This week's financial news was marked by extremes and touched with more than a little drama - and we're not just talking about Warren Buffett's appearance in GEICO's latest TV commercial. Buffett rocked out (although rather serenely), but political and economic storm clouds were rolling in over the markets; an index of leading economic indicators for February showed the least growth in a year, and political struggles over new regulation show there's still a lot of work to be done behind the scenes. (If you missed last week's news, check out Water Cooler Finance: We're Getting Richer And Spending More.)
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The big word in the headlines this week was undoubtedly "bailout". On Monday, The U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Christopher Dodd unveiled the details of a bill designed to overhaul financial regulation and protect taxpayers from having to bail out the financial system in the future.
An announcement by the Congressional Budget Office that the U.S. government's $700 billion bailout program is projected to snatch $109 billion from taxpayers' pockets, rather than the $99 billion figure estimated in January, followed closely on the heels of the bill's announcement. If the bill becomes law, virtually all financial products - from payday loans to derivatives - would face scrutiny from state attorneys general and the powers of the Federal Reserve and FDIC would be expanded. (For background info on government bailouts, see Top 6 U.S. Government Financial Bailouts.)
It goes without saying that the financial industry hates the idea. Banks have been repaying their TARP loans: Comerica (NYSE:CMA) repaid its loan this week, and Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) and Hartford Financial Services (NYSE:HIG) announced that they would repay theirs soon. Nevertheless, many of the bigger banks are up to their old tricks again, as news of big bank CEO bonuses continues to emerge.
The Greek Crisis
Greek protests over the government's proposed spending cuts have settle down, but workers in various sectors are still on strike or threatening to start. Meanwhile, the country is flirting with economic insolvency, as arguments emerged over whether the ailing economy should receive aid from its EU peers. While Germany, the Eurozone's largest economy, turned up its nose at providing direct financial aid, Greece responded by threatening to turn to the IMF, which many EU member would see as an embarrassment. (For more insight, see What Is The International Monetary Fund?)
A Lifeline for the Jobless
The Obama Administration has also been hard at work this week as it pushed through a major jobs bill in a rare bipartisan vote. The bill is designed to spur employment by giving businesses incentive to hire new workers. Although the number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance fell in the week ended March 13 and is expected to decline more over the coming weeks, the country's jobless rate still hovers at 9.7% and according to the most recent figures released by the Labor Department, 35 cities are suffering with jobless rate above 15%. (This rate is open to interpretation. Find out how to read between the lines in The Unemployment Rate: Get Real.)
An O.J. Moment for Hybrids
Remember the highly publicized video of the speeding Prius that reportedly accelerated out of control last week? It was a bit reminiscent of the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase. The incident occurred as Toyota was working to turn the tide of negative publicity that occurred as a result of recent recalls for cars that suddenly accelerated and added a little additional taint to the company's recall scandal.
But when the car was finally brought to a stop and Toyota (NYSE:TM) investigated the incident, the driver's story did not match up with data retrieved from the car's computer, which indicated that both the brakes and accelerator were being depressed during the incident.
Yet Another Debt Repayment Plan
Michael Jackson has been dead for months, but Sony is singing long live the king. It signed a deal with Jackson's estate to produce 10 albums over seven years to the tune of more than $200 million, the biggest recording contract in history. Jackson died with a major debt load, so his estate's ongoing earning power should take some of the pressure off his heirs in terms of paying off the King of Pop's lavish lifestyle. (To read more about Jackson's spendthrift ways, see Myth of the Week: Millionaires Don't Have To Worry About Money.)
The Icing on Some People's Week
To top it all off, reports were circulated this week that the maligned fraudster Bernard Madoff, who is currently serving 150 years for stealing money from investors in his fund, was assaulted in prison. What was the fight over? According to the New York Times, Madoff may have owed the other inmate money.