Sins of Commissions
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page F02
Sins of CommissionsState insurance commissioners and the Securities and Exchange Commission joined an ever-widening probe of the insurance industry. Much of the focus remains on
Qwest agreed to pay $250 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it engaged in a conspiracy to inflate earnings by $4 billion during the height of the telecom boom. The penalty was second only to the $750 million paid by WorldCom. The SEC said Qwest engaged in sham transactions, booked inflated revenue and even fiddled with its accounting of employee vacation time to meet earnings targets. The SEC has told former chief executive Joseph Nacchio it may soon file civil charges against him.
In the contest between markets and politics, score one for markets. Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation's largest group of TV stations, retreated from a plan to air a documentary critical of John Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War after consumers threatened to boycott advertisers and investors drove down Sinclair stock. Instead, Sinclair showed segments of "Stolen Honor" in an examination of the political bias of news organizations that causes them to ignore the sorts of issues the documentary raises.
Two months ago, Google was being pilloried for trying to price its initial public offering too high. But if you were "stupid" enough to take the deal at the opening price of $85, you have already doubled your money, as Google shares closed the week at $172. Shares jumped after the Internet search engine reported a 157 percent increase in profit on a 105 percent increase in sales. That, and other positive earnings news from Lucent, Amazon, SAP and PeopleSoft, sent the tech-rich Nasdaq up, even as other benchmarks fell.
Investment banker Bruce Wasserstein has brought many companies public, but his latest may prove to be the most difficult: an IPO for his own firm, Lazard. Just when Wasserstein thought he had the green light from Lazard's patriarch and top shareholder, Michel David-Weill, and quelled a rebellion among partners over pay cuts and power sharing, David-Weill weighed in with another demand: Complete an IPO that prices the firm at $3.4 billion by June 30 of next year or resign. Wasserstein's reply: No deal.