What’s Important in the Financial World (12/19/2012)

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German Business Climate

The business climate in Germany reversed a bit last month after several months of decline. The news comes as a surprise as the balance of the continent slips into recession. According to Ifo:

The Ifo Business Climate Index for German industry and trade rose again. While companies as-sessed their current business situation as somewhat less favourable than last month, they were considerably less pessimistic about future business developments. As the year draws to a close, German companies are more confident about the future.

In manufacturing the business climate continued to brighten. Companies assessed their current business situation slightly less favourably than last month, but they are far more optimistic about the future than previously. Business expectations showed their sharpest increase since August 2009. Export expectations also continued to improve.

The business climate indicator weakened at both levels of trade. In both wholesaling and retailing survey participants were less satisfied with their current business situation and somewhat more sceptical about future developments.

In construction the business climate index continued to rise in December. While companies were more cautious in their assessments of the current business situation, they were far more optimistic about the next six months.

SEC and TheStreet.com

Securities and Exchange Commission problems with TheStreet Inc. (NASDAQ: TST) were worse than previously reported — much worse. According to the New York Post:

TheStreet.com and three former executives settled a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into accounting fraud at the company yesterday.

The SEC said the fraud occurred from 2008 to 2009 while slapstick CNBC stock picker Jim Cramer served as chairman of the financial website.

The SEC’s lawsuit claims the accounting fraud was aimed at making Cramer’s online darling at the time appear more successful.

In settling the troublesome probe, TheStreet.com didn’t admit or deny any guilt.

Cramer was not named in the suit.

The SEC said three former executives — ex-CFO Eric Ashman and former co-presidents Gregg Alwine and David Barnett — concocted fake sales contracts using crude cut-and-paste forged documents that were shuffled back and forth among several unidentified counterparties to give an appearance of growth and profits.

“Alwine and Barnett used crooked tactics, Ashman ignored basic accounting rules, and TheStreet failed to put controls in place to spot the wrongdoing,” said Andrew Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York office.

Martha Stewart CEO to Resign

The train wreck that is Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (NYSE: MSO) continued as the firm probably will dump its new chief executive. The New York Post reports:

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia CEO Lisa Gersh is expected to announce her resignation, possibly as early as this week, just five months after she was elevated to the top job.

The struggling company is said to be weighing a new strategy in an attempt to transform itself into one more focused on merchandising across a range of products.

For months, there also has been talk of tension between Gersh, an experienced media executive, and the company’s namesake founder and chief creative officer.

Stewart was said to crave broad television exposure and was upset in January when the Hallmark Channel ended her daily talk show.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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