Retribution the new Wall Street growth story: Has the day of reckoning moved closer for Wall Street and its big-name banks and other players over the subprime mortgage boom and the marketing of all those exotically named derivatives (CDOs, Synthetics, CLOs and the rest of the alphabet soup of products)? First, Goldman Sachs was charged last month by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, then this week Morgan Stanley added to the list by regulators looking at the selling of mortgage bonds during the subprime boom. A day later The New York Times revealed that the New York Attorney-General had started looking at the relationship between eight banks and the three main ratings groups, Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s. The Times said: “Those targets are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Credit Agricole and Merrill Lynch, now owned by Bank of America.”

Retribution 2: A few hours later, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a criminal investigation is under way. “US federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission are co-operating in a criminal probe into allegations banks misled investors about their participation in mortgage bond deals.” The paper named JPMorgan Chase & Co, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG and Citigroup Inc as being the targets of the investigation. It said Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley are already being investigated. “The Manhattan US Attorney’s office and SEC are working hand-in-hand. At issue is whether the Wall Street firms made proper representations to investors in marketing, selling and trading pools of mortgage bonds called collateralised debt obligations, or CDOs.”  By the way, Wall Street is down 3.3% since the Goldman charges on April 16, Goldman shares are down about 17%.

Europe’s new sport of cutting: The new coalition government running Britain has produced its first cut in spending and a tiddler it was: a 5% trim of ministerial salaries to save just £3 million in five years. That will take the edge off the £163 billion deficit. Over in Portugal the government revealed its own cuts, a day after Spain went for another round of trims. Portugal’s measures included new taxes and cuts to raise €2.1 billion. The new package aims to raise €11 billion over four years and cut the budget deficit from 9.4% of GDP in 2009 to 4.6%. Portugal has initially targeted deficits of 8.3% of GDP this year and 6.6% next year.

UK jobless pain. Figures out yesterday confirmed that Britain’s unemployment rate in the three months to March remained at 8.0%, the highest level since the three months to September 1996. The report showed that the number of unemployed in Britain rose by 53,000 in the March quarter, from the previous quarter, to 2.51 million. That’s the highest figure since the December quarter of 1994.

Greek pain: In Greece, unemployment hit 12.1% in February, the highest since January 2004. The unemployment rate was 11.3% at the start of this year, with 605,277 people unemployed in February, with 4,404,051 people employed. Across the eurozone, average unemployment stood at 10%, which is the highest since August 1998, according to official figures from Eurostat.

Malaysia lifts rates: The Malaysian central bank yesterday raised interest rates for the second time this year as first quarter growth was confirmed at a very strong 10.1% from the same quarter in 2009. Bank Negara Malaysia increased its overnight policy rate by 0.25% to 2.5%. The first increase was in March. South Korea’s central bank left rates there unchanged this week for a 15th consecutive month. Australia leads the world with six rate rises since last October.

Iron ore down: Iron ore prices hit a month-low on Thursday as demand eased on fears that the Chinese economy might be slowed too much by attempts to cool the hot property sector. The cost of spot Australian benchmark iron ore — (with a 62% Fe (iron) content) fell to $US169.5 a tonne, down 8.2% from a two-year high of $US184.80 set in late April. But it’s all relative, this lower price is still a massive 170% above the level of a year ago and 43% above the levels at the start of the year.

Lucky Kerry Stokes: Geography has been kind to Kerry Stokes, judging by the results from the world’s biggest Caterpillar dealer, Finning International of Canada. It reported first quarter profits slumped as the downturn in Western Canada and Britain outweighed a surge in business in South America. Finning said first quarter profit fell 55% on a 25% drop in sales as new equipment sales fell 455% because of weakness outside mining. Finning said orders jumped 60% because of the boom in mining in Canada and South America. Kerry Stokes’ WesTrac, now tucked away in Seven Group Holdings, operates in booming Australia and booming north-east China. Those geographical advantages should keep The Big Cat in Peoria happy for a while longer.

America’s home foreclosure boom: Figures out overnight show that US home repossessions set a record in April, but foreclosure filings dropped for the first time in four years. RealtyTrac said a record 92,432 bank repossessions were reported in April, up 45% from a year earlier and 1% from March. Foreclosure filings, including default and auction notices, were 333,837, down 2% from a year earlier. Other figures show why the problem isn’t going to ease soon; more than 20% of US mortgage holders owed more than their homes were worth in the first quarter. The proportion rose to 23% from 21% in the previous quarter.

Peter Fray

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