"It was the indictment that killed Andersen, not the conviction." --Former employee Steve Weinstein telling AP his reaction to the Supreme Court's overturning of Arthur Andersen's conviction
Some people will do anything to get in on the real estate boom -- even commit fraud. A report from the Mortgage Asset Research Institute found that rising numbers of would-be homeowners are fudging income numbers to get a deal done before they're priced out of the market. "They want in on the action," says William Matthews, general manager of MARI, based in Reston, Va. "Where else are they going to get 20% returns? The stock market?"
Increasingly, problems are showing up in the Midwest and South. In 2004, for the second year in a row, Georgia had the highest rate of mortgage fraud. Falsified mortgage applications are on the rise in smaller cities such as Memphis, Scranton, Pa., and Tulsa. Loan delinquencies, an indicator of fraud, ran at twice the U.S. average in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Ohio. Don't blame just homeowners, Matthews says. Realtors, appraisers, and mortgage originators push unqualified borrowers into a sale to get fat fees. These days, it's home sweet deception.
In 1963 Germany blocked imports of American chickens, and the U.S. responded with a 25% tariff against all imported pickup trucks, a market then dominated by Volkswagen delivery trucks. Today the only part of the dispute that remains is the tariff on most imported pickups. But now the "chicken-war tariff" could be ending, much to Detroit's dismay.
As part of bilateral trade talks with about a dozen countries, the U.S. has sought to eliminate tariffs on manufactured goods. Now it's discussing a free-trade pact with Thailand, the world's No. 2 maker of pickups outside North America. Marianne McInerney, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn., says the tariff "has clearly outlived its original purpose and ought to be eliminated." If that happens, the group says Japanese and Korean compact pickups made in Thailand could sell in the U.S. for $10,000 to $15,000. (A stripped-down Ford Ranger fetches $15,000.) Last year only 433 pickups were imported from outside the North American free-trade zone, so the Big Three are watching closely. General Motors, which usually backs free-trade deals, says that "given the tenuous state of overall vehicle manufacturing in the U.S., it would not be a beneficial development to have a big influx" of Thai trucks.
Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and Phat Fashions, arbiter of urban style, wants to improve the financial smarts of the hip-hop generation. Good thing he's not the one doing the educating.
The "Get Your Money Right" tour, featuring Simmons as host and Suze Orman as the personal finance expert, started in Detroit on May 14 and will travel to five other cities this year. But two days after the first seminar, it came out that Phat Fashions was practicing its own kind of financial empowerment. In a deposition in a lawsuit involving a business partner, Simmons let on that he had exaggerated 2002 sales and profits, The New York Times reported.
Even the hyped figures changed throughout 2003, as Simmons sought a buyer for his privately held company. He found one: In early 2004, Kellwood Co., which says it got a good look at the books, paid $140 million in cash for Phat and is happy with the deal. Simmons' usual rap was that Phat's sales were about $350 million. Wholesale? Retail? He wasn't specific. Few in the fashion business are. In an October, 2003, cover story, BusinessWeek was told that in 2002, wholesale revenue came to $263 million. Turns out it was really only $170 million, says Rush Communications, Simmons' holding company. The other figure was projected sales for 2003. Rush says it gave the wrong number by mistake.
And Phat's supposed $29 million in profit? Actually that is its licensing revenue plus the amount anyone holding the license might earn. Well, Simmons has always said that hip-hop is all about aspiration.
Many magazines are struggling as ad dollars flee to the Web. Then why are so many publishers jumping into the fray? Last year, 1,006 titles were launched, up from 953 in '03 and the first time since '98 that new titles totaled more than 1,000, says Samir Husni, chairman of the University of Mississippi's Journalism Dept. The first quarter saw another 236. Startups are targeting areas of high spending: 125 of the '04 launches focused on crafts and hobbies, 59 on home design and services, and 41 on cars. The latest craze: Eight poker titles started in the past six months. But industry experts say any new magazine is still quite a gamble: The odds run 4 to 1 against a title surviving.
Electronic Arts (ERTS) founder W.M. "Trip" Hawkins III is looking to score again. Hawkins, 51, left EA in 1994, just after it went public, to invest his fortune in 3DO, a startup developing a new gaming console. When Nintendo's (NTDDY) game console beat 3DO to market -- forcing bankruptcy -- he rebooted. With a growing interest in social networking, Hawkins launched Digital Chocolate, which markets cell-phone games -- and the chance to play them with others. "Competing makes people feel like they're part of something bigger," he says.
DChoc, as Hawkins calls it, lets players log into virtual communities, compete, and swap strategies. The graphics are hardly Grand Theft Auto quality. But Hawkins is betting that for under $10 even pro players will download games from wireless carriers, which take a hefty cut of sales. Some of the Valley's most notable angel investors have more than $20 million in DChoc. Hawkins' biggest competitor may turn out to be EA. Let the games begin.
Your car may be watching you. An estimated two-thirds of new U.S. cars and 30 million already on the road contain devices that, after an accident, record information about speed, accelerator position, braking, and air bag deployment. They can even tell if the seat belts were buckled. Information from the "black boxes" can be critical evidence in criminal cases and lawsuits. The auto and insurance industries also believe it could be invaluable in designing better traffic laws and safer vehicles.
But data collection opens up a minefield of privacy issues. John Soma, a law professor and executive director of the Privacy Foundation at the University of Denver, fears an Orwellian scenario if consumers aren't better informed. Even the presence of the devices is typically buried in owners' manuals, where many drivers are likely to miss it.
Now, state governments are stepping in. Arkansas, California, and North Dakota have passed laws regulating use of data, and legislatures elsewhere -- including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas -- are considering similar rules. Don't panic, say auto execs; the devices store only a tiny bit. And for now at least, they're not interested in what you said or who you were visiting.
The George Foreman Grill has long been a champ in the kitchen. But now its maker, Salton, is on the ropes. After selling 70 million grills, the Lake Forest (Ill.) company has seen U.S. demand dip. At the same time, costs have soared.
Sagging under $450 million in debt, Salton faces a mid-December deadline to refinance $125 million in bonds. Analysts are skeptical it will find the money. Says Jon Thomas at Advest: "Unless Salton can get something on the table by September... that everyone's on board with, you'll be looking at a full-fledged bankruptcy." Salton declined to comment.
Management is betting on foreign markets, where sales are rising. As for Big George himself, the burger-chomping former boxing champ, now 56, appears unscathed by Salton's woes. In 1999, the company agreed to pay him $137.5 million. If only it had the two-time champ's knack for comebacks.