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"The name's not an asset when you finally get down to getting the job." -- Breck Eisner, son of outgoing Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, discussing with AP his big-screen directing debut, Sahara Not all energy prices are surging. Ethanol, which is typically derived from corn and mixed with gasoline, often moves in sync with petroleum. But since the start of the year, the wholesale price of ethanol has fallen more than 20%, to around $1.20 a gallon, while black gold is soaring to record highs. What's going on?
It's simply a case of supply and demand. Fear of an energy crisis has fueled interest in renewable sources such as ethanol. So manufacturers have added huge amounts of capacity for producing ethanol. This year the industry, which includes such big players as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM
), could turn out 4 billion gallons, up from 3.4 billion in 2004.
The customers just haven't come through yet. Politicians in Georgia, which was expected to be a big buyer of ethanol this year, have been fighting a mandate to use reformulated gasoline. Both the Senate and House are floating bills that would institute a renewable-fuel standard, requiring the oil industry to use at least 5 billion gallons by 2012. But so far nothing has passed. If an energy bill does find its way through Congress, though, ethanol may be a hot commodity. It was a good 52 days' work. According to an Apr. 5 filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ
) board has agreed to pay Chief Financial Officer Robert Wayman a $3 million cash bonus for taking over as interim CEO after the Feb. 8 ouster of Carly Fiorina.
That works out to $57,692 a day -- or $21 million on an annual basis. Mark Hurd, the former NCR (NCR
) chief who took the job on a permanent basis on Apr. 1, can make up to $26,849 a day in salary and bonus, if he hits his top goals. (Hurd is getting $1.4 million in salary, with the potential to earn a top bonus of $8.4 million.)
Of course, Wayman was a steady hand during a potentially stormy period. A 36-year HP veteran, he has long been considered a top CFO -- and is one of the few people who managed to stay in good standing with those on both sides of the divisive 2002 proxy fight over the Compaq merger.
Wayman, 59, was already well-paid. According to proxy statements, he earned $1.5 million in salary and bonuses in fiscal 2004, along with restricted stock currently worth $326,000. HP says the bonus is partially in recognition of Wayman's decision to put off his retirement. In the run of royal weddings, the Apr. 9 nuptials of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles haven't sparked much interest from souvenir makers. So far, they have produced only 25 to 30 lines of items -- such as postage stamps -- says the Commemorative Collectors Society. The contrast with Prince Charles's 1981 marriage to Lady Diana Spencer couldn't be more stark: More than 1,600 souvenir lines were made then, many of them in mass quantities. The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, celebrating her 50 years on the throne, prompted 830 types of mementos. Even Prince Edward's relatively low-key marriage to Sophie in 1999 spawned 234 collector's items. It has been a tough time for Warren Buffett. Dragged into the hubbub at scandal-ridden American International Group (AIG
), the Oracle of Omaha conceded he knew about a questionable deal. Now, proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) again has him in its sights.
For the second year, ISS is asking investors to withhold their votes for his reelection to the Coca-Cola (KO
) board in protest of his role on the audit committee. The reason: Close ties between Coke and units of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK
) allegedly undermine his status as an independent director. Buffett-owned outfits did $185 million of business with Coke last year. Two -- International Dairy Queen and food service outfit McLane -- generated 0.78% of Coke revenues, up from 0.5% in 2003, nearly hitting Coke's own 1% threshold for nonindependent status.
Last year, 16% of shareholders agreed with ISS. McGurn expects that figure to jump this year, but he acknowledges ISS may not win. Coke says that Buffett's reputation for integrity -- and his substantial Coke holdings -- make him ideally suited to serve on the audit committee. Buffett declined to comment. As a barometer of the upcoming onslaught of lawsuits against AIG, this is a pretty good one: Insurance consultant Andrew Barile has had calls from litigation departments at big law firms looking for his book A Practical Guide to Finite Risk Insurance and Reinsurance.
Sounds dry -- but lawyers are paying $500 a copy for the out-of-print book to get a handle on transactions like those that landed AIG in hot water with the Securities & Exchange Commission and Eliot Spitzer. The book, published in 1995, originally cost $75. It bothers former E*Trade (ET
) CEO Christos M. Cotsakos that most visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington were born after the war and don't know much of the history. That's why he is leading an effort to raise $40 million to build an educational center near the wall. Says Cotsakos, who left Vietnam's battlefield 37 years ago: "It was a character-defining moment for our nation."
Cotsakos, 56, left E*Trade in 2003 and now devotes more than a third of his time to charity. This month he'll return to Vietnam as part of a project to remove land mines.
Much of his time is also spent on Money & Living Holdings, a new company he calls "the HDTV of financial media." Cotsakos says only that it targets young people, using podcasting to zap them financial news through cell phones, iPods, and the like.
Meanwhile, Cotsakos must raise $20 million by June, 2006, when the center breaks ground. He'll hit up ordinary citizens for funding, so watch your mailbox. Should you rhyme Big Mac with heart attack? Probably not -- not if you want in on McDonald's (MCD
) plan to recruit hip-hop and rap artists to feature "Big Mac" in songs. Under the plan, when a Big Mac song that McDonald's O.K.'s gets radio play, Mickey D sends the artist a check.
McDonald's pay-for-play program has divided the hip-hop community, which has been known for promoting brands such as Cadillac Escalade and Courvoisier cognac without financial incentive. The deal, estimated to be in the $1-per-play range, could add up for hit songs. Even so, Damon Dash, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, says the deal smells bad. "If McDonald's is looking for influential hip-hop artists, no one is going to touch this deal," he says.
But Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons says the McDonald's deal was great before word leaked out. "It would have worked fine," says Simmons. He says if a rap artist is inspired to write about a Big Mac and there's a payoff, it's all good. "But now that the cat's out of the bag, I don't believe any big rappers will do it," says Simmons. The way to save the deal and the dollars, he says, is to write a song making fun of selling out.
Is that what McDonald's has in mind? Spokeswoman Lisa Howard says the program is still in "the conceptual stage." She says the deal should be viewed as no different from brand placement in films and TV.