July 22, 2017

Mortgages: Awaiting Foreclosure Relief

The bill is intended to put an end to the “shadow docket” of pending foreclosure cases stuck in limbo for months or even years because lawyers for the lenders haven’t filed the paperwork necessary for them to move into court.

“Interest and fees are being racked up with every passing month,” said Jacob Inwald, the director of foreclosure prevention litigation at Legal Services NYC. “And there isn’t even a vehicle to try to resolve your problem, because once they’ve commenced a foreclosure action, you can’t talk to your lender because you’re in litigation.”

New York has a court-supervised mediation process to give homeowners a chance to work out a loan modification with their lender — “their best hope of making something happen,” Mr. Inwald said. But homeowners trapped on the shadow docket can’t begin that settlement process.

It was the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, who proposed a legislative remedy, along with the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.

“We feel very strongly that the integrity of the court process is at stake,” Judge Lippman said. “It is our responsibility to ensure that these proceedings are meaningful and that everyone’s rights are protected.”

He estimated the foreclosure backlog at roughly 12,000 cases, though earlier estimates put it closer to 25,000. Either way, he added, “it’s far, far too many.”

The bill approved by the Legislature in June essentially makes a technical fix to a rule change sparked by the robo-signing scandal, in which lenders’ representatives were found to have signed off on foreclosure-related documents without verifying their accuracy. Lawyers filing foreclosure actions in New York must now submit a certificate affirming they have verified the accuracy of the documentation.

The problem is that when lawyers file foreclosure actions, they sometimes hold off on filing the mandatory affirmations, which prevents the cases from moving forward. The legislation would end this practice by requiring that the affirmations accompany foreclosure actions.

“You need to affirm straight up at the outset that you’re attesting to the accuracy of the documents,” said Sarah Ludwig, a director of the New Economy Project, a community advocacy group.

In a similar effort in June, over another required document, Mr. Schneiderman’s office sued HSBC Bank for allegedly stalling several hundred foreclosure cases by failing to file the document, called a request for judicial intervention.

Filing the request obligates the lender to attend a settlement conference within 60 days. The attorney general charges that in some cases, HSBC waited for more than two years to file such requests, charging interest and penalties all the while.

Foreclosure prevention advocates are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign the shadow docket legislation into law quickly to prevent the docket from growing longer. Even after signing, the bill wouldn’t become effective for another 30 days. A spokesman for the governor’s office said the legislation was under review.

Judge Lippman says he doesn’t attribute any “negative motivations” to lenders’ lawyers’ failure to file the required documents in a timely manner, but thinks the “proceedings have gotten off track.”

Ms. Ludwig takes a darker view. “The whole foreclosure process has just been riddled with improprieties and unfairness to homeowners,” she said. “I think this is part of that bigger morass.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/realestate/awaiting-foreclosure-relief.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Morgan Stanley Posts 42% Rise in Profit and Sets Stock Buyback

Morgan Stanley's headquarters in New York.Mark Lennihan/Associated PressMorgan Stanley’s headquarters in New York.

Morgan Stanley shares rose sharply Thursday morning on news that the company planned to buy back a chunk of its own stock.

News of the buyback came as Morgan Stanley reported adjusted second-quarter earnings that slightly beat analysts’ estimates, driven by a strong performance from its wealth management unit and equity sales and trading.

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Including charges, the firm reported that second-quarter profit applicable to Morgan Stanley common shareholders rose 42 percent, to $802 million, or 41 cents a share, from $564 million, or 29 cents a share, in the period a year earlier. Overall net income was $980 million, compared with $591 million in the period a year earlier.

The results, however, were affected by two big charges, one related to Morgan Stanley’s credit spreads and the other to its recent purchase of the remaining stake of its wealth management business. Excluding those charges, the firm had a profit of $872 million, or 45 cents a share. That beat the estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, which had projected a profit of 43 cents a share.

Morgan Stanley’s adjusted revenue rose to $8.3 billion in the second quarter from $6.6 billion in the period a year earlier.

The stock surged more than 4 when the market opened on the back of an announcement in the firm’s earnings release that it was buying back $500 million of its shares. Morgan Stanley shares were trading above $27 on Thursday.

Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James P. Gorman, said in a statement that he was looking forward to the full benefits of the recently completed Wealth Management acquisition, which the bank took full control of in the quarter.

That unit, with 16,321 financial advisers, posted net revenue of $3.53 billion, up more than 10 percent. Its pretax profit margin, a widely watched figure on Wall Street, came in at 18.5 percent. That margin, which previously had been running around 17 percent, is ahead of where the company had hoped it would be at this time.

The second quarter was a particularly important one for Morgan Stanley, which received approval from regulators last month to buy the remaining stake in its wealth management division, a joint venture it formed with Citigroup in the depths of the financial crisis. Since the crisis, Morgan Stanley has tried to diversify its earnings, moving away from riskier business like trading, and into wealth management, which offers steady, albeit lower returns. Its ability to purchase all of that division gave it full control over the operation and the full share of the profits.

Institutional securities, which houses Morgan Stanley’s banking and trading operations, posted net revenue, excluding the debt charge, of about $4.2 billion, up almost 40 percent from figures in the period a year earlier.

The firm experienced a solid increase in revenue from various segments in this department, including debt and equity underwriting, investment banking, and currency and commodities trading.

The fixed-income sales and trading unit reported that adjusted revenue rose to $1.2 billion from $771 million in the period a year earlier. This year’s performance was slightly below what analysts were hoping for.

Morgan Stanley is the last big bank to report second-quarter earnings, and results have been generally strong as lenders seem to be benefiting from a pickup in the United States economy. Goldman Sachs, for instance, reported that its net income doubled, beating analyst expectations handily.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/morgan-stanley-profit-rises-42-percent/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Sony Rebuffs New Call to Sell Entertainment Unit

Kazuo Hirai, chief of Sony, at a corporate strategy presentation in Tokyo on Wednesday.Kimimasa Mayama/European Pressphoto AgencyKazuo Hirai, chief of Sony.

TOKYO – Sony’s chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, reiterated on Thursday that the company’s music and movie businesses were not for sale, striking a cautious tone on a renewed push by the American activist investor Daniel S. Loeb to break up Sony’s sprawling empire. He added that the company’s board would continue to study the matter.

Speaking to shareholders at Sony’s annual general meeting in Tokyo, Mr. Hirai said that movies and music were an indispensable part of Sony’s growth strategy. Mr. Loeb’s firm, Third Point, which claims to be one of Sony’s biggest shareholders, has proposed that Sony should partially spin off its entertainment arms and invest the proceeds in its struggling electronics business.

“The entertainment business plays an important role in Sony’s future growth,” Mr. Hirai told investors, saying it added critical value to the company and should not be let go. “This proposal strikes at the heart of what kind of company Sony ultimately will become in the future. We intend to take our time in discussing it.”

Mr. Hirai’s remarks came after Mr. Loeb upped the ante in what is a rare bid to shake up one of Japan’s most storied companies. In a letter sent to Sony’s board on Tuesday morning, Mr. Loeb disclosed that Third Point had raised its stake to about 7 percent, or about 70 million shares, from 6.5 percent last month, and urged Mr. Hirai to take his proposal seriously.

On top of raising capital to help bolster Sony’s electronics strategy, Mr. Loeb argues that giving the entertainment business its own board would provide stronger oversight of revival efforts and spending plans. Third Point has also requested a seat on Sony’s board.

But some analysts have questioned the wisdom of spinning off some of Sony’s profitable content businesses — which could cut off much of the company’s access to their profits — while keeping its unprofitable electronics divisions. Over the last 10 years, Sony made most of its operating profit from its content and insurance arms, while the electronics operations lost money.

Sony’s cumulative operating profit over the last decade would have been almost twice as high if not for its ailing electronics business, according to Atul Goyal, technology analyst at Jefferies Company.

“Sony should spin off electronics instead of content,” Mr. Goyal wrote in a report released ahead of the shareholders meeting.

The funds raised, he added, could be used to finance growth of Sony’s already- lucrative content business. Such a move, he said, would “add significantly more value for investors.”

An official decision on Mr. Loeb’s proposal rests with Sony’s new board, which added three new members on Thursday: Joichi Ito, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Eiko Harada, chairman of McDonald’s Japan; and Tim Schaaff, former head of Sony Network Entertainment. Mr. Ito also sits on the board of The New York Times Company.

Shareholders present at Thursday’s meeting in Tokyo appeared to side with Mr. Hirai’s cautious stance on Mr. Loeb’s proposal. They appeared to be banking on assurances by Mr. Hirai that he could bring Sony’s electronics back to profitability this year.

“I’m glad he made it clear that breaking Sony up is not something he feels is good for the company,” said Masayuki Suzuki, 60, a longtime Sony shareholder who runs a building maintenance company in Tokyo. “There’s only one way Sony can revive, and that’s by making great gadgets. Just look at Apple.”

Sony looks set for some successes in electronics. Its sleek Xperia Z smartphone is a best seller in Japan and could soon be available in the United States.

Investors are also excited about Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 4 home game console, which won emphatic praise from gamers at the E3 conference last week in Los Angeles. It is also a more powerful machine and less expensive than Microsoft’s Xbox One; analysts have said Sony stands a good chance of winning the next-generation console wars.

Some shareholders seemed skeptical of Mr. Loeb’s intentions.

“I don’t get the impression that he’s interested in Sony in the long term,” said Akihisa Ishikawa, 31, who works in publishing in Tokyo and bought Sony shares about six years ago, but has since seen them decline in value. “Is he just out to make a quick buck? If so, Sony is right not to show interest.”

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Loeb or any other representatives from Third Point were present at the Tokyo meeting. None of the shareholders who asked questions appeared to be from Third Point, or identified themselves as such. Reuters reported late on Wednesday that Mr. Loeb would not be attending. Third Point officials were not immediately reachable for comment.

Shares in Sony climbed 150 percent from mid-November to late May, propelled by a weak yen and high hopes for an economic recovery brought about by the new economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Share prices rose at an especially rapid clip after May 14, when Mr. Loeb first lodged his proposal with Sony in an open letter, jumping 7 percent in a week.

But the company’s shares have since fallen back somewhat, as the yen has strengthened and the company has given few signs of actively considering Mr. Loeb’s suggestions.

Sony shares closed at 2,013 yen in Tokyo on Thursday, down 0.1 percent from a day earlier.

A version of this article appeared in print on 06/20/2013, on page B8 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Sony Rejects Call to Divide Its Businesses.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/sony-rebuffs-new-call-to-sell-entertainment-unit/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Wealth Matters: Technology’s Impact on the Value of Financial Advice

But is the technology good enough to replace guidance from financial advisers? Or is technology actually good for advisers because they can use it to do their jobs better?

Several new reports look at what technology will mean for an adviser, who, at his or her best, protects people from their worst investment ideas. And that brings up a corollary question: What will this trend, and enormous investment, in technology mean for the clients, the people whose money is at stake?

It seems almost heretical to propose that technology will not make an existing service better. But after reading the reports and talking to advisers who have embraced technology, I was not sure that this emphasis was going to be better for clients.

The report from Accenture looked at how younger clients sought relationships through technology and how advisers had to be available to provide it.

“When we talk to firms, they think social media is a new thing, and they’re trying to control the risk of it,” said Alex Pigliucci, global managing director of the wealth and asset management business at Accenture. “I see these tools as an advantage today. They’re not something to plan for in the next five to 10 years.”

The Out-of-Sync Advisor,” a report by Deloitte, imagined technology bringing clients who were managing their own money back to advisers and then allowing those advisers to give people with a couple of hundred thousand dollars the type of high-quality advice reserved for people with hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ed Tracy, leader of the wealth management and private banking practice at Deloitte, said this would be possible only if all the clients’ financial information was already in the system so the advisers could spend their time together talking about the clients’ goals.

Fidelity’s annual broker and adviser sentiment index, released late last year, tried to put a dollar amount on all of this: technology-adept advisers who were focused on clients in their 30s and 40s managed, on average, $8 million more than colleagues focused on baby boomers. Their clients also had slightly larger accounts. (Not in the data was how technology contributed directly to this.)

But is there any practical value to investors in this push for more technology? In some areas, yes. In others, it remains to be seen.

Patrick O’Connor, senior vice president for wealth, retirement, portfolio solutions at Raymond James, said some of the best technological innovations reminded him of a recent visit to his new dentist.

Instead of pointing to a murky X-ray and telling him to floss, his dentist wheeled around a monitor that showed his teeth — and the problems with them — from various angles. A bit more brushing here and flossing there, and the image changed to show healthier teeth.

“She was giving me more ownership of my teeth,” Mr. O’Connor said. “I’ve been much more diligent about flossing and paying attention to those areas. Before, I would have ignored her. I’d been lectured to for 10 years.”

Technology, he said, can do much the same thing for investors, showing them how they are doing and the consequences of their spending and saving. The technology also becomes the bearer of bad news, not the adviser. “Instead of saying, ‘Sorry you’re in the red,’ I become the facilitator in getting you from the red to the green,” he said.

And technology can help clients reduce mundane and time-consuming tasks and increase the amount of time they can talk about the things that matter most to them.

“If someone had my data, understood my goals, had buckets in my portfolio and I knew if I was on track or off track and they only spent three hours a year with me, I’d feel a lot better than I would with someone I sat down with who said, ‘Tell me what’s going on,’ ” Mr. Tracy said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/your-money/technologys-impact-on-the-value-of-financial-advice.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Amazon to Buy Goodreads

With bookstores closing, Internet sites have become critical places for telling readers about books they might be interested in. This deal further consolidates Amazon’s power to determine which authors get exposure for their work.

Until the purchase, Goodreads was a rival to Amazon as a place for discovering books. Goodreads, which is based on networks of friends sharing reviews, was building a reputation as a reliably independent source of recommendations. It was also of great interest to publishers because members routinely shared their lists of books to be read.

By contrast, Amazon had several well-publicized cases involving writers buying or manipulating their reviews on its site. As a result, authors said Amazon was deleting reviews from its site at the end of 2012 as a way of cracking down.

The deal is made more significant because Amazon already owned part or all of Goodreads’ competitors, Shelfari and LibraryThing. It bought Shelfari in 2008. It also owns a portion of LibraryThing as a result of buying companies that already owned a stake in the site. Both are much smaller and have grown much more slowly than Goodreads.

Otis Chandler, a founder of Goodreads, said his management team would remain in place to guard the reviewing process that had made the site attractive to its 16 million members. “Amazon has a real history of building independent brands and running them as independent companies,” he said in a phone interview.

Reaction online, however, was swift and laced with skepticism. “Say hello to a world in which Amazon targets you based on your Goodreads reviews,” Edward Champion, a writer and editor, posted on Twitter. “No company should have this power.”

The deal did get some support from Hugh Howey, whose book “Wool” was originally self-published on Amazon and promoted through Goodreads and became a best seller. “The best place to discuss books is joining up with the best place to buy books — to-be-read piles everywhere must be groaning in anticipation,” he said in the companies’ news release.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content, said the integration of the companies was beneficial. For example, it will make it “super easy,” he said, for authors that self-publish through Kindle “to promote their books on Goodreads.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/business/media/amazon-to-buy-goodreads.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Asset Sales Help Quarterly Profit at Times Company

The New York Times Company reported a big jump in fourth-quarter profit on Thursday, largely because of gains from asset sales.

Net income was $176.9 million, or $1.14 a share, a 200 percent increase from $58.9 million, or 39 cents a share, in the period a year earlier.

The results were aided by a $164.6 million gain on the sale of the company’s stake in Indeed.com, a jobs search engine, and the sale of the About Group, the online resource company, which closed on the first day of the fourth quarter for $300 million. The sale of the About Group resulted in a total gain of $96.7 million, or $61.9 million after taxes.

Income from continuing operations rose to $117 million, compared with $51 million in the period a year earlier.

Total revenue for the quarter rose 5.2 percent, to $575.8 million. Over all, the company’s advertising revenue declined 3.1 percent. Print advertising at the company’s newspapers, which include The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The International Herald Tribune, shrank by 5.6 percent and digital advertising revenue across the company rose by 5.1 percent. Circulation revenue grew 16.1 percent.

For the entire year, the Times Company reported net income of $133 million, or 87 cents a share, compared with a loss of $39.7 million, or 26 cents a share, in the previous year.

Income from continuing operations rose to $159.7 million in 2012 from $51.9 million in 2011, or $1.04 per share up from 34 cents in 2011. Total revenue rose 1.9 percent, to $1.99 billion.

The past year marked the first time that circulation revenue surpassed advertising revenue. Circulation revenue grew by 10.4 percent, to $952.9 million, mainly from the growth in digital subscriptions and the rise in print circulation prices. Advertising for the year declined 5.9 percent, to $898.1 million.

The number of paid subscribers to the Web site, e-reader and other digital editions of The Times and The International Herald Tribune reached about 640,000 at the end of the fourth quarter, a 13 percent increase from the third quarter of 2012. Digital subscriptions to The Boston Globe and BostonGlobe.com also grew, by 8 percent, to about 28,000 subscribers.

“The demonstrated willingness of users here and around the world to pay for the high quality journalism for which The New York Times and the company’s other titles are renowned will be a key building block in the strategy for growth, which we are currently developing and which I will have much more to say about later in the year,” said Mark Thompson, the president and chief executive of the Times Company.

The company expects advertising revenue to remain sluggish in the first quarter of 2013 and total circulation revenue to grow by “mid-single digits.” The company said in its release that it “expects to benefit from its digital subscription initiatives as well as from the print circulation price increase at The New York Times implemented in the first quarter of 2013.” The company also said it expects its first-quarter operating costs to decline.

The results followed several difficult quarters during which the company tried to streamline operations and expand its digital and video presence. In early December, The Times said the newsroom needed to contribute to the company’s cost-cutting efforts and announced it was seeking 30 managers to accept buyout packages. The company also allowed employees represented by the Newspaper Guild to volunteer for buyout packages.

In a memo that Jill Abramson, the executive editor, wrote to the staff last week, she said that she had received enough volunteers that layoffs were kept to a handful. She also announced plans to restructure the masthead. On Wednesday, the paper also announced that it had hired Rebecca Howard from the AOL Huffington Post Media Group to become the new general manager of the video production unit.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/business/asset-sales-help-quarterly-profit-at-times-company.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook Column: Plot Twist in the A.I.G. Bailout: It Actually Worked

Neil M. Barofsky, a former Troubled Asset Relief Program official, at a Senate panel in 2010.Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesNeil M. Barofsky, a former Troubled Asset Relief Program official, at a Senate panel in 2010.

“Some people just don’t like movies with happy endings.”

That’s what the White House said about Neil Barofsky, then the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, when he complained two years ago that the Treasury Department was fudging its math about its investment in the American International Group.

At the time, the Treasury Department said that it was likely to lose only about $5 billion on the bailout. Mr. Barofsky declared that the number was “manipulated” as part of a “publicity campaign touting the positive aspects of TARP” ahead of the midterm elections.

Fast forward to this week. The Treasury Department announced it planned to sell $18 billion of its A.I.G. stake, putting it on a path to actually turn a profit. It was a remarkable feat and one that nobody — including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner — anticipated four years ago at the peak of the crisis during the $180 billion bailout of the company.

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Critics of the A.I.G. bailout — it was the most loathed of the rescues and a centerpiece of the Occupy Wall Street movement — had insisted it was going to be a huge black hole.

Given the latest news, I called Mr. Barofsky to see if he had any regrets about his earlier pronouncements now that the rescue of A.I.G. appeared profitable.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! They are not making money!” Mr. Barofsky, now a senior fellow at New York University School of Law, said when I reached him. “They are on the path to very significant losses!”

What?

Mr. Barofsky, who recently wrote a scathing book about the Treasury Department called “Bailout,” refused to admit defeat, saying, “I was right then and I am right now.”

He said that the government is “really engaged in half-truths and creative accounting.” After that assertion, he quickly followed up with, “Is the timing keyed to the election?”

Mr. Barofsky continues to claim the Treasury Department is playing fast and loose with how it calculates profitability. The Treasury says its break-even cost for A.I.G. shares is $28.73, so that any sale of shares at a higher price — the government is selling its A.I.G. shares for $32.50 — means it stands to make a profit.

Mr. Barofsky says that calculation is “absurd.” He says the real break-even price for TARP is $43.53 a share. But Mr. Barofsky — and other critics of the bailout that have sought to portray the rescue effort as a money-losing failure — may be engaged in half-truths and creative accounting of their own.

Mr. Barofsky is focusing on how much the government paid through the TARP program for A.I.G. shares, not how much the taxpayer will ultimately make — including through a separate investment made by the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Barofsky is technically correct that if you isolate the original cost to TARP for its investment in A.I.G., $43.53 a share is the break-even number.

But that conveniently excludes the huge stake that the Federal Reserve received in exchange for its original $85 billion rescue in September 2008. The Federal Reserve’s stake was later rolled into the Treasury’s stake through a series of complicated transactions.

If you include the TARP stake and the Federal Reserve stake, the break-even sale price for A.I.G. shares is the $28.73 that the Treasury has proclaimed.

And that’s the number that taxpayers should care about.

Mr. Barofsky, however, told me that “it’s just not accurate” for me or anyone else to accept Treasury’s view of profitability because “they mixed the pot.”

He explained: “The Fed’s cost basis is zero and they essentially gifted the shares to Treasury,” adding that the government should disclose its math. “It’s a question of transparency.”

When Mr. Barofsky first raised this issue in 2010, the White House, in a rare rebuke of an inspector general, said he had “sought to generate a false controversy over A.I.G. to try and grab a few, cheap headlines.”

As we approach the four-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the rescue of A.I.G. next week, sadly, much of the public — and people like Mr. Barofsky, as well-intentioned as he is — are still criticizing and debating the merits of the bailout. It’s almost become a cottage industry.

In his book, Mr. Barofsky wrote, “Treasury’s desperate attempt to bail out Wall Street was setting the country up for potentially catastrophic losses.”

As distasteful as the rescue effort was, it should be clear by now that without it, we faced an economic Armageddon. And the results thus far of bailing out the big banks, and A.I.G., indicate a profit.

The Government Accountability Office, which is not swayed by politics, estimated in May that taxpayers will receive a profit of about $15 billion from the A.I.G. bailout. That includes the profit the Fed had already made as part of the broader rescue. There may still be parts of the bailouts to debate: how they were executed, whether they were as effective as they could have been and, perhaps, whether taxpayers should have received an even bigger return for their investments given the risk.

But on the whole, the rescue of A.I.G. — often called a backdoor bailout of Wall Street — should be considered a success.

Toward the end of my phone call, Mr. Barofsky said it himself: “The government had no choice but to bail out A.I.G.” Then he added that Treasury’s sale of A.I.G. stock “is unambiguously good news for the country.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/plot-twist-in-the-a-i-g-bailout-it-actually-worked/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Citigroup to Sell Last of Its Stake in Primerica

Damon Winter/The New York TimesSanford I. Weill, whose Primerica acquired Travelers, which merged with Citicorp in 1998.

Citigroup‘s longstanding relationship with the life insurance company Primerica is coming to an end, as the bank prepares to sell the last of its remaining shares in the firm it took public last year.

The bank “has commenced a public offering of approximately 8 million shares of Primerica’s common stock, representing all of the remaining shares beneficially owned by Citigroup immediately following Primerica’s initial public offering,” according to a statement by Primerica on Tuesday.

Primerica, based in Georgia, was a keystone of the plan Sanford I. Weill, Citigroup’s former chief executive and chairman, came up with to create a global financial supermarket. But after the financial crisis, as the bank was badly battered and scrambling to spin off noncore assets, Citigroup’s chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit, decided to take Primerica public, an offering that raised $320.4 million and left the bank holding approximately 40 percent of the company’s shares.

Last month, Citigroup further diluted its stake in Primerica to about 12.5 percent, allowing nearly 9 million of its shares to be repurchased by the company at a price of $22.42 a share. The latest offering of about eight million shares is being run by Citigroup Global Markets, with the proceeds going to a subsidiary of Citigroup, Primerica said in its statement.

Primerica’s largest shareholder is now Warburg Pincus, the private equity firm, which controls approximately 22 percent of the company’s shares.

Primerica’s stock was down about 6 percent in premarket trading on Tuesday.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d29a4c77e02af6b6bd2445e4e1be87b0

Books of The Times: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

“He loved doing things right,” Mr. Jobs said. “He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.”

Mr. Jobs, the brilliant and protean creator whose inventions so utterly transformed the allure of technology, turned those childhood lessons into an all-purpose theory of intelligent design. He gave Mr. Isaacson a chance to play by the same rules. His story calls for a book that is clear, elegant and concise enough to qualify as an iBio. Mr. Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” does its solid best to hit that target.

As a biographer of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Isaacson knows how to explicate and celebrate genius: revered, long-dead genius. But he wrote “Steve Jobs” as its subject was mortally ill, and that is a more painful and delicate challenge. (He had access to members of the Jobs family at a difficult time.) Mr. Jobs promised not to look over Mr. Isaacson’s shoulder, and not to meddle with anything but the book’s cover. (Boy, does it look great.) And he expressed approval that the book would not be entirely flattering. But his legacy was at stake. And there were awkward questions to be asked. At the end of the volume, Mr. Jobs answers the question “What drove me?” by discussing himself in the past tense.

Mr. Isaacson treats “Steve Jobs” as the biography of record, which means that it is a strange book to read so soon after its subject’s death. Some of it is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint. Mr. Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. (“If you’re under 30, ask your parents,” Mr. Isaacson writes.) Some, like an account of the release of the iPad 2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet, even if Mr. Isaacson says the device comes to life “like the face of a tickled baby.” 

And some is definitely intended for future generations. “Indeed,” Mr. Isaacson writes, “its success came not just from the beauty of the hardware but from the applications, known as apps, that allowed you to indulge in all sorts of delightful activities.” One that he mentions, which will be as quaint as Pong some day, features the use of a slingshot to shoot down angry birds.

So “Steve Jobs,” an account of its subject’s 56 years (he died on Oct. 5), must reach across time in more ways than one. And it does, in a well-ordered, if not streamlined, fashion. It begins with a portrait of the young Mr. Jobs, rebellious toward the parents who raised him and scornful of the ones who gave him up for adoption. (“They were my sperm and egg bank,” he says.)

Although Mr. Isaacson is not analytical about his subject’s volatile personality (the word “obnoxious” figures in the book frequently), he raises the question of whether feelings of abandonment in childhood made him fanatically controlling and manipulative as an adult. Fortunately, that glib question stays unanswered.

Mr. Jobs, who founded Apple with Stephen Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, began his career as a seemingly contradictory blend of hippie truth seeker and tech-savvy hothead.

“His Zen awareness was not accompanied by an excess of calm, peace of mind or interpersonal mellowness,” Mr. Isaacson says. “He could stun an unsuspecting victim with an emotional towel-snap, perfectly aimed,” he also writes. But Mr. Jobs valued simplicity, utility and beauty in ways that would shape his creative imagination. And the book maintains that those goals would not have been achievable in the great parade of Apple creations without that mean streak.

Mr. Isaacson takes his readers back to the time when laptops, desktops and windows were metaphors, not everyday realities. His book ticks off how each of the Apple innovations that we now take for granted first occurred to Mr. Jobs or his creative team. “Steve Jobs” means to be the authoritative book about those achievements, and it also follows Mr. Jobs into the wilderness (and to NeXT and Pixar) after his first stint at Apple, which ended in 1985.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e051fa6b2ef6f0cd561324f1b4091df3

DealBook: Bank of America Sells Stake in China Construction Bank

Bank of America's Hong Kong headquarters looms over a real estate project operated by China Construction Bank.Bobby Yip/ReutersBank of America’s Hong Kong headquarters looms over a real estate project operated by China Construction Bank.

Bank of America announced on Monday that it would offload about half of its China Construction Bank holdings to a group of unidentified investors, in a deal expected to raise $8.3 billion.

The deal, which came just days after Warren E. Buffett agreed to invest $5 billion into the bank, is the latest asset sale for the beleaguered financial firm. Over the last month, Bank of America has sold its Canadian credit card division and has put its European card operation on the block, as it continues to clear noncore assets from its books.

The moves come amid recent fears that Bank of America lacks sufficient capital, concerns that its chief executive, Brian T. Moynihan, has tried to allay.

On Monday, Bank of America highlighted the deal’s effect on capital levels.

“This sale of approximately half of our shares of C.C.B. stock is expected to generate about $3.5 billion in additional Tier 1 common capital and reduce our risk-weighted assets by $7.3 billion under Basel I,” Bruce R. Thompson, the bank’s chief financial officer, said in the statement.

Under the terms of the deal, Bank of America will sell 13.1 billion common shares of the China Construction Bank Corporation to a group of unidentified investors. The bank on Friday was in negotiations with a collection of sovereign wealth funds in Asia and the Middle East, The New York Times reported. The deal is expected to close later in the quarter.

Even after the sale, Bank of America will still hold about 5 percent of China Construction Bank. According to its statement, Bank of America is in talks to expand a separate existing “strategic assistance agreement” between the two banks.

“Our partnership with China Construction Bank has been mutually beneficial,” Mr. Moynihan said in the statement.

Shares of Bank of America were up more than 5 percent in late morning trading on Monday.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/bank-of-america-sells-stake-in-china-construction-bank/?partner=rss&emc=rss