Explaining Southern California's economy

Banking on a Moody's credit downgrade of Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley Reports Their Quarterly Profits Fell 48 Percent In First Quarter

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Pedestrians cross the street by the Morgan Stanley building in Times Square April 21, 2011 in New York City. Morgan Stanley profits fell 48 percent In the first quarter of 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

How do you think it would feel to be cut not one, not two, but three levels on your credit score? All at once? 

If you answered, "Not too good!" then you're in the same boat as Morgan Stanley, one of the last two big independent U.S. investment banks (the other one is Goldman Sachs, and neither are as proud as they once were, after converting themselves to bank holding companies during the financial crisis so that they could get more money from the government). Moody's, one of the three main rating agencies, has said that it may knock Morgan down three notches. It may take other banks, such as Goldman, down two.

This is from Bloomberg:

The potential downgrades, which may raise borrowing costs and force banks to increase collateral, put the ratings company at odds with bond investors, who are sticking with bets that new capital rules and trading limits will make the financial firms safer in the long run. Funding costs have climbed for banks worldwide as Greece’s debt woes roil markets.

“In the next two years, these big banks will be less robust than they used to be, that’s for sure,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based financial analyst at Mizuho Securities Co., said by telephone. “For any bank that has to raise capital today, it’s already very difficult. This makes it just that much more expensive and difficult.”

Read More...

Bitcoin: An idea about money borrowed from the future?

zcopley/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

A Bitcoin card.

I went on "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle yesterday to talk all things Bitcoin. It was a lively show, made all the more lively by Larry's admission that, like a lot of folks, he didn't know a thing about Bitcoin until about a week ago. I was able to fill him in and field a few comments during the broadcast. 

What seems to blow people's minds about Bitcoin, at least initially, is that it's more of an idea about the money of the future than it is a well-functioning alternative currency today. I guess you could say it's in beta right now. And that means it's picked up a renegade reputation, by virtue of its popularity for buying drugs and porn.

However, in the months that I've been writing about BTC — And trading it! — I've learned that the cyber-currency has a lot going for it. Not least is the extreme sophistication of the process by which it's created. I think there's a good chance that what's useful about BTC could be adapted by government-backed fiat currencies, like the U.S. dollar, as they evolve from being fragments of the 19th and 20th centuries to being the media of exchange in the 21st. 

Read More...

GM posts record 2011 profit, with most coming from toughest auto market

Matthew DeBord

Don't think cool cars can some in small packages? No so. The new Chevy Sonic is proof that General Motors can finally do a tiny ride that commands attention.

Good news today for General Motors: it generated its highest annual profit ever in 2011. That's $7.6 billion. And yes, you read that first sentence right: highest annual profit ever. Higher than when GM owned half the U.S. market. Higher than when it was the largest industrial concern on the planet.

This is remarkable for two reasons, one obvious, one not. First the obvious: three years ago, GM had to be bailed out by the taxpayer before entering bankruptcy. It was under fierce attack in North America from Toyota and others. The future looked, if not completely dim, then not exactly luminous.

Now the not-obvious. Most of GM's 2011 profit came from North America. Some analysts have pointed to this as a problem and highlighted GM's struggles with its main European division, Opel, which it decided to hold on to rather than sell, post-Chapter 11. (Other observers, notably Slate's Matt Yglesias, have complained that all the rah-rah around GM suggests that America is still too close to the auto-industrial business model that built the country in the 20th century.)

Read More...

Will online media ever converge?

Engagement patterns by device

Matthew DeBord/KPCC

Media engagement patterns vary greatly depending on what device — PC, smartphone/cellphone, or tablet — the user is employing.

I attended a conference about a week ago put on by students and alumni from USC's Marshall School of Business. It's called "E2: Evolution of Entertainment Conference," and it's designed to bring business, entertainment, technology, and media together. Makes sense, as all four are important to the Southern California economy — and to USC students.

The conference is now in its fourth year, drawing seasoned media, entertainment, and business professionals to USC to provide their insight.

On one of the panels, Joe Perez, who just left an executive role at Demand Media, made an interesting comment. He said that he'd just come across some research that indicated PC, cell phone, and tablet users engage in unique daily online and/or wireless patterns. I've created a simple, some might say crude, drawing (right) that summarizes these patterns:

Read More...

Lawyers, guns, and coffee: Starbucks may have to kick gun lovers out

Chris Scott/Flickr.

Starbucks re-opening, 2010.

Starbucks has gotten itself into the very definition of an awkward position, particularly in California. The coffee chain is being protested by an anti-gun group for looking the other way when practitioners of what's called "open carry" show up for meetings at Starbucks with their unloaded firearms.

Starbucks has said that it's just respecting the local laws. But there's speculation that 'Bucks is being used as a forum by the open-carry crowd to invite challenges to its rights (they're even come up with a gun-weilding Starbucks alterna-logo that probably horrifies Howard Schultz). And of course Starbucks' core demographic isn't as friendly to the Second Amendment as the core demo of the National Rifle Association.

So Starbucks has a business problem. Gun advocates and gun haters both like coffee. Why would you want to choose between groups?

Read More...