Would-be bank to list on market today

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New Zealand’s first new equity listing in six months will debut on the sharemarket today but trading will be limited because 72 per cent of the shares are still tied up with one owner.

Building Society Holdings, a new company established through combining Pyne Gould Corporation’s Marac Finance, CBS Canterbury and Southern Cross Building Society, will be the first listing since property company DNZ hit the market last August.

The only other listing last year was a small one by candle retailer Ecoya.

Pyne Gould Corporation (PGC) chief executive Jeff Greenslade, who will move to head the new company, said it did not have a set idea on how much the shares would begin trading at. “We expect there is going to be interest in the shares because this is a unique proposition.”

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In its combined state the company will be one of the largest remaining finance companies in New Zealand with $2.2 billion of assets, but it also aims to get a banking licence. If it gets the licence it would be the smallest of New Zealand’s banks but one of only four that are New Zealand owned.

The company has a net tangible asset backing of $265 million and 300 million shares equating to 88c a share. But only 28 per cent of the shares can be traded as the remaining 72 per cent is still owned by PGC.

In November PGC said if the deal to combine the companies went ahead it would distribute most of its stake in Building Society Holdings to PGC shareholders as well as a small placement to institutional investors.

At the time the company said it intended to “implement the distribution as soon as practicable following the proposed listing”. But in a statement last Thursday PGC said the distribution would be scheduled for the first half of 2011.

Greenslade denied there was any delay and said it was still proceeding with the distribution but it had not yet decided how much of the 72 per cent would go to shareholders and how much would be placed.

“It’s really a legal process we have to go through. There are no roadblocks or obstacles _ it’s just a process we have to go through.”

Greenslade said the breakdown between the placement and share transfer depended on the capital lending within the group.

PGC has promised to sell its 18.3 per cent stake in PGG Wrightson to Agria Corporation but will not know exactly how much of its stake will be included in the partial takeover until it closes on April 15. The take-up will be adjusted proportionally depending on how many other Wrightson investors also take up the offer.

But Greenslade said regardless of how much of the 18.3 per cent was sold to Agria it would be disposing of the entire stake in Wrightson.

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“We will be looking to divest or place all of it one way or another,” he said.

If it sells the entire stake to Agria it would net around $83 million.

The transfer of Marac and sale of its PGG Wrightson stake leaves PGC with just its Perpetual asset management and trustee business, which includes its private equity fund Torchlight.

Some have questioned whether the company will remain listed as it is likely to fall out of the NZX-50 once it transfers the shares in Building Society Holdings to investors.

Greenslade said the intention was to remain listed but it was undergoing a strategic review and considering a “number of options.”

>>> View more: Canadian publisher faces O.J. hurdles

Canadian publisher faces O.J. hurdles

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Byline: JAMES ADAMS

A Montreal-based publisher still has not made an offer to purchase worldwide English-language rights for the publication of If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened, the aborted memoir by O.J. Simpson.

“We’re still in the early stages of talks” and no deadline has been set for their conclusion, Herbert Becker, CEO of Barclay Road Inc., said yesterday after the company announced on Monday that it had approached Simpson’s lawyer three weeks ago about the possibility of publishing If I Did It.

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The book, which purports to be Simpson’s hypothetical account of the 1994 killings in Los Angeles of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, was to have been released last year by HarperCollins. However, after a storm of controversy, the project was cancelled in late November by HarperCollins’ parent company, News Corp.

(Newsweek reported that the book’s 400,000 copy print run was pulped. However, copies have surfaced and late last month Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott presented some of its “juicy bits” on vanityfair.com.)

Barclay and its imprint Lifetime Books aren’t the only ones interested in reviving the book’s fortunes, according to Simpson’s lawyer. “[Simpson] hadn’t mentioned that to me,” Barclay said.

The Montreal executive said his interest in the story “is there, it’s real,” and if Barclay Road was to get the book, it probably would be published in the spring of 2008 — earlier if it felt the title could be marketed for Christmas.

“We believe the book will have tremendous selling power,” Becker added, although it’s anticipated Barclay Road would give it a different title should it win rights.

Barclay Road faces considerable obstacles in achieving this. It’s a relatively low-profile and new company, established in the late 1990s, whose most famous author, salesman/motivational speaker Og Mandino, died in 1996. Simpson probably would want a considerable advance for world rights, not just a modest up-front payment in the hope that a generous royalty regime on the book’s actual sales would deliver substantial revenue later on. (Some sources have said HarperCollins, in association with Fox News, agreed to pay Simpson $3.5-million (U.S.) for the book and a complementary TV special, with almost $1-million of that going to him on signing.)

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Moreover, the family of Ronald Goldman, who were awarded $33.5-million (U.S.) in a 1997 civil judgment against Simpson in the death of their son, would probably sue for some or all of the money going to Simpson. Late last month, a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles refused to hear a suit filed by the Goldman family that sought money from the HarperCollins advance. The judge’s decision wasn’t based on the actual merits of the suit: He said it should have been filed and heard in Florida, where Simpson, 59, has his primary residence.

Calls to Yale Galanter, Simpson’s Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer, were not returned yesterday. Last year, Sirened.com, an American blog dedicated to “unearthing dirty politics and corporate antics,” quoted Galanter as being “happy” with the cancellation of Simpson’s book/TV deal.

“It should never have been a project to begin with. . . . Who would really get up and say, ‘This is really a good project?’ ”

Coronation Capital Launched, Unveils Report On Nigeria’s Progress Since 1999

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Byline: Obinna Chima

May 11, 2015 (This Day/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — Coronation Capital, a new African proprietary investment company established to leverage the power of capital for long term development in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, has been formally launched in Lagos.

The firm headed by a former chief executive officer of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, released its inaugural report on Nigeria’s economic progress since 1999 entitled: “The Fourth Republic: Economy and opportunities beyond politics.”

Established as a specialist investment firm for Africa, in Africa, Aigboje noted that Coronation Capital would focus on making long term and sustainable investments in the financial services, digital technology, oil and gas and real estate sectors of the economy.

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A statement by the company explained that the maiden report provides a comprehensive assessment of the trends in Nigeria’s economy since the return to civilian rule in 1999 and sets out the basis for the macro-economic investment approach, which it stated would characterise Coronation Capital’s strategy.

From a perilous state in 1999, with real incomes having fallen since 1979, an unsustainable budget deficit and debt to GDP ratio and high inflation, the report seeks to provide an independent assessment of economic development, the successes, outside the politics and the challenges and opportunities that remain.

The report showed that Nigeria recorded an exponential economic growth since 1999: from a GDP base of $36 billion in 1999, which then ranked Nigeria as the fifth largest economy in Africa, to a $522 billion economy in 2013, the largest in Africa by a significant margin and 1,350 per cent growth over 15 years.

Similarly, in terms of debt reduction, it stated that Nigeria’s debt profile today compares very favourably with that of 1999 when the country’s external and internal debt profile represented 87 per cent of GDP as compared to 18.32 per cent in 2013.

Furthermore, it noted that “Improvements in monetary policy, combined with the consolidation process in the banking sector have led to a considerably stronger banking sector. The CBN Act of 2007 instituted the CBN’s operational independence which enabled its leadership to swiftly and effectively resolve the 2009 banking crisis.

“Budget discipline: The oil price benchmark in the budget, combined with a budget deficit ceiling of 3% and the privatisation of state assets all contributed to significant improvements during the period. An impressive foreign direct investment (FDI) profile could be regarded as one of the clear benefits of the return to democracy in Nigeria. FDI has grown tremendously and the Nigerian economy has continued to show the capacity to attract investment despite currently adverse security conditions in some parts of the country”.

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Announcing the establishment of Coronation Capital and the launch of the report, the company’s Chairman, Aig-Imoukhuede, said: “The performance of the Nigerian economy continues to defy conventional wisdom given its many challenges. This is a reflection of the strength of its underlying fundamentals which have caused it to thrive despite the numerous challenges it has faced. From a position, in 1999, where the economy was at rock bottom and only the 5th largest in Africa, to today’s position as the largest economy on the continent we have seen immense change. But there is much work to do to ensure that change continues, and reaches all corners of society.”

He added: “My own professional history has been heavily influenced and guided by the economic progress Nigeria has made since the return to democracy. From my banking career at Guaranty Trust Bank, through to my leadership of Access Bank, my career has mirrored the progress of Nigeria’s financial services sector and exposed me to each of the core sectors of the economy that have driven wider growth.

“That experience has left me as a fully-fledged believer in a macro-economic approach to investment in Nigeria and is the driving force behind the establishment of Coronation Capital, an African focused proprietary investment company operating to the highest standards of investment management.

“Coronation Capital will leverage that experience to invest across the specific sectors of the Nigerian economy that we believe have the potential to grow exponentially over the coming years. We believe in the power of capital to act as a significant catalyst for long term economic growth and the creation of social value and we are committed to investing for the long term.”

On his part, a member of Nigeria’s Monetary Policy Committee and a contributor to the report, Dr Doyin Salami, said: “The fourth republic: Economy and opportunities beyond politics is the first fully independent analysis of the progress of the Nigerian economy since the return to democratic rule. It is informative that when you strip out the political rhetoric and look at the basic fundamentals the progress that has been made is clear.

“Yes, more could, and should have been done, but the Nigerian economy has not only evolved and matured, but grown at a rate almost unmatched globally. If a country so dominated by political instability and rhetoric, while lacking basic infrastructure can do this, then the potential it holds following the first transition from one party to another is even more significant.”

Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

This Time, Labor’s Ready

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The last transfer of power from a Democratic to a Republican Administration from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan–precipitated a disaster for the American labor movement. It was a time of widespread union-busting and contract concessions. Now, disappointed as unions are with Bush’s victory, they do not expect a replay: Bush is no Reagan, and the labor movement itself has changed a lot since the 1980s.

Republicans will certainly try to weaken the labor movement, both through legislation and administrative actions. Even though his first nominee for Labor Secretary, Linda Chavez, was forced to withdraw, Bush made it clear with his choice of that darling of the radical right that his Administration will be actively unfriendly toward unions. While union strategists think they can beat back most legislative attacks, given Bush’s dubious victory and the narrow Republican margin in Congress, they are also determined to go beyond defense and to continue fighting for the same goals as they did under–and at times against–the Clinton Administration.

“We still have to work on the key issues that matter to working Americans,” says Communications Workers executive vice president Larry Cohen. “The strategy doesn’t change, but the tactics do.”

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Tactically, with Republicans now in control across the board, labor needs to mobilize its members and the general public to demonstrate, both to Bush and to conservative Democrats hoping to strike a bipartisan compromise, that the popular majority backs labor’s “working families agenda,” not the proposals of the question-mark President selected by a conservative Supreme Court. Looking at polling data and the majority vote for center-left candidates (Gore and Nader combined), union leaders have good reason to believe that most Americans do support a moderate economic populism–universal and comprehensive health care, better education, higher wages, workers’ rights to organize, global economic fairness, campaign finance reform, and tax equity.

Unions also plan to hold Bush to his compassionate conservative pledges. During the campaign, he successfully muddied distinctions between Gore and himself on Social Security, prescription drug coverage, a patients’ bill of rights, and other issues. If labor and its allies take the initiative and stake out clear positions, for example, for universal, comprehensive health care, they may be able to frame the debate around progressive values, not just the details of narrowly drafted bills. If Bush opposes their program, they can paint him as a captive of wealthy special interests and no friend to the average citizen.

Labor had deep stakes in this election. Its early endorsement made a big difference in Gore’s primary victory. It put lots of money into the elections–at least $45 million through the AFL-CIO alone. More importantly, unions beefed up their grassroots organizing, dramatically increasing union household voters (from 23 percent of voters in 1996 to 26 percent) and delivering 59 percent of those votes for Gore. Many labor leaders liked Gore, but most also had low expectations. They had gotten relatively little from Clinton, and they supported Gore partly as a simple defensive maneuver.

Though many union officials see themselves as Democratic Party leaders, there is also an increasingly independent mindset in the labor movement. Unions are more likely now than a decade ago to run major political operations separate from the Democratic candidates and to promote their own issues. Yet, with few potential Republican allies and great obstacles to third parties, labor has to rely on Democrats, even as it pressures them.

Unions should be concerned with issues, not parties, insists Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern. “We should focus on trying to win for our members and not worry about 2002,” he says. “That’s what our members expect us to do and what drives them to the polls. If we believe in things and stand up for them, we’ll quickly find out in both parties who stands with us. We get confused and confuse our members when they see us as lap dogs of the Democratic Party and not watchdogs for their interests.”

But labor is not anxious just to get something done in the interests of bipartisanship. “We need to define what getting things done means,” says AFL-CIO public policy director David Smith. “It would be a mistake to define that as a less bad tax cut. We want to define that as access to health care and more money to educate your kids. It doesn’t mean coming to a minimalist bipartisan deal on a bunch of bad ideas.”

In order to prevent bipartisan agreement on bad ideas, unions and their allies will have to keep conservative Democrats from cutting their own deals with Bush. Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, the public employees union, says that Democratic defections are a “genuine concern.” He says labor will have to “take strong positions with those folks who may be vulnerable.” That means reminding even Southern conservatives that they depend on labor’s money and African American voters who are now “angry and galvanized.” He adds: “If it comes to it, we will have to be active in the districts and states,” mobilizing their constituents to keep them in line.

Union leaders are worried about Bush’s appointments, not only for Labor Secretary but also at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the wide range of agencies and departments that affect workplaces. The first nominee, Chavez, had a long and provocative paper trail documenting her opposition to raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, affirmative action, and bilingual education. She also had suggested both that women don’t bump up against a glass ceiling at work and that many are simply being “crybabies” when they complain about sexual harassment. Bush then settled on Elaine Chao, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, former Bush Administration official, and wife of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. Chao has less of a public record (and very little experience) on labor-related issues, but she is a seasoned bureaucrat and not as abrasive as Chavez. Given the endorsements by business and conservative leaders and the few things that are known about her–such as her opposition to affirmative action –Chao seems to be an ideological clone of Chavez.

Bush will also be able to hamper unions through executive actions. For example, the NLRB has recently issued rulings that make it easier to organize some temporary workers, university graduate teaching assistants, and hospital residents and interns. Bush will quickly be able to make at least two, perhaps three, NLRB appointments, effectively closing off the possibility of such favorable decisions in the near future.

Yet union organizing now often circumvents the NLRB and, in any case, does not depend heavily on the agency.

“I don’t think Bush will matter much for organizing strategy,” says Cohen. “Ninety percent of that since World War II has been about building solidarity at the workplace. It’s harder when the NLRB is worse, but that’s on the margin. Mostly, the problem is employer opposition. If anything, employers got worse over the last eight years, but I don’t blame that on the Administration.”

After initially weakening occupational safety enforcement, the Clinton Administration finally put into effect last November a new standard for ergonomics that should help employees avoid muscular and skeletal injuries and illness. Business had fought against any ergonomics rules for ten years, but Clinton used his veto to stymie Republican efforts to stall the regulation even further. AFL-CIO health and safety director Peg Seminario now worries that Bush will issue an administrative stay of the ergonomics rule and that Republicans in Congress might overturn it.

Clinton’s veto power blocked repeated Republican anti-labor initiatives, and many of those may come back now with only a Senate filibuster to halt passage. Whether Bush takes the lead or not, Congressional Republicans are likely to promote legislation that would eliminate mandatory overtime pay, permit businesses to establish company-dominated “teams” in place of unions, make it easier for companies to use contingent workers, and exempt more businesses from effective workplace safety enforcement. Perhaps as a deadly addition to any campaign finance legislation, Republicans are also likely to push for a national “paycheck protection” law, like the initiative defeated two years ago in California, that would make it extremely difficult for unions to use their funds for political work.

Under Reagan, the labor movement headed for the bunkers, hoping that the Democrats could save them. When that didn’t happen, a growing number of unions started figuring out how to organize new members and how to fight back politically under difficult circumstances.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, unions like the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Communications Workers, and Service Employees used their bargaining power, strong rank-and-file organizing committees, community allies, civil disobedience, volunteer member organizers, and comprehensive anti-corporate campaigns to win union recognition even from hostile employers.

On the political front, several central labor councils–especially in California–resurrected old-style face-to-face organizing with their “labor to neighbor” campaigns in working class communities, and AFSCME took the lead in developing a more coherent labor strategy for national elections. Some unions, like the Steelworkers, also developed effective mechanisms to mobilize members rapidly for protests or letter-writing on legislative issues. These initiatives underlay the broader program that the Sweeney administration promoted after 1995.

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These advances help account for unions’ surprising confidence.

“I believe that the labor movement is more prepared today as an institution than it was in the eighties to make this kind of battle,” says McEntee. “We are organized more than ever before. We’re better equipped, with more resources, and more engaged.”

In the last few years, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has encouraged unions to form a much wider range of coalitions. Unfortunately, many leaders’ anger at Ralph Nader’s Presidential run could now threaten some coalitions. Nader’s groups and the AFL-CIO worked together to organize the 1999 Seattle protests, as well as other actions. A split with the Nader forces would not serve the labor movement well.

If the coalition can stay together, it may grow even more powerful now that Clinton’s pro-free-trade grip on the Democrats has slipped. Today, there is a better chance that Democrats will block fast track legislation and unite behind labor’s view that new international economic agreements must protect workers’ rights and the environment.

There is also a new willingness to build a social crusade, fighting for public support on fundamental values. “We need to start talking about what we believe in,” argues Stewart Acuff, assistant Midwest director of the AFL-CIO. “It needs to come out of our experience of organizing average Americans, evolving out of our trying to build institutions and build power. Now is the time for us to articulate a common set of issues and values.”

Despite the electoral setback, the labor movement seems ready for a rousing and principled fight that could help lay the basis for progressive victories in the near future.

David Moberg is a senior editor of In These Times and a fellow of the Nation Institute.

>>> View more: Would-be bank to list on market today

Potential Benefits for Education Startups Seen in U.S. Bill

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Congress last week passed a bill that makes it easier for startup companies to raise capital and go public, two oft-cited barriers for new ventures looking to enter the education market.

After passing in the Senate March 22, the Jump-Start Our Business Start-Ups, or JOBS Act received final approval from the House of Representatives on March 28 and, as of press time, was expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The legislation, a rare example of conflict-free, bipartisan congressional support, is a composite of several smaller bills but puts forward two main initiatives aimed at helping startup companies grow faster:

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• The measure would establish a new form of company financing called “crowd funding.” Companies would be able to raise up to $1 million by selling small numbers of shares to a large number of buyers through several mediums, including the Internet. It’s been compared with the social-financing website Kickstarter, where projects are introduced with development and financing goals and users can donate money to help the projects become realized. (Kickstarter, however, does not offer actual stake in the projects and companies being funded.)

• The JOBS Act also would allow companies that earn less than $1 billion in revenue to bypass certain financial-reporting requirements in the five years after filing for an initial public offering, or IPO. Those companies would not have to conduct an external audit of their internal controls and only would have to disclose two years of previous financial information rather than three.

One of the main reasons the education industry has been slow to embrace entrepreneurs as quickly as other sectors is the difficulty in raising capital in a highly regulated field skeptical of for-profit involvement. There are also few publicly traded companies in education, in part because of the difficulty of addressing both investors’ and students’ needs. The new legislation could put a dent in both of those barriers, though field experts expect the crowd-funding to have a larger impact.

“In K-12, it’s a hard place to raise capital, and a lot of the entrepreneurs are raising less than $1 million anyways,” said Adam J. Newman, a founding and managing partner of Education Growth Advisors, an education business advisory firm in Stamford, Conn. “It certainly creates a way for more dollars to come in.”

A ‘New Resource’

Formal and informal mechanisms are already in place for early-stage companies to raise money. In education, the NewSchools Venture Fund, based in San Francisco, for instance, invests in companies that may be too risky for venture capitalists. It is financed by a wide range of private donors. The organization recently announced the creation of an educational technology seed fund that aims to help ed-tech startups find early-stage funding.

For example, three years ago, NewSchools invested in BetterLesson, a Boston-based company that allows educators to use the Web to share and catalog lesson plans, after NewSchools recognized the need for such a tool in the education community. BetterLesson is quickly gaining traction among educators and, although NewSchools continues to contribute funding to the company, in its latest round of funding last August, most investments came from elsewhere, including traditional venture-capital firms.

The nebulous “friends and family” donation is another staple for early-stage startup companies. Those investments could be emboldened or even replaced by the crowd-funding initiative, said Steve Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association.

“It could represent an important new resource, particularly for the startups who don’t have the rich uncle,” said Mr. Pines, whose nonprofit organization is based in Vienna, Va., and helps education entrepreneurs connect with the K-12 market.

Though he doesn’t think the JOBS Act would have a large effect on education startups, Tom Vander Ark, a managing partner of education venture firm Learn-Capital, in San Mateo, Calif., said the crowd-funding measure is conducive to companies “that advance social and return-seeking agendas,” like those in education. People are more willing to invest small amounts in a company with less earning potential if it is helping education, he said.

Mr. Vander Ark said a more successful way to spur startup investments through federal legislation would be to open some of the U.S. Department of Education’s innovation- and technology-related grants–such as the Investing in Innovation, or “i3” fund–to for-profit companies.

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‘Expensive and Onerous’

As for the IPO provisions in the bill, expert predictions fall short of a noticeable increase in such filings down the road. Mr. Pines said the bill could lead more companies owned by private-equity firms to go public, so private investors could see quicker returns on their investments, without as much hassle.

“[Current federal] requirements are expensive and onerous,” Mr. Pines said. “So if those are suspended for five years, that’s a big deal. Does it make the difference in going public? I don’t know. But by suspending the requirements in the near term, it may give an early-stage company the kind of running space it needs.”

Experts say the increasing flow of venture capital into K-12 and heightened interest in educational technology are generating opportunities for market newcomers, but the highly local nature of K-12 education makes it difficult for companies to grow quickly. After nine years of less than $100 million of venture-capital funds being invested in K-12 education, 2010 saw $131 million invested, followed by a major increase in 2011, to $334 million, according to statistics from the Chicago-based investment and consulting firm GSV Advisors. Those down years followed the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s when there was also a large flow of venture capital into K-12.

Proponents say the bill will allow companies to grow faster and, thus, hire more people.

But across all sectors, opponents to the legislation cautioned that loosening regulations on startup investments–many put in place following the burst of the dot-com bubble–could spur a repeat of that history. Despite its support in Congress, the bill was opposed by Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro, several major labor unions, and consumer-watchdog groups.

Mr. Newman said some of the questions about investor protections and market saturation asked by opponents are legitimate ones. It’s also worth questioning if the easier access to capital “disaggregates” the market, spreading thinner the money coming in, he said.

“Does it continue to enable businesses that shouldn’t be funded to get dollars and crowd out more viable and credible businesses?” Mr. Newman asked. “I don’t think the marketplace has a shortage of good ideas. It probably has too many.”