Early Briefing: Making the World Safe for Chocolate Lovers

*To save chocolate lovers from the agony of a candy bar shortage, McLean candy giant Mars is investing $10 million in a five-year project to develop cacao trees that fight drought, disease and poor harvests.

Mars is to announce today that it is partnering with IBM and the Department of Agriculture to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome. The team will be identifying the characteristics that make a better cacao tree. Once they accomplish that, they plan to breed the genetically superior specimens to battle the foes that have shrunk the number of beans to make chocolate over the years.

*Mortgage delinquency rates doubled over a 12-month period at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two industry giants reported. In April, 1.22 percent of the conventional home loans that Fannie Mae guarantees were past due by at least three months or were in foreclosure. That was up from 1.15 percent in March, and about twice the rate recorded in April 2007. Freddie Mac said its delinquency rate was 0.81 percent in April, up from 0.77 percent in March. The rate was 0.4 in April of last year.

Neither company's figures fully captured the problems borrowers have had making payments, because they excluded loans for which payment terms had been relaxed.

*The Arlington County Board has finalized the last land-use deal needed to build a long-awaited sports complex near Crystal City, and now officials are scrambling to come up with the money to pay for the entire facility, which could exceed $100 million.

The board's action allows the county to prepare for construction of the state-of-the-art complex, which would include a glass-walled aquatic center, three soccer fields, nature trails and surface parking. Initial projections put the cost of the complex at $50 million.

But a rapid increase in construction costs has put the planned 119,000-square-foot aquatic center out of reach of the $50 million bond approved by voters in 2004 for the facility's construction.

*A Virginia regulatory board yesterday approved key permits for a new coal-fired electric plant in the state's southwest corner, handing Dominion Virginia Power a victory in a fight that encapsulates the nation's debate over coal power.

*Our colleagues at the Reliable Source report that Kathleen Matthews, formerly of WJLA and now of Marriott International, posted the following on her 20-something son's Facebook page. (Michael accepted her friend request.)

"Michael, I've created a Facebook profile as a communication tool in my department at Marriott. I won't look at your friends' communiques. Don't worry, I'm not spying. Thomas and Caroline didn't accept me as a friend. Love, Mom."

By Terri Rupar  |  June 26, 2008; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  Morning Brief
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