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Thursday, January 01, 2009 6:46 PM

New Year's Day Economic Potpourri

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Heading into the new year, the news is finally slowing down. Here are a few headline news reports of interest from the past couple days.

Massive Layoffs Coming For Microsoft

Microsoft getting ready to lay off 17% of staff

The rumor that Microsoft was set to lay off people on January 15th, 2009 is no longer a rumor but a fact. Staff at Microsoft have been informed that the company is readying major layoffs to its worldwide operations and it's not a small cut, either.

Currently Microsoft employs about 90,000 people across the world and from what we're hearing, some 15,000 of those are expected to be giving marching orders come January 15th. That's almost 17 percent of Microsoft's total work force, not exactly a small number.

The layoffs will take place a week before Microsoft's Q2 earnings report, which takes place on the 22nd of January 2009, and it doesn't seem like the date set for the layoffs is coincidental. We'll bring you more on this subject as it unfolds.
Microsoft Zunes Freezing Because of Leap Year Glitch
Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp.’s Zune music players are freezing up because of a glitch in the way some of the devices handle dates in a leap year, a problem the company expects to be fixed by tomorrow.

The Zunes will correct themselves by noon Greenwich Mean Time, when the units automatically reset, the Redmond, Washington-based company said today in an e-mailed statement. The malfunction affects 30-gigabyte models made in 2006.

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, released the Zune in November 2006 in a challenge to Apple Inc.’s dominant iPod. Microsoft is advising Zune owners to allow the battery on affected devices to run out, which will cause the internal clock to reset.
11 in China sentenced for software piracy
A court in Shenzhen, China, sentenced 11 members of a software counterfeiting operation Wednesday, with the defendants getting between one and a half and six and half years in prison, according to Microsoft.

The sentences included the longest sentences handed down for software piracy in China's history, the company said in a press release. Microsoft, as well as hundreds of customers and partners, assisted in the investigation by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Futian People's Court handed down the sentences.

The 11 defendants were leaders in a syndicate responsible for manufacturing and distributing more than US $2 billion worth of counterfeited Microsoft software, Microsoft said. The counterfeit software, found in 36 countries, contained fake versions of 19 of Microsoft's products, available in at least 11 languages.

Microsoft applauded the PSB and FBI for their work in the case. "Software counterfeiting is a global, illegal business without borders," David Finn, associate general counsel focused on piracy at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Criminals may be on the other side of the globe and may not even speak the same language, but they prey upon customers and partners all over the world. This case is a testament to the importance of Microsoft's commitment to close collaboration with government bodies and local law enforcement agencies around the world to bring these criminals to justice, wherever they may be."
Treasuries Rally Most Since 1995

U.S. Treasuries Rally Most Since 1995 as Investors Seek Safety
Jan. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Treasuries recorded their biggest annual gain since 1995 as falling stocks and frozen credit markets drove investors to the relative safety of U.S. government debt.

Yields of all maturities touched record lows as financial firms’ losses in the credit crisis exceeded $1 trillion and policy makers made unprecedented moves to rescue the country from recession. Foreign companies and institutions increased their stake in U.S. government debt by 29 percent in the first 10 months of the year, Treasury Department data shows.

“It’s one heck of a run for 2008,” said George Goncalves, chief Treasury and agency strategist with Morgan Stanley, one of 17 primary dealers that trade with the Fed. “The capital markets are going to be about the Treasury market next year.”

Treasuries returned 14 percent in 2008, according to Merrill Lynch & Co.’s Treasury Master index. It was the best performance since 1995, when they rose 18.5 percent after the Federal Reserve began lowering its benchmark interest rate from 6 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost more than 38 percent for the year, the most since 1937.

The U.S. economy entered a recession in December 2007, the National Bureau of Economic Research said this month. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group sets dates on U.S. business cycles. The slump began about four months after financial markets started seizing up as rising defaults on subprime mortgages began to affect the value of other assets in the credit markets.
Billionaire Blowups 2008
Dozens of the world's wealthiest lost billions in recent months, but these 10 distinguish themselves for some of the biggest flops.

1. Anil Ambani

March net worth: $42 billion
Current net worth: $12 billion

The biggest billionaire gainer last March is now the year's biggest loser. Ambani lost $30 billion in the past nine months, more than anyone in the world. Stock of his telecom company dropped after his estranged brother helped scuttle a deal with African telecom MTN.

2. Oleg Deripaska

March net worth: $28 billion
Current net worth: less than $10 billion

Former metals trader survived Russia's gangster wars but may not withstand collapsing markets and heavy debts of at least $14 billion.

3. Anurag Dikshit

March net worth: $1.6 billion
Current net worth: $1 billion

Dikshit designed the software for PartyGaming's successful PartyPoker game, which allowed live gambling over the Web. He left the company and sold a chunk of shares in 2006, the year the U.S. government banned gaming. He recently pleaded guilty to violating U.S. gaming laws and agreed to forfeit $300 million. He could face up to two years in jail but apparently won't be sentenced until 2010.

4. Bjorgflur Gudmundsson

March net worth: $1.1 billion
Current net worth: zero

The October collapse and government seizure of Iceland's second largest bank wiped out the $1.1 billion fortune of Gudmundsson, the bank's chairman and biggest shareholder, along with his son Thor.

5. Luis Portillo

March net worth: $1.2 billion
Current net worth: $15 million

Spain's short-lived real estate gold rush left one of its most visible speculators holding a nearly empty bag. Portillo--who acquired real estate firm Inmocaral three years ago, then led the takeover of the larger Inmobiliaria Colonial in 2006--personally borrowed a reported $1.4 billion from more than a dozen banks during boom times, using his stock as collateral.
Click here for the list of America's Biggest Billionaire Losers Of 2008.

Short Selling Ban Regrets

SEC chief has regrets over short-selling ban
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Under fire for regulatory missteps, top U.S. securities regulator Christopher Cox defended his agency's record but acknowledged some regrets over how he handled the worst financial crisis in decades.

Cox, a Republican and former California congressman, said the SEC's focus has been customer protection and broker dealer regulation and that the agency "performed that traditional role superbly."

However, Cox said he had some regrets over a drastic action the agency took as markets were hurtling downward in September. For a few weeks, the SEC stopped investors from making bearish bets on financial stocks like Morgan Stanley and Citigroup.

The SEC's office of economic analysis is still evaluating data from the temporary ban on short-selling. Preliminary findings point to several unintended market consequences and side effects caused by the ban, he said.

"While the actual effects of this temporary action will not be fully understood for many more months, if not years, knowing what we know now, I believe on balance the commission would not do it again," Cox told Reuters in a telephone interview from the SEC's Los Angeles office late on Tuesday. "The costs appear to outweigh the benefits."

Less liquidity in the markets was one of the unintended consequences, experts have said.

The SEC imposed the temporary ban under intense pressure from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department which insisted it was crucial to the short-term survival of these institutions, Cox said.

A few weeks after the temporary ban was lifted, global markets were again dropping precipitously, U.S. banks were begging the SEC to reinstate its short-sale ban and there was talk of shutting the markets down.

Cox said the chief executive of one major U.S. investment bank even urged suspension of normal trading rules across the entire U.S. market, likening the situation to how Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War Two.

The chief executive said, "that is how America made it through such crises, and we couldn't be too focused on maintaining the rule of law," Cox said. "That was advice we rejected."

Cox said he spoke to the White House, the chief executives the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq, strongly urging them to keep the U.S. markets open.
Less liquidity as a result of the ban was guaranteed to happen. There should not have been short selling restrictions at all.

I wish Cox named the idiot who wanted to suspend the rules across the board. Suspending habeas corpus and detaining Japanese Americans in WWII were cowardly and despicable acts.

I am disgusted but not surprised that any CEO would think those were good decisions.

Troubled Banks

Here is a link about Troubled Banks based on the so called Texas Ratio.

Virtual Reality Crash

Credit crunch hits Second Life - Virtual reality avatars
"Virtual realty" investors have been hit hard by the real-life financial crisis.

Property prices have crashed 84 per cent in Second Life, the pioneering site where users interact via software-generated identities known as "avatars".

Second Life has an internal currency, Linden dollars (named after operators Linden Lab), which is bought and sold with real money.

The average price of cyber land has dropped from 12.06 Linden dollars (seven cents) a square metre at its peak in January 2007 to 1.98 Linden dollars (1 cent) last month.

Associate Professor Matthew Allen, head of internet studies at Curtin University of Technology, said: "Like many parts of the internet, Second Life's economic viability depends on people buying into the hype and buzz, then committing to developing the system."

Second Life started with a bang in 2003 and soon produced stories of developers becoming virtual millionaires and big corporations opening cyber operations.

But the Second Life headquarters of 20 international brands were reduced to "ghost towns" this year, says PhD student Kim MacKenzie.
Stunning Images of 2008

Best Images of 2008 Part 1

Best Images of 2008 Part 2

Best Images of 2008 Part 3

Please take a look at those pictures, it's a nice recap of the year's news, economic or otherwise.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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