The Great Debate UK

from Reuters Editors:

Are we now too speedy for our own good?

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Last week I was told that Reuters has lost its ethical bearings. You've sacrificed the sacred tenet of accuracy by rushing to publish information without checking if it is true. Your credibility has suffered, the value of your brand will wither and the service you offer to clients has been devalued, I heard.

It was a meaty accusation, especially as it came in the midst of a debate on ethics in journalism held at the London home of ThomsonReuters, the parent of the Reuters news organisation. The charge came from former Reuters journalists and a senior member of the trustees body that monitors Reuters compliance with its core ethical principles.

So what specifically were we being accused of and what defence did I offer?

On the 8th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, a day of more than normal sensitivity to security matters, CNN in the United States reported that the U.S. Coast Guard had fired on a boat in the Potomac River in Washington D.C. President Obama was visiting the nearby Pentagon at the time. Reuters rushed out a story on the reports of gunfire, citing CNN as the source for the information, while urgently checking with law enforcement officials. It transpired that CNN had been monitoring radio traffic on an unencrypted Marine frequency and had overheard a training exercise in which crew members shouted 'bang bang'. Quickly we put out an update to our story making clear it was a false alarm.

I had played a part in crafting our policy on handling such stories and from my place on the debate panel I offered another example for the audience to chew on.  On Oct. 21 Britain's Sky News reported that the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi had died in Libya. We put out a story, sourced to Sky News and repeating how it said it had the information of the death, while checking with officials and al-Megrahi's legal team in Scotland. We quickly established that Sky had it wrong and updated our story to say so.

from Commentaries:

Stones and glass houses, offshore tax haven edition

One of the week's more amusing stories takes us to the sun-kissed shores of the Cayman Islands, scuba diver's paradise, magnet for hedge funds and - until very recently - world-beating tax haven.

The financial crisis has not been kind to the Caymans. Hundreds of hedge funds have collapsed and global banks have slashed jobs. As if this was not enough, President Barack Obama in the spring launched a crackdown on tax havens that forced a number of Caribbean islands, including the Caymans, to embrace greater transparency - after a fashion.

from Commentaries:

The mirage of U.S. healthcare

On healthcare, the White House is struggling with a political riptide that threatens to drag it into deep water.

Americans, as they contemplate change, have suffered a weakness of nerve. The main reason is that nearly two thirds of Americans are apparently happy with their healthcare coverage, for all its deficiencies. Repeated reassurances from President Obama that those who like the existing set-up will not be forced to change, have had little effect.

from The Great Debate:

Obama’s troubles with healthcare

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morici-- Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and the former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. --

Healthcare reform is in trouble, because President Obama and congressional leaders are not adequately addressing issues that trouble many Americans.

from Commentaries:

Team Obama punts again on derivatives

The Obama administration formally sent its plan for regulating derivatives to Capitol Hill today. And to no one's surprise, the key proposal in the 115-bill is a plan to regulate "standard'' derivatives on regulated exchanges of clearinghouses.

As I've pointed out a number of times, Team Obama has yet to come-up with a workable definition for a standard derivative. The administration seems content to kick the issue down the road.

from The Great Debate:

Obama, Elvis and America’s birthers

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Bernd Debusmann-- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. --
Nobody ever landed on the moon, the televised images are a hoax. John F. Kennedy was murdered in a complex plot involving the Mafia and the CIA. Elvis Presley lives. Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president.

All these claims stem from conspiracy theories and myths born in the U.S. and they throw a question mark over the long-held view of experts that such ideas flourish most in societies where news is controlled, access to information difficult and barriers to independent inquiry difficult to overcome.

Bagram lesser known – but more evil – twin of Guantanamo

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clara_gutteridge-Clara Gutteridge is renditions investigator at Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The big surprise in Tuesday’s revelations of prisoner abuse at Bagram is how long these stories have taken to reach the international media, given the scale of the problem.

from The Great Debate:

Regulation reform hints of “Old Europe”

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bob-bench-- Robert R. Bench, a former Deputy Comptroller of the Currency in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at the Boston University School of Law’s Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law. The views expressed are his own. --

“Le laissey faire, c’est fini” – French President Nicolas Sarkozy

There indeed is a French flavor to the administration’s proposals for reforming the structure of regulation and supervision of financial institutions operating across the United States. In many ways the proposals resemble the “Commission Bancaire,” the French regime for financial oversight.

from The Great Debate:

Bernanke’s deficit warning helps Obama

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obama-- James Pethokoukis is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --

Sorry, Larry Summers. It's looking more and more likely that you're going to be stuck in the West Wing for the duration.

See, if your boss fails to reappoint Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman come January, it would be a public betrayal worthy of the television reality show "Survivor." For President Obama has no greater ally: Bernanke is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Credit Suisse shows Swiss banking lives

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REUTERS– Margaret Doyle is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) – Swiss banking is not dead after all. Just a week after UBS admitted that it would lose 2 billion Swiss francs ($1.71 billion) in the first quarter, its smaller rival Credit Suisse unveils a profit of the same magnitude.
UBS’s entanglements with the Feds suggested Swiss banks, with their confidentiality, fancy products and high fees, were done for. But CS has shown that there is life in the old dog yet.
Some of the outperformance was illusory, as so often the case with investment banks. CS took a 365 million franc gain thanks to the further deterioration in value of its own debt. And there was a further benefit of an estimated 1.3 billion francs thanks to the “market rebound”.
However, the underlying performance was still much better than anyone had expected. CS has won share across many businesses thanks to the forced exit of much of the competition.
In the core private banking division, CS enjoyed a net inflow of 11.4 billion francs. Wealthy Americans seem to recognise that an Obama administration will not turn a blind eye to tax evasion or even avoidance: the U.S. is not high on the source list of funds. UBS clients withdrew 23 billion francs over the same period, so there has been a net loss to the Swiss system, even if not as severe as feared a week ago.
It appears that the rich around the world still value the “geographical diversification” (perhaps political too) and confidentiality that Swiss banks try to offer. Indeed, CS is on a hiring spree in Asia at a time when HSBC, Citigroup, Societe Generale and Barclays have all been shedding private bankers.
Like Goldman Sachs, CS also benefited from more trading and a bigger market share across a range of investment banking markets. CS shone in interest rates, American residential mortgage-backed securities and investment-grade underwriting, among others.
This result looks even more impressive when you consider that it comes at a time when CS has shrunk its balance sheet and also cut the amount of risk it is taking. Quarterly revenues more than tripled against the same period in 2008. However, investors should not read too much into this result. Trading volumes arising from the “market rebound” will surely tumble as some semblance of normality returns.
Moreover, there are signs that the world’s wealthy have learned some hard lessons from the crisis. Customers of investment banks everywhere now know that they were sold complex products simply to generate high fees for the banks.
CS revealed that clients had shifted out of securities into cash. Moreover, within their securities portfolios, its rich customers had reduced their holdings of “managed investment products”. Their holdings of structured derivatives products are languishing at half their peak levels and are unlikely to rise.
All of this translates into lower recurring commissions and fees. CS has responded with “more transparent, liquid and efficient solutions” — probably code for higher management fees. Making these stick if the products and pricing really are transparent may however be as tough a sell as a CDO these days.

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