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Shifting the blame for a grim outlook

The mind-set created by the myth of a recession-proof new economy proved a disastrous preparation for the sudden sharp downturn in the world economy. Rattled US corporates have been blaming their poor figures on the American terrorist atrocities. Admittedly certain sectors have been hard hit, but none of them had been in rude health before. Nonetheless the outrages will now be a catalyst for further economic deterioration.

One of the most reviled figures in the UK today is Jo Moore, a government press adviser in the department of transport, local government and the regions. On September 11, minutes after hijacked aircraft struck the World Trade Centre, the quick-thinking Moore circulated a now infamous email. It suggested that the government seize the moment to publish any bad news, since it would get lost in coverage of the unfolding atrocity. "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury," Moore advised.

She has subsequently been attacked as a symbol of the cynicism of a Labour government obsessed with spin and news management. But it may be that the Moore spirit pervades the private sector as well. Some companies have opportunistically - possibly cynically - used the confusion following September 11 to mask unrelated problems. The question is how widespread those problems were and how painful the downturn created by them will be.

Chuck Hill, research director at financial researchers First Call, notes wryly that more than 60% of the profit warnings issued by companies since September 11 have explicitly blamed the terrorist onslaught. "It accentuated some of the problems already under way but we would have had most of these warnings anyway...

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