Corporations all over America may be laying off employees, but many remain flush with cash. The New York Times reports in Tuesday's paper about an increasingly trend among American corporations. Instead of hiring more workers or investing in new growth opportunities, big companies are spending money on buying back their own stock. Louise Story, Wall Street and finance reporter for The New York Times, discusses why this is happening and what it means for the economy.
A weak economy and the failed pension plans of several bankrupt companies have increased the financial burden of the government agency that insures pensions for one in seven Americans. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insures private sector pension plans and takes over retirement benefit payouts when traditional pensions fail. Unfortunately, the little-known federal agency is reporting a record $26 billion deficit for the fiscal year ending in late September. The director of the agency has said that they may "eventually" need a bailout from taxpayers.
Congressional approval in the U.S. is at embarrassingly low levels. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found Americans' approval of Congress in the single digits. And a story that aired on "60 Minutes" last weekend is not likely to improve Congress's standing with the public. Insider trading is a crime in the U.S., but the laws that apply to most Americans do not apply to their lawmakers. According to the report, powerful members of Congress and their staffs have used their knowledge of privileged information to make vast sums of money in the stock market.
The recession may have officially ended in June 2009, but consumer confidence remains at recession levels heading into holiday shopping season. In fact, the most recent Consumer Confidence Index from the Conference Board went down 6.6 points for the month of November to 39.8 percent. By comparison, the Confidence Index was 70.4 percent in February of 2011.
Most economists agree that the recession ended in the summer of 2009. But, because of persistently high unemployment, many Americans are still feeling the economic pain. Across the country, there are almost five percent fewer jobs than there were when the recession began. And, according to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are now more pessimistic about the job market than at any time in the past 10 years. About 90 percent of Americans currently say that it is a "bad time" to find a quality job.
Japanese company Olympus was founded in 1919 with the goal of making microscopes. But now, after a series of shocking accounting revelations the microscope is being turned on Olympus. The camera company admitted on Tuesday to a decades-long scheme to hide almost a billion dollars in investment losses. It is Japan's biggest financial scandal since the bubble of the 90s, and it has rattled stakeholders and shareholders worldwide.
Interest rates on Italy's debt have soared to dangerously high levels, as bond yields hit 7.4 percent — the level that has driven other euro zone countries to seek bailouts. In comparison, Germany's interest rates stand at just 0.24 percent. Wednesday's news comes just a day after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged to step down on the condition that Parliament pass an austerity budget required by the European Union. Uncertainty over whether Europe's third largest economy will be able to meet its fiscal challenges will continue to test world markets.
The G20 summit is under way in Cannes. While the European sovereign debt crisis is at the top of the agenda, one of the more noteworthy topics being discussed is a so-called "Robin Hood Tax," a financial transaction tax on stocks, bonds and derivatives trades. Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is at the summit to address world leaders in support of the tax, which he says could be utilized to help developed nations meet their global aid obligations to the world's poorest countries.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou's surprise announcement that Greece will vote on its planned bailout has sent world markets into a tailspin. Analysts worry the planned referendum will undermine the agreement reached at meeting of European leaders in Brussels last week and bring Greece dangerously close to defaulting on its debt. In the U.S., brokerage firm MF Global filed for bankruptcy on Monday, in part due to bad bets made on European debt. Traders, however, say worries about the euro zone are primarily responsible for the volatility.
MF Global filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday morning, making the security firm possibly the U.S. casualty of the European debt crisis. Earlier in the morning, the firm, headed by former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs executive John Corzine, was suspended from conducting new business with the New York Federal Reserve. Under Corzine's leadership, MF Global made risky bets on European sovereign debt.
Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta surrendered to FBI officials on Wednesday morning. Gupta faces criminal charges in a massive hedge fund insider trading case. He has been under investigation over whether he leaked corporate secrets to Raj Rajaratnam, the co-founder of the hedge fund the Galleon Group. Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison for trading on illegal stock tips earlier this month. Louise Story, Wall Street and finance reporter for The New York Times, has the latest details on the story.
Banks were in dire trouble back in 2008, when the financial crisis hit. Stalwarts like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers kicked the bucket and other banks like Citigroup still haven't fully recovered. It appears though that banks may have a new problem: too much money. Many people, with no safe alternatives, are depositing their money into banks, but the banks have no where to invest it, so they are trying to deter consumers from giving them their money.
European officials were meeting all weekend long to discuss bailout plans — not only for debt-ridden nations in the euro zone but also for specific banks affected by the debt crisis. The European taxpayers paying for these bailouts are concerned about how this money will be used. Perhaps American tax payers should be too.
Bank of America and Goldman Sachs are scheduled to release their earnings reports for the third quarter today. Yesterday, Citigroup reported a 74 percent rise in their earnings and Wells Fargo reported a 21 percent increase, and last week JP Morgan reported a 4 percent fall in profits. Morgan Stanley and U.S. Bancorp are expected to release their reports on Wednesday.
After weeks of silence about the demonstrations in downtown New York and across the country, some of Wall Street biggest bankers are speaking up about the protests and the criticisms being leveled at them. The reaction comes just days after the protestors marched to the houses of J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon and hedge fund manager John Paulson.
A great deal of anger has been directed at the profits of the banking industry since the onset of the recession. One of the focal points of Occupy Wall Street, and of the like-minded protests that have emerged throughout the country, is precisely this discontent with the earnings of banks, particularly during a period of such economic duress for the rest of the country. But the quarterly reports from the banks have been showing that they've taken considerable losses over the past three months.
For years we've been moving away from using paper and coins to pay for goods, and toward a cashless society. Now many people use debit cards as a convenient way to shop. But news from the Bank of America yesterday could change the way people feel about that. The banking giant announced it would impose a new monthly fee of $5 for checking accounts that use debit cards. Other banks are likely to follow suit. Why are we seeing increased banking charges and what can consumers do about it?
Some enticing advertisements for shoes by Reebok have been circulating, promising "up to 28 percent more of a work out for your butt, up to 11 percent more for your hamstrings and calves." It sounds like a lot to expect from a simple shoe, and the Justice Department is saying it's worse than just an exaggeration — the company is making false claims, and should reward disappointed customers with refunds, which could add up to $25 million.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a major political victory on Thursday as the Parliament voted to expand the European Union's bailout fund. While the measure passed, the divisive vote had threatened Merkel's control over her own governing collation. The legislation increases Germany's share of guarantees from €123 billion to €211 billion. Six out of 17 euro zone nations still need to pass the agreement. Analysts are skeptical, saying the fund is too small to help seriously indebted European countries.
For months gold had been on a fantastic run, but last week gold prices plunged 9.6 percent, and then Monday another 2 percent, to $1,600 an ounce. Investors usually consider gold a safe bet, but they may not think of them that way anymore.