Stress-Test Expertise

May 7, 2009

NEWYORK-SPITZER/It seemed only a bit odd that media star Arianna Huffington was the guest host on CNBC the day the all-important stress test results were due. Not to play down her credentials in media or commentary circles, but where were the celebrated bank analysts, the corporate chieftains and the investment gurus who so routinely enjoy a dose of the limelight on America’s Business Channel?

Wasn’t this the perfect day for a newsmaker rather than a news talker? The Huffington Post founder has been a good reality check on market cheerleaders who live on CNBC, but on Stress-Test Thursday, the less-than-casual viewer expects insiders with insight. It tasted like something strange and exotic had made its way into the DealZone coffee machine.

Then disgraced former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer joined the fray, and the slightly odd became surreal. Spitzer, who casually noted he was invited to the show (hint, hint), gave a spirited view from the nosebleed seats, far back from the federal policymakers’ bench.

Forget all this stress test stuff — what about Spitzer’s attempt at resurrection? Anchor Joe Kernen asked whether Spitzer the AG would have prosecuted Spitzer the governor and Spitzer the guest legal expert answered no, arguing that issues of judgment are more important than issues of law.

This should be equally true for the banks, Spitzer said. But the banks’ transgressions were far more damaging to many more people than Spitzer’s own. It’s hard to believe moral suasion and limiting access to cheap funds would have been enough to persuade greedy bankers to act more responsibly. Certainly, shareholders would not have rewarded them for behaving better while others were making a killing selling toxic investments.

DealZone commends CNBC’s producers and guest bookers for creative thinking. While the stress test results are not due until late this afternoon, so much has been leaked already that the minutiae still to come will probably numb the minds of even the hardiest financial news junkies. With no news to break, the Huffington/Spitzer show turned out to be refreshingly watchable. Indeed, who understands a stress test better than Eliot Spitzer?

Deals of the Day:

* Anheuser-Busch InBev said it agreed to sell its South Korean Oriental Brewery to private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co for $1.8 billion, allowing the world’s largest brewer to repay debt.

* Global miner Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc has not talked to Chinese state-owned metals firm Chinalco about revising a planned $19.5 billion tie-up, and still believes the deal makes sense.

* Australian blood-products and vaccines maker CSL said U.S. competition regulators had yet to make a decision on its proposed $3.1 billion takeover of smaller rival Talecris Biotherapeutics Holdings Corp.

* Australian brewer Lion Nathan, which has agreed to a $2.5 billion takeover by Japanese brewer Kirin, halted trade in its shares on Thursday on concerns the confidentiality of its talks with Kirin may have been breached.

* U.S. coal miner Peabody Energy and Anglo-Swiss miner Xstrata plan to bid for a majority stake in Indonesian coal miner PT Berau Coal in a deal that may be valued at around $1 billion, two sources with direct knowledge of the deal said.

* Porsche Automobil Holding SE stock fell as much as 17 percent after the sports car maker scrapped attempts to take over Volkswagen and agreed to explore a merger with Europe’s biggest carmaker.

* Magna International has so far presented a more concrete proposal on General Motors unit Opel to the German carmaker than Fiat, Opel’s supervisory board member Armin Schild told Reuters.

(PHOTO: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer stands next to his wife Silda Wall Spitzer as he announces his resignation at his office in New York March 12, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

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Where is the stress-test for European banks?


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