Cerberus Mortgage Capital files for IPO of up to $150 mln

Feb 8 (Reuters) – Mortgage REIT Cerberus Mortgage Capital
Inc filed with regulators to raise as much as $150 million in an
initial public offering of common stock.

Starbucks Canada to open 150 new outlets in biggest expansion ever

TORONTO — Thanks in part to Target, Starbucks Canada will be undertaking the biggest expansion effort in its history this year, with plans to open more than 150 new locations across the country.

The subsidiary of Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. will open outlets inside many of the 124 Target locations opening in Canada in 2013 beginning next month — but the exact number is still a secret, Starbucks Canada president Annie Young-Scrivner said Friday.

The growth is also a response to company’s successful bid to tap into the Canadian palate with its burgeoning Blonde roast coffee in a way that it had not before, bringing a host of new customers through its doors, she said in an interview on Friday.

Billed in the specialty chain’s outdoor advertising as “Starbucks coffee for Canadians who didn’t think they like Starbucks coffee,” Blonde has been so successful since its launch a year ago that twice as many people drink it per capita than in the U.S., Ms. Young-Scrivner said.

That is perhaps not a surprise in a country where Tim Hortons grew into Canada’s largest restaurant chain with more than 3,000 outlets largely due to the popularity of its light roast drip coffee. Starbucks Canada launched Blonde in Canada knowing that 60% of Canadians preferred a lighter roast of coffee bean than the ones that had been traditionally on offer at the world’s biggest coffee chain. “It has performed better than any country that we sell it in, and we carry it in the majority of our countries across the globe.”

The subsidiary does not break out its Canadian sales, but Ms. Young-Scrivner said the coffee’s performance had exceeded internal expectations at Starbucks Canada and that it has drawn new customers into the chain, adding incremental sales growth. Starbucks first opened in Canada 26 years ago and now counts this country as its biggest international market, with more than 1,200 locations.

After the first nine months, Blonde grew to represent 12% of Starbucks Canada brewed coffee sales. Since the company began a sampling and marketing push last month in Canada, the lighter blend now accounts for 20% of those sales. Typically 38% of Starbucks Canada customers drink dark roast and 42% drink medium roast, she said. “Some people thought our roast was too dark before. We had a lot of customers who would come to us for their lattes, but would go somewhere else for their coffee. I think our mix will continue to shift more towards the Blonde roast.”

Blonde roast has two varieties: Willow, sold packaged on shelves and Veranda, sold behind the counter as drip coffee. On the strength of sales, the Canadian unit has now embarked on a promotion to re-name the Veranda blend.

“A lot of our focus has been on the roast, but there is very little awareness of the Veranda blend. The coffee is perfect. The name doesn’t really fit. So we thought why don’t we engage customers and see what they would name it?”

With suggested names running the gamut from the Canadiana-rich ‘Maple Syrup’ and ‘Good Day, Eh?’ to the cheeky ‘James Blonde’, the Starbucks contest on Facebook has received 50,000 re-naming entries, backed by personalized explanatory pitches of up to 1,000 words each. The entry period closes Feb. 10.

Y Combinator Opens Applications For New Class, As Total Funding For Alums Reaches $1.5B, Or $3.18M Each

yc500

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham tweeted today that the accelerator’s 464 startup graduates (prior to its current batch) have raised an average of $3.18 million in funding each, which means YC’s companies have landed a total of just under $1.5 billion.

In context, when Billy covered the incubator’s progress last summer, YC had launched 380 companies, which had raised just over $1 billion in total, with each company averaging about $2.7 million. So, over the course of the last six months (or one batch in YC terms), the accelerator’s startups have raised nearly $500 million and increased their average raise by nearly $500K.

Granted, as Billy pointed out at the time, those statistics are skewed by the top alums, like Dropbox and Airbnb, which have raised $257 million and $120 million, respectively, accounting for nearly 30 percent of total funding (at the time). Now they account for about 25 percent.

Y Combinator selects two classes of startups per year into their three-month program, during which the expanding team of mentors connects their teams with investors and invests in the companies. Initially, Yuri Milner and Ron Conway’s Start Fund invested $150K in each startup. However, in November, the accelerator created a new fund called YC VC and decreased its investment to $80K per startup in an effort to “become more startup friendly.”

YC VC also aimed to provide more time and involvement from VCs in the development of startups, and Graham has said previously that the partners have been looking to lower the overall size of its startup classes.

In addition, Graham also said in a HackerNews thread recently that the fund no longer has LPs, which wasn’t a result of the switch from Start Fund to YC VC, he says, instead the partners “finished investing the last fund midway through the Summer 2012 batch.” That means there could be less dilution and bigger returns for those investing in the new fund, plus, those who were squeezed out in Start Fund get a new shot. (More info in the thread here.)

As to YC VC and the smaller batches in its new fund, Graham explained at the time: “The reason we accepted fewer applications was that in summer 2012 we grew too fast … We had 66 companies in winter 2012, and that was fine, but for some reason more things than usual broke when we jumped from 66 to 84.”

This comes on the heels of YC beginning to accept applications for its Summer 2013 batch, applications for which are due by March 29th. So, startups can expect that, while the total number of applications for YC has continued to grow as the incubator grows, the next class size won’t continue the current trend. Instead, Graham said that there may be fewer than 50 companies in the mix this time around. Way down from the 84 companies in its largest class, Summer 2012.

U.S. trade candidate Zients faces heat on agency reform plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A White House plan to stick the Cabinet-level Office of Trade Representative in the Commerce Department could raise some tricky questions for Jeffrey Zients, a senior aide to President Barack Obama who was a key architect of the plan and is now seen as a front-runner to head that very agency.

Michael Hodin: Aging, Entitlements and the Trillion-Dollar Coin

So just how seriously is the United States taking this whole thing about debt, deficit and unchecked spending? Consider the following.

Exhibit 1:
A quip left in the comments section of a blog leads many in the U.S. government to consider minting a trillion-dollar coin. This platinum coin would, the reasoning goes, enable the country to avoid the debt ceiling and get back to the real work of economic recovery and growth.

Exhibit 2:
A comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) details how the U.S. is on an “unsustainable” fiscal path. Calculating per-capita entitlement spending upon demographic projections, the GAO concludes that the U.S.’s spending is fully untenable.

The trillion-dollar coin, of course, triggered a virtual sensation. The beef between John Stewart and Paul Krugman was one for the ages. The coin also got its own Twitter hashtag (#trilliondollarcoin) and a handful of Facebook pages. Yet the GAO report, predictably, got little press pick-up other than Bill O’Reilly and it failed to “trend” in any social outlets.

Regardless of whether one finds the trillion-dollar coin sensible or insane it must surely be recognized that the U.S.’s shaky balance sheet requires a better solution than a magical, arbitrary coin. As the GAO report contends, the U.S.’s 21st-century demographic structure is driving 20th-century habits of entitlement spending through the roof. Trillion-dollar coin or not, this mismatch won’t go away, and the U.S. can’t get back on its feet and talk about economic growth until this problem gets solved. Recall the peril of this path was clear and loud in the 2010 S&P Report, which said at the time that population aging was the seminal issue of our time in light of 20th century fiscal, economic, health and social policies.

But now, the GAO report spells out this mismatch in no uncertain terms: Due to the number of baby boomers qualifying for Social Security and Medicare, spending “will increase in coming decades as more members of the baby-boom generation become eligible for benefits and the health care cost for each enrollee increases. Over the long term, the structural imbalance between spending and revenue will lead to continued growth of debt held by the public as a share of GDP; this means the current structure of the federal budget is unsustainable.”

Such arguments have been made before, to be sure, but it is vitally significant that the GAO has joined the choir. As the so-called “congressional watchdog,” the GAO can have significant influence on how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

So, will the GAO report mark a watershed moment in the debate over demographic change in the U.S.? Will it trigger a sea change in how we think about federal spending? The antiquated notions that one should spend their post-60 years retired and idle are beginning to fade. Even the military — long known for its generous pension packages — has begun to question whether it can extend 20th century financial obligations into the 21st century.

In President Obama’s second inaugural address, he proclaimed that the United States was “not a nation of takers,” arguing that the U.S.’s entitlement system doesn’t compromise the U.S.’s strength but reinforce it. The President’s rhetoric — borrowed in part from his former challenger, Mitt Romney — has, unfortunately, become one of the key takeaways from the speech used to frame the debate about entitlement spending.

This is unfortunate. The “takers” metaphor conceptualizes the issue incorrectly. The question we face today with our “unsustainable” spending isn’t whether or not we are takers. The question — given the monumental advances in health, medicine and technology — is how we can maintain health, activity and productivity later into life. It’s not whether we are “takers” when we reach a certain age, but how long we can continue to contribute to the economy and remain independent, vital producers. How do we achieve growth in an era of aging society? This is just as important for the national economy as it is for the personal and familial economy.

It’s not only the U.S. that finds itself in this situation. Europe and much of Asia are struggling with the same issues — of moving away from the “takers” paradigm before it resorts to minting a trillion dollar coin. Though the GAO report lacks that indelible resonance of “trillion dollar coin,” its insights and assessments are far more important to economic recovery and growth.

How about a hashtag for that?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

EuroVegas Gambling On Madrid Suburb

MADRID — A multibillion-dollar “EuroVegas” casino resort will be built in the outskirts of Madrid, hopefully bringing much-needed jobs and investment, officials from Spain and Las Vegas Sands casinos said Friday.

Madrid’s regional government president, Ignacio Gonzalez, said Eurovegas will occupy an area equivalent to 750 football fields in the suburb city of Alcorcon and the first phase of construction will begin late this year.

Building the entire complex just south of Madrid is likely to take up to 18 years and it is estimated that some 260,000 jobs could be created.

The mastermind behind the project is 79-year-old American tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his company Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The figures linked to the plans presented at Madrid’s town hall are dizzying, especially for a country with a swollen deficit and unemployment at a staggering 26 percent. Some (EURO)22 billion ($29.5 billion) will be invested to build 12 hotels, six casinos, a convention center, three golf courses, theaters, shopping malls, bars and restaurants.

Las Vegas Sands operates casinos and entertainment complexes in several locations around the world, including Las Vegas, Macao (China) and Singapore.

Michael Leven, Las Vegas Sands CEO, said the group will cover 35 percent of the equity investment and assured Madrid authorities that funding to complete the rest of the project would be found. It was not clear where the remaining 65 percent will come from.

Leven said Spanish banks would be among the investors, but he did not reveal which.

Despite the apparently large inward investment and the potential for massive job creation, EuroVegas has been met with rejection in many sectors of Spanish society.

More than a dozen organizations, mainly linked to environmental causes or to the political left, last year created the “Eurovegas No” platform to oppose the project.

The group reacted to Friday’s announcement by saying Las Vegas Sands wanted to create an “island” for gambling and will count on specially granted tax breaks and the relaxation of laws regulating smoking bans.

Critics have said the project will promote unwanted activities such as prostitution and only create low level jobs such as card dealers, waiters and chamber maids. They say what the country, and especially its young people, need are higher skills jobs.

___

Ciaran Giles contributed to this report.

Monte Paschi struck secret deal over Antonveneta: police

SIENA, Italy (Reuters) – Monte dei Paschi struck a last-minute, secret deal with Bank of New York that allowed the Italian bank to mislead authorities and smoothed through its acquisition of rival Antonveneta, according to a report by the financial police in Italy.

Mali rebels ‘got French ransom cash’

A former US ambassador to Mali says France paid ransom money to free hostages and the funds ended up bolstering Islamist groups it is now fighting.