Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Newsreel For Tuesday, 11/30/2010

I can't find a snappy common theme in any of today's financial headlines so I'll pick a bunch of random items.

Ocean shippers have swung wildly from loss to profit.  This tells me that some major carriers are not skilled at either securing long-term contracts (which would stabilize revenue), hedging fuel costs, managing idle fleets, or all of the above.  Spot rates seem to merit only a passing mention as a contributing cause. 

Striking truckers are teaching India how hard it is to deal with unions.  Competing with the BRICs is more than just a race to the bottom in wages.  It also entails exporting innovations to emerging markets eager to compete on quality.  Sometimes you get the good (technology, Six Sigma) with the bad (unions) that the Anglo-West has to offer.

Consumer confidence (read delusion and denial) is levitating thanks to short attention spans.  This helps explain the great retail sales figures for Thanksgiving weekend.  People are emptying their wallets like there's no tomorrow.  If the U.S. heads over the debt cliff like our European friends, there may not be much of a tomorrow for America's middle class anyway.

Pay freezes are headed for Uncle Sam's workers.  A small ray of sanity shines its way through the clouds of insolvency's gathering storm.  It won't be enough to stop a bond market dislocation but it's the thought that counts.  Justice demands the inclusion of military pay and benefits in any freeze.  No one should be exempt from austerity.  Neither should pensions be spared.

Cities shouldn't be spared austerity measures, and they can read the handwriting on the wall.  Lack of a revenue backstop mean muni bond yields will get a lot more volatile in 2011.  Picking winners in muni issues will attract some serious bottom-feeders.  I'd like to see what my favorite Bay Area governments will offer.  San Francisco's financial position will become even more precarious than it is now.