"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Industrial secrets! Major fines! Depressing Fed Commentary! Bankruptcy! Mergers and acquisitions! Global currency!

Let's start things off right. Industrial secrets! Major fines! Depressing Fed commentary! Bankruptcy! Mergers and acquisitions! Global currency!
A normal day in the market, in other words.
To begin with, there 's a rather breathless report on Gizmodo that the secret recipe of Coca-Cola has been revealed to the world. Given that this isn't really all that much of a secret these days (Google for "OpenCola" some time, compare the recipe, and be underwhelmed by the report), this isn't really all that much of a threat to the soda giant. Unless everyone in the nation suddenly takes up making homemade soda as a hobby[1], and then manages to get legal access to fluid extract of coca.
In slightly more serious big corporation headache news, Chevron has been fined $8.6 billion (and required to pay an additional $860 million in reparations) by a court in Ecuador. Why? Well, it seems they were accused of, and found guilty of, dumping 18 billion[2] gallons of toxic materials into unlined pits near the Amazon, and into the Amazon itself, over the course of 20 years. Both sides plan to appeal. The plaintiffs want to appeal because they feel that "the damages awarded are not enough considering the environmental damage caused by Chevron here in Ecuador." The defendant is planning to appeal because "the Ecuadorian court's judgment in illegitimate and unenforceable. It is the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence." They have also filed a RICO civil lawsuit against the trial lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.
I don't pretend to know all of the details. However, given the overall record of Chevron[3], I suspect that the appeal and the counter-suit are the attempts of a massive multinational corporation to buy their way out of justice. But that is purely my opinion.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, in an economic letter titled "What Is the New Normal Unemployment Rate?", has put forward the idea that the new "normal" rate of unemployment for the nation should be considered to be between 5.2% and 6.7%.
Christine Lagarde, the French Minister of the Economy, has proposed that the international community move away from reliance on the dollar and begin using one or more "international currencies". These international currencies would be regulated by the International Monetary Fund. Now, I know some of you are saying "so why should we care what France thinks on the subject?[4]" Well, since France is the current head of the G20, they have a little influence. Maybe the "Amero" is the next step[5].
Borders has filed for bankruptcy today, and plans to close roughly one store in three. Sales have declined by double digit percentages for three years running, liabilities substantially outweigh assets, and nobody's been willing to extend them any credit. Bad news for investors, possibly good news for people who like buying books on the cheap.
And finally, Sanofi-Aventis SA is going to be buying Genzyme for about $20.1 billion in cash, with extra payments based on how well their experimental multiple sclerosis drug does. The deal is expected to close early in Q2..
[1] Everyone else, anyway. I make a spectacular mint-lemon soda and a pretty good grape soda myself.
[2] Yes, billion. With a "b".
[3] Including criminal conspiracy, 30 years of tax evasion, the illegal bypass of required waste water treatments (giving them liability for some 95 Superfund sites), violations of the Clean Air Act, and using Nigerian soldiers to suppress (and by "suppress I mean "shoot") protesters. Oh, and spilling enough oil in African oil wells to prompt Angola to fine the nation.
[4] "They're talking about money, after all. Not surrendering. So what makes them experts?" some of you may add, and you know who you are.
[5] You're welcome, Meeks.

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