Saturday, May 29, 2010

“Spain’s downgrade just adds to more uncertainty,”

U.S. Stocks, Oil, Euro Tumble; Dow Ends Worst May Since 1940

May 28 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stocks slid, capping the worst May for the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1940, while the euro slumped and Treasuries rose as a downgrade of Spain’s debt rating and escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula triggered a flight from riskier assets.

The Dow tumbled 122.36 points, or 1.2 percent, to 10,136.63 at 4 p.m. in New York and lost 7.9 percent this month. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index sank 1.2 percent to 1,089.41, led by financial shares on the Spanish downgrade and energy companies after U.S. President Barack Obama extended a moratorium on new deep-water drilling. Oil erased gains after rallying as much as 1.6 percent to more than $75 a barrel. Ten-year Treasury yields decreased 7 basis points to 3.3 percent. The euro slipped 0.7 percent to $1.2273.

Equities and commodities extended losses after Fitch Ratings stripped Spain of the AAA rating it’s held since 2003, saying the nation’s economic growth will slow as it attempts to cut its debts. Earlier losses followed disappointing U.S. economic data and a North Korean general’s warning of “all-out war” if any accidental clashes with South Korea break out.

“Spain’s downgrade just adds to more uncertainty,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist for Newark, New Jersey- based Prudential Financial Inc., which oversees about $667 billion. “There are too many geopolitical events. We have a three-day weekend in the U.S., and traders will definitely want to lighten their books.”

‘All-Out War’

Losses in U.S. stocks widened earlier after North Korean Major General Pak Rim Su disputed the results of the international investigation that found his nation sank a South Korean warship. “Any accidental clash that may break out in the waters of the West Sea of Korea or in areas along the Demilitarized Zone will lead to all-out war,” he said, according to North Korea’s official news organization.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bankruptcy talk spreads among Calif. muni officials It has forced public employee unions to the negotiating table, providing city leaders an opportunity to rein in compensation, which city officials said accounts for more than three-quarters of Vallejo's general fund spending.

Bankruptcy talk spreads among Calif. muni officials
Jim Christie

Mon, May 24 2010SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two years after Vallejo, California, filed for bankruptcy protection, officials in nearby Antioch are also tossing around the 'B' word.

Antioch's leaders earlier this month said bankruptcy could be an option for the cash-strapped city of roughly 100,000 on the eastern fringe of the San Francisco Bay area.

Antioch's fiscal woes are standard issue for local governments in California: weak revenue from retail sales and property taxes is forcing spending cuts, layoffs and furloughs.But cost-cutting measures may not be enough to keep Antioch's books balanced, so its city council is openly discussing bankruptcy."We just want to alert people to the possibility," Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Mary Helen Rocha said.Orange County Treasurer Chriss Street would not be surprised if more local governments across the Golden State sound a similar alarm.

Street expects more talk of municipal bankruptcy across California because local government finances are in such dire shape -- a situation underscored on Wednesday when a top finance officer for Sacramento County projected a worse-than-expected shortfall for the county of $181 million, which could force more than 1,000 layoffs from the county's payroll.

"You don't have the easy out of increasing revenue and you have a lot more call on services because of the economy," Street said. "There's no such thing as entertaining bankruptcy; there's ending denial."

Orange County, California's third most populous county, declared bankruptcy in 1994, at the time marking the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, after suffering $1.7 billion in losses from bad investments. The county emerged from bankruptcy in 1996 and its credit rating has since recovered from its post-bankruptcy "junk" status. Fitch Ratings earlier this month affirmed its 'AA' rating on the number of the county's long-term obligations.

Marc Levinson, a lawyer with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP who is representing Vallejo in its bankruptcy proceeding, agrees that California's hard times and lean local budgets are forcing local leaders to weigh bankruptcy."It's a topic on everyone's lips because cities and counties and local governments are hurting," Levinson said.


Municipal officials, however, are unlikely to pile into bankruptcy court in search of relief from their financial woes, Levinson said. Chapter 9 bankruptcy filings are rare to begin, in part because many states limit them and, more important, their consequences include harm to credit ratings that determine borrowing costs, said Jim Spiotto, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Chapman & Cutler, who works on municipal finance matters. A filing for Chapter 9, the part of U.S. bankruptcy code that applies to municipalities could also result in being locked out of the municipal debt market, adding to fiscal trouble.

"We take that very seriously," Amy Doppelt, a managing director at Fitch Ratings, said of how talk of bankruptcy could affect credit ratings.Bankruptcy could also scare away investment and new jobs at time when California's unemployment rate is in the double-digits -- 12.6 percent in April -- and payroll growth is critical to bolstering the consumer spending and property markets that fill the coffers of local governments.

Ron Loveridge, the mayor of Riverside, California, and president of the National League of Cities, called bankruptcy a last resort."It becomes a description of who you are," he said. Despite its stigma, bankruptcy has paid an important dividend for Vallejo: It has forced public employee unions to the negotiating table, providing city leaders an opportunity to rein in compensation, which city officials said accounts for more than three-quarters of Vallejo's general fund spending. City Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said the effort has led to concessions from three of four city unions.

Like Vallejo, Los Angeles is suffering from weak revenue at the same time the cost of its pensions and other retirement benefits are rising. Former Mayor Richard Riordan said those factors put the government of the second largest U.S. city on track to declare bankruptcy between now and 2014.

Riordan sees bankruptcy as a necessary tactic for squeezing concessions from the city's public employee unions. It could also pave the way for 401(k) retirement accounts for new city workers instead of defined pension benefit plans with escalating costs, he said."The threat of bankruptcy is really the only way you're going to get them to make major changes," Riordan recently told Reuters.

Los Angeles officials dispute Riordan's bankruptcy outlook, published earlier this month in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said Los Angeles does not want its "brand" tarnished by bankruptcy and that the city can avoid it by continuing to cut spending, by reducing its work force and by handing off some services to the private sector and nonprofits."Bankruptcy is what you do when you run out of options. The city has a lot of options and has been exercising those options," Santana said.

Talk of municipal bankruptcy has not escaped California's politically powerful public employee unions. A number of them are pressing the legislature to pass a bill that would require local governments to get the approval of a state board before filing for bankruptcy. Since the board could be stacked with union-friendly appointees, bankruptcy pleas could be rejected or delayed."It's a horrible bill," Levinson said. "If you don't have the bankruptcy outlet, what do you do? If you can't pay your bills what do you do?"

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The government’s finances have been “substantially worsened by the credit crisis, recession, and government spending to address these shocks,”

Moody’s Reiterates U.S. Spending Risks Credit Rating (Update1)

By Mary Childs

May 25 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government’s Aaa bond rating will come under pressure in the future unless additional measures are taken to reduce projected record budget deficits, according to Moody’s Investors Service Inc.

The U.S. retains its top rating for now because of a “high degree of economic and institutional strength,” the New York- based ratings company said in a statement today that was little changed from a credit opinion released in February. The outlook is stable, the statement said.

The government’s finances have been “substantially worsened by the credit crisis, recession, and government spending to address these shocks,” Moody’s analysts lead by Steven A. Hess wrote. “The ratios of general government debt to GDP and to revenue are deteriorating sharply, and after the crisis they are likely to be higher than the ratios of other Aaa-rated countries.”

Debt to revenue has more than doubled over the past three years and is now over 400 percent, which could lead to “potential stress” on finances, the report said.

“This whole financial crisis in Europe has actually benefitted the U.S. government in its access to finance,” Hess said in a telephone interview. “The U.S. Treasury market has become once again, as it was during the recent financial crisis globally, the safe haven, and therefore lots of money flows into the U.S. Treasury market and that is a very positive.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jim Cramer: Europe to Collapse in 48 Hours – or Never

"If we don’t see total capitulation in Europe over the next two days, Cramer said during Wednesday's Stop Trading!, investors may have to admit that the Continent is “merely” suffering a downturn. Because the repercussions from the expectations of a collapse, which have fed the negativity in the American markets and driven down stocks, can’t continue for much longer without it actually happening."

Sunday, May 09, 2010

U.S. sovereign debt downgrade : "While we see limited risk of a U.S. sovereign debt downgrade in the next 2-3 years, beyond that we cannot be so certain," wrote Societe Generale's economics team in a recent report.

U.S. Debt Shock May Hit In 2018, Maybe As Soon As 2013: Moody's


Posted 05/05/2010 07:56 PM ET

Spiraling debt is Uncle Sam's shock collar, and its jolt may await like an invisible pet fence.

"Nobody knows when you bump up against the limit, but you know when it happens it will really hurt," said fiscal watchdog Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The great uncertainty about how much debt is too much has tended to make fiscal discipline seem less urgent, rather than more. There is no obvious threshold beyond which investors will demand higher real yields for holding U.S. debt. Vague warnings from ratings agencies about the loss of America's 'AAA' status haven't added much clarity — until recently.

In the wake of the financial crisis and recession, Moody's Investors Service has brought new transparency to its sovereign ratings analysis — so much so that 2018 lights up as the year the U.S. could be in line for a downgrade if Congressional Budget Office projections hold.

The key data point in Moody's view is the size of federal interest payments on the public debt as a percentage of tax revenue. For the U.S., debt service of 18%-20% of federal revenue is the outer limit of AAA-territory, Moody's managing director Pierre Cailleteau confirmed in an e-mail.

Under the Obama budget, interest would top 18% of revenue in 2018 and 20% in 2020, CBO projects.

But under more adverse scenarios than the CBO considered, including higher interest rates, Moody's projects that debt service could hit 22.4% of revenue by 2013.

"While we see limited risk of a U.S. sovereign debt downgrade in the next 2-3 years, beyond that we cannot be so certain," wrote Societe Generale's economics team in a recent report.

The Moody's ratings framework is one that could have a significant influence on policy — particularly in a crisis.

Because debt levels and interest rates can't be lowered overnight, the obvious way of staying within the AAA limits set by Moody's would be to raise revenue.

"It would bias the remedy in favor of tax increases for countries that want to improve their bond rating," said Brian Riedl, budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Because economic growth is a key to fiscal health, Riedl argues that a ratings agency concerned about whether bondholders are repaid should bias spending cuts over tax increases.

read the rest :

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC

While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy.

During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.

Read more:

Monday, May 03, 2010

Here it comes US consumer inflation up two percent

Americans saw prices rise two percent in the year to March according to the Commerce Department's personal consumption expenditures index published on Monday. The FED  see broader inflation levels, as approaching the maximum the central bank normally considers sustainable.

Energy and food costs rose 18.7 percent against March 2009, up almost four percentage points compared with February. Without food and energy spending the inflation level remained stable at 1.3 percent.

Meanwhile the FED said last Wednesday  to keep historically low interest rates for an "extended period," amid "subdued" inflation trends.