Another Front on Enron
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against four former Merrill Lynch executives, accusing them of helping Enron fraudulently inflate profits. The charges involved allegedly "sham" sales of assets to the investment bank, after which Enron booked the proceeds as income. Although Enron investigations have involved law firms, bankers and financial consultants, the SEC suit is the first to target individual bankers.
A Bayer Victory
Bayer was deemed not responsible for the injuries of a Texas man who had taken Baycol, a cholesterol drug that was taken off the market because of reports of deaths and illnesses. Had the jury in Corpus Christi decided against the German chemical and pharmaceutical company, it could have opened the way for successful suits in roughly 8,000 pending claims. The company has already paid $140 million to settle about 500 claims out of court.
Guns and Oil
Crude oil prices continued their wartime roller-coaster ride, retreating to less than $27 a barrel after topping out at nearly $40 in late February as it became clear war was inevitable. The nationwide average price per gallon for gasoline reached $1.70. Analysts attributed the crude-price pullback to several factors, including the expectation of a short war with minimal disruption of supplies. Several OPEC nations said they would increase production to stabilize the market, and the Bush administration said it would release petroleum reserves if there were shortages.
Fuzzy at the Fed
That the Federal Reserve would hold interest rates steady was no surprise, but not providing a peek into the future caused more than a few heads to turn. In recent times, the Federal Open Market Committee has accompanied its decisions with an evaluation of threats of inflation and economic weakness. But with war then on the horizon, the governors said they could not "usefully characterize" the risks. Translation: There is about as much visibility on the U.S. economy as there is during a sandstorm in the Middle East.
Operation Dow Spike
Things might be cloudy at Alan Greenspan's shop, but the stock market had a clearly positive reaction to recent events. As U.S. and British forces pushed farther into Iraq, traders pushed the Dow up 235 points on Friday alone, its eighth straight positive session. The Dow, which had its best week since 1982, is now in the black for the year, and up 13 percent from its low on March 11. The Nasdaq posted similar gains. Many analysts had expected a rally at the start of the war. But now they wonder if there might be a "sell on the news" turn lurking, especially if the war bogs down.