Suze Orman: ‘The American Dream Is Dead’

Written by Staff Writer on November 28th, 2010

Suze Orman: ‘The American Dream Is Dead’

Just in time for Thanksgiving, financial guru Suze Orman is peddling her dark side. The personal-finance author and CNBC talk-show host came to our offices recently to film a video with Moira Forbes. In an earlier post, I detailed Orman’s confessions about her personal relationship with money. Now, I take a look at her outlook for the country—and it isn’t the sunny, you-can-do-it optimism that I’d expected.

When asked about her financial fears, Orman said: “My only fear in life, when it comes to money, is what’s happening in the United States of America. The American dream is dead for the majority of America.”

The dream she is referring to is not even a Cinderella story; it’s much more practical. Orman believes the hope of someday owning a home, of working one job for life and retiring at 65 has been crushed by the financial crisis. “The middle class has disappeared,” she continued. “We have a highway to poverty and no roads coming out. I fear for [those] who have been kicked out of their homes, could be living on the streets and don’t know how to get another job. Many of the millions of jobs lost I don’t think are coming back. I am really afraid for the majority of Americans today.”

Read more at: Forbes

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{Photography by David Shankbone}

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Debt crisis escalates in Europe; fears grow about Spain

Written by Staff Writer on November 28th, 2010

Debt crisis escalates in Europe; fears grow about Spain

LONDON — The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.

The draining confidence in Western Europe’s weakest economies threatened to upend bond markets, destabilize the euro and drag out the global economic recovery if it is not quickly contained. It also underscored the mounting problems facing countries that during the past decade have both over-borrowed and overspent, and are now in danger of losing investor faith in their ability to make good on their massive piles of debt.

The perceived risk of debt defaults in Portugal and Spain drove their borrowing costs to near-record highs Friday, with the interest rate demanded on Portuguese bonds at a point where it could effectively cut the Lisbon government off from raising fresh cash to run the country.

As a result, Portugal was coming under pressure to immediately request a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Officials in Lisbon responded by pushing through a painful round of budget cuts meant to reassure investors and rejected claims that they needed an emergency lifeline. Italian and Belgian borrowing costs also rose Friday.

Read more at: Washington Post

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{Photography by Paul Chaloner}

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Banks buy GM shares, making IPO largest ever

Written by Staff Writer on November 27th, 2010

Banks buy GM shares, making IPO largest ever

General Motors inched further forward in its effort to repay taxpayers, announcing Friday that the banks backing its historic initial public offering had exercised their right to buy an additional block of shares in the restructured automaker.

The banks’ move expanded the auto giant’s IPO by 15 percent to $23.1 billion, making it the largest in global history and bringing the company about $2 billion closer to returning the $49.5 billion spent on its bailout.

GM reclaimed its old stock ticker with fanfare last Thursday after weeks of anticipation on Wall Street. The company could barely keep up with demand for the newly issued stock as investors clamored for a piece of the American icon. In response, during the week of the IPO, GM said it was expanding its offering by 31 percent.

As part of the deal, the banks underwriting GM’s IPO also had the option of buying about $3 billion in additional stock – in case investors remained hungry.

GM confirmed Friday that the banks had exercised that right, buying an additional 71.7 million common shares, worth $2.37 billion, and 13 million preferred shares, totaling $650 million. The company said the closing on the sale of these added shares will take place Dec. 2.

The government still owns about one-third of GM. The stock price needs to hit around $50 a share for taxpayers to break even. GM debuted at $33 a share, and on Friday, in a holiday-shortened trading session, the stock closed at $33.80.

It remains unclear whether taxpayers will recover all of their investment in the company, but Friday’s announcement means the U.S. government has moved closer to that goal.

Here’s the math: Before the IPO, the government had recovered about $9.5 billion from GM, bringing the company’s balance owed to $40 billion.

Last week, the government sold $11.8 billion of common stock, leaving GM still owing the government $28.2 billion.

Greg Martin, a spokesperson for the company, said money from any additional common stock sales would go straight to the Treasury. And so the underwriters’ expansion of GM’s IPO would bring the latest amount owed to taxpayers down to $25.83 billion.

Read more at: Washington Post

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{Photography by John Manoogian III}

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A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web

Written by Staff Writer on November 27th, 2010

A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web

SHOPPING online in late July, Clarabelle Rodriguez typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand into Google’s search bar.

n moments, she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results. Not the tippy-top, where the paid ads are found, but under those, on Google’s version of the gold-medal podium, where the most relevant and popular site is displayed.

Ms. Rodriguez placed an order for both the Lafonts and a set of doctor-prescribed Ciba Vision contact lenses on that site, DecorMyEyes.com. The total cost was $361.97.

It was the start of what Ms. Rodriguez would later describe as one of the most maddening and miserable experiences of her life.

The next day, a man named Tony Russo called to say that DecorMyEyes had run out of the Ciba Visions. Pick another brand, he advised a little brusquely.

“I told him that I didn’t want another brand,” recalls Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “And I asked for a refund. He got rude, really obnoxious. ‘What’s the big deal? Choose another brand!’ ”

With the contacts issue unresolved, her eyeglasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be counterfeits and Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, remembers that even the case seemed fake.

Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shouting. “I ordered them from France specifically for you!”

“I’m going to contact my credit card company,” she told him, “and dispute the charge.”

Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.

“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.

Ms. Rodriguez was shaken but undaunted. That day she called Citibank, which administers her MasterCard account, and after submitting some paperwork, she won a provisional victory. Her $487 would be refunded as the bank looked into the charge and discussed it with the owner of DecorMyEyes. A final determination, she was told, would take 60 days.

As that two-month deadline approached, Mr. Russo had dropped his claim for the contact lenses he’d never sent. But, she said, he began an increasingly nasty campaign to persuade her to contact Citibank and withdraw her dispute.

“Call me back or I’m going to drag you to small-claims court,” he wrote in an e-mail on Sept. 27. “You have one hour to call me back or I’m filing online.”

A few hours later, Mr. Russo sent details of what appeared to be a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn. It included a hearing date and time, the address of the court, a docket number and a demand for $1,500, which, the e-mail said, “includes my legal fees.”

Ms. Rodriguez did not respond. A few hours later, Mr. Russo raised the stakes sharply by sending another e-mail, this one with a photograph of the front of the apartment building where she and her fiancé lived.

Then her cellphone started ringing. And ringing. Ms. Rodriguez and her fiancé went to the police station at 1 a.m. to file a complaint.

Read more at: NYTimes.com

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{Photography by Davide Santoni}

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Currency Crisis! So What Happens If The Dollar And The Euro Both Collapse?

Written by Staff Writer on November 26th, 2010

Currency Crisis! So What Happens If The Dollar And The Euro Both Collapse?

Some analysts are warning that the U.S. dollar is in danger of collapse because of the exploding U.S. government debt, the horrific U.S. trade deficit and the new round of quantitative easing recently announced by the Federal Reserve. Other analysts are warning the the euro is in danger of collapse because of the very serious sovereign debt crisis that is affecting nations such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Spain. So what happens if the dollar and the euro both collapse? Well, it would certainly throw the current world financial order into a state of chaos, but what would emerge from the ashes? Would the nations of the world go back to using dozens of different national currencies or would we see a truly global currency emerge for the very first time?

Up until recently, the idea of a world currency was absolutely unthinkable for most people. In fact, the notion that all of the major nations around the globe would agree to a single currency still seems far-fetched to most analysts. However, if enough “chaos” is produced by a concurrent collapse of the U.S. dollar and the euro, would that be enough to get the major powers around the world to agree to a new financial world order?

Let’s hope not, but it is getting hard to deny that we are heading for a major currency crisis, and if the U.S. dollar and/or the euro collapse, the world will certainly never be the same afterwards.

In case you missed it, China and Russia made a very big announcement the other day.

They told the world that instead of using the U.S. dollar to trade with each other, they will now be using their own national currencies.

Most Americans don’t realize it, but that is a very, very big deal.

Read more at: The Economic Collapse

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{Photography by Covilha}

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Will Currency Derivatives Get a Pass on Oversight?

Written by Staff Writer on November 26th, 2010

Will Currency Derivatives Get a Pass on Oversight?

Banks want them exempted. Treasury Secretary Geithner seems to concur

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in a difficult spot. Last year, as Congress was negotiating what became the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, he sought to exclude foreign exchange derivatives from new regulations. Gary Gensler, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief and soon-to-be-regulator of derivatives, opposed the move. Congress split the difference by including currencies but also giving Geithner the authority to study the instruments and decide whether to exempt them.

Now a coalition of 20 companies, including Deutsche Bank (DB), Bank of New York Mellon (BK), and UBS (UBS), is pushing Geithner to give currency derivatives a pass from oversight. They argue that foreign exchange is less complex than other derivatives and played no role in the financial crisis, unlike the credit default swaps that brought down American International Group (AIG).

At $42 trillion, currency swaps and forwards—the types of derivatives in question—make up the second-largest over-the-counter derivatives market after interest-rate swaps. “This is the ultimate unregulated market,” says Bill Brown, a professor at Duke University School of Law who once oversaw exchange-traded derivatives at Morgan Stanley (MS). “You’d better believe if you leave the currency markets totally unwatched they will probably be one of the places that blow up next,” says Brown, who thinks both sides have valid arguments.

Read more at: Bloomberg Businessweek

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{Photography by mrMark}

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Family’s Fall From Affluence Is Swift and Hard

Written by Staff Writer on November 26th, 2010

Family’s Fall From Affluence Is Swift and Hard

Grateful to have found work in this tough economy, Nick Martin teaches grape growing and winemaking each Saturday to a class of seven students in a simple metal building here at a satellite campus of Highland Community College.

Then he drives 14 miles in an 11-year-old Ford Explorer to a sparsely furnished tract house that he rents for $900 a month on a dead-end street in McFarland, a smaller town. Just across the backyard is a shed that a neighbor uses to make cartridges for shooting the prairie dogs that infest the adjacent fields.

It is a far cry from the life that Mr. Martin and his family enjoyed until recently at their Adirondacks waterfront camp at Tupper Lake, N.Y. Their garage held three stylish cars, including a yellow Aston Martin; they owned three horses, one that cost $173,000; and Mr. Martin treated his wife, Kate, to a birthday weekend at the Waldorf-Astoria, with dinner at the “21” Club and a $7,000 mink coat.

That luxurious world was fueled by a check Mr. Martin received in 1998 for $14 million, his share of the $600 million sale of Martin Media, an outdoor advertising business begun by his father in California in the 1950s. After taxes, he kept about $10 million.

But as so often happens to those lucky enough to realize the American dream of sudden riches, the money slipped through the Martins’ fingers faster than they ever imagined.

Read more at: NYTimes.com

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{Photography by Rex Gray}

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Eating the Irish

Written by Staff Writer on November 26th, 2010

Eating the Irish

What we need now is another Jonathan Swift.

Most people know Swift as the author of “Gulliver’s Travels.” But recent events have me thinking of his 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal,” in which he observed the dire poverty of the Irish, and offered a solution: sell the children as food. “I grant this food will be somewhat dear,” he admitted, but this would make it “very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

O.K., these days it’s not the landlords, it’s the bankers — and they’re just impoverishing the populace, not eating it. But only a satirist — and one with a very savage pen — could do justice to what’s happening to Ireland now.

The Irish story began with a genuine economic miracle. But eventually this gave way to a speculative frenzy driven by runaway banks and real estate developers, all in a cozy relationship with leading politicians. The frenzy was financed with huge borrowing on the part of Irish banks, largely from banks in other European nations.

Then the bubble burst, and those banks faced huge losses. You might have expected those who lent money to the banks to share in the losses. After all, they were consenting adults, and if they failed to understand the risks they were taking that was nobody’s fault but their own. But, no, the Irish government stepped in to guarantee the banks’ debt, turning private losses into public obligations.

Before the bank bust, Ireland had little public debt. But with taxpayers suddenly on the hook for gigantic bank losses, even as revenues plunged, the nation’s creditworthiness was put in doubt. So Ireland tried to reassure the markets with a harsh program of spending cuts.

Read more at: NYTimes.com

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{Photography by Infomatique}

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Credit card traps – common ways of getting caught in a credit card mess

Written by Staff Writer on November 21st, 2010

Credit card traps - common ways of getting caught in a credit card mess

Today, the number of people that are on debt is alarming. A quick peek into all the people that are in debt might reveal to you about how complicated it can tend to be to remain on credit if you have not planned it out in the right manner. In fact, credit cards are considered as one of the main reasons as to why people are in deep debt. If you are careful with your credit cards, you wouldn’t really have to be worried about the problem of debt. Listed below are some common ways in which you might be caught in the debt trap.

Making minimum payments

One of the oldest ways of getting into trouble would probably have to be by making the absolute minimum payments for each payment period. In doing so, you might end up pushing your debt to a larger figure, eventually realizing that it is next to impossible to be cleared with ease. Many young adults have the habit of making minimum payments, due to which they find getting out of the credit card itself to be a complicated task.

Change this habit right from the beginning and learn to make payments as early as possible. In this way, you wouldn’t have to be worried about accumulating debts, which will accrue interest over time. It is important to look into this and be assured of the fact that you will be able to make the payments as quickly as possible, without having to be worried about some huge bill waiting for you at the end. If you are unable to make payments now, it is quite possible that you will not be able to do so in the near future either. Stop using your card if you are finding it hard to make payments for it currently.

Avoiding the late payments

Credit card traps almost always start off with late payments. Customers sometimes simply forget to make payments, which ends up snowballing into a larger problem. One missed payment is sufficient for your credit card provider to double or even triple your interest rate! Clearly, you don’t want to be paying such an exorbitant rate on your credit card. What is worse is that you might actually end up paying such large numbers even on your other credit cards, without having applied to them.

Read more at: examiner.com

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{Photography by Beatrice Murch}

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Why sloppy foreclosure process could ruin Florida

Written by Staff Writer on October 3rd, 2010

Why sloppy foreclosure process could ruin Florida

There’s no polite way to put this. A growing cancer is infecting the backlogged legal process of foreclosing on hundreds of thousands of homes in Florida.

It’s endangering the legal and economic stability of this state. And it’s exposing an appalling lack of leadership, first for allowing such a breakdown in the legal system and, now, for failing to own up to this mess and get it fixed.

How bad is it? Laws governing who actually owns a foreclosed home are becoming so suspect a new buzzword is emerging: blighted titles. Even the tepid rebound of Florida’s economy may face crippling delays in resolving hundreds of thousands of foreclosures in the Sunshine State.

Read more at: St. Petersburg Times

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{Photography by Steven Depolo}

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