After bailouts, I'm going to Disney
Wake up and good morning. After a harrowing week like this one, let's go right to the dessert. A freebie at Disney. Next year, everyone will be able to visit a Walt Disney World theme park on his or her birthday and get in free. Disney's 2009 national promotional campaign -- "What will you celebrate?" -- says that anyone showing up with a valid ID including proof of birth date will get a free ticket on that date in 2009 for one of the theme parks at Orlando's Disney World or at Disneyland in California. And the best part? You don't even have to buy an investment bank from the federal government!
That could be cheering for all those folks who bought Florida McMansions and are starting to face the threat of foreclosures. The Wall Street Journal today features million-dollar plus homes in Sarasota, Bradenton and even Lakewood Ranch in an interesting trend story about the housing crisis spreading to many luxury neighborhoods. Here's the story's key data. According to RealtyTrac, the number of homes valued at more than $1-million that are in some stage of foreclosure has swelled to 7,968 between January and August. That compares with 4,214 during the same period last year. The number of $2-million-plus homes in the process of foreclosure has grown even faster, surging to 499 in the year-to-date compared with 201 for the same period last year. The owners usually fall into one of three categories: executives who lost their jobs, homeowners who traded up to a larger house but couldn't sell their first, and speculators and flippers.
A quirky little Central American item here worth noting. TECO Energy, which owns Tampa Electric and People's Gas, also happens to own a piece of an energy business operating in Guatemala. That little unit generally does fine and operates off the mainstream radar. Well, TECO recently noted in an SEC filing that Guatemalan regulators lowered tariffs last month, which will hurt the unit's earnings.
Finally, let's end the morning wake-up posting with a sigh of relief that the Securities and Exchange Commission -- seemingly in a coma this year as the financial markets crumbled about it -- is now doing something right. Prodded by smarter parts of the federal world and by the outcry of targeted corporations, U.S. financial regulators this morning slapped a two-week ban on short-selling the stocks of 799 financial companies. As reported by the Washington Post and elaborated upon by a Wall Street Journal blog and the New York Times, the ban creates a firewall against a practice blamed for undermining the health of banks, brokerages, insurance companies and other firms. This bodes well, folks, for Friday's markets. It's been the claim of many this week that unnamed short sellers (read "hedge funds") have been a key culprit for the dangerous and irrational stock drops of many major financial institutions. The SEC move, assisted by similar steps in other international markets, is helping spark stock markets around the world. We can only hope it's this easy to stop the madness.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist