Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, April 26, 2012

B.R. foreclosure rates inch lower in February

A report out this morning from CoreLogic says 2.39% of homes in the Baton Rouge metro area were in some stage of foreclosure in February—a decrease of 0.41 percentage points from February 2011 and a smaller dip of 0.03 points from January. The U.S. foreclosure rate in February was 3.41%, a drop of 0.18 percentage points on the year, while the Louisiana rate was down 0.51 points from February last year, to 2.48%. Baton Rouge's mortgage delinquency rate—that is, the percentage of home loans more than three months past due—also dipped 0.22 points year-over-year to 5.75% in February. That's also lower than the U.S. rate of 7.24% and the Louisiana rate, which dropped 0.31 points on the month to 6.3%. See a CoreLogic map of February foreclosure rates in the Baton Rouge area by ZIP code here.

Louisiana ranks last on 'Camelot Index'

Louisiana ranks dead last on a new composite index comparing how the 50 states fare on measures of economic vitality, education, health, crime and governance, The Times-Picayune reports. The "Camelot Index" is issued annually by Federal Funds Information for States, a nonpartisan subscription service created by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks and reports on the fiscal impact of federal budget and policy decisions on state budgets and programs. "It is based on the premise that most people share a common set of preferences: fewer taxes are better than more, small class sizes are better than large, low death rates are better than high, less crime is better than more, and so on," FFIS writes in explaining the index, named for the mythical Arthurian kingdom—that most "congenial spot," as lyrics of the musical put it. Overall for 2012, Louisiana ranks as Camelot- Not. The report notes, "Nevada and South Carolina move out of the bottom ranking from 2011, replaced this year by Louisiana. Seven of the Index's 10 bottom-ranking states are from the South." Read the full story here for more specific rankings by category in the index.

'225 Select': Louisiana's 200th birthday

The Louisiana Bicentennial is being celebrated in Baton Rouge this weekend with the Family Homecoming Celebration on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in front of the State Capitol. Musicians, including Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, will play Louisiana favorites on the main stage all day, and pavilions representing all regions of the state will be set up in Capitol Park to give cooking demonstrations on Pelican State staples such as tamales, jambalaya, crawfish touffe and deep-fried king cake. Arts and crafts from every corner of the state will also be highlighted. The state's birthday bash continues on Sunday, when Baton Rouge Blues Week is capped off with the Bicentennial Blues Concert from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Old State Capitol. Get all the details on both days' celebrations and see a full schedule of events here. Read this week's complete 225 Select e-newsletter for more local happenings this weekend and beyond here.

Tech park company breaks into the iOS gaming game

Louisiana Technology Park–based game developer Pixel Dash Studios is today releasing its first video game for iOS operating systems called Fans vs. Franchise. Founded by Evan Smith and Jason Tate and located in the Baton Rouge tech park on Florida Boulevard, Pixel Dash Studios is a digital media production company specializing in interactive media, video game development, graphic design and 3D animation. The startup's new game is described as a tower defense–style game, along the lines of popular game Plants vs. Zombies, pitting a cast of football franchise-inspired characters against oncoming fans of various shapes and sizes. "The fans have gone mad at the threat of a pending lockout, and the player must use an arsenal of 18 crazy football objects to protect the field from an onslaught of over 20 unique fans," reads the tech park's summary of the game, which is available for download in the Apple App Store or at the firm's website here.

Low patient demand shuttering Lafayette hospital's pediatric ICU

Lafayette General Medical Center will soon close its pediatric intensive care unit due to low patient demand, hospital officials tell The Advertiser. The closure will leave Lafayette with only one PICU: a 13-bed unit operated at Women's & Children's Hospital. The eight-bed PICU at LGMC had maintained an average census of 1.8 patients per day over the last year, and hospital officials say four patients per day is necessary to keep the unit sustainable. LGMC spokesman Daryl Cetnar says the unit has seen low numbers for the past few years and pointed out that there are times when there is only one patient being treated in the PICU for days at a time. At midday Wednesday, one patient was being treated in the PICU, and the unit was scheduled to close as soon as that patient was discharged, possibly as soon as late Wednesday or early Thursday. All 12 employees in Lafayette General's PICU will be able to apply for other positions at the hospital, officials say.

Mexico poised to open oil and gas markets for first time since 1938

For the first time in 74 years, Mexico may allow private investment in its oil and gas, the third-largest reserves in Latin America, Bloomberg reports. Enrique Pena Nieto, the leader in all major polls to win the July 1 presidential election and a member of the party that nationalized the industry in 1938, stirred up speculation on April 12 when he said that Mexico's oil production "can outperform and grow" through private investment. The same day, his closest rival, Josefina Vazquez Mota, proposed to list "a minority stake" in state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, which has $126 billion in revenue. Selling shares in the largest oil supplier to the United States will open a Mexican industry experiencing an eighth year of declining output, hurt by faltering investment and lack of technology and experience for the deepest offshore wells. The cash can fund Gulf of Mexico and shale gas production using techniques Brazil and the United States employed to revolutionize their energy markets. "The taboo has been broken" on private investment, Pemex board member Hector Moreira says. "People talking about private stakes—it's a first step. And it's a step that's not prompting a negative reaction from the public." Get the full story here.

News roundup: BREC gets Excellence in Planning Award … U.S. rate on 30-year mortgage dips to 3.88% … National unemployment aid requests near 3-month high

Beautiful vision: BREC is one of just four parks and recreations departments across the United States receiving a 2012 Excellence in Planning Award from The National Association of Recreation Resource Planners. BREC is being recognized alongside the likes of the National Park Service and California State Parks for its Imagine Your Parks strategic plan. "Since its development in 2004, it has charted the course for the parish's 155 indoor and outdoor park and recreation facilities. Included in the plan are bold recommendations that address park and open space planning, recreation program development, operations and maintenance issues, and funding requirements," NARRP says of the plan.

Going down slow: The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage has dipped to near its record low, keeping home-buying and refinancing affordable. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 3.88% this week, down from 3.9%. In February, the rate hit 3.87%—the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. The 30-year loan is the most common financing option for homebuyers. The average on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, popular with homeowners who are refinancing, dipped to 3.12%, down from 3.13% last week. The national average hit an all-time low of 3.11% two weeks ago.

Help wanted: The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits remained stuck near a three-month high last week, a sign that hiring has likely slowed since winter. The Labor Department reports today that weekly applications dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000. It was little changed from the previous week's figure, the highest since Jan. 7. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, rose to 381,750, also the highest in three months. Get the full details on the report from The Associated Press here.

Today’s poll question: Do you think spending $200,000 per year on a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., is a good investment for the city-parish?

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