Conspiracy theorists had a field day yesterday with the shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange, the grounding of United Airlines, and the disappearance of the Wall Street Journal home page. All three appear to be what my friends at MarketWatch called “black squirrel” events.
But you don’t need conspiracy theories to get panicked about cyber threats. As more information emerges about the Chinese hack into the government’s Office of Personnel Management, it is becoming clear this was the greatest act of espionage in the history of spying. The hackers walked away with many millions of personnel records including government background investigations dating back 20 years that contain the most embarrassing details of the lives of top government officials. FBI Director James Comey yesterday said his files were among those hacked in this “enormous breach.” Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said U.S. Officials “are simply not prepared at this point to identify” who carried out the attack, and added: “I don’t know that we necessarily need to put the label ‘act of war’ on something in order to respond proportionately to it. But I do believe proportional responses are appropriate.”
Also in yesterday’s news, the Chinese discovered how to stop a stock market slide: ban selling.
• NYSE shut down for nearly 4 hours
The big news of the day yesterday was that the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading for several hours in the biggest outage to hit a U.S. financial market in nearly two years, an outage that was planned on an internal technical issue and not the result of a cyberattack. There was a moment in the morning where everything appeared on edge, as unrelated technical snafus also grounded United Airlines flights and sidelined the Wall Street Journal’s website, though all of those incidents were unrelated. Reuters
• The Fed is worried about Greece
While U.S. investors have been relatively calm about the problems in Greece, the Federal Reserve is worried the nation’s potential exit from the euro could disrupt financial markets here in the states. The main worry was that a Greek excit could hurt markets in th e “euro area,” with potential spillover into the U.S. European leaders have given Greece until Sunday to come up with a plan to please its creditors. Fortune
• China stocks bounce back
China’s stock markets have bounced back on Thursday, though it remains to be seen if this is a temporary reprieve or the start of a stabilization. A crisis that saw China’s mainland stocks lose more than a quarter of their value since the middle of June led the nation’s stock exchange regulator to impose severe limits on share selling. Some analysts say it is too early to tell if the rout is over, pointing out about half of all China-listed firms have stopped trading. The Guardian
• Earnings seasons kicks off with a miss
It is debatable if aluminum maker Alcoa’s results truly set the tone for an earnings season (the company isn’t even a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average these days). But it is undeniable that investors closely watch the company’s results, as it is the first Standard & Poor’s 500 company to issue an earnings report. Results for the quarter missed, though expectations for the second quarter are already low. S&P 500 earnings are predicted to drop more than 4%, the worst showing since 2009. USA Today
• Nokia deal looks like a dud
It would be hard for any executive to justify a $7.2 billion acquisition that 18 months later resulted in 7,800 layoffs, millions in restructuring charges and a $7.6 billion impairment charge. That’s what Microsoft has faced as it took an axe to the deal for Nokia’s devices and services business. That deal was steered by former CEO Steve Ballmer and the question remains what can current chief executive Satya Nadella do to execute in areas (like mobile phones) where his predecessor did not. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Gross missed China short trade
Money manager Bill Gross, who recommended shorting the Chinese stock market last month before it took a deep dive, didn’t actually execute the trade. He instead chose to wager against both the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and emerging market currencies that would be affected by falling stocks in China, trades he said have worked. “Obviously I wish I’d shorted a bunch of shares but that’s the bane of the portfolio manager: never happy,” Gross said. Bloomberg
• Hawaii noncompete ban falls short
Hawaii has become only the fourth state to restrict noncompete policies in the U.S., controversial agreements in employment contracts that prevent employees from working for rivals in their next jobs. But there is a glitch here: the ban in Hawaii only applies to tech workers; everyone else can still be bound by the agreements. But tech workers aren’t the only ones being subjected to noncompetes, which exist in a variety of industries. Fortune
• Cerberus set up for big pay day
A decadelong investment in the supermarket business could yield a big payoff for private-equity owner Cerberus Capital Management LP. Grocery store giant Albertsons Cos. has filed plans to go public and while it isn’t clear what price the banks will pitch, if valued in line with how Kroger is valued, the company would have a market capitalization of about $16.5 billion. That would be a big win for Cerberus, as Albertsons was put together for about $9 billion at the time of the deals. WSJ (subscription required)
• The $100 disparity across the U.S.
Most readers wouldn’t be surprised to learn that $100 in New York is not the same as the same amount of money in Nebraska. An analysis by the Tax Foundation sought to quantify just how far $100 would get you across the 50 states, with areas like Mississippi, South Dakota and Arkansas among the states that fared the best. $100 was least valuable in states with high costs of living, including California, New York and New Jersey. Fortune