Cloaked in transparency

July 8, 2008

harry-potter.jpgSovereign wealth funds meet this week to uncloak any political motivations that might lurk behind their rich capital infusions. The talks are focused on devising a code of ethics to allay Western fears and could help create transparency. Alas, most of substance is being debated behind closed doors. It is being held in Singapore, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that transparency is not a particularly high priority. The funds, controlling an estimated $3 trillion in assets, are owned by national governments and often armed with cash piles from soaring oil prices and trade. They have sunk billions into Citigroup and UBS, which were reeling from the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market. Goldman Sachs estimates U.S. and European banks may need a further capital infusion of more than $200 billion.

It’s a good thing for Anheuser-Busch that Bud Light is so popular. If Belgian-Brazilian brewer InBev manages to take over the company, it will probably put it on a serious diet as it aims to trim up to $1.4 billion of costs. Employees and union officials at InBev describe the tightest of budget controls: mobile phones taken back and returned only to employees who justified a need for one; new pens given out only in return for used ones; and an elevator at the global headquarters closed for several months. The elevator is back in use now, although signs in the lobby read: “Why not take the stairs?” InBev says many such measures, and notably larger water and energy conservation efforts, also serve sustainability targets and that its cost-saving push is simply one pillar of an overall strategy also focused on boosting beer volumes.

Shares in British retailer Marks & Spencer are up on market talk of possible bid interest in the retailer. Rival department stores owner Philip Green, who was linked with a stakebuild in M&S in January, was again mentioned as a possible suitor, traders said, but some attributed the bounce to expectations for upbeat news from an upcoming M&S annual general meeting. Boss Stuart Rose, lauded for reviving the landmark British retailer just a year ago, is battling to save his job after a big profit warning and bungled management changes.

Want more evidence the credit markets are on ice? CIT completed a $100 million loan agreement with Daryl Katz for the purchase of Canadian ice hockey team the Edmonton Oilers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Katz agreed to purchase the Oilers in February for $200 million. “The debt markets have been a little finicky,” Gordon Saint-Denis, managing director of media, entertainment and sports for CIT, told the paper. “But this is a deal for a hockey team in Canada, where hockey is king, and Edmonton has been doing very well from an economic standpoint,” he was quoted as saying.

Other deals of the day:

* Spanish oil company Repsol is in talks with Russian oil major Rosneft about taking a stake in the Sakhalin-III oil and gas fields, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

* Singapore conglomerate Fraser and Neave said its property unit has bought 17.7 percent of Allco Commercial REIT and all of the real estate investment trust’s manager for S$180 million ($132 million).

* Spanish low-cost airlines Vueling and Clickair have agreed to merge, Vueling said, in a move to create a carrier better equipped to tackle stiff competition and high fuel costs.

* U.S. asset manager Janus Capital Group said it is paying $90 million cash to raise its stake in Chicago-based money manager Perkins, Wolf, McDonnell and Company to 80 percent from 30 percent.

* Ameriprise Financial, an asset manager and broker specializing in retirement plans, said it agreed to buy asset manager J & W Seligman & Co for $440 million.

* China’s Sinosteel took a big step closer to acquiring Australian iron ore prospector Midwest Corp, with Midwest’s directors lining up to sell their shares after a merger with Murchison Metals collapsed.

* Designer Roberto Cavalli has decided not to sell his fashion house, he told Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, because prices have fallen during the financial market crisis.

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