American Corporate Executives Cash In as Austerity arrives for the Rest

By ANDRE DAMON | WSW | MARCH 22, 2013

As the US government prepares to furlough 1 million federal workers and slash hundreds of billions in social spending, corporate executives in the United States are receiving among the highest payouts in history. USA Today reported Thursday that at least ten CEOs took in $50 million apiece in 2012, largely as a result of cashing in stocks that have soared in value with the rising market. According to the newspaper, “Early 2013 proxy filings detailing 2012 compensation show a growing number of CEOs reaping $50 million or more, gains that could prove unmatched in breadth and size since the Internet IPO craze enriched tech company executives more than a decade ago.”

In its own analysis, the Wall Street Journal observed that executive pay has become ever more directly tied to stock values, noting that last year, more than half of compensation at major companies was tied to “stock or financial performance,” compared to 35 percent in 2009.

Among the top pay packages according to preliminary calculation is that of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, which included stock options valued at $103.3 million this year, on top of $30 million in other compensation and stock, as well as $10.2 million in vested shares, according to USA Today.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally likewise took home $61 million by cashing in shares that vested last year, added to his compensation of $21 million. This payout was based on a sharp rise in the company’s profitability that has been made possible by downsizing and the slashing of wages for newly hired workers to $15 per hour. Mulally’s pay is more than 2,500 times that of a new auto worker.

Apple’s Tim Cook got $139.7 million from restricted shares that vested last year, while Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was granted $90 million in stock.

These payouts are only a sampling of the huge sums that the ruling class is handing itself. The stock market, inflated through $85 billion a month handed to the banks by the US Federal Reserve, is the central transmission belt for this enrichment.

The engorgement of the ruling class has been facilitated by the actions of the state, and in particular the Obama administration. After the financial collapse of 2008, facing widespread public outrage at executive compensation, the administration explicitly opposed any constraints on pay. “We don’t disparage wealth,” Obama said repeatedly. Proposals for CEO pay centered on encouraging companies to tie this pay more directly to “performance”—i.e., share values.

Even while the corporate CEOs and other members of the financial oligarchy rake in astronomical payouts, the constant refrain from the media and big business parties is that there is no money to pay for social spending, and that health care and retirement programs must be cut and workers’ incomes slashed.

Next month, as a result of $85 billion in “sequester” spending cuts, over 1 million federal government employees will begin scheduled furloughs, resulting in effective pay cuts of 20 to 35 percent. These furloughs come together with tens of billions in cuts to public education, anti-poverty programs, and unemployment insurance.

With both Democrats and Republicans acknowledging that the cuts will be permanent, the turn now is toward working out an agreement to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The ultimate aim of the ruling elite is to dismantle everything that remains of the social safety net, plunging the working class into Dickensian poverty and social misery.

The argument that there is no money to pay for these programs is rendered absurd by the vast amounts of cash being handed out to executives or simply sitting around on corporate balance sheets. In 2012, the amount of cash held by US non-financial corporations rose by 10 percent, to $1.45 trillion, according to Moody’s. This figure is enough to pay for the sequester cuts 17 times over.

In fact, Apple, whose cash hoard rose to $137 billion, could itself pay for this year’s sequester cuts, with $50 billion to spare.

Loaded with cash and unwilling to invest, corporations have dramatically increased dividend payments to investors. The New York Times reported earlier this month that S&P 500 companies are expected to hand investors $300 billion in dividends this year, an increase over last year’s payout of $282 billion. American corporations bought back $117.8 billion in their own stock last month, the highest total on records going back to 1985.

The relationship of the American ruling class to the rest of society is a fundamentally parasitic one. Over the course of three decades, under conditions of economic decline, stock market speculation, rather than production, has become the central mechanism of wealth accumulation.

The 2008 crisis, far from reversing this process, has strengthened it. The ruling elite seized on the crisis to escalate the transfer of wealth. The soaring CEO pay and investor payouts on one hand, and vast social misery on the other, are in reality two sides of the same process.

The American ruling class proceeds with an almost shameless disregard for the consequences of its own actions. Amidst mass poverty and unemployment, as it dictates the most brutal austerity measures all around the world, the financial aristocracy engages in an uncontrollable orgy, propelled by its own social being.

Such actions, however, do not go unnoticed. They are producing within the United States an immense wellspring of social opposition that will take the form of working class struggle.

Chinese companies get out of US Stock Market

Chinese don’t want to be overseen by US auditors

ASSOCIATED PRESS | AUGUST 14, 2012

Just a few years after Chinese companies lined up to sell shares on Wall Street, a growing number are reversing course and pulling out of U.S. exchanges.

This week, Focus Media Holding Ltd., announced its chairman and private equity firms want to buy back its U.S.-traded shares and take the Shanghai-based advertising company private. The deal would value Focus Media at $3.5 billion, according to financial information firm Dealogic.

Smaller companies also are withdrawing from U.S. exchanges. In a sign of official encouragement, a Chinese business magazine said a state bank has provided $1 billion in loans to help companies with listings abroad move them to domestic exchanges.

The withdrawals follow accusations of improper accounting by some companies and a deadlock between Beijing and Washington over whether U.S. regulators can oversee their China-based auditors.

Some Chinese companies say they are pulling out of U.S. markets because a low share price fails to reflect the strength of their business. Withdrawing also eliminates the cost of complying with American financial reporting rules.

Focus Media “has been seriously undervalued on U.S. stock markets” and being taken private will help to promote its “long-term strategic development,” said a company spokeswoman, Lu Jing.

The company, formed in 2003, operates electronic advertising displays in elevators, grocery stores and other locations.

“We haven’t considered whether to list the company on Chinese markets but that possibility has not been excluded,” Lu said.

U.S.-traded Chinese companies faced scrutiny after auditors for several quit and others were accused of accounting irregularities. Concerns about company finances have caused share prices to tumble, costing investors several billion dollars.

“Probably all these companies have some questionable accounting, so they may prefer to move out of the U.S., not to come under too much scrutiny,” said Marc Faber, managing director of Hong Kong fund management company Marc Faber Ltd.

A financial firm, Muddy Waters Research, accused Focus Media last year of overstating the number of its display panels and questioned acquisitions reported by the company. Focus Media denied the allegations and said independent auditors confirmed the size of its network.

This week, Muddy Waters founder Carson Block said in a statement: “The markets are far better off if a few deep pocketed investors own Focus Media instead of mutual funds and other public shareholders.”

The group proposing to take the company private includes its chairman, Jason Nanchun Jiang, and private equity firms Carlyle Group, CITIC Capital Partners, CDH Investments and China Everbright Ltd.

The status of Chinese companies in the United States could be complicated by a dispute between U.S. and Chinese regulators over whether American inspectors will be allowed to examine the work of their China-based audit firms.

Washington wants auditors to hand over documentation on companies that are under investigation but Chinese authorities have barred the release of some information. If a settlement is not reached, the SEC could reject audits by China-based firms, forcing companies to find new auditors.

In May, Beijing took steps to tighten control of local affiliates of major accounting firms by issuing a requirement for Chinese citizens to head those offices.

Dozens of Chinese companies issued shares on Wall Street over the past decade, raising billions of dollars from investors who wanted a stake in the country’s booming economy.

Many were private companies that could not raise money on Chinese exchanges that were created to finance state industry or wanted the higher public profile.

Chinese regulators encouraged the move as a way for entrepreneurs to raise money and speed the development of China’s economy. But in recent years Beijing has encouraged private companies to issue shares in China to help develop its markets and give Chinese households better investment options.

Regulators have made it easier for private companies to join China’s two exchanges in Shanghai and the southern city of Shenzhen, though most listings still are for state enterprises. The Shenzhen exchange created a second board for small companies, imitating the U.S.-based Nasdaq market.

Major state companies such as oil giant PetroChina Ltd. and China Mobile Ltd., the world’s biggest phone company by subscribers, also have issued shares abroad. None has indicated it plans to withdraw from foreign stock exchanges.

The economics also are shifting in China’s favor.

U.S.-traded companies saw share prices plunge following the 2008 global crisis, while economic growth at home, even after a recent decline, is still forecast at about 8 percent this year. Rising Chinese incomes are creating a bigger pool of money for investment.

“Generally speaking, a company’s shares are sold at a higher premium in initial public offerings on Chinese stock markets than on U.S. markets,” said Mao Sheng, a market strategist for Huaxi Securities in the western city of Chengdu.

Also, he said, “If the company’s business is mainly in China, it will be good for its brand promotion.”

Another U.S.-traded company, Fushi Copperweld Inc., announced plans in June by its chairman, Li Fu, and a Hong Kong firm, Abax Global Capital, to take the maker of metallic conductors private.

Muddy Waters cited Fushi Copperweld in April as one of several companies it said dealt with an investment bank that helped enterprises seeking U.S. stock market listings to conceal problems and misrepresent financial information.

Fushi Copperweld denied Muddy Waters’ “vague and nonspecific” claims.

The company said its privatization will be financed with loans from the China Development Bank.

Created to support construction of highways and other public works in China, CDB plays a growing role in its corporate expansion abroad. The bank provides credit to buyers of Chinese telecoms gear and other big-ticket goods and has financed building projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

CDB has lent $1 billion “to help Chinese public companies leave the U.S. stock market to return to domestic markets,” the business magazine Caixin said last month.

Employees who answered the phone at Fushi Copperweld said no one was available to comment.

Also in June, China TransInfo Technology Corp., a provider of traffic management technology, announced privatization plans to be financed by CDB’s Hong Kong branch. A company spokeswoman said she could not comment because the plan is not finalized.

In October, Harbin Pacific Electric Co. withdrew from Nasdaq in a share buyback financed by $400 million in loans from the CDB.

Manipulated Markets Make a Come Back

Does it make sense that during the deepest depression since 1929, the U.S. Stock Market comes back up from a 6oo+ point decline? Only a manipulated system where speculators have complete control could recover from a rout that showed how little confidence investors have in the market today.

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
August 9, 2011

While countries are in dire straits to make payments on mostly illegally acquired debts and the price of oil continues to fall; while little to nothing is produced or manufactured in the industrialized world and no ingenuity makes it big anywhere in the world; while the most important currencies continue to tumble and other financial markets turn more sour; while unemployment continues to grow from the low 20’s and more people make use of food stamps and unemployment benefits; while more jobs are exported to third world nations that support slave work for their populations and inflation is only tamed by artificial manipulation of the currencies; while numerous people look to gold and silver as their salvation, surprisingly the stock market came back from the pantheon and surged to recover from the slide seen just a few hours ago.

There is very little that can't be done when someone or something controls fiat currencies, rating agencies, and financial markets.

But not only did the stocks came back strong; they had the largest gains in more than two years. Along with this “come back” the U.S. dollar got weaker and the Swiss franc rose the most since 1971. Even the very same Standard & Poor Index managed to recover almost 5 percent, the most significant gains since 2009. In the meantime, the origin of the financial disaster, the privately owned banks headed by the Federal Reserve announced their intent to print more worthless money into the economy as a way to “boost” confidence. Even though QE1 and QE2 failed to provide any confidence, or for that matter failed to provide anything positive, the FED believes it is appropriate to bring up QE3. With this, the FED shows its interest to purchase more government bonds, which will consolidate its position as the largest holder of U.S. government debt.

“The Fed is clearly setting up a situation that could offer them the potential to do something significant, if necessary,” Bruce McCain, who helps oversee $22 billion as chief investment strategist at the private-banking unit of KeyCorp in Cleveland, said in a telephone interview. “That could be viewed as a positive,” added McCain. “People are starting to realize that what we’ve had in the market was an overreaction.” Really? Positive? How so?

Artificial Surge after the Decline

How can a stock market come back from a 600+ point decline in just a few hours if one considers that the cause of such loss -the downgrade of the U.S. debt rating- has not been dealt with? It simply boggles the mind, doesn’t it? The United States credit rating was lowered from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poors, a rating agency that is paid by the banks to evaluate financial products and which is in part responsible for the current financial catastrophe. Together with Moody’s, S&P was created the by the banking system to carry out “independent” evaluations of financial products as well as credit confidence on institutions, state and local governments and of course whole nations.

According to Bloomberg, Stocks came back from a loss of $ 1 trillion after S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating last Friday evening. The results of the downgrade were not felt until Monday, when the Markets opened all over the world. The S&P index sank about 11 percent and the stock market lost 648 points or more than 6 percent. But just 24 hours later, everything was different. “The MSCI All-Country World Index rose 2.1 percent for its biggest gain of the year”, says Bloomberg. “The index started the U.S. session valued at about 12.1 times profits, down from 21 in 1995..The MSCI Emerging Markets Index pared today’s drop to 2.2 percent after tumbling as much as 4.4 percent.”

Stocks Rally? What Rally?

In the Stock Market, the Dow Jones climbed almost 430 or 4 percent, failing to completely recover from the recent loss. The stocks experienced the 1oth more significant gain in its history. Can you believe it? In the middle of a Depression, the stocks rally the much?

Meanwhile, in the S&P, shares got to the front of the line due to the numerically significant gains. In total, they accumulated some 8.2 percent all together. This is the biggest rally since May 2009, which meant a complete recovery from Monday’s low. Bank of America Corp., which is now being sued by AIG for fraud, managed to gain 17 percent while other players like Hartford Financial Services got back 16 percent.

Of course the main stream media is giving all credit to the Federal Reserve, due to its announcement that it intends to “boost” the economy by injecting worthless cash into it. The FED’s head, Ben Bernanke and his aides came out to try to calm the demise a bit, although not everyone at the FED agreed with the move to bring along a new quantitative easing move. Three members from the policy committee dissented and instead called for maintaining interest rates low for a longer period of time.

As the docu-film “The Inside Job” impeccably exposes, there is very little that can’t be done when someone or something has the power to create money out of thin air, create rating agencies, control those agencies to give AAA ratings to whatever they choose and electronically manipulate the financial stock and bond markets whenever it’s convenient in order to perpetuate the fraudulent debt-based system the world has worked under since 1913.

False Policy Changes

The best way to perpetuate the above cited financial system is to have the available tool continuously reinforce the falsehood of the Central Bank sponsored plans. So, Moody’s has come out to praise the FED’s move to maintain the interest rates at a quarter of a percent in order to bolster the downturn. It’s a  “major policy change,” said Augustine Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s. “By providing a more explicit time line for raising rates, the Fed is telling markets it is concerned about recent economic weakness and the potential for a near-term contraction, and is dedicated to spurring stronger economic growth,” Faucher added.

Just as this statement by Faucher is baseless, so is the belief that because the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency, it can stand more beating than any other one. In fact, one of the reasons why the U.S. has not been downgraded further is that its currency is still consider valuable. Ironically, the dollar has lost 98 percent of its value since it became the subject of manipulation by the bankers. Moody’s has stated that the U.S. dollar can support larger levels of debt than other currencies. How do they figure that with a currency that is so devalued. They can’t figure it out. They just make it up.

The one world reserve currency scheme is only beneficial to those who control it, because the rest of the nations need to do business while devaluing their own. In sound economics, the value of paper money is based on a country’s production or manufacturing, therefore, the U.S. dollar can no longer be such reserve currency. U.S. manufacturing has eroded so badly, that it has cost the jobs of some 18 million people in the last few years.

If the U.S. dollar is still the world’s reserve currency, why are there other currencies that have better exchange rates than the dollar itself? I am no economic expert, but if the Swiss Frank rates higher than the dollar in currency exchange markets, shouldn’t the Frank be the reserve currency? Or even better, shouldn’t a commodity like gold be the reserve currency given its capacity to withstand recessions, depressions and financial market manipulations? It should. The reason why gold is not the reserve currency or at least the commodity over which a paper money currency is supported is that bankers cannot monopolize it, “hug” it or manipulate it.

High Market but Low Results: The World Economy in Shambles

While the banks try to extend the suffering period for the middle and low classes, countries in Europe are scrambling for a life boat to jump on. Although France and Germany are said to be negotiating an agreement to buy Spain’s and Italy’s debt in order to avoid a deeper economic collapse, some sources claim that the rescuers believe the Italian debt is too large to save. Both Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel began to hear opposition voices that are calling for a different position from the German and French governments. The reason for this is that an eventual bailout of Italy and Spain could cost the rescuers their AAA rating. This is seen as a possible trigger to drag the world’s economy further into the precipice.

Although U.S. markets artificially revived themselves on Tuesday, other countries were not as lucky. In Italy, the bond market saw a loss of 11 percent on its 10 year note. Just as the FED has done in the United States, the European Central Bank kept Italy and Spain afloat through the purchase of their bonds for a second day in a row. That was not enough to save the Spanish 10 year notes, as they collapsed eight basis points to 5.08 percent on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, oil prices hit some of the lowest levels for the year by getting down to $79.30 a barrel. Conversely, gold prices soared and added 4.1 percent to get to a record price of $1,782.50 an ounce.

U.S. Stock Market Slides after Downgrade

by Stan Choe
AP
August 8, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks tumbled amid a rout in global markets Monday after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time.

S&P cut the long-term debt rating for the U.S. by one notch to AA+ from AAA late Friday. The move wasn’t unexpected, but it comes when investors are already feeling nervous about a weak U.S. economy, European debt problems and Japan’s recovery from its March earthquake.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 151 points in morning trading, or 1.3 percent, to 11,300. The S&P 500 index fell 19 points, or 1.6 percent, to 1,180. The Nasdaq composite index fell 51 points, or 2 percent, to 2,481.

In Europe, the German DAX index fell 3 percent, and the French CAC 40 index fell 2.5 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 2.2 percent, and the South Korean Kospi index fell 3.8 percent.

“Fear of a repeat of 2008 is what’s really driving investments,” said Gary Schlossberg, senior economist with Wells Capital Management. Memories of the 2008 financial crisis are driving investors away from risky investments and into what’s considered safer.

Prices for U.S. government debt rose because Treasurys are still seen as one of the world’s few safe havens. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.48 percent from 2.57 percent late Friday. It fell as low as 2.46 percent earlier Monday. A bond’s yield drops when its price rises.

But where Treasury prices are at the end of the day will be more important than where they are at the start, Bill O’Donnell, head of U.S. Treasury strategy at RBS Securities, wrote in a report.

“We will learn more about the future path of Treasury prices at today’s close than we will by the open,” he said. “I want to see how the market clears and how it synthesizes the cacophony of news of late.”

Gold is another investment that investors traditionally run to for safety. It rose above $1,700 per ounce for the first time. Its price remains below its 1980 record after adjusting for inflation.

Investors are worried that Spain or Italy could become the next European country to be unable to pay its debt. The European Central Bank said it will buy Italian and Spanish bonds in hopes of helping the countries avert a possible default.

Seeking to avert panic spreading across financial markets, the finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations issued a joint statement Monday saying they were committed to taking all necessary measures to support financial stability and growth.

“We will remain in close contact throughout the coming weeks and cooperate as appropriate, ready to take action to ensure financial stability and liquidity in financial markets,” they said.

Crude oil, natural gas and other commodities fell on worries that a weaker global economy will mean less demand. Oil fell $2.84 to $84.04 per barrel.

Last week, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 698.63 points. That was its biggest point loss since October 2008, during the financial crisis. The Dow has dropped in nine of the last 11 trading days.

Worries about the U.S. economic recovery have been building since the government said that economic growth was far weaker in the first half of 2011 than economists expected. The economy grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate between April and June, below economists’ expectations of 1.7 percent. It expanded at just a 0.4 percent rate in the first quarter.

Then reports showed that the manufacturing and services industries barely grew in July. Job growth was better than economists expected last month. But the 117,000 jobs created in July were still well below the 215,000 that employers added between February and April, on average.

The Federal Reserve will meet on Tuesday, but economists don’t expect much to come out of the meeting. The central bank’s key interest rate is already at a record of nearly zero, where it has been since 2008. The Fed has also already said that it plans to keep rates low for “an extended period.”

The central bank finished a $600 billion program in June to buy Treasurys in hopes of supporting the economy. Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that the Fed would step in to help the economy if it further weakened. But some Fed policymakers oppose more bond purchases, saying it could lead to higher inflation.

Fears about a weaker U.S. economy have overshadowed profit growth businesses have reported. Earnings rose 12 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier for the 441 companies in the S&P 500 that have already reported. Revenue growth has also topped 10 percent for the first time in a year.

Insider Trading in the U.S. We already knew.

Charges are expected after federal probe concludes

WSJ

Federal authorities, capping a three-year investigation, are preparing insider-trading charges that could ensnare consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders, and analysts across the nation, according to people familiar with the matter.

The criminal and civil probes, which authorities say could eclipse the impact on the financial industry of any previous such investigation, are examining whether multiple insider-trading rings reaped illegal profits totaling tens of millions of dollars, the people say. Some charges could be brought before year-end, they say.

The investigations, if they bear fruit, have the potential to expose a culture of pervasive insider trading in U.S. financial markets, including new ways non-public information is passed to traders through experts tied to specific industries or companies, federal authorities say.

One focus of the criminal investigation is examining whether nonpublic information was passed along by independent analysts and consultants who work for companies that provide “expert network” services to hedge funds and mutual funds. These companies set up meetings and calls with current and former managers from hundreds of companies for traders seeking an investing edge.

Among the expert networks whose consultants are being examined, the people say, is Primary Global Research LLC, a Mountain View, Calif., firm that connects experts with investors seeking information in the technology, health-care and other industries.

“I have no comment on that,” said Phani Kumar Saripella, Primary Global’s chief operating officer.

Primary’s chief executive and chief operating officers previously worked at Intel Corp., according to its website.

In another aspect of the probes, prosecutors and regulators are examining whether Goldman Sachs Group Inc. bankers leaked information about transactions, including health-care mergers, in ways that benefited certain investors, the people say. Goldman declined to comment.

Independent analysts and research boutiques also are being examined. John Kinnucan, a principal at Broadband Research LLC in Portland, Ore., sent an email on Oct. 26 to roughly 20 hedge-fund and mutual-fund clients telling of a visit by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Today two fresh faced eager beavers from the FBI showed up unannounced (obviously) on my doorstep thoroughly convinced that my clients have been trading on copious inside information,” the email said. “(They obviously have been recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time, with what motivation I have no idea.) We obviously beg to differ, so have therefore declined the young gentleman’s gracious offer to wear a wire and therefore ensnare you in their devious web.”

The email, which Mr. Kinnucan confirms writing, was addressed to traders at, among others: hedge-fund firms SAC Capital Advisors LP and Citadel Asset Management, and mutual-fund firms Janus Capital Group, Wellington Management Co. and MFS Investment Management.

SAC, Wellington and MFS declined to comment; Janus and Citadel didn’t immediately comment. It isn’t known whether clients are under investigation for their business with Mr. Kinnucan.

The investigations have been conducted by federal prosecutors in New York, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Representatives of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI and the SEC declined to comment.

Another aspect of the probe is an examination of whether traders at a number of hedge funds and trading firms, including First New York Securities LLC, improperly gained nonpublic information about pending health-care, technology and other merger deals, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Some traders at First New York, a 250-person trading firm, profited by anticipating health-care and other mergers unveiled in 2009, people familiar with the firm say.

A First New York spokesman said: “We are one of more than three dozen firms that have been asked by regulators to provide general information in a widespread inquiry; we have cooperated fully.” He added: “We stand behind our traders and our systems and policies in place that ensure full regulatory compliance.”

Key parts of the probes are at a late stage. A federal grand jury in New York has heard evidence, say people familiar with the matter. But as with all investigations that aren’t completed, it is unclear what specific charges, if any, might be brought.

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