Martin Dickson’s Christmas and New Year picks

Been away? Martin Dickson, deputy editor, highlights some of the best stories from the FT since December 15

No shortage of news this December, with Israel’s pummelling of Gaza,  the unfolding of the extraordinary Madoff scandal, and an ever-grimmer mood in economies around the globe during the three weeks covered by this holiday season note.

We have had strong coverage of  the  assault on Gaza from Tobias Buck in Israel, supported by Roula Khalaf, Andrew England, Harvey Morris,  Heba Saleh and Vita Bekker. Our analysis, in particular, has dissected the repercussions for Israel, the Palestinians and the region.

In the Madoff scandal, thanks to hard work from a transatlantic team of reporters led by James Mackintosh in London and Henny Sender, Jo Chung and Francesco Guerrera in New York, we have broken  many of the important stories. They include Francesco’s scoop on HSBC’s exposure, the looming fight between Madoff feeder funds and their auditors (mainly James and Henny), the excessive fees charged by funds that funnelled money to Madoff (Henny) and the role played by big global banks in encouraging investors to put their money with Madoffs (lots of people). Julie Macintosh also delivered a good colour piece from now-poorer Palm Beach, Florida. Hal Weitzman had the CBOE boss slamming SEC regulatory standards, James Mackintosh revealed that one of Madoff’s biggest investors warned clients of risks he could abscond,  Henny Sender that UBS expressed confidence in him days before the collapse and  Greg Farrell reported that  former investors might be targeted by the courts. Deborah Brewster explained the plight of many charities, while Brooke Masters had a unique interview with the boss of the UK arm – accompanied by a brilliant photo of the man by Charlie Bibby. Eric Frey in Vienna gave us a scoop on the Austrian government preparing to take over Bank Medici, and Francesco Guerrera, Anuj Gangahar and Deborah Brewster wrapped up the saga in a Saturday Big Page.

We also had some outstanding comment on the affair. Two superb Lex notes witheringly dismissed the moans of  Nicola Horlick and demolished the case for funds of funds asset allocators. John Gapper contributed a brilliant column on why investors fell for Madoff: they kidded themselves he was the acceptable face of insider dealing.

Our credit crunch analysis has included some excellent, newsworthy interviews with ministers and central bankers.  Krishna Guha had a  fascinating valedictory interview with  Hank Paulson, in which he complained about the tools at his disposal. Chris Giles’ interview with Bank of England’s Charlie Bean established that the government was likely to have to pump much more into the banking system. Jean-Claude Trichet warned of fiscal indiscipline in an interview with Ralph Atkins and Lionel Barber. The first foreign newspaper interview with the Bank of Japan governor was conducted by Mure  Dickie and David Pilling in which he told the FT the bank would sharply downgrade its 2009 growth forecasts from steady expansion to contraction. An interview by Mure with the Japanese finance minister poured cold water on idea of a second Japanese stimulus package.

Krishna provided masterly coverage of the Fed slashing rates to near zero and had an excellent scoop on hedge funds being able to borrow from the central bank . He, Chris Giles and Ralph Atkins wrote a tight, crystal-clear analysis of the return of Keynesian economics and its limitations. Chris produced a strong news story and analysis out of our end-of-year poll of economists.

Great economic/financial  comment included:  Martin Wolf on the dangers of helicopter drops of cash, John Kay on fallen financial stars’ inability to say sorry, and John Authers on the amazing performance of Hindsight Capital. Martin Wolf and Tim Harford wrote a pair of vigorous Christmas leaders on the year the gods of finance failed and in defence of free markets. John Lloyd contributed a  thoughtful Christmas Big Page on finance and faith, while Robert Shrimsley’s Notebook on Cameron’s day of reckoning for bankers was a classic comedy put-down.

The Companies pages have run some strong crisis related packages – the fallen giants of finance, coupled with a great  online interactive; on Chinese industry from Jamil Anderlini, Patti Waldmeir and Kathrin Hille; and on the day of the  discount stores by Beth Rigby, Jonathan Birchall, Mark Mulligan and Justin Lau. Our coverage of the US  carmakers’ bailouts included some fine reporting from Bernard Simon and Daniel Dombey, while in the UK Lex demolished the case for government aid for Jaguar and George Parker wrote a fine Man in the News on Peter Mandelson.

Aline van Duyn got a great video interview with permabear Nouriel Roubini and Chrystia Freeland kicked off a strong “faces of the crisis” series with a fine profile of the man. Michael Mackenzie wrote an important analysis on the  moribund state of the repo market. Brooke Masters wrote entertainingly on the  semantics of redundancy announcements – and in more sombre tone of the help City institutions are giving to traumatised staff.

We have also had some excellent pieces on the nuts and bolts of how the crunch is affecting UK and continental  businesses. They included Jeremy Grant on British business rediscovering the art of cash management, Richard Milne on the year-end scramble to de-stock;  analysis of the mis-use of “pre-pack” administrations in the UK by Anousha Sakoui and Sarah O’Connor,  and Kiran Stacey on rise in invoices being sold to banks to boost cashflow.

More colourfully,  Sarah O’Connor described the frosty Christmas in Iceland, with the middle classes queuing for relief packages, and, back in the UK, revealed how luxury retailers were resorting to secret sales. Tom Braithwaite uncovered a wonderful retailing row over Santa’s grotto, while Jonathan Guthrie’s  despatches from the downturn series gave a beautifully written insight into the lives of people affected by the recession.

Good scoops are particularly welcome over the holiday season and we have had lots. They included: Henny Sender’ on hedge fund  Citadel’s efforts to keep its investors from withdrawing money, Sunny Tucker and Jamil Aderlini on  Bank of America shelving its sale of China Construction Bank stock, and Sunny on Chinese retailer Gome selling a stake.Sunny  also had a counter-cyclical trendspotter with accountancy firms  hiring thousands of graduates to work in mainland China. Jamil also revealed that China was cracking down on a new movement of dissident intellectuals.

In the UK , Andrea Felsted revealed the FSA was stress testing life assurers, while Jenn Hughes showed how the FSA was getting tougher with fines. John Willman  reported on a  tax relief scheme to get more wealthy charity donations, Jean Eaglesham on Cameron dropping plans to  force shadow cabinet to axe outside jobs, Roger Blitz on a Partygaming founder pleading guilty to an illegal web betting charge in US and  Norma Cohen on  a pensions threat to the HBOS-Lloyds deal.

Among comment and analysis,  Ben Hall dissected Sarkozy’s EU presidency, James Lamont and Farhan Bokhari examined rising Indian-Pakistant tensions, while Robert Wright looked into the  crisis in the shipping industry and Peter Marsh the grim outlook for steelmakers. Geoff Dyer wrote a powerful on-the-ground analysis of the crisis facing China’s export manufacturers. Quentin Peel explained how Putin’s luck may be running out, Charles Clover delved into mysterious raids on Stalin-era archives in a “war over memory”, while Catherine Belton wrote an excellent Analysis page on growing unrest over the Kremlin’s handling of the economy. Tony Jackson demolished analysts’ 2009 forecasts, while Ed Luce wrote a finely judged Man of the Year profile of Barak Obama.

The Magazine featured a beautiful  photo essay by Charlie Bibby from Mali, Nepal and Bangladesh for the WaterAid seasonal appeal.

And finally, Brian Groom’s Notebook provided an admirable guide to the credit crunch clichés the world should avoid.

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