October 22, 2017

As Social Media Swirl Around It, Supreme Court Sticks to Its Analog Ways

They will be joined, if Twitter is any guide, by thousands of anxious, curious people across the country eagerly waiting for the court to rule on a remarkable number of major cases with huge implications. With just days remaining in its 2013 schedule, the court has left dangling its considered opinions on same-sex marriage, affirmative action and the nation’s voting rights laws.

“We all crave information instantaneously,” said Ms. Blatt, a lawyer at Arnold Porter who has argued 33 cases before the court, including one that is still pending this year. Last Monday, and again last Thursday, she found herself scouring legal blogs, looking for whatever clues might exist.

“I always thought those people were strange, and there I was, doing it,” she said. “People are dying to know something that they can’t.”

In a city beset by leaks — a young programmer recently gave a hoard of top-secret documents to newspapers — the high court’s annual rulings remain stubbornly opaque until they are handed out (on paper, first) by the court’s public relations staff. Meanwhile, the nine justices have the luxury of appearing publicly oblivious to the swirl of social media, the angst of Washington’s legal community and the voracious appetite of America’s 24-hour news cycle.

Many Washington institutions are making the high-tech transition; even the chairman of the Federal Reserve holds regular news conferences now. But like the Kremlinologists of the cold war, who deduced Communist power struggles by a leader’s presence on the Red Square reviewing stand, modern-day court watchers can do little more than speculate about when and how the court might rule.

“You never know when it’s going to come down,” said Mr. Olson, a former solicitor general who would know, if anyone would. A court observer for decades, he has shown up on each of the last three decision days at the court. “I just try to prepare for anything.”

Mr. Griffin is a founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization that filed the legal challenge to Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. Four times in the last two weeks, the court has issued decisions in other cases but not about that law’s constitutionality. Each time, Mr. Griffin has returned home and unpacked, lest his suits become wrinkled.

On Monday, Mr. Griffin will return once again, joined by the four plaintiffs in the case, who plan to stay in Washington until the high court rules, before they return home to California. If the court overturns the ballot initiative, the couples hope to have a wedding ceremony as soon as possible.

Across California, gay rights organizations have started many early mornings refreshing their Web pages for news and then going back to bed. Staff members at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center have elaborate plans for action after any outcome, and they are preparing to head into the office in the early morning as they anticipate widespread celebration or protest in West Hollywood.

And lawyers at the office of California’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, have been preparing for weeks with legal memos anticipating a wide range of possible outcomes.

The Web is ready, too. On Thursday, after the justices once again did not issue rulings in any of the biggest cases, news organizations blared the “news” to their followers. “BREAKING NEWS: No major decisions from Supreme Court today,” the Yahoo News site announced on its Twitter feed. Another Twitter user wryly observed: “Clearly all Supreme Court judges were unpopular kids in high school and, excited by all the attention now, are gonna drag this out.”

A year ago, in the minutes before the court announced its decision on President Obama’s health care law, Twitter users posted more than 13,000 messages a minute about the court. (By comparison, there were 160,000 a minute at the height of the presidential debate in Denver last year.)

The court’s term is dwindling fast. The schedule calls for a round of rulings on Monday, and court observers believe the justices may issue decisions on Wednesday and Thursday as well. There has been speculation of a July 1 session, though Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is scheduled to teach a class on the history of the Supreme Court in Prague on July 2.

There will be other issues in Washington this week. The Senate is set to take a final vote on an immigration overhaul, perhaps on Thursday. (If the court overturns the federal Defense of Marriage Act first, lawmakers may not need to seek immigration protections for same-sex partners of immigrants, advocates said.)

But most of the intellectual guesswork will be about the justices and their rulings.

There are ways, if you know them, to offer educated guesses about the timing and authorship (if not the substance) of the court’s coming decisions. The tricks have become de rigueur among the Washington social set, whose members swap Supreme Court theories at cocktail parties the way Angelenos swap movie industry gossip.

“Everybody around this time starts to try to predict who has the decision and what it’s going to say,” said Irving L. Gornstein, the executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University. Mr. Gornstein calls himself a “participant” in the court-guessing parlor games. This year, he said, is the worst he can remember.

“Here you have four huge cases, which is really extraordinary for a Supreme Court term,” Mr. Gornstein said. “I can’t remember when you’ve had this many cases at the end of a term.”

Among the tricks of the court-watching trade is knowing that each of the justices is assigned to write the majority opinion in at least one case during each two-week “sitting,” when cases are heard for oral arguments. On Monday, if there are rulings yet to be announced from a particular sitting, and a justice who has not yet written an opinion from that set of cases, that justice might be a good bet.

Knowledgeable observers also keep close watch on the number of boxes of rulings set out by the public information officers at the court. The more boxes, the more rulings.

“It is a game that everybody’s playing because it’s so important,” Mr. Olson said. “These decisions are really important to the people involved, and they have consequences for a long time.”

Adam Liptak contributed reporting from Washington, and Jennifer Medina from Los Angeles.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/high-court-sticks-to-its-ways-oblivious-to-social-media.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Apple Chief Hints at Shareholder Rewards to Come

Timothy D. Cook in September.Peter DaSilva for The New York Times Timothy D. Cook in September.

Investors want more cash from Apple.

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, wasn’t ready to give it to them on Tuesday. But recent history and Mr. Cook’s tendency to foreshadow events before they occur strongly suggest he will reward them soon.

Speaking for the second consecutive year in at a Goldman Sachs technology investor conference, Mr. Cook said Apple’s management team and board were discussing how to return more of the company’s enormous stockpile of cash to shareholders.

If those words sound familiar, it’s because Mr. Cook said almost the same thing a year ago at the Goldman Sachs conference. A month later, the company announced a plan to return more than $45 billion to shareholders over three years in the form of dividends and share repurchases.

That plan only served to slow the swelling of Apple’s cash hoard, not to reduce it. Last year around this time, Apple had nearly $100 billion in cash. Now it has around $137 billion.

“We do have some cash,” Mr. Cook said at the Goldman conference on Tuesday, in a moment of deliberate understatement that set off chuckles from his audience.

Some investors — like the hedge-fund manager David Einhorn — are cranky that Apple’s cash is sitting around earning so little interest.

Mr. Cook said Apple had looked at making some big acquisitions but never seriously enough to follow through on the deals. With its cash, Apple could afford one Amazon or two Facebooks and still have billions in spare change.

Instead, Apple buys smaller companies, mostly for their talent or intellectual property, Mr. Cook said. He said Apple has averaged about one acquisition every other month for the last three years.

How to send more cash to shareholders is the tricky part. Much of Apple’s cash is generated overseas and can’t be paid out to shareholders without being subject to repatriation taxes. In a recent research note, Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Bernstein Research, said  Apple could not meaningfully increase its return of cash to shareholders without paying the taxes or issuing debt.

While the latter option sounds nonsensical for a company with as much cash in the bank as Apple, a number of cash-rich technology companies, including Microsoft and Cisco, have issued debt, taking advantage of low interest rates. Mr. Sacconaghi suggested that the most attractive option for Apple shareholders would be for the company to borrow money, perhaps in the range of $50 billion to $100 billion, and use it to buy back stock or increase the dividend. He said increasing the return of cash was critical for Apple to attract a new class of dividend-hungry value investors as the company’s growth slows. Apple’s shares have declined about 33 percent since their high in September.

Mr. Cook called a lawsuit filed against the company by Mr. Einhorn, president of Greenlight Capital, a “silly sideshow.”

Mr. Einhorn has claimed that a change Apple is proposing to make to its corporate charter would limit the option of returning more cash to shareholders through the issuing of preferred stock. Apple has said that even with the charter change, it could issue preferred stock with shareholder approval.

Mr. Cook danced around the rumors that Apple would create an inexpensive iPhone for emerging markets, where income levels and a lack of subsidies by wireless carriers have put the company’s smartphone out of reach for many consumers. But he noted Apple’s history of coming up with creative new products, like the iPod shuffle and the iPad Mini, that appeal to budget-minded shoppers.

“The only thing we’ll never do is make a crappy product,” he said. “That’s the only religion we have.”

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/apple-chief-hints-at-shareholder-rewards-to-come/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Bristol-Myers to Acquire Inhibitex for $2.5 Billion

Bristol-Myers Squibb agreed late on Saturday to buy Inhibitex, a maker of a hepatitis C treatment, for about $2.5 billion in cash, as major drug companies seek to bolster their pipelines with more profitable specialty products.

Under the deal, Bristol-Myers will pay $26 a share through a two-step merger, beginning with a tender offer. That represents a huge 163 percent premium over Inhibitex’s closing price Friday.

“The acquisition of Inhibitex builds on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s long history of discovering, developing and delivering innovative new medicines in virology and enriches our portfolio of investigational medicines for hepatitis C,” Lamberto Andreotti, chief executive of Bristol-Myers, said in a statement.

Many big pharmaceutical companies have turned to mergers in recent years to plug holes in their drug pipelines, in large part to replace products that are set to face generic competition. Such companies are turning increasingly to smaller biopharmaceutical players developing specialized — and therefore hard to replicate — treatments.

In Inhibitex, Bristol-Myers will buy a company focused on antiviral products. Its main drug, INX-189, is an oral medicine being developed for hepatitis C that the company hopes will form the basis for simpler treatments of the disease.

Yet the deal is an expensive bet by Bristol-Myers, which says it expects the takeover to hurt its profitability for the next four years. Its earnings are expected to fall by 4 cents a share this year and 5 cents a share next year.

Inhibitex has not proved profitable lately, reporting annual losses from 2008 through 2010. For the quarter ended Sept. 30, the company, based in Alpharetta, Ga., reported a $5.3 million loss atop $1.3 million in revenue.

Bristol-Myers has said it plans to finance its bid by drawing upon its cash hoard. Shareholders owning about 17 percent of Inhibitex’s stock have already agreed to support the merger.

Bristol-Myers was advised by Citigroup and the law firm Kirkland Ellis. Inhibitex was advised by Credit Suisse and the law firm Dechert.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=99780f515f276fd20648940425cbeef6

U.S. Commodity Regulator Sues Oil Traders

After oil prices surged past $100 a barrel in 2008, suspicions that traders had manipulated the market led to Congressional hearings and regulatory investigations, which produced no solid cases in the record run-up in gasoline prices.

But on Tuesday, federal commodities regulators filed a civil lawsuit against two obscure traders in Australia and California and three American and international firms. The suit says that in early 2008 they tried to hoard nearly two-thirds of the available supply of a crucial American market for crude oil, then abruptly dumped it and illegally pocketed $50 million.

The regulators from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would not say whether the agency was conducting any other investigations into oil speculation. With oil prices climbing again this year, President Obama has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to set up a working group to look into fraud in oil and gas markets and “safeguard against unlawful consumer harm.”

In the case filed Tuesday, the defendants — James T. Dyer of Australia, Nicholas J. Wildgoose of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and three related companies, Parnon Energy of California, Arcadia Petroleum of Britain and Arcadia Energy, a Swiss company — have told regulators they deny they manipulated the market.

If the United States proves the claims, the defendants may give up $50 million in profits allegedly made as a result of the manipulation and pay a penalty of up to $150 million.

The commodities agency says the case involves a complex scheme that relied on the close relationship between physical oil prices and the prices of financial futures, which move in parallel.

In a matter of a few weeks in January 2008, the defendants built up large positions in the oil futures market on exchanges in New York and London, according to the suit, filed in the Southern District of New York.

At the same time, they bought millions of barrels of physical crude oil at Cushing, Okla., one of the main delivery sites for West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for American oil, the suit says. They bought the oil even though they had no commercial need for it, giving the market the impression of a shortage, the complaint says.

At one point they had such a dominant position that they owned about 4.6 million barrels of crude oil, estimating that this represented two-thirds of the seven million barrels of excess oil then available at Cushing, according to lawsuits.

This type of oil is also the main driver of prices of the futures contracts, and their actions caused futures prices to rise, the authorities say. “They wanted to lull market participants into believing that supply would remain tight,” the agency said. “They knew that as long as the market believed that supply was tight and getting even tighter, there would be upward pressure on the prices of W.T.I. for February delivery relative to March delivery, which was their goal.”

The traders in mid-January cashed out their futures position, and then a few days later began to bet on a decline in oil futures, with Mr. Wildgoose remarking in an e-mail about the “inevitable puking” of their position on an unsuspecting market, the federal lawsuit says.

In one day, Jan. 25, they then dumped most of their holdings of West Texas Intermediate oil, and profited by the drop in futures.

The traders repeated the buying and selling in March 2008, and were preparing to do it again in April but stopped when investigators contacted them for information, the suit says.

Between January and April, average gas prices rose roughly to $3.50 a gallon, from $3. It was not until later in 2008, after the defendants had ceased their reported actions, that prices soared higher — reaching $145 that July. By the end of the year, prices had fallen back to around $44. The Texas oil is now around $100.

Many other factors were at work, including tight oil supplies in the Middle East and fears that a growing global economy would consume more oil. Yet the enforcement action by the commodities regulator was the first credible evidence that a small group of traders also played a role in manipulating prices.

“This will  help to satisfy the desire to find a culprit and throw them under the wheels of justice,” said Michael Lynch, an oil market specialist at Strategic Energy and Economic Research, a consulting firm.

Calls to Arcadia Petroleum in London were not immediately returned. A person who answered the phone at Arcadia Energy in Switzerland said that he was unaware of the complaints and that Mr. Dyer and Mr. Wildgoose were on vacation and unavailable for comment.

In the last few years, the commission has settled a handful of cases of manipulation in the natural gas market.

In 2007, it settled charges for $1 million against the Marathon Petroleum Company for trying to manipulate West Texas Intermediate crude oil in 2003.

The commission brought an action similar to its latest case in 2008, asserting that Optiver Holding, a global proprietary trading fund based in the Netherlands, used a trading program to issue rapid-fire orders to manipulate the crude oil market in 2007. That case, which is pending, involved allegations of manipulation of futures contracts for light sweet crude oil, New York Harbor heating oil and New York Harbor gasoline.

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1b1ec228c279048d6913fea6c8bc5526