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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