Monday, May 19, 2008

$11 million: Ferrari nets record price

A 1961 Ferrari California Spyder sold for $10,894,900 at an auction in Maranello, Italy, Saturday. It was the highest price ever paid for a vintage car at auction, according to RM Auctions and Sotheby's, the companies that organized the sale.

The previous record was set in 1990 when Sotheby's sold a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO in Monaco for $10,756,000.

But that was a race car, not a convertible designed for driving on the street, pointed out McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, a company that insures high-value collectible cars in Europe and North America.

Ferrari race cars have traditionally sold for much higher figures than the company's street cars, Hagerty said.

"Ferrari 250 GTO's are now selling privately for twice that," he said

Prior to the auction, RM Auctions itself had estimated the value of the 1961 California Spyder at less than half of what it ultimately sold for. The car was one of 56 ever built, according to RM.

The high price paid for this car shows strong demand for vintage Ferraris in Europe, Hagerty said. In recent months, Ferraris have been selling privately between collectors for amounts far exceeding $11 million, he said, but noted again that those have mainly been race cars.

The record-breaking black convertible had been owned by gravel-voiced tough-guy actor James Coburn. He bought the car in 1964, according to RM Auctions, shortly after completing "The Great Escape." It is not clear when Coburn sold the car. The actor died in 2002. The car was purchased by British television and radio personality Chris Evans.

"I think it just shows that there's strong demand," Hagerty said, "because you don't get to that type of number without strong demand."

S&P won’t downgrade Fannie

There was some big news in the housing market Monday afternoon. Negotiators in the Senate Banking Committee agreed on a deal that will expand the Federal Housing Administration’s power to refinance troubled mortgages and give the companies a new, more powerful regulator. Many market players, such as BlackRock (BLK) chief Larry Fink, have held out hope that a legislative response will ease the pain of the housing bust. While this plan won’t solve the housing problem in itself, it could offer another half-step on the long road toward a solution.

“The bill addresses the root of our current economic problems - the foreclosure crisis - by creating a voluntary initiative at no estimated cost to taxpayers which will help Americans keep their homes,” Sen. Christopher Dodd said in a statement, Reuters reported. The plan is due to come to a vote before the Senate banking panel tomorrow.

Rating agency S&P also took Fannie Mae’s (FNM) debt and preferred stock ratings off watch for a possible downgrade, though it cut its risk-to-the-government rating to A-plus from double-A-minus and maintained a negative outlook on most of its ratings. “Fannie Mae is facing the most challenging housing and mortgage cycle in more than three decades, and at a time when its core earnings are weakened both from higher credit-related expenses and significant spread widening on both agency and nonagency mortgage-backed securities,” S&P wrote. “Given the highly stressed housing and mortgage markets, it is very unlikely that the outlook would return to stable before 2009.”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Week 3 of rebates: $13.5 billion sent out

The Treasury Department said Friday it sent out more than 15 million economic stimulus payments this week, totaling more than $13.5 billion, in an effort to boost the nation's spending power.

The checks are part of the federal government's plan to reinvigorate the slowing economy by encouraging consumer spending. To date, The treasury has distributed more than 45.4 million stimulus payments, worth a total of $40.8 billion.

Treasury spokesman Andrew DeSouza said the "vast majority" of the stimulus checks will be out by mid-summer, with the remainder being distributed by the end of the year. "We're on track," he said.

The first payments began distribution on April 28. Last week, the Treasury sent out more than 22 million checks totaling about $20 billion.

Overall, the Treasury Department plans to send $100 billion to American households.

To qualify for a stimulus payment, individuals and households must file an income tax return.

Single taxpayers with adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 last year, as well as joint filers with adjusted gross income of less than $150,000, are eligible for a rebate.
Rebate checks: How to spend 'em

That works out to more than 130 million households, including at least 117 million low- and middle-income families, 20 million senior citizens living on Social Security and 250,000 disabled veterans.

For a single filer, the minimum payment is generally $300, and the maximum payment about $600. For married taxpayers filing jointly, the minimum payment is $600 and the maximum is $1,200. Taxpayers with children will receive an additional $300 per child under 17.

Separately, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Friday that the checks will help put the country back on the path to economic growth.

"This fiscal stimulus will provide support to the economy as we weather the housing correction, capital markets turmoil and higher energy and food prices," Paulson said while speaking at a luncheon in Washington.

Opponents of the plan argue that the payments will not have the desired impact because most of the recipients will use the checks to pay off debts or purchase gas.

Critics also say the one-time payment is a short-term fix that does not address the underlying problems affecting the economy.

Stocks recover poise after slipping

Stocks were mixed Friday, with the S&P 500 managing to eke out a multi-month high, despite record oil and gas prices and a weak consumer sentiment index.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) lost a few points. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index inched higher, ending at its highest point since Jan. 3. The Nasdaq composite (COMP) slipped 0.2%.

Stocks rose through most of the week, with the S&P 500 ending Thursday's session at a more than 4-month high.

But after such a run, stocks retreated a bit Friday, as record commodity prices revived fears about how inflation will hit an already weakened consumer and U.S. economy. That runup overshadowed any relief about a better-than-expected housing market report.

"We had some decent news this morning on the housing front, and the economic and earnings news all week hasn't been bad," said Ron Kiddoo, chief investment officer at Cozad Asset Management. "But you've got oil up a couple of dollars today and it's also a Friday, so you're seeing a little selling."

Economic news: April new-home construction rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,032,000, the government said. That topped economists' forecasts, thanks to apartment construction. But the single-family housing start measure, considered to be key, fell to another 17-year low.

Building permits rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 978,000, also topping forecasts. (Full story).

The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index for May fell to 59.5 from 62.6 in the previous month, versus forecasts for a drop to 62.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, speaking Friday afternoon, said he expects to see the pace of U.S. economic growth pick up by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the United Nations warned the world economy could see a severe downturn, with growth of just 1.8% expected this year, as a result of the U.S. housing and financial market bust. (Full story).

Company news: General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) said it is looking to get out of the appliance business, confirming reports Thursday that speculated a sale price in the $6 billion range. (Full story).

Yahoo responded late Thursday to activist shareholder Carl Icahn's plan to unseat the Internet firm's board and push through a deal with Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), essentially holding its ground. Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) shares were barely changed Friday. (Full story).

A number of retailers reported better-than-expected earnings, including Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Nordstrom (JWN, Fortune 500) and Kohl's (KSS, Fortune 500). Abercrombie shares were flat, Nordstrom shares rose and Kohl's shares fell.

On the upside, the spike in oil prices boosted oil services stocks, including Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500), Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500) and Marathon Oil (MRO, Fortune 500).

The Amex Oil index jumped 2.7%.

Market breadth was mixed. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers on volume of 1.31 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers 4-to-3 as 2.29 billion shares changed hands.

Commodity prices: U.S. light crude oil for June delivery rallied $2.17 to close at a record $126.29 a barrel on the NYMEX, after hitting an all-time electronic trading high of $127.82 earlier. Prices briefly came off the highs after the United States said it will suspend shipments to the Strategic Oil Reserves, starting in July. However, analysts say the move will have little impact on oil and gas prices.

The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose to a record $3.787 from $3.776 the previous day, according to AAA. It was the 9th record in a row.

COMEX gold for August delivery rose $20 to settle at $904.10 an ounce.

Other markets: The dollar fell versus the euro and yen.

Treasury prices were little changed, with the yield on the 10-year note at 3.84%, roughly where it stood late Thursday after having fluctuated through the session. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ford to offer buyouts to 1,300 workers

Ford Motor Co. will offer buyouts to about 1,300 workers at assembly plants in Chicago and Louisville, Ky., as part of the automaker's plan to adjust capacity with demand for its vehicles, a spokeswoman said Friday.

The buyouts will affect about 800 workers at the Chicago plant and 500 at the Louisville factory, Ford (F, Fortune 500) spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said.

Workers at an engine plant in Cleveland also will be offered buyout packages, but the company did not say how many.

All three plants will move from two shifts to one this summer. The restarting of an idled second engine plant in Cleveland will be delayed until the fourth quarter, Kozleski said.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford is trying to cut labor costs during a turnaround. The automaker announced in March that it would be making adjustments based on capacity.

Terms and dates of the buyouts are not being announced at this time.

The offers are "very targeted buyouts to affected employees," Kozleski said. "It's part of our ongoing plan to adjust capacity with demand."

Not all workers at each of the three plants will be offered buyouts, Kozleski added.

The Chicago factory makes the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans and Taurus X crossover vehicle, while the Louisville assembly plant makes the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles. The Cleveland plant makes engines.

Only 4,200 hourly workers -- just over half number the company wanted -- had accepted the company's latest buyout and early retirement offers, Ford said last month.

Source: Cnn

Friday, May 2, 2008

Stocks jump on jobs report

Stocks rallied Friday morning after a report showed that employers cut fewer jobs from their payrolls in April than expected, adding to hopes that the economy is steadying.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), the broader Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) all gained at lest 0.6% in the early going.

Stocks surged Thursday as investors hailed better-than-expected readings on manufacturing and consumer spending, one day after the Fed cut interest rates and hinted the economic outlook seems to have stabilized. The stock advance continued Friday.

Source: CNN

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