Bloomberg News

Maybe, Just Maybe, Brazil’s Cup Will Be a Triumph: Opening Line

June 12, 2014

Brazil Prepares for World Cup

Workers construct the FIFA Fan Fest stage, where fans will be able to watch games broadcast live, on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

GOAAAL.

The most important contest in the game of soccer kicks off today, the World Cup. While most Americans could give a headbutt, in Brazil it’s total chaos.

The land of iron ore and soybeans inevitably will be scrambling to tie up loose ends. Taking down all of that scaffolding, rounding up all of those cranky, homeless puppies, cleaning the side-by-side toilets -- oh, wait, that was Sochi.

Like Putin’s $51 billion Olympic Games, this Cup is expensive by Brazilians’ standards. The estimated $11 billion has truly gotten under the skin of teachers, health workers and other public servants. To their mind, wages, services and working conditions are competing against arenas, roads, and renovations across 12 cities. Yes, 12 cities. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, in this video told Bloomberg why that’s too many.

You might agree from a practical standpoint. Fewer venues could have meant more money on safety and security. Some American who either didn’t do his homework or chose to ignore the memos on the crime epidemic might just wander off from the Copacabana Palace to have a switchblade thrust at his nose while struggling to understand, “se você se mexer, eu te corto a cara.”

But let’s not be complete sour grapes about Brazil’s ability to pull off a major sporting event with the entire world and the International Olympic Committee watching ahead of the 2016 Rio Summer Games. For now, forget about the political impact of a smooth Cup on its October presidential election.

Sochi turned out to be a success story, remember? As Vlad proved by showing up at Team USA’s house, there’s always plenty of goodwill and excitement to go around to overshadow the bad.

-- Nancy Moran

***

We’ve got a full slate of eco numbers today, including retail sales, import prices and initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EDT, Bloomberg consumer comfort at 9:45 a.m. and business inventories at 10 a.m.

Blackstone (BX:US) holds an investor meeting today, and there are annual meetings at Biogen, InterDigital, Visteon and Jarden.

***

+ George Chodron de Courcel, the BNP chief operating officer Ben Lawsky wanted fired, has resigned.

+ Obama meets Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, in Washington. They might not see eye-to-eye on everything.

+ Russia is closed for Russia Day.

+ Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered 20 years ago today. No one knows who did it.

+ Manhattan rents are at a five-year high.

+ Twitter, Feedly and Evernote were hit by hacks yesterday.

+ Bank of America persuaded a judge to take a second look at the SEC’s case against the company’s sale of mortgage-backed securities. Meanwhile, the Justice Department, in a parallel criminal case, is preparing to sue the bank as settlement talks have foundered.

+ Rigging markets in the U.K., or pretty much any market now, could land you in jail, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will announce today as he joins BOE’s Mark Carney to makes his annual speech to London’s finance industry at a dinner at the Mansion House in London.

+ Five Congolese soldiers were killed yesterday by Rwandan forces as the countries test each other’s borders.

***

When the story of investigations into insider trading by Carl Icahn, Phil Mickelson and Las Vegas gambling pro Billy Walters broke almost two weeks ago, the speciousness of the reporting stood out to us. The what-ifs, the timing, the lack of anything concrete on which the New York Times and Wall Street Journal had rested their stories gave us pause.

This ought to give more of it: The New York Times is totally backtracking today on its story that Mickelson traded illegally in Clorox (CLX:US) options.

“The overstated scope of the investigation came from information provided to the the Times by other people briefed on the matter who have since acknowledged making a mistake,” the newspaper says today.

Never mind that the signs of “overstated scope” of the probes were embedded in the newspaper’s language in the original story, as well as in the version in the Journal, which has published no similar knockdown of its own reporting.

We all get stuff wrong in this business, though none is as grievous as errors that ruin a reputation, but we wonder if the two broadsheets, aware that the each other was on the story, ignored the holes to avoid getting beat by the competition.

Today the Times says Icahn and Walters are still on the hook for the Clorox probe, and Mickelson isn’t in the clear over a similar investigation regarding shares of Dean Foods. (DF:US)

Who’s your source on that?

***

Safety is an issue in Brazil, as alluded to above, in Portuguese, and not just when hoards of international soccer fans with wallets bursting, jewelry flashing and clean clothes screaming “rob me” descend on the biggest sporting spectacle in the world beside the Olympic Games. Which Brazil also will host in 2016.

With more than 10,000 miles of borders to guard, authorities are taking to the air with, you guessed it, drones. They’re coming from Israeli companies like Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems, and they’re succeeding at entering some of the more dangerous places that cities like Rio have to offer.

“It’s not just for events like the World Cup,” Vitor Neves tells Gabrielle Coppola and Blake Schmidt. Neves, vice president at local Elbit unit AEL Sistemas, says the drones “are needed for day-to-day things as well.”

***

This would all be a lot more enjoyable if the Brazilians themselves weren’t so antagonistic about the tournament, but they have a lot of things to complain about.

Yet the investment community sees optimism in Brazil even when Brazilians find little of it. From Apple finally opening a store in Rio that Steve Jobs wanted no part of to BMW building a plant, non-Brazilians are finding silver linings, Peter Robison, David Biller and Christiana Sciaudone write today for Bloomberg Markets magazine.

One of them is Pimco, which finds the conditions right for investment because the country’s assets are undervalued and “a lot of bad news is priced in,” Deputy Chief Investment Officer Mark Kiesel reported in April. You will probably be able to hear him elaborate on this when he appears on Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene today at 9:30 a.m. on Bloomberg Radio.

So, if your goal (sorry) is finding an underappreciated opportunity, there are those who are finding now is not the time to pass (sorry) but to strike (sorry).

***

Is there a pet lover in your house who couldn’t “give a headbutt” about the World Cup but wants to capture some of that excitement and some spirit of competition? Like it does for the Super Bowl with its “Puppy Bowl,” Animal Planet has you covered with “World Pup.”

The online contest pits dogs representing their home countries -- French Bulldog, Australian Cattle Dog, etc. -- and you get to vote for your favorite. (Well, not you, of course.)

Like the real games, the tournament kicks off today.

The competition looks pretty ruff.

***

Back in the U.S., things are getting better but the country’s going to seed. That’s not the most precise reading of today’s installment of the Bloomberg National Poll, but you could read it that way. While 55 percent of respondents said they’re closer to their goals for their careers and finances, only 26 percent saw the U.S. heading in the right direction.

Obama’s getting the blame for not making us feel more economically secure or fighting hard enough for the middle class, Mike Dorning writes today in the part of the poll dealing with economic issues.

“It’s as though Americans are living in an increasingly comfortable bubble, watching a world that appears to be increasingly troublesome,” said J. Ann Selzer, co-founder of polling company Selzer & Co., making an observation that probably could have come at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Selzer’s company also found two-thirds of Americans no longer think the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, so this will give Dave Brat an idea of where not to start if he’s got any sense.

***

Iraq’s readiness for controlling the forces that want to tear it apart, three years after the U.S. pulled out, doesn’t look good.

Sunni militants emboldened by their fighting in Syria are pouring toward Baghdad, having overrun Mosul on Tuesday, where more than 80 Turks were taken hostage, and taking Tikrit and areas in Baiji yesterday.

Iraqi troops rose to the occasion by fleeing en masse, more than 150,000 of them in Mosul, and leaving their weaponry for the fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to take up.

Late yesterday the ISIL fighters were staging outside Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad, and Iraq has been asking U.S. for help in the form of airstrikes from either drones or fighter planes.

ISIL will “consolidate their hold on huge swaths of Iraq, cutting the country into three pieces” along ethnic and geographic lines, an outcome the U.S. had sought to avoid during its occupation of the country from 2003 to 2011, Nicole Gaouette reports, quoting Washington Institute fellow Michael Knights.

***

As the U.S. Open tees off today at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, we celebrate golf’s traditions and mysticisms, the timeless aspects to an ancient sport ingrained in the psyche of the player who knows his game in his bones.

Kidding. Quantitative analytics is taking over the game and it’s going to take all that mojo and send it the way of metal spikes. When once a pinch of grass tossed into the breeze and a ball-washer at each tee box counted as technology, we now have the dawn of sensor-fed data arriving in real time to your smart-thing.

You’ve done the video thing, watching playbacks of your swing, and you might have opted for some other gadgets: the sensor that clips to your glove and offers swing data, the laser rangefinder, or the Garmin watch that locates your position on the hole and distance to the green, etc.

But the Arccos system to which Erik Matuszewski introduces us today is the next level, syncing sensors on your club to GPS and your handheld device and rendering instant data on shot distance, putting, how and where you shank and more. There are already similar technologies, but it’s the real-time aspect that is the feature of this system. Matuszewski’s story notes the technology could help you “change tactics during play.”

Oh great.

Is this going to be the golf version of people texting while driving? Instead of some minivan twaddling down the open road at a measured speed unconnected to the flow of the rest of traffic, do we get to look forward to some dork pulling out his iPhone for a few minutes at regular intervals to confirm the reasons his game sucks?

Golf is already so slow now that the USGA wants you to play only half of it at a time. Is this what leisure has become? Talk about a good walk spoiled. Oy.

***

It’s pretty odd around here when golf’s U.S. Open is practically an afterthought, but with the World Cup stealing the limelight, we found Mike Buteau down at Pinehurst on the eve of the tournament without his customary reporting partner Matuszewski and staying with his in-laws, who happen to live in Pinehurst.

“Sleepy little town, center of the state, nothing else to do here except play golf. I mean, it’s a nice town. It’s very laid back, very quiet. It’s a little bit of Mayberry with a lot of golf mixed in. And it’s ridiculously hot. There’s pretty much a chance of afternoon thunderstorms almost every day.”

What’s the buzz?

“The buzz is the golf course. It is completely changed from when they last had it here in 2005. They have stripped it of 40 acres of Bermuda grass -- it’s now like a barren sort of dusty, sandy course. It looks a little bit like a British Open course -- looks nothing like Augusta National, which is green from first tee to 18th green. Here it’s kind of green in spots, brown in a lot of other spots and very sandy everywhere. That’s pretty much the main story for this tournament.

‘‘Obviously the other story is Mickelson trying to complete the career grand slam. He has six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, which is an amazing number, but he missed the cut at the Masters, he missed the cut at the Players Championship, he’s had a pretty mediocre season by his own admission, but still says that he would relish the chance to win this week.

‘‘Those are the two main stories, but I think the golf course is the main story this week.”

Why did they do that to the course?

“Several reasons. One is that they wanted to restore it to the way it was originally done under Donald Ross, and they just wanted to breathe some new life into the resort. They had seen a decline in visitors, the course had become a bit average. It was a championship course but there was nothing that really stood out about it, that made it unique.

‘‘The other part of it is maintenance. They’ve cut the amount of water that they’re using on the course in half, there are fewer sprinkler heads out there. It’s a much more natural-looking course.

‘‘They also moved tees back. (Ed: the course is 348 yards longer.) It’s (still) a par-70 course, but it’s really long. Like most major venues, it favors longer hitters, but it also favors those who are a little bit lucky. Because instead of having thick rough on the side of the fairways, there’s sand and wiregrass and clumps of, as they’re calling it, natural areas.

‘‘It’s still an incredibly difficult golf course, but you’ll have more of a chance of advancing the ball from the sandy areas then you did when it was all thick rough. A little bit longer but much less rough.”

Sounds like you could expect some links-style, bump-and-run type of play.

“Absolutely. This is a course that requires a lot of imagination. The greens here especially -- they call them turtleback greens. Imagine putting on the back of a turtle -- how difficult it is to get it close to the hole. That is going to be the determining factor: who can putt on these greens, and who can put themselves into position to actually have a putt at the hole.

‘‘It absolutely has much more of a links-style than what you would see typically in the U.S., and especially for those people who are used to tuning into golf and seeing Augusta National, this course looks drastically different. Bubba Watson said the only similarity between the two courses is that they both have 18 holes.’’

Has there been any sort of distraction from Mickelson’s non-golf headlines?

‘‘Not really. He was asked very vaguely about it during his press conference, about how he keeps his focus with ‘things that are going on off the golf course,’ and he kind of dodged the question. But there hasn’t been too much buzz on it, simply because people don’t necessarily know what to think of it. He hasn’t addressed it this week and hasn’t been asked much about it.”

Who ya got?

“I am sticking with my guy, Matt Kuchar.”

Again?

“Yes. He is without a doubt one of the best players in the world who hasn’t won a major. So, he’s due. And this is actually a course that suits him because he’s very patient and the U.S. Open definitely requires a lot of patience, and this course especially. He hits the ball pretty straight, he’s made improvement in every area of his game, and, well, like I said -- I’m going to stick with him until he wins, because eventually I’m going to be right.”

***

The NHL Stanley Cup finals shift back to Los Angeles for Game 5 tomorrow night after New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist showed a return to form last night in his team’s 2-1 defeat of the Los Angeles Kings.

If the Rangers win the next game, which they have to for this observation to make any sense, it feels like a whole new series is likely.

***

Game 4 of the NBA finals is tonight in Miami, with the San Antonio Spurs holding a 2-1 series lead over the Heat.

To contact the reporter on this story: C. Thompson in Wilmington at cthompson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Marty Schenker at mschenker@bloomberg.net


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