Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Themes of the Week: Barack Obama is sworn in as 44th president of the US; Gordon Brown unveils a second bail-out for Britain’s banks as Royal Bank of Scotland announces blockbuster losses; John Thain is forced to step down at Merrill after a billion dollar bonus row; sterling slumps further; bad-to-shocking economic data spill out of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and even China.  David Pilling’s words: Shame on the decouplers.

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

1)  John Thain accelerated the payment of several billion dollars of bonuses for executives at Merrill Lynch even as losses were mounting and its acquirer, Bank of America, was seeking additional government aid. Greg Farrell broke the story after several weeks of painstaking reporting and Mr Thain left that morning.  It was a brilliant scoop which followed earlier authoritative reporting of behind-the-scenes strife at Merrill/BofA and this week’s revelation that the company plans to cut 30 to 40 per cent of the combined firm’s investment bankers.

2)  Fiat is nearing an agreement to take what could be a majority stake in Chrysler.  Julie Macintosh in New York, working with John Reed in Detroit and Vincent Boland in Milan, broke the story.

3) A superb interactive graphic and Analysis page on the Fifty Power Players to watch in Obama’s Washington.  Special thanks to our DC reporters, but also Lloyd Thatcher who cooked up the graphic. Online it was designed by Steve Bernard, and edited by Jeremy Lemer and Rob Minto. The idea was hatched, overseen and edited by the analysis desk. Andy Mears and Chris Batson, the pictures editors, assembled the mug-shots.

4) AIG, once the world’s largest insurance company (and Manchester United sponsor) is lining up buyers for its Asian operations – the company’s crown jewels – in order to raise much-needed cash.  Francesco Guerrera broke the scoop, along with Sunny Tucker, Lina Saigol and Andrea Felsted.

5) Joanna Chung, Victor Mallet and Brooke Masters served up a scoop on a fund controlled by Santander heaping praise on Bernie Madoff before he blew up.

6) Chen Shui-bian, former Taiwanese president, treated FT readers to an exclusive look at the juiciest bits of his prison diaries. From behind bars, he told Robin Kwong defiantly that Beijing was right, he had always been a “splittist”, seeking de jure independence from the mainland.  Well done, Robin.

7) Chris Giles’ reporting on the UK economy was a model of good sense and sound judgment.  His Saturday Analysis, reported with Andy Bounds, tackled the question of the week: is Britain bust?  (No, we are heading more toward Italy than Argentina  – Ed)

.8) The full-length leader on the Obama presidency, published on inauguration day, offered a masterclass in how to combine elegant prose with a powerful message.

9)  Anna Fifield has filed searing and moving on-the-ground reports from Gaza, both on Hamas’s reconstruction work and phosphorus casualties among the civilian population.

10) The age of super-earning nannies is over and now their wages are falling.  David Turner’s neat story was picked up by the competition.

Press Awards watch: Michael Skapinker won columnist of the year in the Work Foundation this week and Andy Taylor was commended in the reporter of the year category.

FT.com watch: Keith Fray and Cleve Jones produced an excellent interactive graphic tracking recessions in major economies since the first world war, to accompany the Managing in a Downturn special report. Willem Buiter caused a stir with a powerful critique drawing parallels between Iceland and the UK. Video: Richard Edgar and Steve Ager produced a package on Musdar, planned to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city, for an online special report from the Clean Energy conference in Abu Dhabi.

More Conversation on the Credit Crunch videos, with BBVA’s Francisco Gonzalez and Terra Firma’s Guy Hands. View from the Tops with Jim Chanos (Chrystia) and SABMiller’s Graham Mackay (Richard Milne).

Spot of the week: Richard Waters demonstrated his all-around game, producing a second-front story on Google’s controversial decision to re-price employee stock options – a key talking point for everyone in Silicon Valley.

Trends of the week: Anousha Sakoui and Tom Crane predicting a wave of rights issue to hit the UK in the coming weeks and months. David Gelles made a nice debut on Business Life, writing about how companies are creating a new class of executives specifically tasked with watching the blogosphere (to check what is happening, possible reputational damage etc). Richard  Milne and Top Braithwaite revealed how Europeans are flocking to London for low-cost luxury

Companies Watch: Robin Harding and Richard Waters wrote fine analyses of the problems at respectively, Sony and Microsoft.

FT Weekend highlights: Stanley Pignal’s Rogues Gallery on Jerome Kerviel et al, complete with a striking set of illustrations; George’s profile of Peter Mandelson, newly ennobled and newly respected; a timely cover story on House & Home on the effects of sterling’s decline on the London housing market and the resulting influx of foreign buyers; the first of three exclusive extracts in Money of John Kay’s new book for private investors, The Long and The Short of It; a strong Life & Arts cover story on personal tutors, with associated news story, and Peter Aspden’s counterblast against the cultural pessimists, aided by listening to philosophical discourse on his iPod.

Asia watch: A good video interview/Monday interview with Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba. Kathrin Hille, who did the piece from Hong Kong, has made a great start in Beijing uncovering stories about China’s internet and official attempts to censor it. James Lamont and Farhan Bokhari got a scoop interview with Yuosuf Raza-Gilani , Pakistan’s prime minister, in which he told FT he would change laws to make it easier to prosecute militants who plotted attacks outside Pakistan. Finally, Tom Mitchell had an eye-catching piece on the rumbling Lehman mini-bonds saga in Hong Kong, with continuing protests about mis-selling by Devil Banks (remember that name) of now worthless products dressed up as safe investments.

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