OVERNIGHT FINANCE: Good news for housing

TOMORROW STARTS TONIGHT: The housing industry received good news today, as The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said existing home sales increased 1.3 percent – the second gain in sales in nine months.

FAST FACTS: NAR said existing home sales increased 1.3 percent, to an annual rate of 4.65 million units.  Lucia Mutikani for Reuters: “While that was a bit less than the 4.68-million unit pace economists had expected, it suggested the sector was regaining its footing after stumbling in the second half of 2013 under the weight of higher mortgage rates and house prices.” Story: http://reut.rs/RY4qHI

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HOW IT PLAYED: Reuters: “Housing sector turning the corner; jobs market firming;” ...WSJ: “Existing Home Sales Rise for First Time This Year;” ...Bloomberg: “Gain in Existing U.S. Home Sales Lifts Spring Prospects.” TheHill.com: “Existing-home sales made first gains of year in April.”

THIS IS OVERNIGHT FINANCE, and today was a hot one. Ninety-four degrees! Tweet: @kevcirilli. Email: kcirilli@thehill.com. Happy almost Friday, folks. Not there yet...

BREAKING NOW: IRS TO MODIFY RULES FOR TAX-EXEMPT GROUPS. IRS officials are taking a second crack at writing rules governing the tax-exempt groups at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy. IRS officials said Thursday they're revising regulations they released last November before holding a public hearing on the rules. Our Bernie Becker reports:

"Conservative organizations and GOP lawmakers were the quickest to slam the proposed rules for 501(c)(4) groups. But even some liberal groups said they thought the rules went too far, and the proposed regulations got a record of roughly 150,000 comments, most of them negative." http://bit.ly/1ol7VU9

POP QUIZ: Are IRS, Senate or House employees more likely to be in compliance with their tax records? Keep reading for the answer...

SENATE APPROPS APPROVES VA BILL, BUDGET. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two bills today, via The Hill’s Eric Wasson:

—VA legislation: The Committee approved language, already passed by the House, that would expedite firings at the Veterans Affairs Department amid allegations hospital mismanagement led to patient deaths. http://bit.ly/1tq4KwH

—Budget: The Committee approved 16 to 14 a $1.014 trillion spending outline for federal discretionary spending in 2015 over the objections of Republicans on the panel. The plan divides the funding granted in the December bipartisan budget deal into 12 pieces so appropriators can craft the 12 bills needed to keep the government open after Oct. 1. http://bit.ly/SoJ8Dz

THREE QUESTIONS WITH SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OHIO). We spent the morning at the conservative AEI hearing with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and the afternoon at the liberal Campaign For America’s Future, where we caught up with Brown.

OF: There was a lot of talk today about a potential Democratic 2016 alternative to Hillary Clinton, including chatter about former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in order to appease the progressive base. Your thoughts?

SB: I don’t have much an opinion on that. We’ll see. Sorry, you’re not going to get me into that. Nice try, though.

OF: But you’ve criticized the administration for being too centrist. More broadly, how do you think the Obama administration has been doing on economic issues?

SB: It’s a mixed bag. I don’t like what he’s said about chained CPI. And more broadly, I think that there’s too much Wall Street on the regulatory side. He’s generally doing a good job, but I want him to be more aggressive.

OF: FHFA Director Mel Watt said last week he’s expanding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s footprint in the market to spur growth, despite bipartisan policymakers saying they want to wind-down the mortgage giants. Your thoughts?

SB: It’s a good thing. Fundamentally, the status quo was preferable to this version of GSE reform with Johnson-Crapo. My goal in the next several months is for Mel Watt and Treasury to improve on financing and how to get capital in the markets.

Not everyone is as optimistic as Brown on housing...

BIG INVESTORS BET AGAINST HOUSING, reports Ben Eisen for MarketWatch: “NEW YORK — Some of Wall Street’s most vocal investors are betting against housing, saying the recovery has fizzled out.

“Earlier this month, DoubleLine Capital founder Jeffrey Gundlach took to the podium at a highly watched investment conference to suggest shorting the popular SPDR S&P Homebuilders exchange traded fund. He pointed to a concern, cited by others, that would-be young buyers are shunning mortgages.

“BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink said Tuesday that the housing market is ‘structurally more unsound’ than prior to the financial crisis due to its reliance on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to news reports. He did sound a more optimistic note on Homeownership reviving.” http://on.mktw.net/1jYa17d

CANTOR DEFERS TO HENSARLING ON EX-IM. Remember how House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) put the Export-Import Bank in his cross hairs earlier this week?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said today he’ll let Hensarling take the lead on negotiations to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank — for now. The Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports: http://bit.ly/SoKGNQ

CYBER-WATCH: SCHUMER WANTS WTO CASE AGAINST CHINA. Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) urged U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman on Thursday to file a case against Beijing at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to cyberattacks on U.S. businesses. Vicki Needham reports: http://bit.ly/1lXG6id.

HOUSE FINSERV TURNS UP HEAT ON CFPB. Led by House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the Committee advanced a package of 11 bills Thursday aimed at trimming regulations at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Hill’s Peter Schroeder reports: http://bit.ly/1jza2TB

The House has passed 22 of the Committee’s bills, only to see the legislation go nowhere in the Senate. GOPers have turned up the heat against the consumer agency, which was born out of Dodd-Frank and is the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Speaking of Warren...

WARREN WEIGHS-IN ON CREDIT SUISSE, via me: Warren accused Credit Suisse on Thursday of helping ‘people break the law’ at a Washington conference of the New America Foundation.

Warren, a frequent Wall Street critic, was asked about Credit Suisse following her prepared remarks. She never mentioned the institution by name and used the question to pivot toward Wall Street accountability.

"It was not for taxpayers to shelter their assets," Warren said. "It was to help people break the law. That's why they are in trouble, and we have to call this out." http://bit.ly/1ktS2Kj.

ON-TAP FOR TOMORROW: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will meet with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in a closed-press meeting ...The Commerce Department's Bureau of the Census releases its New Residential Sales for April 2014... And the Federal Reserve Board releases its weekly report on assets and liabilities of U.S. commercial banks at 4:15 p.m.

QUOTABLE: “[Look at Uber or food trucks,] the immediate reaction from government is, ‘We want to stop it. We want to make it more difficult for those kinds of businesses to thrive and grow.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), making the case to young people for lower business taxes while speaking at The American Enterprise Institute this morning.

NOTABLE: “When people say, 'Who is the new right?' I say, 'Google Tim Scott.'" AEI president Arthur Brooks, introducing Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

WHY THE RUSSIA-CHINA GAS DEAL MATTERS: Everett Rosenfeld for CNBC.com: “After more than a decade of negotiations, China and Russia have agreed to a natural gas deal worth about $400 billion that represents a major step not only in global energy markets but also in geopolitics.

“Despite the size and scope of the deal—it will last for 30 years and require Russia to eventually deliver 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, according to a post on China National Petroleum's website—it may not have a significant short-term financial effect, experts told CNBC.

“Still, the deal signals changes for several key global issues, not just energy. And it will give Russian President Vladimir Putin immediate bragging rights in the face of recent Western sanctions against his country.” http://cnb.cx/1ok8Q7f.

QUIZ ANSWER – IRS EMPLOYEES BEST CONGRESS IN IRS COMPLIANCE. That’s right and our Bernie Becker has the story: “IRS staffers are for more likely to be up to date on their taxes than those employed by Congress, according to new data from the tax agency.

“Roughly 1.2 percent of Treasury Department employees were delinquent on their taxes at the end of fiscal 2013, the lowest among any of the executive branch departments.

“IRS staffers are even less likely to have tax issues, with just 0.9 percent of agency employees behind on their taxes.

“That rate is several times lower than the 4.9 percent delinquency rate for House employees and the 3.2 percent rate for Senate staffers. The total delinquency rate for federal employees is 3.3 percent, up just a tick from 3.2 percent in 2012.” http://bit.ly/1hdGVAR.

VITTER TO BOWEN: WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG? From The Hill: “Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is accusing a nominee to join the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of refusing to answer his questions. In a letter sent Wednesday, Vitter demanded to know why Sharon Bowen has failed to answer questions he asked her back in March...

“President Obama nominated Bowen in December to serve as a commissioner at the CFTC, which oversees the financial derivatives marketplace. But Vitter has placed a hold on her nomination, demanding answers about her handling of victims from the multibillion dollar Allen Stanford Ponzi scheme.

“Bowen, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, is also the acting chair of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. The federally-mandated private nonprofit helps investors recover and distribute funds lost when a broker-dealer fails.

“However, SIPC and the Securities and Exchange Commission have disagreed over how to handle Stanford victims, many of whom are Louisianans. Currently, victims of the fraud have not been compensated by SIPC, since the money was placed in a foreign investment that was not a SIPC member.” Full story: http://bit.ly/1oaWy3o

WANT AN 8 PERCENT RAISE? LET FOREIGN SCIENTISTS IMMIGRATE TO YOUR CITY. Josh Zumbrun and Matt Stiles for The Wall Street Journal: “[Economists] found that as immigrants in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called STEM professions – flocked to a city, the more wages grew for the native college population.” http://on.wsj.com/1jYOM59

MORE FROM THE HILL’s TEAM:

—Brown urges Commerce action over Russia's obstruction in metal alloy dumping investigation: http://bit.ly/ReI4Ba

—LaHood: Congress 'shouldn't be afraid' to increase gas tax: http://bit.ly/RY0vL6.

—Housing, finance sectors boosted April growth: http://bit.ly/1nhO9vN.

—Panel puts potatoes back in food aid program: http://bit.ly/1jYZEQm

—Sherrod Brown: Dems must move to the left: http://bit.ly/SoQ0km.

Catch The Hill’s finance team on Twitter: @VickoftheHill, @peteschroeder, @elwasson, @berniebecker3 and @kevcirilli.