M&A wrap: Buffett trades off his reputation

Warren Buffett showed again that his name and money is enough to give a struggling company instant credibility in the market. But the legendary investor also demonstrated his canny command of that reputation means that deals such as the $5 billion investment in Bank of America can immediately generate profits.

Anglo-Irish bank has chosen preferred bidders for its $9.5 billion U.S. commercial real estate loan portfolio and aims to have completed that sale, the largest in the United States in recent years, before the end of the year.

Glencore, the world’s largest commodities trader, stood on the verge of its largest takeover bid since its May stock market listing, after South Africa’s Optimum Coal confirmed it had received approaches.

The New York Times’ Dealbook is reporting that Rio Tinto and the Mitsubishi Corporation have raised their offer for Coal & Allied to approximately $131 a share , valuing the company at about $11.6 billion.

The blogging service Tumblr is close to raising $75-$100 million in venture capital, implying a market value of $800 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Deals wrap: M&A not immune to Euro crisis

Shadows that started to fall over the pitch books of European dealmakers in the second quarter are darkening, threatening to rob banks of a few billion dollars in potential M&A fees.

After a robust first quarter boosted by mega transactions like Deutsche Telekom’s $39 billion exit from the U.S., fears about stuttering growth and Europe’s mounting debt crisis slowed the rise to only 24 percent in the second quarter, reversing hopes of a robust rebound and several years of rising M&A.

Analysts are pointing toward September as a key time frame if M&A’s have any hope of rebounding, with SABMiller’s  expected renewed assault on Australian bid target Foster’s  coming later this month.

Deals wrap: AES powers up in U.S. midwest

An electric tower is shown in this file photo. REUTERS/Francesco SpotornoMore consolidation is on the way in the power industry as global power provider AES is buying smaller Ohio-based rival DPL for $3.5 billion. The acquisition will help the company beef up its regulated power business that tends to provide steady returns even during tough market conditions.

Just days after posting a sharp drop in first-quarter profit, Bank of America said it plans to spin off its last large private equity unit, BAML Capital Partners, which has more than $5 billion in assets. It’s the latest in a series of moves the bank has undertaken to comply with new U.S. regulations that limit how much of their own capital banks are allowed to invest.

U.S. based hard-drive manufacturer Seagate Technology is buying Samsung’s loss-making disk drive unit for $1.4 billion in an attempt to take on rival Western Digital, which bought Hitachi’s global hard-drive business last month.

Deals wrap: Warren Buffett’s zoo

An elephant sprays earth in the Tsavo East National Park, 280 km (173 miles) east of Kenya's capital Nairobi February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Noor KhamisElephants. Zebras. Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett rolled out the animal metaphors in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday to explain that his company remains on the prowl for big acquisitions, which he calls “elephants”.

Buffett said they were hard to find, though, noting he’d lost a sizable one – a “zebra” – in recent days. “There aren’t many elephants out there, and not all of the elephants want to be in my zoo,” he said.

Yahoo is in talks to leave its Japanese joint venture, hoping to transfer its 35 percent stake to partner Softbank. If successful, the divesture could free up nearly $8 billion for the once-mighty Internet firm to compete with Google and Facebook.

from Shop Talk:

Check Out Line: Duke wins, but there’s another bracket to fill

duke1Check out a different kind of tournament bracket still underway.

The Duke Blue Devils may have won yet another college basketball title Monday night, but consumers can still make their "Sweet 16" picks in's annual "Worst Company in America"  tournament, which runs through April 26.

In its fifth year, the website, owned by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, lets consumers vote for their least favorite companies in matchups much like the NCAA tournament. Starting with 32 "teams," the tournament pairs companies in votes in which the "winner" (think about it, in a worst company vote you want to lose) advances to face the next competitor.

In the first round this year, Bank of America beat Citibank, GM beat Toyota and in an "upset" Cash4Gold beat defending "champion" AIG. Other companies that advanced included Walmart, Ticketmaster, United Airlines, Best Buy, Apple and Comcast, which has lost in the title game the last two years.

Where’s Lloyd?

FINANCE/TARPLloyd Blankfein has very much been a man in the news lately, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not so much. In the past few weeks the Goldman Sachs CEO has made headlines by declaring that his firm was “doing God’s work” and, just this week, by suggesting that Goldman probably would have survived without the government largess that was channeled its way at the height of last year’s financial sector meltdown.  Those comments, made in interviews with the Times of London and Vanity Fair, were part of a broad media offensive which has sought to burnish the image of the bank Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi famously described as a blood sucking vampire squid.

It seems surprising, then, that the nearly ubiquitous Blankfein will be absent when Goldman convenes its annual U.S. financial services conference next week, featuring such industry heavyweights as JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, there will be no appearance by Blankfein or any other Goldman senior executive. That’s in sharp contrast to what happens at many top banks when they sponsor conferences; Bank of America’s outgoing CEO Ken Lewis, for example, was keynote speaker at his bank’s financial services conference early last month.

Does this mean Blankfein has said his piece for now and is going to adopt a lower profile going forward? Not necessarily, Goldman says. Blankfein, or whoever the Goldman CEO is at a given time, is never a featured guest at the conference, said Ed Canaday, a spokesman for the bank. “Historically we have not had our CEO or another member of senior management speak at the conference,” he said. “I know it’s different from some other companies but that’s how it’s been done historically.”

from Summit Notebook:

Thain says put shareholders first

John Thain says he put shareholders first and his interests second in deciding to sell Merrill Lynch to Bank of America.

Thain, speaking at the Reuters Global Finance Summit in New York, said a deal to sell a partial stake in Merrill Lynch to Goldman Sachs would have been better for him, but the sale of the entire Wall Street firm to Bank of America was the best outcome for shareholders.

Over a fateful weekend in September 2008, as Lehman hurtled toward bankruptcy, AIG floundered and the financial system looked into the abyss, Merrill held discussions with Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley for various transactions, Thain said.

Reflections on B of A’s rough year

Bank of America One public-relations lesson for Bank of America <BAC.N> after a year of crisis and a pummelling in the court of public opinion: Don’t always listen to the lawyers.
That’s the word from James Mahoney, director of communication and public policy at the country’s largest bank.
B of A has taken a beating over everything from its pay scale and lending practices to the fees it charges consumers.
It’s humbling for the institution that a year ago was the country’s “leading bank,” Mahoney told a trade conference sponsored by by Financial Research Corp of Boston.
“Two words emerged: bonus and bailout. It’s been all downhill ever since.”
He said the bank’s lawyers barred it from offering a single narrative on the decisions leading up to its takeover of the investment bank Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis just over a year ago.
The lawyers fretted that executives might stray from the script during any future depositions to investigators, Mahoney said. But that left B of A exposed to a lot of attacks and with no easy way to protect its flank.
The lesson? “Don’t listen to lawyers if you’re trying too manage the public reaction.”
Mahoney had a receptive audience for a rare peek under the hood at the bank’s rough year.
While B of A sorts out its leadership with the pending departure of longtime chief executive Ken Lewis, Mahoney’s said the bank has taken more than its share of PR black eyes because of its size.
“I think we really became the target of a lot of the anger that’s out there because (the bank) is a highly visible, convenient place to vent,” he said.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber)

In asset management, it’s shedding season

For asset managers, the shedding season seems to have no end in sight.

More asset management units of financial institutions are likely to find their way into the market in the months ahead, as they look to separate distribution from product creation, Jefferies & Co’s financial institution group predicts. 

More than two-thirds of global asset management deal activity came from such divestitures in the third quarter, a record level in a three-month period, Jefferies said.

These included deals such as Bank of America’s agreement to sell the long-term asset management business of Columbia Management to Ameriprise, Bank of New York Mellon’s acquisition of Insight Investment from Lloyds, and the purchase by Sumitomo Trust & Banking of Citigroup’s 64 percent interest in Nikko Asset Management. 

Should Ken Lewis get his payday?

Ken Lewis started at Bank of America 40 years ago, working his way up from junior credit analyst to the CEO suite. His employment contract at the nation’s largest banks obviously predates the government’s bailout of Bank of America. Yet pay czar Kenneth Feinberg may have a say on whether he cashes in on retirement benefits and accumulated compensation worth $125 million.

Some argue it is simply inappropriate for Feinberg to try to tackle Lewis’ retirement package.

“A fair reading of the situation would be he is getting what he is entitled to and game over,” said Alan Johnson, a Wall Street compensation consultant.