MacroScope

Scams from Abuja to Reykjavik

It suffered the collapse of its currency, economy and banking system so being invoked in a version of the notorious Nigerian email scam is one of the smaller humiliations endured by Iceland.

The confidence trick, which has roots in the 18th century, usually involves an email from someone claiming to be either a deposed African dictator or a Nigerian lawyer, promising a sum of money in return for help to access a substantial fortune.

But the latest spam email making its rounds purports to be from Iceland, one of the highest profile sovereign casualties of the global financial crisis. This version of the email is supposedly from a “devoted christian (sic)” from Iceland”, a widow seeking help to access $6 million in a Canadian bank left to her by her husband who worked for an oil giant for 19 years.

Besides the grammatical errors, the email stretches credulity with the notion that the widow’s husband would have chosen to park his savings at a Canadian bank rather than the Icelandic ones that would have — at least until their collapse late 2008 — offered interest rates in excess of over six percent.

These high-flying banks, which once took in so-called Icesave retail deposits in London and Amsterdam, are now at the centre of a dispute that pits the North Atlantic island nation of 320,000 people against Britain and the Netherlands.

Financial headcounts stabilize in 2009

After financial firms slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs in 2007 and 2008, the bloodletting slowed in 2009 as major banks rebounded from the financial crisis. Even though firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co reported billions of dollars in profit, they still did not announce major hiring initiatives.

Recession layoffs Headcount (end 2008) Headcount (end 2009) Bank of America 45,000 240,202 283,717* Citigroup 75,000 323,000 265,000 Goldman Sachs 4,800 34,500 32,500 J.P. Morgan 23,700 224,961 222,316 Morgan Stanley 8,680 45,295 61,388* UBS 19,700 77,783 65,233 Credit Suisse 7,320 47,800 47,600 Barclays 9,050 152,800 144,200 Deutsche Bank 1,380 80,456 77,053 Santander 2,600 170,961 169,460

* Includes additional employees from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney merger and Bank of America’s merger with Merrill Lynch, both of which were completed in 2009 (Steve Eder and Steve Slater)

Bernanke Who?

When it comes to investing in a turbulent market, is ignorance bliss? According to a new survey by IBM, around half of U.S. investors have never heard of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. This, despite the fact that 67 percent say the global financial crisis has prompted them to pay greater attention to financial news. More than one-third could not identify the current unemployment rate. In case you missed it, the jobless rate eased to 10 percent in November after hitting a 26-1/2-year high of 10.2 percent in October.

from FaithWorld:

U.S. Catholic CEO responds to Benedict’s economic encyclical

charity-in-truthPope Benedict's encyclical "Charity in Truth" proposed a sweeping reform of the world economic system from one based on the profit motive to one based on solidarity and concern for the common good. Like other such documents in the Roman Catholic Church's social teaching tradition, the encyclical delivers a strong critique of unbridled capitalism. This can be uncomfortable for Catholics who champion free enterprise and some conservative Catholic writers reacted quickly and critically. One of them, George Weigel, wrote the encyclical "resembles a duck-billed platypus." (Image: Charity in Truth/Ignatius Press)

We wanted to hear the views of a Catholic executive, one who's involved in business rather than reacting from the sidelines. So I called Frank Keating, president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). The former Republican governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003) is a former chairman of the National Catholic Review Board, which he said "sought to identify and correct the horror of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy." He is a Knight of Malta and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

DB: What's your overall reaction to the encyclical?

keatingFK:"I haven't read the 30,000 words but I think what the pope is proposing is not inconsistent with other papal messages. The common denominator to all of them is the worth of the individual, the dignity of every human person. So Benedict XVI focuses on the right to life, he speaks against euthanasia, he speaks against the evil of abortion, he speaks against cloning. But at the same time he talks about duties and responsibilities to the vulnerable because the vulnerable are dignified human beings as well as those who are rich and powerful.

from FaithWorld:

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled "Charity in Truth," presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    "There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration... such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights." The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly - not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred..." "Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another." "Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value... there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference... What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development." "One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State."
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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from Changing China:

Can China save the world?

 

China has long said that its biggest contribution to a world racked by financial turmoil would be to ensure that its own economy grows strongly, implying that a rising Chinese tide will lift all boats. The latest data show that Beijing has delivered on one part of the bargain; its economy, the toast of the world over the past five years, is once again ahead, far ahead, of the pack. 

 

Many investors and companies are confident that the second part of the bargain will follow – that China's recovery will be just the cure for markets still woozy from the financial battering. Such faith is not yet justified.

 

To be sure, China has already delivered a cortisone injection to some commodities, notably copper, the price of which has risen more than 40 percent this year. Strong stock markets, from Japan to Canada, since March are in part a play on positive sentiment spilling over from the Chinese rally that began in January. China also stands as the one growth market for global auto makers.

More Americans expect to work until they die

If you were wondering what two years of wealth destruction have done to the American psyche, the Employee Benefit Research Institute has your answer.

They have conducted surveys asking (among other things) when people expect to retire. Back in 1991, a full 19 percent thought they’d be in full-time relaxation mode before age 60. The latest survey? Only 9 percent think they’ll be that lucky.

Just 17 percent now say they expect to retire at age 60 to 64, down from 31 percent in the 1991 poll. Nearly a third think they’ll be older than 66 before they stop working, up from 11 percent in 1991.

Japanese lessons

Japan, slightly sidelined by the U.S.-UK “special” relationship and the Franco-German alliance at the G20 summit, is keen to stress the country can offer lessons to be learned from the country’s banking crisis in the 1990s.

Here’s a re-cap of what happened. In 1992, then-PM Miyazawa warned of a financial crisis unless banks were recapitalised using public funds now. Yet no action was taken. Between 1995 and 1997, staggering 5 financial institutions failed, forcing the government to inject public funds into 21 banks in 1998. Then two major banks were nationalised, then the government injected additional capital into 32 banks.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner experienced the crisis himself as a financial attache at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo in the 1990s.

Brown gets helping hand from Obama

He loves the Queen and the British people. Truth be told, President Obama was always going to be a hit on his first overseas trip.

But Gordon Brown probably could not believe his luck. The prime minister just could not stop grinning as he stood next to the new president at a news conference in the Foreign Office ahead of the G20 summit.

He must have always been hoping for a bit of the Obama magic to rub off on him and revive his battered ratings but he can’t have expected the ringing endorsement he got.

Stealing Steinbrueck’s show?

Peer Steinbrueck, the front man in Germany’s fight against the financial crisis, has a new challenge on his hands: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The young economy minister, in the job for only a month, is already proving to be a thorn in Finance Minister Steinbrueck’s side. The telegenic 37-year-old is coming up with policy initiatives that challenge Steinbrueck’s plans, and draw media attention away from him.

This is new territory for Steinbrueck. Until last month, he was able to capitalise on the low profile of former economy minister Michael Glos to make himself Germany’s primary spokesman on matters financial and economic — and the man Chancellor Angela Merkel turned to for leadership on these issues. Glos’s shock resignation last month opened the way for Guttenberg to make the step up from Bavarian politics to the national stage, and he hasn’t looked back.

This week he proposed amending a planned law on saving stricken banks, which was drafted by Steinbrueck’s ministry, to try to avoid nationalising them. The idea may not take off, but it grabbed media attention. And while Steinbrueck (wiping face in picture) joins other G20 finance ministers this weekend for a meeting in England, Guttenberg  (left in picture) will be preparing for a trip to the United States next week, where he will meet Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — Steinbrueck’s opposite number — as well top White House adviser Lawrence Summers, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick.