Dick Parsons has been fairly dismissive of Carl Icahn’s ideas to squeeze more value out of Time Warner.

Parsons, Time Warner’s chief, recently tossed aside the corporate raider’s suggestion to spin off the cable business by pointing out that “if you cut an apple in half, you get half an apple”.

True enough. But it did appear that Parsons was taking a leaf from Icahn’s playbook yesterday with the announcement of a big share buyback plan. Time Warner had a $5bn plan in place; Icahn was agitating for a $20bn buyback. Parsons settled on a $12.5bn plan. This, along with pretty good results and the departure of Steve Case from the board this week, should give Parsons a little bit of breathing room.

Despite his fierce reputation, Icahn’s attempt to make trouble for Parsons seems to be losing traction. Will he have a riposte?

Sticky trade

In addition to managing a little bond fund called Pimco, Bill Gross is an avid stamp collector.

Yesterday he helped make some philatelic history by swapping his “inverted Jenny” stamps (that’s the famous four-panel stamp with the upside-down airplane) for the rare
“Z Grill” stamp, owned by Donald Sundman. The trade will give Gross what is expected to be the first complete collection of US stamps from the 19th century.

Smoother sailing

Recent moves in the hedge fund industry have reunited a pair of old sailors.

George Hall, who founded and heads New York-based Clinton Group, one of the biggest hedge outfits around, is on a calmer course after enduring a few years of choppy seas.

One of his employees thought fit to write to the SEC raising questions about some of George’s valuation methods, which brought down a seven-month-long investigation
into the matter by an army of regulators. They found nothing
wrong, apparently – but not before investors got cold feet.

Now investors are creeping back, and Hall has reached back to the past to hire a chief operating officer to help him run the ship, choosing an old mate from his alma mater, the Long Island-based Merchant Marine Academy. His new COO is Tom Hughes, who rose from the academy to eventually head Deutsche Asset Management.

The two can always relive their merchant days by sailing around Manhattan on George’s 115ft yacht, which he keeps tied up at the South Street Seaport.

Locked out

Guests at the London Metal Exchange’s annual dinner on Tuesday night were given an insight into how not to leave a position uncovered.

LME chairman Donald Brydon told the 1,800 guests about his experience many years ago while staying at a New York hotel, where one morning after having a shower he decided to push the room service breakfast trolley out of his room, only to find the door shut behind him, leaving him naked and locked out in the corridor, fearing that any moment the lift opposite the room was going to open. Fortunately, the lift had a phone, which he used to summon staff who jokingly asked him for identification. The story cut through any language barrier in the Grosvenor House ballroom where a significant number of guests were Chinese, the biggest metal buyers in the world, attending their first LME dinner.

There were some croaky voices yesterday, but at least the traders did not have to deal with tumbling metal prices, unlike on the day after the LME dinner last year.

Pressing the press

If anyone needed a reminder that Beijing is taking a more direct role in Hong Kong politics these days, look no further than this week’s newspapers. In an unusual article on the news pages of the China Daily, the Chinese government’s English-language mouthpiece, Chen Hanwen set the record straight on Hong Kong’s controversial political reform proposal announced last month.

The writer, whose position is not identified, makes it clear that it is not appropriate for people in Hong Kong to demand to know now how its leaders and legislators will be elected after 2008. The article tries to quash Hong Kong democrats’ demands for a timetable for introducing fully direct elections, calling their demands “not only unlawful but also impractical”.

A separate ruling by Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog also came down in favour of Beijing, when the office of the privacy commissioner for personal data said that Yahoo’s local arm had not disclosed any personal data when it gave information about a mainland newspaper’s office in Hunan province to Chinese authorities.

That information ultimately helped Chinese officials send mainland reporter Shi Tao to jail for a decade.

This doesn’t strike Observer as a conviction that sits well with Hong Kong’s reputation for defending a
free press.

Easy listening

Chances are IBM’s investor relations team did not set out to be more popular than Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News pundit, but on Wednesday they were. On the iTunes website, the computer giant’s podcast ranked as the 62nd most popular download, one ahead of the great conservative bloviator’s radio show.

IBM also bested podcasts of the Global Fashion News, Nova’s Albert Einstein special, “2 Minute Photoshop Tricks”, a host of NPR programmes and, perhaps best of all in the tech world, Macworld Live.

Pretty good for an IBM report geared toward investors. Now if only Big Blue can supplant the “We Hate Tech” podcast – which finished at number 33 – they’ll have it made.

Get alerts on Opinion when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article