Monthly Archives: January 2013

If you’re still wondering what inflated the dotcom bubble, inflamed the financial crisis and ignited a series of recent corporate disasters, the answer is staring you in the face: it’s the stupidity, stupid.

Andrew Hill

TNT headquarters, Hoofddorp. Getty Images

Unless you’re an avid reader of Dutch newspapers you may have missed the mini-drama playing out behind the long-running UPS attempt to take over TNT Express, which ended on Monday when Brussels said it would block the deal.

At the height of the discussions with the European Commission last September, Marie-Christine Lombard, TNT Express’s chief executive, resigned abruptly. She went on to join competitor Geodis, a French express and logistics group, in the same role. Read more

John Gapper

The showdown between Bill Ackman and Dan Loeb, two activist fund managers, over the value of Herbalife, the US health supplement company, is entertaining for bystanders. It presages more such splits.

Traditionally, hedge funds have tended to hunt in packs – lining up to sell shares short or to arbitrage securities. One recent example was at JP Morgan Chase, where a set of hedge funds, led by Saba Capital, traded against the bank’s derivatives position.

In Herbalife’s case, Mr Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital and Mr Loeb’s Third Point, are arrayed against each other. Mr Ackman has accused Herbalife of being a Ponzi scheme, which it fiercely denies; Mr Loeb is on Herbalife’s sideRead more

It takes an Orwellian sense of irony – or a complete lack of it – for a censor to ban the phrase “freedom of speech”. Yet that was among the search terms blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, in the row over censorship that erupted in Guangzhou this week.

Andrew Hill

For a breed that is rarely found, sleeves rolled up, trying to unblock the U-bend, investment bankers are remarkably fond of plumbing metaphors. Around this time of year, they usually rush to point out just how full their “pipeline” of deals is. (One optimist told the FT this week the very size of this pipeline might itself prove to be a problem.)

The implication is that if some way could be found to clear the impediments, initial public offerings and acquisitions would come pouring out. This wishful thinking leads to some sharp-elbowed lobbying for changes to rules that supposedly deter such transactions. Bankers – and, to be fair, some entrepreneurs – would, for instance, like more flexibility to bring to market companies with a lower “free float” of shares (allowing owners to retain a larger stake). Read more

John Gapper

Lehman Brothers collpsed in 2008. Getty Images

The demise of London’s merchant banks, which were sold to US and European banks in the mid-1990s after the collapse of Barings in 1995, showed they could no longer exist in the modern world of finance.

Was the US much different, though? Looking back at the 2008 financial crisis, the collapse of Lehman Brothers had roughly the same effect on the Wall Street investment banks as the collapse of Barings in 1995. Read more

It’s 25 years, almost to the day, since I started at the Financial Times. “One tip,” confided a more experienced colleague, early on: “Don’t stay more than five years, or you’ll be here for ever.”

Andrew Hill

Coffee chain to open in Vietnam. Getty Images

Much is being made of Starbucks’ plan to open an outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in February – “taking on Vietnam’s coffee culture”, as the FT headline has it.

In fact, Starbucks is a little behind schedule – it intended to open in Vietnam in 2012 – and, in any case, I wonder if the significance of the move is not in the headline but in the small print, where the Seattle-based group makes its now familiar commitment to “work closely with local farming communities”. Read more

The Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other down-on-their luck newspapers, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after four years this week. Its first move will probably be to sell off the papers cheaply and focus on cable television.

John Gapper

The news that Avis Budget is buying Zipcar for $500m evokes mixed feelings in me for two reasons.

One is that I was a regular Zipcar user for seven years in New York, where we did not own a car. On returning to sprawling London, I have just succumbed and bought a car again, thus reducing my Zipcar use. Read more