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Should Michael Jackson have had more of a bond with David Bowie?

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It’s one year since Michael Jackson died.  In the year since his death, his estate has made earnings of £670 million.

Given that he was allegedly in serious financial trouble at the time of his death, this must be the source of a certain amount of posthumous frustration to Mr Jackson.  His ability to spend the money has been significantly impaired in the period since the money started to roll in, on the grounds of his no longer being alive.

This is a quandary well known to many pop stars.  The murder of John Lennon in 1980 sparked a sudden and deep revival of his career.

I can’t help but wonder why none of Michael Jackson’s advisors pointed him in the direction of the Bowie Bond.

David Bowie issued bonds in 1990 that were secured on the future income to be earned from songs that he had written up until that date.  This is a simplification of course, but that’s the big picture.  By doing this, David Bowie was able to get the benefit of some of his post death earnings while he was still alive.  He is a smart business operator as well as enormously popular song writer, it seems.

The Bowie bond has been influential in business since it was issued.  In practice, I personally used it as the backbone of market data to help in the divorce settlement of another well known musician.

Its influence amongst accountants is significant, though less so with the pubic at large. Rock stars probably don’t shout about it because valuation and securitisation of intellectual property isn’t really very rock and roll.

How much would you charge for an hour of your time? £900,000 would probably be ok as long as lunch was included….

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It’s tough to qualify as an accountant. The exams are difficult and it’s hard work. The rewards, both financial and non financial however, can justify all of this hard work.

If you work for a firm of accountants then the fee income of the company is largely based on the hourly charge out rates of the employees. I’ve got a feeling though that no matter what your position is within your company you won’t be able to command a charge out rate of £900,000 per hour!

On Friday however a mystery individual paid $2.6 million (approximately £1.8m) for lunch with Warren Buffett, the 79 year old billionaire head of investment giant Berkshire Hathaway and world’s 3rd richest man.

Arguably the most famous and respected investor in the world, Mr. Buffett auctioned his time in aid of the Glide Foundation, a San Francisco charity . Assuming a 2 hour lunch the winning bid of £1.8m results in an impressive hourly equivalent of £900,000.

The winning bidder can take seven of his or her friends along to the New York steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky and are free to ask anything although Mr. Buffett will not be disclosing what he is buying or selling.

Of course, I’m also assuming that someone will make the reservation for the meal rather than risk turning up and not being able to find a table for 8 people as the restaurant is fully booked…

It’s a pretty good interest rate and it tastes a lot better than all the others…

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One of my weaknesses is that I just love chocolate.

Hotel Chocolat is a top end chocolate company with nearly 50 stores in the UK, the US and the Middle East. I must admit that I probably spend a bit too much time in their shops than I should but everyone has got their weakness.

As an accountant with a love of chocolate I was pleased to see Hotel Chocolat take a rather unusual approach to raising money to fund their expansion.  They are looking to raise cash to increase the number of Hotel Chocolat stores as well as invest in their plantation in St Lucia.

They are raising money by way of issuing bonds. This in itself doesn’t sound particularly unusual but what is different about this bond issue is that whilst they are genuine bonds with interest being paid on them, the actual interest paid is in the form of chocolate rather than money.

Two values of Chocolate Bonds will be issued. Holders of the £2,000 bonds will receive six chocolate tasting boxes with a value of £107 which represents a gross interest rate of 6.72% whilst holders of the £4,000 bonds will receive a higher interest rate of 7.29% via chocolates to the value of £233.

The bonds are fully redeemable after 3 years and on every anniversary after that so lovers of chocolate will be able to recover their full investment whilst at the same time enjoying some fantastic chocolates.

The interest rates on the chocolate bonds are pretty impressive when compared to what you would receive on a typical bank account so I’m sure that there will be many chocolate loving investors that will literally be licking their lips in anticipation of the interest that will be received (and eaten pretty soon afterwards….)

But surely getting a grade B+ is good. Isn’t it?

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The world uses Standard & Poor’s ratings fluently. But they’re not always as good as they sound.

In the days of getting grades for exam work, I was always happy with a B.  A grade C was generally considered to be a pass and passing with a bigger margin than necessary has always struck me as a bit of a waste of effort!

So I’m personally “hard wired” to think of a B as good news.  This means that when I hear that bonds issued by the Greek government have been graded to BBB-, my instinct is to think that this all sounds rather good, all things considered.

To quote from the Standard and Poor’s website, these are the definitions that they use:

‘AAA’  Extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments. Highest Rating.

‘AA’  Very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.

‘A’  Strong capacity to meet financial commitments, but somewhat susceptible to adverse economic conditions and changes in circumstances.

‘BBB’  Adequate capacity to meet financial commitments, but more subject to adverse economic conditions.

‘BBB-‘  Considered lowest investment grade by market participants.

‘BB+’  Considered highest speculative grade by market participants.

‘BB’  Less vulnerable in the near-term but faces major ongoing uncertainties to adverse business, financial and economic conditions.

‘B’  More vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions but currently has the capacity to meet financial commitments.

‘CCC’  Currently vulnerable and dependent on favourable business, financial and economic conditions to meet financial commitments.

‘CC’  Currently highly vulnerable.

‘C’  Currently highly vulnerable obligations and other defined circumstances.

‘D’  Payment default on financial commitments.

Of course, the higher the risk, the greater the return.  This means that investing in Greek bonds at the moment can bring considerable returns.  Of course, it does so at considerable risk also.  It may feel that governments will never default on their borrowings, but remember Iceland.

There’s no generally agreed definition of what constitutes investment grade, but it’s generally seen as BBB.  This means that when S&P graded Greek bonds to BBB-, it was a quasi-official statement that the Greek government was in serious trouble.  The result is that yields on these bonds jumped to 15%.  There’s money to be made from holding Greek government bonds, but only if you’re willing to take some risk of losing it.

Can a “fat finger” really cost USD 800 billion?

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It happened so fast, you may have missed it: On 6 May the Dow (stock exchange) index lost 999 points in 15 minutes, the largest intra-day drop in the market’s history. USD 800 billion in share value was wiped out before recovering (in the next 15 minutes) by USD 600 billion.

So what happened? One trader suggested that the decline may have been triggered by a so-called “fat finger” trade, meaning that a transaction may have been entered incorrectly by human input. It was suggested that a “billion” may have been keyed in instead of “million”, with the result that some “big-name” companies, such as Procter & Gamble and 3M, experienced big (but temporary) falls in their share prices.

Whatever started the selloff, it was intensified by automated computer trading, which led to a cascade of “sell” orders. The authorities are checking whether exchange “circuit-breakers” worked properly (these are procedures to halt trading temporarily if prices drop too sharply). System safeguards may have to be tightened in order to protect markets which are already very nervous because of the Greek debt crisis.

So was it simply “human” error? A case of “operational” risk? Whatever the conclusions, it is clear that this event will prompt a re-examination of the markets from financial, regulatory and technological points of view.

£1 million for two weeks work? Not bad, but what about exchange rates and discrimination?

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One of the highlights of the summer as far as I’m concerned is the Wimbledon tennis tournament that takes place in London in June.  The atmosphere, the skills of the players and the event itself are fantastic.

Whilst tennis clearly gets priority, running the Wimbledon event is very much a business.

Earlier this week the All England Club (the organisation that runs Wimbledon) announced increases in the prize money for the 2010 championship.

The total prize money for the event will be £13.725 million. Both the men’s and ladies’ champions will each receive £1m, an increase of £150,000 over last year.

The increases over recent years emphasise that tennis is now big business. Roger Federer, the 2009 men’s champion, for example, was born in 1981. In 1981 the prize money was nowhere near £1million being only £21,600.

Tim Phillips, Chairman of the All England Club was quoted as saying “Wimbledon exists in a highly competitive global marketplace ….  it is important that we offer a level of prize money which is both appropriate to the prestige of the event and which gives the players full and fair reward.”

It certainly is a global marketplace with players and spectators coming from all over the world and TV rights being sold to many countries.

It was also reported that there were pressures to increase the value of the prize in sterling terms due to sterling weakening against the dollar and euro over the last year. It remains to be seen though if they would decrease the value of the prize in future years if sterling strengthens!

As well as currency issues there’s also an interesting debate to be had concerning discrimination between the men’s and ladies’ championship. Up until 2007 the men’s champion was paid more than the ladies’ champion. This was then changed to avoid discrimination but as every tennis fan knows the men’s game is played over 5 sets whilst the ladies’ is over 3. Does this mean that the men are being paid proportionately less?

An interesting debate but I’m sure that when it comes to the finals this year the players will be more concerned with winning the championship than discussing discrimination issues!

Ready to go to the movies? Don’t forget your drink, your popcorn and your derivatives…

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Students are probably aware of what currency futures are. To quote our ExPress notes:

“These are contracts, transacted over an exchange, representing a standard amount of currency which can be bought or sold with a specified future settlement (delivery) date, at a rate expressed in another currency. Settlement is guaranteed by the exchange, which acts as counterparty.”

Currency futures, interest rate futures and even relatively obscure items such as soya bean futures are all currently traded.

Last week however an application was made to the US futures regulator to create a contracts market for film futures. If the application is successful this will mean that there will be a “movie derivatives” exchange.

In simple terms this will enable people to “bet” on whether a movie makes money or is a financial failure. Traders will be able to buy and sell contracts speculating on how much money a movie will make at the box office.

As an example of how movie futures could work, a futures contract could be bought by a trader valued at say $1 for every $1m in expected ticket sales during the first month. Therefore, if the market believes a movie would make $100m, traders would be able to buy a futures contract for $100.

If box office estimates were to rise to say $150m because of positive movie critic reviews in the run up to the movie launch, holders of existing contracts would be able to resell them for $150. This would result in a profit of $50.

Of course, if the reviews aren’t very good then the box office estimates would decrease and the value of the contracts would go the other way and there would be a loss!

There are two opposing views to this.

Some people say that this offers a new, novel way for movie producers to manage their financial risk.

Last week however, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) joined forces with producers and cinema owners to oppose the move on the basis that it would encourage speculation, financial irresponsibility and could be harmful to film releases.

To be honest though as an ACCA P4 tutor I find all this so interesting that I personally think they should make a film out of it – surely it would be a box office hit?

Despite the recession, one food product is now 35% more expensive than last year. You’d be bananas not to know the reason.

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I had dinner with a group of friends earlier in the week and there was a nice mix around the table between finance people and marketeers.

When the dessert menu was brought out and one of the group decided to go for the “banana split” dessert an interesting discussion started.

According to the marketeers around the table, bananas are considered to be “known value items” by the large supermarkets. These items are considered by the supermarkets to be products where the average customer has a reasonable knowledge of how much they should cost. These include items such as bread and milk (and bananas!).

They are therefore always priced competitively by the supermarkets as it is the price of these products that customers most commonly compare between the supermarkets. If the supermarkets can attract customers to their shops with attractive pricing of these “known goods” then they can maybe be more relaxed with the pricing of other goods!

According to a recent report in the trade magazine, the Grocer, banana prices are heading towards the critical point of £1 per kilo. This is approximately 35% higher than the price one year ago. This is a huge increase in percentage terms and customers are noticing.

And the reason for the increase in prices?

Well, this was where the finance people around the table suddenly came into their own.   Apparently, there are two main reasons for the increase in prices.

Firstly, the increase in oil prices. Shipping companies that transport the fruit over to Europe have been hit by the increase in their shipping fuel costs as a result of the increase in oil prices.

Secondly, banana importers have been hit by the weakness of sterling. As a dinner companion put it succinctly, “the bananas are more expensive as it’s simply costing the importers more pounds to buy the same amount of bananas they were buying for less pounds last year”.

Luckily for my dinner companions though, just as I was about to start talking about exchange rate risk and hedging facilities the desserts arrived and we suddenly forgot all about the price of bananas!

$25 billion – was the gate strong enough?

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Our blog post last Wednesday concerning leveraged buy outs (LBO) and Manchester United received some emails from students with a number of them asking how popular LBOs are today.

The big picture answer is that they are not particularly popular nowadays for a number of reasons, not least of which is that debt funding at the moment isn’t easy to come by. Given all the turmoil in the financial system over the last couple of years banks are much more risk averse than they used to be.

The 1980s was the heyday in terms of LBOs and a good book to read is “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco”. It’s a well written book which tells the story of the $25 billion battle for RJR Nabisco. Although the event took place over 20 years ago it’s a great read which explains in a very reader friendly way the issues behind LBOs.

The book is one of the best read business books of all time and if I’m honest, when I read it it felt more like a thriller than a real life account of corporate America in the 1980s. All in all, a book that I would highly recommend.

Of course, if you’re studying for your exams then you may not have a lot of spare time for reading but you can always read it after you qualify!

Manchester Utd and Leveraged Buy Outs. What’s all the interest about?

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There was a meeting yesterday attended by various financial heavy hitters including renowned deal maker Keith Harris and Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill.

What were they meeting for? Well, if press reports are anything to go by they were meeting to discuss proposals to buy one of the most famous football clubs in the world, Manchester United.

Back in 2005 Manchester United was a public company. The Glazer family then used a Leveraged Buy Out (LBO) to take the football club private (i.e. move it from a public company which was quoted on the stock exchange to become a private company).

There has been a lot of bad feeling amongst the Manchester United fans who feel that following the LBO the clubs finances are now causing real problems. Before the LBO the finances were healthy whereas now there is a huge debt obligation to fund which some feel is preventing them from buying players on the transfer market. The meeting yesterday was in connection with acquiring the club from the Glazers and restructuring the finances.

An LBO is something which some students find hard to grasp as it involves a company changing ownership with the funding mainly being secured on the assets of the company being acquired.

In simple terms it involves the acquiring company using significant amounts of borrowed money to fund the acquisition. In most cases the assets of the company being acquired are used as guarantees for the loans. This enables acquiring companies to fund the acquisition by way of debt as opposed to equity. The real problem though lies in the fact that interest has to be paid on these loans and on a number of occasions the interest payments on these loans have been so large that the company could not meet the payment obligations.

Whilst the workings of LBOs are interesting to students studying for their professional exams, I’m sure that the focus of most Manchester United supporters is getting ownership of their club back into the hands of what they consider to be real supporters of the club.

The figures though are quite staggering. For example, in the last three years Manchester United have paid £130 million in interest payments which to put it in perspective is more than five times what they sold David Beckham to Real Madrid for.