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U.S. Prosecutors Poised to File Criminal Charges in BP Deepwater Disaster; National Mood in Greece Grim; Plight of Poor Largely Ignored

Aired December 29, 2011 - 14:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The headlines this evening, unlucky number seven. Italy sees its yields rise as investors demand more money.

And oil disaster from 2010 sent a spill into 2012. Prosecutors may be ready to pounce on BP.

And no tomorrow for Samoa; the island skips a day. Tonight on this program, the Samoan prime minister.

I'm Richard Quest. I mean business.

Good evening.

Tonight investors are still looking for progress from Italy. On Thursday they waited to see if is consigning its debt crisis to the past, with a bond auction. It was at the short end, very short-dated bonds. Now, another sale of bonds turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. It could have been considerably worse.

Join me in the library and I'll show you what I mean. The Italian debt sale with the auction of two sets of bonds this time. Having done the very short-dated notes or bills, yesterday, just six months. Now they were going for two years and 10-years. They raised about $9 billion less than the maximum target. More than $3 billion of it came from selling the 10- year bonds.

When you look, though, at what yield was paid, the notes paid 6.98 percent, that is on the 10-year. It is less than the record of 7.5. It is still way too close to the 7 percent that is believed to be the danger zone of sustainability. Most people believe 7 percent, judging by the history of Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Once the bonds get to 7 percent they are in trouble.

The other thing that was also of interest, as you look at the totality of the debt sale, was what we call the cover. That is the number-the amount of demand, that there was for the bonds on sale. Now good cover is usually twice as many people wanting to buy than there are available. This-and in some cases the cover was non-existent. They didn't sell all the bonds. And in other cases they only just got some of it away.

The euro did suffer, not surprisingly as a result. The muted bond sale reignited worries, it sparked a sell off down to a 17-month low, against the U.S. dollar, the pound at 153.86. And the yen, the euro/yen rate has also been extremely volatile of late.

European markets also ended the session there were gains in London, Frankfurt and Paris. Gains of 1 percent, which all things considered, ain't that bad. But I think what you see is that the MIB Tel in Italy, just now-it only fell 0.3 of 1 percentage point. But put that into the context of a market where the big three were also rising and you see that it was getting worse. That it was much worse situation than perhaps first thought.

Mario Monti, the new Italian prime minister, told reporters in Rome about his push for unity in 2012.


MARIO MONTI, PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY (through translator): The problems that the markets have today are primarily problems of a European nature and therefore a common solution needs to be found, one that is unified and firm. This solution could not even have begun to have been found within Europe, the responsible authority, if Italy, the third largest economy within Europe had not got is public accounts under control.


QUEST: One thing Italy's prime minister does not like is haste. Mr. Monti stressed he is not keen on a mad rush to achieve economic growth.


MONTI (through translator): Time is still going at a fairly fast rate and we are not allowed to work calmly. And then we hope that Europe will wait on us with additional measures taken, and are scheduled to be presented to the Euro group on the 23rd of January. And then to the European council on the 30th of January. And also it in view of these deadlines that we work.


QUEST: Bob Parker is the senior advisor at Credit Suisse. He joined me earlier and discussed why he is still worried about Italy, even in the wake of Wednesday's successful bond auction, which perhaps is a distant memory.


BOB PARKER, SENIOR ADVISOR, CREDIT SUISSE: Yesterday, frankly, I don't think was a very good guide, because it was just a six-months bill auction. Yes, the yields came down, very sharply indeed, to about 3.5 percent. Yes, there was strong demand. But a six-months bill auction is totally different from auctioning a 10-year bond issue.

The 10-year bond issue, the positive news is that the yield edged down below 7 percent. And there was a market fear that the yields could have spiraled up to 7.2, 7.3. So that is the positive. The negative was that the demand for the auction, what we call in our jargon, the cover ratio, was actually fairly mediocre.

QUEST: Right, if you factor that to the fact that next year, there is at least a 300 or 400 billion refinancing requirement, should we still be concerned?

PARKER: The answer is we should be concerned for a number of reasons. The positive is that Italy's maturity of its debt is long, at over six years. But a lot of the debt comes up in March and April. That is going to be a testing period for Italy as to whether they can refinance that maturing debt.

The other concern, which worries investors, investors don't like political uncertainty. And whereas in Spain we have a strong popular mandate for the new government, in Italy we have a technocrat government, we don't know whether it can maintain parliamentary support.

QUEST: Of course it is cause and effect, isn't it? If rates weren't so high, then Italy wouldn't so insolvent, basically. If rates had stayed where they were, down in the nice low, 2s, 3s and 4s, we wouldn't have this problem.

PARKER: Well, compared Italy with Japan. Now Japan has $12 trillion U.S. of debt. Italy, in dollar terms, has about $2.2 trillion. But for the Japanese they are refinancing themselves with their 10-year yield, less than 1 percent. So, you know, when you have a lot of debt refinancing yourself at very low yields, frankly the problem goes away.

QUEST: Look to next year for me. As we start the new year where should be balanced on our portfolios?

PARKER: Well, first point is equities are cheap relative to all asset classes whether it e commodities, whether it be bonds, whether it be money markets. Money markets, you are not going to earn anything next year. Yields will stay very low indeed. So I think the downside risk from here, on global equity markets, is very small.

QUEST: You say that, Bob, but capital preservation is that still not the name of the game?

PARKER: Yes, I think it is. But I think the risk next year that not that investors are going to have negative surprises, I think they have factored in far too much negative news. And I think as the year progresses, you are going to see capital flows out of bond markets, gradually-and I emphasize the word "gradually"-back into equity markets.

And if you look at dividend yields on large-cap, global companies they are very high, relative to bond yields.


QUEST: Bob Parker of Credit Suisse Asset Management.

Like Italy, this is the year when Greece got a government that no one elected and political upheaval was only part of the story in 2011. CNN's Diana Magnay now shows us the tumultuous year for a country that seethes behind the headlines of the Eurozone crisis.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): There is the Greece you read about, this financial vortex threatening to suck Europe down with it. An endless stream of headlines about targets not being met. About the latest austerity measures not being enough. And then there is the Greece you see when you go there. The fate of the people living in this crucible of debt.

Their situation is often overshadowed by the violence that tends to accompany the numerous days of strike action. The pitched battles between police and small groups of protestors dressed in black, the tear gas in the air.

But there is one image that will stay with me from this year. And that was when the people on the street suddenly started fighting each other.

(On camera): There you have the black lot throwing flares at the unions and the unions who want this to be their day of demonstrations, trying to force them away.

(voice over): Pitched battles between these two groups, unions desperate this small group of anarchists from hijacking their demonstration. Images that actually never made it onto international TV because that was the day that Moammar Gadhafi was caught and killed in Libya; everything else fell off the news agenda.

(On camera): Each time I go to Greece, I get the sense that the noose around the neck of the Greek people is getting tighter and tighter, especially around the poor and the middle class. And there is a very real sense of injustice, that the rich stay rich, that this entrenched system of political patronage underscoring the lives of the privileged remains in place and the people who can least afford it are the ones who are having it to pay.

And this year, of course, we saw a technocrat brought to replace George Papandreou. Lucas Papademos, an economist, possibly someone who is better equipped than anyone else to steer Greece through this crisis, at least until elections in February. But it is an indictment on the political class in Greece, the political class in Italy, also, that it should be a non-elected, financial specialist, rather than politicians who were brought in to try and resolve the problems, the financial problems in both of those countries.

(voice over): One more thought, as a correspondent based in Germany, the Greek people feel very aggrieved about the image that they feel is being portrayed about them internationally. That they are lazy, that they are not doing their bit to try and resolve this crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not lazy. We are not lazy. I'm 62 years old and I have been working 120 years, 120 years. The Germans and Mrs. uh, whatever her name?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merkel. We are not lazy. They are lazy. They take our blood.

MAGNAY (on camera): Last time I was there I told a taxi driver that I was German, just to see what his reaction would be. And he said that I wasn't welcome there anymore. You see magazine front covers with a picture of the Acropolis and a swastika behind it, and Angela Merkel's face super- imposed. There is this incredible resentment, a people who are scared of their future, lashing out at the hand that, whether they like it or not, is feeding them.


QUEST: Our Correspondent Diana Magnay, who has spent so much time reporting from Greece during the course of the year, and her perspective, her reporter's reflection on the year.

In a moment, after this very short break, BP is trying to move on from the worst environmental disaster in maritime history. We will show you why its efforts to clean up the past may become a lot harder as U.S. prosecutors enter the picture.


QUEST: There may soon be criminal charges to be filed over the worst offshore oil spill in history. According to "The Wall Street Journal" prosecutors have weighing felony charges against BP employees, part of Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf of Mexico.

The charges would represent a serious step back for the oil giant, which has been trying to move on from the dark days of the spring in 2010. Felicia Taylor is in New York.

Felicia, now, this is-this is really-this is the last thing. They may have known it was coming, but BP, this is the last thing they would want to. They have solved, or they are sorting out the clean up. They have got the trust fund. They are getting contributions from other people who may have been involved. And now, bingo, criminal charges.

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These charges haven't actually been filed yet. And their focusing on a number of engineers and one executive, so it is against the individuals, not against BP. However, there could be criminal charges against BP for its violation of the Clean-I think it is the Clean Water Act, but that hasn't happened yet either.

So what's going on here is that the question is whether or not these individuals provided falsified documents, or incorrect documents with regards to the margins of pressure that were surrounding the oil, the oil well, and the drilling around that. So that is the question, because there we amended documents. So did they go back and find new information amend those documents and file them with the regulators. So that is the problem. And that is what they are questioning.

Now, I spoke to an expert earlier who said, you know, that while it is difficult to prove criminal intent, because that is the key here. Did they have any criminal intent that nevertheless was a pattern of negligence? Take a listen.


BOB DEANS, NATIONAL RESOURCE DEFENSE COUNCIL: Well, intent is a difficult thing to prove and it is something that courts and legal professionals, other than myself, will make the decision on. But what we did have was a very clear pattern from the design of the well, to the way it was drilled, to the operations being performed in those final hours when they were trying to seal the well. Time and time again, decision were made that saved the company money, that saved the company time, when the safer thing to do would have been a different course of action. That is what the court has to look at in assessing intent.


TAYLOR: Now, federal regulators don't define what is actually the margin of safety, but however, if you file those papers and you are alleging a certain margin of safety.

QUEST: Right.

TAYLOR: In terms of the pressure, then if anything changes, you are obligated as a company to alert officials and suspend any further work.

Now, I also spoke to a trader, at the-in the oil pits-and he said from their perspective this has absolutely no effect on the stock, and indeed the stock is up about a third of 1 percent today.

Because going forward, they are not going to stop drilling in the Gulf. They have already started to lift restrictions in the Gulf to permit BP to go back in there and continue its operations in the Gulf of Mexico. There is no doubt that they caused a massive havoc. There is 350 civil cases so far. And as you mentioned, they have set up, I think it is $20 billion in the fund.

QUEST: In all of this, as I was introducing you, and I talked about all of various different things, I was slightly remiss in this, because whilst criminal proceedings may be-this really is not just about money. People died in Deepwater Horizon.


QUEST: And tend to-I mean, I-maybe you don't tend to-but one does tend to sometimes forget, because the sums of money involved are so huge, that lives were lost.

TAYLOR: Absolutely. Eleven people were killed. And thousands of people lost their jobs. And there was an enormous amount of damage done to the coastline there, and to the wildlife, and to the ocean itself. Of course, but that is where the civil cases are coming. And there is no doubt that they are going to have to compensate for that. And they have already begun to do that.

QUEST: Right.

TAYLOR: But the problem with criminal intent is that it is so hard to prove. Did they want, or intend for this to actually happen? And you know that is going to be up to the courts to decide. But this is going to be going on for a long time to come.

The courts are going to be looking at three different levels of different cases as to whether or not they did the proper thing with regards to cleaning up this spill. So this is going to go on for a long time.

QUEST: It's called the mens rea, long time since I was learning about mens rea, the "guilty mind", the intent, as lawyers would say. But there we are. Felicia Taylor, thought I'd just throw that in.

TAYLOR: You use such fancy language with me.


QUEST: You should hear what she replies. Yes, well, then I don't know why I just threw that in for a bit of crasher (ph), as they say.

The U.S., in the stocks, are rebounding nicely. Wednesday's losses- you can tell it is nearly the end of the year. A touch of anarchy seems to have broken out in the QUEST MEANS BUSINESS studio today. Luckily, Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange to bring us back under control.


Very, very light volumes, very little trading.


QUEST: Disproportionate movements?

KOSIK: Yes. Yes. Yes to all of the above, Richard. And in the midst of very little trading going on. We did get a final round of economic data for the year. Jobless claims are up 15,000 to 381,000. The reading coming in weaker than expected, but claims are staying well below that crucial 400,00 mark for the fourth week in a row. That is pretty good. Shows that there is a trend growing. That there is that slow but painfully slow improvement, but improvement nonetheless.

Also in the mix we got some reports on manufacturing and home sales, Richard, both coming better than expected. So as you can see, with the numbers, with the Dow up 110 points, investors, they haven't called it quits yet on 2011.

If we close Friday, at this point actually, the Dow would wind up finishing with modest gains. And the S&P 500 would finish slightly higher. I'm talking about for the year. But the Nasdaq would still end lower for the year, Richard.

QUEST: Will we be singing "Wait `Til the Sun Shines, Nelly" tomorrow? I know we do it on Christmas Eve. But I think we also do it on New Year Eve as well, don't we?

KOSIK: Yes. We do. We do. Are you going to-you're going to have it on your show, right?

QUEST: Of course, you'll be there to lead us in the communal singing.

KOSIK: Actually, I don't sing it.

QUEST: No, well.

KOSIK: I don't sing it, though. Gosh, I'll scare away your viewers.


QUEST: Pay her enough money and she'll sing. Alison Kosik, in New York. We thank you for that.

Something strange has been seen in Swedish forest. What has been spotted amid the Lapland pine trees? In a moment.


QUEST: I do like a hotel room that has a view. Now a Swedish hotelier has used his childhood passion for building tree houses to take the art to a whole new level. CNN's Neil Curry has been to Lapland and checked in to one of the world's unique hotels.


NEIL CURRY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If you go down to the woods today you are sure of a big surprise. For deep within this frozen forest lies something that seems to have landed from another galaxy, but this UFO is an Unidentified Furnished Object. It is a room at one of the world's most unusual hotels. And it is not the only object alien to this part of northern Sweden.

There is a giant bird's nest created from twigs and branches found within the forest. Guests enter the room via a retractable ladder. The cabin seems suspended in mid air. The blue cone is red, naturally. And then there is the mysterious mirror cube, which disappears within the reflection of its own surroundings.

Welcome to the TreeHotel and meet its co-founder Kent Lindvall.

KENT LINDVALL, CO-FOUNDER, TREEHOTEL: To use the tree and you must build something that can stay there 30,40 year. And it must be safe, also, even if it is windy or whatever.

CURRY: The root of the idea came five years ago, when a neighbor built a tree house for a Swedish documentary film. It inspired Kent Lindvall and his wife, Brita, to branch out from their traditional guest house into something entirely new. They recruited some of Sweden's top architects to design the tree houses.

SOPHIA LINDVALL, DAUGHTER: I always thought that, oh, this is another stupid idea. That they are never going to go on with, because they had so many ideas, quick (ph) ideas.

CURRY: Visitors have to leave their cars at the guest house and complete the journey to the rooms on foot.

S. LINDVALL: They check in and they are going to feel that they are leaving something behind and walking out into the nature, and to the forest.

K. LINDVALL: We build on living trees, so, what we have is like brackets around the tree. And then when the tree grows here in the forest, we open the bolts so we follow the growth of the tree. This level of the tree house will be exactly the same as a 100 year more. It is only the top of the tree that will grow.

CURRY: The Lindvalls hope to gradually expand from the current five to 24 rooms. And they are exploring joint ventures with other hotels, both at home, and abroad. Three hours north of the TreeHotel lies the Ice Hotel. Where visitors can sleep in a stylishly sculptured igloo and travelers in search of arctic accommodation are now combining both hotels on their journey, boosting tourism to this remote region.

S. LINDVALL: If you want to survive here you need to find your own way to earn money and everything. So maybe that gives us a little bit more creativity, just to survive.

CURRY (on camera): Standing in a Swedish forest, surrounded by a crazy collection of tree houses, there is something heartwarming about this place. Even in temperatures as low as minus 20. Neil Curry, CNN, Horrish (ph), Northern Sweden.


QUEST: So, if you still haven't booked your New Year's Eve party, the rooms are still available. You and your significant other, you could enjoy bed and breakfast and sample a tree sauna. Don't burn the thing down. 3,990 Swedish kroner, that is 4,000 for one night. That is roughly $580. And if you are-look at that, that is a UFO, the Bird's Nest, the Blue Cone, two adults and it includes breakfast.

Book the tickets, Mother. I'm on my way.

After the break, Friday on my mind, not if you live Samoa. Just ahead, the prime minister of the South Pacific Islands tells us why he's shifting time zones. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, good evening.




QUEST: Tonight, the people in the South Pacific country of Samoa will do something remarkable. Well, they'll fall asleep on Thursday and wake up two days later; and all because it makes economic sense. Samoa is out of sync with its two main trading partners and it is more than just the water that separates them from the Austral-Asia hub. So, Samoa is going to travel through time.

Or put it more properly, cross the International Dateline. Join me at the super screen and I'll show a bit of magic of my own.

So, here we have Samoa on the eastern side, or the U.S. side of the dateline. Now, currently, for the purposes of this demonstrations we are going to take it as being 9 p.m. when the change happens. The change actually happens at midnight. But the numbers work better to demonstrate it to you, if I show you.

Thursday at 9:00 p.m., OK? When it is Thursday at 9:00, in Samoa, across in Los Angeles, it is two hours later at 11:00 p.m., on Thursday, in LA. Thursday, Thursday, 11:00 p.m. However, it is already, if you see here, Friday, 6:00 p.m. in Sydney. So far so good.

So this is the scenario at the moment. You have Samoa on the eastern side, geographically further from LA but time zoned together. Geographically, closer to Sydney but much greater time zone difference. After today, Abracadabra, Zingabido, it will all change. The dateline has moved slightly. Samoa is now-look where Samoa is now. Samoa is now, just three hours ahead of Sydney and a whopping 21 hours behind Los Angeles.

How did it do it? Very simply. It just simply, moved the dateline. Simple move, but now, geographically-it remains, geographically the same, but it is now much closer on the chronology.

The newspaper "The Samoan Observer" says from the prime minister, "We've got to remember that over 90 percent of our people emigrate to New Zealand and Australia. And that is why it is absolutely vital to make this change," says the prime minister, in his defense of why they are doing it.

The chief exec of the phone company says, phones may be dead for up to 15 minutes as they sort things through. The prime minister is quite firm on why this is necessary. He joins me on the phone, now live, from the capital, up here. It is the prime minister.

Prime Minister, we can see the map. And we can see that it makes geographical sense. But you are doing this for economic reasons, as well, aren't you, primarily?

TUILAEPA A. S. MALIELEGAOI, PRIME MINISTER OF SAMOA: Yes, we are doing it for economic reasons and also for cultural reasons. Economically we can now have five working days a week to continue and sustain our economic and commercial contacts with our business partners in New Zealand and Australia, China, and Japan, and visa versa.

Presently, before the change, we only have four working days out of seven days a week.

QUEST: Now, as I look-


QUEST: As I looked at the history of this, Prime Minister, actually your country did used to be on the western side of the dateline, didn't it? It actually used to be on this side and it was only moved to the other side in the 1800s for trade reasons.

MALIELEGAOI: Yes, it was a very stupid reason, in 1892 to make that move. Because we also had very mutual trade contacts with American Samoa, which lies on our east.


MALIELEGAOI: Now with the movement of the International Dateline, the day will begin and the sun will rise in Western Samoa and set in Eastern Samoa, it is the reverse now.

QUEST: How have your people taken to this, because obviously a lot of debate took place. And it will be quite a moment tonight when you do make that shift. So, Prime Minister, finally, what is the mood like tonight in Samoa?

MALIELEGAOI: Well, enormously exciting. They are waiting and have been waiting for this change to take place. It is ridiculous that we did not have this earlier enough. And so our people are really looking forward to tonight's change of time zone.

QUEST: When it happens, Prime Minister, raise a glass say cheers and we wish you all the best for a smooth transition from the east to the west and to gain a day. Prime Minister, many thanks for joining us on the line.

It is, of course, in the morning at the moment in Somali. And I must tell you, dear viewer, that we have spent all day-and I mean all day, is it plus four or minus 21, plus seven, which way around the world does it go? If it is that time in Sydney, what time is it here? How long is this? Onward-it has taken forever. But we finally got it right.

Coming up after the break, the tears of a clown, for 25 years Grandma has been one of the stars of the New York's Big Apple Circus; the "World @ Work" this serious business of comedy.


QUEST: I just love that story on the dateline. Here's another one. One of New York's leading ladies is about to take a final curtsey. Barry Lubin, known throughout the city and beyond as Grandma, has wowed audience at the Big Apple Circus for 25 years. His tools are a wig, some DIY make up, and a bucket load of personality. It is not all gags and smile, though, Lubin is packing his trunk and saying good bye to the circus. He's off to Europe and Grandma is going with him. It's a big top swan song, it is part of today's "World @ Work".


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would like to take the pleasure to welcome you to the Big Apple Circus!

BARRY LUBIN, GRANDMA THE CLOWN, BIG APPLE CIRCUS: The circus is meant to just bring joy and happiness.

There is something about the circus where we are really regular people doing extraordinary things with our lives.

My name is Barry Lubin and I play the character, Grandma. I have been Grandma since 1982 with the Big Apple Circus. This character is a pleasure, so it is fun, but it's not easy. This is white grease paint. I put red make up on my own nose and I don't wear a rubber nose. And there it is.

The wig is very significant. And I think it makes me more beautiful, in so many different ways. Yes, I feel like a woman.


LUBIN: She has no taste. I love that about her.


LUBIN: I'm a man and she needs to acknowledge that sometimes.

Grandma is a kind of a compilation of my own two grandmothers who I loved dearly and knew very well. And also the senior citizens where I grew up, that I would observe.

When I walk out and I am dressed like a cow, and I have this kind of look like I can't believe they made me wear this costume, and the audience reaction to that. That is probably my favorite moment. But you know, tonight, during the show, I had a wonderful guy spitting water with me. And I had a great guy who I danced with in "Unforgettable".

It's top to bottom, a really fun show. It became clear that it was time to leave the Big Apple Circus, which has been my home for 25 years. To try out some other things in my life. I'm in love with a Swede. And she has younger children. And it really wasn't an option for her to move here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to miss you.

LUBIN: Oh, I'll be here the whole show.

And people say, yeah, I'm going to miss you. And I have to keep myself from, you know, crying. That is not exactly what they want. But really, I want to be clear with people and tell them how much I'll miss them, too.


LUBIN: You're very welcome. See you inside.

So, I'm walking away from the best gig in the world. I'll be 60 years old when I leave. When I close that suitcase, on that last show, Grandma and her bag, and her makeup will all be in there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

LUBIN: And I will continue traveling the world. And I will continue performing both here and abroad with the character. But there is no better place for a clown to exist than the Big Apple Circus.


QUEST: The circus.

Finally, a short "Profitable Moment", our dateline story. I have always been absolutely fascinated by the International Dateline. There is just something about the idea of traveling through time, especially if you are traveling from the Pacific countries, across to the United States, from Asia to the U.S. And suddenly, vavoom, a day just disappears.

I once famously actually claimed two per diems on my expenses. Two daily rates, I started on one day, I ended the same day. And guess what? CNN actually paid them both.

Here are the places you can get a hold of me if you want to. You can, of course, the e-mail, you can get the Twitter, @RichardQuest. And it is

That is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight. I'm Richard Quest. Whatever you are up to in the hours ahead, hope it is profitable. Marketplace Europe is up next.