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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