In sign of strength, S&P 500 breaks past 1,000 as Wall Street rally blows into August

August 3, 2009

By Sara Lepro and Tim Paradis, AP Business Writers
Monday August 3, 2009, 6:02 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — The Standard & Poor’s 500 index (SPX) is four digits again now that the stock market’s rally has blown into August.

The widely followed stock market measure broke above 1,000 on Monday for the first time in nine months as reports on manufacturing, construction and banking sent investors more signals that the economy is gathering strength. The S&P is used as a benchmark by professional investors, and it’s also the foundation for mutual funds in many individual 401(k) accounts.

Wall Street’s big indexes all rose more than 1 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), which climbed 115 points.

The market extended its summer rally on the type of news that might have seemed unthinkable when stocks cratered to 12-year lows in early March. A trade group predicted U.S. manufacturing activity will grow next month, the government said construction spending rose in June and Ford Motor Co. (F) said its sales rose last month for the first time in nearly two years.

“The market is beginning to smell economic recovery,” said Howard Ward, portfolio manager of GAMCO Growth Fund. “It may be too early to declare victory, but we are well on our way.”

The day’s reports were the latest indications that the recession that began in December 2007 could be retreating. Better corporate earnings reports and economic data propelled the Dow Jones industrial average 725 points in July to its best month in nearly seven years and restarted spring rally that had stalled in June.

On Monday, a report from the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, signaled U.S. manufacturing activity should increase next month for the first time since January 2008 as industrial companies restock shelves. Also, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose rather than fell in June as analysts had expected. The reports and rising commodity prices lifted energy and material stocks.

Ford said sales of light vehicles rose 1.6 percent in July. Other major automakers said they saw signs of stability in sales. Investors predicted that the government’s popular cash for clunkers program would boost overall auto sales to their highest level of the year.

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Everybody hurts…sometimes

March 11, 2009

The World’s Billionaires

03.11.09, 06:00 PM EDT
Luisa Kroll, Matthew Miller and Tatiana Serafin
Forbes.com

It’s been a tough year for the richest people in the world. Last year there were 1,125 billionaires. This year there are just 793 people rich enough to make our list.

The world has become a wealth wasteland. Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year. Today there are 793 people on our list of the World’s Billionaires, a 30% decline from a year ago.

Of the 1,125 billionaires who made last year’s ranking, 373 fell off the list–355 from declining fortunes and 18 who died. There are 38 newcomers, plus three moguls who returned to the list after regaining their 10-figure fortunes. It is the first time since 2003 that the world has had a net loss in the number of billionaires.

The world’s richest are also a lot poorer. Their collective net worth is $2.4 trillion, down $2 trillion from a year ago. Their average net worth fell 23% to $3 billion. The last time the average was that low was in 2003.

Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world’s richest man. Warren Buffett, last year’s No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) fell nearly 50% in 12 months, but he still managed to slip just one spot to No. 2. Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú also lost $25 billion and dropped one spot to No. 3.

It was hard to avoid the carnage, whether you were in stocks, commodities, real estate or technology. Even people running profitable businesses were hammered by frozen credit markets, weak consumer spending or declining currencies.

The biggest loser in the world this year, by dollars, was last year’s biggest gainer. India’s Anil Ambani lost $32 billion–76% of his fortune–as shares of his Reliance Communications, Reliance Power and Reliance Capital all collapsed.

Ambani is one of 24 Indian billionaires, all but one of whom are poorer than a year ago. Another 29 Indians lost their billionaire status entirely as India’s stock market tumbled 44% in the past year and the Indian rupee depreciated 18% against the dollar. It is no longer the top spot in Asia for billionaires, ceding that title to China, which has 28.

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Maybe the meltdown wasn’t what you think

March 5, 2009

By Peter Brimelow, MarketWatch
Last update: 1:03 a.m. EST Feb. 23, 2009

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Everyone knows the crash of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation except Thomas E. Woods, who blames financial regulation, in the shape of the Federal Reserve.

Wood’s new book, “Meltdown: A Free Market Look At Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse” (Regnery), has just made it to the New York Times best-seller list without the benefit of any major reviews.

That’s par for the course for Woods, a fellow of the Auburn, Ala.-based Ludwig von Mises Institute, advocates of “Austrian economics,” a particularly embattled faction of free market economists — all of whom are pretty embattled, or out of fashion, right now.

The Austrian school argues that business cycles are driven by central banks keeping interest rates too low, expanding credit and encouraging uneconomic investments, creating an unsustainable boom, inevitably followed by a bust.

That’s what happened here, says Woods, most recently with the Fed’s multiple interest rate cuts to stave off the 2000-2002 slowdown.

Certainly debt levels had reached historic highs before the crash.

Woods argues the crash of 2008 was a perfect storm. Other elements included immense government pressure on mortgage lenders to loosen standards and make loans to questionably credit-worthy but politically favored demographic groups; and securitization, which spread the effects of bad mortgage lending around the world.

Recovery from even serious business cycle downturns can be swift, says Woods, citing the almost-forgotten 1920-1921 slump. But that’s because the federal government did not step in. It allowed excesses to correct themselves. In contrast, the federal government did step in after 1929, as Japan’s government did in a similar downturn after 1990. Result, according to Woods: the Great Depression in the U.S.; 18 years of stagnation in Japan.

If Woods is right, public policy is on exactly the wrong course right now in trying to sustain demand and asset prices, just as it was in the early years of the Depression. Ironically, this wrong course is bipartisan. Both Hebert Hoover and George W. Bush, Woods notes, were highly interventionist presidents just like their successors, contrary to myth.

Woods’ cheerful prediction: prolonged stagnation, eventual inflation and an even bigger collapse.

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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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Massive Arctic ice shelf breaks away

September 3, 2008

Wed Sep 3, 2008 11:39am EDT

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A huge 19 square mile (55 square km) ice shelf in Canada’s northern Arctic broke away last month and the remaining shelves have shrunk at a “massive and disturbing” rate, the latest sign of accelerating climate change in the remote region, scientists said on Tuesday.

They said the Markham Ice Shelf, one of just five remaining ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic, split away from Ellesmere Island in early August. They also said two large chunks totaling 47 square miles had broken off the nearby Serson Ice Shelf, reducing it in size by 60 percent.

“The changes … were massive and disturbing,” said Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec.

Temperatures in large parts of the Arctic have risen far faster than the global average in recent decades, a development that experts say is linked to global warming.

“These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic,” said Derek Mueller, an Arctic ice shelf specialist at Trent University in Ontario.

“These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for thousands of years are no longer present,” he said in an e-mailed statement from the research team sent late on Tuesday.

Mueller said the total amount of ice lost from the shelves along Ellesmere Island this summer totaled 83 square miles — more than three times the area of Manhattan island.

The figure is more than 10 times the amount of ice shelf cover that scientists estimated on July 30 would vanish from around the island this summer.

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No end seen in reliance on oil, fossil fuels

June 25, 2008

Wednesday June 25, 3:05 pm ET
By H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press Writer

Powered by China and developing nations, world energy demand seen growing 50 percent by 2030

WASHINGTON (AP) — World energy demand will grow 50 percent over the next two decades, oil prices could rise to $186 a barrel and coal will remain the biggest source of electricity despite its effect on global warming, government experts predict.

The Energy Information Administration’s long-range forecast to 2030 said the world is not close to abandoning fossil fuels. They will continue to be at the core of energy production in transportation and electricity generation, according to the report released Wednesday.

It said the steepest increases in energy use will come in China and other developing economies, including some in the Middle East and Africa, where energy demand is expected to be 85 percent greater in 2030 than it is today.

“What jumps out is the very strong growth in the emerging economies,” said Guy Caruso, the head of the agency that serves as the government statistical and forecasting arm on energy.

The outlook largely assumes no mandatory international agreements on capping greenhouse gases, especially heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which comes from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuel use “could be altered substantially” by such deals, the report said.

Without such limits, the annual amount of carbon dioxide flowing into the atmosphere would be 51 percent greater in 2030 than it was three years ago, the study said.

It said fossil fuels are expected to continue supplying much of the energy used worldwide despite the growth of renewable energy sources, including wind and biofuels.

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Dearth of Ships Delays Drilling of Offshore Oil

June 19, 2008

By JAD MOUAWAD and MARTIN FACKLER
New York Times

As President Bush calls for repealing a ban on drilling off most of the coast of the United States, a shortage of ships used for deep-water offshore drilling promises to impede any rapid turnaround in oil exploration and supply.

In recent years, this global shortage of drill-ships has created a critical bottleneck, frustrating energy company executives and constraining their ability to exploit known reserves or find new ones. Slow growth in oil supplies, at a time of soaring demand, has been a major factor in the spike of oil and gasoline prices.

Mr. Bush called on Congress Wednesday to end a longstanding federal ban on offshore drilling and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration, arguing that the steps were needed to lower gasoline prices and bolster national security. But even as oil trades at more than $135 a barrel — up from $68 a year ago — the world’s existing drill-ships are booked solid for the next five years. Some oil companies have been forced to postpone exploration while waiting for a drilling rig, executives and analysts said.

Demand is so high that shipbuilders, the biggest of whom are in Asia, have raised prices since last year by as much as $100 million a vessel to about half a billion dollars.

“The crunch on rigs is everywhere,” said Alberto Guimaraes, a senior executive at Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company that has discovered some of the most promising offshore oil but has been unable to get at it.

“Almost 100 percent of the oil companies are constrained in their investment program because there is no rig available,” he said.

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