Every week there are a numerous headlines that are worthy of mentioning but I simply run out of time. Here are some news items from around the globe from this past week.
The City of Vancouver has agreed to lend up to $100 million to bail out the financially troubled company building the athletes village for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, CBC News has confirmed.
At a mayoralty debate Thursday morning, Coun. Peter Ladner, who is the chair of the city’s finance committee, refused to answer reporters’ questions about the loan, after the story broke in the Globe and Mail hours earlier.
City of Toronto existing home prices plunged 13% in October from a year ago and are now even lower than two years ago, the Toronto Real Estate Board said Wednesday.
Consumer confidence is critical to the housing market and it appears that consumer uncertainty has been prevalent in today’s market conditions,” said Maureen O’Neill, president of TREB. “We are confident levels will return as demand for housing in the GTA continues.”
“Earlier this year the International Monetary Fund undertook a study of housing markets in countries and found that Canada was one of only two nations in which house prices are supported by the economy,” she said. “There’s no doubt that real estate will continue to be a solid long-term investment in our country.”
My Comment: Maureen O’Neill is a fool, an industry shill, or both.
The most comprehensive report on unregulated credit-default swaps didn’t disclose bets in the section of the more than $47 trillion market that helped destroy American International Group Inc., once the world’s biggest insurer.
A report by the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. doesn’t include privately negotiated credit-default swaps that insurers such as AIG, MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. sold to guarantee securities known as collateralized debt obligations. It includes only a “small fraction” of contracts linked to mortgage securities, according to Andrea Cicione at BNP Paribas SA in London.
Voters have overwhelmingly endorsed limiting the power of county supervisors to sweeten pension payouts for public employees supporting Measure J by a whopping 75 percent.
The measure is a public rebuke of the stewardship that county supervisors have given the pension system, which is now only 73 percent funded and runs a $3 billion unfunded liability.
It’s also a distinguishing mark of the times, where most voters working in the private sector have seen the value of their 401K retirement accounts erode while watching public workers have their retirement benefits expanded.
My Comment: This is certainly a step in the right direction. What’s needed now is to roll back what’s been promised to some reasonable level. Unfortunately it will likely take defaults to accomplish that.
Magazine publishing, an industry that outpaced U.S. economic growth by 30 percent last year, is now in freefall.
Time Inc., publisher of People and Sports Illustrated, will cut 6 percent of its 10,200 employees and incur costs of as much as $125 million to restructure, parent Time Warner Inc. said today. Last month, Hearst Corp.’s CosmoGirl folded and the independent Radar shut down. Conde Nast Publications Inc. ordered companywide job cuts and scaled back Men’s Vogue and Portfolio.
The ad slump that hit newspaper publishers last year has spread. Magazine revenue declined 8.8 percent in the third quarter, after rising 6.1 percent in all of 2007, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. Publishers are in a double bind because they offer discounted subscriptions to attract readers and boost their ad base.
“It’s time for magazines to look at the model they’ve worked on, because it’s completely broken,” said Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. “Unless it’s fixed, we’ll see more magazines fail.”
Magazines’ problems stem from the slowdown of the economy and the travails of Wall Street, Time Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ann Moore said at an Audit Bureau of Circulations conference Oct. 30. U.S. gross domestic product contracted 0.3 percent in the third quarter, its biggest decline since 2001. “By October, it was looking like 1931,” said Moore, whose group publishes 24 titles. “We’ve never had so many advertising clients in trouble at the same time.”
JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank by market value, will shut down a global proprietary trading desk and shed some of the unit’s employees as the firm braces for a recession, a person familiar with the matter said.
Other members in a group of about 75 people, led by William Johnson in New York, will move to desks within the equities, fixed income, foreign exchange, commodities and emerging markets businesses that trade for clients and the bank’s own account, said the person, who declined to be identified because the plan is confidential. JPMorgan spokeswoman Kristin Lemkau declined to comment.
“It’s been a very difficult trading environment,” said Jeffery Harte, a financial analyst at Sandler O’Neill & Partners in Chicago. “In the wake of that, everyone on the street is probably reevaluating capital commitments in regards to trading operations.”
Credit Suisse Group AG, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, lost 609 million francs ($523 million) from proprietary trading, the firm said Oct. 23. The money-losing trading books will be reduced “significantly,” the firm said. Deutsche Bank AG, Germany’s largest lender, said Oct. 30 it lost 386 million euros betting on equities for the firm’s account.
My Comment: Now there’s another step in the right direction. Banks need to stop day trading stocks and get back to banking.
MGM Mirage issued $750 million of senior secured notes Friday, guaranteed by the company’s New York-New York casino. The notes, which are due 2013 and available through a private offering, will have a 15 percent yield to the buyer while MGM Mirage will pay 13 percent interest.
In a statement, MGM Mirage said the proceeds will be used to lower outstanding borrowings under an existing revolving credit agreement and for general corporate purposes.
Reuters News Service quoted several analysts as saying the MGM Mirage offering was a sign the frozen U.S. corporate bond market was thawing.”If (MGM Mirage gets) the full deal done, it will be a boost to getting that market moving again,” MacDonald said.
My Comment: A Thaw? That’s pretty funny. MGM is paying 15% to lower a revolving credit agreement at half that rate. I suspect MGM was about to have their short term line of credit yanked so they had to do this deal, and the best deal they could get was at 15%.
Bond insurers MBIA Inc (MBI) and Ambac Financial Group (ABK) reported large third-quarter losses on Wednesday, hurt by further writedowns and limited new business, sending both companies’ shares into a tailspin.
They have been seeking a way to tap into the government’s $700 billion bailout plan for the financial sector as the downgrades and shaky global credit markets have limited their chances for writing new business.
“It’s obviously a key focus for us,” Ambac Chief Executive Officer David Wallis said on a call with analysts. The company has sent a submission to the (U.S.) Treasury outlining the reasons why it is eligible for government funds, he said.
My Comment: Everyone wants a taxpayer handout. It’s ridiculous for Ambac to think it’s eligible. However, it might get funds anyway the way Paulson is throwing bucks around. Then again, I doubt it. The Mortgage guarantee business now seems to be off everyone’s mind as an issue. Ambac is back under $2 a share and I suspect headed for its rightful date with lady zero.
“We lost 2 billion dollars and like any other business we have to stay afloat.” And to keep from sinking, the United States Postal Service is considering cutting thousands of jobs nationwide. Lavelle Pepper with the post office in Shreveport says they too are feeling the affects of the same disease hitting the country… a struggling economy. “We employ about 685,000 people. If we do layoffs it would include clerks, carriers, mail handlers across all crafts.” Pepper says the postal service is looking to eliminate 40,000 jobs nationwide.
My Comment: I certainly am in favor of this.
Hard Rock Park is for sale. The 55-acre, $400 million theme park, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, wants to sell itself by the end of 2008, according to court papers filed this week.
It also has asked a judge to allow it to make severance payments of a total of almost a quarter of a million dollars to nine of its top executives, according to court papers filed this week. The park will not reopen in 2009 if it does not find a buyer, he said.
Here is a list of the severance pay the executives had written into their contracts, not including money for unused vacation days, according to the court filing:
chief creative officer | $270,835
chief executive officer and chief financial officer | $270,835
president and chief operating officer | $270,835
senior vice president and general counsel | $125,000
senior vice president of finance | $43,750
senior vice president of park operations | $37,500
My Comment: Theme parks are going to be in for a rough ride in 2009 as consumers retrench everywhere. But what’s with this severance package for the “chief creative officer”? I hope the bankruptcy judge kicks this creativity right out the window.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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