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City Republic: bank troubles and the Guardian's plans for Emap

City Republic is Brand Republic's morning update on the latest news from the City (and Wall Street) to have an impact on marketing and media around the world. Every Monday and Wednesday, Stephen Foster looks at what the financial markets are doing and what it means for the industry.

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Just when you think it's safe...
Last week the Dow Jones was safely back over 14,000 and the FTSE was eyeing up 7,000. "Hmm," it went, and down they both went.

Why?

Well, there's lots of bad news around.

The much-vaunted plan by CitiGroup, JP Morgan and Bank of America to put a floor underneath bad mortgages investments backfired, cynics noting that these were three of the banks most exposed to these crazy and, often, ornate investments.

US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (formerly of Goldman Sachs) surely had a hand in this but who's missing from the righteous posse? The Goldmanites, of course.

In other words, it's seen as a way of keeping bad news off banks' balance sheets.

And everyone expects someone else to take a tumble soon.

Near to the top of the list is Aussie bank Macquarie, which probably owns your water or energy company. CEO Alan Moss denied to the FT this week that was struggling to refinance the mega-bucks it owes.

We'll see.

Northern Rock gets rockier
Embattled mortgage bank Northern Rock is being sold down the tubes by a bunch of hedge funds who reckon it'll go bust (if they keep borrowing stock and selling short).

They borrow some shares, agree to sell them at a price a month on and then, when the bill has to be paid, trouser the difference between what they sold them for in advance and what they're worth a month of bad news later.

If you tried to do this on Betfair, you'd be in the dock with Kieren Fallon.

Why doesn't the government ban stock lending?

It's a flagrant way of manipulating markets and Northern Rock shareholders will find all their money gone as millions are banked in the Cayman Islands.

But the worse news is...
Oil is rattling towards $90 a barrel, and that means big trouble for all of us.

We may all be trying to be greener but these things take time.

In the meantime, China and India are competing for oil for the first time, so the price goes up anyway.

Compound this with lower levels of OPEC production, Turkey threatening to invade northern Iraq and the inability/unwillingness of the US majors to build more refineries in the States and you have a huge problem.

It's amazing that we've managed to cope with oil prices almost doubling in a year. But at some point (soon) it'll start to hurt.

So is there any good news?
Well actually in the UK there is. Inflation is coming in at 1.8%, below target for the third month in a row.

We (as consumers) might laugh at that because things like food and energy are going up as if there's no tomorrow.

But by the Bank of England's standards it's low (these standards assume that you buy an LCD TV or a new computer every couple of weeks).

So there's no excuse for the Bank not to cut interest rates (which might get Northern Rock out of its hole).

But will they? Dream on. Governor Mervyn King and co will sit on their hands and Gordon Brown will rue the day he gave these insulated characters the freedom to fix interest rates.

If they get it wrong, which they probably will, there's a good chance of a recession in the UK, commencing January 2008.

Does the Guardian want to buy Emap?
It did OK out of AutoTrader, didn't it? Used cars save the Guardian, there's a thing.

Now it's said that Guardian Media Group is teaming up with Apax to buy Emap, which has put itself on the market in a pretty horrific acknowledgement that it's run out of ideas.

Well, they're Clerkenwell neighbours and Guardian managing director Tim Brooks (late of this parish) knows all about Emap, having run their architectural titles before shipping out to IPC.

Should they go for it?

Yes.

Would they be any good at running it?

Open to debate.

Guardian Unlimited still doesn't make any money, as far as I know, despite being one of the best websites in the world.

Maybe Apax has got the solution.

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