(The headline for this post was corrected at 1:55 p.m.)
Blackstone Group had a bad first quarter. Just how bad? Take your pick from The Wall Street Journal and the two Timeses, which use different numbers. The WSJ says the private-equity firm swung to a $250 million loss in the first quarter as its revenue plummeted 95 percent, while noting its “economic net income” was $66.5 million. The New York Times and the Financial Times just use the $66.5 million number, which excludes taxes and some compensation costs.
Both Times don’t even tell readers what number they’re using or (unlike the WSJ) that it doesn’t include some pretty basic corporate costs—they’re taking Blackstone’s financial spin at face value: “Economic net income” is not part of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Check out this Reuters take from a year ago. The Journal mentions the number, but emphasizes the real one and describes the Blackstone-promoted number so that readers know what the company’s up to. Bloomberg also uses the Blackstone-approved number as its lead, though it notes the net income results several paragraphs into its story.
The WSJ says the poor results are the latest in a line of them from newly public private-equity firms.
The FT in a separate story fronts news from the securities filing that Blackstone is considering buying back some of the commercial real estate it flipped for record prices last year, something the Journal and the NYT both miss. The FT says Blackstone may buy some of the $7 billion worth of buildings it sold the now-defaulted Harry Macklowe, a private landlord, or the $3 billion it sold Maguire Properties, a public real-estate company—or buy some of the debt attached to the buildings.
ANB under the microscope
The Journal takes a look on its Money & Investing cover at ANB Financial, which last Friday was shut down by the feds because of its “unsafe and unsound” lending practices. Basically, the Little Rock bank shoveled out loans to just about anybody who wanted to build houses. More than 75 percent of its loan portfolio was in construction and development, the WSJ says, comparing it to a more-restrained bank that has just 5.5 percent in the same areas.
The bust is reverberating as a sign of turmoil at many small and medium-size banks throughout the U.S. that pinned huge hopes, and capital, on the housing boom.
Delinquencies and charge-offs are rising at lenders that barreled into real-estate loans but now are feeling a double whammy of the housing slump and credit crunch. Regulators are bracing for more failures. Even banks in no danger of collapse will need years to slog through their lending mistakes.
The bank was the second-largest to fail in the last seven years and will cost the FDIC $214 million.
A bucket of bad economic news
In economic news, the manufacturing downturn weakened more than expected in April. Industrial production fell 0.7 percent, more than double what economists had expected, Bloomberg reports.
“There is no question about whether or not there is a recession in manufacturing—there is,” said Michael Gregory, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, who correctly anticipated the drop in industrial production. “Housing is in deep recession and manufacturing is in a shallow one.”
The Journal in its A3 headline says the news and a weak showing by employment yesterday “add to recession worries.” New jobless claims edged up by 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 371,000. Continuing claims hit a new four-year high.
A homebuilders’ sentiment gauge dipped and the Journal’s Ahead of the Tape column says it shows economists may be out to lunch on their predictions that homebuilding will hit bottom later this year. The gauge measures sentiment about sales over the next six months and it was the first time it had dipped since December. It quotes at least one economist who gets it, and he’s with the industry:
“There are forces out there that suggest that things could spiral downward for some time to come,” says David Seiders, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders.
Fannie and Freddie ease down-payment policies
Jumping off into other housing news, the Journal says on A3 that Fannie Mae is “scrapping” a policy to require higher down-payments in hard-hit housing areas after coming under pressure from the NAHB, the National Association of Realtors, and others who say it would eliminate too many buyers and exacerbate the bust.