Weil on Finance, P.M.: Carson Block Returns
Hello, View fans. Here are your annotated afternoon reads.
Muddy Waters crushed another stock today
Muddy Waters, the research firm founded by short seller Carson Block, is back to his its old stomping grounds, issuing reports about Chinese companies that it calls massive frauds. Often he has been right, sometimes not quite. Today’s target was a Beijing-based provider of mobile Internet services, NQ Mobile Inc. The shares fell as much as 63 percent before trading was suspended. It’s a celebrity stock market out there. Muddy Waters spoke. Panic ensued.
Death, M&A and the funeral industry
Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek has a revealing look at Houston-based Service Corp. International, the dominant consolidator in the death business: “Already No. 1 in death care in North America, SCI expects by early 2014 to ingest the next-largest chain, Stewart Enterprises Inc., based in New Orleans. In one gulp, SCI will grow to 2,168 locations. If the $1.4 billion transaction gets antitrust clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, the combined company would control some 15 percent of the U.S. industry.” He explores whether some of the company’s growth is coming at the expense of mourners and notes that “SCI’s serious screw-ups are truly memorable. That stands to reason: Mishandle a corpse, and you’re going to hear about it.”
Fed discovers a frenzy of its own creation
The Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sent a letter to some of the biggest banks warning about lax underwriting for leveraged loans, reports Kristen Haunss of Bloomberg News. She notes that “the market for high-yield, high-risk corporate loans is booming, with borrowings of $839.5 billion this year in the U.S. within 7 percent of the record $899 billion set in 2007 as the Fed’s zero interest-rate policy causes investors to seek returns from riskier investments.”
Ending anonymity for audit partners
The U.S. auditing profession’s regulator in December is expected to unveil its proposal requiring disclosure of the names of audit partners who approve public companies’ financial statements. The big accounting firms have long resisted this. Floyd Norris of the New York Times recounts the history in his latest column, including a story that Ernst & Young told about one of its former partners in a letter to the board last year: “The partner left Ernst and went to work for a private company. But, the firm said, `years after the lawsuit had been dismissed’ it `still inhibited his job prospects at his new company.’ The firm said the suit `related to a purported major fraud.’” Norris says what needed to be said: “If you audit a company and fail to uncover a major fraud, perhaps you should expect your reputation to be harmed.”
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)