Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Themes of the Week: The dollar weakens sharply against leading currencies, Congress party wins the Indian elections with a better-than-expected showing and stocks soar, Sir Victor Blank is eased out as Lloyds Bank chairman, President Obama unveils a weak(ish) car emissions plan, and more revelations about British MPs expenses creates a groundswell for institutional and constitutional reform.

And if you missed the Financial Times or ft.com this past week, you would have been deprived of the following juicy scoops and premium insights: 1) The Obama administration is switching its focus toward controlling costs in health care rather than greatly expanding coverage – a significant watering down of campaign pledges to reform health care in the US. Krishna Guha and Ed Luce broke the story and wrote authoritative backgrounders inside.

2) Jonathan Wheatley’s report on efforts by Brazil and China to conduct less of their trade in US dollars was the most-read on ft.com for several days. It underscored concerns about dollar weakness all week (see below).

3) Gordon Brown is considering a Cabinet reshuffle after the June elections, with Peter Mandelson lined up for his dream job of foreign secretary. George Parker delivered the scoop and an arresting account in Saturday’s paper of the tensions between the PM and Bank governor Mervyn King (accused of being too gloomy about Britain’s economic prospects).

4) Eric Schmidt, the Google boss, said the company had decided against buying a newspaper or using its foundation to support one. Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Chrystia Freeland’s interview was the talk of the town – or at least CNBC – the next day.

5) Bank of America has drawn up plans for disposing of billions of dollars of assets to pay back Tarp before the November deadline, because it is desperate to get out of the clutches of the US government. Peter Thal Larsen, Patrick Jenkins and Francesco Guerrera wrote the splash, based in large part on the FT meeting with Ken Lewis, the beleaguered BofA chief executive. This followed up on Monday’s splash from Saskia Scholtes, Julie MacIntosh and Francesco Guerrera on the $24bn capital shortfall facing smaller US banks.

6) James Blitz wrote a first-class analysis page on how the squeeze of the UK defence budget is raising serious doubts in Whitehall about Britain’s place in the world. The article was based on deep research and conversations with leading figures in the military.

7) Jackie Wullschlager wrote a pulsating Lunch with the FT with Tracey Emin, the femme terrible of modern Brit art. A model of the genre, punctuated with more expletives deleted than the Watergate tapes.

8) Foreign-born workers are doing much better than their British counterparts in finding jobs during the recession, according to research by the statistics team led by Simon Briscoe.

9) Josh Chaffin wrote an elegant news feature on the world news pages on why French fishermen are on the streets rather than on the high seas because of quotas and bureaucrats.

10) Dambisa Moyo, the rapidly ascending Zambian anti-aid activist and author of Dead Aid is the target of a vicious counter-offensive by aid enthusiasts led by Sir Bob Geldof and Professor Jeffrey Sachs. William Wallis broke the story on Saturday and it was the talk of the Hay Festival this week. Leyla Boulton cooked up a great online debate led by Martin Wolf on Is Aid working?

Dollar Watch: Thursday’s front-page off-lead from Krishna Guha and Michael Mackenzie focused attention on a decline in the dollar and growing concerns about US national finances. The Journal buried these developments in several inside roundups but joined us in splashing on the subject on Friday after an S&P warning about the UK’s finances exacerbated global anxieties about the dollar and the ability of other countries to repay their debts. The Journal’s coverage wound up missing the point that turning point in the markets came on Wednesday – before the S&P’s UK warning (in fact, gilts sold off the day before the report). Our readers knew better. Peter Garnham wrote a good all-round features on the capital markets pages explaining the background to the change in sentiment. For a counter-point, see Geoff Dyer’s Global Insight on why the Chinese have a long way to go before the Rmb can rival the dollar as a global currency.

Sketch of the Week: Matthew Engel’s account of the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Headline of the Week: Brown to Bank: Lighten up. Andy Davis and Mark Alderson reworked the old President Ford to New York line for an appetising front page headline on Saturday.

Off-beat feature of the week: Peggy Hollinger’s Business Life feature on bossnapping in France. A good read.

Poem of the Week: Andrew Hill’s poke at Sir Victor Blank, via a blank verse contribution to the Lombard column.

Lex comment of the Week: Tough call, but the Lloyds notes remain lethal (and highly influential; cf. Sir Victor)

Specialist read of the week: Gillian Tett, Aline van Duyn and Jeremy Grant on Treasury Secretary Geithner’s plan for tightening up the regulation of derivatives – a key battle for specialist (and highly profitable) interdealer brokers in London.

Corporate news watch: At least three bidders will make formal offers for a stake in General Motors’ European operations, including Italy’s Fiat, Canada’s Magna and RHJ International, the Brussels-based car parts holding company. John Reed delivered the scoop 24 hours ahead of schedule.
Andrea Felsted did a great turnaround job following a tip that Aquascutum, the renowned British clothing brand, was being wound up in the UK after the Japanese owners rejected a management buy-out at the last minute.
Lufthansa wants Sir Michael Bishop to stump up £100m to refinance BMI, the struggling airline which it agreed to take over. Gerrit Wiesmann and Kevin Done picked up the story after an interview with the Lufthansa boss, and our story immediately triggered a counter-blast from Sir Michael who is threatening to go to court.
Pan Yuk produced an excellent news story and feature on more management changes at UK pub group Mitchells and Butler as a result of a disastrous hedging strategy. Pan has consistently been ahead of the pack on this sector, not least because she has been a good deal more sceptical about the securitisation model.
Richard Waters on efforts by US battery makers to secure government support.

Westminster watch: Margaret Moran, the Labour MP under fire in the Westminster expenses scandal, also used her parliamentary staff to help a company partly run from her office to win £50,000 of business sponsorship and public funding. Miles Johnson produced the story after an exhaustive week of digging, editing and lawyering. Philip Stephens wrote a magisterial column on Friday dissecting the politics of the expenses scandal.

The Indian elections: A tremendous effort on the Indian election results on Monday, led by James Lamont with Amy Kazmin and Joe Leahy, and a really good graphic that showed exactly what had happened (not in colour in Asia unfortunately). Joanna Kassel worked like a Myrmidon on Saturday, hunting down the results for ft.com.

Man-on-the-spot: Mure Dickie piece on why Osaka will have fewer problems form recession than other parts of Japan (because it’s already been forced to restructure by a long local downturn), a top class piece of on the ground reporting on the real impact of the economic crisis.

Woman-on-the-spot: Amy Kazmin’s beautifully written Analysis page on Mayawati, the so-called Dalit Queen of India, and her Augustan building programme in Lucknow – so sensitive that the state government tried to have her thrown out of the city for asking questions.

Special reports watch: An impressive online report on international schools, put together by Rob Orr, who also ran a successful Q&A from worried parents around the world. The hope is that this will be the beginning of an online ft.com site for people being posted around the world, covering a whole range of issues from the best removal company to finding a local accountant. A promising start.
And an apology to Rob for failing to mention his excellent work on the Future of Capitalism special report last week. High class design, top class content beautifully stitched together. (I have received several email compliments and readers letters)

Letter of the Week: Bill Emmott’s good-humoured missive from Somerset, gently lampooning our Future of Capitalism series. The former editor-in-chief of the Economist remains a great admirer of the FT, he assures me.

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