Econ' Notables & Quotable for the Week

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Hello everyone, sorry I’ve been away.  I do wish everyone is doing well in these economic hard times.  If it pleases this court, I would like to start something new today.  Talking to our esteemed Mister Oak, he noted that something would be nice to fill in the weekend shift.  Well, today I would like to submit “Econ’ Notables & Quotable”.

This Saturday series will be a collection of some interesting quotes I’ve come across for the past week.  Now they may be things news report have people quoted as saying, or something of keen that has stuck out in someone’s major op ed piece.  They will be in the quote box format, and of course a link to the source.  Eventually, I would like to add a picture to each person that says it (for example, say Warren Buffet or Jim Rogers).  This may not always be possible, so please bear with me.  Anyways, I do hope you folks out there like this, and if not or have any recommendations or critiques, I’m always open. 

 

On the current banking crisis in the UK….

In this inaugural issue (no pun intended), we start across the Atlantic in merry ole England.

“I would urge you to sell any sterling you might have,It’s finished. I hate to say it, but I would not put any money in the U.K.”

- Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings of Singapore, in an interview for Bloomberg Television on January 20th, 2009.

Following Rogers’ comments, the Pound fell from a near $1.50 USD to $1.38 USD.  Rogers later added in the television interview:

“The pound sterling is going to be under pressure. The U.K. hasn’t got much to sell to the world anymore. You have stupendous debts.”

- Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings, Singapore, on Bloomberg Television

(editor’s note:  The second quote is found in a separate Bloomberg article)

The former partner to George Soros in the Quantum Fund, Rogers has been saying for years that the economic center of gravity will switch from the West to East.  His comments ushered a response from several British several rebukes from Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"If you think we are going to build our policy around the comments of a few speculators who want to make money out of Britain then you are very, very wrong. The decisions we take about the future of the economy are based on what is right for Britain."

- PM Gordon Brown in an interview on the BBC, January 23rd, 2009.

 

Yet these were soon overshadowed when one of the countries chief executives essentially echoed Jim Rogers’ comments

“At the moment, I would expect things to continue getting worse rather than better,”

- Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways Plc, in a speech in India, January 23rd, 2009.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Pond…

The economy has been weighed down by the financial industry.  The so-called “Masters of the Universe” have been exposed.  Even great mavens of investing, like Warren Buffet, was not immune to the falter in the economy or from criticism. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, a former textile company turned holding company, had so far been having a horrible year.  The company’s stake in financial companies has eroded the company’s earnings. Indeed, many of the investing musings have come under fire. 

"It's never paid to bet against America.... We come through things, but it's not always a smooth ride....This is an economic Pearl Harbor."

-- Warren Buffett, "Dateline" interview on NBC

One of Warren’s largest detractors is Doug Kass, of The Street.Com, who highlights how the “Oracle of Omaha” has gone off his investment reservation into products in the past he’s damned.

Equally important, I have repeatedly uttered the notion that Berkshire's large derivative position -- namely, short puts on the S&P 500 -- was evidence of investment style drift. Regardless of that view, Berkshire has now likely recorded a nonrealized loss in excess of a $10 billion on the index short put position. A loss on that scale, whether realized or unrealized, is large even for Warren Buffett.

- Doug Kass, The Street.com

In 2008 and (so far) 2009, The Oracle of Omaha has been wrong; it has paid to bet against America.

Moreover, the U.S. "economic Pearl Harbor" has humanized and brought down to earth many of the smartest investors in the world (e.g., Warren Buffett), as well as the entire private equity universe, many well-regarded hedge funds and investors (e.g., Marty Whitman and Bill Miller), and some masters of the universe in residential and nonresidential real estate, among others.

- Doug Kass, The Street.com

 

Bankers once hailed as geniuses are now have the Sword of Damocles hanging over them.  One in particular is the Chief Executive of one of the now-labeled “Fortress 5 Banks,” Bank of America, Kenneth Lewis.  At the start of the banking crisis, it seemed BOA would escape much of the carnage.  Many criticized his purchase of Countrywide Financial, yet hailed as an Einstein for scooping up Merrill Lynch at “depressed prices.”  It now seems though, that the joke was on Lewis, as more revelations of the true nature of the historic broker’s finances are now point to the fact that either the broker is worth nothing or that Lewis overpaid.  Either way, major shareholders are very angry and he could be on the way out if BOA’s stock price starts to resemble that of beleaguered Citigroup. 

"Lewis is skating on thin ice, if there are more negative surprises coming out of the combined balance sheets, Lewis will be very vulnerable."

- Michael Mullaney, manager of Fiduciary Trust Co of Boston, major shareholder.

Not just shareholders, but market watchers and economists say that if history is any insight, Lewis is a goner.

The problem is that, today, we reward error with recrimination and reprisal: Off with his head! And Ken Lewis has, alas, committed some awful errors of late. Among them:

--Let’s just admit it: He got hornswoggled by John Thain at Merrill Lynch, who forgot to give Ken a heads-up on billions of dollars in new, unexpected losses. Then Lewis complains to the feds about it a few weeks ago, but somehow forgets to tell his shareholders before they voted to approve the deal.

- Dennis Kneale, Business Editor and anchorman, CNBC, January 23rd, 2009.

"The market will give Ken as much time as he needs, so long as the stock performs. The stock's performance is a function of how successfully he can integrate Merrill Lynch, and how he maintains the credit quality of the consumer loan book. Those are tall orders in this economy."

- Tony Plath, Professor of Finance, University of North Carolina.

While there are plenty criticisms (and now a lawsuit) against Lewis, the drama at Bank of America merely highlights the US’s own banking woes that are hammering the economy. 

"I don't see the tangible value in these financial institutions. And will the government care about the equity holder? I don't think so."

- David Klaskin, chief investment officer for Oak Ridge Investments in Chicago

Just now, with finance in ruins, the nexus of markets and non-banks that make up the “shadow banking system” has failed. Decent businesses are being starved of credit and driven into bankruptcy. For their sake, and for the people who work for them, it is time to admit that the first round of bank rescues was not enough. With talk of huge public subsidies—nationalisation even—the question is what to do next?

- Portion of the lead editorial, “Inside the Banks” in this week’s Economist

“Each day brings, I think, greater focus on the problems that we’re having not only in terms of job loss, but also in terms of some of the instabilities in the financial system.”

- President Barack Obama, in a weekly radio address, as appeared in the Financial Times,

“The government cannot solve this problem. The American people have to solve it and the way they can solve it is if they are allowed to keep more of the money they earn.”

- Rep. John Boehner, Republican House Minority Leader, response to Obama’s address. 

Away from Wall Street to the Golden State, things don’t seem so shiny

This past week, the situation in the State of California has gotten worse.  Several companies in the famed Silicon Valley reported they were laying off scores of employees.  Joining in the job cut chorus was the state government itself, which now appears to be heading towards bankruptcy.  Already, and to the protest of organized labor and other social groups, Sacramento ordered the sacking of social workers.

"Organizations are saying, 'What is the absolute nuclear winter? Let's plan for that. "What you're seeing now is organizations putting those plans into reality."

- Adam Charlson, senior partner at Exec search firm, Korn/Ferry International, in Reuters news report

"We're going from bad to worse and then ugly.  It's going to be really nasty the next couple of quarters. But if [federal] tax cuts kick in and there's a little infrastructure spending, hopefully the third and fourth quarters won't be as bad.

-  Esmael Adibi, an economist with Chapman University in Orange, in a LA Times piece on the rise of unemployment to 9.3% in California

"At the moment, there's only one leg to stand on, hospitals and education. And pretty soon there will be no leg."

- Sung Won Sohn, economist with Cal State Channel Islands, same LA Times piece.

"This thing is still getting worse,"

- Howard Roth, Chief economist for the state Department of Finance, when asked by LA Times if the unemployment rate will hit 11%.

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Comments

nice post

but how about some of the best comments from EP itself for the week and possibly most read post of the week?

Let's shred some light on the comment people. We have some people commenting on EP who never write posts and then we have "lurkers galore". Lurkers are people who read the posts, daily, but don't venture into writing any comments.

Maybe encourage them to participate.

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Ooooh

Will work this into the posts. Thanks, RO!

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this weeks top read post

here.

This is what I mean about not cross posting. For some reason certain posts (and I'm not cross posting) get picked up in an almost viral way and then get thousands of reads.

This one got picked up on many blogs, just an instapoplist too.

I need for work on getting those people reading the one post to check out the other super cool posts when this happens...

but bottom line is we are assuredly getting read and every week at least one post is picked up by this kind of viral email/link/aggregator spread.

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