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ATLANTA-CompuCredit, a subprime credit card and specialty finance firm, is moving into auto lending with its acquisition of a Wells Fargo & Co. unit, the Lake Mary, Fla.-based Wells Fargo Financial Consumer Auto Receivables. For CompuCredit the acquisition is just the latest in a series of moves to expand into subprime lending. It has acquired two payday lending businesses in the past year and also purchased two CU card portfolios.

NEW YORK-American Express Financial Group is rolling out a new suite of variable annuity products coupled with new channel delivery: it is offering an easy-to-use Internet solution that offers investment risk assessment. The product is being aimed at brokers who in turn sell American Express products to consumers. AEFG's online asset allocation program was developed by a unit of Morningtar and will be used in conjunction with the new variable annuity products that AEFG initially launches in May: American Express Innovations Select, American Express FlexChoice Select, American Express Signature Select, American Express Signature One Select, and other products.

MINNEAPOLIS-U.S. Bank, subsidiary of the $190-billion U.S. Bancorp and operator of the third largest network of ATMs in the U.S., has begun to offer prepaid wireless phone minute "top-ups" through its ATMs. The bank will offer through its 4,000 ATMs in 24 states through bcgi's Wireless Wallet, which allows the nation's 15-million prepaid cell phone users to purchase and load additional minutes.

WALL STREET-A couple of well-known economists are offering homeowners or financial institutions a chance to hedge against a fall in their local real estate markets, just like housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. MACRO Securities Depositor LLC has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell securities that represent either bullish or bearish bets on one or more local home markets. The company was founded by Robert Shiller and Allan Weiss, who helped pioneer the system of local housing price indexes now used by Fannie and Freddie and other large mortgage companies to gauge property value changes in hundreds of markets. Their firm, Case Shiller Weiss (now a unit of Fiserv), also created the CASA automated property valuation system that many credit unions and banks use to estimate home values online. Shiller, a Yale economist, is also author of the best-selling 'Irrational Exuberance,' which warned about the speculative bubble in the stock market preceding the market fall of 2001-2002. The company sees its innovation spawning a new generation of risk-hedging mortgage securities offered to individuals, like home equity insurance polices or mortgages discounted because of the lenders hedging.

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