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Fannie Mae sets record for earnings

Fannie Mae said something Thursday that would have been unthinkable a few years ago: It earned a record $58.7 billion profit in the January-March quarter.

And it made clear it’s on the cusp of repaying taxpayers for one of the most expensive bailouts of a single company in the financial crisis.

For Fannie, the future hasn’t looked this bright since 2006.

More Americans are buying homes. Prices are rising at their fastest rate since the housing bubble burst. Banks are lending only to the most qualified buyers. And many fewer homes are falling into foreclosure.

All of that is a boon to Fannie and its smaller sibling Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee half of all U.S. mortgages and back nearly 90 percent of new ones. When people buy homes and nearly all pay their mortgage bills, Fannie and Freddie can’t help but make piles of money.

Suit accuses Merck of bias against women

A Merck & Co. sales representative is suing the drugmaker for at least $100 million, saying Merck doesn’t give women equal opportunities for advancement and punishes employees for taking maternity leave.

Kelli Smith, who has worked at Merck since 2004, says in the lawsuit that the company’s sales plans create incentives to discriminate against women, that women are discouraged from advancing their careers and are told they have to choose between being mothers and taking bigger roles at the company, and that men get more opportunities to meet senior managers and develop important contacts. She said the company retaliated against her for drawing attention to the issues.

She wants to create a class action lawsuit. Merck confirmed Thursday that it is being sued. It said the lawsuit lacks merit and that the company will defend itself. The company said it has a strong anti-discrimination policy and is committed to providing equal opportunities to all of its employees. The company said its policy also prohibits retaliation against employees who bring complaints.

Foreclosure filings decline to 6-year low

U.S. foreclosure filings fell in April to the lowest level in more than six years as inexpensive mortgages and rising demand for homes allowed troubled owners to refinance or sell before losing their properties to lenders.

A total of 144,790 properties received notices of default, auction or seizure, down 5 percent from March and 23 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said Thursday. It was the lowest tally since February 2007, the Irvine, Calif., data seller said in a report. One in 905 households got a filing.

Borrowing costs close to historic lows and an improving labor market have combined to aid the housing market, boosting prices and allowing distressed homeowners to rework loans or sell property for less than the amount owed, known as a short sale.

April automobile sales up 13 percent in China

China’s auto sales rose 13 percent in April despite concern about a weak economic recovery and Japanese brands suffered less severe declines, an industry group reported Thursday.

Customers in the world’s biggest auto market bought 1.4 million cars, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said. It said total auto sales showed “clear improvement” at 1.8 million vehicles but gave no details.