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"We have lost so much time already, and I just really can't bear to lose anymore." -- Nancy Reagan, calling for expanded stem cell research. An arsonist. A drug dealer. A chronic gambler. To the investors who have entrusted them with millions, they are hotshot money managers promising big returns. In reality, they're hedge-fund rogues drawn to the lightly regulated $750 billion industry. Investors are left in the dark because records of past transgressions by investment advisers who run hedge funds are often inaccessible. The Securities & Exchange Commission maintains the disciplinary records on investment advisers and gives the public easy access to them for just two years. A few states keep them open longer.
All it takes to tidy up a tarnished record is to simply let an old registration lapse and apply for a new one. One out of six managers have had some run-in with the law, says Guy Simonian, president of CheckFundManager.com, which does background checks for investors. He has turned up everything from felonies to SEC violations to fake investment credentials.
What's needed, Simonian says, is a rule requiring records for investment advisers be made publicly available for seven years. No doubt investors would agree. The star, a giant green ogre, has problems with flatulence. His sidekick is a wisecracking donkey. But for DreamWorks SKG, which will release Shrek 2 on May 19, the big guy represents a different kind of green -- the kind the studio could raise in an initial public offering. Insiders say that 10 years after superstar director Steven Spielberg joined with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg to create Dreamworks, they are counting on a blockbuster Shrek 2 to help launch plans for an IPO of its animation unit later this year.
Dreamworks execs refuse to discuss a possible IPO. The studio has retained Goldman Sachs (GS
) and J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM
) to value the unit, which could bring in $3 billion, sources say.
The timing could be good for Dreamworks. It's banking on another animated flick, Shark Tale, which features the voices of Will Smith and Robert De Niro in the story of underwater mobsters, due out in October. And, this September, NBC (GE
) is expected to begin airing in prime time Dreamworks' animated sitcom Father of the Pride, about talking Las Vegas white tigers. As for Shrek, no doubt they'll clean him up for the roadshow. For years now, good governance types have been saying that America's corporate boards need to replace aging directors and put limits on how long they serve. When directors get old and en-trenched, they say, it's easier for management to get away with misdeeds. Case in point: Robert Jaedicke, Enron's former audit committee chairman. The 72-year-old one-time accounting professor retired a decade before Enron imploded, putting him at a disadvantage trying to untangle its complex finances.
An analysis of the latest data suggests that many boards may be hard of hearing. According to data compiled by the Corporate Library, a governance watchdog, nearly 10% of the directors in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index are 70 or older. And 17% of directors have tenures of 15 years or more. "That does suggest that boards have been a little sluggish about keeping themselves vital," says Nell Minow, of the Corporate Library.
The oldest, at 95, is Comerica's Max Fisher. The longest run? Ford's William Clay Ford, 79, who joined in 1948. Telling a longtime director it's time to go isn't easy, but at some point the graybeards need to trade in their briefcases for nine irons. Are you clean? A new drug test called the Drug-Wipe is a pen-sized tool that swabs objects such as a phone, steering wheel, or keyboard. In minutes the wand, made by Global Detection & Reporting, detects traces of five drugs, including cannabis and cocaine. The test costs more than urinalysis, but HR managers may welcome an end to urine and hair sampling, which require time for lab work. The hitch: Anyone can touch office supplies and drug residue travels in many ways. In fact, most U.S. bills carry trace levels of cocaine. The company says swabbing workers' bodies directly can follow a general test. What is the right age to begin marketing to kids? Seven, according to a survey of marketing execs by Harris Interactive. Marketers say they feel "a sense of urgency" to reach kids early so brands will be familiar to them when they are old enough to influence purchasing decisions.
Bad idea, says Harvard University psychologist Susan Linn. Research links childhood obesity, violence, and increased family stress to some ads. At seven, Linn says, kids can't tell fantasy from reality. Marketers say don't worry -- their parents can. Miss supersizing those fries and drinks? Andrew Puzder is hoping that what customers will crave instead is a bigger burger. On May 26, Puzder, president of CKE Restaurants (CKR
), the parent of 3,200 Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast-food joints, will introduce the industry's first one-pound burger. The 1-lb. Double Six Dollar Burger (even the name is a mouthful) will sell for $5.49.
Puzder, who eats his restaurants' food at least three times a week, says he became convinced of the appeal of bigger burgers after watching a 70-year-old woman devour a 2/3-lb. Double Thickburger at Hardees. "She was using a knife and fork."
Puzder, 53, has been a harbinger of fast-food trends. He was early to jump on the Atkins diet craze, introducing lettuce-wrapped Low Carb burgers late last year. The moves have paid off: Sales per restaurant at the $1.4 billion chain have jumped 20% in the past three years. That's taking a bite out of the competition. It greets travelers with discreet puffs of air, just enough to dislodge a trace of explosives from skin, hair, or clothing. And it can detect them right through shoes. It's the latest bomb-sniffing technology, and it may be coming to a train station or airport near you.
On May 3, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced a 30-day trial at Amtrak's New Carrollton (Md.) station, test-ing a system made by Gener-al Electric (GE
). It's also looking at the Sentinel II, the system built by British security com-pany Smiths Group. The devices, which cost up to $150,000, are used in nuclear power plants in the U.S. and Canada. Britain's Heathrow and Manchester Airports are testing them.
Travelers walk through a gate similar to a metal detector where currents of air circulate, then get sucked back into the machine for analysis, which takes eight seconds. It's sensitive enough, says Bill Mawer, president of Smiths Detection North America, a unit of the British company, to foil a would-be shoe bomber whose sneakers are still on and laced.
The TSA already uses 3,500 desktop baggage detectors at the nation's airports. But they depend on security guards taking swipes off suspicious passengers' bags to test for explosives. The Sentinel does the job on everyone, no muss, no fuss. At the boom's peak, retail investors racked up $278.5 billion in margin debt -- money borrowed from brokerages to trade stocks. As the market cratered, margin calls came, and traders scrambled to cover the loans. Now, margin borrowers are back -- and wiser for the wear.
In March, margin debt stood at $179.7 billion, a 32% yearly jump, according to the New York Stock Exchange. At Ameritrade (AMTD
), clients held $3.8 billion in margin debt at the end of the March quarter, double the 2003 figure. But the average debt per account is now $1,100, compared with $3,500 four years ago.
Brokers are also looking out for their clients. E*Trade (ET
) advisers "identify people with big margin balances and speak to them," says President Jarrett Lilien. Charles Schwab (SCH
) offers an online tutorial on handling margin calls.
Investors are still respon-sible if they borrow too much on margin. So far, it seems they've learned their lesson.