The Berg says rice is up double from a year ago and 400 percent from 2001. It quotes a farm marketing guy as saying rice, now at $20.91 per 100 pounds, may reach $22 by November. A whole 5 percent increase in seven months when just today it’s jumped 2 percent? Don’t go too far out in that rice paddy there, guys.
But there’s little to nothing here that backs up the story’s thesis.
The upheaval parallels turmoil in global capital markets that seized up nine months ago when subprime mortgages collapsed. The difference between what it costs the U.S. government to borrow and the rate banks charge each other for three month loans ended last week at 1.36 percentage points. A year ago the gap was 0.33 percentage point.
Well, okay. What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?
Bill Gates, corporate raider
Microsoft is threatening to turn its “friendly” $45 billion bid for Yahoo into a hostile one at a lower price if the Internet portal doesn’t accept its bid within three weeks, the Journal says on B1. Yahoo has already rejected the bid, which Microsoft made to help it challenge Google.
The FT leads its front-page story with Yahoo directors “huddling” to discuss the newly aggressive Microsoft tack, but doesn’t get to the hostile news until the fifth paragraph.
Thorn in your board
The WSJ says on C1 that company boards of directors are allowing shareholder activists onto boards at a sharply increased pace.
The paper says the number of companies who caved to activists and gave them board seats was up more than triple last quarter from the same time in 2006. It notes how rival New York Times Company gave two seats to a hedge fund.
“You will see more large shareholders being invited on to boards” without proxy fights, says Richard Breeden, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman and now an activist investor. His $1.5 billion Breeden Partners fund has won board seats at three companies, two through negotiated settlements.
Several forces are behind the shift. Changing corporate-governance rules give investors a bigger say on the election of directors and make proxy challenges more credible. Activists, meanwhile, are more selective, seeking a handful of board seats instead of trying to oust a full board and focusing on battles they think they can win, says Damien Park, a consultant who advises companies on dealing with activists.
This is a welcome development. Too many corporate boards have been too insider-y—too chummy with executives and each other and thus too willing to give CEOs exorbitant pay packages, and too unwilling to exercise oversight of their decisions and operations.
Will Warren wield the axe?
The WSJ scoops on C1 that the feds are pushing Warren Buffett to fire the CEO of his General Re Corporation subsidiary, which insures insurers. Four General Re execs were convicted of a “sham deal” that falsely boosted AIG’s earnings.
Defense lawyers say it isn’t unheard of for prosecutors to suggest personnel changes as part of a settlement of a government investigation. The practice has increased, lawyers say, in conjunction with the rise of agreements between prosecutors and companies to avoid prosecution, typically in exchange for paying a fine and meeting certain conditions.
The father of our bailouts
The Los Angeles Times puts a thumb-sucker on page one, asking “Who should get mortgage aid?” in the bailouts it says Congress is about to take up on a “massive scale.”
Many of those who bought or refinanced their homes with sub-prime loans were victims of overzealous loan brokers paid on commission. But many others knowingly took out mortgages they couldn’t afford, betting that home prices would keep rising and that they could easily refinance.
Whether all these borrowers are deserving or not, political leaders are being forced by events to take increasingly pragmatic approaches to the crisis at hand.
The paper spends much of its run going back into history (even back to George Washington’s administration!) to illustrate how the government has ended up helping speculators and the like in its efforts to shore up the economy and markets.
In the 1790s, the newly formed federal government finally decided to pay off most of the debts accumulated by the states during the Revolutionary War, despite complaints that speculators in war bonds would benefit.
Distasteful as many found it, paying off the debts was deemed crucial to establishing the new government’s credit at home and abroad.
If George Washington bailed out the speculators, so can we.