Tensions With Iran Lift Oil Prices, Europe’s Recession Fears

Jan 10, 2012, 1:38 pm EDT

One third of the world’s oil tankers (14 supertankers per day) pass through the Straits of Hormuz. The USS John C. Stennis also passed through the Strait of Hormuz in November. Next, the U.S. may send the USS Eisenhower to the region to give Iran an even stronger message that the U.S. intends to keep oil pipelines open. In response, Iran continues to issue threats to the U.S. Navy. Last Tuesday, Iranian Major General Salehi reportedly said that “Iran advises, recommends and warns [the U.S.] not to move its carrier back to the previous area in the Gulf.” This warning pushed oil up to an 8-month high of over $100 a barrel.

To ease these tensions, the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who were being held hostage by Somali pirates, returning those Iranians to their home country. This won some support in Iran for the U.S., but Iran’s hard-line Fars news agency called the rescue a “Hollywood-style propaganda stunt” to justify the U.S. Navy’s “blockade.”

On Tuesday, the European Union reached a preliminary agreement to ban Iranian crude oil, but it must secure new sources before the embargo can proceed. This dilemma could push Europe into recession by making energy scarce and pushing prices to prohibitive heights. The euro is already at a 15-month low to the U.S. dollar due to continuing financial concerns about the eurozone. On Friday, the European Central Bank had to step in to buy Italian and Spanish debt after 10-year Italian bond yields rose to 7.12% (i.e., 5.24% higher than the 1.88% Germany pays on its 10-year bonds). Italy now pays 4.94% on its two-year notes, 4.76% higher than equivalent German notes. Clearly, the euro crisis is not over. Read 

5 States That Will Pick the Next President

Jan 10, 2012, 1:25 pm EDT
5 States That Will Pick the Next President

In coming months, the absurdly close Iowa caucuses and the overhyped New Hampshire primary will fade into the distant memories of most Americans. That’s when the hard work of picking the next president begins.

Both parties’ campaigns will focus on the many battleground, or toss-up, states that could swing to either incumbent President Barack Obama or to whomever the Republicans have chosen as their candidate. Of these states, five stand out as the most important of the lot because of their economies — and because their large populations will yield generous delegate hauls.

Residents of the fabulous five states — all of which backed Obama in 2008 — will be have plenty of chances to see the presidential candidates whether they want to or not. Experts are predicting that political ad spending will hit the $4 billion mark this year, as much as a 30% increase over four years ago. Given how close some observers expect the election to be, that spending estimate is hardly a surprise. Read 

Markets Usually Rise After Top Two Candidates Emerge

Jan 10, 2012, 12:34 pm EDT

Historically, election years are good for the stock market. If history repeats, the market will rally right up to Election Day in November. When we get down to the top two major presidential candidates (probably Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama), they typically will promise to do whatever it takes to get elected. This helps boost consumer and investor confidence. There will be some negative ads, but, in the end, the most positive person wins. So, with that said, I predict the presidential candidates will continue to smile and make “happy talk.”

Each time a new Republican front-runner emerges, the media tries to dig up new dirt on him, but I find it amazing that the media can’t seem to find any dirt on Mitt Romney. I met Mitt once on the set of CNBC, and I have to say I think he is an impressive person. He seems to be as close to being Ward Cleaver as anyone who ever ran for president thanks to his seemingly ideal family and accomplishments. I still am waiting for The New York Times to find some dirt on Mitt, but so far, nothing material has emerged.

Of course, Obama also has a nice family and has charmed voters with his positive messages of hope. I expect Obama will present a message saying he saved us from a Great Depression and has led us back toward economic growth in 2012, so he deserves to be re-elected. Read 

Obama Should Be Ashamed Kodak CEO Is on Jobs and Biz Council

Jan 10, 2012, 12:31 pm EDT

To date, beleaguered Eastman Kodak (NYSE:EK) and the White House have been mum about whether Kodak’s CEO, Antonio Perez — a member of President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — will be present for next week’s meeting.

He sure as heck shouldn’t be.

Perez’s continued presence on the council has raised eyebrows recently as the company has teetered on the brink. Kodak shares dropped to below $2 in September on news it was tapping its credit line, and in November the company said it was trying to sell off one of its few modern businesses, Kodak Gallery. Then last week, The Wall Street Journal dropped the dreaded “B” word as a possibility should the company be unable to sell off its cache of patents — if it can actually find any buyers. Read 

What Cordray and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mean to You

Jan 9, 2012, 1:45 pm EDT

During the holiday break, President Barack Obama made a recess appointment to head the new consumer agency created by the Dodd-Frank Bill. Richard Cordray is mild-mannered Ohioan, a five-time Jeopardy! champion and a former attorney general who is admired by Republicans and Democrats alike. So why has there been such a fuss?

The problem has a lot less to do with “who” than it does “how” and “why.”

Dodd-Frank accomplished many things, one of which was creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. From its own website: Read 

SEC Ends ‘Neither Admit Nor Deny’ Policy

Jan 9, 2012, 10:48 am EDT

The Securities & Exchange Commission will no longer let companies caught in illegal activity have their cake and eat it, too. The commission’s is ceasing its much-criticized practice of allowing companies that have admitted to wrongdoing in criminal cases of securities fraud to cop a plea saying they “neither admit nor deny” those admitted wrongdoings in a separate SEC fraud case. The new approach applies as well to individuals who find themselves in that situation.

 

Said SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in a statement on Friday: “The new policy does not require admissions or adjudications of fact beyond those already made in criminal cases, but eliminates language that may be construed as inconsistent with admissions or findings that have already been made in the criminal cases.” Read 

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