CEO Daily: Tuesday, April 5


I stayed up late last night to watch Carolina’s heartbreak buzzer-shot defeat by Villanova, so filing only a brief update this morning.

But I’d call your attention to the impending bankruptcy of SunEdison, the latest case study in how the smartest money can turn out, in the end, to be pretty stupid. Early last year, SunEdison was flying high, attracting the biggest names in investing: Dan Loeb, Leon Cooperman, Steve Mandel, Larry Robbins, Steve Cohen, Ken Griffin, George Soros, and almost anyone else who matters. Its debt-fueled acquisition binge led CNBC’s Jim Cramer to call it the “Valeant of solar” – and he meant that as a compliment.

But as went Valeant – another darling of the smart money – so went SunEdison. Its stock has now fallen 98% from its peak, and it faces some two dozen lawsuits from groups that say it owes them money, and an investigation from the SEC for overstating its cash position.

It will take a while to sort out what went wrong, but FORTUNE columnist Joshua Brown speculates it was partly the sheer complexity of the company that led masters of the universe astray. Like Valeant, SunEdison’s structure was impossible to comprehend, and mere mortals concluded the clever investors backing it must understand it better than everyone else.

Turns out they didn’t. Some humility is in order.

More news below.



Top News

Disney's Heir Today is Gone Tomorrow

Tom Staggs, the man widely seen as heir apparent to CEO and chairman Bob Iger since his elevation to chief operating officer at Disney a year ago, is to leave the company. Staggs–who, famously, once saved Iger’s life by giving him the Heimlich Maneuver-- announced that he was leaving his role as of May, though he’ll stay on as “special advisor” to Iger for the rest of this year (he has not announced a new job). The news  throws a huge question mark over Disney's succession plan. The company said yesterday it “will broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.”   Fortune

Treasury Hobbles Pfizer-Allergan Merger

The Treasury Department has unveiled a new set of measures to curb the practice of corporate 'tax inversions', in a move that threatens to scupper the merger of drug giants Pfizer Inc. and Allergan Plc. The federal government has grappled with a wave of inversions in recent years as U.S. companies have sought to slash their tax bills by re-domiciling overseas, though their core operations and management usually remain in the United States even as they claim a new tax home. Several U.S. presidential candidates, including Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have seized on the issue in their campaigns.  Fortune

Gloom and Doom Ahead of the IMF Meeting

A week before the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, policymakers are sounding the alarm over an increasingly fragile world economy. The dollar is at a 17-month low against the yen after Chicago Fed President Charles Evans urged the Fed to to move to get inflation up, while IMF head Christine Lagarde warned that the worldwide recovery from the 2008 crash is "too slow, too fragile and the risks to its durability are increasing." So far this week, India has cut its main interest rate, while Japan and the Eurozone have both talked up the possibility of more monetary stimulus.


The War Dividend Cometh?

Global military spending rose for the first time in four years in 2015, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The increase was due above all to sharp rises in spending by China (up 7.4% to $215 billion, Saudi Arabia (up 5.7% to $87.2 billion and Russia (up 7.5% to $66.4 billion), all of which prompted similar reactions from those who feel threatened by them, such as Japan, Vietnam and the Baltic States). The U.S. still leads the way despite a 2.4% drop in spending to $596 billion, but SIPRI said there are signs that the long decline in western military spending is coming to an end.  SIPRI


Around the Water Cooler

A Bust-Up at PulteGroup

An ugly war of words erupted at the nation's third-biggest home-builder, PulteGroup Inc., as its founder William J. Pulte appeared to fire CEO Richard J. Dugas for a "lack of performance and repeated bad decision-making."  The company said Momday that Dugas had "agreed to step down", but The Wall Street Journal says Dugas wrote in an internal memo to staff that his immediate resignation had been demanded--a move he threatened would lead to "a very public family squabble." Whatever the reasons behind the spat, PulteGroup has failed to keep up with its rivals as the housing market has recovered in recent years.

WSJ, subscription required

Greg Louganis Gets His Wheaties Box

General Mills Inc. has finally gotten around to putting multiple Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis on the Wheaties box, one of the U.S.'s most enduring touchstones of athletic glory, eight months after a documentary about him inspired a viral petition. Louganis, who is gay, blamed homophobia for him not being put on the box earlier while he was still in his prime, and General Mills' change of heart is likely to be seen as another indication of how such taboos are being broken down (although the company is playing that angle down. Also Olympic champions being belatedly honored are 400 meter hurdler Edwin Moses and swimmer Janet Evans.   NYT

Pimco Fires Back at Bill Gross

Asset manager Pimco said it could have fired Bill Gross for cause had the star investor not walked out of his own accord in 2014, leaving a three-line hand-written resignation note to "CEO, Pimco" on his desk. In a court filing, the company accused Gross of being "consumed...with protecting his own public image" and said he had disobeyed management decisions and abused colleagues, sabotaging their careers if he suspected them of disloyalty. Gross is suing Pimco, his employer of 37 years, for $200 million in lost bonuses and compensation.  Financial Times

 Zuma Shows Dilma The Way

Are you watching Dilma Rousseff? South Africa's President Jacob Zuma is set to survive an impeachment vote after his party, the African National Congress, agreed to back him in an impeachment vote that was called after the country's top court ruled that he breached the constitution. Unlike the Brazilian President's Workers' Party, the ANC still has a comfortable majority in parliament, and it seems that outrage against the President's well-documented excessive spending on his home complex hasn't caused a fatal loss of party discipline.  Reuters

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