"It seems like it's the end of an arms race."—Michael Krensavage, an analyst at Raymond James Financial, on Pfizer's decision to lay off 20% of its sprawling U.S. salesforce, as reported in The New York Times
U.S. hedge funds, those secretive investment vehicles, may be stepping into the sunlight. On Nov. 9, Fortress Investment Group said it will sell a 10% stake in a first-of-its-kind U.S. offering worth an estimated $750 million. The Fortress IPO may be just the start, says Donald Putnam, founder of Grail Partners, an advisory merchant bank.
Putnam says the underwriters of the IPO have given presentations to dozens of the top 100 hedge funds. And "if the Fortress deal goes through, I think there'll be 30 hedge fund IPOs in the next 18 months," he predicts.
Already, some top European hedge funds have taken the plunge and found the market receptive. Switzerland-based Partners Group went public on Mar. 23, with shares up 80% since. And shares of RAB Capital, which trades on the London Stock Exchange, are up almost 69% so far this year.
A successful Fortress IPO "will pique a lot of interest," adds Eric Weber, a managing director at New York M&A adviser Freeman. Still, going public, he notes, raises "issues about compensation and disclosures." So why float public shares? One reason: to use stock to lure the next generation of hotshot money managers as founders retire. As if the standard 20% cut of profits isn't compensation enough.
Shawn Fanning, the 26-year-old founder of Napster (NAPS), has a new passion: online gaming. After transforming the music industry with his file-sharing site and then running into delays in launching a music-licensing venture, he's in the startup business again. In a month or so, he told BusinessWeek, he'll introduce Rupture, a virtual social community for online gamers.
In the past year and a half, Fanning has been glued to World of Warcraft, an online fantasy game played by 7.5 million people, and he's frustrated with how hard it is to communicate with other players. That's where Rupture comes in. The service, which will be ad-supported, taps into the game via a software download to help Rupture members play the game and learn about one another--character names, profiles, game stats. The personal data will be in a Facebook-like page, and members can chat via instant messaging while playing. Is there a market for Rupture? Viacom (VIA) this spring bought Xfire, a less sophisticated chat service for gamers, and Microsoft (MSFT) plans to add more community features to its Xbox.
From a Thanksgiving Day post on "Behind the Counter," a Wal-Mart employee's personal blog (http://bbcamerican.blogspot.com):
Some lady returned a thawed-out turkey today. Yes. A thawed-out turkey.
She was getting ready to start cooking when the family called. They were having car trouble and weren't going to make it into town....
So what did she do? She took the bird out of the sink, PUT IT BACK IN THE PLASTIC and put it in a Wal-Mart bag, dug the receipt out of the trash...and returned the turkey, two boxes of stuffing, some cranberries, the stuff to make pumpkin pies, green beans and a package of rolls.
She rolled into Customer Service with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner and rolled right out with nineteen dollars and change....
And the next woman in line goes, "did she really return a thawed-up turkey?" Yeah, she did. Next.
Worried about what your preteen or teenager is up to on weekday afternoons? Sounds like a case of PCAST (Parental Concern over After School Time). That's the term coined in a study to be released on Dec. 6 by Brandeis University and Catalyst, which studies women in the workplace.
The survey of 1,755 parents employed at top U.S. companies was sponsored by Citigroup, Fannie Mae, and Pfizer. It found that kids' after-school life is a major worry for working parents, says Catalyst's Susan Nierenberg, with the most stressed employees having children in grades 6 and up.
The worries transcend race, gender, and income categories, with parents more concerned about unsupervised daughters than unsupervised sons.
Not surprisingly, the least worried parents were those with partners at home. Still, 1 in 20 working parents experiences extreme stress over the care of school-age kids. And high PCAST levels, the survey found, can lead to lower productivity, poor-quality work, and lower job satisfaction.
One solution, of course, is to provide greater flexibility through child-care subsidies, telecommuting, or even allowing children in the office. Then again, having one's adolescent interact regularly with the boss could cause another kind of angst.
Hedge fund managers and real estate moguls have been snapping up contemporary art at record prices. Now they are starting to fuel the market in 20th century design, especially limited edition high-end furniture. And the hottest place to buy these sculptural pieces? The upcoming Design Miami on Dec. 8-10.
This is the second annual show for the fair, affiliated with the popular Art Basel Miami Beach destination. And auction results earlier this year indicate that the design market is heating up fast.
A 1986 limited edition metal chaise by designer Marc Newson fetched $968,000 at Sotheby's (BID) in June--more than nine times the record $105,000 it brought at Christie's in 2000.
For sale at Design Miami will be objects such as Newson's futuristic Chop Top Table.
The fair's main sponsor this year is HSBC Private Bank (HBC), which courts the kind of well-heeled browsers who will be attending. Further evidence of 20th century design's current cachet among top executives and financial types: Coach (COH) President Reed Krakoff, Miami real estate developer Craig Robins, former Wall Street commodities trader Robert Rubin (not the former Treasury Secretary), and Greek industrialist Dakis Joannou are all collectors.
Financial highfliers "are starting to combine contemporary art and contemporary design in their collections," says New York design dealer Cristina Grajales. "They're diversifying."
Not all of them are biting, though. Hedge fund manager James Chanos of Kynikos Associates says he'll check out Design Miami, but he already "has his hands full" buying contemporary paintings while he's in Florida.
She whinnies when her mane is touched and turns her head when her name is called. Hasbro (HAS) is testing the upper spending limits of mass market toy customers with its FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony, which goes for $299.
Butterscotch is the priciest item on the season's hot-dozen list compiled by Toy Wishes, an industry publication. (Other expensive toys on the list: Nintendo's (NTDOY) new Wii system and Lego Mindstorms NXT, a programmable robot.)
The 3-foot-high stuffed horse, which can support an 80-pound child, has electronic sensors that allow a range of motions and sounds (including chewing noises as the horse mimics eating a plastic carrot).
Sharon John, a Hasbro general manager, says Butterscotch is an attempt to think beyond the toy industry's usual pricing limits to capture a bigger share of the family budgets that regularly go to iPods and video game consoles.
BMO Capital Markets toy analyst Gerrick Johnson figures that given a choice between Butterscotch and the Wii system, many families will purchase the video game. Still, he says, stores are happy to stock the horse, since each Butterscotch sale brings in the same revenue as 62 of Hasbro's My Little Pony dolls. "The retailers have got to love it," he says.
Hasbro is heavily promoting Butterscotch on TV, and chains like KB Toys and Target (TGT) are spotlighting her by putting her in a little corral surrounded by a white picket fence.
And some retailers are hitching a ride. Toys R' Us has been positioning its house brand Animal Alley Jumbo Horses prominently nearby. They lack the electronics, and kids can't really sit on them. But they cost only $59 apiece. All's fair in the toy wars at Christmas.
You've heard of impressionism, pointillism, and surrealism. Now get ready for googlism. German painter C.S. Bernays has created an oeuvre based on Google's trademark colors and spheres. A heavy Google user, Bernays, 36, says the idea came to her last spring, when "all of a sudden I saw the four spheres and four colors." She's painted roughly 150 googlistic pieces--works that reference the history of art, from cave painting to Jasper Johns. No word yet on sales of the paintings, offered at www.kunstkopie.de only since November. But Bernays, who works near Hamburg, says Googling has established that no one else is selling anything similar.
It looked like The Year of the Voucher. From the beginning of 2006 through midsummer, eight states passed or expanded school choice programs. And notwithstanding free-market champions such as the late Milton Friedman, the movement had heavy bipartisan appeal: Democratic governors signed voucher measures or allowed them to pass without signature in Arizona, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. As late as August, Dan Lips, an education analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, called 2006 "a breakthrough year for school choice."
But in the midterm elections, school choice quietly flunked out. Despite being heavily outspent, opponents of vouchers, tuition tax credits, and similar measures scored victories in several hotly contested states.
That was due in part to the political muscle of the teachers' unions, and in part to the lingering fears of many parents that vouchers would siphon tax dollars away from public education. "We got out the message that vouchers drain money from the schools," says National Education Assn. lobbyist Merwyn Scott.
The setback for vouchers comes as courts are divided on the use of public funds for private schools. Last January, the Florida Supreme Court said a voucher program backed by Governor Jeb Bush was unconstitutional. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court has allowed vouchers for programs like Milwaukee's CEO Leadership Academy, a religious school.
The election, however, mostly went against school choice. In South Carolina, the Republican candidate for education superintendent lost to a strong opponent of tuition tax credits, failing to ride the coattails of GOP governor Mark Sanford, who supports credits and won reelection. Anti-voucher candidates also won in the Texas House of Representatives. And in Utah, voucher opponents may have a bigger majority in the newly elected legislature than in the last session, despite some high-profile wins by voucher advocates. The battles weren't strictly partisan: In several primary elections, anti-voucher Republicans defeated pro-voucher Republicans.
The movement also lost support in Congress, where an Administration-supported bill aims to create an experimental, $100 million federal voucher program. Does the legislation stand a chance now? Lips of the Heritage Foundation says that "the makeup of the new Congress casts doubt" on that.
How long will the current wave of megadeals last? And is a spate of hostile takeovers next?
"As long as interest rates are low, there'll be ever-bigger deals. Less likely in megadeals will be an LBO followed quickly by an IPO. I don't think investors will tolerate that in a giant company. As for hostile deals, look at the number of uninvited private-equity bids." -- Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of private investment bank W.L. Ross & Co.
"There really are several distinct waves, all pushed partly by globalization's higher profits and cheaper capital. The private-equity movement is one of the most powerful. But it's not a merger wave. It's a going-private wave." -- Felix Rohatyn, senior adviser, Lehman Brothers (LEH)
"I don't think it's going to end anytime soon. There's a lot of private equity, and those managing it see a lot of poorly run companies. Separately, hostile takeovers are here to stay. Weak managers are always targets." -- T. Boone Pickens Jr., chairman, BP Capital