Unstructured Finance

Was that an asset sale?

Did Citi sell something? All signs point to yes, but beyond that it’s hard to say.

Citigroup announced on Monday that it sold three credit card portfolios representing $1.3 billion in managed assets as part of a plan to unload weak businesses and troubled assets. The third-largest U.S. bank by assets did not disclose the terms of the deals, but said it will continue to service the portfolios through the first half of 2010.

Or, as New York Times chief financial correspondent Floyd Norris said as he bemoaned the lack of transparency from the taxpayer-funded bank:

I can’t remember a deal announcement when a company said it had sold undisclosed assets to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed price, resulting in an undisclosed profit or loss.

The flu frenzy has begun

flu-shotPeople have been worried about the H1N1 flu, aka swine flu, for months but the vaccine for that flu is not expected until at least mid-October.

So, for the time being, we’re taking a look at how the three major U.S. drugstore chains are preparing for the seasonal flu, which is responsible for about 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.

A survey conducted by Walgreen in mid-August found that 50 percent of consumers plan to get a seasonal flu shot this year, up from 43 percent who say they got one last season.  Twenty-seven percent of respondents to the online poll said they were more concerned about getting the flu than they were a year ago. 

Maytas Infra gains in falling market

The BSE Sensex ended 1.6 percent down on Monday but shares in Maytas Infra ended nearly 5 percent higher at 112.80 rupees after the company’s board received a proposal to replace the existing founder of the firm.

The CLB has instructed Maytas’ board to induct ILFS as new promoters and allow them to assume management control through appointment of four directors, including the chairman.

IL&FS, which owns 14.5 percent stake in Maytas, intends to buy additional stake of 22.51 percent with an investment of 1.5 billion rupees.mail1

Scarce soybeans stay in CBOT spotlight

rainbow1It’s crunch time for soybeans — if only processors could find any to crunch.
     
The protein-rich bean, in huge demand around the world for foods from edible oil and tofu to feedstocks for both animals and biodiesel plants, is in the grip of a supply scare.
    
The United States, the single-largest grower and exporter of soy, is forecast to produce a record-large crop of 3.2 billion bushels this year. Harvest starts in the Midwest grain belt in a few weeks.
    
So why did Chicago Board of Trade soybeans of September delivery reached a two-week high of $11.64-3/4 a bushel on Friday? Because while supply will be big, demand — nervous demand — will be bigger, at least for a while.
    
“If soybeans are ever going to be tight, it’s right now — it’s this week, it’s next week, into the new crop,” said Dan Cekander, a grain market analyst at brokerage Newedge USA. 
    
The U.S. soybean marketing year ends on Aug. 31, with the opening of the traditional harvest month of September. On that date, U.S. soybean stocks-on-hand are expected to have fallen to a 32-year low — with more declines seen before harvest can replenish supplies for processors and exporters.
    
“The other problem you have exacerbating the situation is the new-crop maturity is delayed, so the harvest is going to be delayed. So it’s not like you can all of a sudden turn on a lot of new-crop supplies — just because the old-crop marketing year ended,” Cekander told Reuters TV on Friday.
    
Active soy harvest in the central Midwest — Illinois and Iowa alone produce a third of all U.S. soybeans — is not expected until the third or fourth week in September.
    
So U.S. cash soybean prices soared last week as exporters and processors kept battling over dwindling old-crop supplies. Exporters at New Orleans were bidding as much as $2.10 per bushel over CBOT November futures prices to draw in soybeans on Friday, up from a premium of $1.35 over a week earlier.
    
Processors tried to compete but many continued to be forced to take extended “down time” for lack of bean supplies to crush into soybean meal, a popular high-protein livestock feed, and oil. Some Midwest brokers were quoting prices of up to $100 per ton above CBOT September futures for loaded railcars.
    
“What that tells you is that there are end users right now paying prices as high as they paid at the very height of the bull market a year ago in 2008″ for soymeal, Cekander said. 
    
Driving the strength in prices continues to be China’s torrid buying. But a drop in temperatures this week in the Midwest also sent a shiver through traders fearing an early frost that might cut yields in soybeans.
    
CBOT prices fell on Monday amid outlooks for milder U.S. crop weather through the middle of September. Also weighing on prices were worries that China may unilaterally terminate derivative contracts with some foreign banks that provide over-the-counter commodity hedgers services.
PHOTO: Northwestern Illinois fields after an August shower taken by Christine Stebbins

Check Out Line: More stuff to buy on Walmart.com

WALMART/INTERNATIONALCheck Out the discount giant’s latest move.

Walmart.com announced that it added nearly one million new products to its online collection with the launch of Walmart Marketplace, which lets consumers buy items from a specific group of other retailers through its own website.

The move adds products and top brands in areas such as home goods, apparel, toys and baby items.

The world’s largest retailer’s current Marketplace retailers include shoes to toys company CSN Stores, online bag and luggage seller eBags and Pro Team, a licensed sports clothing and collectibles company.  The company said it plans to add more retailers over the next year.

Boys and girls, welcome to Disney’s Marvelous Media Machine

Walt Disney’s $4 billion offer for Marvel Entertainment would give it more than 5,000 comic book characters, including such mighty heroes as Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. Disney’s Bob Iger told CNBC that the expanded roster will help bring more boys to the home of the Magic Kingdom, where Snow White, Cinderella and the Little Mermaid have long reigned supreme.

The cash and stock deal values Marvel at $50 per share, or a premium of 29 percent to Marvel’s closing stock price of $38.65 on Friday. The deal has been approved by the boards of both companies, and since Marvel’s CEO, Isaac Perlmutter, is also the largest shareholder of the company, it’s likely a done deal.

Marvel’s second quarter was a mighty one. It beat market estimates on strong DVD and pay TV sales of “Iron Man,” sending its shares to an all-time high. This year has been a lull for Marvel, with no new film releases due until 2010, when Iron Man 2 hits screens. Thor and the first Avenger movie, as well as Sony-produced “Spider-Man 4,” are slated for a 2011 release and an “Avengers” sequel is due in 2012.

Bye Bye BJ Services

If the bottom of the cycle has arrived for the oil and gas services business, then Baker Hughes‘ $5.5 billion stock-and-cash deal to buy smaller rival BJ Services may well be the beginning of a broad consolidation in the industry. 

The premium is hardly as juicy as one might expect at 16 percent, given the deal seems such a perfect fit. BJ has a network of faster-growing international operations, while Baker is mostly focused on the big U.S. market. Plus, BJ has attractive high-pressure pumping technology.

But a look at the state of the market shows the urge to merge will probably keep pressure on premiums. Natgas futures are at seven-year lows on soaring inventories and sinking demand, weather forecasters see a mild winter ahead, and economic green shoots are still only at the sprout stage. Just this morning, OPEC voiced concern about rising oil stocks, hinting ominously that it may have to do something about that.

Realty shines

INDIA-ECONOMY/

The BSE real estate index jumped 3.8 percent on Friday and emerged as the best sectoral performer of the day as shares of top realty firms rose.

Unitech gained 5.7 percent to end at 99.1 rupees and was the most traded counter on the BSE with volumes of over 31 million shares.

Rival DLF rose 5.3 percent to 413.1 rupees, but Omaxe led the index with gains of over 9 percent.

Spark needed

Could the sale of Britain’s biggest electricity distribution network help re-energise infrastructure dealmaking?

The supposedly steady business of buying and running roads, ports, and power grids has had a torrid time. The credit crunch has undermined some big infrastructure players, made it tricky to finance deals, and revealed that demand for some services — like toll roads and airports — is flakier than expected. Asset sales have run aground, instead of commanding the big premiums they would have fetched in the frantic debt-fuelled auctions of yore.

Nonetheless, optimists say the world’s long-term infrastructure needs are enormous. They are also cheered by the record $100 billion or so of funds that Preqin says are currently being raised (albeit slowly). And there may be some chinks of light on the M&A front. As Greg Roumeliotis and I wrote earlier:

Check Out Line: At Tiffany, the cut is in the costs, not the diamonds

TIFFANY & CoCheck out cost cuts at Tiffany.
 
it is (was?) a recession and people aren’t buying as much expensive jewelry. Sales at Tiffany fell 16 percent in the latest quarter.
 
But even though profit also fell almost 30 percent, Tiffany shares still rose.
 
Cost cuts helped Tiffany beat analyst expectations. The company said SG&A expenses fell 14 percent. It’s also slowing its pace of store openings because of the recession.
 
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” Right now, it might be an Egg McMuffin and coffee from the deli on the corner.
 
Also in the basket:
 
Consumer spending lifted by “cash-for-clunkers”
 
L’Oreal H1 beats forecasts, ready to make purchase

(Photo: Reuters)

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