“Big Loan”, big problem

Rob “Big Loan” Verrone was the banker with the big name behind the 2007 acquisition of now-bankrupt Extended Stay.

His nickname was trumpeted in the hotel chain’s 2007 press release detailing the deal — in retrospect perhaps not the best quality to shout about.

Big Loan, described as one of three who provided the mortgage and mezzanine financing, moved on from Wachovia according to a Wall Street Journal report last year, and we couldn’t immediately track him down for comment.

Extended Stay filed for bankruptcy today after being saddled with too much debt during the economic crisis.

The one party which did come out looking good was Blackstone, which sold out of the deal two years before it cratered.

What’s in Citi’s Wallet?

Citigroup may be too big to fail, but is it big enough to close a deal? Soon after losing its bid for Wachovia to Wells Fargo, Citi turned it sights on Chevy Chase Bank, which while not as mighty as Wachovia, was at least closer to its east coast power base. This morning, Capital One Finance said it had agreed to buy the mid-Atlantic lender, right out from under Citi’s nose.
JP Morgan Chase had also been interested in Chevy Chase, a smallish, unlisted lender. The deal announced by Capital One was for $520 million – hardly the kind of blockbuster that makes or breaks a battered Wall Street monolith. 
It will be interesting to see if Citi, brimming over with TARP funds that the Treasury has all but begged it and others to spend on lending, stays on the prowl. Bank of America took its TARP money and boosted its stake in a Chinese lender, so there is some precedent for Citi to spend the funds on a deal.
But with Citi’s wallet stuffed with taxpayer cash, the impetus for growth may be less imperative. If it decides against bidding for the deposits of another regional bank, Citi will find itself with only financial assets to sell — in a seller’s market.
It agreed to sell its German retail business, which it put on the block over the summer with a price tag of around $8 billion, and at the end of November reports emerged it would try to sell its trust bank unit in Japan for more than $400 million. 
Deals of the day:

* Goldman Sachs said it has rejected an offer from Panasonic to buy its shares in Sanyo Electric because it believes the offer price is too low.

* Rio Tinto is in talks to sell its half of a Chinese aluminium joint venture to its partner, which is consolidating its assets to prepare for a takeover by another state-owned company, sources in the two Chinese companies said.

Just Walk Away

wachoviaexit.jpgCitigroup investors welcomed news the bank had abandoned its brief but acrimonious battle with Wells Fargo over Wachovia Corp, driving its shares up 15 percent in after-hours trade. 

When Citi announced last week that it was buying Wachovia’s banking operations, investors sent Citi’s shares higher, hoping the purchase would allow the bank to raise much-needed capital while expanding its branch network. But this week, investors cheered that Citigroup was walking away from a deal that could have proven more toxic than either Citi or Wachovia had thought. 

By this morning, the euphoria that followed the deal’s collapse had faded. Citi shares had lost all of those gains of yesternight and were trading back near 12-year lows. Dodging a bullet doesn’t seem to have done anything about the quicksand. 
Deals of the day: 
* Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan’s largest bank, said it has no plans to pull out of a planned $9 billion investment in Morgan Stanley, even as shares of the U.S. bank continue to tumble. 

Feeding Frenzy

The German share price index DAX is seen at the Frankfurt stock exchange, October 7, 2008. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach(GERMANY)Banks aren’t lending to each other, but they are buying each other. An interesting by-product of the deals: capital-hungry institutions are raising billions of dollars of fresh capital in a tumbling market.
Bank of America said yesterday its tier-one capital ratio would be 7.5 percent in the third quarter, down from 8.25 percent in the second quarter, spurring it to launch a $10 billion share offering and cut its dividend. On a conference call, it said it could raise even more to help manage the purchase of Merrill Lynch. Wells Fargo planned to raise $20 billion to fund its bid for Wachovia, while rival suitor Citigroup aimed to raise $10 billion to buy that bank. Those two are taking a three-day break from a legal battle over who gets what.  
If Citigroup loses out on Wachovia, Dan Wilchins points out, it will also miss out on a great chance to raise capital. Citi would likely have a much easier time raising capital to fund its growth than to patch holes on its balance sheet. The bank has raised $50 billion of capital in the last seven months, and its management has consistently said that it has raised more than it expected to need, he reports. But that could all change in a recession, as credit cards, investment banking, and retail brokerage businesses lose customers. 
Once the dust settles, ruthlessly diluting shareholders may show itself to have been absolutely necessary, and perhaps even unavoidable. But now with the markets in freefall, it’s more than a little scary. 

Deals of the day:

* Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings kicked off the sale of electricity generator PowerSeraya, in a deal that could fetch around $2.5 billion. To read more, please double click on 

* Icelandic investment firm Exista will sell its near 20 percent stake in Finnish insurer Sampo to reduce liabilities but will keep its other assets, the group said in a statement.

Citi or Bust?

The site of a new Wells Fargo & Co. branch is seen in Waco, Texas, October 5, 2008. Wachovia Corp said on Sunday that it will pursue a deal to sell itself to banking rival Wells Fargo & Co. despite an attempt by Citigroup Inc to block the deal. Citigroup, the largest U.S. bank, is also courting hobbled Wachovia and late on Saturday said it had won a court order blocking Wells Fargo from buying Wachovia until the court ruled. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)It seemed like the natural order of things had returned for a short while last week. Wells Fargo had outbid Citigroup to take over Wachovia, and as an added treat, they did not plan to tap government funds to do it. Apparently caught unawares, the jilted suitor sued saying its exclusivity agreement had been broken. If the parties had had a signed merger deal, rather than just an exclusive agreement to talk, Wachovia would have been obliged to pay Citi some kind of break-up fee. But the waters are murkier this time. So instead, the now fully engaged Federal Reserve is acting as broker in what has become a frantic legal spat between the banks.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Fed is pushing the two banks to compromise by potentially carving up Wachovia between them. Having already decided a purchase of Wachovia is an issue that has significance for the stability of the financial system, the Fed continues to view resolving the confusion over who is buying one of the nation’s biggest banks as important, a Treasury source told us, adding that discussions were continuing late last night.

What could motivate the Fed to intrude where the free market seemed to be working so well? Citi shares saw their first substantive rally in a long while when their Wachovia deal was announced. It was getting a sweet deal, with government backing, that was seen as a game changer for the mammoth bank. Without that deal, the Fed may be more worried about what to do about Citi than whether a Wells, Wachovia deal makes sense.

Inflection point?


Wells Fargo said on Friday it reached a deal to buy Wachovia for about $15.1 billion out from under Citigroup‘s nose.

We still haven’t heard back from Citi, so the question now is whether Citi simply walked away from a deal it – and the market – had seemed so excited about just days ago or whether it will come back with another bid. The latest from Citi’s website is that they are committed to the Wachovia transaction – that was Sept. 30.

Another bid? A bidding war? A bidding scuffle?

Seems unlikely in this time of failures, toxic waste and bailouts, and Citi certainly has plenty of trouble of its own. But Warren Buffett and others have been quite vocal about the great deals out there to be had, and certainly Wells Fargo seemed to have missed the boat when Citi made its initial bid — which was worth $2.16 billion for everything but AG Edwards and Wachovia Securities and included a fund business.

Deal spreads open wide


Shares of HBOS and Lloyds TSB got a boost this morning in London as it appeared Lloyds was less likely to try to renegotiate its takeover of HBOS. Standard Life Investments, a top investor in Lloyds and HBOS, supports the planned takeover under the original terms, a person close to the investment firm said, and analysts suggested political and regulatory pressure would force the deal through, despite its chunky discount to the indicated offer price.

BBC Business Editor Robert Peston writes:

So if you believe that the terms of the deal won’t and can’t be changed, the current HBOS share price is an opportunity to buy £10 notes for £6.60.

That looks too good to be true. And the normal investing rule is that if it looks too good to be true, then don’t touch it even if you’re in a radiation-proof suit.

Another four bite the dust

wachovia.jpgLawmakers are gearing up to vote on a $700 billion financial bailout plan, but the rescue from Capitol Hill didn’t come soon enough for Wachovia — whose assets are being acquired by Citigroup — or for Fortis NV, Hypo Real Estate and Bradford & Bingley, which were nationalized by European governments on Monday.

“Wachovia did not fail; rather, it is to be acquired by Citigroup Inc on an open bank basis with assistance from the FDIC,” the agency said in a statement. Still in doubt is the status of brokerage AG Edwards and asset manager Evergreen, which are not included in the deal.

Wasn’t it only two weeks ago that Wachovia was in talks to merge with Morgan Stanley?

Before the Bell: Bailouts and Buyouts

pelosi.jpgSince socialism is always more palatable when it bails out rich people, Henry Paulson’s $700 billion financial rescue package arrives in Congress today after round-the-clock negotiations over the weekend and exhortations from presidential candidates. But even as Congress prepared to vote, across the ocean the financial crisis rattled several European institutions.

The governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg moved to partially nationalize Fortis with an injection of over $16 billion. Also German lender Hypo Real Estate secured a credit line from the German government and banks up to 35 billion euros. And Britain nationalized mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley. Meanwhile shares in French bank Dexia fell on reports that it may need emergency capital. Rescue deals also emerged in Iceland, Russia and Denmark.

Citigroup will buy Wachovia Corp’s banking business, further consolidating power among three megabanks: Citigroup, JPMorgan and Bank of America.

Job cuts at Wachovia go right to the top

thompson.jpgWhen Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson announced plans to cut up to 500 jobs last month, he probably didn’t expect to be included in the total. The bank ousted Thompson on Monday following a series of disappointments that hurt the fourth-largest U.S. bank and its performance. Wachovia said Thompson is retiring at the request of its board of directors; Lanty Smith, the bank’s chairman, was named interim CEO. The bank’s stock was lower before the open. Wachovia has marked down mortgage and other debt assets by $5 billion so far in the credit crunch.

Harris is not pursuing any transaction. We’re not for sale,” Howard Lance, chairman, president and CEO of the defense communications company, told Reuters in a telephone interview. Lance said Harris normally does not comment on rumors or speculation, but decided to issue a statement because the “level of rhetoric had risen to a point that it was becoming a distraction and could be damaging to the company, and could fuel speculation in our stock.” One industry analyst last week told Reuters that General Dynamics recently made an informal overture to Harris, but dropped it amid its own management succession. Northrop Grumman also looked into a possible bid for Harris but balked at the high valuation, the analyst added.

China unveiled two mega-deals as the government overhauls the world’s largest telecoms industry, with mobile operator Unicom taking over a fixed-line peer and unloading an underperforming network. Unicom, the smaller rival of China Mobile, said it will issue new shares and swap 1.5 shares for every share in Netcom, the smaller of China’s two fixed-line carriers. Unicom is set to pay more than $55 billion for Netcom, but did not say how it arrived at that figure — which would be more than double Netcom’s current market value. Unicom also agreed to sell a wireless network to fixed-line leader China Telecom and its parent for 110 billion yuan ($15.2 billion). The announcements mark the first steps in a sweeping restructuring that is expected to usher China into a more advanced telecoms age while opening the door to foreign investment and billions of dollars in purchases from telecoms gear makers. China Telecom appears to be paying up for a network that only broke even in 2006 after years of losses and which is a third of the size of Unicom’s GSM communications network, which raked in 62.78 billion yuan in revenue in 2007.