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Robert Struckman

This Isn’t the First Recession, Nor the Worst… So Far

This painful economic cycle may end a 30-year stretch of moderate ups and downs, but it's about average compared to the worst 10 recessions since World War II. That's one lesson immediately apparent after checking out the graphs and statistics on a new Web page on the site of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. "Our main reason wasn't to push any line," explained senior economist Terry Fitzgerald. "But it's important to look at the data and keep things in perspective."

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Montana Realty Board: Number of Agents Is Falling Fast

It seems not many people want to be real estate agents anymore, and established agents are getting out of the business like never before. About 40 percent fewer new real estate agents received a license from the Montana Board of Realty Regulation in 2008, and about 15 percent of old members didn't renew last year, said Grace Berger, head of the state's regulatory agency. Here are the numbers: Last year about 500 new applicants passed the requirements to become a real estate agent in Montana, down from about 800 in 2007. That year capped about a decade of growth in the number of licensed agents in Montana.

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Consumer Confidence Falls, Montana Survey Says

If you're interested in consumer behavior, here's something you'll want to know: Montanans are gloomier about the economy than any time in the last 15 years, a new University of Montana report says. "Consumer confidence indexes are exactly what they say they are," explained Patrick Barkey of the UM's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. "They ask people how they feel." The telephone survey used to make the Montana Index of Consumer Sentiment uses five basic questions about individual situations and perceptions about the state and national economies, which are put to a representative sampling of 424 adults across the state. The survey is comparable to other indexes, like the University of Michigan's U.S. index.

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Lawsuit: Don’t Quit on the Cleanup, Stimson

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath sued Stimson Lumber Co. on Wednesday to force the removal of a berm, a wastewater pond and some old wooden structures at the defunct mill site near the mouth of the Blackfoot River. The berm, pond, wood pilings and old foundations are dangerous and in immediate danger of collapse, the suit says. If the berm fails, Blackfoot River waters could wash toxic metals downstream.

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Economist: Montana’s Slowdown Will Be Shallow, Short

Montana's economic slowdown will be shallower and shorter than the national recession mostly because the Big Sky State's core problem is psychological, not fundamental, said economist Larry Swanson. Swanson, of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, said Montana's dire numbers lag behind national figures. The most recent national unemployment numbers put the rate at about 6.7 percent. Montana's is about 4.8 percent, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "When you track the recession as best you can measure it, we're behind the national slowdown by about a year," Swanson said.

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Iconic Missoula Jeweler Closes Its Doors

After about 130 years, Stoverud's has papered its windows in preparation for a going-out-of-business sale starting Thursday, Dec. 11. The jewelry store is one of Missoula's oldest retailers, a downtown institution in its way. It was founded as Kohn Jewelers in 1879 before owner Kathy Stoverud's grandfather bought it in 1945. It is located in the historic Florence Hotel and fronts North Higgins Avenue. Stoverud declined to say why the store would soon close its doors.

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Downturn Has Builders in Bankruptcy, or Just Getting Out

Small construction companies are seeking bankruptcy protection in Montana like never before, say Montana bankruptcy lawyers. "They're just getting out. Selling everything and going," said James Screnar of Screnar Law Firm in Bozeman whose clients include North American Pipe and Welding of Three Forks. Many of the contractors have filed for Chapter 7s -- which amount to a liquidation -- because they don't see a future, Screnar said. He described scenarios in which developers commissioned work but didn't pay, while contractors and subs ordered materials -- wood or drywall or pipe -- on credit. When the developed couldn't sell the homes, the contractors didn't get paid, either. Many are stuck with the debts to suppliers.

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Go Back to Square One, Says Montana Supreme Court to Rock Creek Mine

The Montana Supreme Court Thursday handed a victory to those seeking to protect Montana's waterways and dealt a setback to the proposed Rock Creek Mine near Noxon. "Absolutely. This is a victory," said Clark Fork Coalition director Karen Knudsen, about the ruling that voided the Revett Minerals' permit to discharge up to 3.3 million gallons of polluted water per day into the Clark Fork River. A collection of conservation groups had challenged the water quality permit, issued in 2001. The mine has been on the drawing board for more than 30 years. The ruling overturned a previous ruling from district court, which OK'd the Montana Department of Environmental Quality decision to deem the discharge "nonsignificant," thus allowing the mine to avoid a more rigorous "non-degradation analysis."

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Schweitzer: Hey Feds, How About Some Infrastructure

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who was just voted head of the National Governors Association, wants the administration of Barack Obama to help Montana to build an electrical transmission line to deliver electricity produced in the state to markets across the country. "Montana is dead center in the middle of the most important energy corridor on the planet," Schweitzer said. "We're ready, willing and able to lead the country and world in developing energy." But Schweitzer doesn't want the Obama administration to tell him how or where the energy should be developed. Schweitzer and other governors also asked for major investments for roads and bridges and other infrastructure.

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Credit Suisse Prepares to Continue Legal Fight for Yellowstone Club

Edra Blixseth will be deposed by Credit Suisse lawyers this Saturday in California as part of the ongoing legal battle over control of the debt-riddled and bankrupt Yellowstone Club near Bozeman. In notices filed late Wednesday, Credit Suisse said it plans to depose Sam Byrne of CrossHarbor Capital Partners, the Boston-based hedge fund that won a struggle to fund the penniless club until the end of April, as well as the club's professional managers and a representative of the leading member group. Edra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the Yellowstone Club on Nov. 10, citing debts of more than $360 million. The club had no money and was on the brink of closure. The largest creditor is a collection of investors led by Credit Suisse, who are owed more than $307 million. Chapter 11 allows a business to remain open while reorganizing its debt. Edra won control of the club in August after a bitter divorce with Tim Blixseth, the club's founder, and the architect of its monumental debt. So far in the proceeding, Tim has been notably absent, although a lawyer representing him recently signed onto the case. When Edra took over the club, its finances were in shambles, its accounts virtually empty. More than $88 million in member deposits had disappeared. Some news outlets have described the Yellowstone Club as the victim of the worldwide financial crunch, but at the bankruptcy hearings it seems the club was a financial train-wreck-in-progress years ago. Member deposits of more than $88 million, for instance, are gone, and one allegation in a previous lawsuit says Tim and Edra Blixseth funneled more than $200 million of the Credit Suisse loan to themselves as profit, spending it on private jets and California mansions.

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