December 2, 2013 archive
Dec 02 2013
Dec 02 2013
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
December 2 is the 336th day of the year (337th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 29 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 2001, Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a New York court, sparking one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history.
An energy-trading company based in Houston, Texas, Enron was formed in 1985 as the merger of two gas companies, Houston Natural Gas and Internorth. Under chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay, Enron rose as high as number seven on Fortune magazine’s list of the top 500 U.S. companies. In 2000, the company employed 21,000 people and posted revenue of $111 billion. Over the next year, however, Enron’s stock price began a dramatic slide, dropping from $90.75 in August 2000 to $0.26 by closing on November 30, 2001.
As prices fell, Lay sold large amounts of his Enron stock, while simultaneously encouraging Enron employees to buy more shares and assuring them that the company was on the rebound. Employees saw their retirement savings accounts wiped out as Enron’s stock price continued to plummet. After another energy company, Dynegy, canceled a planned $8.4 billion buy-out in late November, Enron filed for bankruptcy. By the end of the year, Enron’s collapse had cost investors billions of dollars, wiped out some 5,600 jobs and liquidated almost $2.1 billion in pension plans.
Enron had created offshore entities, units which may be used for planning and avoidance of taxes, raising the profitability of a business. This provided ownership and management with full freedom of currency movement and the anonymity that allowed the company to hide losses. These entities made Enron look more profitable than it actually was, and created a dangerous spiral, in which each quarter, corporate officers would have to perform more and more contorted financial deception to create the illusion of billions in profits while the company was actually losing money. This practice drove up their stock price to new levels, at which point the executives began to work on insider information and trade millions of dollars worth of Enron stock. The executives and insiders at Enron knew about the offshore accounts that were hiding losses for the company; however, the investors knew nothing of this. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow led the team which created the off-books companies, and manipulated the deals to provide himself, his family, and his friends with hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed revenue, at the expense of the corporation for which he worked and its stockholders.
In 1999, Enron launched EnronOnline, an Internet-based trading operation, which was used by virtually every energy company in the United States. Enron president and chief operating officer Jeffrey Skilling began advocating a novel idea: the company didn’t really need any “assets.” By pushing the company’s aggressive investment strategy, he helped make Enron the biggest wholesaler of gas and electricity, trading over $27 billion per quarter. The firm’s figures, however, had to be accepted at face value. Under Skilling, Enron adopted mark to market accounting, in which anticipated future profits from any deal were tabulated as if real today. Thus, Enron could record gains from what over time might turn out to be losses, as the company’s fiscal health became secondary to manipulating its stock price on Wall Street during the Tech boom. But when a company’s success is measured by agreeable financial statements emerging from a black box, a term Skilling himself admitted, actual balance sheets prove inconvenient. Indeed, Enron’s unscrupulous actions were often gambles to keep the deception going and so push up the stock price, which was posted daily in the company elevator. An advancing number meant a continued infusion of investor capital on which debt-ridden Enron in large part subsisted. Its fall would collapse the house of cards. Under pressure to maintain the illusion, Skilling verbally attacked Wall Street Analyst Richard Grubman, who questioned Enron’s unusual accounting practice during a recorded conference call. When Grubman complained that Enron was the only company that could not release a balance sheet along with its earnings statements, Skilling replied “Well, thank you very much, we appreciate that . . . asshole.” Though the comment was met with dismay and astonishment by press and public, it became an inside joke among many Enron employees, mocking Grubman for his perceived meddling rather than Skilling’s lack of tact. When asked during his trial, Skilling wholeheartedly admitted that industrial dominance and abuse was a global problem: “Oh yes, yes sure, it is.”
Dec 02 2013
Dec 02 2013
Shopping on Black Friday takes consumer confidence, consumer courage, and a subscription to Sky Mall magazine.
Gloomy Numbers for Holiday Shopping’s Big Weekend
by Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times
With the economy bumping along at a lackluster pace, and this year’s shorter-than-usual window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, sales and promotions began weeks before Thanksgiving Day, making this holiday shopping season more diffuse than ever. That left Black Friday weekend itself, the season’s customary kickoff, looking a bit gloomy.
Over the course of the weekend, consumers spent about $1.7 billion less on holiday shopping than they did the year before, according to the National Retail Federation, a retail trade organization. [..]
More than 141 million people shopped online or in stores between Thursday and Sunday, according to a survey released Sunday afternoon by the retail federation, an increase of about 1 percent over last year. And the average amount each consumer spent, or planned to spend by the end of Sunday, went down, dropping to $407.02 from $423.55. Total spending for the weekend this year was expected to be $57.4 billion, a decrease of nearly 3 percent from last year’s $59.1 billion. [..]
Many retailers have been warning of a muted holiday shopping season. Walmart and Target both trimmed their yearly forecasts recently, citing economic factors like slow wage growth, unemployment and sliding consumer confidence. Executives at Best Buy cautioned that intense price competition on some items during the holidays was likely to affect their bottom line, despite its healthier performance recently.