A break for some past-due mortgage holders

In a push to simplify loan modifications, many borrowers who become 90 days or more past due on mortgages backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will be offered lowered payments without having to prove hardship, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the federal regulator of the home-finance giants, said. The streamlined modification program, to be put into effect in July, would reduce monthly payments by about 30 percent on average, officials said in announcing the program. Eligible borrowers would receive letters explaining the modification offer and specifying the reduced payment. If they made three monthly payments during a trial modification period, the new loan terms would become permanent.

U.S. pending home sales slipped last month

Americans signed fewer contracts to buy previously owned homes in February, indicating a pause in momentum for an industry that is helping power the economy. An index of pending home sales fell 0.4 percent to 104.8, the second-highest level since April 2010, after a revised 3.8 percent increase the prior month, the National Association of Realtors reported. Contract signings, unadjusted for seasonal variations, increased 5 percent from February 2012. Tighter lending criteria have made it tougher for prospective homeowners to take advantage of low interest rates, while fewer properties for sale hinder those with access to credit.

Big banks pushing back on mortgage rulings

The nation's largest banks, facing a torrent of lawsuits over shoddy mortgage securities, are pushing to overturn a series of tough rulings in an important case. In a rare move, 15 banks — including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and UBS — filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New York late Tuesday night to throw out a series of decisions by Judge Denise L. Cote, according to a copy of the court filing. In doing so, the financial institutions are aiming to broaden the amount of evidence they can gather in the hopes of quashing the lawsuit. The rulings, the banks argue, are so "gravely prejudicial" that the firms had no choice, a step that was not "taken lightly."

Audi unveils new A3 sedan for U.S. in 2014

Audi, the world's second-largest maker of luxury vehicles, unveiled two sedan versions of the compact A3 designed to woo American and Chinese buyers seeking a small car with more trunk space. The models will help the Volkswagen premium brand reach its annual U.S. sales goal of 200,000 in the U.S. "far before" the original target of 2020, Scott Keogh, the automaker's U.S. chief, told reporters. The A3 sedan will hit European showrooms later this year, with a starting price around $32,000, and will be rolled out in the United States and China in 2014.

Ford seeks help in measuring fuel economy

Ford wants to help customers more accurately measure the fuel economy of their Ford vehicles to counter claims it has overstated the fuel economy of certain models. Speaking at the New York Auto Show, Jim Farley, Ford head of global sales and marketing, announced the Personalized Fuel Efficiency App Challenge. Software developers can access Ford's OpenXC onboard data platform to come up with their own app solutions. Ford is offering up to $50,000 to developers who deliver hardware or software that helps drivers understand the effect of the elements and driving habits on their fuel economy.

British banks need less capital than expected

British lenders were told by the Bank of England to raise $38 billion of additional capital, less than analyst estimates. Banks need to set aside more money to cover bigger potential losses on commercial real estate and from the euro area, possible fines for mis-selling and stricter risk models, the Bank of England said following a report by the Financial Services Authority. The BOE didn't identify or quantify the number of lenders that need to bolster capital and it said plans already announced by banks should cover about half the shortage.