"I obstructed justice." -- Former Arthur Andersen partner David Duncan, testifying at the Andersen trial Ever get a hankering for soy spaghetti after midnight? Fidel Castro did--as Allen Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels Midland, found out at a dinner in late April. As one of dozens of execs flocking to Havana to try to increase sales, Andreas presented the Cuban leader with a basket of soy products, including spaghetti, candles, and taco mix. Castro gave the spaghetti to his chef to prepare with tomato sauce--and ate three helpings, even though the dinner, which lasted till 4 a.m., also featured lobster and suckling pig. "He was fascinated by it," says fellow diner Tony DeLio, ADM's vice-president for marketing.
The U.S. trade embargo allows Cuba to purchase only essentials such as food and medicine and to pay only in cash. Cuba bought its first U.S. food in 40 years six months ago, following the devastation of Hurricane Michelle. Since then, sales have reached a total of $90 million. It's mostly staples--corn, rice, chicken, and wheat. But lately, execs have been flying in with more exotic fare: apples from Washington State, cabernet sauvignon from California, and, yes, soy spaghetti.
U.S. food corporations hope that when President Bush announces his new policy toward Cuba on May 20, they can continue the trade and even expand it. Explains John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade & Economic Council: "There will be some additional commercial opportunities, but they may have some conditions." Louis Rukeyser is known as the ultimate bull. But is he also a bully? After being fired in March after 32 years hosting PBS's Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser, he launched a new show on CNBC. But you won't see any of Lou's panelists, such as money manager Martin Zweig or UBS Paine-Webber's Mary Farrell, on the old show, to be called Wall $treet Week with Fortune.
Some panelists say they would love to appear on the PBS show, which has three times the audience as the CNBC show, except for what one snidely calls "the Lou factor." "The word is that if you appear anywhere near the Fortune show, you're not welcome on Lou's CNBC show," says a panelist who requested anonymity. "You're probably setting yourself up for a public tongue-lashing by him, too." A spokesman for Maryland Public Television, which produces Wall $treet Week, doesn't deny being rebuffed, saying, "An atmosphere has been created that's uncomfortable."
A Rukeyser spokesman says Lou never asked panelists to boycott. Lou recently proclaimed in his newsletter: "Every one of my 22 panelists, unprompted by me in any way, independently snubbed their noses at Maryland Public Television and said they would stick with Lou."
Meanwhile, some folks are taking glee in appearing on PBS--bearish panelists who got canned by Rukeyser in the late '90s, such as James Grant, editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. He was on the first Wall $treet Week sans Rukeyser on Mar. 29. Grant says he phoned Rukeyser to tell him. "What could he say?" says Grant. "He told me he'd be much happier if I didn't do it." Fat chance. It tastes like tap water but has a slightly peppery aftertaste. And soon, it will be sold in drugstores around the country. Yet another entry to the shelves alongside Evian and Dasani, you ask? Well, yes--but with a kick. The latest nicotine-delivery vehicle, joining gum and the patch, is bottled water.
Promoters say Nico Water isn't meant to help people quit smoking. "When you can't have a cigarette in a restaurant, when you can't have a cigarette at home because of children, this is what the product is designed for," says Tim Owens, CEO of QuickTest5, Nico Water's manufacturer. The $2, half-liter bottles will be available with 2 mg or 4 mg of nicotine--the same as nicotine gum--and buyers must be 18 or older. There has been a call for regulation by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, but the Food & Drug Administration has not yet responded. CVS, Sav-On Drugs, and Walgreens will start selling Nico Water in July, says Marshall Thompson, an inventor who spent six years developing it.
But does it work? "It's strong stuff," says a BusinessWeek employee who tried it. "I felt so nicotined up, I wouldn't have wanted a cigarette."
Corrections and Clarifications
"Don't Light Up, Drink Up" (Up Front, May 27) stated that Nico Water would be sold in CVS, Sav-On Drugs, and Walgreens stores by July. All of these stores say they have no plans to offer Nico Water at this time.
At 70 stories, the Four Seasons Hotel & Tower will be the tallest building in Miami. At this rate, it's also going to be the emptiest. The developer, Millennium Partners, has presold only 2 of 186 luxury condos that will top the building when it's finished in 2003. The rising skeleton sends a warning: The three-year boom in luxury high-rise condos is over.
Buyers are steering clear, leaving half- or near-empty towers from Boston to San Francisco. In Chicago, where 4,200 condos remain unsold, some developers are waiving six months of mortgage payments to attract buyers. Prices in New York fell 12%--to an average of $1.3 million--in 2001. "The high-end market is underperforming the housing market as a whole, and it's only going to get weaker," says Mark Zandi of consultant Economy.com. Rich buyers, with battered stock portfolios and uncertainty about a recovery, have lost interest in trophy buildings, says Zandi.
A Millennium Partners spokesman says the company is confident the Miami project will take off. Still, it's not taking chances. It slashed prices by up to 25% on its priciest, $2 million units. No fun owning the tallest building south of Atlanta if it's empty. A grim late-April weekend in Hong Kong saw seven suicides--plus the deaths of three children along with their suicidal mothers--in a city of 7 million people. With Hong Kong's economy sputtering and unemployment running at a record 7%, men and women alike have been turning to the ultimate exit.
So a local retailer--Peter Lau, chairman of the low-cost Giordano clothing chain that is Hong Kong's version of Gap--wanted to do something. On Apr. 24, he rushed 8,000 antisuicide T-shirts into production. The bold, brightly colored shirts emblazoned "Treasure life" sold out in three weeks. It was "simply too depressing when mothers began taking their children's lives with them," explains Lau. He sent the $15,000 proceeds to a charity, The Samaritans, that urges suicidal people to call them for help.
Giordano has a history of T-shirts bearing messages. Its founder, Jimmy Lai, who left the company under pressure from China in 1996, printed shirts in support of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and sent them the proceeds. Times change, but Giordano is still showing that it's not your average Asian retailer. A decade-long struggle between Occidental Petroleum (OXY) and indigenous people in Colombia who once threatened to commit mass suicide is over. Occidental revealed on May 3 that it had returned the rights to drill on a 500,000-acre field in northeastern Colombia to the government after taking a $66 million write-off.
The field, once thought to have contained more than a billion barrels of oil, lies near land claimed by Colombia's U'wa people, who believe oil is the "blood" of the earth. Aided by environmental activists, the U'wa fought Occidental in Colombia's Supreme Court, staged protests, and appeared at Occidental shareholder meetings in Los Angeles in native garb.
The activists are claiming victory. "Occidental has to have considered the tremendous black eye that they received over this," says Kevin Koenig, a campaigner at Amazon Watch. But Occidental says its decision to leave was strictly business. In other words, Occidental drilled the site and found nothing there. "It was a dry hole," says spokesman Larry Meriage.
So much for that debate.