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Article from SFGate.

Americans have missed out on almost $200 billion of stock gains as they drained money from the market in the past four years, haunted by the financial crisis.

Assets in equity mutual, exchange-traded and closed-end funds increased about 85 percent to $5.6 trillion since the bull market began in March 2009, trailing the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 94 percent advance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Morningstar Inc. The proportion of retirement funds in stocks fell about 0.5 percentage point, compared with an average rise of 8.2 percentage points in rallies since 1990.

The retreat shows that even the biggest gain since 1998 failed to heal investor confidence after the financial collapse that wiped out $11 trillion in U.S. equity value was followed by record price swings in equities, a market breakdown that briefly erased $862 billion in share value and the slowest recovery from a recession since World War II. Individuals are withdrawing money as political leaders struggle to avert budget cuts that threaten to throw the economy into a new slump.

“Our biggest liability in the stock market has been the total destruction to confidence,” said James Paulsen, the chief investment strategist at Minneapolis-based Wells Capital Management, which oversees about $325 billion. “There’s just so much evidence of this recovery broadening.”

Weekly gain

The S&P 500 climbed 1.2 percent to 1,430.15 last week, extending the 2012 gain to 14 percent, led by financial stocks and consumer companies. The benchmark index from American equity has risen from a low of 676.53 on March 9, 2009, though it is still 8.6 percent below its record high on Oct. 9, 2007. The gauge dropped 0.2 percent to 1,426.66 on Monday.

Now, much of the damage to investors is self-inflicted as U.S. growth improves and companies whose earnings are most tied to economic expansion reap the biggest rewards. Of the 500 companies in the benchmark index, 481 are higher now than they were in March 2009 or when they entered the gauge.

Expedia Inc., the Bellevue, Wash.-based online travel agency, rallied 577 percent, leading consumer discretionary companies to the biggest advance from 2009 through the third quarter. Capital One Financial Corp. rose 39 percent this year as the McLean, Va.-based lender posted profit that beat projections by 19 percent last quarter.

PulteGroup Inc., the largest U.S. home-builder by revenue, more than doubled this year after the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based company had its biggest annual earnings increase in 2012 and the housing market rebounded.

Individuals are selling into the rally, cutting the proportion of assets in stocks to 72 percent from 72.5 percent in 2009, according to 401(k) and IRA mutual fund data from the Washington-based Investment Company Institute compiled by Bloomberg. The data is for all equities, bonds and hybrid funds, and excludes money markets. Investors are lowering the proportion of stocks they own in retirement funds during a bull market for the first time in 20 years.

Safer investments

The percentage of households owning stock mutual funds has also fallen, dropping every year since 2008 to 46.4 percent in 2011, the second-lowest since 1997, according to the latest ICI annual mutual fund survey.

Money has gone to the relative safety of fixed-income investments. Managers who specialize in corporate bonds and Treasuries have received nearly $1 trillion in fresh cash since March 2009, ICI data show. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke‘s zero percent interest-rate policy and the lowest inflation in almost 50 years have helped spur a 29 percent rally in debt securities since President Obama’s first term began, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch‘s U.S. Corporate and Government Index through the third quarter.

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Article from SFGate.

Forecasts solid for 2012 profits

“Profit forecasts for computer and software makers are holding up better than any other industry in the world, a sign of confidence that corporate spending will keep the American economy expanding next year.

Net income at companies from Apple Inc. to Oracle Corp. will rise 11 percent in 2012 on average, according to more than 2,900 analyst projections compiled by Bloomberg. The profit estimate is down 2.3 percent from its peak this year, the smallest reduction of any industry in the MSCI World Index.

The resilience in technology, which accounts for more of the U.S. market than any other industry, underscores optimism that the American economy is recovering.”

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Here is some interresting news from Bloomberg.

“Silicon Valley companies looking to put their cash to work may drive a wave of mergers this year, bankers and venture capitalists say.

Companies are eager to make acquisitions because many of them have cut research budgets, says Robert Ackerman, founder and managing director of Allegis Capital in Palo Alto, California. That means they’re not as able to fall back on their own ingenuity to fuel growth. More businesses are relying on acquisitions to find their next new product or service, he says.

“The product cabinet is bare, but the market continues to move forward,” Ackerman said. “Wherever you see innovation sprint ahead, companies will have a product deficit, and will look to fill it.”

Google Inc., based in Mountain View, is currently one of California’s most acquisitive companies, buying at least five businesses in 2010. It agreed to buy Picnik Inc. last month, acquiring online photo-editing tools. Its purchase of DocVerse provided it with software that lets people share documents over the Internet. The value of the deals wasn’t disclosed.

The state’s largest single deal this year was Shiseido Co.’s purchase of San Francisco-based Bare Escentuals Inc. for about $1.7 billion.

California deal-making plummeted after 2007, when more than 2,670 transactions totaled almost $254 billion. So far this year, there have been about 530, worth $16.7 billion. That’s a higher number than in the first three months of 2009, although the value was greater in that year-ago period, at about $30 billion.

McAfee, Tibco

Local acquisition targets include Santa Clara’s McAfee Inc., Tibco Software Inc. in Palo Alto and Cupertino-based ArcSight Inc., according to Brent Thill, an analyst at UBS AG in San Francisco. McAfee and ArcSight both make programs that protect data, which could be more valuable as cyber threats mount. Tibco’s software helps programs of all kinds share information.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. also cited San Francisco’s Salesforce.com Inc. and Palo Alto-based VMware Inc. as possibilities — though those companies aren’t the most likely targets, the firm says. Salesforce.com makes online customer- relationship software, while VMware sells so-called virtualization programs, which help computers run more than one operating system. Representatives from all the targets declined to comment or didn’t respond to messages.

Deal Volume

In Northern California, there were 45 deals involving venture-backed startups during the first three months of 2010, according to the National Venture Capital Association. That was the highest number in any quarter in at least five years.

More than 50 companies in California have at least $1 billion in cash and equivalents, which they could use for acquisitions. They’re led by a Bay area trio: San Francisco’s Wells Fargo & Co., with $68 billion; Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, with $39.6 billion; and Cupertino-based Apple Inc., with $24.8 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

“There’s a lot of cash on people’s balance sheets, so I think it’s a great time for startups,” said Kate Mitchell, managing director at Scale Venture Partners in Foster City, California. “They see that the faster, better, cheaper venture- backed companies are still growing, and they’re not spending on R&D, so they can be accretive.”

The value of deals in California topped out at $378.1 billion in 2000 during the Internet bubble, when there were more than 2,200 transactions. It took five years for the number of deals to surpass that earlier peak, and the dollar amount has never come close to recapturing the dot-com era’s glory.

Internet Bust

While the latest recession was the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, it actually wasn’t as devastating to California deal-making as the dot-com collapse. After having easy access to venture money and initial public offerings in the late-1990s and 2000, money dried up. The M&A industry hit bottom in 2002, when just 1,505 transactions accounted for $95.3 billion.

The deals crept back up over the next four years, peaking again in 2006 and early 2007. There were 665 in the first quarter of 2007, valued at $59.8 billion. That’s more than three times the number reported last quarter.

Tor Braham, head of technology mergers and acquisitions for Deutsche Bank AG in San Francisco, says mergers are ready to surge again for two reasons.

Pressure’s On?

“Private-equity funds have raised a lot of money before the financial crisis and there’s pressure on them to spend it before those commitments expire,” he said. Also: “Sellers want to get their deals done this year, before the expected increase in capital gains tax rate.”

Private-equity firms raised $538 billion in 2006 and $587 billion in 2007, just before the recession, according to the Private Equity Council in Washington. Capital-gains taxes, meanwhile, could rise above 20 percent for people earning more than $250,000 under budget proposals before Congress.

In the first quarter, Deutsche Bank advised Techwell Inc. in its $370 million takeover by Intersil Corp. The bank also worked with Nimsoft Inc. in its $350 million acquisition by CA Inc., and Francisco Partners on its sale of Numonyx BV to Micron Technology Inc. for about $1.3 billion.”

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Here is an article from Bloomberg worth reading.

“Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who anticipated the financial crisis, said the U.S. growth outlook remains “very dismal” and White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said the economy is still mired in a “human recession.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, after the U.S. reported the fastest growth in six years, their comments underscored concern that that emergency measures to rescue banks and fight the recession may be withdrawn too soon.

“The headline number will look large and big, but actually when you dissect it, it’s very dismal and poor,” Roubini said in a Jan. 30 Bloomberg Television interview following a U.S. Commerce Department report that showed economic expansion of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter. “I think we are in trouble.”

Roubini said more than half of the growth was related to a replenishing of depleted inventories and that consumption was reliant on monetary and fiscal stimulus. As these forces ebb, the rate will slow to 1.5 percent in the second half of 2010.

Roubini, who chairs New York-based Roubini Global Economics LLC, has become famous for his pessimistic projections. In 2007, he correctly predicted a “hard landing” for the world economy. He said last year that the global recession would shrink through 2009, only for growth to resume in the middle of the year.

He says now that while the world’s largest economy won’t relapse into recession, U.S. unemployment will rise from the current 10 percent amid “mediocre” growth.

‘Feel Like Recession’

“It’s going to feel like a recession even if technically we’re not going to be in a recession,” he said in the interview.

Also speaking in Davos, Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, said that the statistical recovery won’t mask a “human recession.”

The U.S. expansion in the October-December period resulted from manufacturers cranking up assembly lines and companies increasing investment in equipment and software. The rebuilding of stocks contributed 3.4 percentage points to gross domestic product, the most in two decades.

The rebound followed the Federal Reserve’s decision to cut its benchmark interest rate to near zero in December 2008 and President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. The jobless rate has the central bank promising to keep borrowing costs low and Obama making new proposals to create jobs.

‘Pretty Attractive’

Carlyle Group LP co-founder David Rubinstein countered Roubini’s concerns. He said that even after a rally in global stocks that drove the MSCI World Index up more than 60 percent from March 2009, it’s a “pretty attractive” time to invest.

“There are a lot of great opportunities we see in the United States and abroad,” Rubenstein told a Jan. 27 panel. “Sometimes generals fight the last war, economists fight the last recession.”

Policy makers may be undermining their effort to spur hiring by attacking banks, Blackstone Group LP Chief Executive Officer Steven Schwarzman said in a Jan. 28 interview in Davos. One in four of chief executive officers worldwide surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for the Davos conference already plans to cut jobs this year.

“Financial institutions will feel under siege and they will retreat,” Schwarzman said. “Their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally,” he said. “We don’t need those financial institutions insecure.”

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Here is an interresting read from BusinessWeek.

For the mergers-and-acquisitions market, there is no doubt 2009 is ending better than it began. The year is winding up with a “sigh of relief,” says Morton Pierce, chairman of the M&A practice at law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf.

In the past month the M&A market has built up some momentum. According to Bloomberg, deals in North America were valued at $115.6 billion in November, the most since September 2008. Compare that with late 2008 and early 2009, when dealmaking either wasn’t happening at all or was centered in areas where deals absolutely needed to happen, such as failing financial institutions that needed buyers at any price. Deal volume in November was five times February’s volume of $22.5 billion.

Investors looking ahead to 2010 are wondering if this uptick in M&A can continue and where it will occur. Acquirers almost always buy at a premium, so traders can profit from correctly betting which industries will attract the most bidding activity.

Small Tech Deals

In 2009, Internet stocks, the investment and financial services industries, software, and oil and gas production were among the most active, according to Bloomberg data. Expect more dealmaking among technology stocks, say M&A experts. Oracle Corp. (ORCL) is battling European regulators to finish its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems (JAVA).

Such acquisitions, and especially much smaller deals, are a way of life for tech firms, says Daniel Mitz, a partner at law firm Jones Day who specializes in tech deals. “A lot of the innovation comes from smaller companies,” Mitz says. Dealmaking in tech slowed but didn’t stop during the downturn. There could be significant pent-up demand, Mitz says. “This is an industry that is ripe for M&A.”

One driver of a rebound for M&A in tech will be the strong financial positions of many tech firms, says Nadia Damouni, editor of dealReporter Americas, which tracks the M&A market. Another “cash rich” sector is health care, she says, but here the prospects for an M&A rebound are harder to read. The reason: Uncertainty surrounding the federal overhaul of the U.S.health-care system proposed by President Barack Obama and under discussion in Congress. “They’re at the whim of health-care reform,” Damouni says of the many insurers and health-care services companies that could be M&A targets at some point.

In health care, the key ingredient for dealmaking is “stability,” says Bob Filek, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Transaction Services. If health-care reform passes—or even if it doesn’t—acquirers will want some certainty about what federal policy will mean for health care before making bids. Filek envisions “a couple of scenarios where [the result could be] a lot of M&A activity.”

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Here is a goo Bloomberg article.

“Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) — The first 12 months of the U.S. recession saw the economy shrink more than twice as much as previously estimated, reflecting even bigger declines in consumer spending and housing, revised figures showed.

The world’s largest economy contracted 1.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the last three months of 2008, compared with the 0.8 percent drop previously on the books, the Commerce Department said yesterday in Washington. Gross domestic product has shrunk 3.9 percent in the past year, the report said, indicating the worst slump since the Great Depression.

Updated statistics also showed that Americans earned more over the last 10 years and socked away a larger share of that cash in savings. The report signals the process of repairing tattered balance sheets following the biggest drop in household wealth on record may be further along than anticipated.

“The current downturn beginning in 2008 is more pronounced,” Steven Landefeld, director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, said in a press briefing this week. The revisions were in line with past experience in which initial figures tended to underestimate the severity of contractions during their early stages, he said.

Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, decreased 1.8 percent in last year’s fourth quarter from the same period in 2007, exceeding the prior estimate of a 1.5 percent drop. Purchases also began sinking sooner than previously projected, registering their first decline at the start of 2008 rather than in the second half.

Treasuries, Stocks

Treasuries gained after the GDP report, while stocks closed little changed. Benchmark 10-year note yields dropped to 3.48 percent by the close in New York, from 3.61 percent late the day before. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index closed at 987.48.

Residential construction fell 21 percent during the period, almost 2 percentage points more than previously reported, aggravating what was already the worst slump since the Great Depression.

The Commerce Department also reported yesterday that the economy contracted at a 1 percent annual rate from April through June after shrinking at a 6.4 percent pace in the first quarter, the most since 1982. The decline in the first three months of the year was previously reported as 5.5 percent.

Recession’s Start

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the arbiter of U.S. business cycles, last year determined the recession started in December 2007. The private group is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts,

Yesterday’s updates are part of comprehensive revisions that take place about every five years and are more extensive than the changes announced at this time each year. Figures as far back as 1929 can be revised.

Over the most recent period, the third quarter of 2008 underwent one of the biggest changes, going from a 0.5 percent decrease in GDP to a 2.7 percent drop. The new reading better illustrates the effect the September collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. had on the economy and credit markets.”

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Here is an excellent Bloomberg article by way of statesman.com.

“SAN FRANCISCO — Acquisitions of startups fell to the lowest level in a decade in the second quarter as the recession stopped companies from buying smaller competitors.

A total of 59 startups merged with other companies, a drop of 30 percent from a year earlier and dropping to the lowest level since 1999, the National Venture Capital Association said. Five U.S. startups have had initial public offerings so far this year. In 2007, before the financial crisis, there were 86.

Acquisitions and IPOs — the two ways for venture capitalists to cash in their investments — have almost come to a standstill, NVCA President Mark Heesen said. With the IPO market struggling, larger technology companies — confident that prices will fall — are waiting before proposing takeovers, he said.

“The buyers on the merger and acquisition side got smart real fast,” Heesen said. “They wait for companies to come crying to them to get bought.”

No venture-backed companies went public between September and March — the longest slump since the association began collecting data in 1971. Only 11 startups have had IPOs since the end of 2007, and there is little immediate prospect for improvement, said Paul Bard, an analyst at Renaissance Capital.

Only 10 startups have filed pre-IPO paperwork with U.S. regulators, and none has done so since January, said Emily Mendell, an NVCA vice president. That signals that deals such as the May IPOs of Austin-based SolarWinds Inc. and online restaurant-reservation service OpenTable Inc. failed to spur other young companies to act.

It also means the market won’t revive in the next few months, Bard said.

“Unless filing activity spikes in the next two to three weeks, we’re unlikely to see a more sustainable pickup in VC-backed IPOs before Labor Day,” Bard said. “The bar will remain high for most VC-backed deals to get done.”

Even if the 10 biggest venture capitalists had 25 companies ready to go public by early next year, that would still leave IPOs at about a third of their levels from 2004 to 2007, he said.

That means startups lack bargaining power in merger talks, a situation that is keeping offers low and stalling many negotiations that do occur, Heesen said.

Only 13 of the 59 companies that sold out reported how much they were paid, the association said. Prices were higher than in the first quarter, a possible sign of improving conditions later this year, it said.

Cisco Systems Inc.’s $590 million deal to buy Pure Digital Technologies Inc., maker of the Flip Video camera, helped drive up the average merger price to $197.7 million.

Five companies commanded less than venture capitalists had invested, the venture capital association said. Purchases of medical-instrument makers CoreValve Inc. and Chestnut Medical Technologies Inc. were the only ones in which early backers received 10 times their outlay, the traditional standard for a venture-capitalist home run, Mendell said.”

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