Ctrl BG: A Shortcut to Financial News 11/21

It's been another exciting week! Almost comparable to that week in September/October, except no major banks collapse (yet) and there were no big mergers. The DOW finally broke the 8000 point after hovering around it for a month, on Wednesday, tumbling 5.1% in a day to yet another more than 5 year new low. The downward momentum continued into Thursday, until it finally went back up to 8000 levels towards the end of Friday.

The week started off with Pandit's speech at Citi, announcing their plan to cut 52,000 jobs (yike!) and cut expenses by 20%. Citi's share began falling as investors worry that these measures will not be able to revive Citi from its current situation- they lost $20.3 bn in the last year and some don't expect it to be profitable in 2009 as they worry about Citi's exposure to credit card/mortgage losses and toxic debt. On Thursday, Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia announced that he was boosting his shares in Citi from 4% to 5%. That didn't give other investors much confidence (not everyone's Buffet), as Citi shares broke the $5 point that day (a 13 year low). This is a very dangerous level to be at, because many institutional investors are not allowed to own shares below $5 and this could trigger a wave of selling before year end. On Friday Pandit assured employees that he would like to keep the company together and does not wish to spin off its Smith and Barney brokerage unit (their crown jewel I guess?). Still, there are rumors of them finding a merger partner or raising capital in the future. Citi is also pressing members of Congress to put back the ban on short selling, as they claim that it is hurting their stock price. Citi's stock price ended $3.77 on Friday, down from $20 a month ago and $30 a year ago!

Following the lead of Golman and UBS, other Wall Street banks are being pressured to foregoe execute bonus this year. JP Morgan also announced that they will be cutting 10% of their workforce.

The other big driver this week was the auto industry. Discussions started looking bleak on Wednesday (and thus the huge drop on concerns of an even deeper recession if the auto industry collapses), as Congress members continue to bicker with the Big 3. I'm not too sure about the details (cars just don't interest me that much), but it sounds like they're concerned about whether taxpayer's money is going to waste since the auto industry was already not competitive before the this financial crisis and they want to see a sound plan to change them into healthier companies before they come to their aid. I believe the catch phrase of the week is, "You show us the plan, and we'll show you the money." Makes sense to me. They will be meeting again in December for the Big 3 to prove to American that they are worth saving. Oh and they seemed to have came up with a good source of where the $25 bn will come from too. Instead of from TARP, it will come from the money already approved in July to help make more environmentally friendly cars. They will give them this money in advance and the Big 3 will slowly pay back this amount into this pool of funds. Makes complete sense to me. That way, we're not creating extra debt.

Speaking of politics, Bernanke has not been very popular recently. His abrupt change of the use of TARP surprised many, leaving them to wonder what exactly they voted for. His annoucement that he doesn't plan to use the rest of the $350 bn of TARP until Obama's administration comes on board, making one question whether he's given up already. Claiming twice in the last week that the government's efforts have succeeded in stabilizing the financial system does not make it true- especially given the crazy market movement this week.

Another major factor contributing to the drop this week is the Fed slashing its outlook for the economy through 2009. They lowered the 2008 GDP forecast from 1-1.6% to 0-1.3% and forecasts that the economy could shrink by 0.2% in 2009. They also raised their unemployment projections sharply higher to 6.3% to 6.5% for 2008 and 7.1%-7.6% for 2009. In addition, the consumer price index also fell by 1% in October, the biggest drop since 1947, suggesting deflation. Many expect this recession would last longer than the middle of 2009. This is gloomy enough news to send anyone running.

Even Berkshire Hathaway was not immune to this market turbulence. On Wednesday, Berkshire plunged over 12%, its worst day since 1987's market crash. They've been getting a lot of bad press lately, with declining earnings in their insurance operations and stocks. They had 9 straight days of decline after they published their third quarter earnings report. Goldman Sachs and General Electric, Buffet's most recent purchases, also went below the price he got them for. Some suggested that he needed a new crystal ball. But on Friday, it Berkshire bounced by 16%, to $90,000. This week, Berkshire also got over $1 bn for its shares in Anheuser-Busch, a brewer, as the acquisition of it by InBev was formally completed. Buffet says he's not worried. Incidentally, Berkshire also significantly boosted its shares in ConocoPhillips this quarter, indicating that he's bull on oil.

On Friday Obama finally decided on the next Treasury Secretary- Timothy Geithner, the current president of the NY Fed Reserves. This appointment was welcoming news to Wall Street as it rallied back up into the 8000 levels. I'm not going to go into his history but he's had a LOT of experience and is widely seen as a good candidate for the job.

Overseas, Iceland finally got a $10.2 bn loan on Thursday, from the IMF, Dutch, British and the Nordic countries. And did you know that we still had pirates in this day and age? Earlier this week, it captured the Sirius Star, which has an oil cargo of about $100 mn worth. Apparently piracy is still very prevalent these days, there has been a record of 199 since the beginning of the year- most prominently in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.
On Thursday, an Indian navy warship sank a Somali pirate vessel. It's like the Pirates of the Caribbean in modern times!


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