Canada may have just shot itself in the foot. The Ottawa government said BHP’s $39 billion takeover bid for Potash Corp provided no net benefit to the nation. There’s some basis for this in the specific instance. But what the decision fails to reflect is the long-term damage such a politicized rejection does to Canada’s ability to attract capital.
While BHP still has 30 days to plead its case, the decision by the conservative government of Stephen Harper will be regarded as a major victory in Saskatchewan. The provincial government opposed the takeover of Potash, an asset that it used to own. It clearly marshaled some persuasive arguments for its resistance, though Minister of Industry Tony Clement said he was prohibited from sharing them.
Not much binds fertilizer and chocolate. But Potash Corp’s battle against mega-miner BHP’s hostile takeover bears a striking resemblance to the one British candy-bar maker Cadbury unsuccessfully waged against Kraft Foods a year ago. The similarities include a lack of competing bids, lots of political Sturm und Drang and antsy shareholders. Potash shareholders would be wise to consider how the Cadbury situation played out.
Like BHP, Kraft took its first offer for Cadbury directly to shareholders. Cadbury rejected the bid and arbitrageurs lifted the shares above the price on the table. The usual M&A defensive dance then kicked off, with Cadbury arguing its performance warranted a higher valuation, while at the same time searching for rival bidders.
At first blush, the expected IPO of BankUnited looks designed to leave Sheila Bair red-faced. The chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp sold the Florida bank, with $13 billion of assets, to a group of private equity investors in May 2009 for a song. Any profit they make will sound indecent next to the FDIC’s projected losses on the deal.
But Bair needn’t be embarrassed. As one of the first big rescue operations of the crisis, the BankUnited deal piqued investor interest for banks. That arguably helped reduce overall losses to the insurance fund, whose ultimate backstop is the American taxpayer.
After a round of golf with his Titleist clubs, a guy pops into the clubhouse for a Maker’s Mark neat before rinsing off under a Moen showerhead. That’s about the closest Fortune Brands comes to synergies. No wonder the conglomerate makes such a tempting target for an activist investor.
Shareholders won’t be alone rooting for Bill Ackman, boss of the Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund, who revealed an 11 percent stake last week, to break Fortune up. Diageo, the biggest booze business in the world, may one day toast him. The company has long wanted to own a major bourbon brand. Fortune has two: Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam.
TPG’s public travails in Russia are enough to scare away other private equity firms from the country entirely. David Bonderman’s shop is embroiled in a nasty battle for control of Saint Petersburg hypermarket chain Lenta. For a $110 million investment, it might seem a case study in why Russia is too much trouble. But the risks may just be worth it.
The fight between TPG and American businessman August Meyer, who owns 41 percent of Lenta, erupted last month when Jan Dunning, the CEO Meyer tried to depose in July, showed up at Lenta headquarters with armed guards to reclaim his office. Fisticuffs broke out and police detained 20 people.
General Electric’s shareholders seem curiously overjoyed to see the conglomerate back in shopping mode. They added nearly $4 billion to GE’s market cap on Wednesday, when the company splashed out $3 billion on an energy infrastructure business, confirmed its interest in a British maker of oil pipes, and snapped up a package of some of Citigroup’s more questionable loans. It’s a change from years on the back foot selling assets. But the celebration looks overdone.
GE, under chief executive Jeff Immelt, has overspent on takeovers in the past, and it’s hard to get a handle on whether or not it is bringing newfound discipline to its mergers and acquisitions machine. That should matter to shareholders. The fallout from past missteps, overlaid with the financial crisis, has cost GE’s owners some $250 billion in lost market value over the past three years — almost the exact equivalent of Apple’s entire market cap.
Sirius XM Radio boss Mel Karmazin doesn’t seem too concerned about the surge in online radio. At least he doesn’t think it represents an immediate threat to the U.S. satellite radio monopoly he runs. He may be right. But he should keep a close eye on upstarts like Pandora and Slacker.
The mojo is back at Sirius. Shares have more than doubled in price this year, giving Sirius a robust $5 billion market cap. The rebound in U.S. car sales — to an annualized rate of more than 11 million — will swell subscriber ranks to more than 20 million this year.
It’s rare for a Wall Street firm to sack a tenth of its workforce in one go. In finance, the compact between employers and their bankers and traders is simple: work hard and get paid well. But any employee is also a flexible cost that can be removed the moment business halts.
Hedge funds have a similar approach. But it’s an industry yet to experience a sustained down cycle and its concomitant job cuts. Until now. D.E. Shaw, the veteran alternative asset management shop that once employed Larry Summers, President Obama’s outgoing economic adviser, reveals the shift in fortunes.
Wal-Mart <WMT.N> has finally sounded the vuvuzela on African expansion. After months of speculation about how it would try to capitalize on the continent’s growth, the U.S. retailer is offering $4.2 billion to acquire South Africa’s Massmart Holdings <MSMJ.J>. The price could grate on shareholders’ ears. But the deal gives Wal-Mart a local vehicle — and local knowledge — to help it gain access to a market with a profile that should suit it well.
If the deal is accepted by Massmart, Wal-Mart will be paying close to 13 times the Johannesburg-based retailer’s EBITDA. For a company that trades at closer to 7 times, that’s a big premium, albeit a drop in the bucket against Wal-Mart’s nearly $200 billion market capitalization.
The Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan may have been an ardent proponent of an early form of globalization. But Mongolia has taken its time embracing international capital markets. Now this “Mortar Economy” — the country is wedged between two BRICs, Russia and China — may be set for rapid growth.
Mongolia is on the verge of opening a stock exchange. The market will finally plug the landlocked nation into the grid of global finance, facilitating privatizations, investment, and the flow of capital to would-be entrepreneurs among its 3 million people.