Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Introduction: Equity markets slump and the price of gold soars amid growing fears of US bank nationalisation, notably Citigroup and Bank of America; Sir Allen Stanford, the Texan cricket tycoon, is charged with fraud by the SEC; the Department of Justice fines UBS $780m and seeks to force the disclosure of the names of 52,000 clients suspected of tax evasion; UK public borrowing heads toward 10 per cent of national income; and Japan’s pickled finance minister is forced to resign.

And if you failed to pick up or read the Financial Times or ft.com this week, you would have missed the following gems:

1) Republican Senators led by Lindsey Graham and John McCain are leaning toward nationalisation after the luke-warm reception of the Geithner plan. Ed Luce’s article helped us to dominate the political conversation in the US for most of the week. (see below)

2) FT Alphaville, led by Paul Murphy, Neil Hume, Stacy-Marie Ishmael and Tracy Alloway, dominated coverage of the Allen Stanford scandal. Having spotted last week that the story was about to break, we dispatched Stacy to Antigua for on-the-spot colour. Alphaville’s tart commentary was a joy to read all week, as was Lex. Stacy wrote a fine Saturday Analysis page. The Allen Stanford memorial prize for fine writing goes to Matthew Engel, our man close to the Sticky Wicket.

“Some of those who dealt with Sir Allen quickly concluded he was a bumptious egotist who knew nothing about cricket and cared less. A great many more took one look at his stick-on moustache, a sort rarely seen since the heyday of the 1930s cad, and took an instant
dislike….”

3) George Soros’ piece on why the eurozone needs a transnational sovereign bond market. The piece anticipated an important shift in German government policy, with the previously hardline finance minister Peer Steinbruck signalling Berlin would now consider participating in a eurozone bail-out. We also had excellent coverage of the economic and financial strains in eastern Europe.

4) Charles Clover wrote a riveting Analysis page on the trial of Anna Politkovskaya, the assassinated Russian investigative journalist. Charles revealed the links between the accused and the Russian security services and organised crime – a chilling and meticulous piece of reporting. The next day, the smiling accused were acquitted of murder charges.

5) Sunny Tucker and Peter Thal Larsen revealed on Saturday that RBS is planning to shed 10,000-20,000 jobs in Asia and withdraw from retail banking in the region.

6) Martin Wolf’s column on why the world risks following Japan’s “lost decade” was widely read and commented upon in the blogosphere.

7) Chris Giles’s Analysis page on the Bank of England’s performance during the credit squeeze and the impact of near zero interest rates was tough but balanced. Chris also revealed the harrowing UK public borrowing figures ahead of official publication.

8) Only about £12m has been lent to companies under the government’s much-touted £1bn loan guarantee scheme for small business, according to a special FT analysis. Jean Eaglesham and Kiran Stacey wrote a front-page splash which exposed the weakness in government policy to encourage corporate lending.

9) Iran has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb, according to a United Nations report. Dan Dombey’s report was a reminder that the threats to international security are not merely driven by the financial crisis.

10) Chris Caldwell’s Saturday column on why Starbucks is really only a “malt shop” was a treat. (And FT Weekend is still less than a grande cafe macchiato, at least in my local)

The bank nationalisation story in the US: Following Ed’s scoop of interpretation, Krishna Guha wrote an analysis of the different forms government control could take, while Francesco Guerrera revealed conversations within Citigroup about converting the government’s preferred shares in the bank to common stock. Krishna also enticed Alan Greenspan to back temporary nationalisation – another big hit online.

The Allen Stanford Prize for succinct writing goes to John Authers for his Long View Saturday column on how to place a value on shares in these troubled times. (Answer: do the hard work and look to those stock which will yield dividends). A word, too, for the Money team lead by Matthew Vincent whose hard work has done so much to sharpen the section and boost readership numbers.

Dispatch of the week: Barney Jopson filed an on-the-spot report from the Congo on how Chinese businesses had upped and gone from the mineral- rich province of Katanga, leaving 40 copper smelters lying idle and hundreds of African workers without work. A story of our times.

Christopher Mason and Bernard Simon wrote an illuminating feature on why Canada’s prudent banks are the envy of the world, spiced by a good profile of the talented Canadian central bank governor Mark Carney.

Corporate news watch:
Justin Baer and Francesco Guerrera produced a scoop on Jeff Immelt’s decision not to accept a bonus, the latest in a series of GE exclusives we have delivered this year.
Henny Sender revealed a steady drip of inside news on management changes inside Goldman Sachs.
Norma Cohen revealed a day ahead of time that the UK Pensions Regulator was going to rule that companies must put their pensions obligations first – rather than paying out dividends.
Daniel Schaefer’s reporting on Porsche’s hedging and market bets was a tribute to the virtues of staying to the end of an AGM and nailing the real news story.

Plus UK companies/corporate watch:
Lina Saigol’s wrote a companies analysis page on how due dilligence is being short-circuited in the downturn. Her analysis generated plenty of letters.
Andrea Felsted’s terrier-like reporting was vindicated when Legal and General announced it was doubling its default cover to meet concerns about its corporate bond portfolio.
Jean Eaglesham and Peter Thal Larsen dug deeper than their rivals to reveal the true number for RBS bonuses (£950m).
Jane Croft dissected Peter Cummings’s corporate lending record at HBOS. Jane wrote a fine piece and it was well illustrated.
Ed Crooks and Rebecca Bream teamed up to ask a pertinent question: why is it so difficult to fill vacant chairmanships at top UK companies?

FT Weekend Watch: David Pilling penned a cover story on the magazine about the housewife investors of Japan and their liking for the Yen carry trade, which put a human face on one of the big investment trends of recent years. Jen Hughes also wrote a strong inside story on the attempts of one cycling team – including a self-confessed former cheat – to rid itself of doping. Life & Arts had a nice cover story by our health columnist, Margaret McCartney, on how she came to write a short opera in her spare time; Nigel Andrews was in great form on the Oscars with an Arts piece in addition to his Kate Winslet profile for Woman in the News, and an elegant books essay by John Thornhill on violence. Also noteworthy: Sharlene Goff’s hymn of (faint) praise to Croydon in House & Home.

Asia Watch: A well planned and executed full page (in Asian edition) on Japan’s disastrous GDP numbers. Mure Dickie led the assault with some finely crafted coverage, incorporating the predicament (and later resignation) of the wayward finance minister. Lindsay Whipp had a lovely piece on the decimation of Brazilian communities after lay-offs of vulnerable workers. Christian Oliver wrote entertainingly about the succession in North Korea.
Peter Smith also did some digging to reveal China’s interest in a number of other potential Australian commodity deals following Chinalco’s proposed $19.5bn cash injection into Rio Tinto and Chinese producer Minmetals’ A$2.6bn takeover Oz Minerals. Kathrin Hille and Sunny Tucker offered some useful counterbalancing analysis explaining that many Chinese companies, including Haier, the white goods maker, have actually grown more cautious about buying global assets.

And the most eye-catching feature of the week: “Men facing up to nips and needles”. Matthew Garrahan and Emma Jacobs combined to report on why men anxious about their career prospects are opting for cosmetic surgery.

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