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Obama's Declaration of War Alarms Wall Street; Dow Down

Aired January 22, 2010 - 14:00:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: A stock shock: President Obama's declaration of war alarms Wall Street. But is there merit to the president's plan. Lord Myners tells me one size doesn't fit all.

And earnings results are overlooked. The Dow is firmly down. We have the Q25.

I'm Richard Quest. The last of the week, but still, I mean business.

Good evening.

European stocks have chalked up their biggest losses in nearly three months. The main indices tumbled again on Friday in the wake of President Obama's plans to curb risky banking activity. Traders are happy to dump financial stocks. In fact, anything that they might think will loose if the White House plan comes into law. The losses weren't as steep as on Thursday, when the proposals were announced, but nonetheless, the depth of the unhappiness was deep indeed.

The financial sector took a serious beating. Various European policymakers have said they either support directly, or can see merit in what Mr. Obama is proposing. And they are going to come up with proposals of their own. We'll hear from Lord Myners of the U.K. in just a moment.

But if you want to see the damage that has been created across the major Euro bourses, this is really going to tell you a tale of woe. Let's begin in the U.K.. Some of the big banks that would be affected when the U.S. were hit by a so-called Glass-Steagall II, Barclays and, of course Barclays down 4 percent. The Royal Bank of Scotland, that would have to break up large parts of the company. Especially Barclays having just bought the business of Lehman Brothers in New York. RBS has a football size trading floor in the U.S.

Not just the banks, themselves, high-cap brokerages lost 6.5 percent. And the London Stock Exchange, down 4.3 percent. So, you are getting a picture. This is quite widespread within the financial community.

Over in Germany, and it was Deutsche down 4 - you don't need me to rehearse it. It is the same story, whether it is the LSC, of the Deutsche bourses. The market is very sharply down. People are worried about what it is happening.

Paris, Societe Generale and Credit Agricola, down 2.5 and 5 percent. And even across in Switzerland, the market was similarly down with Credit Suisse. Perhaps -I'm just trying to work out if that is the largest loss. No, it is not. The largest loss, actually, of the whole lot ICAP over in the U.K. But even so, it is not often you see such a wide spread of sell off on sector of stocks.

The reason Lord Minors, the financial secretary to the Treasury, said he'll be in the chair when the G7 officials meet in London next week. He will no doubt be discussing the White House's proposals for the Wall Street, with American officials. He will also, and crucially, they will be talking on Monday about an insurance levy for banks to pay to be used on a "no bank is too big to fail" basis. I put it to Lord Myners, that President Obama's intended measures had more to do with politics than good finance.


PAUL MYNERS, U.K. FINANCIAL SERVICES MINISTER: Well, I think President Obama's proposals are clearly designed to meet the particular issues that he sees in the American banking system. There is a lot of detail that we have yet to see. This is very general in terms of the content we currently have. But it is entirely consistent with the direction of travel that was agreed at the G20, and which the U.K. has already been following; which is to make the banking system stronger, better able to absorb losses, whilst at the same time meet the needs of customers for credit.

QUEST: Are you generally, though, in favor of this idea of splitting the roles of the banks, between commercial investment and high finance, if you like, and retail on the other side?

MYNERS: I think in practice it is very difficult to define which parts of activity fall where. It is not black and white. The most important thing is to recognize that some things banks do have low risk, other things that banks do have a lot more risk. And to make sure that the capital which supports each line of activity is appropriate to the risk. We've done that. The British banking system now is amongst one of the strongest capitalized in the world.

And the FSA has completely changed its whole attitude to regulation. It is much more up front and in the face of the banks now and that can only be good for protecting the strength of the banking system.

QUEST: Because you will have been aware, very well aware this morning, any move to split functions would clobber the British banks, whether it is Barclays, RBS - of which you are the owner -or HSBC, and would seriously be to the detriment to the City of London.

MYNERS: I think we must wait and see the detail. But I don't actually think it is clobbering. I mean, quite interestingly, two or three weeks ago I was having to explain the actions we were taking on bonus taxes. We are not doing great damage to London as an international financial center. We now seem to have completely reversed that and reporters are saying that American are thinking of relocating to London.

We have to see the detail. But, I think, again, it is very clear that the Obama proposals need to be alert to the definition of what falls in scope and what is out scope, and how do they ensure that risky activities don' t move to other parts of the world.

QUEST: Were you as horrified as many commentators this morning, the bonus pool being offered up by Goldman Sachs?

MYNERS: I don't want to comment on the specifics of one firm. But what I would note is that Goldman Sachs were very clear that the action which the U.K. government had taken on the taxation of bonuses, by the companies paying them, had a very material impact on the decisions that they made. And JP Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse said the same thing. So the very bold action taken by the Alistair Darling, our chancellor of the exchequer, has clearly had a significant impact on the thinking, on bonus payments throughout the world's banking system.

QUEST: It is a hugely difficult issue, though, isn't it, this bonus question? Because money is the fuel of the bank, but at the same time the public anger - worldwide, my viewers write to me daily on this particular subject. The anger is so visceral when anything smacking of excess is out there.

MYNERS: That is one of the reasons why we have laid so much emphasis on improving governance and shareholder stewardship. The institutional investors need to get much more involved here. A critical question has got to be, had these large profits been generated by talented individuals, or as a consequence, pretty favorable conditions caused by the Federal Reserve, and the ECB, and the Bank of England, with credit and quantitative easing? And it is clearly wrong to pay out large bonuses which are the consequences of rather sunny weather.

QUEST: And on Monday you and the other G7 ministers will be talking about a potential -which if I understand it correctly, you are trying to come up with some form of insurance pool against pool against bank failures in the future.

MYNERS: We're looking at a number of further steps which can be taken to strengthen banks. Firstly, contingent capital which is a very new concept, which has been pioneered here in the U.K. and used by Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, which I think is potentially got a considerable amount of utility, globally. And, secondly, how you internalize the costs of failure; banks enjoy an implicit guarantee for which they don't pay a premium. So, a levy is a way of addressing that. But there is a huge amount of detail which needs to be addressed.

QUEST: You put your finger on nub there, the "implicit guarantee". If you take away the implicit guarantee then you take away, surely, the unbridled risk factor and you do the same thing.

MYNERS: Well, the implicit guarantee is there, because if a bank fails, it has a knock on effect. It is like skittles falling. We have to step in to protect the depositors of the Dunn Firmlin (ph) Building Society, which is probably an organization which very few of your viewers has heard of. Why did we do that? Because if the depositors had been allowed suffer there they would have immediately withdrawn their deposits from other building societies. So, how do you stop a systemic run? Well, creating a prefunded, levy pool to protect depositors is one of the ways you can do that.

The U.K. is leading the intellectual debate around these issues and I'm delighted that G7 countries are sending some very senior finance officials to Downing Street for the meeting which I'll be chairing on Monday.

QUEST: And it just goes to show the G7 still has life in it after all. Who said it was all over, bother shouting.

When we come back in a moment the gloves are off in the Google censorship tussle. It is anything but virtual. China is attacking over comments by Secretary of State Clinton. One of the secretary of State's key advisors joins me in just a moment to see, and to discuss, how far is this going to go?


QUEST: Good evening. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS at the end of the week. We need to catch up with the news headlines now, a busy end of week. Becky Anderson is at the CNN news desk.


QUEST: Now to a dispute over Internet freedom that is spilling over into diplomatic territory. China has lashed out at the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying her criticism of how it controls access to online data could damage relations.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China. And it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century.


QUEST: China labels Washington's stance, of course, on censorship as being information imperialism. The Chinese state media has been attacking strongly. It says that its web policy is in line with China's national situation and traditional culture. Now, China has an estimated 360 million web users. Behind this, of course, is the Information Curtain that Mrs. Clinton is warning on, censorship, and Iron Curtain, if you like, or an Information Curtain descending due to government web censorship.

Describing web freedom as an aspect of America's human rights agenda, China, of course, is one of those countries that is continually threatening companies who do not accord to these censorship requirements with penalties, or indeed, loss of business.

Google, which is behind all this, and which started the whole uproar when it threatened to pull out part of its enterprises, saw its stock down 3.71. One has to say, Google had other issues in the market. Google's result, which we'll talk about later, with the Q25. But even so, Alec Ross joins me now from Washington, senior advisor on innovation to Mrs. Clinton, the U.S. secretary of State.

Is there, Mr. Ross, is there really a fundamental difference between how the U.S. sees this and the Chinese government sees this. And at best, you are papering over cracks which really will eventually just break open.

ALEC ROSS, SR. ADVISOR, U.S. SECY OF STATE: You know I think Secretary Clinton spoke very compellingly and very directly yesterday about China. And one thing that I would point out, these issues that she described go beyond one country. Point in fact, 31 percent of the people on planet Earth live in countries where there is significant political censorship of the Internet. There are actually more than 20 countries out there right now where we view these issues with some very significant concern.

QUEST: But the problem, of course, is that - and we saw this when Google originally agreed to accept some form of censorship. The requirement of business prevailed on that particular case. But ultimately there is an inherent conflict between the two in these situation.

ROSS: You know, it is very interesting that you point that out. One of the things that is so complicated about Internet freedom is it is not just a security issue. It is not just an economic issue. It is not just a human rights issue. It is all three of those. And what that means is that it is very tricky business, both for government and for the private sector. What we have realized though and a lot of what we have learned over the first year of President Obama's presidency is that the role of these global communications networks are increasingly central in our foreign policy. And it is of significant concern to us that censorship is increasing rather than decreasing on the web.

QUEST: If then, it is a growing and perhaps fundamental part of foreign policy at some point, you as the administration are going to have to draw the line in the sand and say, if we don't like this then we are recommending about, even forcing companies to pull.

ROSS: You know, I don't know that I agree that we need to be drawing a line in the sand. I think we engage with our interlocutors, we need to engage very productively with our interlocutors. Yesterday was an important moment in Internet history. When Secretary Clinton first became -first came in, there were about 4 billion mobile handsets on the planet. Today, there are an estimated 4.6 billion mobile handsets on the planet. What that means is that we're now past the tipping point of global connectedness. These mobile platforms are the platforms for communication, for commerce, for engagement in the 21st century.

And so now the concern, and what she spoke to directly yesterday was are we going to live in a world with one global communications network, with one Internet, or are we going to live in a more fragmented environment where each country is going to have its own Internet?

QUEST: But are we going to live in a --


ROSS: What she did yesterday is elevate the issue.

QUEST: I accept that. But are we also going to live in a world where there is only one view and that would be the view as seen from Washington? Or London, or -

ROSS: Oh, absolutely not.

QUEST: Or Paris, which of course is what the Chinese are saying.

ROSS: Well, no. I think that the Internet should hold a global knowledge commons (ph). And I think that access to information and opportunity should be as commonly held as possible. And we have -every country needs to make its own decision about whether they want to be a part of one Internet or if they want to wall themselves off from the rest of the world. And it is our point of view, that many -not just years old, not just decades old, but centuries old values, like the freedom of expression.

QUEST: Sure.

ROSS: Like the freedom of assembly. Like the freedom of the press, need to be allowed to flourish in the digital age.

QUEST: Alec Ross, enjoyed very much having you on the program. Please come back again. These are important issues and we need you to come and join us in the future to talk about them. Many thanks, indeed.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior advisor on innovation talking to us from Washington.

Now, when we come back in just a moment we take risks galore. We have the Q25, more balloons than you can shake a stick at. But will it be the greens or will it be the reds. In just a moment.


QUEST: Now at this time we are gearing up for that time of the year when we are heading off to Davos. On Monday I'll be hosting the program from the World Economic Forum for the entire week. I'll be putting on my long johns and my thermals. Everyone else will be putting on looking at how to get the world on its feet again.

The best way to look at Davos is to look at perhaps see 12 months ago. Twelve months ago this was the story we brought you. How will it change this time?


QUEST (voice over): Some go down slowly, others quite fast. There were those who can't stay upright. At some point we all find ourselves navigating a route from economic disaster. And like today's economic numbers everything is headed downwards.

(On camera): The issue is once we are at the bottom, how do we get back up again?

(Voice over): The most popular ways involve moving the greatest number of people the fastest. Like the giant cable car trains. It is like the Obama proposed stimulus package.

(On camera): Think about it. It is very big, it carries a lot of people, and it is moving everyone in one direction at the same time. If it works, it will get us out of the trough and halfway up the mountainside.

(Voice over): There are other ways up the mountain. Back to economic growth. For instance, the European response looks more like the chairlift. Everyone doing their own thing, hopefully in a coordinated way; it is often harder to see the common direction, like the chairlift, it is a long way down.

(On camera): The hope is that one of us on the chairlift doesn't drop something or fall off on the way.

(Voice over): Individual industries look more like the T-bar lifts, whether it is car companies, or banks being bailed out, it is slow and steady and always the risk of falling off.

(On camera): For individuals it is going to feel like they are slogging their way back up the mountain with snowshoes.

(Voice over): Ultimately it is clear, whether headed up or down, like this mountain, we're all in this together.

Eventually economic growth will start again. The path upward become smoother, like that of the giant gondola. From the darkness we will emerge ready to do it all over again.

(On camera): Whichever method is used or route taken it will be several years before we are economically back on top again. The hope here at Davos is that those attending this year's forum will have learned the terrible lesson of the slide (ph) down below.


QUEST: And, of course, next week, when we are at Davos, it will be a case of rebuild, rethink, redesign. The program comes live from Davos all of next week.

When I come back in just a moment we will talk to a man who says President Obama's big bank plan just won't get the job done. And we still have the Q25 and those balloons.


QUEST: Hello.

Welcome back.


This is CNN.

And this is how the markets are trading in New York -- a third day of losses, with the Dow Jones up 102 points, nearly 1 percent. The market -- I mean, in any other market or in any other time, I'd -- I wouldn't be too concerned. But it is the third day -- consecutive day of serious losses. And 10000, even though it's 10.2, must be regarded as being a little bit on the dodgy side.

The latest company results are in for the fourth quarter and we're going to be putting them through the Q25 mincer in just a moment.

Before that, let's take a look at the numbers that came out today -- the major numbers that came out today.

Here we go.

General Electric beat Wall Street's expectations for Q4. Every part of the company's business did better than in the preceding quarter, but compared to one year earlier, earnings were lower. Net profits slipped to $3.3 billion.

Google's net income jumped to nearly $2 billion in the same period and traders weren't impressed. They were expecting better. And don't forget, there was also the China factor.

People got more of an appetite for Big Macs in the fourth quarter. McDonald's sales were higher. Earnings were up 23 percent, beating estimates.

And American Express also beat forecasts, with net earnings of more than $700 million in the fourth quarter.

Why do I tell you all of those?

Because you need to know that companies, by and large, performed better in the quarter.

Maggie Lake joins me from New York -- Maggie, before we get started with yourself, I'm going to run through a couple that perhaps are not the most interesting, but we have already agreed.

For instance, Schlumberger, the oil production company, we agreed, was a red. Harley Davidson shot -- it went into a loss. It's -- its revenues have been down. It's a shocking dog of a company at the moment. It gets a red.

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway, Warren Buffett liked it. If Mr. Buffet likes it, it get good -- it had good money. It gets a green.

American Express -- and do you know something?

They haven't had a loss in the quarters of the recession. They've got the debts under control. Challenging times ahead, but the CEO liked what he saw. It got a green.

Finally, SunTrust. SunTrust -- it's a -- it's a regional bank in Florida -- Maggie, I mean need I say more, a regional bank in Florida and Atlanta...


QUEST: What color, Maggie?

LAKE: Red.

QUEST: Thank you very much.

So that's what we've got so far.

Maggie Lake joins us now -- Maggie Lake, let's talk about G.E. G.E. is where we kick off. I mean it best estimates, but its revenues and profits were still -- well, you tell me.

LAKE: Yes, but Richard, we were in a little bit of a disagreement about this. I felt a little bit more positive, but it's definitely a mixed picture and that's very representative of the economy.

Part of the weakness -- a lot of the weakness had to do with NBC. But we know they already unloaded a major stake in NBC.

A lot of their other divisions were doing pretty well. Sales were down, but profits were up and, in some cases, actually the whole unit looked pretty good.

So I thought that that showed things were turning. But you disagree. You -- you thought it was a more bearish story, didn't you?

QUEST: Oh, the G. -- G.E., it was -- it's -- it's a company in transition and it's not there yet. It gets a red. Quite simply, it gets a red.


LAKE: Richard, I do want to -- I do want to mention...


LAKE: ...that shareholders agreed with me when it came to G.E., because G.E.'s share is up on a dog of a day. So they're looking at the things that I was looking at. But we'll stick with red.

QUEST: She has to have the last word. She has to have the last word. Have the first word on Google. Come on, let's put China to one side, even though you can't, really. The numbers were great. The company's got strategy...

LAKE: Right.

QUEST: China aside, and yet it was still beaten up by the market. Explain that.

LAKE: It -- it was. It gets a green balloon. But it just goes to show you that expectations are extremely high. And when it comes to share reaction, sometimes that's what it's about. Google is a victim of its own success because investors want this company to explode with growth. Revenues were up like 17 percent. It still wasn't good enough.

QUEST: And we now do McDonald's. Let's strip out the currency factor. McDonald's had a good currency play going on, which helped to benefit it. Maggie and I both agree that that's cheat -- it's not literally cheating, but if you're analyzing the way a company is performing, we tend to discount -- that's correct, Maggie.

But if you look at its same store sales over 13 months, I mean it's an impressive performance for -- for Big Macs.

LAKE: It is. And I'll tell you what else is good about this, Richard. Same store sales are up even as consumers, in the fourth quarter, started to trade back up.

Remember we talked about Starbucks the other day?

Some of those other competitors that were hurt during the recession have come back and mc -- McDonald's is still holding in there. So that's a good story.

QUEST: It's a green one for us. And I think I'm going to have to -- I'm going to have to work a little bit harder to get all the green (INAUDIBLE). Actually, this has got -- this has got danger written all over it. One of those (INAUDIBLE) is going to pop out of there somewhat -- and (INAUDIBLE).

OK, finally, Kimberly-Clark. Kimberly-Clark. I've already got the red balloon out. Maggie, I'm going to throw the red balloon in.

LAKE: Yes.

QUEST: I just want to -- there we have the Q25. And it's 16 versus nine. The boss was asking me today, Maggie, this clearly does say that earnings have been much better than expected. Companies are doing better. The Q25 has worked.

So why doesn't the market respond?

LAKE: You've got two things going on, Richard. In some cases, that good news was already baked in. And as we talked about with Google, the expectations were really high. But the real problem is financials. Not all of those companies actually did live up to expectations. And overall, the earnings period is kicking off in a week where Washington headlines have come into play and overwhelmed some of that good earnings news.

So some analysts are saying maybe the market will turn its attention back to fundamentals next week, but right now, it's all that headline risk, with bank reform, with Bernanke, the Fed chairman's...

QUEST: Right.

LAKE: ...confirmation coming into question now. Big, big headline risk overwhelming some of the good news in earnings.

QUEST: But the good news is there.

Maggie Lake, many thanks, indeed.

Maggie Lake is in New York.

This is the Q25. Love it or hate it, the reality is companies did better in this quarter. Things are getting better.

I'll be back in just a moment.


QUEST: Welcome back.

Finally tonight, we want to discuss President Obama's banking strategy, that it -- some believe is too big to succeed. It's the view of Michael Green, an economist and author of "Philanthrocapitalism." Michael advocates a new way of thinking about fiscal regulation led by the banks, not, I suppose, by the U.S. -- by the government.

Michael joins me now.

And, Michael, nice, on a Friday, to perhaps have some -- some larger thoughts.

I read your thoughts on this.

And what -- this -- the structural point seems to be, many people believe that President Obama's plan isn't the right one, but they're not sure what the right one is.

MICHAEL GREEN, COAUTHOR, "PHILANTHROCAPITALISM": That's right. I mean I thought -- around the too big to succeed, I feel the problem is he's tackling the symptoms rather than the causes of the crisis. For the financial system as a whole, this was an equal opportunity crisis. It swept up big banks, small banks, medium sized banks, banks that did investment banking alone, banks that did commercial banking and investment banking and even things -- banks like AIG.

QUEST: Right.

But there are...

GREEN: So in other words, he's focusing regulation on this.

QUEST: Oh, no, no, no. But a lot of those banks were further down the food chain. If you look at where the rot set in, the rot began, I should say, with the investment banks.

GREEN: I mean you've got to look across the whole system. The rot was about everyone thought the wind was going to blow in one direction forever. The wind changed direction and everyone fall out -- fell over together.

QUEST: Exactly. That might be true.

But then how do you create a strategy that allows for that, because I've read your views -- and I don't mean to be disrespectful, but if you've got to put flesh on them, what do you actually do?

GREEN: OK. So the -- the financial sector got driven over a cliff. The pop -- often, the popular view is it was because it was being driven by lemmings. That's not the case.

The financial sector was essentially driving blind. It didn't see the way all the risks were building up across the system. So the one thing that we have to do is clear the wind screen, help banks and other financial institutions to see what's really going on in the economy, see the risks that are really building up. And that...

QUEST: How do you do that?

GREEN: The way you've got to do that is through, one, you've got to unify the regulatory system in the U.S., so you're actually gathering the right information across the whole financial system. And then you've got to pool that information using the confidentiality that a regulator can afford and share that information in a non-commercially sensitive way with the banks to help them to manage those risks and see those risks themselves.

QUEST: You see -- you see, your -- your plan might work, but it's very complicated. And there's a lot of room to actually get it wrong.

GREEN: The point is, it's got to work with a grain of, you know, the incentives in the financial system. You can't just legislate these problems away...

QUEST: Why not?

GREEN: These are really tough problems that we have to solve. And the...

QUEST: Yes, but...

GREEN: And the...

QUEST: ...they only came about because -- but they only came about because we got rid of Glass Steagall in the first place...

GREEN: No, if...

QUEST: ...some would say.

GREEN: No, if you look at the whole history of financial regulation, what we see is many, many mistakes and regulations creating perverse incentives that cause the next crisis. And that's the danger I see in the Obama reforms. They lull us into a false sense of security and we lay the seeds for the next crisis.

QUEST: Fascinating stuff.

Come back again.

I very much enjoyed talking to you.

GREEN: Thank you.

QUEST: There we are.

Come back again and talk -- talk again.


Right. Now, the weather forecast. Right. We've -- we've had very odd sorts of a week with weather.

Guillermo is at the World Weather Center.

Do I need my thermals in Davos next week?

GUILLERMO ARDUINO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think so, because you are going to be in the snow. Now, this weekend, you'll be fine in London. It's...

QUEST: Ahhh.

ARDUINO: OK, what's...

QUEST: (INAUDIBLE) lies on Guillermo.

ARDUINO: What do you think is going to happen with the weather in London this weekend?

QUEST: I think it's going to be wet, miserable, overcast and chilly.

ARDUINO: No, it's not going to be that cold, though. And that's -- it's going to be rainy and we have the jet in here. But it's not going to be that cold. The cold air stays in the east, anywhere from Germany -- mid-Germany into Russia. And down here, we'll see severe storms into sort -- sections of Turkey and Greece, you see?

We're looking at the temps now. Minus seven for Berlin; minus four for Stockholm. This is tomorrow. Minus 16 in Kiev; seven in London.

So I will take the rain.

Remember this picture I showed you from Romania yesterday of this woman looking for her car?

That is now going to be the case in Romania again.

Remember the fishing on ice in Moscow?

That is going to continue to be the case. So you see accumulations will not be that significant here, into Romania. Bulgaria will see some snow showers. And then Ukraine will see some significant snow.

So this is pretty much what we can expect -- Copenhagen with snow showers, maybe some delays there. London is going to be breezy, rainy here and there, seven degrees. Not bad at all. We see cloudiness coming to France and to Spain, as well.

But look at this -- and I'm going to leave you with this picture from Innsbruck. Pretty nice. So maybe this is what. You're going to see in Switzerland next week -- back to you.

QUEST: I assure you, if it's anything like that on the chairlift, I'll be falling off.

That is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for this Friday.

I'm Richard Quest.


Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I hope it's profitable.

Join me in Davos next week.