Off the Wires

Goldman Stunned by Op-Ed Loses $2.2 Billion for Shareholders

March 15th, 2012  |  Source: Business Week


Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) saw $2.15 billion of its market value wiped out after an employee assailed Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein’s management and the firm’s treatment of clients, sparking debate across Wall Street.


The shares dropped 3.4 percent in New York trading yesterday, the third-biggest decline in the 81-company Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index, after London-based Greg Smith made the accusations in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Smith, who also wrote that he was quitting after 12 years at the company, blamed Blankfein, 57, and President Gary D. Cohn, 51, for a “decline in the firm’s moral fiber.” They responded in a memo to current and former employees, saying that Smith’s assertions don’t reflect the firm’s values, culture or “how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.”

Apple’s cash pile: How to spend it

March 13th, 2012  |  Source: Economist

The tech giant should give cash back to shareholders

NOT long after Steve Jobs died last year, wags eulogised the Apple co-founder with a joke: “Ten years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. Now we have no jobs, no hope and no cash.” Apple may no longer have Jobs, but it fills investors with hope and is brimming with cash. Its market capitalisation recently passed $500 billion, and it has a whopping $100 billion or so of cash on its balance-sheet.

That mountain of money is about to get higher. Apple aficionados are poised to snap up the new gadgets that the company unveiled on March 7th. These include a new iPad, the latest in the firm’s wildly popular range of tablet computers, and a revamped Apple TV device.

If the new iPad, which boasts a super-sharp screen and lightning-fast connectivity, wins friendly reviews, it will give a big boost to Tim Cook, Jobs’s handpicked successor. But the extra cash it delivers will also increase pressure on Apple’s boss and board to explain what they plan to do with the company’s embarrassment of riches. Last month Mr Cook admitted that the firm has more cash than it needs for its operations. It’s a nice problem to have.

The obvious solution would be to give cash back to shareholders, either via dividends or share buybacks. This is a surprisingly sensitive subject. Mr Jobs was obsessed with hoarding cash, not least because of Apple’s near-bankruptcy in the mid-1990s.

Returning money to shareholders would mark a big departure from the revered founder’s philosophy. Another reason Mr Cook will want to tread carefully is that some pundits see a tech firm’s decision to start paying dividends as a signal that its glory days are behind it. One oft-cited example is Microsoft, whose growth slowed after it began returning cash to shareholders in 2003.

Read on here:

Guitar maker Fender to list on Nasdaq

March 9th, 2012  |  Source:

Fender, the guitar maker whose Stratocaster instrument was first made famous by Buddy Holly in the 1950s, is planning to raise $200m in an initial public offering.

Although the company wants to grow internationally, it has struggled to earn a profit against the cost of its debts.

Sales last year were $700m, a jump of 13 per cent from the previous year. Fender earned $3.2m in net income attributable to common shareholders, up from a loss of $17.2m in the previous year. It paid $14.9m in net interest costs last year.

China’s Tobacco Monopoly Bigger by Profit Than Wal*Mart

March 7th, 2012  |  Source: Bloomberg

China National Tobacco Corp., the nation’s cigarette monopoly, may be larger by annual profit than HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), according to a rare release of the company’s financial data.

The state-owned tobacco company had net income of 117.7 billion yuan ($18.7 billion) in 2010 on sales of 770.4 billion yuan. Industrial Bank Co. released the figures in a statement late yesterday because China National Tobacco is buying a 5.2 billion yuan stake in the Shanghai-listed lender.

Authorities in China, home to a third of all the world’s smokers, have been criticized by groups including the World Health Organization for not doing enough to prevent tobacco use. Critics say the tax revenue the government derives from the industry -- more than $95 billion last year -- has hindered efforts to discourage smoking.

“It would be better if they could also disclose more information about the health impact of their products, which we lack in China,” Wan Xia, a Beijing-based researcher at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences who is studying the effects of smoking in the country, said in a telephone interview. She said the figures released by Industrial Bank are the first she’s seen for China National Tobacco’s profit.

About 1 million Chinese die from tobacco-related illnesses every year, according to the WHO.

Lego ‘Star Wars’ Sets Boost Profit

March 1st, 2012  |  Source: Bloomberg

Lego A/S (LEGO)Europe’s biggest toymaker, boosted profit and market share last year to outgrow its main competitors, helped by sales of building-block sets based on “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” themes.

Net income jumped 12 percent to a record 4.16 billion kroner ($747 million) in 2011, the Billund, Denmark-based company said today in a statement. Revenue rose 17 percent to 18.7 billion kroner.

Lego grew faster than Mattel Inc. (MAT) and Hasbro Inc. (HAS), the world’s largest toymakers, which both reported 7 percent growth in 2011 sales. The Danish company said today it boosted its global market share to 7.1 percent from 5.9 percent in 2010 and that it expects sales to increase this year.

“Growth in the North American market continued undiminished, and also in most European and Asian markets we were able to report double-digit increases in sales,” Chief Executive Officer Joergen Vig Knudstorp said in the statement. “Sales of license-based product lines in particular were well above expectations in 2011.”

At $500 billion, Apple is worth more than Saudi Arabia

February 29th, 2012  |  Source:

Apple's stock market value topped the $500 billion mark in pre-market trading Wednesday, another record high for what was already the world's most valuable company.

The half-trillion dollar valuation puts Apple in some extremely exclusive territory, making it one of the five most-valuable companies at any point in history. Only Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Cisco (CSCOFortune 500) and General Electric (GEFortune 500) have ever surpassed that mark.

Exxon did it most recently in late 2007, when oil prices were soaring. Microsoft, Cisco and GE reached half a trillion dollars in market capitalization in 1999 during the height of the tech bubble.

Microsoft was the only company ever to have a valuation of $600 billion. Its market cap now sits about $267 billion.

Apple's valuation is now higher than the gross domestic product of Poland, Belgium, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, or Taiwan. (For more comparisons, check out this excellent blog: Things Apple is Worth More Than.)

By the Numbers: $4 Billion

February 25th, 2012  |  Source: The White House

Oil companies receive $4 billion every year in taxpayer-funded subsidies, despite continually bringing in record high profits.

Meanwhile, gas prices are on the rise—just like they were this time last year—and the same people funding those subsidies are paying more at the pump for the gas they need to get to school and work.

Oil Caps Longest Rally in Two Years on Iran

February 24th, 2012  |  Source: Bloomberg

Oil capped its longest rally since January 2010 as escalating tension with Iran threatens supplies and on signs of a global economic recovery.

Futures advanced above $109 a barrel for the first time in almost 10 months as sanctions against the Persian Gulf nation make it more difficult to sell oil. Iran dismissed UN atomic inspectors’ concerns that nuclear-weapon work is occurring, a document acquired by Bloomberg News showed. U.S., French and South Korean consumer confidence gained, reports showed today.

“Everyone is looking at $110 oil,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “The tension between Iran and the West has risen to an incredible level. We’re trading on fear that this will deteriorate into a new war in the Middle East.”

Why Renters Rule U.S. Housing Market

February 23rd, 2012  |  Source: Bloomberg

Think of all the recent federal programs to keep people who can’t afford them in their four- bedroom houses.

There are the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Home Affordable Refinancing Program and the Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program. In addition, there are Hope Now, Hope for Homeowners, the Hardest Hit Funds and, most recently, the proposal to expand HARP to distressed mortgages not covered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

-- Hopeless HAMP: The administration initially said this program would relieve 3 million to 4 million distressed homeowners, but it’s been a miserable failure. That was to be expected because loose-lending practices put many people in houses so unaffordable that, short of canceling their monthly mortgage payments completely, no modification would return them to financial health. About the only thing HAMP has done is delay foreclosures while lenders, under federal government edict, attempt to modify home loans to reduce total monthly payments on mortgage, credit-card and other debt to 31 percent of income.

The Real Cost of Mardi Gras

February 18th, 2012  |  Source: Bloomberg

Mardi Gras, with its masquerade balls, beads, and floats is a financial fest for New Orleans. One million people will jam the city's streets during the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday (Feb. 21), says Jennifer Day at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In 2011, those visitors had a $300 million economic impact on the city, accounting for 1.5 percent of New Orleans' gross domestic product, according to a study of Mardi Gras prepared by Toni Weiss, an economics professor at Tulane University.

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