Monday, March 25, 2013

Top CEOs

Warren Buffett bluntly tells shareholders ... that if he can't increase Berkshire Hathaway's intrinsic value at a faster clip than the gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 index over a long stretch, there's little point in owning Berkshire stock. A low-cost index fund would be a better investment. ... All 10 of the CEOs on our list ... meet the Buffett test. The share prices of their companies have outstripped the S&P 500's return during their tenures. Some even have better annualized numbers than Buffett, although none can match Berkshire's total gain since 1965.

--Jeff Bezos,, CEO since 1994. Why: He changed the way people shop and read.

--Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, CEO since 1965. Why: A brilliant value creator for almost 50 years. Buffett's creation is one of the great achievements in business history. Investors fortunate enough to have gone along for the ride have enjoyed an 8,000-fold rise in the stock price since 1965. Berkshire is now the fourth-largest company in the market, with a capitalization exceeding $250 billion.

--David Cote, Honeywell, CEO since 2002. Why: Repaired and revved up Honeywell's engine. ... For Cote, 60, a man with more than 10,000 songs on his iPod, the music never stops. Now he has become a power player in Washington, too, working to fix the nation's budget woes.

--Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase, CEO since 2006. Why: Savvy leader of the world's most important bank. As the world's leading banker, Dimon is a forceful advocate for his company and much-maligned industry. He defends size, saying multinational clients need the broad array of services that only big global banks can provide.

--Larry Ellison, Oracle, CEO since 1977. Why: Brilliant deal maker: Acquisitions helped lift profit 17% last year.

--Larry Fink, BlackRock, CEO since 1988. Why: This markets maven built the world's biggest money manager. A consultant to central bankers, politicians, and other power players, he was rumored to be leaving Wall Street for the Obama administration, but that didn't happen. 'I can't think of a better place to provide advice than from my seat at BlackRock,' he says.

--Leslie Moonves, CBS, CEO since 2006. Why: Resuscitated CBS and made network TV relevant again. If someone were to pitch Moonves, 63, an idea for a winning television show based on his life, the story line might go something like this: Actor-turned-TV-executive rises to the top of a big entertainment company just when the pundits have written off traditional TV programming and news. Not only does he make good but he also makes shareholders a bundle. ... Moonves' rich pay package -- $70 million in cash, plus stock, for the four years ending in June 2017 -- has drawn criticism. 'Clearly, my board thinks I'm of value to the company,' he says.

--Alan Mulally, Ford , CEO since 2006. Why: Rescued Ford from the brink, then hit the gas pedal. Mulally took Ford from a $17 billion loss in 2006 to a $5.7 billion profit last year, without so much as a penny from Uncle Sam. Along the way, he right-sized production to a recessionary market, cut costs, and planned new vehicle models. Ford regained an investment-grade credit rating, and did we mention, it doubled its dividend? For an encore, the 67-year-old CEO must groom a successor -- the smart money's on Ford COO Mark Shields -- before retiring, likely after 2014. He also needs to lift production to meet rising U.S. demand, and reinvigorate Ford's upmarket but moribund Lincoln brand.

--Larry Page, Google, CEO since 2011. Why: Google's market value is up $100 billion on his watch. The nerd who co-founded Google 15 years ago is turning out to be far savvier than anyone gave him credit for. Page, who turns 40 on Tuesday, has ruthlessly cut Google's side projects to focus on building revenue. YouTube, thought to be folly when the company paid $1.65 billion for it in 2006, is expected to rack up $4.5 billion in sales this year, and mobile advertising via its Android operating system could bring in $6 billion. ... Expect a slick new Google phone to heat up the smartphone wars by year end.

--Fred Smith, FedEx, CEO since 1971. Why: He continues to innovate in the industry he created 42 years ago. The sluggish global economy curtailed growth in FedEx's global air network, but its ground-delivery service has taken off. ... Smith got his pilot's license at 15 and flew on reconnaissance missions in Vietnam -- and at 68, he still isn't sitting still. His latest mission: to boost pre-tax profits 55%, to a record $4.8 billion, in three years by consolidating facilities, restructuring staff, and purchasing fuel-efficient aircraft.

END OF AN ERA - Daily Variety's era ends: Its last issue printed, the Hollywood news source now focuses on its website and weekly magazine: "Leslie Moonves has had the same morning routine for [30 years]. 'The first thing I do after getting out of the shower is pick up Daily Variety and have a cup of coffee,' the CBS Corp. chief executive said. ... Daily Variety is ceasing as a print publication after almost 80 years. Tuesday's edition is its last. ... Variety is doing what all aging Hollywood stars do when they want to feel better about themselves: It's getting an expensive makeover. The website has been redesigned and is now free to access. Starting next week, a revamped" print version will come out weekly, mirroring the successful 2010 glossy conversion by Variety's rival, The Hollywood Reporter.

LEW ARRIVES IN BEIJING - "Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Beijing wants strong ties with Washington as he held talks with the U.S. Treasury secretary last week in his first meeting with a foreign official since being appointed president. ... 'I attach great importance to China's relationship with the United States,' Xi told Jack Lew in a meeting attended by diplomats and finance officials from both governments. 'We stand ready to work with the U.S. side to continue to develop this China-U.S. cooperative partnership so that we will be able to open a path of cooperation between major countries.'

"The meeting was the first high-level contact between the two governments following a monthslong hiatus during the Chinese leadership transition that began with Xi being named Communist Party leader in November. He became president last week.

Lew's department said he would raise issues including North Korea's nuclear program, Asia-Pacific security and allegations of Chinese government-sponsored cyberspying during his two-day visit. ... 'The president is firmly committed to building a relationship of growing strength,' Lew said at the meeting in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's ceremonial legislature in Beijing."

FARM BUBBLE SET TO BURST? - "From the potato fields of Michigan to the high prairies of Kansas, farmers are receiving record prices for their land - but economists and banking regulators warn that this boom, like so many before it, could end badly. ... In places like Waco, Neb., and Chickasaw County, Iowa, where the boom-and-bust cycle of farming reaches deep into the psyche, some families are selling the land that they have worked for generations, to cash in while they can. Behind the rush is the age-old driver of farm booms: high crop prices. Corn, in particular, has been soaring, reflecting demand overseas and, domestically, for ethanol. High prices mean good profits for farmers, and many are using their growing incomes to bid for land. Sensing opportunity, investment firms are buying, too.

"In Iowa, despite the drought last year, farmland prices have nearly doubled since 2009, to an average $8,296 an acre, far surpassing the last boom's peak in 1979. In Nebraska, the price of irrigated land has also doubled since 2009. But if the price of corn falls - and many forecasters predict it will, particularly if the ethanol boom wanes - the price of farmland will fall with it. While many farmers have borrowed little money or used cash to finance their purchases, those who have over expanded could run into trouble, leaving banks and other creditors with their bad debts."

THE NEXT CLIFF - "Senate narrowly passes first budget in four years [at 4:56 a.m. Saturday, after 20 hours and 600+ amendments]. ... Possible fight over U.S. debt ceiling looms in summer: "The budget plan passed 50-49. ... The measure, which seeks to raise nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenues by closing some tax breaks for the wealthy. ... The U.S. Treasury is expected to exhaust its borrowing capacity around late July or early August."

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to: Bonnie Bedelia (65), Zbigniew Brzezinski (85), Al Gore (65), Gordie Howe (85), Jim Lovell (85), Elle Macpherson (50), Steven Tyler (65), Bob Woodward (70).

COMING OUT - WILL PORTMAN, a junior at Yale, appears today as a guest columnist in the Yale Daily News, "Coming Out": "I came to Yale as a freshman in the fall of 2010 with two big uncertainties hanging over my head: whether my dad would get elected to the Senate in November, and whether I'd ever work up the courage to come out of the closet. ... In February of freshman year, I decided to write a letter to my parents. I'd tried to come out to them in person over winter break but hadn't been able to. So I found a cubicle in Bass Library one day and went to work. Once I had something I was satisfied with, I overnighted it to my parents and awaited a response. They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. ... I made a list of my family and friends and went through the names, checking them off one by one as I systematically filled people in on who I really was. A phone call here, a Skype call there, a couple of meals at Skyline Chili, my favorite Cincinnati restaurant.

"The following summer , the summer of 2012, my dad was under consideration to be Gov. Romney's running mate. The rest of my family and I had given him the go-ahead to enter the vetting process. My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we'd be open about it on the campaign trail. When he ultimately wasn't chosen for the ticket, I was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign. ... I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position [on gay marriage], but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me. ... I'm proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I'm pretty psyched about that), but because he's been thoughtful and open-minded in how he's approached the issue, and because he's shown that he's willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand."

WEDDING BELLS: "Once a society decides that the law must treat a group of people equally in one area of life, it becomes harder-and, eventually, impossible-to justify discriminating against them in others. ... This week, we will begin to find out whether the Justices will impede or accelerate that process. ... When Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, the lead lawyers in the Prop 8 case, filed their lawsuit, in 2009, it appeared to many informed observers that they were taking a foolhardy risk. At the time, gay-rights organizations had been following a cautious, state-by-state approach, and it seemed that an adverse decision in a major federal lawsuit could set back the cause of same-sex marriage for a generation. But, whatever the Justices do, that's not going to happen.. ... Though the battles continue, the war is over."

JACK ASS OF THE MONTH – This month’s Jack Ass award goes not to an individual but a group of individuals. Individuals who promote themselves and their particular cause at the expense of the overall team and the entity they think they represent. No names are mentioned here because all of us have to deal with these Jack Ass types every day at work, athletics, and even in relationships. These individuals are totally clueless, and represent the true meaning of being a Jack Ass.

BARACK-ETOLOGY: D'oh! The President picked New Mexico over his law alma mater, but had Belmont. So far 34-18 in the tourney, The Swami 33-19, A. Stout (Ontario, CA) an amazing 37-15.

NCAA WATCH: EAGLES SOAR - Florida Gulf Coast crushed M.M. with its dazzling win over G'Town on Friday night. But the upstart Eagles have gone on to capture American hearts, becoming the first 15th seed to make the Sweet 16, dropping San Diego State, 81-71 in circus dunking style. FGCU gets in-state rival Florida on Friday.

COLLEGE HOCKEY PICK OF THE WEEK – Friday March 29, 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU: The NCAA West Regional from beautiful Grand Rapids, Michigan has #15 Yale Bulldogs (18-12-3) vs. #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (26-8-5). A mismatch, the Bulldogs have lost three in a row, The Gophers in a walk, Minnesota 6 Yale 2.(Season to date (9-4)

THE SWAMI’S TOP PICKS:  ice – (NCAA) Gophers 6 Yale 2, hoops – NCAA Final Four: Midwest: Louisville, West: Gonzaga, South: Florida, East: Miami. ULV Burbank Campus will not make their April 2 web site opening deadline, sorry (someone should check those logos).  Season to date (64-32)

NHL POWER RANKINGS – a key indicator after thirty games, who are the best and worst in the National Hockey League: (1). Chicago Black Hawks, (2). Pittsburgh Penguins, (3). Anaheim Ducks, (4). Minnesota Wild, (5). Montreal Canadiens. Bottom Two: (29). Tampa Bay Lightning, (30). Florida Panthers.

DRIVING THE WEEK - Looks like a fairly light one. Congress is gone for two weeks and the debt ceiling debate won't heat up until well after they return. House Republicans seem set on their dollar-for-dollar cuts/debt limit increase, so drama seems guaranteed. Enjoy the fiscal fight respite while it lasts. ... Markets closed in the U.S. on Friday in observance of Good Friday. Bond markets close at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

Next week; baseball season picks and On the Cheap.

Until Next Monday, Adios!

Claremont, CA

March 25, 2013
#III-49, 154

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