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

Question: If a bank fails, like IndyMac did last week, what protects customers' deposits?

Answer: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. covers individual accounts up to $100,000 per deposit per bank or $250,000 for most retirement accounts (and that includes any accrued interest). The agency may increase the coverage, but that can't happen by law until 2011.

The FDIC doesn't insure money invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life-insurance policies, annuities or municipal securities, even if these investments were bought from an insured bank.

But sometimes deposits sneak north of $100,000 because the customer isn't paying attention. "Regardless of the health of your bank or condition of the overall economy ... returns are never high enough to justify the exposure of uninsured deposits," says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at

Question: What do depositors do if they have more than $100,000 they need to put in the bank?

Answer: One way to protect the money is to hold accounts under that sum at a few separate banks. For those wanting to keep money at the same institution, perhaps for convenience's sake, a sound strategy is to open different accounts.

For instance, a married couple could each open an individual account (up to $100,000 in each), a joint account (up to $200,000), two separate individual retirement accounts ($250,000 each) and two revocable trust accounts, payable on death, naming each other as beneficiaries ($100,000 each). Together that is more than $1 million of insured deposits.

Also, they could set up additional revocable trusts insured up to $100,000 for other qualified beneficiaries such as parents, siblings, children and grandchildren.

Question: Are there any pitfalls to this multiple-account, single-bank approach?

Answer: Depositors should make sure their accounts are properly titled at the bank. Bank employees may not always know the correct distinctions.

Because of misinformation from Countrywide Financial Corp., "I had $100,000 in funds uninsured for a considerable amount of time," says Scott Marberblatt of Swampscott, Mass. He held $100,000 in a certificate of deposit and put $100,000 in a savings account with two beneficiaries. But the bank did not properly title the savings account with the words "In Trust For," so the second $100,000 went uninsured.

If Countrywide had failed -- it ended up being acquired by much stronger Bank of America Corp. -- then he would have had a problem.

To verify all accounts are FDIC-insured, contact the FDIC consumer hot line at 1-877-275-3342 or use the deposit insurance calculator at

Question: Should a bank go under, are depositors with more than $100,000 in one account out of luck?

Answer: Not entirely. Amounts over $100,000 can be partially reimbursed after some time and hassle, with the money coming from sales of the failed bank's assets. This resembles how creditors are paid in bankruptcies. The schedule varies, according to FDIC dictates.

In IndyMac's case, depositors will have access to half of their uninsured deposits Monday via an FDIC advance on asset-sale proceeds. They can withdraw that money, but the FDIC says they don't need to do so. In general, depositors eventually get 70% to 80% of their funds returned.

Question: Is it possible to get warning that a bank will go under?

Answer: No. The FDIC says it works aggressively behind the scenes with what the agency deems "problem banks." It doesn't want to set off a panic, where customers pull out their deposits. "We cannot alert customers directly before we close a bank," said Andrew Gray, FDIC spokesman. For the time being, IndyMac continues to operate, but under regulators' management.

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FDIC Establishes IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB as Successor to IndyMac Bank

Ari Levy and David Mildenberg
IndyMac Bancorp Inc. became the second- biggest federally insured financial company to be seized by U.S. regulators after a run by depositors left the California mortgage lender short on cash.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will run a successor institution, IndyMac Federal Bank FSB, starting next week, the Office of Thrift Supervision said in an e-mail yesterday. The regulator blamed U.S. Senator Charles Schumer for creating a ``liquidity crisis'' after a letter on June 26, in which he expressed concern that the bank may fail.

The Pasadena, California-based lender specialized in so-called Alt-A mortgages, which didn't require borrowers to provide documentation on their incomes. The demise adds to the crisis caused by the subprime collapse and may mean regulators will have to raise more money to support the federal deposit insurance program that repays customers when a bank fails.

``IndyMac is the vanguard, the precursor of more stuff coming,'' said Christopher Whalen, managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, a market research company in Torrance, California. ``It's not surprising to see IndyMac resolved. What you have to ask is what's coming next. It's going to be a wave of medium to bigger-than-medium institutions.''

IndyMac's home state, where Countrywide Financial Corp. was also located before it was bought last week, has been among the hardest hit by foreclosures. California ranked second among U.S. states, with one foreclosure filing for every 192 households in June, 2.6 times the national average.

IndyMac's Losses

The lender racked up almost $900 million in losses as home prices tumbled and foreclosures climbed to a record. IndyMac becomes the largest OTS-regulated savings and loan to fail, according to the FDIC.

Mortgages serviced by IndyMac will be turned over to the FDIC and the regulator will be reaching out to customers immediately, Chairman Sheila Bair said on a conference call yesterday. Customers will have access to funds this weekend via automated teller machines and electronically and by phone starting next week.

The FDIC intends to sell IndyMac within 90 days, preferably as a single entity, Bair said. If that doesn't work, the lender will be sold off in pieces, she said.

After peaking at $50.11 on May 8, 2006, IndyMac shares lost 87 percent of their value in 2007 and another 95 percent this year. The stock fell 3 cents to 28 cents yesterday.

Schumer's Comments

IndyMac came under fire last month from Schumer, the Democrat from New York, who said lax lending standards and deposits purchased from third parties left it on the brink of failure. During the 11 business days after Schumer explained his concerns in a June 26 letter, depositors withdrew more than $1.3 billion, the OTS said.

``This institution failed due to a liquidity crisis,'' OTS Director John Reich said in the statement. ``Although this institution was already in distress, I am troubled by any interference in the regulatory process.''

Schumer blamed IndyMac's own actions and regulatory failures for the bank's seizure.

``If OTS had done its job as regulator and not let IndyMac's poor and loose lending practices continue, we wouldn't be where we are today,'' Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in an e-mail yesterday. ``Instead of pointing false fingers of blame, OTS should start doing its job to prevent future IndyMacs.''

The failure will cost the federal deposit insurance program about $4 billion to $8 billion, the FDIC said. Some $1 billion of uninsured deposits are held by about 10,000 customers, the FDIC said. Those depositors will get an ``advance dividend'' equal to half the uninsured amount, according to the statement.

Firing Workers

The FDIC insures $100,000 per depositor per insured bank, according to the agency's Web site. Customers may qualify for more coverage depending on the type of accounts they own, and some retirement accounts have a $250,000 limit.

IndyMac announced on July 7 that it was firing half its employees. The lender agreed to sell most of its retail mortgage branches to Prospect Mortgage, giving the Northbrook, Illinois based-company more than 60 branch offices with 750 employees. IndyMac also has a retail bank network with 33 branches and $18 billion in deposits, mostly insured by the FDIC.

The company was started in 1985 by Countrywide founders Angelo Mozilo and David Loeb under the name Countrywide Mortgage Investments. In 1999, it converted into a bank from a real estate investment trust. That year, Michael Perry replaced Mozilo as chief executive officer.

Under Perry's leadership, profit more than doubled from $118 million in 2000 to $343 million in 2006 amid the housing boom. The stock more than tripled over that stretch.

Perry will not be continuing with the new FDIC-controlled institution, while other executives will be retained, Bair said. The FDIC's John Bovenzi will assume the CEO role.

In a release by the FDIC, it states that insured depositors and borrowers will automatically become customers of IndyMac Federal, FSB and will continue to have uninterrupted customer service and access to their funds by ATM, debit cards and writing checks in the same manner as before. Depositors of IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB will have no access to on-line and phone banking services this weekend. These services will be operational again on Monday. Loan customers should continue making loan payments as usual.

Beginning on Monday, July 14, IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB's 33 branches will observe normal operating hours and will continue to offer full banking services, including on-line banking. For additional information, the FDIC has established a toll-free number for customers of IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB. The toll-free number is 1-866-806-5919 and will operate today from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (PDT), and then daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. thereafter, except Sunday, July 13, when the hours will be 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Customers also may visit the FDIC's Web site at for further information.

At the time of closing, IndyMac Bank, F.S.B. had about $1 billion of potentially uninsured deposits held by approximately 10,000 depositors. The FDIC will begin contacting customers with uninsured deposits to arrange an appointment with an FDIC claims agent by Monday. Customers can contact the FDIC for an appointment using the toll-free number above. The FDIC will pay uninsured depositors an advance dividend equal to 50 percent of the uninsured amount.

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What to Say About Why You Quit Your Last Job

Caroline Potter
Everyone makes a big fuss about having a gap on your resume, and most folks are fearful of getting fired because of this very reason. But what if your current state of "underemployment" is your own doing?

A bad boss, crummy coworkers, or poor working conditions may have led you to walk away -- but you don't want to reveal that in an interview. However valid your reasons may have been, such factors can be turned back on you, causing you to be perceived as someone who couldn't handle directions, work well with others, or wasn't willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.

So, how should you discuss the fact that you quit your last job without scaring off recruiters? Read on for four tips.

1. Blame It on Burnout

The best tactic for talking about why you quit -- for any reason -- is to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. Most folks understand that people are susceptible to burnout in today's world. Explain to your interviewer that while you enjoyed your job, you wanted to take time to recharge your batteries, physically and mentally.

If you have no other gaps on your resume and have been working continually for a lengthy period of time, this is quite plausible.

2. This Time It's Personal

If you quit a job to spend quality time with a child or a sick family member, by all means say that. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn't necessarily provide workers with all the protection or time they need to be present for family members if childcare or eldercare becomes necessary. Only companies of a certain size are beholden to the FMLA, which offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.

3. You Finally Examined Your Unexamined Life

This approach is effective for industry changers in particular. Simply tell your interviewer that you took time off to re-examine your priorities and passions and realized that you wanted to work in another field. Even if you're applying for a job similar to the one you'd held, this will work if your target employer is in a different industry than your former employer. Also, if you're seeking work with a "green" company, a nonprofit, or another very worthy organization, you can mention how working for a socially and/or environmentally conscious employer became important to you during your discovery process.

4. Play the Consulting Card

Focus on the fact that while you weren't employed at a full-time job, you were consulting (if, in fact, you were). Consulting, you might say, gave you a chance to focus on a particular area of interest in your profession. This ability to concentrate on one facet led you to pursue positions such as the one for which you're interviewing. If you haven't yet started consulting, do so -- even for free at a charity or community organization. This will help keep your resume current and allow you to be truthful about your recent professional experience.

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Bad Interview Behaviors To Avoid

Caroline Potter
Would you ever ask an interviewer for a cigarette? Or send your sister to meet a potential employer in your place? Or arrive with a bird on your shoulder? Probably not, but job seekers have done each of these things -- and worse -- according to a new survey released by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing firm.

The folks who committed these professional faux pas probably didn't intend on doing so, but because they didn't follow the four rules below, they made themselves susceptible to bizarre behaviors. Remember these tips -- or be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

1. Be Prepared

Before any interview, you've got a considerable amount of homework ahead of you. Make sure you carefully research the company at which you're interviewing and try to learn as much as you can about the position and your interviewer as possible.

One executive revealed to OfficeTeam that a potential employee was so unprepared that he "got his companies confused and repeatedly mentioned the strengths of a competing firm, thinking that's who he was interviewing with." Another called his interviewer by the wrong name throughout the entirety of the meeting.

Always give yourself a few extra moments to prep for your interview, either on the train or subway, or while you're waiting in the lobby. Review people's names, the company's focus, and your potential responsibilities and go in with a clear head.

2. Be Mindful of Your Body Language

Even if you're nervous during an interview, you must avoid displaying any behaviors that might make you appear so. Another respondent revealed, "A job seeker gestured with his hands so much that he sat on them to stop it."

Also, make sure you're focused and alert. Interviews can go on for a long while, so go in well-rested with enough food in your system to go the distance. One unfortunate interviewee fell asleep during an interview, according to OfficeTeam.

3. Dress Appropriately

The best bet for almost any interview is a simple business suit. As long as it's appropriate for the office, you won't look like you're trying too hard -- or not hard enough. A hiring manager told OfficeTeam, "Someone showed up for an interview in pajamas and his hair not combed, like he had just rolled out of bed."

Also, whatever you're wearing, check to make sure it doesn't need darning or cleaning. Adds another interviewer, "[A] candidate had a big rip in the back of his pants."

4. Choose Your Words Carefully

You've got to think on your toes during an interview, regardless of how prepared you are. There are always a couple of questions even the most savvy professionals fail to anticipate. If you're caught off guard by a question, take a deep breath, reiterate the question, and answer slowly and thoughtfully. Shares an interviewer, "[One] applicant was doing really well in the interview until she got to the reason she left her other job. She told us everyone was out to get her."

Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam, says, "Although extreme, these examples illustrate the importance of interview basics. To be considered for a job, candidates must prepare well, dress appropriately, and provide compelling information about themselves."

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10 Ways To Take A Necessary Vacation

Tom Musbach

The slowdown in the U.S. economy is threatening a necessity for workers: vacations.

According to the annual Yahoo! HotJobs vacation survey, 51% of respondents said they plan to skip taking a vacation this year, opting to save money instead.
Not a Frivolous Matter

"Vacations are usually the first thing to go when people feel job or economic pressure," says Joe Robinson, a trainer in work-life balance and author of "Work to Live." He continues, "We're programmed to believe that free time is worthless, a frill to shove aside, but vacations are as important as watching your cholesterol or getting exercise."

Skipping a vacation can also be bad for your employer.

Milo and Thuy Sindell, founders of Hit the Ground Running and authors of "Job Spa," say, "You are not helpful to the company and your coworkers when you are not operating at full capacity. Vacations help you to get rejuvenated to come back to work at full capacity."
Make It Work With Less

For those tempted to skip vacation this year due to financial worries, experts recommend the following tips:

* Remind yourself: Vacation is not a luxury. "You owe it to yourself, your family, and your company to take care of yourself by stepping out of the office for at least a few days at a time," says Liz Bywater, president of the Bywater Consulting Group, which helps improve organizational performance.
* Put aside some funds each week. "Even $50 a week [or less] can add up and make your trip happen," says Robinson.
* Plan leisure activities near home. "Stay at home and read, garden, hike, jog, bike, or whatever you like to do but never have enough time for during the weekends," say the Sindells. "Or be a tourist in your own city."
* Try home-swapping. You can swap with someone you know in another city, or use an online service, such as or even (Vacation Rentals by Owner). "It can have the look and feel of a vacation at a much more affordable housing cost than paying for hotel or resort lodging," says Michael Haubrich, president of Financial Service Group and an expert in financial planning for career issues.
* Keep the itinerary simple. Travel columnist Donald D. Groff recommends selecting a destination within 200 miles (a three-hour drive) from your home. If you're traveling by plane, fly nonstop whenever possible. "The sooner you get to your destination, the sooner your relaxation begins," Groff says.

Stress-Busting Strategies

The economic downturn is also adding to workers' stress levels. Nearly a third of the respondents (31%) are worried by how the economy is affecting their workplaces, and 34% said they feel pressure to improve their performance for fear of being laid off.

With 55% of respondents admitted to being "burned out" by work, stress and fatigue add another threat to vacations. Experts say you can prevent the threat in the following ways:

* Start small. "Start with an afternoon off to do something you really enjoy, even if it's just a walk at the beach or a visit to a farmer's market," says Beth A. Levin, author of "Making a Richer, More Fulfilling Life a Reality."
* If planning is a burden, don't. "Instead of planning a vacation, just take time off to be at home and figure it out each day as you go," the Sindells suggest.
* Enlist back-up support. Ask a trusted coworker to back you up while you're away and offer to return the favor, Bywater suggests. "It's much easier to relax when you know someone's got you covered."
* Choose according to what you need. You may need a peaceful retreat from stress, or you may benefit from something more active and exciting. "Avoid the kind of vacation that will leave you even more exhausted than before," she adds.
* Give yourself a deadline. "Stop thinking about it and just do it," says Bywater. "Think of it as 'doctor's orders.'"

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US Dollars Bows To Israeli Shekel

Trading in foreign currency began this morning with the market awaiting the interest rate decision by Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer today at 18:30. The shekel strengthened against the dollar and euro amid expectations that Fischer will announce an interest rate hikes this evening.

A further vote of confidence in the shekel by global markets can be found in the news that the shekel will become a convertible currency on capital and money markets worldwide, following Israel's official admission to the international currency clearing system operated by CLS Bank International.

Another factor that will have an equal effect on local foreign currency trading, is the surprising figures on economic growth in the first quarter, published yesterday by the Central Bureau of Statistics. GDP grew by an annualized 5.4 percent, far higher than the Bank of Israel's 3.2 percent forecast for 2008 as a whole. Fischer is widely expected, regardless of yesterday's figures on economic growth, to raise the interest rate by 25 or 50 basis points. The interest rate is currently 3.25 percent, the lowest it has ever been in the country's history, following two 50 basis point cuts, and then a decision to leave the rate unchanged.

The shekel-dollar rate is currently down 0.93 percent at NIS 3.302/$, and the shekel-euro rate is currently up 0.16 percent at NIS 5.2493/â?¬. The shekel-dollar representative rate was set 0.15 percent lower on Friday at NIS 3.333/$, and the shekel-euro representative rate was set 0.365 percent lower at NIS 5.2408/â?¬.

Online foreign currency broker Easy Forex says the higher-than expected GDP growth figures will give the shekel a tail wind and strengthen it against the leading currencies. The local economy has provided some impressive macroeconomic data, in contrast to earlier forecasts. These data have made the chances of an interest rate increasingly likely, although some banks, including Merrill Lynch, still believe the interest rate will remain unchanged and could be cut by a further 50-basis points by the end of 2008.

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When Those Tough Interview Questions Are Behavioral In Nature

Tag Goulet
Imagine you are being interviewed for a new job. Everything seems to be going well until the interviewer says: "Tell me about a time you had a conflict on the job."

What should you do?

* (A) Dish the dirt about a jerk you had trouble with on your last job. After all, honesty is the best policy.
* (B) Tell the interviewer you get along with everybody, so you haven't had any conflicts at work.
* (C) Say "if I had a conflict with someone I would sit down with that person to discuss how we could resolve it."
* (D) None of the above.

In most interview situations, the answer is D.

If you badmouth anyone during an interview (answer A), the employer may think you're a difficult person who will create conflict in their workplace. Answer B makes it sound like you are either answering dishonestly or don't have much experience working with people.?

Answer C may sound like a good way to respond. However, most employers don't want to hear what you would do in a hypothetical situation -- they want to hear how you have actually handled a real situation in the past.

The Interest in Conflict

The purpose in asking about a past conflict is not to see if you have ever had a conflict (the interviewer assumes you have). The goal is to see how well you resolve difficult situations and, if something did not work out in the past, what you learned from it.

Asking applicants about past experiences is known as behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing involves asking about specific past behaviors in an attempt to determine how you would likely behave if you got the job.

Of course, people's behaviors can change over time and in different situations. However, past behavior is a much better measure of how someone is likely to behave in a similar situation in the future as opposed to what that person says they "would" do. In an ideal world, we would all handle conflict effectively. In the real world, some of us are better suited to jobs with minimal conflict.

Expect Behavioral Questions

To ensure you're a good fit for the job, many interviewers will ask behavioral questions relating to the particular position. So you may hear questions such as "Describe your most successful project so far. What did you do to make it a success?" or "Describe a project where something went wrong. How did you solve the problem?"

To prepare for behavioral questions, spend time before the interview thinking about your past experiences so you can answer questions by: (1) describing the situation, (2) explaining what you did and what the outcome was, then (3) finishing with the experience you acquired or what you learned if the situation didn't turn out the way you had planned.

Evaluate Your Answers

If you have the chance, do some role-playing with a friend to practice responding to tough interview questions. Ask your friend for feedback about how you answer. Do you get to the point or give too much information? Do you sound natural or do some of your responses sound rehearsed??

Most importantly, could any of your answers raise a red flag with the employer? For example, if you are asked to describe a conflict you experienced and respond with examples of three conflicts you were involved with, the interviewer may think you don't get along with anyone!?

Your purpose during the interview is to show that you will be an asset to the company. Being prepared can help you show that you are the ideal person for the job.

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What To Do when Your Annual Report Is Bad

Caroline Potter,

The annual review is the professional equivalent of the report card. And if you remember back to your school days, you'll probably recall anticipating its arrival with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Had you performed as well as you thought you did? Would tardiness or being too talkative affect your grades?

Workplace evaluations can evoke similar feelings. What if your worst fears become a reality in the way of a poor performance review? Read on for what one career coach believes you should do.

1. Remain calm.

Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, says, "First and foremost, breathe and relax." You may feel blindsided, but stay calm and take in what your supervisor is telling you without getting defensive. Focus on what you're being told -- you can even take notes. But save your rebuttals for later.

However, if your supervisor is getting angry or being unprofessional, you can try to steer the review to facts and practical information. Crawford, the founder of, advises workers, "Tell your boss, 'I appreciate your candor, but I'd like to get constructive feedback that will help me improve.'" She adds, "You want her to know that you understand there's a problem, but assure her that your focus is solution-oriented."

2. Act, don't react.

If you're feeling defenseless and caught off guard -- or (and especially) if you're feeling angry -- try to buy some time to react to your review and answer criticisms. Crawford, whose practice is based out of Atlanta, believes professionals should request the opportunity to mull things over. "Explain to your manager that you'd like to take a day or two to develop a plan of action to address these issues," says Crawford. "The fact that you're willing to come up with solutions will get your boss on your side, as will soliciting ideas from her as to what you should do in the immediate."

3. Remember that perspective is subjective.

You don't have to accept every criticism of your performance as fact. In fact, you can dispute some parts -- if you do it with kid gloves. Crawford, a specialist in career transition and helping workers find their ideal jobs, says, "You've got to keep things civil and polite, but you don't need to roll over. Acknowledge the valid points of your review, but you can dissent by saying, 'There are just a few things that I have a different perspective on; this is what actually happened.'" Doing so will allow you to direct the conversation back to your point of view rather than attacking the quality of your evaluation.

4. Get real.

So, you've gotten a poor review and you may or may not agree with it. You now need to decide if you want to stay at this job or move on. If you love your job, it's worth working on things, even if you disagree with your evaluation, believes Crawford. "But," she adds, "most people have a gut sense that a job isn't a fit yet they've ignored that instinct." If that's the case, she believes in moving on to another opportunity.

She reminds workers, though, "Don't decide whether to stay or go from a place of fear. You need to come from a place of power and confidence in yourself. If you're afraid, you won't be able to make the best decision for your career."

5. Learn from your mistakes.

When you land at your next job, you may feel extreme anxiety about your first evaluation. You can prevent this -- and getting another negative review -- by opening the lines of communication with your manager from day one.

Crawford, whose book "Flying Solo: Career Transition Tips for Singles" comes out in June 2008, says, "You don't ever want an evaluation to be a big surprise! But you can ensure against that by asking for feedback often and checking in with your boss and coworkers." Find out how often you'll get an official evaluation but also solicit informal reviews after big projects. She adds, "People who communicate openly from day one on a job set the stage to receive feedback naturally. So be that person in the first place."

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7 Ways To Handle To Deceptive Collegues

Larry Buhl
Lying is something we all must watch out for, especially in the workplace. Sometimes the fib is small, such as a boss fudging on an expense report or a coworker taking credit for your work. But a lie covering up a company's financial health can bring down a giant corporation, as ex-Enron employees can attest.

"Even though lying doesn't have the negative connotations it once did, telling lies in the workplace is not a trivial matter," according to professor Pier Forni, cofounder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Choosing Civility, the 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct."

The Fallout Reaches Far

Even small lies can have a dramatic effect on the quality of life in the workplace, including:

* Lower morale, especially when the boss does it
* Increased stress, due to uncertainty
* Decreased loyalty to the company, making workers feel unimportant

What's more, discovering a lie, big or small, can put you in an ethical quandary and even career jeopardy. Whether to ignore it or report it is a highly personal decision, according to etiquette expert Sue Fox, author of "Business Etiquette for Dummies."

"Unfortunately there are no blanket rules that apply to all incidents of lying and misinformation in the workplace," Fox says. "How to deal with it depends on the unique circumstances, as well as your own values."

Staying Out of Harm's Way

Fox and Forni give some general pointers, outlined below, for dealing with lies in the office.

Be a sleuth. Verify a lie before you do anything. If you don't have time to do some sleuthing, let it go.

Determine the importance of the lie. "When the lie clearly hurts the company by ignoring it, then there is a probability that it will have a snowball effect and the damage will grow," Forni said.

Consult the company's handbook. Larger companies will have policies and procedures documents for combating unethical behavior. If your company has them, follow them.

Keep records. Fox urges recording all incidents of unethical behavior with coworkers, especially when your boss demands an employee to do something unethical. "Keep your responses to those requests, and keep your records at home, where they can't be discovered or stolen."

Divest yourself. "Direct your concerns to either your boss or HR, so that correcting the problem is the supervisor's (or the company's) responsibility, not yours," Fox says. Forni recommends cultivating smart and trustworthy mentors in the organization who can deal with the issue for you.

Protect yourself. "Find an attorney if your boss' ethical breaches are very large," Forni says.

Consider the ramifications. Remember, whistle blowers could be rewarded, and they could be punished. Both Forni and Fox agree that it's a personal decision, but they come down on the side of disclosing a lie. "We sometimes have to decide between the easy thing and the right thing, but the latter is often more satisfying," Forni said.

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7 Tips For Success For Job Hunting In A Recessive Economy

Tom Musbach
Whether or not the U.S. economy has hit a recession, one thing is clear these days: Uncertainty is in the air, and it affects nearly every economic sector, including the job market.

The recent rise in the U.S. unemployment rate -- 4.9% in January -- indicates that fewer jobs are being created, but the shrinkage may not affect job-seekers in some fields, such as technology or health care. Nonetheless, experts say job seekers should pay attention to current economic conditions and expect that the job-search process may take longer.

Adjust Your Approach?

"The unemployment rate has risen, but it is not at a point that should cause job seekers to panic," says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "Even at 5.2% or 5.3%, there is still demand for workers. Those seeking jobs in construction or mortgage lending might have a more difficult time finding employment, but we have not seen a significant downturn in hiring in other sectors."

Alexandra Levit, author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College," suggests job seekers may want to alter their approach due to economic uncertainties.

"Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at your current job while conducting interviews over your lunch break or doing volunteer work on the weekend that might lead to a paid gig," she says. "If you are currently unemployed, you may have to settle for a situation that's not 100% ideal in order to keep yourself afloat through the downturn."

David Bach, a workforce development specialist in San Francisco, says job seekers can "improve their competitive edge by becoming more aware of the top ongoing employers." Fields that are less affected by the evolving economy -- such as education, health care, and energy -- make an ideal focus right now, he adds.

Tips for Reaching Your Goal

Experts recommend the following actions to increase your job-search success in an uncertain economic climate.

* Tailor your presentations; don't be generic. "In developing a resume and other promotions materials, think about how your current skills and talents apply directly to the responsibilities you'll hold in the new job," says Levit.

* "Create a target list of companies," says career coach Julie Jansen, author of "You Want Me to Work with Who?" She suggests sending the list to 25 people, asking them if they can put you in touch with an employee at one of the listed companies.

* "Make yourself and your skills more visible," says Bach. He suggests posting and refreshing your resume in more places, such as online job boards, and going to job fairs.

* "Create an advisory board of smart and empathetic people and confer with them regularly about your job search," says Jansen.

* "Hone and utilize your 'elevator pitch' as often as possible," says Bach, referring to a 30-second summary of your professional assets.

* Keep your spirits high. Don't let the process overwhelm you or weigh you down. Jansen advises, "Make a list of your five favorite things to do, and do them!"

* Make an effort daily. "Do one thing each day -- like emailing a new contact or attending a networking event -- that moves your job search forward," says Levit. "Your worst enemy is inertia."

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Money Market Mutual Funds Rises

Total money market mutual fund assets rose by $20.86 billion to $3.408 trillion for the week, the Investment Company Institute said Thursday.

Assets of the nation's retail money market mutual funds rose by $9.75 billion in the latest week to $1.233 trillion.

Assets of taxable money market funds in the retail category rose by $10.74 billion to $941.51 billion for the week ended Wednesday, the Washington-based mutual fund trade group said. Tax-exempt fund assets fell by $988 million to $291.69 billion.

Assets of institutional money market funds rose by $11.11 billion to $2.175 trillion for the same period. Among institutional funds, taxable money market fund assets rose by $19.76 billion to $1.999 trillion; assets of tax-exempt funds fell by $8.65 billion to $176.30 billion.

The seven-day average yield on money market mutual funds fell in the week ended Tuesday to 3.05 percent from 3.07 percent the previous week, said Money Fund Report, a service of iMoneyNet Inc. in Westboro, Mass. The 30-day average yield fell to 3.20 percent from 3.39 percent, according to Money Fund Report.

The seven-day compounded yield fell to 3.10 percent from 3.12 percent the previous week, and the 30-day compounded yield fell to 3.26 percent from 3.45 percent, Money Fund Report said.

The average maturity of the portfolios held by money funds was 41 days, unchanged from the previous week, said Money Fund.

The online service said its survey of 100 leading commercial banks, savings and loan associations and savings banks in the nation's 10 largest markets showed the annual percentage yield available on money market accounts fell to 0.74 percent as of Wednesday from 0.75 percent week earlier.

The North Palm Beach, Fla.-based unit of Bankrate Inc. said the annual percentage yield available on interest-bearing checking accounts was unchanged at 0.26 percent. said the annual percentage yield was 2.48 percent on six-month certificates of deposit, down from 2.55 percent the previous week. Yields were 2.43 percent on 1-year CDs, down from 2.47 percent; 2.40 percent on 2 1/2-year CDs, down from 2.44 percent; and 2.82 percent on 5-year CDs, down from 2.86 percent.

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European Central Bank, Refinances To Ease Tension In The Money Market

The European Central Bank allocated 60 billion euros (88 billion dollars) during an exceptional three month refinancing operation marked by easing tensions on eurozone money markets, ECB figures showed Wednesday.

The operation, which was reserved essentially for mid-sized banks, resulted in an average lending rate of 4.26 percent and a marginal, or lowest, rate of 4.15 percent, the ECB said in a statement.

During its last three-month refinancing operation, the average rate was 4.33 percent and the marginal rate 4.21 percent, suggesting there was less pressure on banks to borrow ECB funds this time around.

In early February, ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet announced that two exceptional longer-term refinancing operations would be renewed, in addition to regular transactions, to encourage a "normalisation" of eurozone money markets.

They had been marked by rising tension at the end of 2007 as banks became wary of lending to each other amid a persistent credit crunch that followed the collapse of the US market for high-risk, or subprime, mortgages.

Banks were unable to determine how exposed borrowers might be to potentially huge subprime-related losses and were thus more reluctant to lend money among themselves.

But the ECB's most recent refinancing operations, which allow commercial banks to maintain minimum cash requirements for daily operations, suggest that the situation has begun to ease.

Market expectations that the ECB will soon lower its benchmark interest rates have also decreased tension on the money markets.

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