What’s Important in the Financial World (5/10/1012) German Export Record, Oil Drops to $97

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Oil has passed $97 on its way down to what some analysts believe will be $90 or less. That would be a reset of more than 15% over two months. The worry about a battle with Iran over crude sanctions is almost forgotten. So is the belief that a drop in refinery capacity will keep gasoline prices higher. And those prices, based on the average price of a gallon of regular nationwide, have backed down toward $3.75 after a failure to reach a predicted peak above $4. Oil traders, in some large number, think that large supplies of gas in the United States and a drop in demand for crude in economically crippled Europe will press prices down even more. That shows how fast conventional wisdom can change.

Proview vs. Apple

Chinese-based Proview Electronics continues to contend that it was bilked out of the iPad name by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). The firm says Apple should have paid it much more for the trademark than the U.S. company did. The legal fight over the issue, which started in China’s courts, moved to the United States. The decision from a judge here was much quicker than one that is still uncertain in the People’s Republic. Proview filed a suit in California superior court three months ago. The court threw the case out because Apple and Proview had agreed to settle legal contests in Hong Kong. That apparently means the disagreement will move to a third venue.

Board Shakeups

Corporate governance, which is a subject often debated but usually in abstract, has moved to the front pages. Patti Hart, the Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) director who was in charge of the search for new CEO Scott Thompson, will leave the board. Thompson has a misleading section in his CV that suggests he has a degree he does not. A special committee of Yahoo! directors, all of whom were added this year, will decide whether Thompson should be fired. On the same day that Hart left, the chairman and founder of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR) lost his job at the head of the board. His fellow board members forced Robert Stiller step down because he made stock sales during a period when the activity was prohibited. Stiller had to make the sales. When the firm’s stock dropped almost 50%, he received margin calls because of borrowing against the shares. William Davis, the lead director, was kicked out of his job because of stock sales. Both men will stay on the board, but they will not be members of any committees. The same day that both the Yahoo! and Green Mountain changes were disclosed, Reuters produced evidence that the board of embattled Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) allowed a large number of private plane flights by directors and officers. This comes on top of allegations of self-dealing by CEO Aubrey McClendon, who personally invested in a number of wells drilled by Chesapeake.

German Exports/Imports

Even though much of Europe is crumbling around it, Germany posted recent highs for both imports and exports in March. Demand from the U.S. and developing markets must be good. The topline numbers in the report indicated that was the case. Many of Germany’s neighbors are nearly bankrupt. Germany’s federal statistics bureau reported:

Germany exported commodities to the value of Euro 98.9 billion and imported commodities to the value of Euro 81.5 billion in March 2012. As further reported by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on the basis of provisional data, these were the highest monthly figures ever recorded for exports and imports (both previous all-time highs recorded in March 2011). Compared with March 2011, German exports increased by 0.7% and imports by 2.6% in March 2012. Upon calendar and seasonal adjustment, exports increased by 0.9% and imports by 1.2% compared with February 2012.

Douglas A. McIntyre