Official: Oil spill hasn’t reached Great Salt Lake

June 13, 2010

Emergency workers don’t believe 21,000-gallon oil spill has reached Great Salt Lake

Brock Vergakis, Associated Press Writer, On Sunday June 13, 2010, 6:36 pm EDT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Emergency workers believe they have stopped a 21,000-gallon oil leak from reaching the environmentally sensitive Great Salt Lake, one of the West’s most important inland water bodies for migratory birds that use it as a place to rest, eat and breed.

But the spill has taken a toll on wildlife at area creeks and ponds, coating about 300 birds with oil and possibly threatening an endangered fish.

The leak began Friday night when an underground Chevron Corp. pipeline in the mountains near the University of Utah broke. The breach sent oil into a creek that flows through neighborhoods, into a popular Salt Lake City park, and ultimately into the Jordan River, which flows into the Great Salt Lake.

The 10-inch pipeline was shut off Saturday morning, when workers at a nearby Veterans Administration building smelled oil and called the Salt Lake City fire department, which notified Chevron. The pipe carries crude oil from western Colorado to a refinery near the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Jason Olsen, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Joint Information Center, said Sunday emergency workers believe they have contained the spill to the Jordan River.

But the spill still took its toll on birds at Red Butte Creek and at a large pond at Liberty Park, where visitors often feed birds from the shore and on rented paddle boats. About 300 birds were coated in oil and cleaned at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Fewer than 10 have died, said Salt Lake City spokeswoman Lisa Harrison-Smith.

Most of the birds were Canada geese, although some ducks were also covered.

Harrison-Smith said the oil also flowed through several other riparian areas, which could threaten a rare Utah fish called a June sucker. It’s been listed as an endangered species since 1986.

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Florida Skips Offshore Oil Binge but Still Pays

June 12, 2010

By DAMIEN CAVE

KEY LARGO, Fla. — When rigs first started drilling for oil off Louisiana’s coast in the 1940s, Floridians scanned their shoreline, with its resorts and talcum-white beaches, and said, No thanks. Go ahead and drill, they told other Gulf Coast states; we’ll stick with tourism.

Now that invisible wall separating Florida from its neighbors has been breached. The spreading BP oil spill has already reached the Panhandle, and if it rides currents to the renowned reefs and fishing holes on both Florida coasts, the Sunshine State could become a vacation destination with the rules of a museum: Look, but don’t touch.

All because other states decided to rely on oil and gas, angry Floridians say; all because, in the water, there are no borders — only currents that can carry catastrophes hundreds of miles.

“There’s nothing we can do,” said Mike McLaughlin, 42, while stretching tanned shark skin on a dock here in the Keys. “We’re just sitting here, waiting for it all to disappear.”

Many Floridians, of course, say they are heartbroken for Louisiana, and they still reserve their most caustic criticism for BP and government regulators.

But with oil continuing to gush from a well off Louisiana, Florida has grown angrier at its oil-friendly neighbors. Gov. Charlie Crist said in an interview last week that “there’s a certain level of frustration” with the fact that Florida gets little if any financial benefit from offshore drilling, even though it shares the environmental risks.

On docks and beaches, many Floridians are less measured, and compare Louisiana to a neighbor with a bonfire that has set their block ablaze.

To some extent, it is a conflict set up by history. Louisiana and Florida may share the Gulf of Mexico, but they are essentially oil opposites.

Ever since World War II, when tar balls washed ashore across the gulf after German U-boats sank Allied oil tankers, Florida officials have held drilling at bay with state laws and lobbying in Washington to protect their state’s bustling tourism industry.

Louisiana, meanwhile, is an oil state through and through that discovered its first commercial deposits in 1901 and started drilling offshore in 1947.

State officials have never looked back, and the resulting divide between the two states is now economic as well as cultural: oil and gas contribute about $65 billion a year to the Louisiana economy, according to the state’s oil and gas association, while in Florida, tourism accounts for about $60 billion.

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SEC puts in new ‘circuit breaker’ rules

June 10, 2010

SEC puts into place new ‘circuit breaker’ rules to prevent repeat of May 6 stock market plunge

Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer, On Thursday June 10, 2010, 5:44 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Thursday put in place new rules aimed at preventing a repeat of last month’s harrowing “flash crash” in the stock market.

Members of the Securities and Exchange Commission approved the rules, which call for U.S. stock exchanges to briefly halt trading of some stocks that make big swings.

The major exchanges will start putting the trading breaks into effect as early as Friday for six months. The New York Stock Exchange will begin Friday’s trading session with five stocks: EOG Resources Inc., Genuine Parts Co., Harley Davidson Inc., Ryder System Inc. and Zimmer Holdings Inc. The exchange will gradually add other stocks early next week, expecting to reach by Wednesday the full number that will be covered.

The Nasdaq stock market plans to have the new program fully in place on Monday.

The plan for the “circuit breakers” was worked out by the SEC and the major exchanges following the May 6 market plunge, which saw the Dow Jones industrials lose nearly 1,000 points in less than a half-hour.

Under the new rules, trading of any Standard & Poor’s 500 stock that rises or falls 10 percent or more in a five-minute period will be halted for five minutes. The “circuit breakers” would be applied if the price swing occurs between 9:45 a.m. and 3:35 p.m. Eastern time. That’s almost the entire trading day. But it leaves out the final 25 minutes before the close — a period that often sees raging price swings, especially in recent weeks as the kind of volatility that marked the 2008 financial crisis returned.

The idea is for the trading pause to draw attention to an affected stock, establish a reasonable market price and resume trading “in a fair and orderly fashion,” the SEC said.

On May 6, about 30 stocks listed in the S&P 500 index fell at least 10 percent within five minutes. The drop briefly wiped out $1 trillion in market value as some stocks traded as low as a penny.

The disruption “illustrated a sudden, but temporary, breakdown in the market’s price-setting function when a number of stocks and (exchange-traded funds) were executed at clearly irrational prices,” SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said in a statement. “By establishing a set of circuit breakers that uniformly pauses trading in a given security across all venues, these new rules will ensure that all markets pause simultaneously and provide time for buyers and sellers to trade at rational prices.”

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Bailout, Indeed: Dow Up 404

May 10, 2010

By DONNA KARDOS YESALAVICH And KRISTINA PETERSON
Reuters

Stocks posted their biggest one-day gain in more than a year, boosted by the bailout package to stem Europe’s credit crisis.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 404.71 points, or 3.9%, to 10785.14, helped by gains in all 30 of its components. The average had its biggest one-day gain in both point and percentage terms since March 23, 2009.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 4.4% to 1159.73, led by its financial and consumer-discretionary sectors, up more than 5% each. All the broad measure’s other indexes posted gains as well.

The jump in U.S. stocks followed rallies in the Asian and European markets after the European Union agreed to a €750 billion ($954.83 billion) bailout, including €440 billion of loans from euro-zone governments., €60 billion from a European Union emergency fund and €250 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

In further coordinated efforts to assuage spooked markets, the European Central Bank will go into the secondary market to buy euro-zone national bonds—a step last week that its president, Jean-Claude Trichet, said the central bank didn’t even contemplate. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve, working with other central banks, re-activated swap lines so foreign institutions can get access to loans.

“This bailout plan really avoided the worst-case scenario—it avoided contagion and the domino effect,” said Cort Gwon, director of trading strategies of FBN Securities. The package also shifts investors’ attention back to the U.S., where most economic yardsticks have been improving lately, he noted.

The Nasdaq Composite jumped 109.03 points, its first triple-digit point gain since October 2008. It closed at 2374.67, up 4.8%.

Trading volume was higher than the 2010 daily average, though below the frenzied pace of the previous two days, which included an unprecedented “flash crash” and traders’ scramble to square their books after certain trades were canceled. On Monday, composite New York Stock Exchange volume hit 7.1 billion shares, below last week’s peak near 11 billion.

U.S.-listed shares of European banks surged in reaction to the European Union’s bailout plan.


Geithner, Paulson to address meltdown probe

May 6, 2010

Meltdown probe hears from bailout architects Paulson, Geithner on ‘shadow banking’

Daniel Wagner, AP Business Writer, On Thursday May 6, 2010, 12:57 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A special panel investigating the financial crisis is preparing to hear from two key architects of the government’s response: Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Geithner and Paulson will provide their perspectives on the so-called “shadow banking system” — a largely unregulated world of capital and credit markets outside of traditional banks. They will describe their roles in selling Bear Stearns (BSC) to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) after pressure from “shadow banking” companies made Bear the first major casualty of the crisis.

The pair will testify Thursday morning before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a bipartisan panel established by Congress to probe the roots of the financial crisis. It is the first time the panel has heard from either of the men who called the shots in late 2008 as the global financial system nearly collapsed.

The panel is looking at nonbank financial companies such as PIMCO and GE Capital that provide capital for loans to consumers and small businesses. When rumors spread in 2008 that Bear Stearns was teetering, these companies started what former Bear Stearns executives described Wednesday as a “run on the bank,” drawing so much of its capital that it could not survive.

Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson and Geithner, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, engineered Bear’s rescue. The New York Fed put up a $29 billion federal backstop to limit JPMorgan’s future losses on Bear Stearns’ bad investments.

Bear Stearns was the first Wall Street bank to blow up. Its demise foreshadowed the cascading financial meltdown in the fall of that year.

The panel is investigating the roots of the crisis that plunged the country into the most severe recession since the 1930s and brought losses of jobs and homes for millions of Americans.

In earlier testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Paulson defended his response to the economic crisis as an imperfect but necessary rescue that spared the U.S. financial market from total collapse.

“Many more Americans would be without their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their savings and their way of life,” he said in testimony prepared for that hearing.

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Gold hits record near $1,150/oz as dollar slips

November 18, 2009

Wed Nov 18, 2009 5:13am EST

By Jan Harvey

LONDON (Reuters) – Gold hit a fresh record high near $1,150 an ounce on Wednesday, boosting precious metals across the board, as a dip in the dollar index added to momentum buying as prices broke through key technical resistance levels.

In non-U.S. dollar terms, gold also climbed, hitting multi-month highs when priced in the euro, sterling and the Australian dollar.

Spot gold hit a high of $1,147.45 and was at $1,146.05 an ounce at 0948 GMT, against $1,141.50 late in New York on Tuesday.

U.S. gold futures for December delivery on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange also hit a record $1,148.10 and were later up $7.10 at $1,146.40 an ounce.

“Yesterday the market took a breather and tested below $1,130 very quickly, (but) a few physical related bargain hunters were lined up to grab the dip,” said Afshin Nabavi, head of trading at MKS Finance in Geneva.

The market is being underpinned by fresh interest in gold from the official sector, he said, after a recent major bullion acquisition from India and smaller buys by the central banks of Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

The acquisitions underlined gold’s appeal as a portfolio diversifier, especially in an environment where further dollar weakness was expected, analysts said.

The dollar eased back on Wednesday from its biggest rise in three weeks in the previous session, as traders awaited U.S. inflation data due at 1330 GMT.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency’s performance against a basket of six others, was down 0.37 percent, while the euro/dollar exchange rate firmed.

Other commodities also climbed, with oil rising back toward $80 a barrel and copper to 13-1/3 month highs near $7,000 a tonne. Both are being lifted by the weak dollar.

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Autumn Deluge Destroys More Than $1 Billion Of Delta Crops

October 30, 2009

Weeks of almost-continuous, torrential rains have destroyed over a billion dollars worth of what was originally expected to be a bumper fall crop in the U.S. Delta.

ARKANSAS: “It’s a serious problem right now. At this stage, yield/quality losses for Arkansas ‘ major row crops could easily exceed $650 million,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach Thursday.

The state has received measurable rainfall every day for the past seven consecutive weeks, preventing fields from drying out, and overripe crops from being harvested. Arkansas farmers still have 85% of their cotton, 61% of all soybeans, 10% of their corn and 5% of all grain sorghum remaining to harvest; at a time when picking is usually of most commodities is already complete.

“We’re going to try to do as much as we can as quickly as we can, but assessing the damage—and what the damage is— does require some time,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “I wouldn’t be surprised if all 75 counties in this state are declared a disaster,” thus making producers eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture emergency loans.

On average, all areas of Arkansas have received 17 inches more rain than normal during 2009. Even with two months left to go, 2009 is already the 11th-wettest year on record in Little Rock , which has been flooded with 62.57 inches of rain. That total will only increase, as the National Weather Service was predicting another 2 of rain for portions of Arkansas, by nightfall Friday.

MISSISSIPPI: Non-stop rains have also taken $371 million from the pockets of Mississippi producers this autumn, according to calculations made this week by the Mississippi State University .

“Total losses for row crops are expected to be around 23% of the potential value of the crop,” said MSU agricultural economist John Michael Riley. With nearly 40% of all fields still standing, soybeans have suffered the worst hit in cash-value hit, losing 30.2% of their expected value, or $212 million in all.

“Half of the crop left in the field is very poor, to possibly a complete loss,” said MSU extension soybean specialist Trey Koger. “Damage estimates for the portion of the soybean crop we last harvested nearly two weeks ago, averaged 8%-15%. Final damage to the state’s soybean crop may reach levels as high as 50%.”

Earlier this month the USDA forecast the Mississippi fall grain harvest at 92.3 million bushels of corn, nearly 83.5 million bushels of soybeans, 16.184 million hundredweight of rice, and 888,000 bushels of sorghum. Economic losses have been measured at $91 million for cotton/cottonseed, representing about 47% of that crop’s original prospective value.

“Environmental conditions in 2009 have proven to be the most difficult that many growers have ever experienced,” said Darrin Dodds, MSU cotton specialist.

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Fall Downpours Causing Major Damage To Unharvested US Grain Crop

October 27, 2009

Guide Rock farmer Jim Richardson says the quality of the 2009 corn crop in the Republican River Valley of Nebraska has now deteriorated to the point where the top 3 inches of unharvested ears are simply rotting off and falling to the ground.

“My neighbor say it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen…they pull into the field with the combine and see all these half-ears laying all over,” he said. “It seems to be connected to variety…and all this rain.”

The variety of moisture-loving pathogens reportedly affecting unpicked U.S. row crops reads like the nutrition label of a Halloween witches brew: mycotoxins, mold, mildew, fungus, and other diseases.

Most sections of the U.S. grain belt have received more than twice as much precipitation as normal this month, causing unprecedented delays in the harvest of the nation’s two-most important cash-crops. The resulting quality degradation is so bad that some producers are harvesting their remaining acreage with a plow, instead of a combine.

“We’ve had 28 inches of rain here since Oct. 1,” southwestern Arkansas grower Jim Caswell told Dow Jones Newswires Monday. “There is a big farmer down here who’s disking under 7,000 acres of corn, because it’s got such bad mold that the elevator won’t take it anymore…and it’d been yielding 185 (bushels an acre).”

Overripe grain in the Delta is under the greatest threat of deterioration, with many fields standing exposed to weeks of nearly continuous rain.

“The longer it’s out in the field, the more likely it will develop grain quality problems, weak stalks or seed quality damage,” said Jim Herbek, grain crops specialist with the University of Kentucky.

Harvest figures released by USDA Monday said half of the nation’s top-producing corn states still had more than 80-90% of their corn and half of their soybeans standing in the field, at a time when some are nearing completion.

“You can’t find a year in USDA’s data (which goes back to 1972) on corn harvest activity that is as slow as this year [20% complete]. Period. That underscores just how tough this fall has been,” said Roger Bernard of Pro Farmer. “In soybeans, the 44% complete on harvest is the slowest pace since 1985 and 1986.”

Harvest season rains have robbed southern soybean growers of what was expected to be a bumper crop.

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U.S. bailout program increased moral hazard: watchdog

October 21, 2009

Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:30am EDT
By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government’s $700 billion financial bailout program has increased moral hazard in the markets by infusing capital into banks that caused the financial crisis, a watchdog for the program said on Wednesday.

The special inspector general for the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) said the plan put in place a year ago was clearly influencing market behavior, and he repeated that taxpayers may never recoup all their money.

The bailout fund may have helped avert a financial system collapse but it could reinforce perceptions the government will step in to keep firms from failing, the quarterly report from inspector general Neil Barofsky said.

He said there continued to be conflicts of interest around credit rating agencies that failed to warn of risks leading up to the financial crisis. The report added that the recent rebound in big bank stocks risked removing urgency of dealing with the financial system’s problems.

“Absent meaningful regulatory reform, TARP runs the risk of merely reanimating markets that had collapsed under the weight of reckless behavior,” the report said. “The firms that were ‘too big to fail’ last October are in many cases bigger still, many as a result of government-supported and -sponsored mergers and acquisitions.”

ANGER, CYNICISM, DISTRUST

The report cites an erosion of government credibility associated with a lack of transparency, particularly in the early handling of the program’s initial investments in large financial institutions.

“Notwithstanding the TARP’s role in bringing the financial system back from the brink of collapse, it has been widely reported that the American people view TARP with anger, cynicism and distrust. These views are fueled by the lack of transparency in the program,” the report said.

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Greenlight’s Einhorn holds gold, says U.S. policies poor

October 19, 2009

Mon Oct 19, 2009 2:25pm EDT

By Jennifer Ablan and Joseph A. Giannone

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, who warned about Lehman Brothers’ (LEH) precarious finances before it collapsed, said on Monday he’s betting on rising interest rates and holding gold as a hedge for what he described as unsound U.S. policies.

“If monetary and fiscal policies go awry” investors should buy physical gold and gold stocks, Einhorn said at the fifth Annual Value Investing Congress in New York. “Gold does well when monetary and fiscal policies are poor and does poorly when they are sensible.”

Einhorn is president of Greenlight Capital, with more than $5 billion in assets under management.

“Over the last couple of years, we have adopted a policy of private profits and socialized risks — you are transferring many private obligations onto the national ledger,” he said.

Einhorn said, “Although our leaders ought to be making some serious choices, they appear too trapped in the short term and special interests to make them.”

According to a joint analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Committee for Economic Development and the Concord Coalition, the projected U.S. budget deficit between 2004 and 2013 could grow from $1.4 trillion to $5 trillion.

Last week when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers spoke in interviews and on panel discussions, Einhorn said, “my instinct was to want to short the dollar but then I looked at other major currencies — euro, yen and British pound — and they might be worse.”

Einhorn added, “Picking these currencies is like choosing my favorite dental procedure. And I decided holding gold is better than holding cash, especially now that both offer no yield.”

(Reporting by Jennifer Ablan and Joseph A. Giannone; Editing by Kenneth Barry)


Dow closes above 10,000 for 1st time in a year

October 14, 2009

DJ comeback: Stock market’s best-known barometer closes above 10,000 for 1st time in a year

By Sara Lepro and Tim Paradis, AP Business Writers
5:08 pm EDT, Wednesday October 14, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — When the Dow Jones industrial average first passed 10,000, traders tossed commemorative caps and uncorked champagne. This time around, the feeling was more like relief.

The best-known barometer of the stock market entered five-figure territory again Wednesday, the most visible sign yet that investors believe the economy is clawing its way back from the worst downturn since the Depression.

The milestone caps a stunning 53 percent comeback for the Dow since early March, when stocks were at their lowest levels in more than a decade.

“It’s almost like an announcement that the bear market is over,” said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. (JEF) in Boston. “That is an eye-opener — ‘Hey, you know what, things must be getting better because the Dow is over 10,000.'”

Cheers went up briefly when the Dow eclipsed the milestone in the early afternoon, during a daylong rally driven by encouraging earnings reports from Intel Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) The average closed at 10,015.86, up 144.80 points.

It was the first time the Dow had touched 10,000 since October 2008, that time on the way down.

“I think there were times when we were in the deep part of the trough there back in the springtime when it felt like we’d never get back to this level,” said Bernie McSherry, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Cuttone & Co.

Ethan Harris, head of North America economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC), described it as a “relief rally that the world is not coming to an end.”

The mood was far from the euphoria of March 1999, when the Dow surpassed 10,000 for the first time. The Internet then was driving extraordinary gains in productivity, and serious people debated whether there was such a thing as a boom without end.

“If this is a bubble,” The Wall Street Journal marveled on its front page, “it sure is hard to pop.”

It did pop, of course. And then came the lost decade.

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U.S. 30-year mortgage rate retests record lows

October 1, 2009

Thu Oct 1, 2009 10:35am EDT

NEW YORK, Oct 1 (Reuters) – The average rate on 30-year U.S. home loans fell in the past week to retest record lows, helping stimulate housing demand, Freddie Mac (FRE) said on Thursday.

The most widely used long-term borrowing cost dropped 0.10 of a percentage point in the week ended Oct. 1 to 4.94 percent, the lowest since late May, and near the all-time low of 4.78 percent set in April.

A year ago, before government interventions aimed at cutting borrowing costs to stimulate housing and the economy, the rate was 6.10 percent.

Freddie Mac started tracking 30-year mortgage rates weekly in 1971.

The 15-year average mortgage rate, which it started tracking in 1991, set a record low of 4.36 percent in the latest week. A year earlier, this rate was 5.78 percent.

“Low mortgage rates are helping to stabilize home sales,” Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac, said in a statement.

New home sales in August rose to the highest annualized pace since September 2007, while unsold inventory fell to the lowest sine February 1983, he noted.

Sales of existing homes declined in August but were at the second-highest pace in almost two years. And home prices, based on the S&P/Case-Shiller indexes, have risen for three straight months through July after plummeting for three years.

Pending home sales gained 6.4 percent in August in the seventh straight monthly increase, reaching the highest level since March 2007.

The U.S. housing remains depressed despite the recent signs of life and there is growing concern about how the market will hold up if the federal $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit is not extended past November 30.

Home prices on average remain more than 32 percent below 2006 peaks, and many economists expect further erosion under the weight of rising foreclosures.

Lenders charged an average 0.7 point in fees for 30-year loans, up from 0.6 point the prior week.

(Reporting by Lynn Adler)


Water worries threaten U.S. push for natural gas

October 1, 2009

Thu Oct 1, 2009 8:26am EDT

By Jon Hurdle

PAVILLION, Wyoming (Reuters) – Louis Meeks, a burly 59-year-old alfalfa farmer, fills a metal trough with water from his well and watches an oily sheen form on the surface which gives off a faint odor of paint.

He points to small bubbles that appear in the water, and a thin ring of foam around the edge.

Meeks is convinced that energy companies drilling for natural gas in this central Wyoming farming community have poisoned his water and ruined his health.

A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency suggests he just might have a case — and that the multi-billion dollar industry may have a problem on its hands. EPA tests found his well contained what it termed 14 “contaminants of concern.”

It tested 39 wells in the Pavillion area this year, and said in August that 11 were contaminated. The agency did not identify the cause but said gas drilling was a possibility.

What’s happened to the water supply in Pavillion could have repercussions for the nation’s energy policies. As a clean-burning fuel with giant reserves in the United States, natural gas is central to plans for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

But aggressive development is drawing new scrutiny from residents who live near gas fields, even in energy-intensive states such as Wyoming, where one in five jobs are linked to the oil and gas industry which contributed more than $15 billion the state economy in 2007.

People living near gas drilling facilities in states including Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming have complained that their water has turned cloudy, foul-smelling, or even black as a result of chemicals used in a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The industry contends drilling chemicals are heavily diluted and injected safely into gas reservoirs thousands of feet beneath aquifers, so they will never seep into drinking water supplies.

“There has never been a documented case of fracking that’s contaminated wells or groundwater,” said Randy Teeuwen, a spokesman for EnCana Corp (ECA), Canada’s second-largest energy company, which operates 248 wells in the Pavillion and nearby Muddy Ridge fields.

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Wall Street’s Math Wizards Forgot a Few Variables

September 14, 2009

by Steve Lohr
Monday, September 14, 2009
The New York Times

In the aftermath of the great meltdown of 2008, Wall Street’s quants have been cast as the financial engineers of profit-driven innovation run amok. They, after all, invented the exotic securities that proved so troublesome.

But the real failure, according to finance experts and economists, was in the quants’ mathematical models of risk that suggested the arcane stuff was safe.

The risk models proved myopic, they say, because they were too simple-minded. They focused mainly on figures like the expected returns and the default risk of financial instruments. What they didn’t sufficiently take into account was human behavior, specifically the potential for widespread panic. When lots of investors got too scared to buy or sell, markets seized up and the models failed.

That failure suggests new frontiers for financial engineering and risk management, including trying to model the mechanics of panic and the patterns of human behavior.

“What wasn’t recognized was the importance of a different species of risk — liquidity risk,” said Stephen Figlewski, a professor of finance at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. “When trust in counterparties is lost, and markets freeze up so there are no prices,” he said, it “really showed how different the real world was from our models.”

In the future, experts say, models need to be opened up to accommodate more variables and more dimensions of uncertainty.

The drive to measure, model and perhaps even predict waves of group behavior is an emerging field of research that can be applied in fields well beyond finance.

Much of the early work has been done tracking online behavior. The Web provides researchers with vast data sets for tracking the spread of all manner of things — news stories, ideas, videos, music, slang and popular fads — through social networks. That research has potential applications in politics, public health, online advertising and Internet commerce. And it is being done by academics and researchers at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook.

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Investors trading 3 stocks that may be doomed

August 27, 2009

Investors still trading Fannie, Freddie, AIG shares, even though prices are likely to hit zero

Daniel Wagner, AP Business Writer
Thursday August 27, 2009, 5:36 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Investors are still trading common shares of Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE) and American International Group Inc. (AIG) by the billions, even though analysts say their prices are almost certain to go to zero.

All three are majority-owned by the government and are losing huge sums of money. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators lack authority to end trading of stocks in such “zombie” companies that technically are alive — until the government takes them off life support.

Shares of the two mortgage giants and the insurer have been swept up in a summer rally in financial stocks. Investors have been trading their shares at abnormally high volumes, despite analysts’ warnings that they’re destined to lose their money.

“People have done well by trading them (in the short term), but when it gets to the end of the road, these stocks are going to be worth zero,” said Bose George, an analyst with the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Some of the activity involves day traders aiming to profit from short-term price swings, George said. But he said inexperienced investors might have the mis-impression that the companies may recover or be rescued.

“That would be kind of unfortunate,” he said. “There could be a lot of improvement in the economy, and these companies would still be worth zero.”

The government continues to support the companies with billions in taxpayer money, saying they still play a crucial role in the financial system.

Fannie and Freddie buy loans from banks and sell them to investors — a role critical to the mortgage market. They have tapped about $96 billion out of a potential $400 billion in aid from the Treasury Department.

Officials have said AIG’s failure would be disastrous for the financial markets. Treasury and the Federal Reserve have spent about $175 billion on AIG and AIG-related securities. The company also has access to $28 billion from the $700 billion financial industry bailout.

But analysts say the wind-down strategies for the companies are almost sure to wipe out any common equity, making their shares worthless.

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CFTC moves to rein in small ETF investors: report

August 22, 2009

Sat Aug 22, 2009 12:18pm EDT

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exchange-traded funds or ETFs have become a top target in U.S. regulators’ efforts to rein in excessive speculation in oil and other commodity markets, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Commodity ETFs, which came into existence in 2003, offer one of the few avenues for small investors to gain direct exposure to commodity markets. The funds pool money from investors to make one-way bets, usually on rising prices.

Some say this causes excessive buying that artificially inflates prices for oil, natural gas and gold.

Commodity ETFs have ballooned to hold $59.3 billion in assets as of July, according to the National Stock Exchange, which tracks ETF data.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has said it seeks to protect end users of commodities, and that cutting out individual investors is not the goal.

“The Commission has never said, ‘You aren’t tall enough to ride,'” CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton was quoted as saying in the WSJ article. “I don’t want to limit liquidity, but above all else, I want to ensure that prices for consumers are fair and that there is no manipulation — intentional or otherwise.”

Limiting the size of ETFs will result in higher costs for investors, the WSJ reported, because legal and operational costs have to be spread out over a fewer number of shares. Investors range from individuals to banks and hedge funds with multimillion-dollar positions.

The CFTC is currently considering a host of measures to curb excessive speculation, including position limits in U.S. futures markets. Many U.S. lawmakers called for greater regulation of some commodity markets after a price surge last year sent crude oil to a record high of $147 a barrel in July 2008.

(Reporting by Matthew Lewis; Editing by Toni Reinhold)


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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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


SEC makes emergency rule targeting ‘naked’ short-selling permanent

July 27, 2009

By Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer
Monday July 27, 2009, 8:03 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Monday made permanent an emergency rule put in at the height of last fall’s market turmoil that aims to reduce abusive short-selling.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it took the action on the rule targeting so-called “naked” short-selling, which was due to expire Friday.

Short-sellers bet against a stock. They generally borrow a company’s shares, sell them, and then buy them when the stock falls and return them to the lender — pocketing the difference in price.

“Naked” short-selling occurs when sellers don’t even borrow the shares before selling them, and then look to cover positions sometime after the sale.

The SEC rule includes a requirement that brokers must promptly buy or borrow securities to deliver on a short sale.

Brokers acting for short sellers must find a party believed to be able to deliver the shares within three days after the short-sale trade. If the shares aren’t delivered within that time, there is deemed to be a “failure to deliver.” Brokers can be subject to penalties if the failure to deliver isn’t resolved by the start of trading on the following day.

At the same time, the SEC has been considering several new approaches to reining in rushes of regular short-selling that also can cause dramatic plunges in stock prices.

Investors and lawmakers have been clamoring for the SEC to put new brakes on trading moves they say worsened the market’s downturn starting last fall. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has said she is making the issue a priority.

Some securities industry officials, however, have maintained that the SEC’s emergency order on “naked” short-selling brought unintended negative consequences, such as wilder price swings and turbulence in the market.

The five SEC commissioners voted in April to put forward for public comment five alternative short-selling plans. One option is restoring a Depression-era rule that prohibits short sellers from making their trades until a stock ticks at least one penny above its previous trading price. The goal of the so-called uptick rule is to prevent selling sprees that feed upon themselves — actions that battered the stocks of banks and other companies over the last year.

Another approach would ban short-selling for the rest of the trading session in a stock that declines by 10 percent or more.

Schapiro said last week the SEC could decide on a final course of action in “the next several weeks or several months.”

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Investors dump brokers to go it alone online

July 24, 2009

Fri Jul 24, 2009 12:31pm EDT

By Rachel Chang

NEW YORK, July 24 (Reuters) – The collapse of Lehman Brothers (LEH) last September marked the start of a downward spiral for big investment banks. For a smaller fraternity of Internet brokerages, it has set off a dramatic spurt of growth.

Since the start of the financial crisis, $32.2 billion has flowed into the two largest online outfits, TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD) and Charles Schwab Corp (SCHW), company records show.

By contrast, investors have pulled more than $100 billion from traditional full-service brokerages like Citigroup Inc’s Smith Barney (C) and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch (BAC).

Of course, Americans still keep more of their wealth with established brokerages. According to research firm Gartner, 43 percent of individual investors were with full-service brokers last year, compared with 24 percent with online outfits.

And while figures for 2009 are not yet available, the flow of investors in the past 10 months has clearly been in the direction of the online brokerages, according to analysts both at Gartner and research consultancy Celent.

Joining the exodus is Ben Mallah, who says he lost $3 million in a Smith Barney account in St. Petersburg, Florida, as the markets crashed last year.

“I will never again trust anyone who is commission-driven to manage my portfolio,” said Mallah. “If they’re not making money off you, they have no use for you.”

This trend, a product of both the financial crisis and the emergence of a new generation of tech-savvy, cost-conscious young investors, is positioning online outfits as increasingly important in the wealth management field.

The numbers reflect a loss of faith in professional money managers as small investors dress their wounds from the hammering they took over the last year, the Internet brokerages say.

“There has been an awakening,” said Don Montanaro, chief executive of TradeKing, which reported a post-Lehman spike in new accounts of 121 percent. Investors now realize they alone are responsible for their money, he said.

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Private rescue of CIT marks shift in crisis

July 21, 2009

Denied federal bailout, CIT taps $3B private rescue; may be strategy for other troubled banks

By Daniel Wagner and Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writers
Tuesday July 21, 2009, 12:44 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — With bondholders coming to the rescue of troubled commercial lender CIT Group Inc. (CIT), and not the government, a new reality is setting in for investors.

With federal bailouts drying up and the economy still in distress, many more financial firms could face bankruptcy. When they do, it will be major private lenders that will have to decide whether to rescue the companies or allow them to fail.

It signals a return to the traditional path for financially troubled firms after nearly a year of government aid.

“It wasn’t clear that Treasury wanted this to be a turning point, but that’s the way it’s worked out,” said Simon Johnson, a former chief economist with the International Monetary Fund, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Johnson said the markets took so kindly to CIT’s quest for private-sector cash that the government “would feel pretty comfortable about” threatening bankruptcy for firms with less than $100 billion in assets.

Bondholders’ $3 billion rescue of CIT marks the first time since the banking crisis erupted that private investors have stepped in to save a big financial firm without federal help or oversight.

The lifeline for CIT, whose clients include Dunkin’ Donuts franchises and clothing maker Eddie Bauer, aims to sustain the company long enough for it to rework its heavy debt load, which includes $7.4 billion due in the first quarter of next year. It does not guarantee CIT will avoid bankruptcy.

CIT said late Monday that the rescue includes a $3 billion secured term loan with a 2.5-year maturity, which will ensure that its small and midsized business customers continue to have access to credit. Term loan proceeds of $2 billion are committed and available immediately, with an additional $1 billion expected to be committed and available within 10 days.

The short-term financing comes at a high price — an interest rate of about 10.5 percent, said a person close to the negotiations who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

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6 Millionaire Traits That You Can Adopt

June 23, 2009

by Stephanie Powers
Investopedia
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Millionaires have more in common with each other than just their bank accounts — for some millionaires, striking it rich took courage, salesmanship, vision and passion. Find out which traits are most common to the seven-figure bank account set, and what you can do to hone some of these skills in your own life.

1. Independent Thinking

Millionaires think differently. Not just about money, about everything. The time and energy everybody else spends attempting to conform, millionaires spend creating their own path. Since thoughts impact actions, people who want to be wealthy should think in a way that will get them to that goal. Independent thinking doesn’t mean doing the opposite of what the rest of the world is doing; it means having the courage to follow what is important to you. So, the lesson here is to forge your own way, and let your success drive you to financial spoils – rather than doing it the other way around and trying to chase the money.

Just look at David Geffen. A self-made millionaire with $4.5 billion to his name in 2009, this American record executive and film producer was college dropout, but made millions founding record agencies and signed some of the most prominent musicians of the 1970s and ’80s. Although he didn’t take what many assume to be the usual path to success, his tireless work ethic and sense of personal conviction about artists’ potential allowed him to rack up a sizable fortune.

2. Vision

Millionaires are creative visionaries with a positive attitude. In other words, wealthy people not only have big dreams, they also believe they will come true. As such, wealth seekers should set lofty goals and not be afraid of uncharted territories.

Bill Gates, the world’s richest person in 2009, did just that. The American chairman of Microsoft (MSFT) is one of the founding entrepreneurs who brought personal computers to the masses. Gates jumped into the personal computers business in 1975 and held on tight, creating Microsoft Windows in 1985. When consumers began to bring computers into their homes, Gates was ready to profit from this new age.

3. Skills

Writer Dennis Kimbro interviewed successful people to determine the traits they had in common for his book, “Think and Grow Rich” (1992). He found that they concentrated on their area of excellence. Millionaires also tend to partner with others to supplement their weaker skills. If you don’t know what you are good at, poll friends and family. Use training and mentors to refine your strong skills.

4. Passion

Billionaire investing guru Warren Buffett says “Money is a by-product of something I like to do very much.” Enjoying your work allows you to have the discipline to work hard at it every day. People who interact with money for a living, bankers for example, often love creating new deals and persuading others to complete a transaction. But finding your dream job may take time. The average millionaire doesn’t find it until age 45, and tends to be 54 (on average) before becoming a millionaire. Kimbro found that millionaires tried an average of 17 ventures before they were successful. So, if you want to be rich, stop doing things you don’t enjoy and do what you love. If you don’t know what you love, try a few things and keep trying until you hit on the right thing.

5. Investment

Millionaires are willing to sacrifice time and money to achieve their goals. They are willing to take a risk now for the opportunity of achieving something greater in the future. Investing may include securities or starting a business – either way, it is a step toward achieving great financial rewards. Start investing now.

6. Salesmanship

Millionaires are constantly presenting their ideas and persuading others to buy into them. Good salesmen are oblivious to critics and naysayers. In other words, they don’t take “no” for an answer. Millionaires also have good social skills. In fact, when writer T. Harv Eker analyzed the results of a survey of 753 millionaires for his book, “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” (2005), he found social skills were more important than IQ. Just look at Donald Trump. His fortune has fluctuated over the years, but his ability to sell himself – whether as a TV personality or as the force behind a line of neckties – has always brought him back among the ranks of celebrity millionaires.

The ability to communicate with people is essential to selling your idea. Contrary to the traditional view of salesmen, millionaires cite honesty as an important factor in their success. If you want to be a millionaire, be an honest salesman and polish your social skills.

***

Becoming a millionaire is not a goal that can be achieved overnight for most people. In fact, many of the world’s richest people built their wealth over many years (sometimes even generations) by making smart but often bold decisions, putting their skills to the best use possible and doggedly pursuing their vision. If you can learn anything about millionaires, it’s that for many of them, their riches are not necessarily what most sets them apart from the rest of the world – it’s what they did to earn those millions that really stands out.


Breakout or Fakeout?

June 16, 2009

The S&P 500 celebrated its great technical accomplishment highlighted in our last note by doing exactly nothing. Maintaining a tight 32 point range from top to bottom, the S&P 500 netted just over 3 points from our previous note to the closing price last Friday, June 12. This week has changed the tune, giving up more than 34 points in just two days. Surrendering initial support in the 925-930 area designated by the May highs, the SPX is once again bearing down on the 200 day moving average, this time from above.  Additional support of the 50 day moving average is also moving into the area, just 15.5 points below the 200 day as of today, and rising.  The lows from May, which are also the highs from April and February, mark another major support level in the 875-880 range.

spx06.16.09 intraday

Both the MACD and the daily 13/34 exponential moving average indicator have signaled a negative divergence by not confirming the new highs in the price of the average.  With the January highs holding as resistance, the head and shoulders bottom we discussed in Still overbought, but over first resistance also is still in play.  As we noted, “…finishing the inverse head and shoulders bottom should happen somewhere around the end of June time wise to produce a symmetrical pattern. At this point, it looks like the January highs need to hold as resistance to keep the inverse head and shoulders pattern in play. This is also the approximate level of the 200 day moving average currently and the 200 day stopped the SPX multiple times from 2001-2002, plus twice early in 2003. The first test early in 2003 led to the formation of the right shoulder in the bottoming pattern and the second test required a test of the 50 day moving average as support before breaking out and leaving the 200 day well behind.”  With the 50 and 200 day moving averages relatively close together this time, plus the support of the recent lows/previous highs around 875-880, this market has plenty of candidates for a right shoulder not far from current prices.  A convincing move back below 875 would signal a deeper correction with targets as low as 741 still completely valid.

spx06.16.09

Which brings us to the market leading NASDAQ Composite.  Since our last note highlighting the breakout by the COMP, a brief rally has fizzled out with the last two trading days completely erasing the gains and setting up a quick test of the breakout point as support.  The rally stopped short of filling the gap opened on the way down in early October 2008, but did manage to bring the 50 and 200 day moving averages into a bullish golden cross.  Plenty of support exists for this market, but it doesn’t come into play until 60-120 points below the breakout point at 1785 if the breakout fails to hold.  Targets as low as 1500 do not invalidate the uptrend if the SPX makes a run toward the 2002 lows or even 741.  The MACD is also showing a negative divergence here by not confirming the new high in price and the ROC shows a failure to build momentum on the breakout.

comp06.16.09

We are again returning to our short positions, including SH, after precautionary stop outs proved unnecessary and untimely.  Our position in SH specifically was re-entered exactly at the stop out price (see Security Growth for details).


How Do I Know You’re Not Bernie Madoff?

June 15, 2009

by Paul Sullivan
The New York Times
Monday, June 15, 2009

Tony Guernsey has been in the wealth management business for four decades. But clients have started asking him a question that at first caught him off guard: How do I know I own what you tell me I own?

This is the existential crisis rippling through wealth management right now, in the wake of the unraveling of Bernard L. Madoff’s long-running Ponzi scheme. Mr. Guernsey, the head of national wealth management at Wilmington Trust, says he understands why investors are asking the question, but it still unnerves him. “They got their statements from Madoff, and now they get their statement from XYZ Corporation. And they say, ‘How do I know they exist?’ ”

When he is asked this, Mr. Guernsey says he walks clients through the checks and balances that a 106-year-old firm like Wilmington has. Still, this is the ultimate reverberation from the Madoff scandal: trust, the foundation between wealth manager and client, has been called into question, if not destroyed.

“It used to be that if you owned I.B.M., you could pull the certificate out of your sock drawer,” said Dan Rauchle, president of Wells Fargo Alternative Asset Management. “Once we moved away from that, we got into this world of trusting others to know what we owned.”

The process of restoring that trust may take time. But in the meantime, investors may be putting their faith in misguided ways of ensuring trust. Mr. Madoff, after all, was not charged after an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission a year before his firm collapsed. Here are some considerations:

CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER Financial disclosure rules compel money managers to send out statements. The problem is that the statements and trade confirmations arrive so frequently, they fail to help investors understand what they own.

To mitigate this, many wealth management firms have developed their own systems to track and present client assets. HSBC Private Bank has had WealthTrack for nearly five years, while Barclays Wealth is introducing Wealth Management Reporting. But there are many more, including a popular one from Advent Software.

These systems consolidate the values of securities, partnerships and, in some cases, assets like homes and jewelry. HSBC’s program takes into account the different ways firms value assets by finding a common trading date. It also breaks out the impact of currency fluctuation..

These systems have limits, though. “Our reporting is only as good as the data we receive,” said Mary Duke, head of global wealth solutions for the Americas at HSBC Private Bank. “A hedge fund’s value depends on when the hedge fund reports — if it reports a month-end value, but we get it a month late.”

In other words, no consolidation program is foolproof.

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U.S. clears 10 big banks to repay bailout funds

June 9, 2009

Tue Jun 9, 2009 6:09pm EDT
By Glenn Somerville

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – JPMorgan (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS) and eight other top U.S. banks won clearance on Tuesday to repay $68 billion in taxpayer money given to them during the credit crisis, a step that may help them escape government curbs on executive pay.

Many banks had chafed at restrictions on pay that accompanied the capital injections. The U.S. Treasury Department’s announcement that some will be permitted to repay funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, begins to separate the stronger banks from weaker ones as the financial sector heals.

Treasury didn’t name the banks, but all quickly stepped forward to say they were cleared to return money the government had pumped into them to try to ensure the banking system was well capitalized

Stock prices gained initially after the Treasury announcement but later shed most of the gains on concern the money could be better used for lending to boost the economy rather than paying it back to Treasury.

“If they were more concerned about the public, they would keep the cash and start loaning out money,” said Carl Birkelbach, chairman and chief executive of Birkelbach Investment Securities in Chicago.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told reporters the repayments were an encouraging sign of financial repair but said the United States and other key Group of Eight economies had to stay focused on instituting measures to boost recovery.

MUST KEEP LENDING

Earlier this year U.S. regulators put the 19 largest U.S. banks through “stress tests” to determine how much capital they might need to withstand a worsening recession. Ten of those banks were told to raise more capital, and regulators waited for their plans to do so before approving any bailout repayments.

As a condition of being allowed to repay, banks had to show they could raise money on their own from the private sector both by selling stock and by issuing debt without the help of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp guarantees. The Federal Reserve also had to agree that their capital levels were adequate to support continued lending.

American Express Co (AXP), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK), BB&T Corp (BBT), Capital One Financial Corp (COF), Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley (MS), Northern Trust Corp (NTRS), State Street Corp (STT) and U.S. Bancorp (USB) all said they had won approval to repay the bailout funds.

In contrast, neither Bank of America Corp (BAC) or Citigroup Inc (C), which each took $45 billion from the government, received a green light to pay back bailout money.

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