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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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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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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Lehman Brothers removes finance, operating chiefs

June 12, 2008

Thursday June 12, 5:03 pm ET

By Joe Bel Bruno, AP Business Writer

Lehman Brothers shakes up top management as firm takes nearly $3 billion quarterly loss

NEW YORK (AP) — The hope at Lehman Brothers is that a management shakeup Thursday will contain the damage of a stunning quarterly loss — yet some on Wall Street fear this is one more step toward a more dramatic outcome for the embattled investment bank.

The ouster of Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Gregory was an attempt to quell investor anger that Lehman’s leadership has failed them. But, with a four-day stock plunge that wiped $4.5 billion from the investment bank’s market value, it was unclear if the upheaval will be enough to satisfy critics.

“These people deserve to be fired,” said Dick Bove, an analyst with Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. “Their mistakes cost their shareholders billions of dollars in wealth.” Lehman shares fell 4.4 percent Thursday to $22.70 and are down 30 percent this week. The decline is a blow to investors who bought into a stock offering at $28 earlier this week — including BlackRock Inc. and former AIG chief Hank Greenberg.

Richard Fuld, who took the company public in 1994, has kept a low profile in recent days by refusing interviews and commenting only through a statement about the dismissals. There is growing speculation that Fuld — the Street’s longest serving CEO — might scramble to find a major outside investor or negotiate a sale to avoid his own demise by Lehman’s board.

Names from private-equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. to global bank HSBC Holdings PLC have been bandied about as possible suitors should Fuld want to arrange a buyer, though none are commenting on the possibility. Most analysts are confident that Lehman can survive on its own without a suitor, given the underlying strength of its business.

And while Lehman might have bought itself some more time by shaking up its top ranks, the question remains how much it has left.

“I think they have a few options, but they are becoming more and more limited as the stock is pressured,” said Matthew Albrecht, financials analyst for Standard & Poor’s. “It is hard to rule anything out at this point. Confidence in the firm is the paramount issue, and if your counterparties and clients don’t have confidence then you can’t do business in this market.”

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Danger Ahead: Fixing Wall Street Hazardous to Earnings Growth

April 29, 2008

By Christine Harper and Yalman Onaran

April 28 (Bloomberg) — Wall Street’s money-making machine is broken, and efforts to repair it after the biggest losses in history are likely to undermine profits for years to come.

Citigroup Inc., UBS AG and Merrill Lynch & Co. are among the banks and securities firms that have posted $310 billion of writedowns and credit losses from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. They’ve cut 48,000 jobs and ousted four chief executive officers. The top five U.S. securities firms saw $110 billion of market value evaporate in the past 12 months.

No one is sure the model works anymore. While Wall Street executives and regulators study what went wrong, there is no consensus solution for restoring confidence. Under review are some of the motors that powered record earnings this decade — leverage, off-balance-sheet investments, the business of repackaging assets into bonds through securitization, and over- the-counter trading of credit derivatives. Without them, it will be difficult to generate growth.

“Brokerages will have a tough time for a while,” said Todd McCallister, a managing director at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Eagle Asset Management Inc., which oversees $14 billion. “The main engine of its recent growth, securitization, will be curtailed. Regulation will be cranked up. Everything is stacked against them.”

Last month’s collapse and emergency sale of Bear Stearns Cos., the fifth-largest of the New York-based securities firms, demonstrated the perils of Wall Street business practices developed after the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. The change allowed investment banks and depository institutions to compete with each other.

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