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"In the event of an emergency, my hair can be used as a flotation device." -- Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, citing safety features on his new campaign jet Tense times at Nortel Networks, stemming from its ongoing accounting woes, could become even more anxious. The Brampton (Ont.) telecom giant faces a May 29 deadline to present audited financial data to Export Develop-ment Canada, a key guarantor of loans, or possibly face a painful multi-million-dollar payment.
Complicating the issue is the roller coaster performance of Nortel bonds. A BusinessWeek analysis shows that Nortel bond pricing has turned volatile, as holders fret over its uncertain financial health. Prices are down sharply in recent months, though they are inching back. Still, near 80 cents on the dollar, a few are "approaching a distressed situation," says Advantage Data analyst Pierre Robert.
The bondholders are key in Nortel's unfolding drama. If 25% of the holders of even one bond agree, that could force Nortel into a 90-day period during which it must produce financial reports. If not, then the bond maturity date accelerates, and it would have to pay down the debt.
That's not likely, but "clear- ly possible," says one holder. Nortel has long-term debt of $3.9 billion. If the default process is initiated, and the payment clock starts, Nortel can tap its $3.6 billion in cash. Still, there's a risk, analysts say, Nortel might have to sell assets if it's forced to pay off every last penny. Nortel declined to comment. Eliot Spitzer is giving Donald Trump a refund. The New York Attorney General is returning $21,000 in campaign contributions to avoid the appearance of a conflict. The giveback was prompted by a May 18 court filing that alleges the AG's judgment in a real estate dispute involving Trump was tainted because of the donations.
Seems like déjà vu. In March, 1999, Trump gave $10,000 to Spitzer '98 -- months after he had won the AG race. That money was given back, too, after an internal review found the donations came during a planned co-op conversion at a Trump building -- a process Spitzer's office oversees. In total, that's $31,000 given, and $31,000 returned.
Trump is still a committee "chair" of Spitzer 2006, which is raising funds for a possible run at the Empire State governor-ship. As such, Trump has pledged to "contribute and/or raise $100,000." Indeed, Trump hosted a fund-raiser for Spitzer last fall at his Fifth Avenue apartment. A Spitzer spokesman maintains that writing checks is different than simply helping to raise cash. A spokeswoman says Trump was unavailable for comment. If you can't kill the messenger, you might as well go after the paymaster. In what could be a new front in the war against unwanted Web ads, L.L. Bean is suing J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Gevalia, and Atkins. On May 17, the Freeport (Me.) outfitter filed complaints accusing the companies of trademark infringement because their ads pop up when shoppers visit LLBean.com.
Bean says the ads confuse cus-tomers, who falsely assume it approves and profits from the pop-ups. Plus, they grab inbound traffic. "It's like a barker standing outside the door of your store, stealing customers on the way in," says spokesman Rich Donald-son. Bean is seeking unspec-ified damages and an order barring the ads. The advertisers declined to comment.
Going after the advertisers is Bean's latest tactic. It has been trying to stop Claria, which distributes the software that delivers the ads in question. This so-called spyware is often downloaded unknowingly, hidden in free programs. Once on a PC, it searches for words that trigger the ads. Bean is one of at least nine companies suing Claria, which did not return calls. If Bean can scare off advertisers, it may not have to worry about spyware. What comes after nanotechnology? There are signs -- small ones, of course -- that some folks are prospecting the next tiny thing. Pico, femto, atto, zepto, and yocto aren't far behind. So-called Web squatters already own names based on a series of dimensions starting at one-thousandth of a nanometer, or 100-millionth the thickness of a human hair, including picotechnology.com, femtotechnology.com, attotechnology.com, and zeptotechnology.com. So what if a yoctometer is so small -- 1,000 trillion of them make up a nanometer -- that it's more imaginary than real? Same goes for the business plan of yoctotechnology.com. Uncertainty over Iraqi security and petroleum production levels has helped lift oil prices to more than $40 a barrel. The high prices are, in fact, lifting Iraq's own oil revenues, which could hit $1.92 billion for May, says Platts (MHP
) analyst John Roberts.
Of course, once the security situation improves, Iraq will be able to produce more oil than the current 2.4 million barrels per day. Iraqi officials optimistically forecast a return to prewar output of 3 million bbl. per day by yearend. If that occurs, oil revenues could pass $2.5 billion a month. What a birthday present. On May 18, Jules Kroll said he is selling the risk consultancy he founded to insurance and financial-services giant Marsh & McLennan (MMC
) for $1.9 billion. Kroll, who turned 63 the same day, says the "connective tissue here is very strong" because the new parent can extend Kroll's investigative and advisory business to a broader range of clients.
The sale will put $110 million into the pockets of the colorful Kroll, whose firm has done everything from hunting down the hidden fortunes of Saddam Hussein to restruc-turing Enron. Not bad for a guy who started his company 32 years ago to help prevent fraud at Marvel Comic Books.
Kroll isn't slipping out with the cash. He'll stick around as vice-chairman at unit Marsh Inc. (MMC
), where he plans to dispense plenty of advice and coaching. Given the recent investigations over practices in various MMC units, such as mutual fund Putnam Investments, Kroll's experience will likely be put to good use. The long-running horse race between the No. 1 and No. 2 PC chipmakers is getting close again. During the third week of April, desktop computers built with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD
) chips outsold those based on processors from chip giant Intel (INTC
) 52% to 47% in U.S. retailers, according to research by Current Analysis in La Jolla, Calif. The last time the competition was this fierce was in the late 1990s, when AMD was aiming its slingshot at Intel's Pentium III chips. "It speaks volumes that AMD is O.K. with consumers," says Current Analysis analyst Toni Duboise.
The perennial No. 2 didn't hold the lead for long -- by the following week, Intel was again on top in desktops, 51% to 47%. But make no mistake: AMD is gaining on Intel. Over the last six months, its share of the retail desktop market has doubled, to 50%, while Intel's share during that period tumbled to 48%, from 72%.
One reason for AMD's rise is that consumers see little difference between the performance of PCs using either chip. Many consumers are opting for PCs using AMD chips because they typically cost 20% less than similar machines with an Intel processor. AMD also gets a lift from PC gamers. They demand lots of horsepower and have embraced AMD's powerful Athlon64, a 64-bit microprocessor that Intel has so far not matched.
Of course, the retail numbers don't factor in corporate purchases or direct sales such as those by PC leader Dell (DELL
), a loyal Intel shop. And AMD still trails Intel in the hot notebook category. But with tech-hungry consumers among the first to adopt new products such as the Athlon64, that trend could enhance AMD's image with mainstream buyers, says Duboise. "The consumer space is a more important market than ever," she says. So at least for now, AMD is nipping at Intel's heels again. The approximate number of Americans who commute more than 50 miles each way to work.: 3.3 million
Data: Bureau of Transportation