Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Introduction: President Obama cautiously calls bottom to the recession, but Wall Street’s finest worry about pending stress tests for the banks; anti-tax tea party protests break out in the US heartland; Thailand erupts into red-shirt versus yellow-shirt violence; and Westminister is convulsed by an internet smear campaign mounted by a top aide to Gordon Brown.

In addition, we had some serious scoops and much fine writing from around the world this past week. Here is a sample:- Duncan Niederauer, the New York stock exchange boss, cast doubt on the sustainability of March’s stock market rally. Chrystia Freeland’s Anuj Gangahar’s View from the Top interview and front page story was the talk of Wall Street and on CNBC.

- Jim Pickard’s FSA front-page whistleblower scoop revealed serious internal concerns about the lax treatment of rogue building societies dabbling in junk debt. Best quote was how the British building societies were being “eaten alive” by slick investment bankers. (see note later)

- Chris Giles’ front page exclusive revealing that the UK budget deficit would hit around 12 per cent of GDP, with borrowing set to rise to £175bn, according to internal UK treasury calculations ahead of this week’s Budget

- Alec Russell’s punchy and elegant profile of Jacob Zuma (Africa’s next big man), which appeared as an extract from his new book (After Mandela). It was published in the FT magazine and international weekend FT front.

- Jackie Wullschlager’s Lunch with the FT with David Hockney – a great catch, and a testimony to Jackie’s standing as one of Britain’s finest visual arts critics.

- How to Spend It’s Superior Interiors was rich with fresh ideas and fine writing, accompanied by first-class photography.  My favourite: the personal libraries.

- Andrew Clarke’s opinion column on the new young turks of classical music, led by the brilliant Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel (28) was a beautifully written reproach to our government’s attitude to music in education.

- Nick Timmins’ three-part series on Shrinking The State offered a comprehensive analysis of the looming cuts in public spending in the UK resulting from our ballooning public deficit. Alex Barker provided excellent support. A thanks to Sarah Neville for co-ordinating the series.

- Julie MacIntosh’s well-researched front-page report on GM’s plans to protect its suppliers should it seek bankruptcy protection.

- Krishna Guha’s front-page scoop of interpretation on the growing possibility that US regulators will take a tougher stance in judging the results a bank stress tests.

- Ed Luce wrote a superb inside analysis on the political calculations affecting the Obama administration’s treatment of the stress tests.

- A blistering FT interview with Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Thai populist leader, from his hideaway (of sorts) in Dubai.  Robin Wigglesworth filed the story, with support from Tim Johnston who covered the violent riots in Thailand online and in print with insight and aplomb.

- A scoop from Francesco Guerrera and Julie MacIntosh on AIG’s plans to carry out its biggest disposal to date, the sale of the US auto insurance unit to Zurich Financial Services for $2bn. It was confirmed the following day.

- Joe Menn’s report detailing the growing number of computer hacking cases last year.

Budget watch: Jean Eaglesham provided a perfect Saturday splash in the UK revealing Gordon Brown’s plans to crack down on quango pay. The interactive graphic and background analysis of the Budget has been a strong web feature. Weekend Money gave some informed pointers to what private investors should expect next week in the Budget,

Special mention of the week: Justin Baer, who listened to GE’s analysts call and wrote a 600-word story despite being on holiday in New Orleans.

Photo-journalism of the week: Vincent Boland’s piece on the forgotten origins of modern banking 600 years ago in Genoa was fascinating – and beautifully shot by Charlie Bibby.

Middle-aged moan of the week: Harry Eyres’ pain in the Slow Lane after he was beaten at tennis by a 12-year-old – a nice piece of prose.

Letter of the week: Brian Reading’s missive in support of our leader on the madness of the second-hand car scrapping subsidy.

Stakhanovite of the week: Always a tough call (and Ed Luce should have been awarded joint first prize last week after his coverage of the Obama tour) But this week’s winner is… Jamil Anderlini who delivered strong analysis on the state of China’s economy and still found time to interview New Zealand’s prime minister and get a senior government official to admit that China’s property market could halve over the next two years – all in a day’s work.

Column of the week: Again, a very tough call.  Martin Wolf’s column on is America the new Russia was a big hit on the web. Sam Brittan’s call for cool heads on budget deficits was elegantly persuasive. Philip Stephens wrote a trenchant critique of President Obama’s overture to Cuba. But the joint top prize goes to Clive Crook for his brave call for decriminalisation of drugs and John Gapper’s superb critique of Goldman Sachs’ efforts to escape the clutches of the Tarpish US treasury.

Corporate round-up:

- Paul J Davies made a robust debut as insurance correspondent with his dissection of the financial state of Hugh Osmond’s Pearl group.

- Henny Sender’s sophisticated second-front scoop for the US second edition detailing the role credit default swaps played into two big bankruptcy filings that day.

- Jo Chung’s quick coverage of efforts by bankruptcy officials to recovery money paid to Stanford brokers. We had a full story on the web as soon as the filing was made – the product of thorough preparation.

- A good spot by Saskia Scholtes, who noticed that the fact that credit card losses at Capital One had exceeded the unemployment rate – a crucial statistic for credit card losses.

- Chris Nuttall’s scoop of interpretation on how social networks are besting Google and Microsoft by focusing on real-time communications.

- Deborah Brewster remained ahead of the pack with a second-front story on efforts by trucking firm YRC to use property collateral to cover pension obligations – another sign of the growing problems faced by US pension plans.

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