Buffett pulls back from insuring large bank deposits

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has instructed one of its subsidiaries, Kansas Bankers Surety Co., to stop insuring bank deposits above the amount guaranteed by the federal government, The Wall Street Journal reported. KBS in turn is telling 1,500 banks in 30 states that it will no longer offer the depository insurance bonds, in a blow to banks trying to attract wealthy depositors. (Reuters) Buffett’s withdrawal from the niche service is seen as an indicator of a growing level of concern about the high rate of bank failures. KBS reportedly lost money when Columbian Bank & Trust failed in late August. One of 11 banks to have failed this year. (The Wall Street Journal)

Lehman flounders; Korean bank ends talks

The Korea Development Bank said it has ended talks to invest in struggling Lehman Brothers, ending days of speculation that the state-run KDB would extend Lehman a sizable lifeline. (MarketWatch) Facing flagging investor confidence, Lehman said today that it is spinning off most of its commercial real estate assets and selling a majority stake of its Neuberger Berman investment management division. Lehman also pushed up its earnings results, reporting a larger-than expected $3.9 billion quarterly loss and cutting its dividend to 5 cents a share, from 68 cents. ( Lehman shares lost 45 percent yesterday, pushing its market value down to $5.4 billion, from $36 billion a year ago. (AP in Yahoo Finance)

OPEC cuts overall output

OPEC oil ministers agreed to effectively cut overall output by about 520,000 barrels per day, to 28.8 million barrels, in a compromise measure designed to keep prices high without crimping global demand. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) The announcement, which sent oil prices higher early today, was seen as a call for tighter compliance with OPEC’s murky output quotas. “The statement is clear as mud,” said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix, “but really what it says is members should keep to quota, which basically means Saudi Arabia should stop the additional barrels.” (Reuters) Masters Capital Management, in a report today, blames the run-up in oil prices on speculators, not OPEC, noting that commodity investors have sold $39 billion of oil futures since oil’s July peak. (Bloomberg)

The incredible shrinking grocery store

After years of building grocery stores the size of football fields, U.S. retailers are going in a radically different direction. Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Giant Eagle, and even Wal-Mart are experimenting with much smaller grocery stores that specialize in premade meals, fresh produce, and ready-to-grab drinks. The switch is partly to cater to time-challenged professionals, but it’s also a defensive move against the British invasion of supermarket chain Tesco, which is putting up Fresh & Easy markets all over the U.S. “The average person goes shopping for 22 minutes,” said retail analyst Phil Lempert, who edits Supermarketguru. “You can’t see 30,000 or 40,000 products” in that time. (The New York Times)