Unstructured Finance

UF Weekend Reads

A beautiful spring day in the NYC metro area. Let’s Go Mets! Here’s this weekend’s stories courtesy of Sam Forgione.

 

From The New York Times

Jennifer Medina reports that California’s economy is either booming and busting, depending on which city you’re in.

From The Nation

William Greider has some suggestions on how the Federal Reserve can work with politicians to improve the housing crisis.

From Foreign Affairs:

Blake Clayton argues speculators in the oil market should be thanked and not criticized for keeping the industry in balance.

From Institutional Investor:

Julie Segal writes about an Iowan retirement money manager’s foray into emerging markets.

Who changed the financial crisis narrative?

By Matthew Goldstein

So riddle me this: How did we go from blaming “banksters” for all our financial ills to now casting teachers, cops and firefighters as overpaid government slackers who are keeping an economic recovery from picking up steam?

Somewhere, somehow, the narrative of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression changed. Not too long ago, all the talk was about exotic securities backed by crappy mortgages, inadequate bank regulation, excessive CEO pay and burdensome consumer debt. Now the conversation in Washington and Wall Street is more focused on overly generous pensions for public employees and the levels of government spending on the poor, for education, new roads and middle class health benefits.

This isn’t too say that runaway government deficits aren’t a problem that need to be addressed–most likely with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. But the financial crisis didn’t begin in summer 2007 with concern about government spending.

Hedge fund leaders duck for cover

By Matthew Goldstein

Top hedge fund managers are great at enriching themselves through savvy trades that presumably come from a keen insight into the markets and economic trends. But all too often these titans of Wall Street come up small when asked for their opinions on the pressing economic questions of the day.

That’s what happened when three Reuters reporters recently asked 30 of the top U.S. hedge fund managers to respond to a quick email survey about the political morass in Washington and the potential for a double dip recession. Less than a handful of  managers offered any thoughts on the subject. The overwhelming majority either didn’t respond, or had a representative reply that the manager was either too busy to comment, or didn’t want to participate.

I’m not going to embarrass any one by calling them out for not responding but it’s hard to fathom how some of the wealthiest people on the planet couldn’t find the time to have someone on their staff take 5 to 10 minutes out to respond to a three question survey. (We were trying to make it real easy to get some responses).

Got those Great Recession blues

Given the amount of money central banks have been pumping into the global economy you’d be forgiven for thinking we should be getting a pretty decent recovery right now. And whilst that seems true for emerging markets, market participants and consumers just can’t rid themselves of the feeling that there is another shoe yet to drop.

Citi’s Matt King encapsulated this general nervousness in his presentation at the CFA Institute’s European Investment Conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday. And according to King, there are some very good reasons why corporates and households just can’t bring themselves to load up on more debt.

“We’ve had the worst recession since the 1930s, but it doesn’t feel like it, because we haven’t taken all the pain yet,” he said. “We’ve simply shuffled the debt around – that’s why markets are still so volatile and correlations are so elevated.”

Starbucks adds spice to Via

schultzviaStarbucks is expanding its Via instant coffee line this autumn with cinnamon spice, vanilla, mocha and caramel flavors.

The move comes on the heels of the Seattle company’s rollout of Natural Fusions, a line of flavored ground coffees, at U.S. grocery stores this summer.

Starbucks for years avoided selling flavored brews, leaving the niche to its more mainstream Seattle’s Best Coffee brand. But it changed that high-brow stance when the U.S. economy hit the skids and consumers started saving money by drinking more home-brewed java.

Deals wrap: 3PAR bidding war hits $2 billion

What’s another $200 million between rival bidders? Less than three hours after Dell matched HP’s $1.8 billion bid for data storage specialist 3PAR, HP upped the ante to an even $2 billion. The HP offer shakes out to $30 per share. 3PAR shares were up another 20 percent to $31.29 in early trading, according to Reuters. *View article*

FT blogger Gwen Robinson wondered how 3PAR became the target of such an intense bidding war and suggested it may be “simply a throwback to those crazed acquisitive days of the dotcom boom.” *View article*

In another software play, HP is rumored to be a potential bidder for security software maker ArcSight Inc. According to the Wall Street Journal, bidders, including Oracle and HP, could pay up to $1.5 billion for the company. Other ArcSight competitors could include EMC, IBM and CA Inc. *View article*

Check Out Line: Warning, slow recovery ahead

homedepot1Check out signs that a slow recovery is in the offing.

Retail executives see only gray skies ahead as U.S. shoppers are still spending cautiously, giving weight to the notion that a recovery will remain weak beyond 2010.

“The economic backdrop is not optimal,” Ken Perkins, president of retail research firm Retail Metrics, told Reuters. “It’s not catastrophic like it was in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, but it’s just very sluggish.”

Indeed, Wal-Mart Stores posted its fifth consecutive quarterly drop in U.S. same-store sales (sales at stores that were open for at least a year) and said that trend may not reverse itself in the current quarter, Home Depot cut its full-year sales view and Kohl’s, which caters to middle-income consumers, and BJ’s Wholesale cut their profit forecasts.

Check Out Line: Frugality — Part Two?

shopCheck out the apparent return of the frugalista.

Worries about stubbornly high U.S. unemployment and a tempermental economic recovery has shoppers reeling in spending on all but the essentials.

The 28 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters reported an overall 2.9 percent rise in July sales at stores open at least one year, missing Wall Street forecasts of 3.1 percent. Seventeen of those retailers reported lower-than-expected sales, while nine — including Macy’s and Kohl’s — beat estimates.

“We are now in an environment where the dollars in consumers’ pockets are fewer, so the competition for those dollars has increased,” said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors.

Check Out Line: Retailers need to step up the sucking up to consumers

shopping1Check out an American Express survey that shows that quality service matters more than ever, suggesting U.S. retailers may want to start sucking up to recession-wary consumers even more.
    
Sixty-one percent of Americans polled said quality customer service is more important in today’s tough economy and that they will spend an average of 9 percent more when they think a company is providing that. Important points when some analysts and investors worry the economy may be at risk of dipping back into recession.
    
In a disconnect, however, many businesses seem to be missing the message as 28 percent of those polled believe that companies are paying less attention to good service and 27 percent have not changed their attitudes, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer (which sounds like a weather vane for customer service).
 
“Customers want and expect superior service,” AmEx executive vice president Jim Bush said in a statement. “Especially in this tight economic environment, consumers are focused on getting good value for their money. ” 
    
“Many consumers say companies haven’t done enough to improve their approach to service in this economy, and yet it’s clear they’re willing to spend more with those that deliver excellent service – suggesting substantial growth opportunities for businesses that get customer service right,” he added.

Retailers might want to keep all that in mind given the fact that June same-store sales came in slightly below expectations and some analysts see the sector treading water.
    
The survey was conducted in the United States and 11 other countries.
 
In the United States, nine in 10 of those surveyed consider the level of service important when deciding to do business with a company, the survey said. However, only 24 percent believe companies value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it.
    
Contrary to “conventional wisdom,” the survey showed more are inclined to talk about a positive experience (75 percent) than complain about a negative one (59 percent).
    
And consumers said they are far more likely to give a company offering good service repeat business (81 percent) than they are to never do business with a company again after a poor experience (52 percent), according to the poll.
    
However, negative feedback online weighs more heavily as almost half of consumers gather others’ opinions about a company’s customer service reputation and they put greater credence in negative reviews (57 percent) versus positive ones (48 percent), according to AmEx.
    
“Because consumers can broadcast their views so widely online, each and every service interaction a company has with its customers becomes even more crucial,” Bush said. “Developing relationships with customers, listening to them, anticipating their needs, and resolving any issues quickly and courteously can help make the difference.”
    
In fact, 81 percent of Americans have decided never to do business with a company again because of poor customer service in the past, the poll said. Half of those surveyed said it takes two poor service experiences before they stop doing business with a company.
    
However, 86 percent will give a company a second chance after a bad experience if they have historically had great service before, according to the poll.
    
Woe to those who screw the experience up too, as 52 percent of consumers expect something in return after poor service beyond just resolving the problem. Seventy percent want an apology or some form of reimbursement.
    
So retailers, I expect red carpet treatment and a lot of sucking up this recession or you won’t get any of my limited funds!

Also in the basket:

Chrysler launches money-back guarantee

Hain Celestial to name two Icahn nominees to board

Study: Living Near Restaurants Makes You Fat (Wall Street Journal)

Industry Places Bets on back-to-School (WWD, subscription required)

(Reuters photo)

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