Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paperstand (Futures trader at SG lost $7.3bn)

According to the WSJ, Citigroup (C) is abandoning a push to open as many as 100 branches a yr in the US, concluding it had little chance to dislodge entrenched rivals in several mkts. Barely 2 yrs after introducing the strategy, execs at the bank now intend to sell or close some of the newest Citigroup locations. The most likely locations to disappear are in places such as Tampa., Fla., where Citigroup's small presence is dwarfed by rivals. Citigroup will focus on several large US metropolitan areas where its mkt share of deposits is strong or growing. "This is about optimizing the use of our resources," said Steven Freiberg, head of Citigroup's US consumer group.

The WSJ reports that Ford (F) will announce as soon as today that it has reached an agreement with the UAW union on terms for a new wave of buyouts that could trim thousands of jobs. The auto maker's goal in offering the companywide buyouts will be to cut as many as 11K hourly jobs and as many as 2K salaried positions, on top of the some 44K jobs the co has shed since the beginning of ‘06. Ford, which may announce the new round of buyouts during its yr-end earnings conference call today, hopes to part with most of the additional workers by the end of the 1Q. Hourly union workers who accept a buyout could be allowed to depart as soon as March 1, while salaried employees could leave by April or May.

“Heard on the Street” column questions, where have buybacks gone? In past mkt stumbles, investors could count on one thing to help stabilize the situation: a round of share buybacks. This time around, there are even higher hopes for such repurchases, given that the stock-mkt rout has made prices cheaper and falling interest rates make it less expensive to borrow money to buy stocks. But most co’s aren't biting. Many bought back shares in recent yrs when they were much more expensive, leaving them with less ability and leeway with their investors to jump back in now. "Co’s are realizing that you can't fight the mkt with buybacks," said Howard Silverblatt, of Standard & Poor's. "It's like using your fist to hit a brick wall. You just keep hitting and hitting, and it just doesn't move."

The Financial Times reports that Societe Generale said on Thu it had discovered almost €5bn ($7.3bn) of losses caused by a rogue trader dealing in European stock futures, which had forced the French bank into an emergency €5.5bn share issue. Daniel Bouton, SG’s long-standing CEO and Chmn, has seen his offer to resign turned down by the board after unveiling the colossal losses, including €2.05bn of writedowns on its structured credit activities. The rogue trader, likely to trigger comparison’s with the UK’s Nick Leeson, who caused the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995, had “deep knowledge” of risk-control procedures from his time at the bank’s middle-office activities, which SG said had allowed him to disguise his positions. The bank said it had no more exposure to the trader’s positions, which were identified and analysed on January 19 and 20, just before stock mkts crashed unexpectedly around the world on January 21.

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