Monthly Archives: November 2008

John Gapper

Black Friday indeed. The annual Friday after Thanksgiving tradition of teaser sales in US shops claimed a victim today when a Wal-Mart employee at a suburban New York store was trampled to death by bargain-seekers.

Elsewhere, someone filmed a crowd fighting over the last Xbox 360 at another Wal-Mart store (via Drudge). Read more

John Gapper

I agree with Fred Wilson about the challenge Research in Motion faces in improving on the BlackBerry Curve. I use a Curve and it feels like a near-perfect combination of size, weight and practicality, despite not being a 3G device.

That sounds dandy for RIM, but it brings with it a problem: its efforts to improve upon the Curve – and match the iPhone – feel vaguely doomed. I have a bad feeling about the BlackBerry Storm and the BlackBerry Bold is nice but not compelling.

My feeling about the Storm – the supposed iPhone rival that BlackBerry has just brought out in the US in combination with Verizon – is based on two things. One was holding the device for a couple of minutes and the other was David Pogue’s memorably dismissive review in the New York Times.

Mr Pogue went through all the problems with the device but simply playing around with one for a minute or two was enough for me. It felt too heavy to keep comfortably in my suit pocket and too complex and unintuitive to use. Read more

John Gapper

Should some complex financial instruments be outlawed by regulators in the same way that the US Food and Drug Administration refuses approval for some drugs?

Bill Donaldson, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, thinks the idea should at least be considered as part of the reform of financial regulation in the US.

He mentioned this during a discussion on regulatory reform that I moderated yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The suggestion was not supported by the other panel members but it was certainly striking. Read more

John Gapper

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My FT column this week is on the Sage of Omaha:

Michael Kinsley once defined a political gaffe as the moment “when a politician tells the truth” and is embarrassed by it. By that standard, Warren Buffett’s deal to write $35bn of put options on equity markets was a financial gaffe.

On the face of it, Mr Buffett’s gambit looks both unwise and uncharacteristic. Shares in Berkshire Hathaway, his holding company, tumbled last week (they have since recovered) because it is nursing a mark-to-market loss of about $5bn on the derivatives contracts.

In fact, a casual observer might question what Mr Buffett, who once condemned derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”, was playing at when he bet that four equity indexes, including the Standard & Poor’s 500, would not be below their existing level in 2019 to 2027.

 Read more

John Gapper

Trustworthy news is for the upper-middle class.

They hang pirates, don’t theyRead more

John Gapper

One group of people does not yet seem to have caught up with the crisis in financial services – Harvard MBA graduates.

Ray Soifer, the financial analyst, has just released his annual analysis of the career paths of Harvard MBAs, which shows that a record-breaking proportion of this elite became bankers or financiers when they graduated this summer.

According to Mr Soifer, newly-released HBA data show that 41 per cent of the Harvard MBA class of 2008 chose market-sensitive careers, just above the 40 per cent record set in 2007. He defines market-sensitive sectors as investment banking, fund management, sales and trading, venture capital and private equity. Read more

John Gapper

I do not find Bill Ford’s efforts to make us believe in a leaner, greener Detroit car industry very convincing. Ford’s executive chairman has talked this talk for a long time, and is now trying to do so with Barack Obama, but his company has not walked the walk.

When Mr Ford became chairman of Ford in 1999, he focussed on environmental initiatives and talked about pressuring executives inside Ford to take global warming more seriously. He even installed a green roof on a River Rouge truck plant. Read more

John Gapper

Blu-Ray: “Everything is coming together. The only dark cloud is the economy.”

Reader’s Digest: “We’re completely uncool and we embrace that.” Read more