Audit Notes: Around and a Roundup, Fed Capture, Newsday Cashflow

The Journal has a good, creepy story on how the chemical companies are planning to take advantage of blowback from Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which has become dominant and which “superweeds” are increasingly becoming resistant to.

So Monsanto engineers a chemical and engineers the plants so they can withstand the chemical. It knocks out the weeds and clears the way for species that have adapted resistance to Roundup. What to do? Well, genetically engineer new seeds to be resistant to large quantities of older, more-poisonous chemicals. What could go wrong?

This all, naturally, will be great for Big Chem:

The chemical companies are betting their biotech investments will pay off in two ways: Farmers will buy more of their herbicides, and will pay big premiums for the new seeds.

Again, the new seeds are being engineered to stand up to bigger amounts of chemicals.

As a result, he says, the amount of herbicide sprayed on just one major crop, soybeans, could climb roughly 70%.

Conveniently enough for Monsanto, all this is happening just as its patent for its genetically modifed Roundup-resistant seeds expires in 2014.

The upshot:

The bioengineering push is causing controversy, though. Some of the old pesticides—in particular, those called 2,4-D and dicamba—have a history of posing more risks for the environment than the chemical in Roundup.

Time to go rewatch Food Inc.:

— The Huffington Post’s Shahien Nasiripour finds the Federal Reserve, future home of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, arguing against credit-card protections for small businesses.

The Federal Reserve warned Congress in a recent report that protecting small businesses from the kind of “harmful” credit card practices it prohibits from being used on consumers would lead to a reduction of credit and higher borrowing costs for businesses — a similar argument advanced by the banks the Fed regulates.

This is the similar to Meredith Whitney’s ridiculous argument: Don’t protect consumers! If you keep predatory lenders from preying on customers, they won’t give as much predatory credit to customers!

This is interesting. I had no idea about this:

But the Truth in Lending Act, a 1968 law known as TILA that protects consumers by requiring lenders to disclose the terms and costs of credit, generally applies only to consumer credit products. Credit cards issued to small businesses typically aren’t covered, as businesses are thought to be more sophisticated borrowers than consumers. Thus, small businesses aren’t afforded the same protections as consumers.

It seems like there might be some some anecdote-heavy stories here. Have banks screwed small-business customers because regulations let them? Does a bear, you know… in the woods?

I’d like to see that story.

Newsday had $16 million in cashflow in 2009, the paper’s union says, though that number is disputed by management (both are in the midst of a contentious contract negotiation).

Here’s a memo from the union’s Mike Amon:

Local 406 believes Newsday is making money. An accountant we hired to examine Cablevision’s S.E.C. reports puts the company’s cash flow at $16 million in 2009, which means $16 million more money came in than went out. Newsday claims it lost $12 million, saying one-time expenses took big bites out of the cash flow. But eventually the company stopped disputing its profits during negotiations.

Amon says revenue at the paper has fallen by more than half from $500 million in 2005 to $240 million last year. While cashflow isn’t the same as net income, it’s a good indication of whether a company is profitable or not.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.