"It's time for all of us to pull up our socks." --William Donaldson, on being picked to lead the Securities & Exchange Commission Oops! When BusinessWeek compiled its ranking of the 50 most generous philanthropists (Dec. 2), we missed a fairly prominent giver: New York City Mayor Michael Bloom-berg. The reason: Except for a few public gifts to his alma maters, Bloom-berg does little to publicize his generosity.
Yet he has given plenty, as is made clear from financial figures he has released as a politician. From 1997 through 2001, Bloomberg gave away $330.2 million, a sum that would have made him No. 12 on our list. Last year alone, the founder of Bloomberg LP handed out $122.5 million to 549 nonprofits, ranging from Habitat for Humanity to the Latino Commission on AIDS.
Bloomberg has given Johns Hopkins University more than $100 million, making him the school's largest donor. It started with a $5 gift in 1964, the year he graduated with an electrical engineering degree. He also has donated at least $25 million to Harvard University, where he earned an MBA. Bloomberg's estimated $420 million in lifetime giving is 11% of his current $4.8 billion net worth. Pity next year's paycheck. With the profit picture still dreary, some companies are once again readjusting pay increases for 2003--and you can guess in which direction. According to a new survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, average performers should see salary increases of 3.5% next year, the smallest hikes in more than two decades, below even last year's 3.6%.
One reason is that companies are passing on bigger chunks of health-care costs to employees--in many cases canceling out those raises or leaving workers with even smaller paychecks. Health-care premiums have been rising so fast for the past three years that Segal Co. estimates coverage will average nearly 25% of wages in less than five years. To deal with it, 8% of the 400 large companies surveyed by Mercer in October said they whacked 2003 salary increases to offset health-care expenses, while an additional 9% are considering the step. Back in the gravy days, pay increases used to be determined separately from benefits. No longer. Corporate malfeasance may have pounded the portfolios of small investors, but it has been a windfall for government. The Securities & Exchange Commission tallied $1.3 billion in corporate fines in the year ended Sept. 30, up from $530 million a year earlier. That's not counting the billions collected by state attorneys general and the Justice Dept.
What happens to the money? Most goes to the Treasury to fund the national budget. Agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, FBI, and U.S. Postal Service get a crack at recovering costs when their investigators help out Justice Dept. cases. The SEC keeps zilch. At the state level, what's not earmarked for victims goes to state coffers. There are exceptions. Nebraska plans to use its share of a $100 million settlement between Merrill Lynch (MER) and 48 states to fund a business ethics professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. And New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer hopes to use some of the fines to hire outside investigators for his team.
As for bilked investors, officials say it often isn't worth tracking down millions of wronged shareholders just to dole out a few bucks to each. Shareholders of Charter Communications deserve a good cry. The cable outfits stock has fallen 90% this year, to $1.62, amid probes by the Securities & Exchange Commission and a grand jury. But dont feel bad for Charters largest shareholder, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. A 1998 agreement gives Allen the right to deduct Charters losses from his holding company, Vulcan Ventures.
How? Through a limited-liability company owned jointly by Charter and Vulcan.
Its perfectly legal, says Gordon Klein, a tax law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. These are common among sophisticated investors, but you dont usually see them [this] big, he says. Allen could write off $5 billion in Charter losses against Vulcan income through the end of 2003, says UBS Warburg analyst Aryeh Bourkoff, saving $2 billion in taxes. Allen must repay the tax breaks if the cable company ever becomes profitable.
Not bad, huh? But the deal, which reduces Allens holdings in the event of a liquidation, could force him to lose control of the cash-strapped company in a restructuring, says Bourkoff. Through Vulcan Ventures, Allen isnt commenting. Wine lovers in the U.S. are increasingly describing their favorite vintage as molto buono, instead of trs bon.
Italian vineyards, which have been increasing market share in the U.S., have now surpassed the once-invincible French. Italian table-wine exports to the U.S. jumped 21%, to $621 million, in the year that ended on June 30, beating France for the first time. U.S. sales of Italian varietal pinot grigio have doubled in three years, to 6 million cases, challenging the primacy of chardonnay. Italians have spent the last decade reinventing themselves, says Rich Cartiere, publisher of the Calistoga (Calif.)-based Wine Market Report. We are at the leading edge of a big [export] wave.
Even Italys southern regions, known for cheap wines, are going upscale. Sicilys LAzienda Agricola Spadafora vineyard will soon see its wines going for $66 a bottle at Alain Ducasses eponymous New York restaurant.
U.S. vintners such as Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson, trying to take advantage of the boom, are buying vineyards in Tuscany. But the Italians are unlikely to yield easily. Says winemaker Francesco Spadafora: Competition forces us to make better wines. Wine lovers are raising their glasses in agreement. Telling consumers about their privacy rights hasnt exactly been successful so far. Banks and credit card companies tried it in 2001. But the legal jargon was confusing, and many notices got thrown out. Now, health-care companies, drafting their own notices before an Apr. 14 federal deadline, want to make sure consumers actually read them.
So theyre trying to give privacy notices a much-needed facelift. Some have drafted a template that summarizes, in plain English, key points such as how personal information is used and how consumers can control the use of their medical records. The idea is to make it like a food label, so people can easily spot the topic of interest to them, says Lisa Sotto, a partner at law firm Hunton & Williams, which helped develop a short form.
Patients would get these every time they go to the doctor for the first time or sign up for health insurance.
Expect the form to be widely adopted, since its sponsors include the VHA Health Foundation, which counts major hospitals among its members.