What’s Important in the Financial World (4/25/2012) India Downgrade, Facebook Prospects

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Comscore released its list of the 50 largest U.S. websites for March based on unique visitors. The top of the list has not changed. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) sites are still in first place with almost 190 million unique visitors. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) sites are in second place with 179 million, followed closely by Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO). Two things stand out. The first is that Facebook’s rise has slowed considerably. It is still well behind the leaders with its 159 million visitors. There have been concerns ahead of Facebook’s initial public offering that both its audience and revenue growth have slowed. The Comscore data seems to confirm that, at least about its visitors. The other number that stands out is Yahoo!’s, which is particularly large. That size is some proof that, if the portal company can be better managed, it has enough online heft to be more successful.

The Apple Effect

Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) extraordinary earnings almost certainly will help lift the U.S. stock markets. They may be a false positive as far as earnings and prospects for most other tech companies are concerned. Apple’s position in the consumer products universe remains singular, and to assume that its numbers mean anything for most of the balance of the tech industry or American economy is a mistake. Even people with the most modest discretionary income appear ready to spend that income on Apple products. The observation has been made often that Apple’s effect on the movement of the Nasdaq is too large for the index to be a useful measurement of the prospects of its members. The same holds true for any measure of the prospects of almost all other U.S. public companies.

Dueling Billionaire Indexes

The “billionaire index” business has gotten out of control. Bloomberg poached staff from Forbes, the traditional media outlet for the wealth of the super-rich through its Forbes 400 and other reports. Bloomberg believed it could best Forbes with a “real-time” version of billionaire wealth. The basis of the measurement was absurd from the start. It is possible to track holdings in public companies. However, the value of assets like real estate and private company stakes is impossible to measure regularly and even, in some cases, annually. Forbes has tried to flank the new Bloomberg index with one of its own. It launched its Forbes Real-Time Rich List yesterday. Perhaps the next move will be real-time measurement of sports team and brand values.

China and India

The belief that the most rapidly growing developing nations can sustain rapid economic improvement and GDP expansion received another blow. China’s gross domestic product already has begun to slow, the most visible indication of the trend. And S&P downgraded its outlook for India.

Moody’s noted:

We are revising the outlook on the long-term ratings on India to negative to reflect at least a one-in-three likelihood of a downgrade if the external position continues to deteriorate, growth prospects diminish, or progress on fiscal reforms remains slow.

The caution shares something else common to concerns with China. Fiscal reforms in the People’s Republic have been slow, although there are signs it may revise how its sets the value of its currency and finances its banks. A full downgrade of India would be a sign that much of the developed world has moved toward the slowdown that already exists elsewhere.

Douglas A. McIntyre