Massive new Fed programs aimed at loosening credit

November 25, 2008

Tuesday November 25, 6:57 pm ET
By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

Emergency rescue efforts totaling $800 billion aim to loosen credit for consumers, businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rolling out powerful new weapons against the financial meltdown, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve pledged $800 billion Tuesday to blast through blockades on credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other borrowing. Total federal bailout commitments neared a staggering $7 trillion.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has been criticized for constantly revising the original $700 billion rescue program, said the administration was considering even more changes in its final two months in office.

Reports on the nation’s economic health weren’t getting any better. The Commerce Department said the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, declined at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter, even worse than the initial 0.3 percent estimated a month ago as consumer spending fell by the largest amount in 28 years.

In Chicago, meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama named his budget director and said they both will focus on the nation’s soaring budget deficit — but only after economic revival is under way. Paulson stressed that Obama’s transition team was being kept informed of the government’s moves.

Investors digested it all and sent the Dow Jones industrials 36 points higher, a modest gain but still the first time the average had risen three straight days in more than two months.

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Arch Coal Attracts Soros as Peabody Lures Citadel

November 24, 2008

By Arijit Ghosh and Christopher Martin

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — Billionaire investor George Soros, Citadel Investment Group LLC and T. Rowe Price Group Inc. are snapping up coal mining shares, taking advantage of the cheapest valuations in five years as demand for electricity rises.

Soros bought 2.9 million Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) shares last quarter for a 2 percent stake in the second-largest U.S. coal producer, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show. Citadel, the Chicago-based hedge fund, and Invesco Ltd. in Atlanta bought 3.5 million shares of Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU), the biggest miner. T. Rowe reported purchasing stock in Peabody, Arch, Consol Energy Inc. (CNX) and Indonesia’s PT Bumi Resources.

While coal, the cheapest fuel for power, is up 88 percent in Pennsylvania, shares of the companies that mine the mineral have slumped along with the rest of the commodities industry. Now, investors are betting that Peabody, which traded at 3.7 times projected 2009 earnings as of Nov. 21, and Arch at 2.5 times are cheap because coal use will increase. The valuations were at more than a 54 percent discount to the MSCI World/Energy Index.

“Coal is the best commodity to get into right now,” said Daniel Rice, manager of BlackRock Advisors Inc.’s $1.5 billion Global Resources Fund in Boston, which is among the largest holders of Peabody and Arch. “It’s a lot less sensitive to downturns because it’s needed for basic power generation, and demand is growing.”

Crude oil in New York has dropped 43 percent this year compared with a 6.1 percent decline in Australian coal prices.

Consol surged $4.08, or 20 percent, to $24.88 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Peabody climbed $2.82, or 15 percent, to $21.57 and Arch Coal rose $1.40, or 11 percent, to $13.70.

Electricity Demand

Demand for electricity in major economies, where coal is used to generate 52 percent of power, will increase 3.3 percent by 2010, according to a UBS AG report on Nov. 17. Global coal use will rise 2 percent a year through 2030, led by China and India, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said Nov. 6.

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Does It Still Pay to Invest in Gold?

November 24, 2008

Investopedia.com – Emanuel BalarieTuesday, October 21, 2008

From gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to gold stocks to buying physical gold, investors now have several different options when it comes to investing in the royal metal. But what exactly is the purpose of gold? And why should investors even bother investing in the gold market? Indeed, these two questions have divided gold investors for the last several decades. One school of thought argues that gold is simply a barbaric relic that no longer holds the monitory qualities of the past. In a modern economic environment, where paper currency is the money of choice, gold’s only benefit is the fact that it is a material that is used in jewelry.

On the other end of the spectrum is a school of thought that asserts gold is an asset with various intrinsic qualities that make it unique and necessary for investors to hold in their portfolios. In this article, we will focus on the purpose of gold in the modern era, why it still belongs in investors’ portfolios and the different ways that a person can invest in the gold market.

A Brief History on Gold

In order to fully understand the purpose of gold, one must look back at the start of the gold market. While gold’s history began in 3000 B.C, when the ancient Egyptians started forming jewelry, it wasn’t until 560 B.C. that gold started to act as a currency. At that time, merchants wanted to create a standardized and easily transferable form of money that would simplify trade. Because gold jewelry was already widely accepted and recognized throughout various corners of the earth, the creation of a gold coin stamped with a seal seemed to be the answer.

Following the advent of gold as money, gold’s importance continued to grow. History has examples of gold’s influence in various empires, like the Greek and Roman empires. Great Britain developed its own metals based currency in 1066. The British pound (symbolizing a pound of sterling silver), shillings and pence were all based on the amount of gold (or silver) that it represented. Eventually, gold symbolized wealth throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The United States government continued on with this gold tradition by establishing a bimetallic standard in 1792. The bimetallic standard simply stated that every monetary unit in the United States had to be backed by either gold or silver. For example, one U.S. dollar was the equivalent of 24.75 grains of gold. In other words, the coins that were used as money simply represented the gold (or silver) that was presently deposited at the bank.

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Treasury, Fed continue extensive bailout efforts

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 2:33 pm ET
By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Business Writer

Nothing a few more billion can’t cure: Treasury, Fed take more steps to fight meltdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s latest effort to address the financial crisis is a $20 billion investment in banking giant Citigroup Inc. (C), along with an agreement to guarantee hundreds of billions of dollars in possible losses.

The step, announced late Sunday, is the latest in a long list of government moves to counter the financial meltdown:

–March 11: The Federal Reserve announces a rescue package to provide up to $200 billion in loans to banks and investment houses and let them put up risky mortgage-backed securities as collateral.

–March 16: The Fed provides a $29 billion loan to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) as part of its purchase of investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC).

–May 2: The Fed increases the size of its loans to banks and lets them put up less-secure collateral.

–July 11: Federal regulators seize Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac (IMB), costing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. billions to compensate deposit-holders.

–July 30: President Bush signs a housing bill including $300 billion in new loan authority for the government to back cheaper mortgages for troubled homeowners.

–Sept. 7: The Treasury takes over mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), putting them into a conservatorship and pledging up to $200 billion to back their assets.

–Sept. 16: The Fed injects $85 billion into the failing American International Group (AIG), one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

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Government unveils bold plan to rescue Citigroup

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 1:51 am ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

Government unveils plan to rescue Citigroup, including taking $20 billion stake in the firm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government unveiled a bold plan Sunday to rescue troubled Citigroup (C), including taking a $20 billion stake in the firm as well as guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky assets.

The action, announced jointly by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is aimed at shoring up a huge financial institution whose collapse would wreak havoc on the already crippled financial system and the U.S. economy.

The sweeping plan is geared to stemming a crisis of confidence in the company, whose stock has been hammered in the past week on worries about its financial health.

“With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy,” the three agencies said in a statement issued late Sunday night. “We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks.”

The move is the latest in a string of high-profile government bailout efforts. The Fed in March provided financial backing to JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) buyout of ailing Bear Stearns (BSC). Six months later, the government was forced to take over mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) and throw a financial lifeline — which was recently rejiggered — to insurer American International Group (AIG).

Critics worry the actions could put billions of taxpayers’ dollars in jeopardy and encourage financial companies to take excessive risk on the belief that the government will bail them out of their messes.

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Obama aide promotes job plan, warns automakers

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 12:16 am ET
By Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press Writers

Obama adviser promotes economic aid plan, seeks swift congressional action; automakers warned

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama signaled Sunday he will move urgently and aggressively to rescue the plunging economy, demanding swift passage by Congress of a massive two-year spending and tax-cutting recovery program. “We’re out with the dithering, we’re in with a bang,” a top Obama aide said.

Obama’s plans, outlined by his transition team on television talk shows, could put aside his campaign pledge to repeal a Bush tax cut for the wealthy. With the downturn in the economy, those tax cuts may remain in place until they are scheduled to die in 2011, said William M. Daley, an economic adviser. “That looks more likely than not,” he said.

Obama aides called on lawmakers to pass, by the Jan. 20 inauguration, legislation that meets Obama’s two-year goal of saving or creating 2.5 million jobs. Democratic congressional leaders said they would get to work when Congress convenes Jan. 6.

Though Obama aides declined to discuss a total cost, it probably would far exceed the $175 billion he proposed during the campaign. Some economists and lawmakers have argued for a two-year plan as large as $700 billion, equal to the Wall Street bailout Congress approved last month.

“I don’t know what the exact number is, but it’s going to be a big number. It has to be,” said Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

With the wounded economy worsening, the Obama team’s new assertiveness was a recognition he needed to soothe financial markets with signs of leadership. It also foreshadowed a more hands-on role by Obama to influence congressional action during the final weeks of the transition.

Obama will introduce his economic team on Monday, including Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence Summers as head of the National Economic Council. Obama also has settled on New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as his commerce secretary.

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Bernanke says he erred in gauging mortgage fallout

November 23, 2008

Sunday November 23, 3:30 pm ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

Bernanke acknowledges mistake in gauging fallout from risky mortgages

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledges he was wrong in believing that there would be limited fallout to financial markets from risky mortgages that soured after the housing market’s collapse.

“I and others were mistaken early on in saying that the subprime crisis would be contained,” Bernanke said in an article in the Dec. 1 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

“The causal relationship between the housing problem and the broad financial system was very complex and difficult to predict,” he said in the piece titled “Anatomy of a Meltdown.”

Subprime mortgages made to people with tarnished credit or low incomes were especially hard hit once the housing boom went bust. Foreclosures spiked and financial companies wracked up huge losses as these investments turned bad.

The mortgage meltdown started in the United States in the summer of 2007 and rapidly spread to other countries, as well as to other types of lending, affecting even more creditworthy customers. The problems with risky, subprime mortgages touched off what many call the worst financial crisis to hit the world since the 1930s.

To protect the economy from damage and help ease Wall Street turmoil, Bernanke and his colleagues cut a key interest rate in September 2007 — the first reduction in four years. Some critics at the time thought the Fed should have acted sooner.

Now more than a year into the crisis, Bernanke has taken a flurry of unprecedented — and some controversial — steps to help bolster the banking system and to get banks to lend money more freely again.

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Hope and Dreams Portfolio

November 21, 2008

The stocks in this group fall under the green/conservation/water umbrella. They are generally solving problems by doing good for society. Oh, and they make some money in the process.

Think positive and your dollars will respond in kind.

AMSC – supplies electrical systems used in wind turbines; sells power electronic products that regulate wind farm voltage to enable their interconnection to the power grid; licenses wind energy system designs to manufacturers of such systems, and provides consulting services to the wind industry.

BMI – is a manufacturer of flow measurement and control products, serving water utilities, municipalities and industrial customers worldwide. Measuring a variety of liquids, from potable water to oil and lubricants, to industrial processes, the Company’s products provide timely measurement information to its customers.

CCC – is a provider of products, and solutions for purifying water and air.

CDZI – is primarily engaged in acquiring and developing land and water resources. Its primary assets consist of 45,000 acres of land in three areas of eastern San Bernardino County, California. The Company’s portfolio of water resources are located in proximity to the Colorado River and the Colorado River Aqueduct, the principal source of imported water for Southern California, and provides the Company with the opportunity to participate in a variety of water storage and supply programs, exchanges and conservation programs with public agencies and other partners.

CLHB – is a provider of environmental services and an operator of non-nuclear hazardous waste treatment facilities in North America. The Company performs environmental services for over 45,000 customers, including more than 325 Fortune 500 companies.

CREE – focuses its expertise in SiC and GaN on light emitting diodes (LEDs), which consist of LED chips, LED components and LED lighting solutions. It also develops power and radio frequency (RF) products, including power switching and RF devices.

CWCO – develops and operates seawater desalination plants and water distribution systems in areas where naturally occurring supplies of potable water are scarce or nonexistent.

ELON – develops, markets, and sells system and network infrastructure products that enable various devices such as air conditioners, appliances, electricity meters, light switches, thermostats, and valves to be made smart and inter-connected. The Company’s products and services are offered to the principal markets, which include electric utilities, building automation, industrial automation, demand response, street lighting, home control and transportation.

FSYS – designs, manufactures and supplies alternative fuel components and systems for use in the transportation, industrial and power generation industries on a global basis.

FTEK – is an integrated company that uses a suite of technologies to provide boiler optimization, efficiency improvement and air pollution reduction and control solutions to utility and industrial customers worldwide. Fuel Tech’s special focus is the worldwide marketing of its nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction and FUEL CHEM processes.

GRC – designs, manufactures and sells pumps and related equipment (pump and motor controls) for use in water, wastewater, construction, industrial, petroleum, original equipment, agriculture, fire protection, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), military and other liquid-handling applications.

HAIN – is engaged in manufacturing, marketing, distributing and selling natural and organic food products, and natural and organic personal care products under brand names, which are sold as better-for-you products.

HEV – has developed a working prototype of its hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) battery pack and is producing sample cells for testing for an electric vehicle (EV) battery pack.

ITRI
– provides a portfolio of products and services to utilities for the energy and water markets throughout the world. The Company is a provider of metering, data collection and software.

LNN – is a designer and manufacturer of self-propelled center pivot and lateral move irrigation systems, which are used in the agricultural industry to stabilize crop production while conserving water, energy, and labor.

PNR
– is a global player in providing products and systems used worldwide in the movement, storage, treatment and enjoyment of water.

SWWC
– is engaged in providing a range of services, including water production, treatment and distribution; wastewater collection and treatment; utility operations and maintenance services; and utility infrastructure construction.

TTEK – provides consulting, engineering, construction, and technical services for resource management and infrastructure in the United States and internationally. Its services include research and development, applied science and technology, engineering design, program management, construction management, construction, and operations and maintenance.

WGOV – engages in the design and manufacture of energy control and optimization solutions for reciprocating engine, aircraft and industrial turbines, and electrical power system equipment used in various industries worldwide. The company primarily provides integrated control systems and control components, such as electronics, actuators, valves, fuel systems, and combustion systems to OEMs of gas turbines for use in aerospace and industrial power markets; to OEMs of diesel engines, gas engines, steam turbines, and distributors for use in power generation, marine, transportation, and process applications; and to OEMs of electrical power generation, distribution, conversion, and quality equipment using digital controls and inverter technologies.

WTS
– is a supplier of products for use in the water quality, water safety, water flow control and water conservation markets.


Worse than the tech bust by any measure

November 20, 2008

The 2002 lows are under assault and this drop so far makes that one look like child’s play. All long term indicators are more negative now than at any point in the 2000-2002 bear.

spx112008


Joe Investor, the Markets Are All Yours Now

November 19, 2008

Jason Zweig
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The tables have turned.

For the past couple of decades, the markets have been dominated by institutional investors who devoured bargains so fast and in such bulk that individual investors were usually left, at best, with a few scraps.

But pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds and other institutions are under siege as their portfolios implode and investors redeem their shares, forcing the fund managers to raise cash.

Virtually every investment that carries any risk is on sale. Stocks and bonds, at home and abroad, have had their prices slashed by up to 45% this year. Yet at the very moment when bargains abound, many of the giants who normally would buy can do nothing but sell.

Welcome to a buyer’s market without buyers.

This is a huge change for the little guys. Rob Arnott, who oversees $35 billion at Research Affiliates LLC in Newport Beach, Calif., puts it this way: “The question that hardly anyone ever thinks about is: Who’s on the other side of my trade, and why are they willing to be losers if I’m going to be a winner?” Ever since the 1970s, the person on the other side of your trade has almost always been someone who manages billions of dollars and has millions of dollars to spend on gathering more information than most individuals ever could. Now, however, as Mr. Arnott says, “You can — and probably do — have a counterparty on the other side of your trade who absolutely has to sell, perhaps at any price.”

You would be very wise to give these distressed sellers a little bit of your cash, which they overvalue, in exchange for some of the stocks and bonds that they are undervaluing. Sooner rather than later, institutions will no longer need to beg for cash, they will regain the upper hand over individuals, and the tables will turn again.

While blue-chip stocks are still cheap, as I’ve said many times lately, there are some areas where the liquidity drought borders on desperation.

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Got advice?

November 18, 2008

Commentary: This is a great time to take a hard look at your financial adviser

By Bob Clark
Last update: 6:28 p.m. EST Nov. 18, 2008

SANTA FE, N.M. (MarketWatch) — A silver lining of the recent Wall Street/economic meltdown is a chance to assess your relationship with your financial adviser. Sure, you could do this anytime, but the best indication of whether you’re getting what you need is when you need it most.

Chances are this is probably one of those times. This is so true, in fact, that the best financial advisers get the majority of their new clients during times like these — folks who have become dissatisfied with their old advisers. In most of these cases, the need to make a change is obvious. To paraphrase an old saying: If you have to ask, you probably need a new adviser.

What if you’re just not sure? Most people like their adviser — it’s usually one of the main reasons why he or she is your adviser. So you’re inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially during tough times when their business is undoubtedly hurting as much or more than your portfolio.

But we are talking about your financial future here. You really can’t afford to stick with any professional who isn’t getting the job done. This is one of those rare times when it really is all about you.

The problem that most people have with evaluating their financial adviser is they don’t have much experience with other advisers. How do they know whether their service is good or bad? Compared to what? Sure, if you’re really unhappy, the decision is clear. But what if you’re just mildly annoyed?

One excellent independent adviser I know won’t even take new clients who haven’t had at least a couple of other advisers first — he doesn’t feel they can fully appreciate his level of service and expertise if they don’t have other experiences to compare.

Ultimately, only you can make the call whether it’s time to look for another financial adviser. But it can help to get some sense of what good advisers do. For some perspective, here are some important issues in an adviser/client relationship, together with how they best handle them:

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Major Stock Index Averages Test the Lows Again

November 13, 2008

So far the trading range is still holding up.  Quite a sharp bounce from these levels once again.

djia111308

The S&P 500 actually broke the lows today before rocketing back.

spx111308


Preferred shares find favor

November 9, 2008

ETF portfolios offer tempting yields after sell-off, but risks abound

By John Spence, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:29 p.m. EST Nov. 9, 2008

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — Preferred stocks took a big hit in September and October as the credit crunch and bank failures sent investors for the exits, but the shares have been garnering interest as their yields approach double digits.

Preferred issues have also attracted attention because famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett has been buying them. Moreover, governments around the world have taken equity stakes in troubled banks through preferred shares.

Although investors shouldn’t expect Buffett-like deals, they can invest in a basket of publicly traded preferred shares via exchange-traded funds.

Many investors like to think of preferred shares as a blend of stocks and bonds. Preferred stocks, which generally don’t carry voting rights, tend to pay higher dividends than the common shares. Preferred shareholders receive their dividends before common shareholders and also have certain advantages if a company liquidates.

There are many types of preferred shares, including cumulative, callable and convertible. The prices of preferred shares typically have had more volatility than bonds but jump around less than common stock.

Another reason investors are drawn to preferred shares is that the dividends, which are fixed, can be taxed at a lower rate than the income thrown off by bonds.

Liquidity crisis

Preferred shares tumbled hard in October; iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index Fund (PFF) , an ETF managed by Barclays Global Investors, is off about 30% year to date. It has a 30-day yield of 9.3% and charges management fees of 0.48%.

Invesco PowerShares Capital Management also oversees a pair of preferred-stock ETFs: PowerShares Preferred Portfolio (PGX) and PowerShares Financial Preferred Portfolio (PGF).

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