Pilot problems, Lehman leaving

As airlines demand more productivity, pilots might be getting dangerously fatigued. Lehman Brothers starts shopping itself around, with some help from the U.S. government. And Damien Hirst puts his reputation, and the art market, up for auction.&


Pilots face overworking concerns

Commercial pilots are getting stretched dangerously thin as financially challenged airlines squeeze more productivity out of them, safety experts and regulators warn. Pilots are flying more grueling schedules than at any time since 2001. (The Wall Street Journal) In other aviation news, Germany’s Lufthansa is reportedly negotiating to buy Scandinavian rival SAS to bolster its position in Europe’s consolidating airline industry. Lufthansa, currently No. 2 in Europe, is racing against Air France KLM and British Airways to snap up European carriers. (Reuters) Virgin Atlantic head Richard Branson, meanwhile, said he is willing to spend “millions of dollars” to block the proposed tie-up of British Airways, American Airlines, and Spain’s Iberia. (Reuters)

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Lehman looking for buyer

Lehman Brothers reportedly put itself up for sale, after days of trying to shore up investor confidence failed to stop the sharp fall in its stock. Lehman’s potential suitors include Bank of America, Barclays, and private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. (The New York Times) The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department are actively helping the 158-year-old bank find a buyer, apparently before Asian markets open Monday and ideally with no public money involved. “I don’t see where anything has really changed in the last few days to make Lehman a $4 stock versus a $20 stock,” said James Paulsen at Wells Capital Management. “What we’re dealing with, I think, is less fundamentals than fear.” (The Washington Post)

Washington Mutual hit by downgrades

Washington Mutual, reeling from a 34 percent drop in its stock this week and credit-rating downgrades, could have to sell part of its network of 2,300 branches, analysts say. (Bloomberg) WaMu said late yesterday that it is “well-capitalized,” with relatively stable retail deposits of $143 billion and $50 billion of reliable liquidity. (MarketWatch) Rating agency Moody’s cut WaMu to below investment grade yesterday, and Fitch lowered it to just above “junk.” The No. 1 U.S. thrift’s “options have narrowed significantly, even over the past two days,” said Sean Egan at Egan-Jones Ratings. (Reuters) WaMu said it is paying new CEO Alan Fishman at least $12.54 million in salary and bonuses next year. (AP in BusinessWeek.com)

Damien Hirst and the big art-market gamble

Damien Hirst is the world’s most expensive living artist, and he’s putting his Hirst brand, and maybe even the art market, on sale at a Sotheby’s auction next week. This is Hirst’s first big sale since he sold a diamond-encrusted skull for $100 million last year. Hirst is putting 223 new works up for sale, and if it is a success, it will be seen as a sign that the Hirst brand has staying power. If it falls short, however, that’s a bad omen for contemporary art’s ability to weather the credit crunch and economic slump. Oliver Barker at Sotheby’s isn’t worried. “Unlike equity, paintings are things you can actually enjoy and hang on your walls,” he said. (MarketWatch)

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