DealZone

Cloaked in transparency

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.

Restraining order

Zuberbuehler director of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission attends a news conference in BernAs if having the U.S. Justice Department on your back because your bankers may have been helping wealthy Americans avoid tax wasn’t enough, Swiss banking giant UBS also has to deal with grumpy regulators at home. The head of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission, Daniel Zuberbuehler (pictured), tells us that singling out UBS and Credit Suisse for tough treatment is justifiable and has laid down a tight timetable for new rules to restrain the two. The banks will be required to hoard considerably more capital, which will surely slow them down on Wall St. On Monday, the DOJ said it had asked a federal court in Miami to authorize the Internal Revenue Service to request information from UBS about U.S. taxpayers who may be using Swiss bank accounts to evade federal income taxes. Coughing up tax fraudsters to the IRS could make the sell-off of UBS’s U.S. wealth management backbone – once known as Paine Webber – a tad trickier, but perhaps no less necessary.

A detailed blow-by-blow of the death of Bear Stearns by Vanity Fair’s Bryan Burrough casts current market rumors rumbling about the health of Lehman Brothers in an eerie light. The author, who DealBook notes co-wrote “Barbarians at the Gate,” takes aim at CNBC and hedge funds as it works to uncover what it posits could be the “murder” of the country’s fifth-biggest investment bank. This morning, CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino and DealBook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin are talking about the prospects for Lehman being “taken out”.

High in the “priced to move” column, commercial lender CIT Group agreed to sell its home lending business to private equity firm Lone Star Funds for $1.5 billion in cash to increase liquidity, and said it would take a related second-quarter charge of $2 billion. CIT also agreed to sell its $470 million manufactured housing portfolio to Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance for about $300 million. “These sales complete our exit from all home lending businesses, removing the uncertainty surrounding this asset class,” Chief Executive Jeffrey Peek said. Lone Star will also be taking on $4.4 billion of outstanding debt and other related liabilities. Home lending may not be that far off the path for CIT, but getting out of the business certainly helped tax preparer H&R Block, which announced strong results and a better outlook yesterday, so any price is clearly worth it – CIT’s stock was up over 11 percent in premarket trade.