Could Cyprus trigger the next euro crisis?

March 23, 2013

Last weekend, Cyprus banks — caught short on bond holdings of Greece’s debt — reached an agreement with international lenders for a bailout. Part of the deal: Bank depositors with more than $131,000 in their accounts would take a 9.9 percent haircut. Everyone else would see their accounts reduced by 6.75 percent. Cypriots reacted by draining the cash out of ATMs.

The European Central Bank is now on high alert, monitoring activity in Greece, Spain and euro-zone countries for evidence that the Cyprus precedent will result in runs on banks.

For six months, the global financial markets have become increasingly complacent, convinced that the euro-zone crisis is, for practical purposes, over. Cyprus is the test of whether that is correct.

Business

Freddie Mac has sued 15 big banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, accusing them of rigging a key interest rate and causing huge losses for the government-controlled mortgage giant. The suit names the banks that set the London interbank offered rate, known as Libor, which provides the basis for trillions of dollars in contracts around the world. A U.S. watchdog found that Freddie and its sibling, Fannie Mae, together might have lost more than $3 billion.

Dow Jones said it found no sign of impropriety at its Chinese operations after the Wall Street Journal reported that a whistleblower accused Journal employees of bribing Chinese officials for information. The Justice Department asked Dow Jones to look into the matter as part of a probe into the 2011 British phone-hacking scandal at its parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Citigroup has agreed to pay $730 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed investors were misled by the bank’s disclosures when they bought its debt and preferred stock between May 11, 2006, and Nov. 28, 2008.

JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings, which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. JPMorgan held MF Global funds in several accounts and processed the firm’s securities trades.

Barclays, Britain’s second-largest bank by assets, paid nine senior executives $61 million in bonuses, less than a year after the bank was fined for manipulating benchmark interest rates.

Neiman Marcus and two other retailers agreed to settle federal charges that they sold fur garments while advertising them as “faux fur” to satisfy some shoppers’ concerns about animal exploitation.

Boeing came under growing pressure to compensate airlines in hard cash for disruptions caused by the grounding of its 787 Dreamliner as two airlines — All Nippon Airways and Air India — maneuvered for immediate help instead of future purchase discounts.

Boeing technical workers have overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract. In an earlier vote, the 7,200 workers rejected the offer, which replaces pensions with a 401 (k) retirement plan for new hires.

Ryanair Holdings may buy as many as 200 of Boeing’s newest narrow-body jet, the 737 Max, later this year after placing a record-setting order for the model that’s being phased out. The Dublin-based carrier plans to add discount flights in markets vacated by full-service rivals.

Samsung Electronics said it is developing a wristwatch as Asia’s biggest technology company races against Apple to create a new industry of wearable devices that perform tasks similar to those of smartphones.

Intertrust Technologies, a developer of digital rights management software jointly owned by Sony and Royal Philips Electronics, sued Apple for allegedly infringing 15 patents related to mobile-device security. Apple’s iPhone, the iPod touch, iPad product lines, laptop computers, Apple TV and App Store are built on secure computing technologies developed and patented by Intertrust, the company said. Apple declined to comment on the patent lawsuit.

Rengan Rajaratnam, the brother of imprisoned hedge-fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly taking part in an insider-trading scheme tied to Galleon Group.

Coca-Cola said it is cutting 750 U.S. jobs as it continues to streamline its business. The cuts represent about 1 percent of the company’s workforce in North America.

Deals

MedImmune, based in Gaithersburg, will gain 300 jobs as parent company AstraZeneca consolidates its overall global research and development operations, the companies announced.

Earnings

FedEx said third-quarter profit fell 31 percent, to $361 million, as customers shifted to slower and less-expensive international air-shipping options, and it cut its forecast for full-year earnings.

Lululemon Athletica said its fourth-quarter profit climbed 49 percent to $109.4 million, but it lowered its projections for the year after quality issues with its yoga pants arose.

Nike said its third-quarter profit surged 55 percent, to $866 million, beating expectations, as the athletic gear maker’s resurgence in North America and easing material costs helped offset continued weakness in China.

Oracle reported sales and profit that missed analysts’ estimates as corporate customers transitioning to Internet-based cloud systems bought less hardware and software. Its quarterly profit was little changed at $2.5 billion.

Economy

Federal Reserve policymakers voted to continue pumping money into the economy and keep interest rates near zero.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, visiting China, pressed Beijing officials to acknowledge cyberattacks originating from the nation and aimed at stealing U.S. corporate secrets.

Two surveys of U.S. industry showed an increase in activity at American factories. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic region grew in March after contracting for two months in a row. And the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index, which gauges activity nationwide, increased to 54.9 from 54.3 in February.

Existing home sales increased 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.98 million units last month, the highest level since November 2009.

Retail sales rose 1.1 percent in February, more than double the 0.5 percent gain that analysts had expected.

Freddie Mac said that the average rate for the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.54 percent from 3.63 percent last week. The average rate on 15-year loans slipped last week to 2.72 percent from 2.79 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

Washington

Congress passed a bipartisan continuing resolution to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.

President Obama nominated Thomas E. Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, to be the next labor secretary. If confirmed, Perez would be the first Latino to join Obama’s second-term Cabinet.

Rebecca Blank, the acting commerce secretary, will leave her post in July to become chancellor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The Supreme Court declined to consider a dispute over a class action that accused Goldman Sachs Group of misleading investors about the risks associated with mortgage securities offerings.

The Obama administration slashed the commissions paid to private collection companies that chase overdue student loans, reducing an incentive to squeeze borrowers.

Transitions

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced his resignation. His tenure disappointed some of the consumer groups that were his earliest supporters but also brought a plan to bring Americans more access to broadband Internet in the years ahead.

Nearly half of Americans have little or no confidence that they are financially prepared for retirement, a problem many of them intend to solve by working longer, a survey found.

— From The Post and news services

$410 million
Sale of Hostess brands

A bankruptcy judge approved the sale to investment firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. Metropoulos hopes to have the Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos back on shelves by summer. Evan Metropoulos, a principal, said comedians Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are at the top of his “wish list” for pitchmen.

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