Making Sense of the Mortgage Mess

Defaults are soaring and stocks are tanking. But it's no time for alarm

When General Motors' (GM) fourth-quarter results missed analysts' estimates on Mar. 14, the reason probably took some people by surprise: mortgage loans gone bad. Although the world's No. 1 ­automaker posted its fattest profits in three years, the news was overshadowed by a $651 million shortfall in its subprime mortgage unit.

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