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Greek debt crisis: Is this a financial coup d'etat?
I've been steering clear of the euro crisis for the past month or so, but given the latest frenzied spate of negotiations about how to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt, I figured it was time to jump back in. The latest news is pretty straightforward: over the weekend, the Greek parliament voted to accept a new set of austerity measures, in exchange for a new round of bailout money — $171 billion, roughly.
This hasn't gone down well with the population, according the the New York Times:
[C]haos on the streets of Athens, where more than 80,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday, and in other cities across Greece reflected a growing dread — certainly among Greeks, but also among economists and perhaps even European officials — that the sharp belt-tightening and the bailout money it brings will still not be enough to keep the country from going over a precipice.
Angry protesters in the capital threw rocks at the police, who fired back with tear gas. After nightfall, demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, setting fire to more than 40 buildings, including a historic theater in downtown Athens, the worst damage in the city since May 2010, when three people were killed when protesters firebombed a bank. There were clashes in Salonika in the north, Patra in the west, Volos in central Greece, and on the islands of Crete and Corfu.
Greece and its foreign lenders are locked in a dangerous brinkmanship over the future of the nation and the euro. Until recently, a Greek default and exit from the euro zone was seen as unthinkable. [my emphasis] Now, though experts say that the European Union is not prepared for a default and does not want one, the dynamic has shifted from trying to save Greece to trying to contain the damage if it turns out to be unsalvageable.
Why not just start newspapers from scratch?
It's becoming abundantly apparent that even a robust online presence can't rescue newspapers as we know them. The problem is simple: online revenue, while growing, can't replace the print losses. This has seriously undermined the profits margins of big-city dailies, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post. Small-market dailies are having an easier time of it, but that's because they have lower costs to support and don't need to become online powerhouses.
This is from the Wrap:
Web traffic for newspapers keeps growing, but not fast enough for Washington Post staffers, who on Wednesday learned there would be yet another round of voluntary buyouts at the paper.
The buyouts - up to 48 news staffers at the Post, according to the paper's ombudsman - are the latest in a new round of cuts at major newspapers as online traffic grows and overall unemployment numbers fall nationwide.
The average number of daily visitors to Washington Post's site jumped by more than 3 million, or nearly 15 percent, during the last quarter of 2011, according to a study released last week by the Newspaper Association of America.
The number of unique visitors over that period increased nearly 6 percent, while the total minutes visitors spent on the site rose by 14 percent.
But all those eyeballs are not translating into real money, or at least not at enough of a clip to cushion circulation losses and declining print advertising revenue.
You call that a mortgage settlement?
UPDATE: California Attorney General Kamala Harris wasted no time in leaping ahead to a provision of the deal that could up the settlement to $45 billion, with California homeowners getting $18 billion. The U.S. Department of Justice says $7 billion, and adds that "[s]ervicers that miss settlement targets and deadlines will be required to pay substantial additional cash amounts." Maybe she doesn't like the size of the stated number all that much, either?
We have a mortgage settlement at last between the big banks and the states. California and New York, the two staunchest holdouts, have signed on. But then there's the actual number: $25 billion (initially reported as $26 billion). It just isn't that much. And although the news of the settlement has been greeting positively, for the most part, it's far from clear that it will ultimately turn the housing market around.
Disney earnings: Maybe there isn't a tech-entertainment connection
Walt Disney Co. reported first-quarter earnings yesterday, and they were fairly good: net income was up 12 percent.
But the growth came largely from ESPN and theme parks. If you study the earnings statement, you can spot something alarming in two critical parts of the business of the Mouse: movies and video games.
This is from Bloomberg:
Seven Disney films in U.S. theaters in the quarter collected ticket sales of $239 million, a 33 percent drop from $357.6 million generated by nine movies a year ago, according to Box Office Mojo, an industry researcher.
The studio is in talks with Coinstar Inc.’s Redbox and other services to impose a 28-day delay on rentals of new DVDs, [CEO Bob] Iger said on the call. The delay is being sought because of the industrywide drop in DVD and Blu-ray sales, he said.
The consumer products unit reported profit little changed at $313 million on a 3 percent higher sales of $948 million.
Disney’s interactive division registered a loss of $28 million. Sales tumbled 20 percent to $279 million. The unit is cutting costs and taking steps to raise revenue with a goal of becoming profitable in the next fiscal year, Iger said. It hasn’t shown a profit since Disney began breaking out the results in the final three months of 2008.
I am still a Bitcoin trader
Just a quick update on my adventures in Bitcoin, the cyber- or crypto-currency I've written about several times — and traded!
There was what seemed to me like a Bitcoin bubble at the end of last year and the beginning of this. I made a nice return on my first trade and then set up what I thought would be a way to "short" Bitcoin for a while. As it turns out, the market at Mt.Gox has been sort of flat since then. So I haven't changed my position.
Stay tuned for more!
If anyone want to speculate about why there was a run-up in BTC value in December and January, please do so in the comments. I welcome your point of view. Remember, the idea here isn't for me to make money. I've only bought $10 worth of BTC. I'm trying to learn more about cybercurrencies and how they behave.