In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Vetting the Syrian rebels:
Most of those pushing for providing arms and other aid to the Syrian rebels — which the Obama administration announced last week it will now do — have promised that the rebels could be “vetted” so that weapons and other assistance don’t end up in the hands of jihadists and other bad actors.
I wish I could see a story explaining how that’s going to be done. We seem to have a hard enough time vetting Americans, like Edward Snowden, before giving them top secret security clearances. What’s the plan to separate the good rebels from the bad ones in Syria before letting them lock and load?
2. A gene-screening company’s stock gyrations:
Two weeks ago, I suggested a story about how hedge funds must be using lawyers to handicap an imminent make-or-break Supreme Court decision concerning Myriad Genetics. That’s the company whose claimed patent of a gene has allowed it to charge more than $3,000 for the kind of test used by actress Angelina Jolie to determine whether she was likely to become a breast cancer victim.
Last Thursday at 10:30, the high court issued a unanimous and seemingly dispositive decision — that genes cannot be patented. Yet it seems that there was as much or more speculation and uncertainty after the Court announced its ruling as there was before.
For more than an hour after the decision was handed down — and headlined on most major news websites as a definitive defeat for the gene testing company — Myriad stock was actually up about 8 percent, to an all-time high of $38.27.
Prompted by statements issued by Myriad’s PR people, some hedge funds and analysts might have been thinking the way CNN.com was when it tempered its headline, published at 10:51 am, with this caveat: “But in something of a compromise decision, all nine justices said a synthetic version of the gene material may be patented. Initial reaction from investors,” CNN added, “sent the stock of Myriad Genetics… higher.”
But by lunchtime, amid frenzied trading, the stock started dropping, and it closed the day down about 6 percent. On Friday, it plunged another 13.8 percent, to $27.59, and on Monday, another 3.5 percent, to $26.62.
All the speculation can’t have had anything to do with some insiders getting information earlier than others. No one has a timing advantage when it comes to knowing Supreme Court decisions. Everyone had the same document at the same time, and the roller coaster started after everyone had the chance to read it. And, again, those who reacted first actually drove the stock up.
So what caused the stock to soar then dive, with lots of ups and downs in between? I’d love to be a fly on the wall at one or more of those trading floors. Who were the go-to lawyers who were giving which funds and analysts which advice?
Did the same people analyzing the decision change their minds, or is it that those who took the most time to figure out a ruling full of arcane terminology and mind-numbing points of patent law took longer to reach what it seems, for now, to have turned out to be the smarter consensus?
3. Is the Yankees’ front office rooting for A-Rod?
This column by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman raises the intriguing idea that the Yankees’ front office may be cheering on the renewed investigation of Alex Rodriguez for alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. As Sherman puts it:
It is understandable why the front office is fixated on Rodriguez. If he doesn’t play this year because of his hip surgery, the Yankees will recoup about 80 percent of his contract via insurance. If he is actually suspended for 100 games, that would be about $15 million saved. Maybe the right set of dominoes could play out where A-Rod just decides to retire, which might provide another insurance-based financial bonanza. Or the MLB investigation could open the slim road for the Yankees to try to void the remainder of his contract (don’t hold your breath).
I am a big Sherman fan, but his description of the incentives the Yankees may have to see A-Rod stay on the disabled list, be suspended by the league, or even retire is way too vague. Can’t a sports or business reporter somewhere get to the bottom of exactly what both his contract with the Yankees and the Yankees’ contract with the insurer covering him — as well as contracts covering more typical players — say about who is obligated for how much in the event he stays injured, is suspended or retires? We Yankee fans would love to know if some big money might be freed up for us to go after some real talent.
4. GE’s alleged credit card scam:
This story in the trade publication Modernhealthcare.com reports that a company called CareCredit — which distributes credit cards to patients “inside the offices of more than 160,000 healthcare providers” — has agreed to a settlement with the New York State attorney general’s office after it was accused of charging interest rates of nearly 27 percent while promising initial rates of 0 percent.
CareCredit, it turns out, is owned by GE Capital Retail Bank, a division of the corporate icon that “Brings Good Things to Life.”
“About one-quarter of all the people who signed up for 0% introductory rates ended up paying 26.99%,” Modernhealthcare.com reported, quoting the attorney general’s announcement.
Just the fact that a unit of one of America’s most respected blue chip companies is apparently engaged in this kind of bait and switch, boiler room activity ought to get the national press interested. There’s also the question of what else the company may be engaged in that won’t make its way into GE’s perpetual, and perpetually effective, corporate imaging campaigns. A check of the GE Capital website, for example, lists consumer financing units covering not only healthcare but everything from auto parts to home improvement to glasses and eye care.