The Wall Street Journal Senses That Something is Wrong

By: John Rubino | Wed, Jul 16, 2008
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A subscription to the Wall Street Journal costs several hundred dollars a year, so most people out there don't get it and DollarCollapse.com rarely posts links to its articles. But everybody should see today's edition, which probably sets the modern-day record for disturbing headlines. Here's a sampling of what subscribers read this morning:

SEC Moves to Curb Short-Selling

The Securities and Exchange Commission took unprecedented action against short sellers on Tuesday, acting on a widespread concern that negative bets against bank and brokerage stocks might be exacerbating the financial sector's woes. In a dramatic emergency order, the SEC said it would immediately move to curb improper short selling in the stocks of struggling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as those of 17 financial firms, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co.

Real-Estate Financier's Death Hints At Trouble for Lenders

Flamboyant real-estate financier Scott Coles penned a farewell letter, put on a tuxedo and climbed into bed, where he was later found dead in what police believe was a suicide. The tragedy last month is drawing attention to the condition of the nation's commercial real-estate market, which is beginning to show mounting signs of distress.

Europe's Economy Takes a Hit; U.S. Turmoil Raises Odds of Slump; Bankruptcy Rocks Spain

Just a few weeks ago, Europe thought it could escape the worst of the global slowdown. Now it looks like the euro zone, the world's second-largest economy, is headed for a hard landing and perhaps recession, compounding growth troubles around the world.

On Tuesday, Spain suffered its largest-ever business failure as construction group Martinsa-Fadesa SA, a company with assets of €10.8 billion, or about $17.17 billion, filed for bankruptcy protection, making it the biggest victim so far of Europe's bursting real-estate bubbles. That same day, the euro, boosted by the central bank's inflation-fighting efforts and fears of financial-sector fragility in the U.S., briefly reached a record high of over $1.60, posing a further threat to Europe's export sector. And an index of investor sentiment in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, fell to its lowest level since the recession of the early 1990s.

Bush Tries to Allay Financial-Sector Worries

President George W. Bush gave a strong endorsement to mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as he sought to tamp down anxieties about the financial sector. In a midmorning White House news conference, Mr. Bush appeared to acknowledge the case for federal backing of Fannie and Freddie's vast debt obligations. "You know, there is an implicit guarantee," he said.

Reacting to concerns about commercial banks following the failure of IndyMac Bancorp Inc., the president also urged customers not to panic and start withdrawing money. "My hope is, is that people take a deep breath and realize that their deposits are protected by our government," Mr. Bush said.

Bernanke Foresees More Pain; Testimony Suggests That Rate Increase Isn't in the Cards

With producer prices rising at the fastest pace in 27 years and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke giving one of his gloomiest reports on growth, the U.S. economy is headed for a stomach-churning rest of the year. Financial turmoil and high oil prices appear to be driving down consumer demand. Retail sales rose just 0.1% in June over the previous month, and were down 0.5% when gas-station sales were excluded, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Democrats Consider Another Stimulus Bill

House Democrats want to inject at least $50 billion into the economy through another economic-stimulus bill, which is likely to include a second round of checks for middle-income people. A second measure probably wouldn't have the same bipartisan momentum as the first $168 billion bill, which was passed in February. That legislation was the product of negotiations between the Bush administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio).

GM Plans $10 Billion In Cuts to Bolster Cash

General Motors Corp. is hoping to survive the auto industry's deep slump by getting smaller -- but not much smaller. The auto maker said Tuesday it plans to slash $10 billion in costs over the next 18 months through white-collar job cuts and a wide range of marketing, engineering and other spending reductions. It is also going to try to raise $5 billion through financial markets or asset sales to help offset expected losses and other drains on cash.

Law Firms Gear Up -- and Wait --For Anticipated Bankruptcies

For months, bankruptcy lawyers in the U.S. have sounded a little like Marvin the Martian, the manic Looney Tunes character who ran around with his ray gun asking, "Where's the kaboom?" While 2008 has seen its fair share of bankruptcy filings, including Linens 'n Things Inc., Aloha Airgroup Inc., Sharper Image Corp. and, just last week, retailer Steve & Barry's LLC, the trend hasn't been earth-shattering. That is bad news for law firms that boosted employment in anticipation of lots of bad news for everyone else.

C-re -nf-ation: It's the O-I-L That's Missing

Many long-held relationships are breaking down in this volatile economy. Among them might be the connection between headline inflation and so-called core inflation, which strips out food and energy prices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday is scheduled to release the June consumer-price index. Analysts expect the government to report that the inflation measure was up 4.5% from a year ago, due mainly to soaring energy prices. Core CPI, however, is expected to be up a relatively modest 2.3% from a year ago.

Profit View Dims Through Early 2009

Another earnings season has arrived, and once again the dominant feeling among investors is dread. Not about results for the second quarter -- it's a given that the three months just ended will mark the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year earnings declines for Standard & Poor's 500 companies. The hand-wringing has to do with the rest of the year and early 2009. Wall Street had expected profits to rebound by the latter part of this year, and this prospect bolstered stock-buying activity through most of the spring. But as the housing market and financial institutions continue to struggle and consumers reduce spending, that hopeful outlook has eroded, sending stocks to their lowest levels in two years as the third quarter begins.

Lehman's Road to Stability Looks Pocked With Potholes

In a memo to employees this week, Richard Fuld Jr., the chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., had a bracing message: The firm's asset-management unit is now estimated to be worth about as much as Lehman's total stock-market value. The calculation puts a harsh spotlight on just how far the Wall Street brokerage has slid as it seeks to put itself on solid financial footing and bolster a stock price battered by the mortgage-market meltdown. Most of the options, from raising more money to taking the firm private, are fraught with risks, and come as Lehman's stock trades around its lowest point in several years.

Dollar's Dip Signals Deep Concern

Amid mounting worries about the health of the U.S. financial system, the dollar broke out of the range in which it has traded since April, skidding to a fresh low versus the euro Tuesday before recovering slightly. In a sign of the depth of concern, the dollar fell even though European economies show clear signs of faltering themselves.

Stocks Skid in Europe, Asia

European and Asian stocks were clobbered Tuesday as worries about the global banking system and economy extinguished any signs of the previous day's relief rally. The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index fell 2.2% to 266.52, its lowest close since May 2005. "Sellers are pushing against an open door," said Richard Hunter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, a unit of Hargreaves Lansdown in Bristol, England, which oversees $21.5 billion in assets. "We could be here for a while yet."

Fannie-Freddie Flu Hits Asian Banks Uncertain Exposure To Agencies' Debt

Rather than being relieved that the U.S. government is bolstering Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, investors in Asian banks are judging Sunday's rescue plan as a signal of deeper problems that could spill over to Asia. Their response? Dump shares in banks that they feared could be big holders of debt issued by the two mortgage lenders.

Record Store Closings

Some 144,000 stores will close this year, up 7% from last year. That is the largest one-year increase in the 14 years that the International Council of Shopping Centers has tracked the figures. The number is even more sobering considering that the ICSC up until now has been projecting 6,500 store closures this year. Why the big difference? The smaller number represents how many closings the trade group predicts will be announced, mostly by national retailers that are publicly held. The government data at the core of the new projection give a broader view of all store closings, including those by independent and privately held retailers that make up the majority of the U.S. store base.

Retiree Benefits Take Another Hit

General Motors Corp.'s move to eliminate retiree health benefits for salaried workers is a sobering signal to the rest of the U.S. work force: Even those who are in or near retirement shouldn't count on keeping the company coverage they have built up. Since the early 1990s, employers eager to get out from under the increasing burden of covering their retirees' health care have been whittling away at those benefits. At some companies, new or younger workers have been excluded from retiree health benefits. Older workers and existing retirees often got to keep the benefits, but had to pay a larger share of the overall costs. But GM's announcement Tuesday that it would cease medical coverage for its salaried retirees age 65 and above signals that a new era of ever-shrinking benefits has arrived. Beginning in January, even former employees who are already in retirement will lose their benefits, which most of the company's retirees use to supplement gaps in their traditional Medicare coverage. The auto maker will boost monthly pension payouts to help offset the cuts. The company's unionized workers aren't affected by the cut to retiree health benefits.

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John Rubino

Author: John Rubino

John Rubino
DollarCollapse.com

John Rubino is author of Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green Tech Boom (Wiley, December 2008), co-author, with GoldMoney's James Turk, of The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit From It (Doubleday, January 2008), and author of How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust (Rodale, 2003). After earning a Finance MBA from New York University, he spent the 1980s on Wall Street, as a currency trader, equity analyst and junk bond analyst. During the 1990s he was a featured columnist with TheStreet.com and a frequent contributor to Individual Investor, Online Investor, and Consumers Digest, among many other publications. He now writes for CFA Magazine and edits DollarCollapse.com and GreenStockInvesting.com.

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