"It's geographically confusing and absurd." -- John Nicoletti, spokesman for Anaheim, Calif., which will sue to stop its Major League Baseball team from changing its name to "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim"
Wilbur Ross, the New York-based specialist in Rust Belt assets, struck gold this year when he cut a deal to sell his U.S. steel mills to Lakshmi Mittal, the London-based Indian steel magnate, for more than $4 billion. So what does he do for an encore? In Ross's case, he takes his dealmaking skills to Asia.
BusinessWeek has learned that Ross's private equity vehicle, W.L. Ross & Co., is bidding for control of Mitsui Mining, which has seen better days and is now controlled by the Industrial Revitalization Corp. of Japan, a state entity.
What could Ross -- who declined to comment on the bid -- see in Mitsui Mining? First, Mitsui owns everything from golf courses to amusement parks. Ross is an old hand at wringing money out of such assets.
Then, of course, there's coal, which is 44% of Mitsui's business and has nearly doubled in price in 12 months. Especially in demand is coke, a coal product used to make steel. Ross's International Coal Group is the fifth-largest U.S. coal producer. He figures that coal prices will stay strong this year. "Most of the developing world is very short of coal," he notes.
In addition to Ross, press reports in Japan indicate that trading house Sumitomo and a consortium including Nippon Steel may make bids. Neither the IRCJ nor these companies would comment.
If Ross losses out in Japan, he still has China. On Dec. 10, International Textile Group, comprising Burlington Industries and Cone Mills -- which Ross brought out of bankruptcy -- announced a joint venture in China to make and distribute sheets and other home textiles. Ross's partner, China Ting Group, will sell the goods in 25 stores under the Burlington name.
On Jan. 1, U.S. textile trade quotas expired, leaving Ross with assets that could get swamped by the Chinese. Ross says his U.S. plants are still profitable, and "we have no present plans to close any of them." But in light of his earlier efforts to keep tariffs on Chinese imports, is the new venture a contradiction? "We don't get to make our government's policy," he says.
The private equity group at investment giant Bear Stearns wants to build a major packaging company, and it has the first of its pieces. Bear Stearns has snapped up The John Henry Co., a 93-year-old Lansing (Mich.) outfit, BusinessWeek has learned. The value of the deal wasn't disclosed, but it's estimated to be in excess of $100 million.
Bear Stearns plans to use John Henry as a base to which more acquisitions can be bolted. Then it plans to sell off the business or take it public. John Henry, which already has $150 million in revenue and 1,000 employees, makes and prints packaging for over-the-counter drugs, medical devices, horticultural products, and note cards for floral arrangements.
May sound boring, but who says that's bad? "One of the things we like about the packaging industry is its stability," Bear Stearns Merchant Banking Managing Director Phil Carpenter says. It has steady growth, not subject to the abrupt swings of more volatile businesses. Carpenter sees other packaging segments ripe for the plucking -- media, for one. Whether or not media companies make money on CDs and DVDs, they need some sort of package for their product.
It seems overseas consumers do not regard all U.S. brands equally. In a survey by Global Market Insite, American Express (AXP), AOL (AOL), Starbucks (SBUX), American Airlines (AMR), Marlboro (MO), and McDonald's (MCD) are seen as arrogant and "very American." But Visa, Calvin Klein (PVH), Kleenex (KMB), and Kodak (EK) are viewed as trustworthy and likeable. According to Insite, 50% of overseas consumers distrust U.S. companies, and 68% say they formed a negative view due to the Iraq war. Brands with "America" in their names are targets for scorn, while others are seen as exporting the worst of the U.S. -- a fast-food culture -- franchise by franchise.
Dipak Jain, dean of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, took his family to Phuket for a break from his annual winter teaching stint in Bangkok. Like many, they got caught up in the tsunami. Luckily, a wide lagoon near their hotel soaked up most of the waves. After he and his family returned to Bangkok, Jain spoke by phone to B-Schools Editor Jennifer Merritt.
What was the impact like?
I saw huge waves of water coming toward us. It reminded me of Niagara Falls. The waves were carrying fishing boats and lounge chairs from the beach and garbage.
How much damage will be done to the local economies?
This is going to affect [Thailand's] gross domestic product by 0.3%. That is significant. Next year, people will not be planning for trips in this region. Many of the [affected] areas thrive on tourists, so the tourists have to feel safe. If they don't feel safe, it is going to affect the economy in a worse way.
What should countries in the West and Asia do to help?
The region needs to improve geological- and weather- pre-diction systems -- not just the technology but talent. Companies or governments should [train] people from the region.
How else can developed nations help?
In the U.S., you may go to a small hospital, but if it cannot help you, it will be associated with a larger research hospital. This type of system does not exist [in developing nations]. Look at Sri Lanka: They didn't have enough helicopters to airlift people who needed medical care, and they had no support hospitals in bigger cities. Companies [can help] develop a system [to link hospitals] in case there is a problem.
The year ahead will bring plenty of important events in the business, political, and cultural realms, not to mention court dates aplenty -- for Bernie Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski, and various Enron execs, among others. Here are some dates on our calendar for 2005:
Feb. 10: The Democratic National Committee meets to elect a chair and other party leadership posts. Who will lead the Dems out of the wilderness?
Feb. 16: The Kyoto Protocol environmental accord takes effect for participating nations. The U.S. isn't among them, but most of its big trade partners are.
Feb. 28: Mutual-fund managers are required to disclose their salary and incentive pay, as well as potential conflicts of interest.
Mar. 6: Martha Stewart is released from prison. Can she readjust to life on the outside quick enough to boost her company's fortunes?
Apr. 1: Steel and concrete arrive for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site; meanwhile, five execs from Enron Broadband go to trial.
June 15: After today, all public-company financial statements must expense options. That is, unless the tech lobby scuttles the measure first.
July 6: The host of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games is announced. (New York is on the short list for the bid, as are London, Madrid, Moscow, and Paris.)
July 17: Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary. Another milestone for the Magic Kingdom: Hong Kong Disneyland opens on Sept. 12.
Oct. 26: For travel to the U.S., countries must issue passports with biometric identifiers by today. Air Canada has already reported upticks in traffic.