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Get a Grip

Sizing up the new guy at work? Check out his handshake. The firmer it is, the more socially dominant he's likely to be, concludes a small study led by psychologist Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany. The study, which analyzed the handshakes--and the sexual, social, and physical histories--of 140 college students, found no correlation for females between a strong grip and behavioral competitiveness or body type. (As with men, there was a link to good health.) But males with firm grips reported more aggressive behavior and were more likely to have broad shoulders and narrow hips. (They were also about 10% more promiscuous.) Gallup says a grip's strength is 35% environmental, 65% genetic--and that a strong clasp may have evolved from humans' deep past, when tree-swinging monkeys with weak grips fell to earth more often.

Juicy Perks at Apple

Apple's (AAPL) 10-K, filed on Nov. 15, contains tasty details about company freebies, according to footnoted.org, which tracks SEC filings. As has been reported, all Apple employees--except Steve Jobs--were given iPhones. Top officers, the annual report shows, also got tax gross-ups on the gift. (Apple didn't clarify whether other employees got gross-ups, too.) And board member Al Gore? Apple offers directors "up to two free computer systems per year," the 10-K says, and discounts on Apple gear. For Gore, the perk came to $15,245 in the latest fiscal year, far more than for others. (A Gore spokesperson had no comment.) Rather than getting a freebie, director Eric Schmidt, Google's (GOOG) CEO, gave one. While Apple directors earn $50,000 and receive a stock option grant upon election to buy 30,000 shares, Schmidt declined both, the filing shows. Instead, he bought 10,000 shares of Apple on the open market.

The ABX: About to Expire?

To the subprime mess, add another casualty: ABX indexes, the abstruse derivatives that track credit default swaps on baskets of bonds backed by subprime mortgages. Created just two years ago, they became reference points for high-stakes trading by hedge funds and others. Today, they're cited routinely in announcements of billion-dollar losses. Now the ABX, born of easy credit, may fade like Internet stock indexes. Why? Every six months, since the last half of 2005, five ABX indexes were created, each for a particular time span and credit rating (using a matrix only a quant could love).

There are 20 now. But there won't be more without fresh subprime mortgages and bonds. And with the underwriting year nearly over, Wall Street hasn't sold enough bonds since June for the next planned series, says Markit, the industry consortium behind ABX. Emanuel Derman, head of risk management at Prisma Capital Partners, says the financial world is full of innovations "that grew for a while and then went bust." Count another in the pile, he says.

The Shirts off Their Backs

It's a glorious time to be a Boston Red Sox fan--but an expensive one. The World Series champs announced a $20 rise for a field box ticket starting next season. And online, the team is selling its stars' game-worn jerseys at prices that are startling even for the rich sports memorabilia market. The shirts of slugger David Ortiz and pitcher Curt Schilling are $5,000 apiece, about double last year's prices. But that's paltry compared with what's being asked for jerseys worn by Boston's Japanese pitchers, Hideki Okajima ($12,500) and Daisuke Matsuzaka ($20,000). Buyers aren't balking. Sean Mahoney, executive vice-president of Steiner Sports, which sells the items in a partnership with the Sox, says he has filled orders for five of six Matsuzaka jerseys he's selling. Two went to buyers in Japan.

Super Mario's Halo Effect

Microsoft's (MSFT) launch of Halo 3 for its Xbox 360 console this fall helped propel it to the top of the video game heap--with $354 million in revenues in October, compared with $246 million for the Nintendo Wii and its games. But Nintendo is back, tapping a franchise that started a quarter-century ago. Wii customers are lining up again, in part to get their hands on Super Mario Galaxy, which came out for the Wii on Nov. 12. The game, created by legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto, pits the plumber against his nemesis, Bowser, as they battle in space. "People I know say it's the best [Mario] since Nintendo 64," says 27-year-old Roger Helgeson, referring to the game launched in the U.S. in 1996. Queued up outside a Nintendo outlet in New York's Rockefeller Center, Helgeson says he remembers playing Super Mario Brothers when he was 8. In Japan, where it launched on Nov. 1 , Super Mario Galaxy is now the No. 1 video game. Fans like Helgeson have analysts predicting the title will put Nintendo on top of the U.S. charts as well.

More On Bear's Hedge Fund Flailing

A few footnotes on the two Bear Stearns (BSC) hedge funds that collapsed in mid-June. In May, it seems, the funds' managers were out looking for a buyer--approaching Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm specializing in distressed businesses. "Time is of the essence," wrote Matthew Tannin, one of the funds' managers, in an internal May 26 e-mail mentioning an upcoming pitch to Cerberus. "We have 2 hedge funds...in danger of a wipeout because of a lack of liquidity." The e-mail came to light as part of a regulatory action against the bank filed on Nov. 14 by Massachusetts on behalf of investors. A Cerberus spokesman declined comment. Meanwhile, Bear is scrambling on another front to control the damage caused by the collapse of the funds, which feasted on securities backed by subprime mortgages.

The firm is offering lump sums to wealthy individual customers who lost money. A spokesman would not comment, but sources say Bear is preparing payments on a sliding scale, based on when a customer first invested.


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