Opinion

James Saft

A costly but worthy Dutch treat: James Saft

Feb 5, 2013 19:59 UTC

Feb 5 (Reuters) – The Netherlands’ nationalization of bank
SNS Reaal underlines the euro zone’s weak spots while
illustrating the dangers of its plans to address them.

In wiping out SNS shareholders and some bond holders the
Dutch government is trying to do the right thing, can’t quite
bring itself to go that far, and may end up paying the price
anyway.

The Netherlands last week seized control of SNS, its
fourth-largest financial services firm, in a $14 billion rescue,
employing powers granted it under a new law passed last year.
While senior bondholders and depositors were sheltered, the
stakes of equity holders and subordinated bondholders were
effectively expropriated.

SNS, which had already received one state bailout, was
struggling under the weight of a large book of bad real estate
loans and was suffering strong outflows of deposits thanks to
worried savers.

First off, the news demonstrates that Europe’s banking
problems are far from over. Though optimists might argue that
the bad loans SNS was on the hook for were already well known,
the fact remains that the banking system across the euro zone
and beyond is still struggling under the weight of bad lending
decisions made before the crisis hit.

SAFT ON WEALTH: About that cash flowing into equities

Jan 31, 2013 20:56 UTC

Jan 31 (Reuters) – It looks like the central bankers are
winning: cash is being put back to work.

Equities are having, by some measures, their best January in
more than a decade. Signs point to cash coming off of the
sidelines as an important supporting factor. Global stocks are
up almost 5 percent for the month and the Standard & Poor’s 500
Index is on track for its best January since 1997.

Meanwhile, flows of money into equity funds and ETFs have
been strong, while cash has drained out of major banks and money
market accounts.

A badly timed euro zone tightening: James Saft

Jan 30, 2013 20:54 UTC

Jan 30 (Reuters) – A bank-led credit crunch, a newly strong
euro and the shrinking of the European Central Bank’s balance
sheet are tightening conditions in the euro zone at just the
wrong time.

This should heighten pressure on the ECB to cut rates or
take other measures when it meets next week. Just don’t count on
the central bank doing much.

A confluence of forces, some positive, are combining to
effectively tighten financial conditions in the euro zone, even
as the continent struggles with unemployment and recession.

Risk-on, risk-off may be ending: James Saft

Jan 29, 2013 13:05 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The after-effects of the Great Crisis may still be with us, but the great correlation in global financial markets may be coming to an end.

After years of seemingly disparate markets all going up or down in concert, recent weeks have shown signs of assets actually trading on their own merits. If sustained, this would be an important sign not just of a return to normality in financial markets, but that investors see a more stable world.

Then again, it might be a giant head-fake.

Sometimes called “risk-on, risk-off”, or Ro-Ro, this has been the dominant trade since the financial crisis broke, with commodities, stocks and especially currencies moving very tightly together in predictable ways, mostly driven by major economic news and global events.

It’s not Apple’s fault, it’s ours

Jan 24, 2013 20:35 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The problem, investors, lies not in Apple but in ourselves.

Apple’s disappointing earnings report and its subsequent 10 percent-plus stock market fall on Thursday are a timely reminder that there are a lot of idiots out there.

The issue – and your source of risk as an investor – isn’t just Apple, but rather the panting hoard of trend following investors who drove its stock price so far above a reasonable valuation.

Apple is a great company making great products, and has an outstanding record of creating new markets. It enjoys margins closer to those of a software company than a consumer giant, has more than $130 billion in cash and a historically unique franchise, one it has been able to expand time and again.

How to stop worrying and love currency wars: James Saft

Jan 23, 2013 20:45 UTC

Jan 23 (Reuters) – You might want to learn to stop worrying
and love currency wars, which are here to stay and, for
investors, might not be all that bad.

A host of central bankers and policy makers have been
talking currencies in recent days, generally about how their own
should be weaker and other peoples’ should be strong.

This is a natural result of the interaction of growth being
scarce and of aggressive monetary easing in many leading
economies. Everyone wants to capture what growth there is, and
those who ease monetary conditions through asset purchases get
the benefit of weaker currencies which make their exports more
competitive.

Geithner allegations beg Fed reform: James Saft

Jan 22, 2013 06:04 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Allegations that Timothy Geithner, then head of the New York Federal Reserve, may have told banks ahead of time about a surprise policy move in 2007 underscores the pressing case for reform to safeguard the integrity and independence of the central bank.

Specifically Congress needs to act to make the lines between the banking industry and the governance of the regional Federal Reserve banks cleaner, guarding against a “we are all boys in this together” attitude and ensuring a diversity of views from outside the financial services industry.

As revealed in transcripts released last week of Fed meetings from 2007, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said Geithner, now the outgoing Secretary of the Treasury, discussed with banks an upcoming change in the discount rate, a move which proved highly price sensitive when it was publicly announced.

Goldman’s smart move on pay

Jan 17, 2013 20:52 UTC

Jan 17 (Reuters) – This is how capitalism is supposed to
work.

Goldman Sachs has cut back sharply on employees’
piece of the revenue pie, taking it to 21 percent for the fourth
quarter.

For long-suffering shareholders, this is the best news out
of Wall Street in, well, maybe forever.

Goldman paid out 37.9 percent of revenues in compensation in
2012, down from 42.4 percent from a year ago. It is the lowest
payout ratio since the firm went public in 1999. The bank did it
by shedding people. Average compensation actually rose 9 percent
to just under $400,000, helped by a 19 percent increase in
revenues.

JP Morgan, margins and speculation: James Saft

Jan 16, 2013 21:03 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The risk controls may have changed but many of the preconditions for JP Morgan’s epic speculative loss remain – for all too-big-to-fail banks.

JPM on Wednesday released both its fourth-quarter earnings and a 129-page report into the details of its $6.2 billion loss in its London-based Chief Investment Office. The two documents are a good pair, demonstrating why banks are likely to fall into the same pattern of taking on principal risk to make up for the declining profitability of core banking. here here

It is impossible to understand why JP Morgan found itself so far out on a limb without reckoning with two facts: it, and other banks, are awash in deposits, but face dwindling profits from loans.

ECB saves euro, lets economy hang: James Saft

Jan 15, 2013 13:01 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Mario Draghi has saved the euro, for the time being, but seems less inclined to help the economies in which it is used.

After stepping in last summer to put the full faith and power of the European Central Bank behind the vulnerable euro zone common currency, Draghi’s central bank has been strikingly less aggressive than its peers in taking steps to address unemployment and recession.

With central banks in the U.S. and Japan easing aggressively, that leaves the euro liable to continue its recent gains, making countries in the currency area less able to export their way out of their problems.

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