A Few ETF/ETN Picks – One Year Later

July 28, 2009

Here is an update on our ETF/ETN picks that are one year old today.

Not your normal 12 months by any stretch.

Staying disciplined and taking what the market gives leaves us well ahead of the market in even the worst of times.

ETF/ETN picks after 1 year

ETF/ETN picks after 1 year


Stress test results lift cloud of uncertainty

May 8, 2009

Results show 10 big banks need $75 billion in new capital; hope rises for economy’s recovery

Daniel Wagner and Jeannine Aversa, AP Business Writers
Friday May 8, 2009, 1:09 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government exams of the biggest U.S. banks have helped lift a cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the economy.

The so-called stress tests — a key Obama administration effort to boost confidence in the financial system — showed nine of the 19 biggest banks have enough capital to withstand a deeper recession. Ten must raise a total of $75 billion in new capital to withstand possible future losses.

“The publication of the stress tests simply cleared the air of uncertainty,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics. “The results were not scary at all.”

He said it will take a long time for the banks to resume normal lending. But the test results didn’t alter his prediction that economy is headed for a recovery in October or November.

A key indicator of economic health will be released Friday morning, when the government announces how many more jobs were lost in April and how high the unemployment rate rose.

The stress tests have been criticized as a confidence-building exercise whose relatively rosy outcome was inevitable. But the information, which leaked out all week, was enough to cheer investors. They pushed bank stocks higher Wednesday, and rallied again in after-hours trading late Thursday once the results had been released.

Among the 10 banks that need to raise more capital, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) needs by far the most — $33.9 billion. Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) needs $13.7 billion, GMAC LLC $11.5 billion, Citigroup Inc. (C) $5.5 billion and Morgan Stanley (MS) $1.8 billion.

The five other firms found to need more of a capital cushion are all regional banks — Regions Financial Corp. (RF) of Birmingham, Alabama; SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI) of Atlanta; KeyCorp (KEY) of Cleveland; Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) of Cincinnati; and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC) of Pittsburgh.

The banks will have until June 8 to develop a plan and have it approved by their regulators. If they can’t raise the money on their own, the government said it’s prepared to dip further into its bailout fund.

The stress tests are a big part of the Obama administration’s plan to fortify the financial system. As home prices fell and foreclosures increased, banks took huge hits on mortgages and mortgage-related securities they were holding.

The government hopes the stress tests will restore investors’ confidence that not all banks are weak, and that even those that are can be strengthened. They have said none of the banks will be allowed to fail.

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The bears aren’t dead and buried yet

March 30, 2009

The SPX only stayed above the 50 day simple moving average this time for 5 days.  At the turn of the year, it at least managed 7.  The 2002 lows are crucial support to test the will of new buyers.  If they fail to hold, the 741 level will serve as the canary to warn of a possible complete retest of the March lows.

So far, we have only another headfake to the upside created by jawboning from the Feds.  We still believe this is part of a bottoming process, but we need more honest buying (not short covering) to confirm the lows are already in.

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The Fight Over Who Will Guard Your Nest Egg

March 28, 2009

By JASON ZWEIG
wsj.com

A power struggle in Washington will shape how investors get the advice they need.

On one side are stockbrokers and other securities salespeople who work for Wall Street firms, banks and insurance companies. On the other are financial planners or investment advisers who often work for themselves or smaller firms.

Brokers are largely regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is funded by the brokerage business itself and inspects firms every one or two years. Under Finra’s rules, brokers must recommend only investments that are “suitable” for clients.

Advisers are regulated by the states or the Securities and Exchange Commission, which examines firms every six to 10 years on average. Advisers act out of “fiduciary duty,” or the obligation to put their clients’ interests first.

Most investors don’t understand this key distinction. A report by Rand Corp. last year found that 63% of investors think brokers are legally required to act in the best interest of the client; 70% believe that brokers must disclose any conflicts of interest. Advisers always have those duties, but brokers often don’t. The confusion is understandable, because a lot of stock brokers these days call themselves financial planners.

Brokers can sell you any investment they have “reasonable grounds for believing” is suitable for you. Only since 1990 have they been required to base that suitability judgment on your risk tolerance, investing objectives, tax status and financial position.

A key factor still is missing from Finra’s suitability requirements: cost. Let’s say you tell your broker that you want to simplify your stock portfolio into an index fund. He then tells you that his firm manages an S&P-500 Index fund that is “suitable’ for you. He is under no obligation to tell you that the annual expenses that his firm charges on the fund are 10 times higher than an essentially identical fund from Vanguard. An adviser acting under fiduciary duty would have to disclose the conflict of interest and tell you that cheaper alternatives are available.

If brokers had to take cost and conflicts of interest into account in order to honor a fiduciary duty to their clients, their firms might hesitate before producing the kind of garbage that has blighted the portfolios of investors over the years.

Richard G. Ketchum, chairman of Finra, has begun openly using the F-word: fiduciary. “It’s time to get to one standard, a fiduciary standard that works for both broker-dealers and advisers,” he told me. “Both should have a fundamental first responsibility to their customers.”

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How many bears could a bear trap bury, if a bear trap began to bury bears?

March 18, 2009

A shovel is not enough longs, we may have hit rock.  The question is, did we hit rock bottom?

The 50 day moving average is in play once again.  Can we remove this huge stone in time for Easter?  The resurrection of the market depends on it.

spxtesting800031809


Phases of fear and elation in the VIX

March 18, 2009

Here we show a nice relationship between the VIX and the SPX.  While this is a commonly referenced pairing, many still challenge the value of using the VIX as a market indicator.  There are numerous ways too use the VIX and almost everyone has their own tweaks.  This chart shows a very clear inverse relationship with several distinct “phases” discernible in the value of the VIX.  These “phases” correlate well with the action in the SPX.  We have labled these phases “euphoria”, “fear” and “panic”.  We also included the 400 day moving average (equivalent to the 80 week) which we discussed previously in The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average.  This bull/bear market reference point matches up very well with the action in the VIX, as the VIX moves into the “fear phase” just as the 400 day is coming under assault, before eventually breaking.  A final test of the 400 day from below, which we highlighted in late April 2008, was accompanied by one last dip into the “euphoria” zone for the VIX.  That was the “last chance” to get out before the drop gathered steam as the SPX then dropped over 50% in less than 12 months.

We added the notes on Bear Stearns and Citigroup for a consensus of the “expert” opinion at the time.

vixspx031809


A Generational Opportunity

March 17, 2009

by Jim O’Shaughnessy
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” -John F. Kennedy

I recently had dinner with a client who told me that stocks had not performed well over the last 40 years. At first I suspected that she was generalizing from the recent pummeling equity markets have experienced — after all, this is a time frame that included two of the biggest bull markets in history! Yet, when I went to the data, I found out that she was absolutely right. The 40 years ending February 2009 were the second worst 40-year period for equities since 1900, with only the 40 years ending December 1941 doing worse!

Let’s put this into perspective. The 40 years ending in 1941 included the stock market panic of 1907, which drove down the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearly 38 percent; the World War I Era, where the period between 1910 and 1919 was one of the worst ever for stocks; AND, oh yes, the Great Depression. Finally, icing on the 40-year cake, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. How could these last 40 years even begin to match that? Alas, they did.

40-year-real-returns1The chart on the left is a histogram of the average annual real returns for U.S. equities (large stocks) for all 40-year holding periods, with annual data starting in 1900 and monthly data beginning in 1926. There were only three 40-year periods where U.S. stocks returned less than four percent annually — the 40 years ending December 1941, where they earned a real rate of return of 3.80 percent annually for the previous 40 years; the 40 years ending February 2009 where they earned 3.86 percent annually; and the 40 years ending December 1942, where stocks returned 3.92 percent a year. Keep in mind that’s just 0.55 percent of the 545 periods analyzed. We are talking about an event so rare, that most of us alive today will never see such an opportunity again.

The histogram also shows the norm — stocks returned between 6 and 8 percent a year for 353 periods, or nearly 65 percent of all of the 40-year periods analyzed. Looked at closely, you see that 99.45 percent of all  observed 40-year periods, U.S. stocks enjoyed a real rate of return between 4 and 12 percent a year, and that we are now presented with a huge generational opportunity.

Reversion to the Mean: Short, Medium and Long Term

Let’s look at what happened with U.S. stocks the first time they earned less than 4 percent a year for a 40-year period. For the five-, ten-, and twenty-year periods following the nadir reached in 1941, here are the real average annual compound returns for a variety of U.S. stock categories:

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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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ETFs: A Better Bet in a Bear Market

February 26, 2009

Amid the financial crisis, tax advantages are but one benefit of exchange-traded funds. Their transparency, liquidity, and lower fees also appeal to investors

By David Bogoslaw
BusinessWeek.com

Imagine having invested in the DWS Commodity Securities A Fund (SKNRX) in 2008. The mutual fund had an annual return of -45.9% and also distributed nearly two-thirds of its net asset value as capital gains, incurring a substantial tax bill for investors on top of the losses they suffered. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only mutual fund to do so: More than three dozen funds with negative returns of at least 21% paid out over 30% of their net asset value as capital gains last year, according to Morningstar (MORN). Ouch and double ouch.

Making capital gains even higher than usual was the fact that most traditional mutual funds were forced to sell legacy holdings that had dramatically appreciated in value since being purchased in order to fund redemptions as nervous investors fled the market.

That may have prompted more people to switch to the mutual funds’ chief rival for the affections of diversification-minded retail investors, exchange-traded funds. Unlike mutual funds, ETFs incur zero capital gains until an investor actually sells his shares. While turnover in an ETF’s holdings can be high, it is done through in-kind exchanges of one security for another rather than through selling and buying.

But since the deepening of the financial crisis last September, the tax advantages of ETFs are just the icing on the cake.
Transparency, Liquidity, Lower Fees

The primary reason ETFs are more popular than ever is they give financial advisers the ability to better control their clients’ investment portfolios. First, there’s the transparency of knowing exactly what’s in an ETF on any given day, which matches advisers’ need for real-time management of investments in order to minimize wealth destruction. In this regard, ETFs have a clear advantage over mutual funds, which are required to disclose their holdings only four times a year. Of course, there are plenty of traditional index funds that are just as transparent as ETFs by virtue of the ability to see the contents of the underlying index on any chosen day, says Russ Kinnel, director of fund research at Morningstar.

ETFs’ inherent liquidity is also more valuable than ever in view of the continuing high volatility in stock and bond markets. Then there are the lower fees typically charged by ETF sponsors, which make a big difference in the current environment, where returns are mostly underwater.

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Obama sets aside $75 billion to slow foreclosures

February 18, 2009

Program would seek to bring mortgage payments down to 31% of income

By Ronald D. Orol, MarketWatch
Last update: 2:38 p.m. EST Feb. 18, 2009

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The White House unveiled a plan Wednesday to help 9 million “at risk” homeowners modify their mortgages, committing $75 billion of taxpayer money to back the initiative.

The plan contains two separate programs. One program is aimed at 4 million to 5 million homeowners struggling with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNM) or Freddie Mac (FRE) to help them refinance their mortgages through the two institutions.

The Obama mortgage plan

Below is a list of key elements of the plan outlined Wednesday by President Obama that aims to aid as many as 9 million households in fending off foreclosures:

* Allows 4 million–5 million homeowners to refinance via government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
* Establishes $75 billion fund to reduce homeowners’ monthly payments.
* Develops uniform rules for loan modifications across the mortgage industry.
* Bolsters Fannie and Freddie by buying more of their shares.
* Allows Fannie and Freddie to hold $900 billion in mortgage-backed securities — a $50 billion increase.

A separate program would potentially help 3 million to 4 million additional homeowners by allowing them to modify their mortgages to lower monthly interest rates through any participating lender. Under this plan, the lender would voluntarily lower the interest rate, and the government would provide subsidies to the lender.

“The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it; by modifying loans for families stuck in subprime mortgages they can’t afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune; and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments,” President Barack Obama said.

Homeowners that have Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans, who are having a difficult time refinancing and owe more than 80% of the value of their homes, would be eligible to refinance with this program. Even if homeowners with Fannie or Freddie loans have negative equity on their mortgages, they can qualify for this refinancing program. The program would only help homeowners occupying the property, not individuals who own property as investors.

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Stocks: A Range-Bound Recovery in 2009

December 24, 2008

S&P’s chief investment strategist says a bear-market bottom may already be in place—and tells why 2009 could be a better year for stocks

By Sam Stovall From Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Investing
Excerpted from a report published by Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Services on Dec. 22

Investors will remember 2008 as a year of change. Not just change in the White House, but also the pocket change that they used to call their portfolios.

Let’s face it. This bear market started as the perfect storm of popping bubbles—commodities, emerging markets, hedge funds, and real estate. From Oct. 9, 2007 through Nov. 20, 2008, the S&P 500 (SPX) declined 52%, making it the third-worst bear market since the 1929-32 crash. One of the more amazing characteristics of this decline was its speed. The average “mega-meltdown,” or bear market decline of more than 40%, traditionally took 21 months to play out. This one took 13 months.

Not surprisingly, all 10 sectors within the “500” fell, from a 22% slump for Consumer Staples to a 74% thrashing for the Financials. Finally, 125 of the 128 subindustries in the S&P 500 declined.

Factors Backing a Bottom

Where do we go from here? Probably not lower, in our opinion. A few months ago, I wrote that 700 on the “500” might be a worst-case scenario for a decline, citing the trendline drawn off of the 1932 low, the average bear-market retracement of prior bull market advances, and the applying of a bear market P/E ratio on a conservative “top-down” EPS estimate. We got close to that level, as the S&P 500 closed at 752 on Nov. 20. Since then, it rose 21%—technically signaling the start of a new bull market. So I say why quibble? What’s 50 points among friends? Besides, we believe there are several reasons that a bear-market bottom may already be in place.

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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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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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The Next Meltdown: Credit-Card Debt

October 9, 2008

Rising rates are accelerating credit-card defaults and soured debt could further undermine the financial system

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg

The troubles sound familiar. Borrowers falling behind on their payments. Defaults rising. Huge swaths of loans souring. Investors getting burned. But forget the now-familiar tales of mortgages gone bad. The next horror for beaten-down financial firms is the $950 billion worth of outstanding credit-card debt—much of it toxic.

That’s bad news for players like JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) that have largely sidestepped—and even benefited from—the mortgage mess but have major credit-card operations. They’re hardly alone. The consumer debt bomb is already beginning to spray shrapnel throughout the financial markets, further weakening the U.S. economy. “The next meltdown will be in credit cards,” says Gregory Larkin, senior analyst at research firm Innovest Strategic Value Advisors. Adds William Black, senior vice-president of Moody’s Investors Service’s structured finance team: “We still haven’t hit the post-recessionary peaks [in credit-card losses], so things will get worse before they get better.” What’s more, the U.S. Treasury Dept.’s $700 billion mortgage bailout won’t be a lifeline for credit-card issuers.

The big firms say they’re prepared for the storm. Early last year JPMorgan started reaching out to troubled borrowers, setting up payment programs and making other adjustments to accounts. “We have seen higher credit-card losses,” acknowledges JPMorgan spokeswoman Tanya M. Madison. “We are concerned about [it] but believe we are taking the right steps to help our customers and manage our risk.”

But some banks and credit-card companies may be exacerbating their problems. To boost profits and get ahead of coming regulation, they’re hiking interest rates. But that’s making it harder for consumers to keep up. That’ll only make tomorrow’s pain worse. Innovest estimates that credit-card issuers will take a $41 billion hit from rotten debt this year and a $96 billion blow in 2009.

Those losses, in turn, will wend their way through the $365 billion market for securities backed by credit-card debt. As with mortgages, banks bundle groups of so-called credit-card receivables, essentially consumers’ outstanding balances, and sell them to big investors such as hedge funds and pension funds. Big issuers offload roughly 70% of their credit-card debt.

But it’s getting harder for banks to find buyers for that debt. Interest rates have been rising on credit-card securities, a sign that investor appetite is waning. To help entice buyers, credit-card companies are having to put up more money as collateral, a guarantee in case something goes wrong with the securities. Mortgage lenders, in sharp contrast, typically aren’t asked to do this—at least not yet. With consumers so shaky, now isn’t a good time to put more skin in the game. “Costs will go up for issuers,” warns Dennis Moroney of the consultancy Tower Group.

Sure, the credit-card market is just a fraction of the $11.9 trillion mortgage market. But sometimes the losses can be more painful. That’s because most credit-card debt is unsecured, meaning consumers don’t have to make down payments when opening up their accounts. If they stop making monthly payments and the account goes bad, there are no underlying assets for credit-card companies to recoup. With mortgages, in contrast, some banks are protected both by down payments and by the ability to recover at least some of the money by selling the property.

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Wells Fargo agrees to buy Wachovia, Citi objects

October 3, 2008

Friday October 3, 6:19 pm ET
By Sara Lepro, AP Business Writer

Wells Fargo agrees to acquire Wachovia for $14.8 billion; Citigroup demands Wachovia nix deal

NEW YORK (AP) — A battle broke out Friday for control of Wachovia (WB), as Wells Fargo (WFC) agreed to pay $14.8 billion for the struggling bank, while Citigroup (C) and federal regulators insisted that Citi’s earlier and lower-priced takeover offer go forward.

The surprise announcement that Wachovia Corp. agreed to be acquired by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. in the all-stock deal — without government assistance — upended what had appeared to be a carefully examined arrangement and caught regulators off guard.

Wells’ original offer totaled about $15.1 billion, but since the value of its shares closed down 60 cents Friday, the deal is now valued at about $14.8 billion.

Only four days earlier, Citigroup Inc. agreed to pay $2.1 billion for Wachovia’s banking operations in a deal that would have the help of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The head of the FDIC said the agency is standing behind the Citigroup agreement, but that it is reviewing all proposals and will work with the banks’ regulators “to pursue a resolution that serves the public interest.”

Citigroup, which demanded that Wachovia call off its deal with Wells Fargo, said its agreement with Wachovia provides that the bank will not enter into any transaction with any party other than Citi or negotiate with anyone else.

Barring legal action, the future of Wachovia will be determined by the bank’s shareholders and regulators, which both have to approve a final deal.

It was clear which they preferred Friday, as Wachovia shares climbed as high as 80 percent.

The FDIC is talking out of both sides of its mouth, said Roger Cominsky, partner in law firm Hiscock & Barclay’s financial institutions and lending practice. The agency says it stands behind the deal with Citigroup because it hasn’t been nixed yet, he said. “But at the same time, they are saying they are reviewing all proposals.”

By law, he said the FDIC is required to find the least-costly resolution for taxpayers. The Wells Fargo deal would not rely on any assistance from the government.

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Historic bailout bill passes Congress; Bush signs

October 3, 2008

Friday October 3, 6:02 pm ET
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Associated Press Writer

Congress enacts historic bailout legislation for financial industry; Bush quickly signs it

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the economy on the brink of meltdown and elections looming, a reluctant Congress abruptly reversed course and approved a historic $700 billion government bailout of the battered financial industry on Friday. President Bush swiftly signed it.

The 263-171 vote capped two weeks of tumult in Congress and on Wall Street, punctuated by urgent warnings from Bush that the country confronted the gravest economic disaster since the Great Depression if lawmakers failed to act.

“We have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country,” Bush said shortly after the plan cleared Congress, although he conceded, “our economy continues to face serious challenges.”

His somber warning was underscored on Wall Street, where enthusiasm over the rescue gave way to worries about obstacles still facing the economy, and the Dow Jones industrials dropped 157 points. The Labor Department said earlier in the day that employers had slashed 159,000 jobs in September, the largest cut in five years.

The historic vote was a striking turnaround from the measure’s spectacular failure earlier in the week, which had triggered a massive stock sell-off and prompted jittery lawmakers — fearing a crushing economic contagion that was spreading to their constituents — to reconsider.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: We’re in the midst of a recession. It’s going to be a rough ride, but it will be a whole lot rougher ride” without the rescue plan, said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the minority leader, as he prepared to cast his vote for the most sweeping federal intervention in markets in decades.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pledged quick action to get the program up and operating.

The bailout, which gives the government broad authority to buy up toxic mortgage-related investments and other distressed assets from tottering financial institutions, is designed to ease a credit crunch that began on Wall Street but is engulfing businesses around the nation.

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Senate passes bailout

October 1, 2008

Plan to buy $700B in troubled assets wins OK. Backers hope add-ons will yield more yes-votes in House.

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: October 1, 2008: 10:20 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The Senate on Wednesday night passed a sweeping and controversial financial bailout similar in key ways to one rejected by the House just two days earlier.

The measure was passed by a vote of 74 to 25 after more than three hours of floor debate in the Senate. Presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and John McCain, R-Arizona, voted in favor.

Like the bill the House rejected, the core of the Senate bill is the Bush administration’s plan to buy up to $700 billion of troubled assets from financial institutions.

Those assets, mostly mortgage-related, have caused a crisis of confidence in the credit markets. A major aim of the plan is to free up banks to start lending again once their balance sheets are cleared of toxic holdings.

But the Senate legislation also includes a number of new provisions aimed at Main Street.

The changes are intended to attract more votes in the House, in particular from House Republicans, two-thirds of whom voted against the bailout plan.

The House is expected to take up the Senate measure for a vote on Friday, according to aides to Democratic leaders.

The legislation, if passed by the House, would usher in one of the most far-reaching interventions in the economy since the Great Depression.

Advocates say the plan is crucial to government efforts to attack a credit crisis that threatens the economy and would free up banks to lend more. Opponents say it rewards bad decisions by Wall Street, puts taxpayers at risk and fails to address the real economic problems facing Americans.

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SEC gives banks more leeway on mark-to-market

October 1, 2008

Wed Oct 1, 2008 3:24am EDT
By John Poirier and Emily Chasan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. securities regulators on Tuesday gave the financial industry a reprieve from marking hard-to-value assets down to fire sale prices, throwing a lifeline to an industry beset by strained credit markets and the latest round of bank failures.

The U.S. stock market added to gains on the news, in hopes that regulators’ new interpretation of fair value, or mark-to-market, accounting rules, will slow or reverse the heavy flow of mortgage-related losses on banks’ balance sheets.

In the new guidance, first reported by Reuters, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reminded financial services firms that they don’t need to use fire sale prices when evaluating their hard to price assets.

“This is a significant first step and adds stability, confidence, and liquidity within the capital markets,” said Steve Bartlett, president and chief executive of The Financial Services Roundtable. “By clarifying how to treat assets in an uncertain market, the SEC is continuing to provide transparency to investors and helping institutions to provide credit in periods of market stress.”

U.S. accounting rule maker, the Financial Accounting Standards Board said on its Web site on Tuesday that it would change the agenda for its Wednesday meeting to focus on fair value accounting. The board is contemplating issuing additional guidance through a FASB staff position as soon as Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

MARK-TO-ESTIMATE

The SEC’s guidance on Tuesday, came on the last day of the third quarter for most U.S. companies, allowing them to incorporate the changes in their next round of financial statements.

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House ignores Bush, rejects $700B bailout bill

September 29, 2008

Monday September 29, 4:07 pm ET
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Associated Press Writer

House rejects $700B emergency bailout bill in stunning defeat ignoring warnings from Bush

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stunning vote that shocked the capital and worldwide markets, the House on Monday defeated a $700 billion emergency rescue for the nation’s financial system, ignoring urgent warnings from President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties that the economy could nosedive without it.

Stocks plummeted on Wall Street, beginning their plunge even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was officially announced on the House floor. The Dow Jones Industrials sank nearly 700 points for the day.

Democratic and Republican leaders alike said they were committed to trying again, though the Democrats said GOP lawmakers needed to provide more votes. Bush huddled with his economic advisers about a next step.

In the House chamber, as a digital screen recorded a cascade of “no” votes against the bailout, Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York shouted news of the falling stocks. “Six hundred points!” he yelled, jabbing his thumb downward.

Bush and a host of leading congressional figures had implored the lawmakers to pass the legislation despite howls of protest from their constituents back home. Not enough members were willing to take the political risk just five weeks before an election.

“No” votes came from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle. More than two-thirds of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats opposed the bill.

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Bailout in chaos, feds seize WaMu

September 26, 2008

Fri Sep 26, 2008 3:07am EDT

By Tom Ferraro and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A rescue for the U.S. financial system unraveled on Thursday amid accusations Republican presidential candidate John McCain scuppered the deal, and Washington Mutual was closed by U.S. authorities and its assets sold in America’s biggest ever bank failure.

As negotiations over an unprecedented $700 billion bailout to restore credit markets degenerated into chaos, the largest U.S. savings and loan bank was taken over by authorities and its deposits auctioned off. U.S. stock futures fell by more than 1 percent.

The third-largest U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM) said it bought the deposits of Washington Mutual Inc (WM), which has seen its stock price virtually wiped out because of massive amounts of bad mortgages. The government said there would be no impact on WaMu’s depositors and customers. JPMorgan said it would be business as usual on Friday morning.

Had a bailout deal been reached in Congress, it may have helped the savings and loan, founded in Seattle in 1889. Efforts to find a suitor to buy WaMu faltered in recent days over concerns about whether the government would reach a deal to buy its toxic mortgages.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. lawmakers had appeared close to a final agreement on the bailout, lifting world stock markets and sending the dollar higher. But things spun off course during an emergency White House meeting between Congressional leaders with U.S. President George W. Bush.

In advance of that meeting, which included the two men battling to succeed him, Democrat Barack Obama and McCain, a compromise bipartisan deal seemed imminent.

After the session, Congressional leaders said an agreement could take until the weekend or longer.

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby bluntly told reporters, “I don’t believe we have an agreement.” He later said the deal was in “limbo.”

A group of conservative Republican lawmakers proposed an alternative mortgage insurance plan, eschewing the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout just weeks before the November 4 election as many lawmakers try to hold on to their seats.

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WaMu is largest U.S. bank failure

September 25, 2008

Thu Sep 25, 2008 11:24pm EDT

By Elinor Comlay and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington Mutual Inc (WM) was closed by the U.S. government in by far the largest failure of a U.S. bank, and its banking assets were sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) for $1.9 billion.

Thursday’s seizure and sale is the latest historic step in U.S. government attempts to clean up a banking industry littered with toxic mortgage debt. Negotiations over a $700 billion bailout of the entire financial system stalled in Washington on Thursday.

Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan, has been one of the lenders hardest hit by the nation’s housing bust and credit crisis, and had already suffered from soaring mortgage losses.

Washington Mutual was shut by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp was named receiver. This followed $16.7 billion of deposit outflows at the Seattle-based thrift since Sept 15, the OTS said.

“With insufficient liquidity to meet its obligations, WaMu was in an unsafe and unsound condition to transact business,” the OTS said.

Customers should expect business as usual on Friday, and all depositors are fully protected, the FDIC said.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the bailout happened on Thursday night because of media leaks, and to calm customers. Usually, the FDIC takes control of failed institutions on Friday nights, giving it the weekend to go through the books and enable them to reopen smoothly the following Monday.

Washington Mutual has about $307 billion of assets and $188 billion of deposits, regulators said. The largest previous U.S. banking failure was Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust, which had $40 billion of assets when it collapsed in 1984.

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New world on Wall Street

September 22, 2008

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to face more oversight from the Federal Reserve. Change provides more funding and opens door to more mergers.

By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: September 22, 2008: 7:19 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — And then there were none.

Federal regulators converted Wall Street’s remaining stand-alone investment banks – Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) – into bank holding companies Sunday night.

The move allows Goldman and Morgan to scoop up retail banks and to streamline their borrowing from the Federal Reserve. The shift also is aimed at removing them as targets of nervous investors and customers, who brought down their former rivals Bear Stearns (BSC), Lehman Brothers (LEH) and Merrill Lynch (MER) this year.

But it also puts Goldman and Morgan under the Fed’s supervision, increasing the agency’s regulatory oversight and possibly forcing them to raise additional capital. As banks, Morgan and Goldman will be forced to take less risk, which will mean fewer profits.

And it brings to a close the era of the Wall Street investment bank, a storied institution that traded stocks and bonds, advised mergers and showered lavish bonuses on its executives.

“The separation of investment banking and commercial banking has come to an end,” said Bert Ely, an independent banking consultant.

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Fed OKs Goldman, Morgan as bank holding companies

September 21, 2008

Sunday September 21, 9:53 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve approved applications on Sunday from Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) to become bank holding companies, putting them directly under the regulatory supervision of the U.S. central bank, the latest step to restore calm to chaotic financial markets.

To provide increased liquidity to the companies, the Fed agreed to lend to the firms’ broker-dealer subsidiaries on the same terms as the Fed discount window for banks and the central bank’s Primary Dealer Credit Facility lending window for investment banks.

It said it was making the same collateral deals available to the broker-dealer subsidiary of Merrill Lynch (MER).


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