Off the Wires

Karzai's Brother Calls For U.S. To Guarantee Kabul Bank Deposits Amid Bank Run

September 3rd, 2010  |  Source:

Hamid Karzai's older brother wants the U.S. to guarantee deposits at Afghanistan's largest bank to stop a developing bank run fueled by fears of fraud.

Mahmoud Karzai, Kabul Bank's third-biggest shareholder, told The Washington Post that "America should do something"

Well he would wouldn't he?  A bit rich coming from the reportedly biggest opium dealer in the country!

Canada sees shock salmon glut

September 3rd, 2010  |  Source: Nature News

It's the biggest run of sockeye salmon in British Columbia since 1913. Some 34 million fish are thronging the Fraser River as they return from the sea to spawn. The event, following two decades of decline in salmon-run numbers, is taking fisheries scientists by surprise.

Fears grow over global food supply

September 2nd, 2010  |  Source: Financial Times

Wheat prices rose further on Friday in the wake of Russia’s decision to extend its grain export ban by 12 months, raising fears about a return to the food shortages and riots of 2007-08.

In Mozambique, where a 30 per cent rise in bread prices triggered riots on Wednesday and Thursday, the government said seven people had been killed and 288 wounded.

Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Thursday extended an export ban first introduced last month until late December 2011, sending wheat and other cereals prices to a near two-year high. It came as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization called an emergency meeting to discuss the wheat shortage.

Financial Services on Aisle Nine: Wal-Mart Gives Banks a Run for Their Money

September 1st, 2010  |  Source:

Despite being pilloried by the public lately, a banker's lot can't be all that bad.

At least, that's what Wal-Mart executives must be thinking. Over recent months, there has been a flurry of announcements from the world's largest retailer about the expanding array of banking products sold at its U.S. stores.

Company officials insist that their main aim is to reach the "unbanked" and "underbanked" with the type of low-cost services that cemented Wal-Mart's reputation as a retail giant. So do traditional retail banks on Main Street USA have reason to worry?

New US proxy access rules a “win-win”, says CalPERS

August 26th, 2010  |  Source: Responsible Investor

Controversial new rules to facilitate shareholder nominations of directors at US companies have been welcomed by pension funds and corporate governance activists.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, the US financial regulator, yesterday approved rules to give shareholders who own 3% of a company’s stock for at least three years the right to have their board nominee included in companies’ proxy materials. The process was prohibitively expensive prior to the ruling.

The long-debated and controversial issue went through in a 3-2 vote. “I have great faith in the collective wisdom of shareholders to determine which competing candidates will best fulfil the responsibilities of serving as a director,” said SEC Chairman Mary Shapiro.

Bed, Bath & Bribes: IKEA's struggle to do business in Putin's Russia.

August 22nd, 2010

How can a business possibly make a profit if it doesn't play by the rules of a corrupt system?

A new memoir by Swedish businessman Lennart Dahlgren explores just that quandary. Dahlgren spent nearly a decade battling bureaucrats to bring furniture giant IKEA to Russia. His book, Despite Absurdity: How I Conquered Russia While It Conquered Me, reveals his behind-the-scenes struggles with officials who were ready to throw countless obstacles in IKEA's path unless they gave in to the system.

Published in Swedish last November and now translated into Russian, the book has provoked heated discussion in Russia by providing a shocking and unusually public glimpse at the pervasive rot of Putin's system.

'Booze, Bets, Bombs And Butts' -- 'Vice Fund' Touts Recession-Proof Portfolio

August 19th, 2010  |  Source:

BOSTON — So much for virtue. Sin is in.

That's according to a mutual fund manager who's finding plenty of investment opportunities in companies profiting from vices like smoking, drinking and gambling.

Jeff Middleswart's aptly named Vice Fund is beating the house in a down market. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is down 1.9 percent this year. Yet stocks of cigarette makers are up an average 12 percent.

The Vice Fund's three biggest holdings are cigarette stocks: Philip Morris International Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Altria Group Inc. That explains why the fund is up 4.5 percent this year, ranking in the top 3 percent of its large-blend fund peers according to Morningstar.

Defense contractors – another fund mainstay – are up an average 12 percent. Some group contractors in this category because their profits are tied to the escalation of conflicts. Alcoholic beverages? Up 6 percent.

Vice is the lifeblood of a fund that's a counterpoint to investment products touting themselves as socially responsible because they favor companies ostensibly benefiting society. This year, those stocks aren't doing anything special. An index of socially responsible stocks, the MSCI USA Large Cap ESG, is down 1.7 percent.

Intel + McAfee Purchase highlights cybercrime fears

August 19th, 2010  |  Source:

Chipmaker Intel’s $7.7bn purchase of McAfee, the security software provider, on Thursday gave dramatic proof of how concerns about cybercrime and cyber espionage have penetrated deeply into the technology establishment.

Even within a security industry that had been expecting a wave of consolidation, the deal is surprising.

Intel is paying a 60 per cent premium to Wednesday’s closing price of McAfee shares and McAfee’s reputation has suffered recently. And, as a chipmaker selling to manufacturers, Intel cannot immediately help put McAfee’s products inside the computers of the software group’s key customer base of corporations trying to protect themselves against cyber attacks.

But the long-range view of governments and cyber security experts is that security must be tied as much as possible to the architecture of the internet and to the fundamental building blocks of the devices used to access it.

Schwarzman likens President to Hitler

August 17th, 2010  |  Source:

Steve Schwarzman, head of the private equity giant Blackstone Group was forced to apologize for his comments that compared the President to Adolph Hitler. The comments reportedly stunned the audience.

All this over the President’s plan to raise hedge funds’ carried interest tax from 15% to 35%!  Give me a break…

The New York Post notes that Schwarzman also ignited a controversy last year, when he made another World War II reference.

"At that time, he compared the sub-prime mortgage crisis to Nagasaki, Japan, after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city," the Post reports. The bomb left the city "with noodle salesmen with few noodles or customers," said Schwarzman.

The Private Equity Council, a lobbying group, is asking members to wage a "grassroots" campaign against the tax hikes by approaching their local Congressmen.

For more:
- here's the NY Post article

Businesses resist ‘conflict minerals’ law

August 17th, 2010  |  Source:

US manufacturers are mounting a lobbying campaign over a provision slipped into the financial reform legislation requiring companies to declare products containing minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo 

The Dodd-Frank act includes a clause that effectively classifies resources from Congo as “conflict minerals”, mimicking previous campaigns, which targeted so-called “blood diamonds” from countries with poor human rights records.

The mandatory disclosure follows diamonds to the trade in minerals that has helped to fuel conflict in the Congo. “This will affect almost every US manufacturing sector. It covers colt an and ultimately tin, which are used right across industry,” said Rick Goss, a vice president at the Information Technology Industry Council.

Widespread use of minerals from the region in electronics products has triggered headlines attacking companies such asApple and Microsoft for selling “genocide phones”.

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