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Top links: Share buybacks stir controversy

A roundup of what The Globe and Mail's market strategist Scott Barlow is reading this morning on the World Wide Web.

Angelo Mozilo, bizarrely-hued former CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp, provided a handy scapegoat for investors looking to pin responsibility for the financial crisis on specific people. Countrywide was a famously aggressive mortgage lender in the years leading up to 2007, and Bank of America, which purchased the firm, has been fined tens of millions of dollars because of Countrywide's practices.

But in an extensive interview with Bloomberg's Max Abelson, Mr. Mozilo appears confused as to why anyone would assign him the role of villain, " 'No, no, no, we didn't do anything wrong,' he said, adding that a real estate collapse was the root of the crisis. 'Countrywide or Mozilo didn't cause any of that.' "

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"Angelo Mozilo speaks: No villainy at Countrywide" – Abelson, Bloomberg

Josh Brown, an investment adviser, prominent blogger and frequent guest on CNBC's Fast Money, highlighted a University of Massachusetts study suggesting that share buybacks are ruining the American economy. Economics professor William Lazonick argues that share repurchases are diverting funds that should be used for corporate investment.

I have issues with the study's conclusions, specifically that if investment in more capacity offered a better return than buybacks, then there'd be more investment. The problem is slow demand and existing excess production capacity. Why invest in making more widgets when you can't sell all the ones you make now?

"How corporate share buybacks are destroying America" – Brown, Reformed Broker

It's a day late for Labour Day, but the Harvard Business Review published a study on global organized labour with some stunning statistics, notably that the percentage of unionized employees is lower in France than in the United States.

The primary focus of the report surrounds the broader economic and social changes brought about by the decline in private sector unions. There is the obvious – unions no longer affect broader wage growth – but the report also highlights the effects on the political influence of lower income Americans.

"What unions no longer do" – HBR blog

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The fracking process has resulted in a bull market in sand, according to Bloomberg. This is an excellent example of how peripheral plays on an investment theme – in this case, investing in sand providers instead of the actual drilling companies – can be an extremely profitable investing strategy.

"Sand means gold as U.S. fracking demand booms: Chart of the day " – Bloomberg

Tweet of the day is from Business Insider's @thestalwart, "Here's the Goldman Sachs forecast for just about everything.

Diversion: (h/t @jestei) A major medical study certain to spark controversy suggests Atkins had it right.

"A call for a low carb diet" – New York Times

Follow Scott Barlow on Twitter @SBarlow_ROB

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About the Author
Market Strategist

Scott Barlow is The Globe's in-house market strategist. He is a 20-year veteran of Canadian investment banks, including Merrill Lynch Canada, CIBC Wood Gundy and Macquarie Private Wealth (MPW). He was a highly ranked mutual fund analyst for 10 years and then, most recently, the head of a financial adviser support team at MPW. More


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