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Dec 25, 2011

NYT Global Update: Churches Are Hit in a Series of Bombings Across Nigeria


Global Update


TOP NEWS

Churches Are Hit in a Series of Bombings Across Nigeria

By MUSIKILU MOJEED and HERBERT BUCHSBAUM
Apparently coordinated bombings killed more than a dozen people and solidified a recent escalation in violence by Boko Haram, a radical Muslim sect.

Sudan's Government Says Powerful Rebel Leader Is Dead

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN and ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH
Sudanese military officials said they killed Khalil Ibrahim, the founder of a resilient group of dissidents whose daring 2008 assault reached the doorstep of the capital, Khartoum.

Suicide Bomber Strikes Funeral in Northern Afghanistan

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and JAWAD SUKHANYAR
The attack, which killed a member of Parliament, appeared to be the Taliban's latest strike against Afghans with ties to the government in Kabul.
Sunday Review

Interactive Feature: 2011: The Year in Pictures

From Joplin, Mo., to the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, it was a year of upheaval both natural and man-made. Text by Colum McCann.
Opinion

Editorial | Sunday Observer

When Regime Change Came With a Whimper

By SERGE SCHMEMANN
The fall of the Soviet government 20 years ago was met with mixed feelings by Russians, who were gaining freedoms but also plunging into a dangerous unknown.
WORLD

U.S. Embraces a Low-Key Response to Turmoil in Iraq

By HELENE COOPER and THOM SHANKER
President Obama says he has no intention of sending troops back to Iraq, even if sectarian violence and political upheaval devolve into civil war.

Vast Rally in Moscow Is a Challenge to Putin's Power

By ELLEN BARRY and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow for the second time this month, a victory for activists seeking to forge a burst of energy into a lasting force against Vladimir V. Putin.

A Quake-Scarred Nation Tries a Rural Road to Recovery

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
Seeing an opportunity to fix the structural problems that have kept Haiti stuck in poverty, planners are trying to revive the country's desiccated, disused farmland.
BUSINESS

Bourbon's All-American Roar

By MICKEY MEECE
Sales of bourbon are rising, helped by premium small-batch and single-barrel products and flavor infusions like honey, cherry and spice. Now distillers are looking to extend their overseas reach.

France Télécom in Deal to Sell Swiss Mobile-Phone Unit

By BLOOMBERG NEWS
The deal is the first major step in the chief executive's plan to unload slow-growing European operations to focus on faster-growing markets.
Economic View

From the Fed, a Shield Against Europe

By TYLER COWEN
The Federal Reserve's policy moves will help the United States weather any ill winds from the euro crisis, Tyler Cowen says.
TECHNOLOGY

Hacker Finds Weak Mobile Security in Europe

By KEVIN J. O'BRIEN
A hacker and consultant said his research showed most operators refused to implement upgrades to protect the data of mobile clients.
Disruptions

Norelco on Takeoff? Fine. Kindle? No.

By NICK BILTON
The Federal Aviation Administration doesn't allow Kindles and iPads to be on during takeoffs and landings over the issue of possible interference with aircraft navigation or communication systems. A visit to a testing lab shed light on whether a hazard really exists.
Prototype

If These Moms Can't Find It, They Invent It

By NICOLE LAPORTE
The rise of "mompreneurs" has been helped by the rise of Internet and social media, which allow child-raising women to exchange ideas without having to leave the house.
SPORTS

The Enduring Lure of an Iconic Ocean Race's Sweet Misery

By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Time and again, many sailors return for the Sydney to Hobart race, one of the world's toughest nautical challenges.

Veteran Sailor Is Back for His Annual Jaunt With Friends

By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Iain Murray, one of the most respected figures in Australian yachting, is making time between his America's Cup duties for another race on Wild Oats XI.

Sydney to Hobart With a Teenager at the Helm

By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
After sailing solo around the world, Jessica Watson, 18, is preparing her young crew for a full-blown ocean race.
U.S. NEWS
News Analysis

Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year

By JUSTIN GILLIS
Facing political hostility and lacking adequate financing, scientists are struggling to report on the causes of a concentrated span of extreme weather in the United States.
The Long Run

At Harvard, a Master's in Problem Solving

By JODI KANTOR
Pragmatic, data-driven and hard-working - the person Mitt Romney was in the mid-70s in graduate school is the person he is now, his former classmates say.

Image Tarnished by Scandals, Washington Council Overhauls Ethics Rules

By THEO EMERY
The Washington city council passed an ethics overhaul package, including a new process for expelling members accused of wrongdoing, after a series of damaging accusations.
OPINION
Op-Ed Columnist

Silent Night? Not With Us

By FRANK BRUNI
What says Christmas to me is a chorus of voices, all talking at once.
Editorial

The Miracle and the Means

The message of Christmas may be divine, but the work that lies ahead, finding peace on earth and good will toward others, is wholly human.
Editorial

Verizon's Worrisome Cable Deals

AT&T's decision to drop its bid for T-Mobile is a victory for consumers. But a look at recent agreements made by Verizon suggests the battle to defend competition in telecommunications is hardly over.

Tales from the mutual-fund crypt: Chuck Jaffe -MarketWatch





By Chuck Jaffe, MarketWatch 

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — No one mourns the loss of a mutual fund, but investors should not ignore for whom the bell tolls.
Counting all share classes, the mutual fund industry killed off about 1,300 of its laggards, stragglers and strugglers this year, its lowest total in years. These dire and departed funds are a motley mix of the uninspired, and goofy, the marketing failures and big mistakes that should have cashed in their chips long before they actually snuffed it. 

Still, a few of these issues created legacies or lessons that investors should remember. With that in mind — and in the spirit of year-end retrospectives about famous people who died in the past 12 months — it’s time to tell some tales from the fund crypt.
Among the funds that passed in 2011:
Dblaine
This is a small fund scandal you’ve probably never heard of. The Dblaine Fund opened in December 2009, run by David Weilliver and his small investment firm in Buffalo, Minn. To grow the fund quickly, Welliver in December 2010 bought the Bryce Funds, folding them into his flagship and raising assets by about 2,400%, to $9 million from $350,000.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Welliver’s financed the purchase with $4 million in high-interest loans from a firm called Lazy Deuce, which specializes in “non-traditional funding for a variety of businesses and purposes.” In exchange for the loans, Welliver agreed to put some of the fund’s assets into private placements recommended by Lazy Deuce.
According to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission’s October complaint against Welliver and his firm, that “improper quid pro quo” was concealed from shareholders, who might otherwise have recognized that the manager — who hadn’t even properly researched the private investments — had put his own interests ahead of theirs.
Further, the SEC alleges that fund valued the private placement at the purchase price, even after the manager knew it was losing value and then became worthless, meaning the fund offered, sold and redeemed shares at inflated share prices.
While investors suffered, the SEC says Welliver “enriched himself by spending at least $500,000 [of the loans] for his personal benefit, including spending the money on a new car, vacations, meals, home improvements, high-end department store purchases, jewelry, his son’s college tuition, and the payment of back taxes.”
Dblaine was liquidated in July, with just $54,000 in assets left for its 80 shareholders. Just this week, Welliver sued his chief compliance officer, basically suggesting that his former employee failed to warn him about the potential violations he was committing. Nice.
Direxion Airline Shares
Honestly, you have to think this ETF was created for the cool ticker symbol (FLYX), because the investment concept was horrific, focusing on one of the most volatile and troubled industries in the world. No one wanted to fly with this fund, and performance was never better than a crash; this fund lasted 11 months and three days from take-off to touchdown, but it felt like a crash with a loss in that time of more than 35%
FIMCO Select
This fund suffered a serious identity crisis. Run by a small firm called Frontier Investment Management, it really couldn’t use “Frontier” in its name because there already was a fund with that name, and it was well on its way to becoming one of the worst funds of all time. [ That fund finally died in 2010; read about it here.]

So instead the firm went with FIMCO, which made it feel like a cheap knock-off of PIMCO, a giant of the fund business.
Thus, when the fund beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in 2006 and did far better than both the index and its average peer in 2008, it somehow felt iffy or shaky. Anyone who wasn’t familiar with the firm looked at its name and just expected, like a fake Rolex, that there was a problem in the works.
A surprising number of money-market funds
About 10% of the funds liquidated in 2011 were money-market funds, a startling statistic considering that these are ultra-safe cash alternatives that typically represent easy money for the sponsors.
With interest rates at historic lows and unlikely to rise significantly any time soon, however, many fund firms have been running money funds at cost or at a loss. Fund companies will let a fund live if it is losing shareholders’ money, but if it can’t help the manager’s bottom line, it’s toast. In 2011, money funds from Alger, American Beacon, HSBC, ING, Natixis, Scout, Pioneer, Prudential, Vantagepoint, and others took the long dirt nap.
FaithShares ETFs
The first exchange-traded funds based on religious beliefs, FaithShares’ approach was to have specific ETFs for various denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic and Baptist Values, as well as an over-arching Christian Values fund.
Faith-based investing has been around for decades, but until FaithShares those funds were run by managers who practiced what they preached, focusing on and living by the tenets of their own religion.
While these funds should have given investors some hope — all but the Christian Values fund actually outperformed their average peer from opening day in December 2009 until they were liquidated in July or September of this year — customizing funds to so many denominations made investors wonder if FaithShares was less about religion than worshipping the almighty dollar.
American Beacon Evercore
This fund opened late in 2010 with a big score, gaining 17% during the fourth quarter. It then proceeded to prove that any fund that can gain so much so fast can lose it just as quickly; American Beacon Evercore lost more than 30% during the third quarter of 2011, nine percentage points worse than its average peer and more than double the loss of the S&P 500.
The loss is doubly shocking because the fund kept 7% of its assets in cash, according to its most recent list of holdings. Alas, nine of the 24 next-largest holdings were down more than 25% this year through November, at which point American Beacon was trying to pull the plug ahead of a planned mid-December liquidation, proving they couldn’t euthanize this dog fast enough.
Schwab YieldPlus
YieldPlus once was the largest fund in the ultra-short bond category; in 2007, the fund had more than $12 billion in assets and had been a top performer for several consecutive years. At the time, Schwab touted this fund and its siblings as a higher-yielding alternative to cash.
But the fund’s higher returns were the result of taking more risks than its typical peer. When the U.S. went through the mortgage and financial crisis, the funds were crushed. From July 2007 through April 2009, YieldPlus lost 47%. Very un-cash-like.
When the fund was liquidated in late August — along with its equally troubled siblings Schwab Tax-Free YieldPlus and California Tax-Free YieldPlus — it had roughly $140 million in assets; Schwab has spent hundreds of millions of dollars settling state, federal and Securities & Exchange Commission claims and charges.
The legacy here is simple: When a fund has a sustained run that’s better than everyone else in the peer group, something’s up that should give investors at least a moment’s pause.
Chuck Jaffe is a senior MarketWatch columnist. His work appears in many U.S. newspapers.


Politics | Jobless Claims Analysis: Jobless claims readings becoming tough to ignore - Economic Preview | MarketWatch |



By Greg Robb, MarketWatch 

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — While it is a bit of a stretch to say that economists are snug in their beds with visions of jobless claims dancing in their heads, there is no denying that they are growing more excited about the improvement in claims over the past month and will be focusing on that release in the holiday-shortened week. 

“People are going to be focusing pretty heavily on claims,” said Josh Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. 

Claims have fallen by 40,000 over the past four weeks to a post-recession low of 364,000. After initial doubts when the decline started, many analysts are putting more weight on the down trend. See story about most recent jobless claims report. 

   
Lawmakers reach payroll-tax deal House Speaker John Boehner announced that congressional leaders reached an agreement to temporarily extend a payroll-tax cut. 

“The claims drop is looking more authentic,” said Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics.
“One unexpectedly low number can easily be a fluke; two are interesting; three are telling us something real is happening in the labor market,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.
“It is safe to say there is a down trend of some sort underway,” Shapiro said. “How convincing it is remains to be seen.” 

Some economists are reserving judgement, noting that the end-of-the-year holidays has a large and uncertain impact on seasonal adjustment factors. 

But the three straight declines makes it “hard to dismiss this as just a seasonal fluke,” said Dan Silver, an economist at JPMorgan Chase.
The jobless claims report will come on Thursday.
The big question is whether the improvement in claims translates into better nonfarm payrolls, which have averaged about 132,000 over the first eleven months of this year.
The Labor Department will release the December unemployment report on Jan. 6.
Analysts don’t expect much improvement in the unemployment rate in December because there was a sharp downturn in November to 8.6% from 9%.
But there could be some improvement in payrolls, Silver noted.
Although very early, economists are expecting roughly 140,000 new jobs were created in December, which would be slightly better than 120,000 jobs created in November.
Ellen Zentner, a senior economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. in New York, said she has been “really enouraged” by the improvement in claims.
While a decline in claims ordinarily means that people are not being laid off, the rapid decline could mean that job growth is picking up, she said.
Nomura is forecasting a gain of 190,000 payroll jobs in December. Zentner said the consensus will probably “float upward” towards Nomura’s forecast over the next two weeks.
Zentner said she is not prepared to call a turning point in the labor market because business surveys for 2012 show that firms plan to hold payrolls steady.
Outside of claims, there are two other reports of interest next week: Tuesday’s reading on December consumer confidence and a report Thursday on manufacturing in the Chicago region for December.
Consumer confidence has been showing signs of life recently. Confidence jumped to 56.0 in November from 40.9 in October. 

Analysts expect some retrenchment in the Chicago purchasing managers index after it increased to 62.6 in November, its highest level since April. 

The Chicago index is the last clue about the direction of the key Institute for Supply Management reading on the health of the manufacturing sector to be released in early January. 

Last month, the ISM manufacturing index rose to 52.7 in November. This was the strongest reading since June. 

Earlier Fed factory surveys have been looking up in December. Read full story.

NYT Morning Top Headlines




TOP NEWS

Vast Rally in Moscow Is a Challenge to Putin's Power

By ELLEN BARRY and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow for the second time this month, a victory for activists seeking to forge a burst of energy into a lasting force against Vladimir V. Putin.

U.S. Embraces Low-Key Plan as Turmoil in Iraq Deepens

By HELENE COOPER and THOM SHANKER
President Obama says he has no intention of sending troops back to Iraq, even if the recent violence and political turmoil devolves into civil war.
The Long Run

At Harvard, a Master's in Problem Solving

By JODI KANTOR
Pragmatic, data-driven and hard-working - the person Mitt Romney was in the mid-70s in graduate school is the person he is now, his former classmates say.
QUOTATION OF THE DAY
"We will have a difficult year. But it will be an interesting year. It will be our year."
BORIS AKUNIN, a novelist, addressing antigovernment protesters in Moscow.


Business

Slide Show: A Boom for Bourbon

Sales of bourbon are rising rapidly, helped by premium small-batch and single-barrel products and flavor infusions like honey, cherry and spice.
Sunday Review

Interactive Feature: 2011: The Year in Pictures

From Joplin, Mo., to the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, it was a year of upheaval both natural and man-made. Text by Colum McCann.
WORLD

A Quake-Scarred Nation Tries a Rural Road to Recovery

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
Seeing an opportunity to fix the structural problems that have kept Haiti stuck in poverty, planners are trying to revive the country's desiccated, disused farmland.

Italy Tries Raising the Social Stigma on Tax Evaders

By RACHEL DONADIO and ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
Tax authorities say Italy, which has a $2.5 trillion public debt, loses an estimated $150 billion a year in undeclared revenues.

Royalists Step Up Campaign to Stifle Criticism of the Monarchy in Thailand

By THOMAS FULLER
The government has intensified its crackdown on criticism of the Thai monarchy, prosecuting a record number of people charged with insulting the royal family.
U.S.
News Analysis

Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year

By JUSTIN GILLIS
Facing political hostility and lacking adequate financing, scientists are struggling to report on the causes of a concentrated span of extreme weather in the United States.

Ruling by Justice Dept. Opens a Door on Online Gambling

By EDWARD WYATT
New York officials welcomed a legal opinion removing a big obstacle for states that want to sanction Internet gaming to help fix their budget deficits.

Image Tarnished by Scandals, Washington Council Overhauls Ethics Rules

By THEO EMERY
The Washington city council passed an ethics overhaul package, including a new process for expelling members accused of wrongdoing, after a series of damaging accusations.
POLITICS
Political Memo

Escape to Hawaii, After a Tricky Week in Washington

By MARK LANDLER
A political stalemate in Washington had threatened to derail the president's annual Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

Gingrich's Ballot Miss Could Shake Voters' Confidence

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
The failure to qualify for the Republican primary ballot in Virginia poses several problems for Newt Gingrich's campaign.

Pentagon Finds No Fault in Ties to TV Analysts

By DAVID BARSTOW
The Pentagon cultivated close ties with retired officers who worked as analysts for television and radio networks.
BUSINESS

Bourbon's All-American Roar

By MICKEY MEECE
Sales of bourbon are rising, helped by premium small-batch and single-barrel products and flavor infusions like honey, cherry and spice. Now distillers are looking to extend their overseas reach.
Essay

Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition

By NANCY F. KOEHN
When his ship was stranded for two years, the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton faced compelling leadership decisions that offer many lessons for the business struggles of today.

France Télécom in Deal to Sell Swiss Mobile-Phone Unit

By BLOOMBERG NEWS
The deal is the first major step in the chief executive's plan to unload slow-growing European operations to focus on faster-growing markets.
TECHNOLOGY
Prototype

If These Moms Can't Find It, They Invent It

By NICOLE LAPORTE
The rise of "mompreneurs" has been helped by the rise of Internet and social media, which allow child-raising women to exchange ideas without having to leave the house.
Digital Domain

Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War

By RANDALL STROSS
Several publishers have barred libraries from buying their e-books, saying that allowing unlimited e-reading isn't a sustainable business model. But one publisher is trying a different approach.
Corner Office | Ori Hadomi

Every Team Should Have a Devil's Advocate

By ADAM BRYANT
Ori Hadomi, the chief executive of Mazor Robotics, an Israeli medical technology company, says businesses run the risk of becoming too optimistic, so it's important for someone to ask critical questions.
SPORTS
Giants 29, Jets 14

Stating Their Case and Silencing Jets

By BEN SHPIGEL
The Jets saw the Giants as an obstacle to the playoffs and the Super Bowl, but Saturday's game showed a much bigger impediment stands in their way: the Jets themselves.
Analysis

A Look at Who's on Top as the Season Wraps Up

By JUDY BATTISTA
Saturday's games set up several matchups that will decide who makes the playoffs or determine playoff positioning.
Off the Dribble

Which Teams Will Have the Stamina for a 66-Game Sprint?

By BENJAMIN HOFFMAN
After a prolonged lockout, the N.B.A. returns on Christmas Day with what promises to be a 66-game regular-season sprint to the playoffs.
ARTS
Dance

Hard to Grasp, but Harder to Say Farewell

By ALASTAIR MACAULAY
Two years after Merce Cunningham's death, his dance company will give its final performance on New Year's Eve.
Movies

Streep Dons Thatcher's Armor

By CHARLES McGRATH
When offered the role of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," Meryl Streep explained, "To say, 'No, I'm not interested' would just be ridiculous. There is no other opportunity like it."
Movies

New Directors Flesh Out Black America, All of It

By NELSON GEORGE
"Pariah," a movie about black lesbians, is part of a mini-movement of young black filmmakers telling stories that complicate assumptions about what "black film" can be.
NEW YORK / REGION

Nice View, and the Profits Surpass All Horizons

By CHARLES V. BAGLI
A rare glimpse of the Empire State Building's balance sheet illustrates how observatories have become moneymakers for tall office buildings.

The Bank Around the Corner

By ALAN FEUER
The Bank of Cattaraugus, New York State's smallest bank by asset size, plays an outsize role in a village of 950.

Via YouTube, Leading Tours of the City's Art Scene

By JED LIPINSKI
Loren Munk, using the pseudonym James Kalm, has made videos viewed nearly two million times.
MAGAZINE

The Lives They Lived

The Lives They Lived is not a greatest-hits issue. Instead, we gravitated to those lives with an untold tale.

Reality-TV Stars

By JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN
Mike Starr, b. 1966, Jeff Conaway, b. 1950, Ryan Dunn, b. 1977 and Russell Armstrong, b. 1963.

Ruth Stone, b. 1915

By PHILIP LEVINE
We have never had an effective means to discover the best poets among us, and Ruth never learned how to play the game.
EDITORIALS
Editorial

Deportation Without Representation

A new report reveals a severe shortage of competent legal assistance for tens of thousands of people held in immigration detention.
Editorial

Injustice in Murder Cases

A new study concludes that defendants with court-appointed lawyers often get inadequate counsel and are vulnerable to greater punishment.
Editorial

Verizon's Worrisome Cable Deals

AT&T's decision to drop its bid for T-Mobile is a victory for consumers. But a look at recent agreements made by Verizon suggests the battle to defend competition in telecommunications is hardly over.
SUNDAY REVIEW
Op-Ed Columnist

Silent Night? Not With Us

By FRANK BRUNI
What says Christmas to me is a chorus of voices, all talking at once.
Op-Ed Columnist

A Victorian Christmas

By MAUREEN DOWD
Long before Newt Gingrich's counterfactual novels and Dickensian proposals, Dickens himself was brilliantly exploring "what ifs" and class inequities.
Op-Ed Columnist

The Cratchit Tax Credit

By ROSS DOUTHAT
What a stressed-out mom and dad really want for Christmas is some help.
ON THIS DAY
On Dec. 25, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev went on TV to announce his resignation as the eighth and final leader of a Communist superpower that had already gone out of existence.