30th September 2010: Corporate Finance and Investment 101

DangerousMinds.net‘s Richard Metzger recently commented on U.S. wealth disparity. I noted to Richard that reading CFA Institute material on investment and wealth management was like stepping into one of Robert Anton Wilson‘s reality tunnels: it’s a different way of seeing financial realities.

Here’s some of the advice I reflected on in an email to Richard:

1. In approaching a new field or skill consider an overview and/or intellectual history. Burton Malkiel’s (Wikipedia entry; Princeton homepage) A Random Walk Down Wall Street (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2007) remains an influential, multi-edition guide to Wall Street, investment, fundamental versus technical analysis and mutual funds. The late Peter Bernstein covered the intellectual history of corporate finance and investment in several books: Against The Gods (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 1998) on risk management; the revised edition of Capital Ideas (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2005) on asset pricing and risk-return models such as the capital asset pricing model; and Capital Ideas Evolving (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2009) on the past decade’s developments for derivatives and investment funds. Throw in a behavioural finance book by Robert Shiller (Wikipedia entry; Yale homepage) or an essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Wikipedia entry; homepage) on high-impact low-probability events and uncertainty, and you’ll have the basic concepts and context. The intellectual history will often provide you with an innovation pathway of ideation-to-market and the barriers and challenges that were overcome. It also highlights how differences in moral philosophy and risk-seeking versus risk-aversive behaviour can shape the biases and decisions of financiers and investors.

Investigative journalists such as Philip Augar, Connie Bruck, Bryan Burrough, William D. Cohan, Charles D. Ellis, Roger Lowenstein, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Alice Schroeder, James B. Stewart and Gillian Tett have also covered this in their reportage about the 1980s boom in leveraged buyouts, and the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Their reportage is anecdote rich with an eye for the little details about how investment fund managers, corporate financiers, policymakers and financial institutions and intermediaries actually work. As I observed in 2009 with Barry Saunders: many of these investigative journalists had corporate finance and investment experience (conference paper and presentation slides).

2. Isolate the particular skills you want to know and actively use the best resources to cultivate them. Yale’s David Swensen offers solid advice about personal investment in his book Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment (The Free Press, New York, 2005). Malkiel’s Random Walk above popularised index funds: low-cost funds that track a stockmarket index or sector. Hedge fund manager David Einhorn explains his research process in Fooling Some of the People All of the Time (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2008). The reportage above will still remain current — even when it deals with events from 20 or 30 years ago — for several reasons. Investigative journalists with a background in corporate finance and investment will have access to skilled individuals and be able to observe them. They will also spend an ‘immersive’ time period — 8 months for a ‘crisis’ story to 3-5 years in some cases — exploring specific contexts from multiple perspectives, background interviews, and historical records. It’s a small price to pay — in terms of time and money — to access their reflective expertise.

3. You don’t necessarily have to go to college. If you can get into an MBA, finance, investment or mathematical finance course at Yale, Chicago, Insead, Harvard Business School, London Business School or Cass then by all means go. If not, you can still learn a lot from Shiller’s Yale course on financial markets which features Swensen and ‘corporate raider’ Carl Icahn as guests, or Aswath Damodaran’s course on valuation. Damodaran’s NYU Stern homepage features a wealth of pre-publication book excerpts, Excel spreadsheets, and lecture recordings.

If you want to learn Microsoft Excel and finance then most courses combine Damodaran’s third edition of Applied Corporate Finance (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2010) with a Simon Benninga textbook. Carol Alexander‘s four volume Market Risk Analysis (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2009) and Satyajit Das’ four volume Swaps and Financial Derivatives Library (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2006) are both ‘standard’ shelf texts for capital/financial market practitioners, and are for advanced research purposes. There is also a lot of good, free material:  MIT’s OpenCourseWare has a wealth of lecture slides on many topics and other universities are following this initiative with their own OCW sites or posting lecture recordings to Apple’s iTunesU and @Google Talk’s YouTube channel.

Increasingly, colleges rely on similar textbooks: derivatives courses often feature competing textbooks by Don M. Chance and John Hull, for example. Or they begin with a introductory guide like Bernstein, Malkiel or Shiller above and then build up to the more advanced material via a subject matter expert like Swensen or a skills-based approach. Textbooks’ tone may also change dramatically: Donald M. Chew’s third edition of The New Corporate Finance (McGraw-Hill, New York, 2000) still retained the Gordon Gekko-style focus on derivatives and leveraged buyouts of its earlier editions, whilst Chew, Joel Stern and Lisa Jacobs’ fourth edition The Revolution in Corporate Finance (Wiley-Blackwell, New York, 2003) reflected the surge of post-Enron interest in corporate finance and growth in international equities markets. In some ways Chew’s even earlier editions are a more Machiavellian and Thucydidean reflection of their time and thus also interesting for Gekko fans, historians and sociologists.

The key isn’t to buy a lot of books: it’s the ‘bootstrap’ process and pathway to return on capital employed. (Diversifiable income streams such as licensing and protected intellectual property are a separate issue).

For a couple of hundred dollars or less you can cover the overview/history of an area and a college level textbook, and either augment or replace this with the free material above. (Textbooks are expensive so you’re really buying the subject matter expert’s view and the ‘screening’ value of a publisher’s editorial team.) If your investment strategy involves ‘passive’ index funds, equities and bonds then you may find all of the information you need online or in a community/university library and a low-cost provider like Vanguard. For a couple of hundred dollars more you can get the advanced practitioner material to begin your own experiments with the much-maligned derivatives, securitisation, experimental economics and market risk tools. Start with Excel and VBA, add a software license for a  developmental platform like Palisade or Matlab and you have ‘inhouse’ quantitative finance capabilities. This can be expensive at several thousand dollars and the software is probably worth only the time and money involved if you want to become an active investor, experiment with market microstructure models or to develop an algorithmic or high frequency trading capability for a fund.

My suggestions above doesn’t guarantee you success in the capital and financial markets: it’s difficult enough for the fund managers, market-makers and other finance professionals. Malkiel, Shiller, Swensen and others are appropriately skeptical of the dotcom era trend in ‘day-trading’: keep any risk capital separate from investment/superannuation funds and don’t over-trade. Also remember the time value of money and the trade-offs involved in any study or commitment to becoming familiar with a new area and acquiring skills.

Google +12

In late 2006 – early 2007, I outlined an unpublished research monograph for the Smart Internet Technology CRC about Google. This was my first foray into an indepth company study and using mosaic theory to develop a model of the firm. I relied on David Vise and John Battelle‘s books, Fortune journalistic profiles, basic security analysis, and frameworks taken from entrepreneurship, innovation, business strategy, valuation, neurolinguistic programming, and other sources. The research monograph’s topics included: the firm’s genesis, innovation culture, leadership pipeline, looming battles with China, ‘at a distance’ profiling of co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and search futures (note the multiple futures being considered rather than a ‘single point’ forecast or stance). The project’s internal presentations got positive feedback from CRC industry partners who could see its pragmatic roots in business and competitive analysis.

Often research projects turn into something else not specified in the initial proposal. I realised this as the research monograph outline unfolded. What I was really trying to do was something different: to develop and test a set of analytical tools, informed by other contexts. Google was the perfect case study because it had a lot of publicly available information and was acceptable to a corporate audience. I also drew on personal experiences as an internet site editor and my knowledge of the 1995-2000 speculative bubble in dotcom era stocks. In retrospect I really needed a co-author who was familiar with corporate finance, private equity and value creation models. I found those areas had the conceptual frameworks and the analytical rigour needed yet I didn’t have the subject matter expertise. My immediate team didn’t have those people and their attention lay elsewhere with their own projects. The people who had these skills and who I had tried to build positive working relationships with soon left the CRC. The project was never finished and not ever publicly released.

Here is some of what I learned around Google+9 for the  benefit of readers intrigued by Google+12:

1. Google is shrouded in ‘origin’ myths. Brin and Page benefited from a university environment which gave them the ‘10% time’ rule for individual projects, and had initiatives such as the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP). Some of my team members took this as an argument that universities were vital in the innovation process. They were — yet just as important was how such programs were run and micro-level details such as access to resources. For example, STVP as an exemplar program has a strong alumni network and close links with Sandhill Road investment firms. Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing dealt with crucial patent issues. These university-market mechanisms enabled Brin and Page — who pragmatically developed a ‘working’ prototype of their BackRub/PageRank algorithms — to meet with VCs from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Sequoia Capital, and other firms. Ron Conway and Ram Shiriram were Google’s ‘angel’ investors’, whilst John Doerr and Michael Moritz were first round investors, respectively. Even then, Brin and Page’s original options for ‘harvesting’ Google included plans to sell the fledgling start-up to a competitor, to develop a new advertising model, or to sign a technology licensing contract.

I knew that a lot of the ‘hype’ was retrospective narrative-building — because that’s what I did as a web site editor with our readership.

2. The ‘echo chamber’ of experts, pundits and search mavens overlooked the basics. Talk to most people and you’ll hear about Google’s university-like culture and its over 200 unique algorithm, metrics and usability innovations. At the time, this ‘chatter’ drove blog discussions and media reports. It’s what feeds a romanticised view of Web 2.0 based on shallow interpretations of Amitai Etzioni’s communitarian, Peter Russell’s ‘global brain’ and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘noosphere’ philosophies, or ‘swarm’-like metaphors. This is also why Google hired ‘talent’ like information economist Hal Varian and complexity specialist Shona Brown, whose research you should definitely read.

Yet when I looked closer, I realised that although these are strategic core competencies and knowledge processes that were difficult to copy, those same competencies and processes were founded on things that any ‘corporate raider’ could understand: capex control, decision rights, organisational design, simple rules for productivity, rapid innovation via end-to-end processes, and strategic expecution. This led to subtly divergent views on the same subject. For example, my  team members and some others looked to Google Labs as the vindication of the university structure that they were in. To me, however, it was also clear from industry experience that Brin and Page had modelled Google Labs on their Stanford experience as a ‘bolt on’ capability that they could take from one context and apply in another for competitive advantage. This was one proven way to attract and retain passionate people, and to accelerate Google’s ideation-to-market innovation processes in order to outwit their more mature competitors.

This became even clearer when I compared Google to three different cohorts. The first were a bunch of ‘first wave’ search engines who had more market share and power when Google arose: AltaVista, Excite, Inktomi, Netscape and others. The second were companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Nokia who  had received similar media accolades during their ‘go go’ years. The third were emerging ‘challengers’ like Cha-Cha, Hakia Powerset, and Snap: search engines that contended they had different core competencies and capabilities yet that did not have the strategic execution skills above. Today, I would do a comparative analysis using a company universe and develop custom ‘screening’ tools for cost of capital, investment analysis, market design, and resource allocation. One of the benefits of such practices is to keep the analyst ‘grounded’  rather than to accept blog and media sound-bites.

3. A knowledge base and theory-building can inform analytical rigour and decision-making. I ran into two major problems during team discussions about the draft research monograph.

People had a particular image of Google: they often accepted Brin and Page’s narrative at face value. This meant they potentially fell into the traps of the anchoring and representativeness heuristics: they accepted aspects which fitted their self-narrative (such as the role of universities in the innovation process rather than how this was done) and downplayed the role of chance, luck, timing, and alternative explanations (such as the internal politics of Digital’s Western Labs and the departure of AltaVista’s lead engineer Louis Monier; or reaping the public relations benefits of the DoJ v Microsoft lawsuit). I learned to summarise this in a couple of minutes yet the CRC’s 5-minute presentation style lacked the kind of exploratory Q&A that I got elsewhere from a good strategist or venture capitalist, or from the CRC’s industry partners in a one-on-one meeting.

I could see certain things due to a personal knowledge base and life experiences. Yet I did not convey this well to others, and it was often dismissed as ‘just theory’ or insights that needed to be ‘dumbed down’ for CRC industry partners (who did not feel the same way in face-to-face discussions – in the rare instances when they could actually happen). Six months before it became a major news story, I knew Google was in serious trouble with its Google.cn platform due to just taking Masters level courses on international relations theory and China’s geo-economic re-emergence. Beyond Google’s mantra of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ lay some complex issues about the media’s ‘issues attention’ cycle, how senior managers respond to crises, offshoring and internationalisation processes, and how investors react to firm-specific and  ‘reputational’ risks. I also saw case study parallels with Baring’s, Long-Term Capital Management, Royal Dutch Shell and other companies.

Masters level training in strategic foresight meant I could see a range of potential futures beyond ‘challenger’ firms for Google – including the search engine’s ‘collision course’ with innovations in biotechnology, genomics, and computer science. Likewise, I quickly grasped how their Montessori education, family dynamics and parents’ careers provided early ‘shaping’ experiences for Brin and Page on how to conceptualise higher-order systems; the institutional influence of Stanford, NASA and Wolfram Research on science and technology; and building a leadership team where Page’s cost-cutting and deal-maker skills matched Brin’s contemplative, big picture outlook.

To me, these were issues worth exploring — perhaps in a ‘hypotheticals’ or seminar format — and in capability-building for researchers. Perhaps these are the kinds of ‘soft factors’ that Shiriram, Moritz and other investors saw in Brin and Page. They lie in the dynamic interaction of individual human development and the work environment. I found a similar attention to analytical rigour and decision-making in the day-to-day operations and structure of certain endowment, portfolio and investment funds, regardless of the manager’s style.

I soon left Smart Internet Technology CRC for different reasons. I now build on these reflections and other unpublished work in different contexts.

Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: Some Reflections

Australian cultural policy maven Ben Eltham and I have a new academic article in Media International Australia #136 (A-ranked ERA 2010 journal).

We examine Australian screen policy and suggest that structural factors not often considered in the literature — trade exposure, currency fluctuations, tax arbitrage, cross-border competition, and the asset allocative decisions of producers — have affected the local film industry. You can read the abstract here and download a pre-publication version submitted to ‘special issue’ editor Mark David Ryan (PDF).

The article concentrates on the aftermath of the 10BA speculative bubble (circa 1981-84) and the portfolio ‘track record’ of the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) a body established in the mid-1980s to fund Australian films. I learned several things:

(1) Whilst researching the article, Eltham and I were lucky to have some email ‘trialogues’ with David Court, the policymaker who conceived the FFC and who now spearheads the Centre for Screen Business at the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. It is these kinds of exchanges that can make journalism and collaborative team research so worthwhile. Court clarified his policy process, some of our misunderstandings, clarified what earlier scholars may have misread or misinterpreted, and kindly allowed us to see some of his PhD research and other papers. Likewise, Eltham pointed out from his PhD research that the Australian film industry is one cultural and creative industries sector where there is a wealth of historical data, government reports, and other policy-related information. In both cases, Eltham and Court ‘contested’ my assumptions: the result is hopefully both a better article and a more rigorous and robust analytical framework.

(2) During the literature review, I found a high school final year paper I had written in 1991 about the FFC’s promise. Although we didn’t use the material, I had a moment of self-reflection on the different judgments made about the same subject — the FFC’s investment approach — over an almost 20-year period difference. This involved several variables: difference in lifespan development, subject matter expertise, and ‘closeness’ to the subject under investigation.

(3) The article’s ‘structural factors’ hypothesis emerged from our initial, exploratory discussions. Eltham and I then found and revisited a ‘body of work’ by other scholars who had either reached similar conclusions or used a similar level of analysis. We made a decision not to use certain researchers or work because they illustrated a tendency of descriptive prose that we felt lacked analytical rigour in their conclusions. The article focussed on testing an hypothesis rather than theory-driven arguments between different ‘schools of thought’.

I then realised that some of the cultural and creative industries scholars were missing two dimensions: (a) they had not necessarily worked in the industries that they studied and wrote about, and (b) U.S. producers used and were aware of frameworks from corporate finance, modern portfolio theory and investment management, such as in the contracts they used, how they negotiated access to state-based studio facilities and labour, and the structured investment vehicles created for specific film productions. For (3)(b) we found some scholarly literature and several Harvard MBA case studies on this specific topic.

The pathway from (1) to (3) illustrates one way to uncover a ‘knowledge gap’; to have some conversations over coffee and email with people you might not usually talk with; and how ‘iterative’ cycles of theory-building, theory-testing and evaluative discussions can lead to new insights (even if they appear ‘obvious’ to others). Sometimes the journal article is just the final artifact of personal and collaborative team/group learning processes.

Exercise: For practical lessons on enactment, search for: Carpenter, Corman, Coppola (multiple), Davis (multiple), Geertz, Gilmour-Waters, Goldsmith, Jay-Z, Milken, QPrime, RJR Nabisco, Scorsese, Stone (multiple), Spielberg, Sun Ra, Swensen, Tarantino, Tarkovsky, U2, Wu Tang Clan, and [add your suggestions here]. Pick one and immerse yourselves in their work for a month.

Why is their work meaningful for you (or: what periods and creative artifacts)? What challenges, issues and problems did they face, and how did they overcome them or, alternatively, learn from their failure? What ‘life lessons’ do they offer you and others?

Write up a short, condensed 100-200 word paragraph on what you have learned. Email it to a bunch of friends, blog it, and/or pass along your online and offline social networks. If the above journal article and exercise is personally useful to you then include Eltham and myself on the email distribution list. ‘Iterate’ this exercise for whenever you want and for the rest of your life.

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010)

Canada’s progessive rock band Rush first appeared on my radar in late high school circa 1990-91 during discussions with Australian jazz guitarist Nick Freer and translator Jeremy Breaden.  The first albums I purchased were Rush’s career overview Chronicles (1989), their live album Exit Stage Left (1981),  and the jazz-funk influenced Presto (1989) that was their ‘current’ album at the time. My CD copy of Chronicles soon disappeared from a friend’s locked car at a high school dinner and my interest gradually fell away to a level of appreciation rather than exploring their entire back catalogue.

Rush reappeared circa 1993-94 when Guitar Player Magazine teamed up two bassists/vocalists: Rush’s Geddy Lee and Primus‘ Les Claypool. GP prompted me to ask Primus’ original drummer Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander about Rush drummer Neil Peart during a 1994 interview for La Trobe University’s student newspaper Rabelais. A decade later, I traded Rush anecdotes with musician and web developer Kim Khor, virtual reality exponent Mark Pesce about Ayn Rand‘s influence on 2112 (1975), and with ‘action foresight’ practitioner Jose M. Ramos about the role of keyboards ‘in the mix’ on Moving Pictures (1981). These fans were intense about how Rush had changed their lives.

Several of the above themes also run through Scott McFadyen and Sam Dunn’s informative documentary Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010). Although filled with rare archival footage Beyond The Lighted Stage may appear understated. However, the documentary has a lot of lessons about the ‘micro’ details of how to cultivate group creativity as a power trio; when to make decisions such as changes in musical style and hiring certain producers; and why Rush stayed together in the face of music industry changes, rock critic backlashes, and little mainstream support.

The people who either introduced me to or talked with me about Rush fell into two groups. The first were a bunch of high school musicians who appreciated Lee, Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson for their craft, influence on others, and tried learning some of their songs. McFadyen and Dunn feature a range of musicians on these nuances including Claypool, comedian Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Trent Reznor, Vinnie Paul, and members of Tool and Rage Against The Machine. The second group were ‘working class’ intelligentsia who in Ramos’ case played college festivals on bass. Mine was a third group: Montessori-trained would-be musicians who quickly gravitated to student journalism and the fringes of artist and repertoire management.

Lee, Peart and original drummer John Rutsey were too busy jamming and playing high school dances in Toronto to finish high school or to go to university. Instead, Rush’s early career benefited from the Darwinian ‘selection pressures’ that are missing from most career histories yet that McFadyen and Dunn capture. Changes to Toronto’s alcohol laws enabled Rush to graduate from high school dances to a now-thriving bar scene. Band management self-funded Rush’s first album (1974) that gained cross-border promotion in Cleveland, Ohio. A combination of harsh touring and increasingly conceptual lyrics on Fly By Night (1975) and Caress of Steel (1975) led to internal battles with their label and producers over Rush’s direction and commercial potential.

Rush describe 2112 (1976) as an ‘all or nothing’ gamble on their own terms.

McFadyen and Dunn’s interviews capture several ‘decision points’ that changed Rush’s career trajectory and musical style. Influenced by Genesis and King Crimson, the band members spent months recording Hemispheres (1978) and honing their ability to play ‘La Villa Strangiato’ live, carefully building up the atmospheric dynamics and pace around Lifeson’s guitar solo. Rush then shifted into the New Wave-oriented Permanent Waves (1980): the transition into a mid-career period first modelled on Talking Heads and The Police, and then on experimentation with keyboard synthesisers, electronic drums, fretless bass, and dense, richly layered effects and soundscapes. Moving Pictures (1981) simultaneously gave Rush widespread radio airplay for their single ‘Tom Sawyer’ and created friction amongst older fans who preferred the more rock direction of earlier material. Although their mainstream fame was fleeting it continues to affect the band members in different ways: Lee and Lifeson are happy to do after-show ‘meet-and-greets’ whilst Peart is more private.

The final third of McFadyen and Dunn’s documentary enables Rush to explain various issues on their own terms. Lee, Lifeson and Peart talk candidly about their truly mid-career period on albums from Signals (1982) to Presto (1989): studio experimentation, flirtation with ‘high concept’ MTV music videos, and the role of producers such as Peter Collins and Rupert Hine. Musicians and fans give their own, sometimes divergent views about how this material has aged. The section dealing with Peart’s ‘Ghost Rider’ period and Rush’s five year hiatus is almost a mini-film on dealing with grief, personal loss and the care taken to ensure that personal relationships do not become frayed during a liminal period. Rush’s return with Vapor Trails (2002) and Snakes & Arrows (2007) are in part because Lee and Lifeson gave Peart the time and space needed to work through these issues, confronted the possibility of the band’s demise, and only later took a ‘graduated’ and step-wise process to Rush’s return to public view.

Several questions are posed throughout the documentary’s interviews and overarching narrative. How did the musicians gain ‘personal mastery’ of their craft? Why did Peart’s intellectual and humanitarian concerns resonate with a broader fan-base? How did Lifeson deal with keyboard synthesisers that drenched out his soaring guitar solos? How did Rush deal with fame and yet also with snide reviews from rock critics? Why did they select certain producers for specific albums? Why did some fans’ interest wane and others stayed loyal? Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage offers some tentative answers to these questions. In doing so McFadyen and Dunn have done more than profile one of their favourite bands: they offer a ‘career guide’ to emerging musicians and music industry people about how to achieve longevity on your own terms and in an industry known for its short attention span.

Salon Media Deathwatch Revisited

The stockmarket crash on 14th April 2000 ended the dotcom era: a speculative bubble in technology and early internet stocks from 1995-2000.  During the crash and its fallout I edited the New York-based news and subculture site Disinformation (archives of site version three or four) which the dotcom consulting firm Razorfish had acquired in late 1999 for its Razorfish Subnetwork of web artistic properties run by co-founders Jeff Dachis and Craig Kanarick.

It became very common to keep a ‘deathwatch’ on companies that market analysts expected would either implode, run out of cash, or be acquired for bargain basement prices. I later wrote a Masters essay (PDF) on the dotcom era that reviewed this ‘deathwatch’ frenzy and the memoirs of companies that had over-expanded from their initial public offerings.

The internet publisher Salon Media (SLNM) was one company where analysts had consensus that it would probably fail. However, Salon survived: a different management team, launching a site subscription model, dropping ‘big name’ yet expensive writers, broadening its freelancer network, and other survival strategies. The ‘deathwatch’ pundits were wrong.

Salon’s latest 10-Q filing on 13th August 2010 have some eye-opening sections. Deutsche Bank Securities provided short-term financing throughout 2007-09. Convertible promissory notes to investment banker Bill Hambrecht, Adobe Systems co-founder and current chairman John Warnock, original founder David Talbot, and other investors have kept the site operational.  Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh has cut production, content and administrative expenses whilst boosting sales and marketing costs to enhance revenues. However, quarterly results are affected by outstanding accounts receivables, interest payment expenses and funding the short-term financing, and continued though lower operational losses. SLNM’s trade as an ‘over the counter’-listed stock is negligible (Google Finance). At least the 10Q has an extensive list of Salon’s exposure to operational, information technology, creative, finance and market risks.

Things will get interesting for Salon Media when the convertible promissory notes ‘mature’ in March and October 2012 and may need to be repaid. Will the dotcom era ‘deathwatch’ resume?

BankAtlantic v. Bove

Wall Street analysts don’t appear to uphold ‘freedom of speech’ or a ‘boys on the bus’ mentality in the face of financial institutional lawsuits.

Andrew Martin and Louise Story at The New York Times have an insightful story on Richard Bove who Florida’s BankAtlantic sued after Bove warned the bank’s holding company faced collapse during the 2007-09 global financial crisis, although the bank was well securitised. BankAtlantic’s chairman and chief executive officer Alan B. Levan sued Bove for defamation and reputational damage to the financial institution.

Although the case was settled Bove paid over US$800,000 in legal fees. Some financial industry analysts and other institutions now view Levan’s decision as a strategic lawsuit against public participation designed — unsucessfully — to silence Bove. The unnamed BankAtlantic source has some very revealing observations about how Levan’s personality can trigger conflict: he can be combatative, dislikes personal criticism, “has a tendency to continue battles for too long”, and reacts to analysts’ “dissenting views” as chairman and chief executive officer.

BankAtlantic’s lawsuit offers Bove and other analysts several uncomfortable lessons. Professional societies for analysts refused to comment on the case nor to protect him. Bove claims that BankAtlantic either misunderstood or misframed his report’s title and subtitle. He was attacked despite the fact that the report valued BankAtlantic’s holding company rather than the bank. Levan may have targeted Bove due to the analyst’s visible media profile. A U.S. federal judge, hedge fund managers with expertise in debt securitisation, and other investors have also challenged Levan’s decision-making, track record, and feuds with other companies.

The NYT article also has a very interesting discussion of BankAtlantic’s corporate governance record, its holding structure and voting shares. BankAtlantic v. Bove case documents will be a ‘treasure trove’ for researchers who are interested in conflicts between C-level executives, financial analysts, and the specialist media outlets like Bloomberg and CNBC who cover them.

Ye Olde 21C Magazine Editorial Sessions

A fun aspect of 21C Magazine‘s editorial sessions from mid-1995 to March-April 1998?

Seeing great articles hot off the email. How writing by typewriter changes how you write. Discussing which forthcoming book releases would be the source material for articles, who to assign writers to, and specific angles. It was like the early scenes of The New Republic in the film Shattered Glass (2004) without the plagiarism: back-and-forth ‘riffing’ on ideas and possibilities. The documentary The September Issue (2009) also captures aspects of these editorial, design, issue scheduling and pre-production processes for Anna Wintour’s Vogue.

There’s a bunch of new books around in the past few months (or that I’ve finally noticed on the bookshelves) that illustrate the kind of material that Ashley Crawford, Ray Edgar, and the team would discuss:

• William Gibson’s new novel Zero History (2010); Washington Post review and San Francisco Chronicle review

• Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom (2009) collection of Hunter S. Thompson interviews

Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs (2001) edited by James Grauerholz

• William T. Vollmann’s mammoth Imperial (2009) on the Californian-Mexican borderlands

LA Times reports WSB has a ‘lost’ graphic novel coming out.

Check them out if they’re up your literary alleyway. Drop me an email if you have any vintage 21C or World Art issues you want to sell: I know fans.

A final thought: Whatever happened to RMIT Library’s 21C collection?