Water Cooler Finance: I-Spy, IPOs And iPhones

By Andrew Beattie | July 12, 2010 AAA
Water Cooler Finance: I-Spy, IPOs And iPhones

This week in finance is showing some of the slowdown signs that always come with the dog days of summer. Despite BP prepping a new cap for the gulf oil leak, the biggest stories in finance were all over the map.

In Pictures: Top 10 Insurance Myths

Class Action Lawsuit, Is There an App for That?
With the Droid X getting ready to challenge its iPhone 4, Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) is facing another problem based off its exclusivity deal with AT&T (NYSE:T). Since 2007, iPhone users have had to go to AT&T to get a two-year contract. A lawsuit, recently upgraded to class action status, states that the two-year contract is in fact a multi-year contract for as long as Apple's exclusivity arrangement lasts.

The crux of the case is that concealing the true contract period is fraud, and limiting the service providers after the initial contract is over constitutes monopolistic practices and pricing. With AT&T's difficulty keeping up with the iPhone, many people are beginning to wonder when, not if, the iPhone will be offered on other networks. (Learn more about the iPhone 4 in iPhone 4: Numbers To Know.)

The Biggest IPO Ever?
The Agricultural Bank Of China set the bar a little higher in the largest IPO yet, raising $19.2 billion, with another $3 billion possibly being added to the total. The Chinese bank overtook compatriot ICBC ($19.1 billion) and Visa (NYSE:V) ($17.9 billion) on its way to the top. A record-breaking IPO doesn't guarantee success, but it's hard to see how an extra $19 billion to work with could hurt the Chinese bank.

An IPO Yo-Yo
The other notable IPO this month was Tesla Motors (Nasdaq:TSLA). The electric car company's IPO seemed a little premature as the company has yet to string together any record of profitability. That fact seemed to play out in the market as the company's stock as it shot up nearly 50% and then shot right back down in an admittedly down market. (Get to know more about IPOs by reading out IPO Tutorial.)

Russian Spies and Real Estate
If you're having difficulty trusting your real estate agent, it's just possible that he or she is a Russian spy. Of the 11 people arrested for spying on the U.S. for Russia, most of them were involved in finance in some way. Investment banking, accounting, real estate and even small business start-up appeared on their dossiers. The good news for the now-deported spies is that the cold war – and communism – is over. They can pick up the Russian equivalent to their American careers in capitalist Russia without having to divert the energy needed to spy on capitalist America. And, if they do want to spy in to the deep, dark secrets of America, it is a quick Google search away.

The Decision
King James probably has the Miami Heat marketing department salivating over their newest acquisition. LeBron's decision to join the heat became a televised event drawing around 10 million viewers to ESPN. It surpassed Tiger's exclusive ESPN interview by a huge margin and makes the case for LeBron being one of the most marketable athletes in the world. No doubt the Heat already have the jersey factory cranking out number 23s to replace all the one's they are burning in Cleveland.

Black Is Back
One of the expected results of former Enron CEO Jeffery Skillings' Supreme Court win against the honest services rule was that other disgraced and jailed CEOs would see another day in court. So it is that Conrad Black is getting another chance to overturn his imprisonment for diverting capital from his company, Hollinger, to himself.

Black has argued that transfer payments meant to go into Hollinger coffers as non-compete fees from spun-off assets were only placed in his personal holding company to secure tax-benefits in Canada. This glosses over just how much he and his family took out of the company with regular corporate excesses. However, because he was convicted under the broad category of violating honest services – and this category no longer exists – it seems probable that he will walk. (Learn more about Conrad Black by reading the answer to our FAQ: To whom was the term "corporate kleptocracy" first applied?)

Bottom Line
With much of the financial world taking advantage of the summer holidays (and perhaps the cheap euro), we are in the middle of a relative calm. The biggest stories going forward, with apologies to BP's ongoing struggles, seem to be all on the legal and regulatory side of things. Expect more from these fronts in the coming weeks – that, and a lot more news about LeBron than you'd expect during the summer break.

Miss last week's Water Cooler Finance? Check it out: More Spilled Oil, Fewer Jobs.)

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