So markets are nervous about China, the US consumer, banks, oil and anything else. Situation normal, sort of.

Here are some more problems: there’s a bad drought in Texas, parts of China, Argentina (it’s been a year in some places) and of course parts of this country.

And yet you wouldn’t think so; US grain prices are falling, beef has hardly moved, people are buying and eating the minimum to survive. American retailing is fading fast; banks are under pressure after 77 have failed already this year.

78: Which US bank would the 78th to fail? Maybe the Guaranty Bank of Texas this Friday as it moves closer to the edge with the key regulator, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp auctioning off its best businesses overnight and a Spanish bank winning the tender. Guaranty would be the second-biggest bank failure of 2009, after last week’s collapse of Alabama’s Colonial BancGroup that had $US25 billion in assets.

$US100 billion: the figure Guaranty’s failure will push the 2009 asset total towards after Colonial’s failure and a $US15 billion bank in Florida fell over earlier in the year. This year’s failures are now estimated to reach 90-110 by the end of the year, but that’s a long way away from the 150 to 200 year failures a year in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to About.com (here): over 1,000 banks failed between 1986-1995, with total assets of over $US500 billion. Chicken feed as last year’s failures of Wachovia Bank and Washington Mutual, accounted for $US619 billion in assets. IndyMac from last year had a further $US41 billion.

4.3%: Wednesday’s loss on Chinese stockmarkets.

4.6% the decline from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of this year in the size of the 30 economies that make up the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The US contributed 1.4% to the total OECD fall, Japan contributing 0.7%, the euro area (13 countries) 1.2%, and the remaining countries 1.2%.

719.5 tonnes: the total identifiable demand for gold worldwide, according to the latest demand and supply figures from the World Gold Council and that was a 5½-year low and 8.6% under the second quarter of last year. Jewellery consumption dropped by 22% and investment interest slowed as the threat of meltdown in the global financial system receded. Gold is up 6.4% this year but is still 9.4% below the record $US1030.80 a troy ounce reached in March of last year, around the time Bear Stearns went under.

6.2%: was the fall in second quarter same store sales by US discount giant, Target.

5.6%: the rise in Australian same store sales for our premier ‘cheap’ retailer, The Reject Shop.

62: the age of Stephen Cooper, the saviour of the Krispy Kreme donut company; he sorted out Enron after it went bust and helped an ailing car parts maker, now he’ got the starring role in trying to breathe life into the dying MGM film studio once owned by our own Christopher Skase back in the 1980s. MGM’s current owners include the buyout klutzs including TPG (owns Myer, wanted Qantas), Providence Equity Partners (backed Lachlan Murdoch’s fail bid for Cons Media); Comcast, the US cable company that is splitting up to try and improve its performance and Sony, which is losing billions as demand for its gizmos remains weak. They hired a bloke called Harry Sloan, who had helped sort out various media businesses in the past, but MGM was a headache too far for him. MGM’s owners must be must be desperate, Mr. Cooper’s more recent assignment was a hire by Carlyle Group to rescue Hawaiian Telcom, a landline phone business. He failed, it went into Chapter 11. These private equity groups really know their oats, don’t they?

$US7 million: what the US Government said it would pay 65-year-old former insurance company boss Bob Benmosche to take the reins at the world’s biggest insurance basket case, AIG, which is being kept afloat well over $US120 billion in Government loans and other help. The bloke he replaced came out of retirement to work for expenses and $1. There was naturally an outcry at the salary for Mr Benmosche and President Barack Obama went into a Rudd-like backtrack and said the salary would be reviewed. He’s the 4th person to run AIG in three years.

131,000,000 tonnes: the amount of iron ore Australia sent to China in the six months to June, worth $11.8 billion, compared with $2.5 billion for Japanese shipments, according to the trade department in Canberra.

39%: the increase in America’s estimated gas reserves, according to the quaintly named Potential Gas Committee.

2025: the estimate of when the US could see the last copper phone landline switched off.

83%: the share held by so-called gas guzzlers traded in America’s Cash for Clunkers’ program that started last month and which sees old cars traded in and the owners given a subsidy to buy a new greener model. While 83% of the trades have been in what Americans call trucks (SUVs pick ups etc), 59% of new vehicles purchased have been cars; the fuel economy of the cars being traded is about 15.8 miles to the gallon, the average fuel economy for the new cars is 25 mpg, up 58%. The Toyota Corolla is the most popular car, followed by the Honda Civic, the Ford Focus and the Toyota Camry.

5,602: the number of people caught driving under the influence of alcohol by Monday of this week after the US Government started a two month anti drink driving campaign last Friday. 2435 were caught on Monday alone.

Peter Fray

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