February 27th, 2009
01:46 PM GMT
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Should Sir Fred, the former CEO of RBS, voluntarily return part of his million dollar pension?

Sir Fred was granted a £16 million pension pot as part of an agreement to leave the bank last year. This generates a pension worth in excess of $1 million a year.  But RBS is now majority owned by the British Government, and on Thursday declared the largest corporate loss in UK history.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown wants to claw some of that money back. There are icy letters between Sir Fred and the government minister Lord Myners setting out their "You agreed to it" and "Oh no I didnt" argument.

Legally? The money is probably Sir Fred's to keep. He can't be blamed if government and bank foolishly didn't read the small print, allowing him to fill his boots with cash. Morally? Ahhhh, now we enter a different world.

Sir Fred agreed to take a smaller payoff when he left RBS because it was the right thing to do – he called it a gesture. And now he says he has made enough "gestures." He is keeping his pension "entitlement."

Lord Myners puts his view bluntly: "I hope that on reflection you will now share my clear view that the losses reported today by the bank which you ran until October cannot justify such a huge award."

So there you have it. "We want the money back" shrieks one side. "You aint getting it" shouts the other.

Let me go out on a limb here – if I were Sir Fred, would I give the money back? If I honestly believed the government knew about the pension, and had agreed to it? I will forever be known as one of the worst bankers in the world. My place in financial history is unfortunately secured. So why not just take the money ... I can live in luxury whatever people maybe saying.

What would you do?

February 26th, 2009
09:39 AM GMT
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February 25th, 2009
03:57 PM GMT
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HONG KONG, China – This week, I met with a businessman who ships goods from Hong Kong's port all over the world. All he could talk about was the lack of orders especially from the United States. 

Freight movement out of Asia is slowing as orders dry up.
Freight movement out of Asia is slowing as orders dry up.

"It's all about the orders!" he lamented. "There are no orders."

No orders is a bit of an exaggeration. He later calmed down and told me that American retailers were placing orders - but not a lot by his estimation and only to bigger manufacturers they felt confident would be around at least for the next several months.

This lack of confidence is disconcerting for business people in Asia and for the governments who, for decades, relied on the sales of competitively priced goods to countries such as the United States to enrich their impoverished economies.

For the vast majority of exporters out here, the U.S. market is crucial to their survival. In addition, others that support these manufacturers - like the businessman I was speaking to - can't imagine further growth in the region without America's confident spenders.

Already, Japan has posted a record trade deficit. Taiwan's exports are down by over 40 percent from a year ago. Hong Kong's recession is deepening. South Korea is facing a debt crisis as its companies' sales wither.

The businessman I met with isn't normally interested in U.S. politics, but he is this year.

His hope? That President Barack Obama and his aggressive economic agenda will inspire the American people to buy again - and keep the orders coming to Asia.

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Filed under: AsiaBusinessObamaUnited States

February 24th, 2009
02:26 PM GMT
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The last few days have been turbulent on the market. Not surprisingly, ordinary investors are wondering what on earth is going on.

How can it be, after so much time and money has been spent on the economies of the world, that the market still won't show any signs of recovery?

The answer is because the crisis has moved into another phase. We have gone from a sub-prime collapse in the U.S. housing market, through to a general banking crises based on highly exotic financial instruments - and now into a deep industrial recession in the world's major economies. And it is this part that is now causing markets to fall.

On average, there was a 33 percent fall in Q4 earnings for the 394 companies in the S&P that reported since mid-January according to Bloomberg.com.

So it is clear that the market believes many stocks to be overpriced, based on the companies' existing and future earnings. With downgrades in economic growth for economies like the U.S., Germany and the UK, it's a wonder investors haven't sold even harder. Perhaps they now are catching up

For investors, these are simply horrible days. What to do? Sell into a falling market? Take a risk and buy cheap (I assure you this isn't a case of "Buy on the dips... you may be buying at the top of the next down section of the rollercoaster).

In short - no-one knows. And that's the problem.

Sorry. If you had hoped I would tell you whether to buy or sell, then you are fuming right now. "Not much good Quest," I hear you say.

So tell me then, what should we do?

February 24th, 2009
01:07 PM GMT
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DRESDEN, Germany – It was one of those cold days when the weather can’t seem to decide whether it should be raining or snowing, cold wet and gray.

Silicon Saxony fights to survive

We had just arrived at the Dresden factory of memory chip maker Qimonda, a company that filed for bankruptcy, and we found almost the entire workforce outside the gate protesting, doing what they can to fight for the survival of their company.

Many of the workers are highly skilled employees from abroad. American Michelle Prevot is one of them. After finishing her PhD in Germany she decided she wanted to stay, and Qimonda seemed just right.

Memory chip production was good business and the area around Dresden is one of the largest clusters for the industry in all of Europe. The capital of the German state of Saxony, it is known as "Silicon Saxony" to Germans.

Prevot says she never thought things could get this bad: “I never would have imagined something like this could happen,” she tells us as she keeps wiping rain and snow from her glasses, “we don’t know if we will have jobs next month.”

Qimonda is not the only chipmaker in trouble. Other major companies like Infineon, Qimonda’s parent company, and Advanced Mico Devices are feeling the financial crisis as well - and that is threatening the very existence of "Silicon Saxony."

To understand what this means you have to go back all the way to German reunification in 1990.

Within a few years of East and West Germany coming back together, pretty much the entire industry in what used the be the communist East collapsed and vanished, leading to massive unemployment.

Things were different around Dresden in Saxony. The state government had a plan to build up high-tech industry in the area. They had a skilled work force - Dresden had been home to "Robotron" the communist computer maker that was building outdated 1980s American PCs - and they also had access to subsidies from the German government. 

Within 10 years Dresden had emerged in its "Silicon Saxony," incarnations with a massive semi-conductor industry employing some 44,000 people. It remains a shining light in the former communist East, which has never fully caught up to the West in industrial production or job creation.

Now all that is under threat.

In press releases Qimonda blames its bankruptcy on the financial crisis and drastically falling prices for DRAM memory chips, due to stiff competition from Asia.

The local Dresden government tells us that Asian chipmakers receive far greater subsidies from their governments than European companies and that is what makes them more competitive.

But even the business mayor of Dresden admits that his town is already bracing for the worst in case Qimonda shuts down and all 3,200 employees lose their jobs.

“We are looking to build up new sectors with other high technologies, so we can mitigate the problem,” says Dirk Hilbert, the business mayor of Dresden.

In the meantime, Dresden's mayor, Saxony’s state governor and the German federal government say they are still fighting to save Qimonda by looking for investors together with the company’s insolvency administrator, which has until the end of March to get fresh capital to continue production.

At Qimonda, the workers protesting outside the gate are hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst. Steve Langdon, an engineer from England, says he had no idea what might happen

“Where will I be in a year? Ask me in a year, I really can’t tell you. But I don’t want another job, I want to work here, I like it here,” he says.

For now all he and the others can do is wait and show the world they want their company to stay alive by protesting outside the gates no matter how bad the weather.

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Filed under: Business

February 23rd, 2009
04:42 PM GMT
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While insightul reporting on economic upheaval are what makes Quest Means Business a must-see for most people, for some discerning viewers it simply comes down to presenter Richard Quest's unexpectedly melodic appeal.

The anchor's distinctive tones, and his enthusiasm for social network medium Twitter, have prompted fans to set samples of his show to music and post the results on YouTube.

"Deep Hypnotic State," which takes its title from something Quest has apparently uttered live on air, starts with applause and a thundering bassline, before throwing in classic soundbites from the man himself.

While it might not take the charts by storm, Quest has told its creators that he is "seriously impressed" with the remix.

Filed under: MusicQuest Means Business

February 21st, 2009
02:16 PM GMT
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February 20th, 2009
02:33 PM GMT
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I had a late night phone call from a friend in the Caribbean. He had money on deposit at Stanford Bank in Antigua - not a fortune, just his savings in a certificate of deposit. Money he can no longer access.

Customers queue outside the Stanford Group-owned Bank of Antigua in St. John's.
Customers queue outside the Stanford Group-owned Bank of Antigua in St. John's.

Worse - his Stanford credit card no longer works since Visa has suspended all Stanford plastic. That has ramifications for things like telephone bills which are paid directly using the cards.

In short, he is facing the complete collapse of his financial affairs. My friend is one of many tens of thousands who have been affected by this case. Some savers in the U.S. will be covered by government deposit insurance. Those in the Caribbean and Central America will be less fortunate.

These are not the wealthy victims of Bernie Madoff. Mostly these are working people who used Stanford as their local bank, for everyday transactions like checking, certificates of deposits and small loans.

The employees in the Caribbean were bank tellers and administrators, not the hedge fund masters found elsewhere. Sure, Stanford was an "offshore" bank - but it was responsible for some very onshore duties.

Some years ago, when living outside Britain, I actually thought about opening an account with Stanford. The only reason I didn't was because of the time and trouble of changing direct payments from my existing bank.

I slept well last night. My friend did not.

Have you ever been affected by a bank failure ? How did you cope ? Did your family have to lend you money ? Join this discussion so we can understand what it's really like.

February 19th, 2009
01:56 PM GMT
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February 18th, 2009
12:22 PM GMT
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The news that GM and Chrysler need more government cash is not a surprise. Everyone said they would. The changes that are being made to their businesses are deep and structural. Plants closed, jobs lost, models discontinued.

And there is no guarantee of success. All of this wouldn't be of much interest outside the United States, if other governments hadn't jumped on the bailout bandwagon and doled out dosh to their car companies too.

The Brits (or at least the foreign owners of British cars plants, the Italians, the French... all have in some shape or form attempted to level an uneven field.

No doubt the Japanese and Germans will have to follow suit otherwise their car companies will cry "foul."

But enough is enough. The chairman of luxury car brand Daimler told me on this week that he hoped there would be an end to this bailing out of car companies because it distorts competition. He also refused to say "no" to whether he ruled out asking for German government cash.

It seems once the bailout cash starts flowing, it is never ending.

Car companies have economic tentacles that few other industries experience. From raw materials, to manufactuer to distribution to credit facilities and the retail end. They stretch the length and breadth of the global economy. That is why we bail them out

Last night on our show many of your Twittered me on the subject. There was a clear majority in favor of NO more bailouts... it was throwing good money after bad.

So do you agree ? Is it time to let the car companies go to the wall (with all the possible consequences ? )

Bailout or bust - Your thoughts?

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