Tom Karol | All Articles
WASHINGTON, January 2015 --- In President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union, the chief executive followed up on his 2014 promise to move without Congress or the courts and further upped the ante by pledging to take action without any planning. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want,” Obama declared Tuesday night. It was an expected follow-up to his 2014 vow to act without legislation.
University of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly has been named the recipient of the Football Writers Association of America's 2012 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. The Eddie Robinson Award is awarded annually to college football's top head coach in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision; the division's sports information directors and selected sports writers cast votes annually to decide the winner.
Financial Reform Bill - House and Senate conferees will formally meet on Thursday to work on the compromise language between the financial reform bill passed by each. But POLITICO reports that work on final language is already well under way, with ferocious lobbying and electoral politics both playing a role in the process. They report that players on all sides of the contentious debate over the biggest piece of financial regulatory reform since the Great Depression are fully engaged in a fierce final round of lobbying and negotiation before a final bill is sent to President Obama, which is expected by the end of the month. Republican conferees are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to coordinate their plans to revise the bills. One senior Democratic conferee has other problems to consider as, Sen. Lincoln (D-Ark) enlists the support of former president Clinton to help in her tight battle in a primary run-off. Senator Lincoln is the author of controversial language that could force Wall Street banks to spin off lucrative derivatives trading operations, and the prospects of that provision remaining will demand on Tuesdays run-off.
AIG sale of Asian unit dead: U.K. Prudential’s agreement to buy the Asian unit of AIG fell apart after Prudential shareholders rejected the $35.5 billion price and AIG rejected a reduced offer of $30.4 billion. AIG's chief executive was in favor of the lower bid, but the AIG board met late Monday, and killed the deal. Reportedly, AIG's board wanted assurances that Prudential would complete a revised deal, and Prudential could not provide that assurance. The Treasury Department, which owns 80 percent of AIG and has control of the board seats, had not considered any alternative other than the existing $35 billion contract. The $35 billion payout would have erased nearly a third of the amount taxpayers are owed by AIG. As a result of the failed deal, the U.K. pound rose to its strongest level in almost three weeks against the dollar. The takeover’s collapse “is sterling plus, the implication being that there won’t be sales of sterling to buy foreign currencies,” said the head of European hedge-fund sales at Mizuho Corporate Bank in London.
One year ago, General Motors, once the largest and richest company in the country if not the world, entered into an emergency bankruptcy that cost billions of dollars, eliminated thousands of jobs, closed hundreds of dealerships, ended several product lines, left stockholders and debt holders with huge losses and gave the U.S. Treasury a majority share of the company. Now, some commentators are claiming that the auto rescue has been a success.
AIG deal may be off: Prudential initially agreed to pay $35.5 billion for AIA, the Asian insurance business of AIG, but the deal has gone sour. Faced with shareholder opposition and regulatory questions, Prudential has lowered its bid to $23 billion cash, $5.375 billion of shares in the combined companies and $2 billion in notes, for a total offer of $30.375 billion. It's a blow to AIG, which received more than $180 billion from the U.S. government, and was looking to get $51 billion from the Prudential deal and the sale of its American Life Insurance division to MetLife. AIG said Tuesday it wouldn't accept lower offer. In a statement, AIG said, "the company will adhere to the original terms of its previously announced agreement with Prudential PLC for Prudential to acquire AIG's wholly owned pan-Asian life insurance subsidiary AIA Group Limited. The company will not consider revisions to those terms." It is not immediately clear what role the U.S. government may have had in this decision.
Will AIG pay back its bailout? It depends on whom you listen to. During Wednesday's hearing at the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the government folks and AIG's chief executive spent most of their time discussing why the AIG bailout was warranted and how things are getting better. They suggested that AIG may be able to pay off some debts, thanks to the sale of two foreign life insurance subsidiaries, by the end of the year. The managing director of insurance ratings at Standard & Poor's suggested that the agency may lower the already-low rating of AIG if its operating performance does not improve. The managing director of property and casualty insurance research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods noted that the company recently downgraded common shares of AIG to underperform and established a price target of $6 — despite yesterday's closing market price of $34 for AIG. If that weren’t bad enough, 20 percent of Prudential UK shareholders announced that they plan to vote against the $35.5 billion takeover of AIG's life insurance subsidiary.
Investor confidence down: The Wall Street Journal reports that confidence among institutional investors has suffered its largest one-month drop since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, with uncertainty over of the U.K. election, the "flash crash" in the U.S. and high levels of market volatility combining to make investors more risk averse. The State Street Investor Confidence Index for May reports global investor confidence fell 11.2 points to 88.2, or about 10 percent. Declines in investing sentiment in North America were a key contributor, with institutional investor confidence falling among European investors, too. Investing patterns by institutional investors in Asia, by contrast, showed confidence was robust, rising about 7 percent. But these Asian investors were selective, favoring commodity-producing countries and avoiding Europe and the U.S.
Senate conferees named: The Senate on Tuesday named 12 conferees to reconcile legislative differences between the upper and lower chambers’ financial reform bills. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, will serve as chairman of the conference negotiations, which Democrats aim to complete before the July 4 recess. House members are expected to be named next week. The seven Senate Democrats are Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut; Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Charles Schumer of New York, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa. The Republicans are Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Financial reform marches on: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, will lead the conference to resolve the differences between the Senate and House financial reform bills, which Democrats want to finish and send to President Obama before the July 4 recess. The conference is expected to include a dozen senators, including seven Democrats and five Republicans. Senator Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who drafted and owned the Senate bill, will be on the conference, as well as Senator Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat. Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who opposed the Senate bill, will reportedly be on the panel, and the Senate is expected to name its full conference committee members on Monday evening. House Speaker Pelosi, California Democrat, will name the members of the panel from the House, but may wait until the second week in June to do so, aides said. Frank has said the conference may take about a month, and has indicated that he would like the proceedings televised on C-SPAN.
More short bans? The Financial Times reports that European politicians have proposed a complete ban on naked short selling, significantly widening the German ban last week on naked short-selling of European government bonds, credit default swaps and some stocks. Last week, the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee proposed a total ban on naked short selling – the process of selling a financial instrument that is neither owned nor borrowed by the vendor. The move is not supported by all European regulators; last year the UK’s FSA said that naked short selling provides some "legitimate behaviour which can provide beneficial market impacts." This could lead to confrontation in European markets as Germany did not signal its ban to the markets and refused to back down when other E.U. members protested the ban. Business reaction has been stronger. The chief currency strategist at BNP Paribas reportedly said: “As a German citizen, I wish to apologise for the stupidity of my government."
Financial reform next steps: There have been reports that Democratic leaders are looking to move the financial reform bill, possibly with a vote to end debate as early as Monday, and a vote on the bill itself Tuesday. Late Thursday, it appeared that votes would continue through the night. Amendments will continue to be filed Friday, but no votes are expected. More Senate votes are scheduled for Monday and, "We'll be in until at least the early part of next week," according to Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat. Reconciliation of any Senate bill with the December House bill, may progress very differently than it did for health-care bill, where the House simply approved the bill that the Senate passed. In the case of financial reform, the plan may be for a formal “conference,” perhaps televised, with House and Senate leaders and administration officials discussing, debating and making changes. Both the House and Senate must vote again before it can be sent to President Obama.
The bailout in a rear view mirror: Since 2008, the Federal Reserve has refused to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion in emergency loans from American taxpayers, despite congressional demands and private lawsuits. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to force the Federal Reserve to disclose, for the first time, key details of loans to financial firms during the crisis. The Sanders amendment would require the Fed to provide names of borrowers and amounts of loans on emergency-loan programs that are mostly shut, as well as on its mortgage-backed securities program and arrangements to swap dollars for other currencies with foreign central banks. The measure would cover only loans from December 2007 to the date the law is enacted, wouldn't apply to future lending and wouldn't require disclosure of ongoing discount-window borrowings.
Euro rescue stumbles: The euro has given back all of Monday's gains and the benchmark gauge for European shares is down after registering its largest gain in 17 months. Some analysts question the decision to solve a debt crisis by issuing more debt; others are concerned the existence of the rescue fund creates a moral hazard, weakening the incentive for countries to maintain fiscal discipline. Stocks fell Tuesday in Europe and Asia, and U.S. markets closed down slightly. To make matters worse, an internal IMF assessment paints a gloomy picture of Greece's ability to recover economically, with years of high unemployment, slow growth and political bickering threatening to undermine a recently approved international rescue program.
U.S. markets up: The markets closed up on Monday, based largely on positive developments in Europe. The Dow was up almost 4 percent and the S&P 500 up 4.5 percent and the Nasdaq closed up almost 5 percent.
The glitch: Nasdaq Chief Executive Robert Greifeld has said several factors contributed to last week's near-1,000-point drop in the Dow: "I think it was a confluence of factors led by the marcro-economic environment, the futures market and then the listed market for those stocks." Regulators originally thought a trading glitch may have caused the market to freefall, but Greifeld believes that was only one aspect. The fear that financial unrest in Greece could be spreading to other European countries, and heightened activity in the futures market that spilled into the equity market contributed to the issue. On Thursday, 27 U.S. stocks dropped more than 90 percent as U.S. equities tumbled, before recovering by the close. More than 285 securities rose or fell more than 60 percent during the stock-market’s plunge and will have these trades canceled. On Sunday, Nasdaq added another 12 stocks to the list of trades it was canceling following Thursday's sudden market plunge.
Financial markets clobbered early, but end Thursday down 3 percent: The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 1,000 points and then recovered enough to close the day down a significant, but not devastating, 348 points. The S&P 500 lost 38 points and the Nasdaq dropped 83 points. Each of the markets lost a little more than 3 percent. The biggest one-day loss in the Dow's history was 777 points, or 7 percent. Crude oil prices on Thursday dropped to levels not seen since February. The euro dropped 1.5 percent from Wednesday and briefly traded at its lowest level since March 2009. At the same time, the price of gold rose 3 percent to a five-month high of $1,200 an ounce, nearing an all-time record in after-hours, electronic trading on Thursday.
The first amendment: An amendment offered by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and Ranking Member Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, to the Restoring American Financial Stability Act (S. 3217) was adopted Wednesday by a vote of 93 to 5. According to Congressional Quarterly, the amendment drops the proposed $50 billion resolution fund that would have covered the costs of a major financial collapse, and empowers the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to liquidate large firms with a credit line from Treasury. The amendment requires congressional approval before the government could guarantee the debt of a financial firm.