Greece is burning, Goldman is still under fire, the SEC's got its sights set on Buffett and the DJIA had its share of heated volatility this week - but a few positive things happened as well. In addition to these negatives, and in one case tragic, news events, there was a handful of positive financial news for the U.S. economy, with some rebounding sectors and added jobs. But, you probably would like to hear the bad news first.
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Greek Escalating Problems and Possible Solutions
The Greek crisis hit new tragic levels this week as riots led to the deaths of three people at the Marfin Bank in Athens, after masked protestors threw a Molotov cocktail into the bank's front window. The protests got uglier and the politicians didn't get along either.
On Thursday night, Greece lawmakers came to a consensus over the Greece bailout bill. Though Greece's main opposition party opposed the bill, it still went through and parliament voted on whether Greece will have access to the EU International Monetary Fund's 110 billion euro assistance funds.
However, the street protests were not about the bailout money, but rather the spending cuts and tax hikes that Greece must implement to deal with its massive debt, and to receive the bailout funding. It should also be noted that the huge IMF bailout will not be enough to cover Greece's debts. (How will the fallout from Greece's sovereign debt crisis impact investors on Wall Street and Main Street? Find out in EU Economics? It's All Greek To Me!)
The European crisis is often characterized as a contagion and, along with a number of other factors, the crisis is hurting the American markets. Congress' upcoming derivatives market regulations also have the markets on edge, and when combined with April's weak retail report, the Dow headed lower still by the end of the week.
Thursday's strange, and technically-caused, mid-day drop of 1,000 points shook things up, but Friday showed that the market didn't need glitches to contribute to its decline. The Dow closed down 3.2% on Thursday, and Friday were no better, as the market fell a further 1.4%, or 149 points - its third triple-digit decline of the week. (Are you prepared for the next terrifying moment? Turn off the TV, take the dog for a walk - and settle on a stock allocation you can stick with. Learn more in How To Retain Your Sanity In A Volatile Market.)
Mixed Market Indicators
There was some good news for the U.S. economy, with some sectors experiencing positive changes in sales, and the addition of 290,000 jobs. Though the April retail report showed that consumers were taking a break from the recent retail recovery, the auto industry showed an increase in sales. Months ago, increasing auto sales were a surprise, but are now becoming regular news, and April marked a 20% sales increase from April of 2009.
This was not the only good news for the market, as many media companies announced that ads were back. Media companies have taken a beating over the past two years, as the recession affected consumer spending and consequently the amount that companies had to spend on advertising. However, Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) announced a 9.8% increase in its first-quarter revenue, and CBS (NYSE:CBS) had growing revenue and higher ad revenue, though CBS still lost money overall.
Blankfein Stands Strong, Buffett's Under the Microscope
And the Goldman Sachs SEC case continues on. There weren't a lot of new developments this week except for Buffett's endorsement and defense of the company and CEO Blankfein talking up Goldman Sachs to anyone that would listen.
However, as the SEC's high-profile case - that coincidentally coincides with the upcoming Obama-led financial industry regulation - against Goldman Sachs drags on, the SEC is now taking aim at Goldman's most high-profile defender: Buffett himself. The SEC launched an investigation into the disclosures made by Berkshire Hathaway in relation to its $26 billion purchase of Burlington Northern railroad. The SEC is focusing on how Berkshire informed Burlington shareholders about the purchase.
On May 2, Buffett addressed shareholders at the Berkshire Hathaway general meeting, and explained Goldman Sachs in a positive light, winning over many shareholders who saw a discrepancy between Buffett's ethical investing policies and Berkshire's $5 billion investment in a firm that is under the SEC's scrutiny. (Despite the airtime this scandal has received, the details aren't clear. Find out what happened and how it affects you in The Goldman Sachs Fraud Explained.)
The Bottom Line
It looks like there will be some financial relief that may figuratively put out the financial fires across Europe, as the European Union agreed on a nearly $1 trillion bailout on Monday May 10. This bailout announcement brought investors back to the markets, and is giving some kind of respite from the feared eurozone meltdown. It's anyone's guess as to how long this will restore faith in the markets and the EU's economy.
Still feeling uninformed? Read this week's financial news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Buffett's Armed and Greece Keeps Falling.
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