Friday, May 21, 2010

SEC investigating brokerage firms role in market selloff

The New York Times - WASHINGTON — The enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether market makers and brokerage firms fulfilled their legal obligations to provide liquidity in the markets by buying and selling stock during the sharp market drop of May 6, the chairwoman of the agency said Thursday.
The S.E.C. is also looking into whether market makers and brokers executed investors’ trades correctly.
Mary L. Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman, said the agency was also considering whether to establish market participation mandates for professional traders like high-frequency traders who were not obligated to continue trading during periods of extreme market stress.
The comments came during testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment, which, like a House subcommittee last week, had called the leaders of various market regulators and exchanges to testify on the causes of the May 6 market plunge.
On May 6, stock prices fell by about 6 percent in a matter of minutes before recovering nearly as quickly. Earlier this week, the S.E.C. said that in reaction to the market tumult, circuit breakers would be installed for individual stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index on a six-month test basis beginning in June. Those circuit breakers would halt trading for five minutes in stocks that fell or rose by more than 10 percent in a five-minute period.
Ms. Schapiro said the commission would also re-examine its rules concerning circuit breakers for the overall market, which were not tripped on May 6 because the Dow Jones industrial average did not drop by 10 percent. In addition to reviewing whether that percentage level was appropriate, Ms. Schapiro said, the agency would examine whether the trigger should be based on a broader stock index, like the Standard & Poor’s 500.
Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said that his agency would also examine its circuit breakers, as well as whether there should be new rules governing the use of computer-driven, or algorithmic, trading.
Mr. Gensler noted that while human traders could react to an unusual event like the one that occurred on May 6, computers simply did what they were instructed to do, repeatedly. That, he added, was part of the problem on May 6.
During the period of highest market stress on May 6, many institutional investors stopped trading, according to a review of the day’s trading activity by the S.E.C. and the C.F.T.C. .
Among those that legally stepped back from the market during that time were several of the firms that employ computer programs to trade millions of shares a second and that are usually the biggest providers of liquidity in the stock market.

Naked Truth on Default Swaps

Great column on credit-default swaps by Floyd Norris. - MT
The New York Times - Should people be able to bet on your death? How about your financial failure?
In the United States Senate, Wall Street won one this week when the Senate voted down a proposal to bar the so-called naked buying of credit-default swaps. If that were the law, you could not use swaps to bet a company would fail. The exception would be if you already had a stake in the company succeeding, such as owning a bond issued by the company.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Germany announced new rules to bar just such betting — but only if the creditors were euro area governments.
None of this argument would be taking place if regulators had done their jobs years ago and classified credit-default swaps as insurance. 
Credit-default swaps are, in reality, insurance. The buyer of the insurance gets paid if the subject of the swap cannot meet its obligations. The seller of the swap gets a continuing payment from the buyer until the insurance expires. Sort of like an insurance premium, you might say.
But the people who dreamed up credit-default swaps did not like the word insurance. It smacked of regulation and of reserves that insurance companies must set aside in case there were claims. So they called the new thing a swap.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Close Call

Last Wednesday, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln took to the Senate floor and delivered about as fiery a speech as you’ll hear in the chamber, at least on the subject of financial reform. “Currently, five of the largest commercial banks account for ninety-seven percent of the [derivatives market],” she said. “That is a huge concentration of economic power, which is why I am in no way surprised that several individuals are seeking to remove it from the bill.”
The “it” these unnamed individuals were bent on removing is a provision Lincoln wrote that would force banks to spin off their derivatives business if they want access to federal deposit insurance and other safeguards. Lincoln stunned the financial world when she unveiled the hawkish proposal last month and promptly pushed it through the Senate Agriculture Committee, which she chairs. (Derivatives are essentially a bet on the direction of financial data, like bond prices and interest rates.)

Economy | The New Republic

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Corruption: Bear Stearns Falsified Information as Raters Shrugged

The Atlantic - Made up FICO scores? Twenty-minute speed ratings to AAA? If government prosecutors like New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo want answers to why the mortgage-backed securities market was so screwed up, they should talk to Matt Van Leeuwen from Bear Stearn's servicing arm EMC.
Reports indicated on Thursday that Cuomo is pursuing a criminal investigation surrounding banks supplying bad information to rating agencies about the quality of the mortgages they signed off on. But so far he hasn't been able to prove where in the chain of blame the due diligence for the ratings broke down.
What Cuomo needs to establish is: whose shoulders does it fall on to verify the information lenders were selling to investment banks about the quality of their loans? And who was ultimately responsible for the due diligence on the loans that created toxic mortgage securities that were at heart of our financial crisis?

False Information and the Grey Area
Employed during the go-go years of 2004-2006, and speaking in an interview taped by BlueChip Films for a documentary in final production called Confidence Game, Van Leeuwen sheds some light onto the shenanigans going on during the mortgage boom that might surprise even Cuomo. As a former mortgage analyst at Dallas-based EMC mortgage, which was wholly owned by Bear Stearns, he had first-hand experience working with Bear's mortgage-backed securitization factory. EMC was the "third-party" firm Bear was using to vet the quality of loans that would purchase from banks like Countrywide and Wells Fargo.
Van Leeuwen says Bear traders pushed EMC analysts to get loan analysis done in only one to three days. That way, Bear could sell them off fast to eager investors and didn't have carry the cost of holding these loans on their books.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jim Cramer During the Market Meltdown

YouTube For Traders - Searchable News Video Streams

One reason why local TV can start packing its bags. Video will be big and dominate  the landscape, but it will be video streamed via the Internet as NYT media writer David Carr points out in this column. Journalism schools need to start training students for this market. -MT

New York Times -For half an hour last Thursday afternoon, CNBC was the most exciting place on television. Watching Erin Burnett and Jim Cramer try not to freak out — they acquitted themselves nicely — while the market tumbled like a drunken rag doll down a long staircase was amazing television, David Carr writes in The New York Times.

The rest of the time, as when the market is not suffering the largest drop within a single day of trading? Um, not so much. Even if you are an avowed business bobble-head, most of the time, CNBC and other financial channels are a kind of wallpaper. Business people mostly live in narrow verticals. If you follow and trade in uranium, it’s not going to pop up all that often on the linear channels of television.

So Thomson Reuters is trying to change television. Its new product, Reuters Insider, is a Web-based video service that captures myriad streams of information produced by the company’s reporters and 150 partners. The service, which will begin Tuesday, is something like a You Tube for the financially interested, albeit one that is available only to Reuters subscribers, who pay as much as $2,000 a month.

Using the main window of the service, called Channel One, subscribers can navigate by sector, date, markets or region, or apply filters to create their own personalized channels.

Thomson Reuters, which was formed in a merger in 2008, creating a $30 billion behemoth in financial news and information, is making a big bet on Insider, about $100 million. While its chief competitor, Bloomberg, is making inroads into consumer media with its purchase of Businessweek, Thomson Reuters is going in the opposite direction.

Why try to sell advertisers on a broad television network when you can get subscribers — investment banks, analysts, market players — to pay and pay dearly for the information ginned up by 2,800 reporters from 200 bureaus around the world, not to mention lots of other technical business intelligence from a curated group of partners?
The effort also tells us something about the place online video now occupies. “The trend that we are seeing in professional information is not all that different than consumer media,” said Devin Wenig, chief executive for the markets division of Thomson Reuters. “People are increasingly visual, and they expect to access information in that way. They want to be able to look at a chief executive and see the expression on the analyst’s face.”

Of course, just about anybody could go out on the Web and find gobs of people spouting off about financial matters. But Reuters Insider also produces almost real-time transcripts through voice recognition technology — the renderings are pretty rough, but useful — and then humans come behind and clean up some of those transcripts, while adding additional tags, links and other relevant information.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exxon Valdez Lessons

Regulators Warnings Weren't Act On

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators warned offshore rig operators more than a decade ago that they needed to install backup systems to control the giant undersea valves known as blowout preventers, used to cut off the flow of oil from a well in an emergency.

The warnings were repeated in 2004 and 2009. Yet the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency charged both with regulating the oil industry and collecting royalties from it, never took steps to address the issue comprehensively, relying instead on industry assurances that it was on top of the problem, a review of documents shows.

In the intervening years, numerous blowout preventers and their control systems have failed, though none as catastrophically as those on the well the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was preparing when it blew up on April 20, leaving tens of thousands of gallons of oil a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Agency records show that from 2001 to 2007, there were 1,443 serious drilling accidents in offshore operations, leading to 41 deaths, 302 injuries and 356 oil spills. Yet the federal agency continues to allow the industry largely to police itself, saying that the best technical experts work for industry, not for the government.
Critics say that, then and now, the minerals service has been crippled by this dependence on industry and by a climate of regulatory indulgence.
“Everything that’s done by the oil industry is done for profit,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who demanded this week that the Interior Department investigate these backup safety systems. “Throw in the fact that regulators have taken a lax attitude toward overseeing their operations, and you have a recipe for catastrophe.”

Last year, BP, the owner of the well that blew up in the gulf, teamed with other offshore operators to oppose a proposed rule that would have required stricter safety and environmental standards and more frequent inspections. BP said that “extensive, prescriptive” regulations were not needed for offshore drilling, and urged the minerals service to allow operators to define the steps they would take to ensure safety largely on their own.

Computer meltdown on Wall Street still baffles officials

Traders applauding Duncan L. Niederauer, chief of NYSE Euronext, on Friday. He had defended his exchange in an interview.

 The New York Times - A day after a harrowing plunge in the stock market, federal regulators were still unable on Friday to answer the one question on every investor’s mind: What caused that near panic on Wall Street?

Through the day and into the evening, officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal agencies hunted for clues amid a tangle of electronic trading records from the nation’s increasingly high-tech exchanges.

But, maddeningly, the cause or causes of the market’s wild swing remained elusive, leaving what amounts to a $1 trillion question mark hanging over the world’s largest, and most celebrated, stock market.

The initial focus of the investigations appeared to center on the way a growing number of high-speed trading networks interact with one another and with venerable exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange. Most investors are unaware that these competing systems have fractured the traditional marketplace and have displaced exchanges like the Big Board as the dominant force in stock trading.

The silence from Washington cast a pall over Wall Street, where shaken traders returned to their desks Friday morning hoping for quick answers. The markets remained on edge, as the uncertainty over what caused Thursday’s wild swings added to the worries over the running debt crisis in Greece.

In a joint statement issued after the close of trading, the S.E.C. and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said they were continuing their review. And the two agencies indicated they were looking particularly closely at how different trading rules on different exchanges, which temporarily halted trading on some markets while activity in the same stocks continued on other markets, might have contributed to the problem.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Derivatives Dividing Democrats

The Wall Street Journal - WASHINGTON—Ahead of a pivotal vote Monday on financial regulation, divisions are emerging among Senate Democrats over how best to strengthen oversight of the market for the exotic financial instruments known as derivatives.

All 59 members of the Democratic caucus are still expected to stand together Monday on whether to begin action on legislation overhauling regulation of the financial system. But the differences underscore the complexity of the coming debate, and will have to be resolved later this spring.

At issue is whether the derivatives oversight bill written by Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) will be folded into the broader regulatory overhaul. The Lincoln measure would beef up oversight and increase transparency of the market, and includes a proposal that could push Wall Street banks to spin off their derivatives trading operations.

"I want to make sure that without a doubt...I have a privileged ability to be able to be a part of this bill," Sen. Lincoln said in a statement forwarded Friday by her office.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.), who is leading the broader overhaul effort, has pushed a competing proposal that would increase oversight but not push banks to spin off derivative operations. He's opened negotiations with Sen. Lincoln.

Arizona signs tough new immigration law

The New York TImes - PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration into law on Friday. Its aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.

The move unleashed immediate protests and reignited the divisive battle over immigration reform nationally.
Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.
Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Work Force Fueled By High Skilled Immigrants

ST. LOUIS — After a career as a corporate executive with her name in brass on the office door, Amparo Kollman-Moore, an immigrant from Colombia, likes to drive a Jaguar and shop at Saks. “It was a good life,” she said, “a really good ride.”

As a member of this city’s economic elite, Ms. Kollman-Moore is not unusual among immigrants who live in St. Louis. According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.

Among American cities, St. Louis is not an exception, the data show. In 14 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and San Francisco, more immigrants are employed in white-collar occupations than in lower-wage work like construction, manufacturing or cleaning.

The data belie a common perception in the nation’s hard-fought debate over immigration — articulated by lawmakers, pundits and advocates on all sides of the issue — that the surge in immigration in the last two decades has overwhelmed the United States with low-wage foreign laborers.

Over all, the analysis showed, the 25 million immigrants who live in the country’s largest metropolitan areas (about two-thirds of all immigrants in the country) are nearly evenly distributed across the job and income spectrum.
ST. LOUIS — After a career as a corporate executive with her name in brass on the office door, Amparo Kollman-Moore, an immigrant from Colombia, likes to drive a Jaguar and shop at Saks. “It was a good life,” she said, “a really good ride.”

As a member of this city’s economic elite, Ms. Kollman-Moore is not unusual among immigrants who live in St. Louis. According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.

Among American cities, St. Louis is not an exception, the data show. In 14 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and San Francisco, more immigrants are employed in white-collar occupations than in lower-wage work like construction, manufacturing or cleaning.

The data belie a common perception in the nation’s hard-fought debate over immigration — articulated by lawmakers, pundits and advocates on all sides of the issue — that the surge in immigration in the last two decades has overwhelmed the United States with low-wage foreign laborers.

Over all, the analysis showed, the 25 million immigrants who live in the country’s largest metropolitan areas (about two-thirds of all immigrants in the country) are nearly evenly distributed across the job and income spectrum.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lehman Hid Risks by Channeling Billions of Dollars Through Alter Ego

Lehman Brothers’ headquarters in Midtown Manhattan in 2008. It is now the offices of Barclays Capital.

The New York Times - It was like a hidden passage on Wall Street, a secret channel that enabled billions of dollars to flow through Lehman Brothers.

In the years before its collapse, Lehman used a small company — its “alter ego,” in the words of a former Lehman trader — to shift investments off its books.

The firm, called Hudson Castle, played a crucial, behind-the-scenes role at Lehman, according to an internal Lehman document and interviews with former employees. The relationship raises new questions about the extent to which Lehman obscured its financial condition before it plunged into bankruptcy.

While Hudson Castle appeared to be an independent business, it was deeply entwined with Lehman. For years, its board was controlled by Lehman, which owned a quarter of the firm. It was also stocked with former Lehman employees.

None of this was disclosed by Lehman, however.
Entities like Hudson Castle are part of a vast financial system that operates in the shadows of Wall Street, largely beyond the reach of banking regulators. These entities enable banks to exchange investments for cash to finance their operations and, at times, make their finances look stronger than they are.

Critics say that such deals helped Lehman and other banks temporarily transfer their exposure to the risky investments tied to subprime mortgages and commercial real estate. Even now, a year and a half after Lehman’s collapse, major banks still undertake such transactions with businesses whose names, like Hudson Castle’s, are rarely mentioned outside of footnotes in financial statements, if at all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Greek Debt Fears

European Nations Offer $40 Billion to Help Greece

The New York Times - BRUSSELS — European leaders sought Sunday to quash any doubts about their resolve to help Greece, offering the country a one-year aid package of up to €30 billion at a much lower interest rate than investors have been demanding.

The plan, under which countries in the euro zone would lend Greece money at 5 percent interest — compared with as much as 7.5 percent the government paid on the bond markets last week — brought the currency union significantly closer to what would be the first rescue of a member in its history.

At the same time, the size of the financial commitment, the equivalent of $40.5 billion, which was above market expectations, could at least postpone the need for aid by reassuring investors and helping Greece refinance debt that comes due by the end of May.

Interest Rates Have No Where to Go But Up

The New York Times - Even as prospects for the American economy brighten, consumers are about to face a new financial burden: a sustained period of rising interest rates.That, economists say, is the inevitable outcome of the nation’s ballooning debt and the renewed prospect of inflation as the economy recovers from the depths of the recent recession.

The shift is sure to come as a shock to consumers whose spending habits were shaped by a historic 30-year decline in the cost of borrowing.

“Americans have assumed the roller coaster goes one way,” said Bill Gross, whose investment firm, Pimco, has taken part in a broad sell-off of government debt, which has pushed up interest rates. “It’s been a great thrill as rates descended, but now we face an extended climb.”

The impact of higher rates is likely to be felt first in the housing market, which has only recently begun to rebound from a deep slump. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage has risen half a point since December, hitting 5.31 last week, the highest level since last summer.

Along with the sell-off in bonds, the Federal Reserve has halted its emergency $1.25 trillion program to buy mortgage debt, placing even more upward pressure on rates.

“Mortgage rates are unlikely to go lower than they are now, and if they go higher, we’re likely to see a reversal of the gains in the housing market,” said Christopher J. Mayer, a professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School. “It’s a really big risk.”

Each increase of 1 percentage point in rates adds as much as 19 percent to the total cost of a home, according to Mr. Mayer.

The Mortgage Bankers Association expects the rise to continue, with the 30-year mortgage rate going to 5.5 percent by late summer and as high as 6 percent by the end of the year.

Another area in which higher rates are likely to affect consumers is credit card use.

And last week, the Federal Reserve reported that the average interest rate on credit cards reached 14.26 percent in February, the highest since 2001. That is up from 12.03 percent when rates bottomed in the fourth quarter of 2008 — a jump that amounts to about $200 a year in additional interest payments for the typical American household.

With losses from credit card defaults rising and with capital to back credit cards harder to come by, issuers are likely to increase rates to 16 or 17 percent by the fall, according to Dennis Moroney, a research director at the TowerGroup, a financial research company.

Bernanke Says U.S. Should Tackle Debt

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that huge U.S. budget deficits threaten the nation's long-term economic health and should be addressed soon. Obama administration officials have argued that the economy, while improving, is still too weak to bear all the new taxes and spending cuts that would come with an aggressive deficit-reduction campaign. In remarks to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Mr. Bernanke agreed, but said merely articulating a plan for reducing the deficit in the long run would help the economy now."The economist John Maynard Keynes said that in the long run, we are all dead. If he were around today he might say that, in the long run, we are all on Social Security and Medicare," Mr. Bernanke said.
Cutting the deficit ultimately will mean choosing between cutting those entitlements, raising taxes, or other spending cuts

Greenspan on Capitol Hot Seat

Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan faced some of the toughest questioning yet about his role in the financial crisis at a hearing Wednesday marked by tense exchanges with a longtime foe. Later in the day, members of the congressionally chartered Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission also ripped Citigroup Inc. executives for their role in the subprime meltdown, where Citigroup was a major casualty. The commission is holding three days of hearings on the evolution of the subprime market. Panel members repeatedly questioned why Mr. Greenspan didn't do more to stem the flow of risky subprime loans, pop the resulting real-estate bubble or prevent use of exotic derivatives to expand the market. Commissioner Brooksley Born, a former federal regulator, said the Fed "utterly failed to prevent the financial crisis." She used the word "fail" nine times in a lengthy series of questions.
"Didn't the Federal Reserve System fail to meet its responsibilities, fail to carry [out] its mandates?" she said.
Commission Chairman Phil Angelides added his own criticisms of the Fed's approach to subprime regulation. "My view is…you could have, you should have, and you didn't," he told Mr. Greenspan.

New Ways to Read the Economy

SAN FRANCISCO—When the city's top economist needs a rough prediction of sales tax revenues, he watches the number of subway passengers emerging from the Powell Street Station on Saturdays.
Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller's Office, said he could wait six months for California to release the detailed sales-tax data he needs for city revenue projections. But it's quicker to look at passenger tallies from the station closest to the Union Square shopping district, which generates roughly 10% of the city's sales-tax revenue. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District releases the data within three days, he said: "Why should I have to wait?" Mr. Egan is among a growing number of economists and urban planners who scour for economic clues in unconventional urban data—oddball measures of how people are moving, spending and working.

Consumer Lending Sagged in February

More consumers are keeping up with payments on their credit cards and other loans. But that is coming at a cost: They are cutting back sharply on borrowing as they pare back debt. While that is good for the long-term financial health of households, the development could slow spending and the overall economic recovery.
Consumer borrowing declined at a 5.6% annual rate in February to $2.45 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. Consumer borrowing, which includes most loans outside of real estate, had increased 2.1% in January, reflecting how borrowers typically slow payments after running up card balances over the December holidays. Revolving credit, largely credit-card borrowing, declined at a 13.1% annual pace in February. Nonrevolving credit—including loans for cars, boats and education—fell at a 1.6% annual rate that month. Analysts attributed part of the February decline to winter storms that kept consumers at home.

Criminals Prey on The Unemployed

Out of work for six months, Mary Long spent hours each day surfing the Web. She found a job listing this fall for a logistics manager that paid $65,000 a year and fired off her resume.But the company, Advanta Transportation Network LLC, appears to be part of an increasingly common scam that has snared Ms. Long and many others, according to cybercrime experts. As U.S. job seekers grow more desperate, criminals are using the Internet to con participants into so-called mule operations.These operations generally follow a formula, say security experts: Cybercriminals post an ad on a job board. Successful job applicants are "hired" or asked to complete a trial project. Scam operators wire stolen money to the applicant's credit card and applicants are asked to purchase such goods as expensive electronics. The applicant ships the goods, often to Eastern Europe, where scam operators sell them. Applicants end up with neither a job nor a paycheck

U.S. Airways-United Airlines Talks Intensify

Merger talks that came to light last week between UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. have become "very serious," said one person close to the matter. But they remain sensitive and it is just as likely the discussions will fall apart as result in a done deal, this person noted. Any transaction would be an all-stock merger, with United being the surviving entity, this person said. The share premium to be paid to US Airways shareholders hasn't been settled. Another person familiar with the talks said the two sides haven't yet agreed who would run the combination. A deal would create the No. 2 U.S. airline by traffic after Delta Air Lines Inc. If it comes to fruition, it would be announced within two or three weeks. A third person close to the situation suggested that Glenn Tilton, UAL's chief executive officer, recently restarted the talks, not his counterpart at US Airways, Doug Parker.

Light At The End of The Bailout Tunnel

As momentum grows at companies that looked like zombies just a few months ago to repay taxpayers for lifelines they got during the financial crisis, the projected cost of the bailout is shrinking to just a fraction of previous estimates. Treasury Department officials say the tab is likely to reach $89 billion, which includes the Troubled Asset Relief Program, capital injections into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Reserve moves such as buying mortgage-backed securities and propping up the commercial-paper market. Treasury officials are increasingly optimistic that even American International Group Inc. could be on its own within a year, with officials discussing ways to extricate the government from its 80% stake in the insurer, according to people familiar with the situation. AIG is on track to repay its loan to the Fed through asset sales that will raise $51 billion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

WSJ Current News April 5-7

Massey Has History of Safety Violations

Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch coal mine has been cited more than 100 times since the start of this year for safety violations including failing to properly control methane levels, according to the U.S. mine-safety agency.The cause of an explosion Monday that killed at least 25 miners at the mine has yet to be determined, but federal mine-safety officials say they suspect something ignited methane gas that had built up in the mine. The buildup of the dangerous gas was delaying rescuers' attempts Tuesday to enter the mine to search for victims.

Mr. Dimon Goes to Washington
As Congress prepares to push finance regulation to the front burner, plenty of bank executives—stung by Washington's Wall Street bashing—are keeping a low profile.James Dimon, chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., isn't one of them. Buoyed by J.P. Morgan's relative good health, he's spent the past year launching his own campaign to stave off government proposals that would rein in profits, boost consumer protections and impose new fees.
Euro-zone Growth Accelerates
LONDON—Euro-zone private-sector output grew at its strongest rate for 31 months in March, fueled by a surge in activity in Germany, final data from financial-information firm Markit showed Wednesday.The currency area's composite output index, a measure of private-sector output based on a monthly survey of about 4,500 companies, rose to 55.9 in March from 53.7 in February—the highest reading since August 2007. It marks the eighth consecutive month that the index has been above the "no change" 50.0 level.

U.S. Appeals Court Backs Comcast
A U.S. appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission overstepped when it cited cable-giant Comcast Corp. for slowing some Internet traffic on its network, dealing a blow to big Web commerce companies and other proponents of "net neutrality."In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the FCC exceeded its authority when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for deliberately preventing some subscribers from using peer-to-peer file-sharing services to download large files.

Jury Still Out on Replacing Steel Mill with Casino
BETHLEHEM, Pa.—Five years ago, this former steel town took a gamble on Las Vegas Sands Corp., allowing the company to put a casino on the site of its historic steel mill. Las Vegas Sands promised to build a hotel, shopping mall and events center on a corner of the 126-acre Bethlehem Steel site, which was shuttered in 1995. Anchoring it all would be the casino filled with 5,000 slot machines, where even the ceiling lights, made to look like molten iron rods, would evoke the site's old industrial legacy. But revenue from the slots parlor, which opened last May, has been disappointing. The hotel and events center are both 20% complete, and the planned shopping mall is 70% complete, all stalled because of the economic downturn.

Greek Bonds Remain Under Pressure
LONDON—The cost of insuring Greek sovereign debt remained elevated after rising dramatically Tuesday, as worries about the lack of resolution of the Greek debt crisis continued to weigh on financial markets.
The euro was also under pressure, trading at $1.3378 against the dollar,reece's five-year sovereign credit default swaps were unchanged in early trading at 3.90 percentage points--nearly 0.50 percentage point wider than last week—according to CMA DataVision, having touched four percentage points at one point Tuesday.The spread between 10-year bonds and the benchmark German bund was 3.868 percentage points, tighter than Tuesday's widest levels, but wider than a spread of 3.789 percentage points at 1500 GMT Tuesday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Jobs And When You Do Find One It is For Less Pay

The New York Times - A YEAR ago, I wrote about a job fair at the Sheraton in Midtown Manhattan, where over 5,000 mainly white collar, middle-aged jobless men and women waited in the cold for more than two hours, hoping to find work. The turnout was a sign of desperate times; until then, the organizer, Tory Johnson, who’s been conducting these fairs in 10 cities for a decade, had never had more than 2,000 people at one of these events.

For that column, I interviewed two dozen boomers. Given recent reports from the federal government and Manpower, the employment agency, that the hiring outlook is beginning to improve, I thought it would be worthwhile to go back to those highly motivated people. Among them are Jo Fagan, a former vice president at Crown publishing who had applied for over 500 jobs in 22 months, and Greg Kramer, 54, a former buyer for a video company, who had attended three job fairs a month, typically arriving three hours before doors opened.

I wanted to know how they’re doing a year later.

The short answer is, of the 16 I interviewed again, 9 describe themselves as still struggling. Eight continue to be unemployed or are working part-time jobs that pay near minimum wage. Several were so concerned about bias, they did not want to give their ages.

Unemployment is slightly lower than the national average for workers older than 45 (8.1 percent). But once those people lose a job, it takes them longer to be rehired. In February, jobless workers over 45 were unemployed an average of 34 weeks versus 27 for younger workers.

And while there are no numbers yet for this recession, in past recessions, the older the workers, the bigger the wage loss when they were rehired, according to Steven Hipple, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist. After the 1991-93 recession, rehired workers age 55 to 64 on average suffered a 27 percent wage loss, versus a 7 percent loss for workers age 25 to 34. After the 2001-3 recession, workers age 45 to 54 had a 23 percent wage loss when rehired, versus 6 percent for younger workers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Report Shows Lehman hide Its Financial Problems

The Wall Street Journal - A scathing report by a U.S. bankruptcy-court examiner investigating the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. blames senior executives and auditor Ernst & Young for serious lapses that led to the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

In the works for more than a year, and costing more than $30 million, the report by court-appointed examiner Anton Valukas paints the most complete picture yet of the free-wheeling culture inside the 158 year-old firm, whose chief executive Richard S. Fuld Jr. prided himself on his ability to manage market risk.

The document runs thousands of pages and contains fresh allegations. In particular, it alleges that Lehman executives manipulated its balance sheet, withheld information from the board, and inflated the value of toxic real estate assets.

Lehman chose to "disregard or overrule the firm's risk controls on a regular basis,'' even as the credit and real-estate markets were showing signs of strain, the report said.

In one instance from May 2008, a Lehman senior vice president alerted management to potential accounting irregularities, a warning the report says was ignored by Lehman auditors Ernst & Young and never raised with the firm's board.

Americans Pare Debt

The Wall Street Journal  - U.S. consumers are shedding debt at the fastest rate in more than six decades, largely through a wave of defaults, in a trend that underscores the depth of their financial troubles but could also help clear the way for a stronger economic recovery.

Total U.S. household debt, including mortgages and credit-card balances, fell 1.7% in 2009 to $13.5 trillion, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday—the first annual drop since records began in 1945. The debt amounts to $43,874 per U.S. resident.

The drop reflects the extent to which job losses and a moribund housing market are forcing people to default on mortgages and other obligations, a painful process that has slammed millions of families and hit banks and investors with hundreds of billions of dollars in losses.

At the same time, the defaults are leaving many people with more cash to spend and save, jump-starting the financial rehabilitation, or "deleveraging," that economists see as a crucial prerequisite to robust growth.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Top News - WSJ & NYT

Borrowers Miss Out in Billions in Savings
The Federal Reserve has pushed mortgage rates to near half-century lows, but millions of U.S. homeowners haven't benefited from that because they can't—or won't—refinance.Falling home prices have left many owners with little or no equity, making it harder to qualify for refinancing. Moreover, stricter lending standards and higher fees by banks and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and declining incomes have made it tougher and less attractive for borrowers to seek new loans.

Apple sues HTC for Alleged Patent Violations
Apple alleged numerous patent violations in lawsuits against HTC Corp., a Taiwan-based manufacturer of smart phones. HTC makes several phones that run Google's Android operating system, including the Nexus One phone that Google is selling directly to consumers.Apple's two complaints—filed Tuesday in federal court in Delaware and the U.S. International Trade Commission—allege HTC devices, including the Nexus One, infringe a total of 20 Apple patents. The complaints claim the patents cover an array of cellphone technologies, everything from power-management functions to a method of unlocking a handset with a finger swipe on a touch screen.

Private Sector Sheds 20,000 Jobs
Private payrolls fell less than expected in February and layoff announcements dropped to their lowest level since 2006, according to data released Wednesday.Private-sector jobs in the U.S. fell 20,000 in February, according to a national employment report published Wednesday by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers.
The ADP loss is below the 50,000 drop projected by economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey. The estimated change of employment for January 2010 was revised down, from a decline of 22,000 to a decline of 60,000.

U.S. Postal Service Pushes to End Saturday Deliveries
The U.S. Postal Service stepped up its campaign to end Saturday deliveries to help stem losses, but the move met with skepticism that signals an uphill battle for approval by regulators and Congress.Postal officials sought support for a broad restructuring from a gathering in Washington on Tuesday that included big postal clients, congressional aides and postal workers' labor representatives. Without the restructuring, the agency potentially faces $238 billion in projected losses in the next 10 years, Postmaster General John E. Potter warned as he released assessments of the agency's operations from three consulting firms.

Britain Grapples With Debt Problem
LONDON — As Greece’s debt troubles batter the euro, Britain has done its utmost to stay above the fray.
Until now, that is. Suddenly, investors are asking if Britain may soon face its own sovereign debt crisis if the government fails to slash its growing budget deficits quickly enough to escape the contagious fears of financial markets.The pound fell to $1.4954 on Tuesday, its lowest level against the dollar in nearly 10 months. The yield on 10-year government bonds, known as gilts, slid as investors fretted that Parliament would be too fragmented after a crucial election in May to whip Britain’s messy finances back into shape.

WSJ plans New York edition
News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch confirmed Tuesday that The Wall Street Journal will launch a section devoted to covering New York next month, in the company's first public acknowledgment of the project. The planned section will put the Journal squarely in competition with established New York media organizations, including the New York Times Co. and News Corp.'s own New York Post.The new section comes more than two years after News Corp. bought the Journal's parent company, Dow Jones & Co., and set out to broaden the readership and advertising base of the paper to compete with general-interest national newspapers including the New York Times and Gannett Co.'s USA Today.

Beige Book Finds Economy Improving
U.S. economic conditions kept improving slightly at the start of 2010, but the blizzards that hit the East Coast in February hurt several areas, the Federal Reserve said in a report Wednesday.In its latest beige book report, the Fed said nine out of its 12 regional districts reported that economic activity improved, but in most cases the increases were modest, with activity held back by the Feb. 4-7 and Feb. 9-11 snowstorms.
The beige book is a summary of economic activity prepared for use at the U.S. central bank's next policy-setting meeting, March 16. The latest report, prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, examined economic conditions across the Fed's districts based on information collected on or before Feb. 22.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Bankruptcy Boys - Why GOP Won't Help Cut the Deficit

O.K., the beast is starving. Now what? That’s the question confronting Republicans. But they’re refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.
For readers who don’t know what I’m talking about: ever since Reagan, the G.O.P. has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?
The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed “starving the beast” during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.
And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year’s budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of Bush-era tax cuts (and Bush-era unfunded wars). And the combination of an aging population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.
So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.
Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn’t have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WSJ Recent News Feb12-18

Retirees Trade Work For Rent at Cash-Strappled Parks
ROMA, Tex. —An itinerant, footloose army of available and willing retirees in their 60s and 70s is marching through the American outback, looking to stretch retirement dollars by volunteering to work in parks, campgrounds and wildlife sanctuaries, usually in exchange for camping space.
Park and wildlife agencies say that retired volunteers have in turn become all the more crucial as budget cuts and new demands have made it harder to keep parks open.Estimates of the number of work-campers nationally vary, but a spokesman for Kampgrounds of America Inc., a private company that franchises camps, said that 80,000 or so might be a good guess, based on KOA’s percentage of the camping market and the number of its work-campers.

 Manufacturers are gearing up to hire
Manufacturers are seeing more signs that the U.S. economic recovery is on a solid footing, opening the way for new hiring as well as call-backs for factory workers laid off during the depths of the recession. Caterpillar Inc., the Peoria, Ill.-based heavy-equipment maker, has brought back 600 workers in the past 60 days, including 100 recalled to an engine plant in Indiana last week. Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp. has been relying on overtime to meet growing demand, but is now preparing to start adding new workers at its U.S. plants in coming week.

U.S. To Investigate Possible Toyota Corolla Steering Problems
Toyota Motor Corp. and U.S. regulators are looking into possible steering problems in the company's popular Corolla compact, the latest quality issue to surface in the wake of two recalls that covered millions of vehicles and forced Toyota to halt U.S. sales of eight models.

Simon might drop $10 billion takeover of General Growth
Mall giant Simon Property Group Inc. warned General Growth Properties Inc. late Wednesday that Simon might drop its $10 billion takeover bid for the company or go hostile if General Growth didn't come to the bargaining table soon.

Is Whole Foods Amid a Turnaround ?
Whole Foods Market Inc.'s fiscal first-quarter earnings soared 79% as sales at stores open at least a year rose for the first time in six quarters, a sign that discounts and a refocus on natural foods are paying off.ittle has gone right for the natural-foods company since 2006, when investors realized it was overexpanding. By the time the recession struck, Whole Foods couldn't hit the brakes fast enough. After a rally, the stock is still down 66% from its high.Recent signals suggest it is on the road to recovery. Even with unemployment around 10%, customer traffic rose during the September quarter and comparable-store sales finally turned positive in the following weeks.Investors might be troubled that Whole Foods trades at 23 times consensus earnings for calendar 2010, higher than most retailers.

U.S. to Press China on the Yuan
The mounting political tension between U.S. and China is poised to take on a more pronounced economic component—with Washington, in coming months, expected to press China over what officials see as an undervalued yuan. For U.S. officials, China's exchange rate is emerging as a top concern. President Obama and other administration officials argue that the Chinese currency is undervalued. That makes Chinese exports artificially cheap in terms of other foreign currencies, contributing to the U.S.'s large trade deficit with China and, they say, depriving Americans of jobs.

Wal-Mart Profit Ries, but Current Quarter Weak
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. beat its guidance to post a 22% profit increase for the fiscal fourth quarter, but sales at the world's largest retailer fell short of expectations.Shares in Wal-Mart were down 1.5% at $53.25 premarket as the company's first-quarter view largely underwhelmed analysts' estimates, too. The company projects earnings between 81 cents and 85 cents a share, while analysts on average projected 85 cents, according to Thomson Reuters. For the year, its target of $3.90 to $4, compared with analysts' $3.97 forecast.

State Governments Face Trillion Dollar Gap
State governments face a trillion-dollar gap between the pension, health-care and other retirement benefits promised to public employees and the money set aside to pay for them, according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States.States promised current and retired workers a total of $3.35 trillion in benefits through June 30, 2008, said the report from the nonprofit research group, a division of Pew Charitable Trusts. But state governments had contributed only $2.35 trillion to their benefit plans to pay current and future bills, the report said.


Municipalities Consider Filing Chapter 9
Just days after becoming controller of financially strapped Harrisburg, Pa., in January, Daniel Miller began uttering an obscure term that baffled most people who had never heard it and chilled those who had: Chapter 9. The seldom-used part of U.S. bankruptcy law gives municipalities protection from creditors while developing a plan to pay off debts. Created in the wake of the Great Depression, Chapter 9 is widely considered a last resort and filings under it are more taboo than other parts of bankruptcy code because of the resulting uncertainty for everyone from municipal employees to bondholders.

Walgreen buys Duane Reade for $618 million
Walgreen announced Wednesday it will pay $618 million for Duane Reade, New York City's largest drugstore chain. The deal will increase Walgreen's total drugstore count by nearly 4%, adding 257 stores in the New York area, where it currently operates just 70 locations.Duane Reade is Walgreen's largest drugstore purchase, a shift from a past strategy that plowed money into often disappointing purchases such as specialty-pharmacy Option Care. Walgreen previously relied heavily on rapid organic growth to expand its drugstore count.

How to Hide Your Surfing From Your Boss

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Labor Market Shows Signs of Rebirth in New Data

The New York Times - The unemployment rate unexpectedly dipped to 9.7 percent in January, from 10 percent in December, the government reported Friday, buoying hopes that the worst job market in at least a quarter-century is finally improving. But a different survey in the Labor Department’s report found that the economy lost 20,000 net jobs during the month, muddying the picture and underscoring the formidable struggles still confronting millions of Americans. Yet with the pace of decline slowing, most experts focused on signs that the economy was recovering after the longest recession since the Great Depression.

Investors Fear Europe’s Woes May Extend Global Slump

The New York Times - Just as America’s recession begins to ebb, trouble is brewing in Europe that may prolong a downturn on the Continent and ricochet through the global economy as it struggles toward a recovery.

A rout in stock markets that began in Europe spread to Wall Street on Thursday and around the globe to Asia on Friday, amid fears that Europe may be the world’s next financial flashpoint. Pressure has been mounting across the Atlantic as Greece, Portugal and a handful of struggling countries that use the euro scramble to pay off mountains of debt accumulated from years of profligate spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 2.61 percent, or 268.37 points, to 10,002.18 Thursday, after briefly falling below 10,000 for the first time since November, as American investors grew more uncertain about Europe’s economy.

Stock markets across Europe slumped as much as 6 percent, and worries that the troubles might push even big European nations like Spain into a financial crisis drove the euro to $1.37, a seven-month low against the dollar.

Markets in Europe slipped further on Friday, after a sharp sell-off in Asia, amid continued worries about government debt in several European countries and about the state of the U.S. labor market.

Related Story:

Rising U.S. Job Worries Add to Upheaval

Job seekers line up to speak to a representative from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency at the Houston Diversity Job Fair in Humble, Texas, this week.

The Wall Street Journal - Concerns about the ability of the U.S. economy to create jobs added to a broader wave of fear about European finances, as fresh data showed unemployment claims rising and companies managing to boost production without adding workers.
The Labor Department reported initial claims for jobless benefits rose by a larger-than-expected 8,000, to 480,000 claims in the week ended Jan. 30. A separate report showed that companies managed to increase output for each hour worked at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.2% in the 2009 final quarter, down from the third quarter's 7.2%, but still well above average.
The data reinforced doubts that a strong rebound in jobs will give U.S. consumers the wherewithal they need to contribute to a sustainable economic recovery. The market will learn more early Friday when the U.S. unemployment number for January is reported.
The latest reports "confirm that the recovery in the labor market is likely to be quite slow," said Conrad DeQuadros, an economist at consultancy RDQ Economics. "That suggests consumer spending is not going to be the major driver of growth in 2010."

WSJ Top News Feb. 5 &6

Sign of Hope As Jobless Rate Dips
The unemployment rate dropped sharply last month, but employers continued cutting jobs in January as businesses remained insecure about the economic outlook. The jobless rate fell to 9.7% from 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday, because its survey of households found more people landed jobs than entered or returned to the labor market. But a separate survey of employers, which counts how many workers are added or cut from payrolls, found that 20,000 jobs were eliminated last month. And revisions to last year's data found far more jobs were lost over the 12 months than previously predicted.
 Toyota plans to repair Prius brakes
DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Corp, has told dealers it's preparing a plan to repair the brakes on thousands of hybrid Prius cars in the U.S. In a message sent Friday night to dealers, a Toyota group vice president, Bob Carter, said the company is working on a plan and will disclose more details early next week. More than 100 drivers of 2010 Prius cars have complained that their brakes seemed to fail momentarily when they were driving on bumpy roads. The U.S. government says the problem is suspected in four crashes and two minor injuries. 

Goldman Bows on CEO Pay
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., trying to show it is responsive to public pressure over its pay, said Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein would get a $9 million bonus for 2009, a fraction of the $68.5 million payout he got in 2007. Friday's announcement was one of the most highly anticipated pay figures in Wall Street history. As Goldman rebounded in 2009 to its most profitable year ever, the 55-year-old Mr. Blankfein became the focus of anger about sky-high bonuses on Wall Street. That criticism continued even after Goldman said last month that it would make the smallest employee payouts relative to revenue since the firm went public in 1999.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

WSJ & NYT Feb. 3 Top News

Ron Burkle Seeks 37% of Barnes & Noble
Activist investor Ron Burkle sent a letter to Barnes & Noble Inc. seeking to acquire as much as 37% of the company, up from his current stake of 19%, and blasting the book retailer for having different sets of anti-takeover rules for big investors: one applying to insiders and one applying to outsiders.

Gannett reports fourth quarter profit

Gannett Co. returned to the black for the fourth quarter, helped by lower expenses and no big writedowns as it had in the year-earlier period. The publisher of USA Today and more than 80 other daily newspapers saw advertising slide another 18%, but the drop wasn't as steep as last year's, and was characterized as a stabilization.

Battle over UK cigarette packaging heats up
Tobacco companies are digging in to fight a possible U.K. ban on one of their last marketing tools: cigarette packaging.The U.K.'s Department of Health said Monday that it would consider mandating generic packaging for all cigarettes as part of an aggressive campaign to halve smoking rates by 2020.
Such packs would be white or brown with the brand name written in simple type and no logos or colors allowed. The packs would continue to carry large health warnings.

AIG Plan to Pay $100 million in bonuses draws fire
The American International Group has agreed to cut employee bonuses by $20 million and will distribute about $100 million on Wednesday, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. But the reductions may not be enough to appease the company’s critics, who do not accept the company’s argument that it has to honor contracts from before its government bailout.

 Time Warner Posts Fourth Quarter Profit
Time Warner Inc. moved back into the black for the fourth quarter, rebounding from a large write-down a year earlier and benefiting from strength in its film and television businesses.The media giant also raised its quarterly dividend 13% to 21.25 cents a share. That move comes a day after competitor News Corp. raised its six-month dividend for both classes of its stock by 25%.

Home Builders Cut Prices, Warn about Foreclosures
LAS VEGAS—Home builders have lost half their share of the U.S. housing market in the past two years, largely because of competition from cheap foreclosed houses. In 2009 only 7.6% of the homes sold were newly constructed, down from the average of about 16% over the previous two decades.
But home builders are fighting back, cutting prices, promising to complete homes faster, and warning about the risks of buying foreclosed property.

Toyota's Troubles Deepen
Toyota Motor Corp.'s quality crisis deepened Tuesday, as U.S. regulators accused the company of dragging its feet on fixing defective gas pedals and threatened civil penalties and further reviews of Toyota products.
The move means that Toyota's efforts to address its biggest-ever safety and public-relations mess are far from over. Last week, the administration indicated it had no issues with how Toyota had responded to the sudden-acceleration reports, which led the company to recall about six million vehicles and have been linked to at least five fatalities.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lee Fisher commentary: Third Frontier is key to nurturing Ohio recovery

In the midst of a punishing recession, Ohio's Third Frontier program has been a rare bright spot and a critical driver of economic growth across our state. Since the bipartisan economic-development program was enacted under former Gov. Bob Taft, state grants have helped create more than 41,000 jobs and $6.6 billion in economic activity through 2008. That was a $10 return on every dollar invested by the state.
And yet, despite the undisputable success of this effort to nurture home-grown, high-tech companies, some Republicans in the legislature oppose a robust renewal of this vital program. The Ohio House has passed a measure to extend the program for five years at a cost of $950 million, while the Republican-controlled Senate has proposed a far smaller effort of $500 million over the same time frame.

WSJ News Feb. 1

Windows 7 fails to boost PC makers profits
Microsoft Corp.'s new Windows 7 operating system has fattened the company's earnings and boosted personal-computer sales at retailers like Best Buy Co. But it hasn't increased the profits of PC giants Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and others. While consumers purchased more than 90 million new PCs during the holiday quarter, when Microsoft released Windows 7, up 22% from a year earlier, PC revenue grew at just a single-digit rate, analysts say.

Obama proposes a $3.8 trillion budget
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama proposed a $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal 2011 that will add fuel to the debate over the size and scope of government. The plan includes big increases in personal and business taxes, modest spending cuts and increased outlays for education, defense and jobs initiatives.The Obama administration has focused in the days leading up to Monday's formal release on proposals to cap so-called discretionary spending, roughly 17% of the total budget, as part of a plan to start narrowing the record $1.6 trillion gap between proposed budget outlays and tax receipts.

Factory sector books best performance in five years
U.S. factory sector activity booked its best performance in more than five years in January, amid a rebound in hiring and rising price pressures. In a key report, private research group the Institute for Supply Management said Monday its index of manufacturing activity moved to 58.4 in January, the best reading since August 2004, from 54.9 in December and 53.7 in November. Readings over 50 indicate growth and describe the breadth, but not magnitude, of the change. Economists had expected the index to come in at 55.3.

Exxon Mobil's fourth quarter profit falls
Exxon Mobil Corp.'s fourth-quarter earnings fell 23% as lower profit margins for refining and fuels and lower natural-gas prices were partly offset by higher prices for crude oil.
Prices for oil products like gasoline and diesel have failed to keep pace with the rising price of crude, putting intense pressure on refining profit margins, and leading to losses, shutdowns and some refiners putting operations on the block.

Crude oil prices climb to $72 a barrel
NEW YORK -- Crude futures rose Monday on positive corporate earnings and due to geopolitical tensions.
Light, sweet crude for March delivery recently traded 42 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $73.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange traded 47 cents, or 0.7%, higher at $71.93 a barrel.

Obama proposes boosting education department spending
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's proposal to boost the Education Department by 9%, even as other areas get squeezed, highlights one area where the administration and Republicans have found some common ground.Most of the additional $4.5 billion in spending proposed for the Education Department new money is slated to fund competitive programs, making the budget a key part of an administration bid to transform how local school officials interact with the federal government.

Toyota has fix for gas pedal problems
DETROIT – Toyota Motor Corp. said on Monday that it has already begun shipping a fix to the gas pedal problem involved in the recall of millions of vehicles and forced the company to stop selling eight of its models in the U.S. and some other countries around the world.Toyota has pinpointed the issue that could, on rare occasions, cause accelerator pedals in recalled vehicles to stick in a partially open position. The issue involves a friction device in the pedal designed to provide the proper "feel" by adding resistance and making the pedal steady and stable, Toyota said. The device includes a shoe that rubs against an adjoining surface during normal pedal operation.


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