Water Cooler Finance: Ghosts Of Economies Past

By Tara Struyk | October 25, 2010 AAA
Water Cooler Finance: Ghosts Of Economies Past

Halloween is on its way this week but, strangely enough, the financial news is much more positive than usual this week. While past weeks brought news of economic turmoil and financial crooks, this week is setting up with some hopeful signs for consumers and the economy. However, the ghosts of economies past, such as the subprime crisis, are still lingering and threatening to haunt the markets again. Let's take a look at some of the top financial news from the past week. (Miss last week's news? Check out see Water Cooler Finance: The Beginning Of A Foreclosure Crisis?)

IN PICTURES: Your 6 Worst Financial Mistakes And Why You Made Them

High Hopes for Halloween
According to the Wall Street Journal, consumers are expected to spend $1 billion more this year for Halloween candy and costumes. This forecast bodes well for retailers, who are hoping for a strong winter holiday sales season. According to the National Retail Federation, per-person spending is expected to average $66.28 this year - much higher than last year's $56.31 average. The increase may be partly a result of the fact that the holiday falls on a weekend this year, inspiring many trick-or-treaters to throw parties. Either way, retailers are keeping their fingers crossed that Halloween spending will provide some momentum to Black Friday shopping in November. (For a creepy read, check out Haunting Wall Street: The Halloween Terminology Of Investing.)

China Under Pressure

The latest G20 meeting was held last week in South Korea, and China's currency was the key point of debate. It took several hours of negotiation among 19 countries and the European Union, but the group finally came to a loose agreement to refrain from the competitive devaluation of currencies. This has a major impact for China, which has often been accused of repressing the value of its currency in order to continue its dominance in the production of cheap exports. However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, China and the United States, which has been pushing China to increase the value of its currency this year, still have differences in opinion.

One major change did emerge from the G20 - the group agreed to give a far greater percentage of voting power in the International Monetary Fund to the developing countries like Brazil, India and China. (2) This represents a major shift in the IMF, which has often been criticized for failing to represent the growing economic power of developing nations. (For more insight on the problem with China, see Do Cheap Imported Goods Cost American's Jobs? and Why China's Currency Tangos With the USD.)

Fannie and Freddie's Bailout Repeat
Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more bailout money to go around, the government announced on October 21 that the cost of keeping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-owned mortgage finance companies, solvent was still rising. The two government-sponsored enterprises were first bailed out in 2008, when the subprime mortgage crisis almost pushed the two companies to collapse. Unfortunately, it looks like the final tally will more than double the government's original bailout package, and may top $215 billion in the next three years. The worst part is, the Obama administration is expected to propose to replace or entirely reconfigure Fannie and Freddie next year, making the billions of dollars spent to prop up these mortgage look like a questionable investment. (Find out about the bailout saved these organizations in How Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Were Saved.)

Goldman Sacs to Make Good on Buffett IOU?
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that investment bank Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) may be looking to repay the $5 billion Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A, BRK.B) invested in the ailing company in 2008. However, the deal has already amassed about $1 billion in returns for Buffett, and is earning Buffett a hefty 10% yearly dividend, so he may not be keen to close the books on this shrewd deal so soon. It will require approval from the Federal Reserve and come with a hefty $1.6 billion charge to Goldman. (If you think Buffett's got it good, find out Why Warren Buffett Envies You.)

Airlines Soar
Airline companies surprised analysts and investors this quarter by posting some of the highest profits in three years. According to the Associated Press, Delta (NYSE:DAL), U.S. Airways (NYSE:LCC) and the parent of American Airlines (AMR Corp. (NYSE:AMR)) all surprised the market with their higher-than-expected summer earnings. So how did these behemoths get off the ground again after being grounded by high fuel prices and a depressed economy? Well, it's all about economics: they reduced the number of seats for sale, thus boosting prices.

Most airlines have also increased their fees or introduced new ones, creating a whole new revenue stream. For travelers, this means crowded flights and being nickel-and-dimed for everything from carry-on luggage to an in-flight snack. Investors have been rewarding many airline stocks by driving them higher, but time has proved this is one industry that can easily run aground. (For more on how flying has changed, read 7 Air Travel Perks That Used To Be Free.)

The Bottom Line
Things appear to be looking up this week, but this has been a very volatile economy, so we're unlikely to have smooth sailing from here. Will the ghosts of economies past come back to haunt us once again? Check in next week for an updated on the top financial news.

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