"Confiscating spammers' assets hits home." -- Randall Boe, AOL general counsel, on raffling off a spammer's Porsche to the online service's subscribers Executives at Cingular Wireless aren't too happy with some of the numbers coming out of AT&T Wireless Services (AWE), the cellular operator it agreed to buy for $41 billion. After dismal new-subscriber gains last quarter, analysts expect AT&T CEO John Zeglis to report even worse stats when he announces first-quarter results in late April. Bear Stearns (BSC) estimates that AT&T will go from adding 128,000 subscrib-ers last quarter to losing 201,000. AT&T still has 22 million customers, but the defections would make it the only nationwide wireless provider to lose subscribers.
BusinessWeek has learned that Cingular is worried enough to ask the FCC and the Justice Dept. to speed up approval of the deal, which is not expected to close until yearend. AT&T's network-quality problems have been well-documented. But new laws make it easy for irate customers to switch carriers and keep their numbers. "The quicker the merger can be approved," says Cingular CFO Rick Lindner, "the quicker we can deliver better network performance."
The merger isn't likely to fall apart -- AT&T says it has boosted its network. But there may be another reason for urgency: Rivals say they're getting lots of AT&T r?sum?s. Cingular, which needs the deal to catch leader Verizon Wireless (VZ), can't let AT&T slip too far. If you can set up a computer network or speak Arabic, Uncle Sam wants you. Facing a shortage of such specialists, the Defense Dept. has asked the Selective Service System to prepare for a narrow draft to target skilled professionals.
The U.S. hasn't had a draft since 1973, when the Vietnam War was winding down, and few in Washington are seriously talking about reinstating a comprehensive draft -- especially in an election year. But as Defense copes with recruitment and retention shortfalls, it has directed the Selective Service to prepare for a targeted draft just in case. If Congressional support for conscription does pick up steam, Defense wants to be ready to pluck people with 21st century skills that might be needed. Since World War II, the Selective Service has had the ability to draft doctors and other medical personnel.
The Selective Service is just starting its work. Ultimately, computer science and linguistics pros might not be the only ones asked to serve their country. "It could be anything that might be needed," says Alyce Teel-Burton, a spokeswoman for the Selective Service. "We're trying to identify those skills that might be helpful." With the junk-bond market white-hot, companies are turning to "drive-by" road shows to speed up the money-raising process. Rather than weeks of presentations to prospective investors in several cities, borrowers now hold a few conference calls and sell their bonds in just days. "Everyone wants to get the deal done before the market cools," says Jason Reese, president of Imperial Capital, a Los Angeles investment bank specializing in junk bonds. Since Jan. 1, companies have issued about $42 billion worth of high-yield bonds -- a 75% year-over- year increase, according to Thomson Financial.
Among recent drive-bys: wireless telco Nextel Communications (NXTL), casino operator MGM Mirage, and Cablevision Systems. On Mar. 30, the cable outfit sold $2 billion in bonds -- one day after the announcement. Independent power producer Calpine was so eager to complete a $2.4 billion financing that it held conference calls a day before the prospectus was available. The deal closed the next day. There's nothing like a seller's market. E*Trade Group (ET) recently guaranteed it would buy or sell shares of companies in the Stan-dard & Poor's 500-stock index in two seconds flat. That's three seconds quicker than at Ameritrade (AMTD) or Fidelity Investments. (Charles Schwab (SCH) doesn't make guarantees.) E*Trade's is the latest salvo in a battle that has zeroed in on zippy trades. A three-second edge may lure customers, especially frequent traders who crave speed, since a few seconds can translate to making -- or losing -- money in a fast market. No word yet if rivals will try to match E*Trade. Guess nimble-fingered traders will just have to pick up the pace. How are women progressing in Corporate America? Slowly. A new study by the Committee of 200, a Chicago advocacy group, concludes that the earliest females can achieve equal influence is 2019. Women's clout was measured through an index of 10 benchmarks, including business ownership, the wage gap, and MBA enrollment.
Overall, women achieve an index of 4.66. A score of 10 indicates parity with men. Women fared worst in access to venture capital but made gains in salary. The course is correct, but the pace could be quicker.
The off-season move likely to have the greatest impact on baseball? Alex Rodriguez in New York Yankees pinstripes gets lots of votes. But don't overlook a steal by the Los Angeles Dodgers -- naming Harvard University-educated Paul DePodesta as general manager.
DePodesta, 31, personifies a new breed of baseball exec: Ivy League sharpies often younger than players for whom they're wheeling and dealing. As assistant GM for the Oakland Athletics, the economics grad developed statistical models to rate players -- helping to find bargains, just like a value-stock investor. That, in turn, helped the cash-strapped A's make the playoffs in four of his five seasons there.
After Harvard, where he played football and baseball, DePodesta eschewed a "lucrative consulting job" to intern for the Canadian Foot-ball League. "I can only imagine what [my parents] were thinking." Now all he has to do is repeat his Oakland success. After a half-century of fire-breathing terror, Godzilla is about to be packed off to the old-age home. Toho, the studio that created the nuclear-spawned monster, says it's time for Godzilla -- Gojira in Japanese -- to retire. Why? In an era of computer-generated graphics and ever-more-realistic animation, the campy film series featuring the not-so-jolly green giant doesn't have the appeal it once did. Only 1.1 million people saw last year's Tokyo S.O.S. That's down 35% from the previous installment and just a fraction of the 10 million-plus viewers the flicks drew in the 1960s and '70s at the peak of their popularity.
Monster lovers, don't despair. Godzilla has had a good run, attracting 100 million viewers in Japan alone over the years. A grand finale -- Toho's 28th Godzilla film -- will hit Japanese theaters in December. The plot will include battles with familiar foes from years past. As always, there's an environmental message: Godzilla is fighting to save the planet from the ravages of industrialization, says producer Shogo Tomiyama.
He swears the retirement is for real, though the monster has been put out to pasture before, only to return. So the next time the earth is in trouble, don't be surprised to see Godzilla come to the rescue again. The offshore outsourcing issue is heating up -- for politicians, that is. On Apr. 6, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, an advocacy group that is an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, plans an online pitch to raise cash for an ad campaign urging Congress to take action. The ad, which will be posted on the group's Web site, shows techies whose jobs have gone overseas, along with a warning: "Congress -- if our jobs are at risk... so are yours."
One option pushed by WashTech: unemployment benefits like those for dislocated factory workers. Inspired by Howard Dean's Web fund-raising success, WashTech wants its 17,000 members to give $10 or more to help buy an ad in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill paper, or The New York Times. If pols can use the Net to raise money, why shouldn't tech workers use it, too?