DealZone

General Growth battle intensifies

The battle for control of General Growth, owner of shopping centers across America, continues, as it  weighs two rival offers.

General Growth, which is trying to exit bankruptcy, will consider at a board meeting Thursday whether to postpone a key court hearing set for Friday as it continues talks with suitors Simon Property and Brookfied Asset Management.

It has asked Simon to increase its $5.8 billion bid. General Growth may also come back with a new counter0ffer on antitrust issues that could arise from a merger of the two largest U.S. mall owners.

Despite being in bankruptcy since last April after grappling with falling rents and rising vacancies, bidders are keen to take control of the Chicago-based company, which owns a number of malls which generate high cash in posh destinations. 

If shoppers, which fuel America’s economy, return to stores in force, it could turn into a good investment.

from Summit Notebook:

Tax evaders on the run

  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

Bank of America’s Chalice: Poison or Red Bull?

For months, as he endured hearings on Capitol Hill and fought off a series of lawsuits, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis trudged through a post-apocalyptic financial landscape against a steady drumbeat of questions about his future. The deal he had called “the strategic opportunity of a lifetime” — his purchase/salvage of Merrill Lynch — had swung from an act of patriotism, keeping the American way of banking from utter ruin, to a scandal over Merrill losses and bonuses.

Perhaps he should have seen the writing on the walls of the vacant houses financed by Countrywide, the mortgage lender Lewis purchased/salvaged just six months before the Merrill deal. The two transactions may have been strategic gems, but they were laced with political poison as the economy floundered toward its dramatic deleveraging and taxpayers pumped $20 billion into Bank of America to fund the Merrill deal.

“It was only a matter of time,” Campbell Harvey, a professor at Duke University’s business school, told Jon Stempel. “There is too much collateral damage.” As Stempel reports, Lewis spent north of $130 billion on acquisitions, including FleetBoston Financial Corp, the credit card issuer MBNA Corp, LaSalle Bank Corp, Countrywide, Charles Schwab Corp’s U.S. Trust private banking unit, and Merrill. In buying Merrill, he added a giant investment bank to what was already the largest U.S. retail bank, credit card issuer and mortgage provider. (Wells Fargo & Co has since become No. 1 in mortgages.)

Truth in tender offers? An eyewitness account.

U.S. Securities regulators on Thursday sued a well-connected Kuwaiti financier, saying he reaped millions in suspicious profits after false takeover reports briefly sent shares of Harman International Industries soaring this week.

Reuters reporter Ransdell Pierson was in the office working the Sunday shift when he received a fax with the purported takeover offer.  Unable to verify the authenticity of the fax, Reuters did not publish the story.  Here is Ransdell’s first person account of what happened, and a copy of the fax. Would you have questioned its veracity?

Ransdell Pierson:

I was scouring newspapers on a Sunday shift in the Reuters New York bureau and waiting for news about distressed lender CIT Group, when the phone finally rang and broke my reverie. “Newsroom,” I said, and the caller replied, “Your Jeddah bureau is closed today. Can I send you a fax?” The male caller, who I imagined to be a middle-aged office aide frustrated by the thankless chore of delivering his fax, said it was a press release about a deal. Something about one company buying another for about $3 billion.
“If it’s such a big transaction, shouldn’t this news be coming over the PRNewswire or BusinessWire?” I asked him. He explained that it was the weekend, so faxing a press release was the best route.
I gave him a fax number and he called back, irritated the document hadn’t gone through. I gave him another fax number and he soon called back again, more irritated than before. So I gave him the number of a third Reuters fax machine, but told him that it needed to include contact information for all the parties. “Otherwise, we can’t authenticate it.” “OK, you’ll have it,” he replied.

from Photographers' Blog:

Tim Geithner : What’s In Your Wallet?

What's in U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's wallet? Not much.

While testifying in front of a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill Thursday Geithner was shown a $50 Billion Zimbabwean bank note (rendered worthless by Zimbabwe's hyperinflation) by U.S. Representative John Culberson (R- TX) and asked if he had ever seen one himself. Geithner immediately pulled a piece of Zimbabwean currency out of his own pocket and showed it off to the committee. At the next break in the hearing I approached Geithner and asked how he happened to have a piece of foreign currency in his pocket. His response was "I often have some foreign currency in my wallet. Want to see?" He pulled a very thin and mostly empty wallet from his pocket.

Amongst many empty slots in the thin weathered leather wallet there could be seen three credit or debit cards with Visa and Mastercard logos (all inserted into the wallet upside down so that the card issuers could not be seen) and an old and yellowed looking identification card of indeterminate origin.

From inside the wallet Geithner extracted a small pile of receipts and paper including a New York City MTA farecard, pointing out that there were European Euros tucked amongst the paper.

from MacroScope:

Canada dresses up for bears

For all the designer drinks and gourmet foods - from raw oysters to sushi, and the sea of men in expensive suits and bejeweled women in elegant gowns, the setting seemed fit only for celebration.

But dressed as they were to the nines, investors attending "A Night with the Bears" at Toronto's upscale Elgin Theatre, were eager to hear the worst, on the edges of plush seats amid predictions of market doom from some of the continent's savviest
financial minds.

"I only wish we'd sold tickets," said a smiling Eric Sprott, arguably Canada's best known hedge fund manager and chairman at Sprott Asset Management Inc, as he looked out at the 1,500 or so crowd.

Distressed investors say TGIF

Roman Catholics have fish Fridays. Boxing fans have Friday Night Fights. For distressed investors, like Jon Winick, president of Clark Street Capital, there’s Friday night Failure. 
 
“You can count on Friday failures for the next six to twelve months,” Winick said at a distressed investing conference in New York this week. He forecasts bank failures to rise to 200 through next year.
 
There have been 14 bank failures so far this year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, with filings every Friday since Jan. 16 after the year end and New Year’s Day holidays.
    
The FDIC seized 25 banks last year. In just the first seven weeks of 2009, the 14 bank failures mean the FDIC is on pace to close more than 100 banks in 2009.
     
Distressed investors say they are expecting a record wave of bankruptcies this year, marking unprecedented opportunity for investors and a feeding frenzy on Fridays. The filings on Fridays are procedural, as the FDIC posts the failures at the end of the week. That allows the declaring bank to give regulators the weekend to sort things out, and it prevents a big run on the bank because branches are closed.
 
Brad Hunter, national director of consulting at Metrostudy, a housing industry research firm, thinks things are just getting started. He said bank takeovers ultimately could exceed 1,000. 
 
“Option ARM loans are coming due, and that will trigger another wave of foreclosure,” he said.

from India Insight:

Satyam — truth be damned?

If a stock dives 55 percent, is it time to go bargain hunting?

Absolutely not! At least that was the case with India's Satyam Computer Services after it shocked investors on Wednesday by disclosing most of its profits were cooked up.

The disclosure came after the company's botched attempt last month to buy two construction firms partly owned by its founders, which sent its shares diving 55 percent in one session by angry investors.

Chairman Ramalinga Raju said: "It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten."

Yahoo’s deal with Google: Band-Aid

So Yahoo and Google scaled back the terms of their search advertising deal in what looks like a last-ditch, attempt — at least for Yahoo — to get it past U.S. regulators.

Some analysts called it the Band-Aid deal, while others said it smacks of desperation.

Frost & Sullivan’s digital media global director Mukul Krishna said the revised terms were “more of a Band-Aid than the extensive surgery” Yahoo needs.

A Killer Economy

This economy is a killer. Just ask New Yorkers on Craigslist. 

You may not have heard of the Killers, a music group from Las Vegas that’s been variously called the next U2 and the best Mormon rock band of all time. They are playing tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.

Tickets, at $45, sold out in a few minutes when they went on sale in late September, and have been reselling for 10 times that amount on the secondary market.  That’s where Craigslist, and a former hedge fund associate, come in.

A Reuters reporter was not willing to pay the $350 asking price per ticket to see the show, and emailed the seller, pointing out a recession is under way.  The former hedge fund associate emailed back: “I’m not a scalper. I’m a ticket arbitrageur.”  So we called him up.