Taking care of business

The Baltimore Sun

Business news commonly doesn't attract a lot of eyeballs online, but these aren't common times.

Folks who might normally not check on their 401(k) account for a year are hunting for information about what the meltdown on Wall Street means and what they should do in response.

Research company Nielsen Online reported last week that traffic to online brokerage Web sites was up 30 percent during the week that ended Sept. 21, compared with the previous seven weeks.

And blog discussions about Wall Street and the bailout soared, even though business as a blog subject typically ranks nearly even with "family updates." That means most folks would just as soon see somebody else's vacation photos as attempt to make sense of the markets.

Here are some independent blogs I've come across that might help cut through the fog. They're long on business insight and shorter on political wrangling, since you don't need more of that. A few came from suggestions from my colleague Jay Hancock, whose own blog at baltimoresun.com is an oasis of clarity on these matters:

Footnoted (footnoted.org) Written by several journalists and attorneys, the blog was recently named one of the best in business by Business Week, CNN and the Financial Times. It doesn't just rail against greed on Wall Street; it takes names. A sample post from last Wednesday explained "Why Main Street hates the bailout" and why obscene-sized parachutes for CEOs and boards of directors sickened the system:

"Yesterday, Sovereign Bancorp., a 750-branch bank focused on the Northeast corridor that's had its share of troubles, announced a series of management changes, including the departure of its CEO, Joseph P. Campanelli by the end of the day. ... But according to yesterday's agreement, Campanelli will still come out OK: a $3.2 million severance payment, a bonus equivalent to 133% of his target, a $4.3 million retirement payment, and a bevy of options that vest immediately. But the real piece de resistance is Campanelli's consulting contract that will pay him $25K a month plus provide him with office space for the next year. ...

"The idea that a company as troubled as Sovereign is - it's still unclear whether they'll be able to pull through - chose to do this sort of deal speaks volumes about why Main Street doesn't trust the $700 billion bailout plan."

Marginal Revolution (www.marginalrevolution.com) Written by two libertarian professors at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, the blog has a free-market bent and is one of the most read on economics.

Calculated Risk (calculatedrisk.blogspot.com) Provides sophisticated, geeky and up-to-the minute links and analysis by two retired financial professionals for finance pros and interested lay people. Can be scathing on mainstream financial media coverage.

The Big Picture (bigpicture.typepad.com) A hugely read blog by New York hedge fund manager Barry Ritholtz, it offers commentary on the markets, housing, energy, digital media and the Fed with a sharp sense of humor.

It offered this mock prospectus last week: "Strategery Capital Management LLC is a unique hedge fund. It is the largest in the world, with expected initial capital of $700 billion. It has a free and unlimited credit line should it need more. It has no fixed mandate, though it is expected to initially focus on mortgage-backed securities. And it is the only fund backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government."

Economist's View (economistsview.typepad.com) A well-edited sampling of economic views by University of Oregon professor Mark Thoma.

blog maverick (blogmaverick.com) It's by Mark Cuban. And if you can't trust a flamboyant, impolitic sports team owner who made his first million at age 32 and his first billion by 39, who can you trust?

From last Wednesday: "Wall Street is not stupid. While spreadsheets define financial risk, contracts define the personal pain of failure. ... Here are a few steps that need to be taken in order to make sure that Pain remains associated with Failure. ... It won't be long until we see the repricing of options in companies whose stocks have tanked. It's another way to pump up executive compensation. In addition to stopping Golden Parachutes, this Bill should prevent repricing of options for execs that participate."

Seeking Alpha (seekingalpha.com) Offers stock market opinion and analysis from blogs, money managers and investment newsletters, not journalists. Its rules forbid opinions on stocks that trade below $1 because they can be more easily manipulated.

And if it all goes to pot, and you have to eke out a living by blogging, there's www.problogger.net: "13 Ways to Promote Your Next Blog Post."


Percent increase in audience for trading Web sites for week ending Sept. 21, compared with average of previous seven weeks

Vanguard: 99

E*Trade: 26

Fidelity.com: 33

Merrill Lynch: 218

ShareBuilder: 217

Ameritrade: 35

Scottrade: 104

troweprice.com: 80

Source: Nielsen Online

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