Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Introduction:  The banking crisis deepens as Citigroup opts for break-up and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch seeks federal funds; Israel continues to pound Gaza; Barack Obama follows Lincoln’s path to Washington for his inauguration; and a former KGB agent eyes up buying London’s Evening Standard.

And if you missed the FT or FT.com this week, you would have missed the following gems.

1) Francesco Guerrera’s scoop on the break-up of Citigroup. Our man on Wall Street was hours ahead – and right on the disposals. Francesco also wrote an entertaining potted history of Citigroup for the Analysis page on Saturday.
2) Gordon Brown’s call on banks to write down their ill-performing assets.  George Parker spotted the news line after an interview with the Prime Minister, along with Jean Eaglesham.
3) Ben Fenton and Andrew Parker’s slam-dunk scoop on Lord Carter’s report on Broadband Britain and the future of Channel Four; The FT had a head-start after Mark Thompson of the BBC’s op-ed, but Ben and Andrew beat the competition hands-down.
4) Joe Leahy’s Analysis page on the rise and fall of B Ramalinga Raju, founder of Satyam. After an eight-hour drive from Hyderabad to his home town, via the river in which he swam as a boy, Joe offered broader lessons of poor regulation, governance and improper ties between business and politicians in India.  The stinging op-ed comment by a former Indian SEC regulator was a model.
5)  James Lamont called the timing of an early election in India.  He also predicted a big role for Rahul Gandhi should Congress win.
6)  Jo Chung’s revelation that nine European banks are under investigation in New York for illegally transferring Iranian money into the US. This followed her front page story on Saturday detailing the US district attorney’s initial settlement with Lloyd’s bank.
7)  Howard Davies’ important op-ed contribution outlining the case for a single European financial regulator.
8)  Robert Shrimsley’s side-splitting Notebook on political correctness and the British Royals.
9)  Richard Waters’ elegant Analysis page on what Silicon Valley expects from the Obama administration – plus an imaginative graphic reworking the classic 1950s suburbia image of the American home.
10) Patti Waldmeir’s front page story on the difficulties which Marks and Spencer is facing with its Shanghai store, including its difficulty in getting bra and corset sizes right.

Bonus gem: Matthew Garrahan’s scoop on Hollywood movie studios cutting back pay packages for stars because of falling DVD sales.

The banking crisis: In the UK, Peter Thal Larsen and Jane Croft kept on top of the fast-moving UK banks story.  PTL’s mid-week background analysis was superb. In the US, Henny Sender produced a second-front scoop on hedge funds paying back investors with securities in the portfolios rather than cash.  Deborah Brewster also led the field with new numbers on hedge fund withdrawals.

Greg Farrell produced a very readable insider account of the tensions between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch executives over Merrill’s widening black on CDOs and other toxic assets. Henny delivered a well-timed scoop on the problems at the Citi hedge fund unit once operated by its current chief executive, Vikram Pandit.  Julie Macintosh and Saskia Scholtes produced excellent background reporting.

Corporate news watch: Beth Rigby and Sarah O’Connor did a fine job  untangling a huge week of reporting among retailers and spotting the wider trends. Ben Fenton, Salamander Davoudi and Catherine Belton for measured but colourful reporting on Comrade Lebedev and the Evening Standard.

Lex watch:  A terrific week’s work.  Lots of witty writing and headlines (“Sir Alexander Lebedev”) and sharp comment.  I particularly liked the note on Tesco which put some of the more bearish commentaries in perspective

Weekend FT watch: Sam Leith’s essay on Obama’s oratory was one of the finest reads of the week – terrific commission. Jancis Robinson’s wine column was relevant and readable. Books and Arts sections full of readable material, plus an eye-catching critique of how female TV stars dress. The magazine mixed shorter pieces this week -
particuarly skateboarding for the middle-aged and the Undercover Economist on traders and testosterone – but also had a good profile of  a wistful Ken Livingstone. Money and House & Home continue to give the readers excellent value for money, especially in an increasingly tricky savings market.

Europe watch: Isabel Gorst and Ed Crooks covered the Russian-Ukrainian gas with aplomb.  This was a very tricky story with both sides being, shall we say, somewhat economic with the actualite. Nikki Tait did a nice job on Czech art and the Saturday leader was a witty sign-off.

China watch: Geoff Dyer, whose unruffled judgment has been invaluable in charting a sensible analytical course through China’s downturn, wrote a series of excellent pieces on China’s 13 per cent growth in 2007 and recent outflows of capital. He also had a nice piece on the appointment of Zhang Yimou, the film director who produced the Olympic opening ceremony, with a brief to conjure up similar magic for celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist party in October.

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