SEC gets staff recommendation to allow third-party exams

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White said Tuesday the agency has progressed in its consideration of a rule to allow third-party examinations of investment advisers.

“The staff has completed their recommendation [to allow third-party exams]: a proposal which is now with my fellow commissioners,” Ms. White said at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual conference in Washington.

She told reporters on the sidelines of the SIFMA conference that the commissioners could vote on whether to propose the recommended independent compliance reviews, but did not describe the details of the recommendation.

It’s not clear when the SEC, which currently has only three of its usual complement of five members, would act.

“I can’t predict the timing,” Ms. White told reporters.

The SEC has been under pressure to strengthen its oversight of advisers. The agency examines annually about 10% of the approximately 11,800 registered advisers. The SEC would like to increase the coverage rate to about 50%, and farming out some exams to nongovernmental third parties is seen as one way to help the agency boost its own effort.

“That would certainly be my goal,” Ms. White said of the 50% annual examination rate. “That’s going to take significantly more resources.”

In its annual budget requests to Congress, the agency has made adviser exams a top priority for increased funding.

Earlier this year, the SEC announced it would increase the number of investment adviser examiners by almost 20% — from 530 to 630 — by shifting broker-dealer exam staff to the investment adviser side of the Office of Inspections Compliance and Examinations.

The agency also has done “targeted hiring” in the adviser exam area, Ms. White said Tuesday.

With the shift of resources at the SEC toward adviser exams, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc., the industry-funded broker-dealer regulator, is taking on even more responsibility for oversight of brokers. Finra examines annually about half of the approximately 4,000 brokerage firms registered with the organization.

The SEC approves Finra rules and is now keeping a closer eye on the regulator’s operations through its recently established Finra and Securities Industry Oversight office.

Ms. White said the new office, housed within the SEC, is not necessarily pressing Finra for specific reforms.

“It’s a good move to make, given the importance of Finra and given our scarce resources,” Ms. White said.

During her SIFMA appearance, Ms. White also addressed whether the SEC would offer its own rule to raise investment advice standards, now that a similar rule from the Labor Department for retirement accounts will be implemented next year.


The Dodd-Frank financial reform law gave the SEC the authority to propose its own rule, but the agency has not acted on the controversial topic.

Ms. White reiterated that the SEC staff has completed “a detailed outline of how they would go about” proposing a fiduciary duty rule, which has been circulated to the three SEC commissioners. As she always does, she cautioned that a vote on a proposal won’t occur “any time soon.”’

“It needs to be a data-driven exercise so we get it just right so that we achieve the objective … of [raising] the bar of all financial professionals without essentially depriving retail investors of reasonably priced, reliable advice,” Ms. White said. “Getting that balance right is not easy.”

Two nominees to fill the SEC vacancies — Republican Hester Peirce and Democrat Lisa Fairfax — are awaiting Senate confirmation.

Investment Needed To Avoid Massive Oil Price Spike Says OPEC

Oil Money

OPEC says that $10 trillion worth of investment will need to flow into oil and gas through 2040 in order to meet the world’s energy needs.

The OPEC published its World Oil Outlook 2015 (WOO) in late December, which struck a much more pessimistic note on the state of oil markets than in the past. On the one hand, OPEC does not see oil prices returning to triple-digit territory within the next 25 years, a strikingly bearish conclusion.

The group expects oil prices to rise by an average of about $5 per year over the course of this decade, only reaching $80 per barrel in 2020. From there, it sees oil prices rising slowly, hitting $95 per barrel in 2040.

Long-term projections are notoriously inaccurate, and oil prices are impossible to predict only a few years out, let alone a few decades from now.

Priced modeling involves an array of variables, and slight alterations in certain assumptions – such as global GDP or the pace of population growth – can lead to dramatically different conclusions. So the estimates should be taken only as a reference case rather than a serious attempt at predicting crude prices in 25 years. Nevertheless, the conclusion suggests that OPEC believes there will be adequate supply for quite a long time, enough to prevent a return the price spikes seen in recent years.

Part of that has to do with what OPEC sees as a gradual shift towards efficiency and alternatives to oil. The report issued estimates for demand growth five years at a time, with demand decelerating gradually. For example, the world will consume an extra 6.1 million barrels of oil per day between now and 2020. But demand growth slows thereafter: 3.5 mb/d between 2020 and 2025, 3.3 mb/d for 2025 to 2030; 3 mb/d for 2030 to 2035; and finally, 2.5 mb/d for 2035 to 2040. The reasons for this are multiple: slowing economic growth, declining population rates, and crucially, efficiency and climate change efforts to slow consumption. In fact, since last year’s 2014 WOO, OPEC lowered its 2040 oil demand projection by 1.3 mb/d because it sees much more serious climate mitigation policies coming down the pike than it did last year.

Of course, some might argue that even that estimate – that the world will be consuming 110 mb/d in 2040 – could be overly optimistic. Coming from a collection of oil-exporting countries, that should be expected.

Energy transitions are hard to predict ahead of time, but when they come, they tend to produce rapid changes. Any shot at achieving the world’s stated climate change targets will require a much more ambitious effort.

While governments have dithered for years, efforts appear to be getting more serious. More to the point, the cost of electric vehicles will only decline in real dollar terms over time, and adoption should continue to rise in a non-linear fashion. That presents a significant threat to long-term oil sales.

At the same time, OPEC also issued a word of caution in its report. While oil markets experience oversupply in the short- to medium-term, massive investments in exploration and production are still needed to meet demand over the long-term. OPEC believes $10 trillion will be necessary over the next 25 years to ensure adequate oil supplies. “If the right signals are not forthcoming, there is the possibility that the market could

find that there is not enough new capacity and infrastructure in place to meet future rising demand levels, and this would obviously have a knock-on impact for prices,” OPEC concluded. About $250 billion each year will have to come from non-OPEC countries.

In a similar but more disconcerting conclusion, the Oslo-based Rystad Energy recently concluded that the current state of oversupply could be “turned upside down over the next few years.” That is because the drastic spending cuts today will result in a shortage within a few years. To put things in perspective, Rystad says that the oil industry “needs to replace 34 billion barrels of crude every year – equal to current consumption.” But as a result of the collapse in prices, the industry has slashed spending across the board and “investment decisions for only 8 billion barrels were made in 2015.

This amount is less than 25% of what the market requires long-term,” Rystad Energy concluded. The industry cut upstream investment by $250 billion in 2015, and another $70 billion could be cut in 2016. The latter figure did not take into account the recent decision by OPEC to abandon its production target, which sent oil prices falling further.

So what are we to make of this? There could be plenty of oil supplies in the future, but as it stands, the industry is massively underinvesting? This illustrates a troubling tension within the oil industry.

Oil prices will be set by the marginal cost of production, and recent efficiency gains notwithstanding, marginal costs have generally increased over time. Low-cost production depletes, and the industry becomes more reliant on deep-water, shale, or Arctic oil, all of which require higher levels of spending. In many cases, these sorts of projects are not profitable at today’s prices.

The price spikes seen in 2011-2014 sowed the seeds of the current bust, but the pullback today could create the conditions of another spike in the future. OPEC could be a bit too sanguine with its call for $95 oil in 2040.

At the same time, future price spikes set up the possibility of much greater demand destruction, especially if alternatives become more viable. This is the difficult balancing act that the industry must pull off over the next few decades.

Global sovereign, pension funds keen on investing: FM Arun Jaitley

File photo of Arun Jaitley

The first meeting of the governing council of National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) was held on Tuesday, wherein it was decided to appoint a chief executive officer for the fund by January-end and rope in several sovereign and pension funds to invest in it.

The fund will have a corpus of Rs 40,000 crore, out of which Rs 20,000 crore will be from the allocated amount in Budget, while Rs 20,000 crore will be from private investors.

In the meeting, possible infrastructure projects that could be taken up by the fund were discussed, finance minister Arun Jaitley said adding that sovereign funds and pension funds from UAE, Singapore, UK and Russia have shown interest to invest in NIIF.

“Several sovereign funds and pension funds across the world have expressed their willingness to participate and cooperate in various manners with the NIIF so the progress with regard to the suggestions which have come from UAE, Singapore, UK and Russia were discussed,” Jaitley told reporters after the meeting.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Singapore’s GIC and Temasek are also likely to invest in the fund, a government official said. Jaitley said the NIIF governing council will meet again in March to review the progress of participation of each of the funds that are willing to invest.

The formalities regarding the setting up of the fund, including approval by market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), were also completed on Tuesday, the minister said.

“The initial appointment of the advisors to the fund, the registration with Sebi, wherever it is required — these are all formalities which have been completed and they were all reported in meeting today. An important step which is now being taken is the appointment of CEO of the fund, for which the position has been advertised both nationally and internationally and we hope that the selection process will be completed over the next few weeks,” he said.

Announced by Jaitley in the Budget for 2015-16 and cleared by the Cabinet in July, India’s own version of sovereign wealth fund, NIIF, will invest in greenfield, brownfield and stalled infrastructure projects.

India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd (IIFCL) has been appointed as investment advisor to NIIF and IDBI Capital Market Services Ltd as Advisor to NIIF Trustee Ltd initially for 6 months and 1 year respectively.

The governing council is being headed by Jaitley and its other members include Department of Economic Affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das, financial services secretary Anjuly Chib Duggal and State Bank of India chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, among others. The finance ministry had in October constituted a search-cum-selection committee headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das for selecting a CEO for the Investment Management Company under the NIIF.

BSE Sensex sinks below 26k-mark on profit-booking, down 119 points

sensex and nifty

Markets today failed to make good use of the early momentum in a fluctuating trade as the benchmark Sensex broke below the psychological 26,000-mark by falling over 119 points amid profit-booking and a mixed global trend.

The broader NSE Nifty too cracked below the 7,900-level.

Caution ahead of the expiry of December monthly derivatives contracts on Thursday weighed, traders said.

Sentiment took a hit after IMF chief Christine Lagarde wrote in a guest article in a German newspaper that global growth will be “disappointing and patchy” in 2016.

She pointed to the prospects of US Fed rate hike and slowdown in China as fuelling uncertainty and risk of global volatility.

The BSE index, earlier backed up by covering-up of short positions, succumbed to profit-booking and ended below the 26,000-level at 25,960.03, down 119.45 points, or 0.46 per cent. It had gained 240.77 points in the previous two sessions.

The NSE Nifty closed lower by 32.70 points, or 0.41 per cent, at 7,896.25. It touched the day’s high of 7,944.75 in early trade.

“Early gains were frittered away as traders indulged in year-end profit-booking in the stocks across the board,” said Manoj Choraria, a Delhi-based stock broker.

A mixed trend in Asia, and European shares slipping from their three-week highs in early trade only compounded the woes.

The bear grip was so tight that as many as 21 stocks out of the 30 in the Sensex pack lost while others advanced.

Infosys was the worst hit as it plunged 1.52 per cent, followed by TCS (1.38 per cent) and Wipro (1.04 per cent).

Maruti Suzuki, SBI, RIL, Hero MotoCorp, Adani Ports, ICICI Bank, Bajaj Auto, Axis Bank and L&T also ran up losses.

But Tata Steel, Tata Motors, NTPC, ITC, BHEL and Dr Reddy’s all ended higher.

Stocks of liquor companies United Spirits, United Breweries, Empee Distilleries and Tilaknagar Industries felt the heat for the second straight day as they fell up to 5.01 per cent after SC yesterday upheld the Kerala government’s policy restricting issuance of bar licences to five-star hotels only.

The BSE IT index fell the most by 1.21 per cent followed by technology (0.77 per cent), oil and gas (0.56 per cent), banking (0.43 per cent), PSU (0.30 per cent), auto (0.30 per cent) and realty (0.17 per cent).

Broader markets left the Sensex far behind, with the mid-cap index rising 0.21 per cent and small-cap 0.07 per cent.

Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) net bought shares worth Rs 8.49 crore yesterday, according to provisional data.

Investment in technology key to CAMS growth: CEO

N.K. Prasad, Group CEO, CAMS

CAMS manages vast data for mutual funds, private equity, banks, NBFC, insurance companies and even brokerages. As mutual fund investments are long-term in nature, technology platforms business processes and controls are designed to protect the interest of investors.

This includes special processes for managing dormant investor accounts, minor accounts and transmission of investments. N .K. Prasad, Group CEO, CAMS Group, spoke to The Hindu on managing investor data confidentiality and processing risks.

What is CAMS role in the BFSI ecosystem?

CAMS, registered by SEBI as a registrar evolved over years as a technology enabled financial infrastructure provider. Several technology solutions and service innovations have helped improve investor trust, confidence in the new category of mutual funds, increased participation through expanded reach and facilitated cost efficient delivery of uniform investor service standards across the country. Consolidated account statement across various mutual funds, an original innovation of CAMS in 2008 has now become a securities market practice. CAMS’ initiatives in cost-efficient servicing of small ticket monthly systematic investments over the years have helped our clients grow this category to over 60 lakhs. This is significant because net inflows into equity mutual funds lend stability to capital markets.

Currently, CAMS provides unique combination of B2C and B2B services to asset management companies, venture capital firms, life insurance companies, general insurance companies, select banks and non-banking financial institutions.

Does your delivery meet the brand promise of each fund?

CAMS is an entity neutral service solutions partner to the mutual fund (MF) industry having no conflict with competing asset management companies (AMC) and competing intermediaries. Our company’s mission is to pursue growth of our clients, which in turn drives our growth.

As outsourcing partner we have aligned vision and purpose with each AMC and co-create service delivery model and customizations for each AMC.

Our management processes, governance systems are aligned to deliver brand promise of each client and protect strategic, reputational, operational risks associated with outsourcing. The real proof of this is long lasting relationships CAMS has with its clients over two decades who have started their MF business and grown manifold.

What are the benefits of investing in mutual funds?

MFs are a versatile financial investment option for retail investors as it brings the benefits of diversification for meeting individual investment goals, tax benefits, professional fund management, risk adjusted returns, instant liquidity and at no explicit costs to investors. It is a well-regulated product.

MFs have proven to be the route for long term wealth creation. There is a strong correlation of course between longevity of investment and return maximization.

Data shows schemes have returned an average 25 times to investors who have stayed invested for 15 – 20 years. Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) is particularly suitable for retail investors as a savings vehicle, bringing the benefits mentioned earlier even for a commitment of Rs.1,000 a month.

How does CAMS help in transitioning the mutual fund schemes?

CAMS has carried out many scheme mergers and has a mature processes supporting pre/post-merger communication, non-deduction of load during window period, non-applicability of relevant load/STT/TDS during mergers, printing of modified statements, administering brokerage post mergers, computation of capital gains, tax obligations.

Such mergers are done over week-end / non business days.

Can you comment on how MF investors comply with new tax norms?

CAMS has implemented online updation facility to submit the new requirements under FATCA and supplementary KYC.

Forms are also available at our service centers or can be downloaded from CAMS website or from AMC sites.

We have created a central database for FATCA compliance to facilitate one time submission of forms.

This immensely benefits the investor as he /she does not have to repeat the process while investing into a new fund.

What makes CAMS an attractive investment proposition?

CAMS is proud to have National Stock Exchange Strategic Investment Corporation Ltd (NSESIC) as a shareholder in its growth journey. NSE, India’s leading stock exchange, has brought about unparalleled transparency, speed and efficiency, safety and market integrity. CAMS has held market leadership in serving the Indian MF investors.

NSE’s stature would strengthen the Institutional character of our institution. CAMS and NSE have complementary capabilities for serving the securities market. Our market offers tremendous potential in channelling household savings in to productive investments to help grow the economy and helping investors achieve their financial goals.

Can you name some of the new technologies you deployed over the years?

Technology forms the backbone for our excellence in high volume transaction processing and services delivery. Our applications and infrastructure are all developed and maintained in-house. This gives us the flexibility, technology, domain capability and demonstrated scalability to handle any explosive growth in mutual funds volumes like what we witnessed in 2007-08. While the IT application suite has matured into a mini-ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) like ecosystem, the infrastructure landscape has evolved rapidly from rudimentary storage systems to SAN (Storage Area Network) based and now we have large scale enterprise servers and storage. We are early adopters of SSD (Solid-State-Device) technology and our applications have evolved to address today’s needs on social, mobile and analytics.

What has been the response to myCAMS mobile app?

Mutual fund investors are taking up to digital channels pretty actively in the last couple of years. Investor’s appreciation of the digital convenience is evident in the 50 per cent increase of online transactions and 400 per cent increase in mobile transactions.

CAMS powers the websites, portals and apps of mutual funds to enable real time transaction acceptance. CAMS digital initiatives, such as myCAMS platform available as mobile app and online version has nearly 200,000 registered users with a high engagement index. GoCORP is our online portal for institutional investors, with features that meet corporate investor needs.

What has your experience been handling mergers?

CAMS has extensive experience and track record in managing merger of MFs, merger of schemes. CAMS managed many such mergers including a complex acquisition of a twenty-year-old MF by one of our AMC client, couple of years ago. This complex merger was accomplished over a week end, assuring data integrity, assuring business continuity for AMC and access to funds by the investors.

How do you manage costs in a challenging environment?

All our major cost elements – people, infrastructure and technology are inflation prone. CAMS focuses on technology based automation, process innovations and productivity improvements to manage the cost pressure. CAMS deploys about 4,500 people across 3 delivery centres and has a pan-India network of 272 service centres.

Technology and continuous improvement has helped us deliver end-to-end investor services at a fraction of the cost of that of other investment accounts. For example, we manage the entire life cycle of the investor including access and reach, transaction acceptance and execution, records maintenance, reconciliation / movement of funds, dividends processing, account statement issuance and confirmations, on a platform originated and owned by us. MF RTA (Registrar & Transfer Agent) performs this holistic while in case of secondary market the same is executed by multiple agencies viz stock exchange, depository, depository participant (DP), broker, clearing house and RTA resulting in a high cost account maintenance compared to MF.

Is it possible to throw some light on innovative technology enablers?

CAMS has believed in investing ahead of business needs with the premise that availability and access will lead to category growth. RTAs have been the face of MF industry in most of the towns in India. While a typically large AMC might have presence in 80 to 100 locations, we have presence in about 272 locations. In parallel, CAMS pioneered an electronic platform called FundsNet for IFAs.

In 2014, CAMS launched a suite of digital solutions “Anytime Anywhere Mutual Funds” for 2G/3G enabled devices that can be used by mutual fund sales persons, myCAMS for individual investors and GoCORP for institutional investors. Our app for distributors will be launched soon.

Boeing, Lockheed Face Budget Battles Amid ISIS War

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are two of of the biggest winners in the fight against the Islamic State as defense spending rises, but next year could still see budget pressure on some costly programs.

The Air Force has dropped over 20,000 missiles and bombs in its fight against ISIS, depleting stockpiles below what some see as optimal. The U.S. is also approving munitions sales to Middle East allies.

In November, the State Department OK’d the sale of 13,000 Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Raytheon (NYSE:RTN) bombs to Saudi Arabia for $1.29 billion. Qatar and Saudi Arabia also got approval to buy more Patriot air-defense systems and Patriot missiles from Raytheon and Lockheed (NYSE:LMT).

F/A-18 fighter jets take off from the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf for a mission against the Islamic State in Iraq. AP

Meanwhile, the federal government’s fiscal 2016 budget includes money for 11 extra Lockheed F-35 fighter jets, five more Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and seven more E/A-18G Growlers.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the procurement dollars will flow unabated.

“The counterterrorism fight is here to stay and will continue to use resources that, at one point, the DoD thought would shift over to stuff like sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities geared more to fights against adversaries that have sophisticated air force systems,” said Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

‘Inflection Point’ Ahead

While the 2016 defense budget has gotten bigger, having to rely on Congress to pay for items that the armed services put on their unfunded requirements wish lists “is not a way to plan your future,” said Mark Bobbi, an aerospace, defense and security analyst at IHS.

“Who knows what the U.S. economy will look like next year?” he told IBD. “It’s looking flat or even might move into recession.”

He expects the fiscal 2017 budget, which will likely be decided in late 2016, to be an “inflection point” for some major programs.

The long-range strike bomber, which Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) won earlier this year over a Boeing-Lockheed team, is likely safe, along with Boeing’s KC-46 tanker, Bobbi said.

But the $400 billion F-35 program is “sticking out like a sore thumb,” and the Air Force is pressuring Lockheed to lower costs for the overbudget and behind-schedule program, he added.

Next year will also be a big one for the KC-46 tanker program, which has had its own share of cost and development problems, as Boeing tries to get the plane back on track and into production, said Hunter.

Pandora Price Target Cut On Rising Royalties, Costs

Pandora Media (NYSE:P) stock fell Thursday after the leading online music company got a price target cut from Macquarie, which cited rising royalties and other costs for the Oakland, Calif-based company.

Pandora stock fell 2% in the shortened session in the stock market today, under 14. Pandora stock has fallen 22% this year on Wall Street’s concerns about competition and user growth.

“New royalty assumptions and increased costs bring our estimates lower,” wrote Macquarie analyst Amy Yong in a research note, in which she cut Pandora’s price target to 17 from 19. “Pandora has inked multiyear agreements with major labels in the U.S. covering 60% market share of all publishers. We estimate total content costs of $765 million in 2016, stepping up 10% per annum through 2020.”

On the revenue side, Pandora’s Ticketfly business will contribute $506 million to revenue and $91 million to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), Yong said.

Pandora bought Ticketfly for $450 million in October, vaulting the online music-streaming leader into the live-event and ticket sales business in its bid to take on rivals including Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Music and Spotify.

Overseas expansion will likely take center stage in 2016. “Next up, we think management will focus on other regions, beginning with the all-important U.K., a $1.3 billion market,” said Yong, who said Pandora’s biggest rival outside the U.S. is Spotify, which has a presence in more than 60 markets.

Besides the U.S., Pandora operates only in Australia and New Zealand, launching in those markets in 2012. Pandora must pay to acquire music rights country by country, which can significantly add to its already heavy spending on music-acquisition costs.

Through several agreements reached the past two years, Pandora is now aligned with music superstars including Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Adele. The company has inked deals with labels including Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell, Universal Music Publishing Group, SONGS, Atlas and Downtown Music Publishing, said Yong.

The latest deal came on Tuesday, when Pandora announced multiyear licensing deals with ASCAP and BMI, two major trade groups that between them own the music publishing rights to 20 million songs.

Some of Pandora’s costs will ease now that the company has completed the build out of its sales and marketing staff, says Yong. But Macquarie is modeling increased employee costs of $15 million per year for Rdio, the Web streaming service that Pandora gotfinal approval to buy on Wednesday, for $75 million.

Pandora stock has sagged since the June launch of Apple Music — a service combining paid subscription music streaming with a 24/7 live global Internet radio station. While Pandora remains the Internet streaming leader, with 78.1 million monthly active users in Q3, its market share is falling as competition grows.

Besides Apple Music and Spotify, Pandora is in a heated battle with rivals including‘s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Music and Google Play Music, owned by Google, a division of Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL), and iHeartRadio.

Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’ Reinvented Holiday

Charles Dickens took his London background to the pages of "A Christmas Carol" in late 1843.

Charles Dickens wrote the immortal story “A Christmas Carol.” In the process, he enlivened what was a somber holiday. The Puritans had made sure that most of the fun was squeezed out of Christmas for the prior two centuries, mandating a quiet day exchanging presents at home and going to church.

“He was frustrated and felt ineffective after giving a lecture in Manchester (England) on the benefit to the nation of educating the working class, at a time when there were no free public schools,” Carlo DeVito, author of “Inventing Scrooge,” told IBD. “His first idea was to write a pamphlet about helping the less fortunate, but then realized he could get the message across better if he created a compelling story. As he drew on his own experiences growing up, both hurtful and joyous, he became obsessed with the tale of personal redemption and completed it in six weeks.

“It changed both his career and the way the holiday season was celebrated around the world.”

Tough Going

Dickens (1812-70) had an early childhood in southern England, including London, that he called idyllic. Yet his father, a government clerk, spent more than he earned and was sent to debtors’ prison for a few months when the boy was 12.

As the second of eight children, Charles began working at a boot factory 10 hours a day, six days a week. The family had to move to cheaper quarters and pawn everything it owned to get by.

Dickens had only a few years of formal education, but his mother taught him a love of reading, the foundation for his career. At 15, he began clerking at a law office, learned shorthand and became a freelance reporter at the courts.

At 22, he began writing entertaining reports about city life under the pen name Boz. Two years later, in 1836, they were collected into the two-volume “Sketches by Boz.”

The next year, Dickens broke through big-time.

“The Pickwick Papers” came out under his own name — and when the novel was serialized in a magazine, it drew 400,000 readers for the last installment.

The year before, he had married Kate Hogarth, daughter of one of his editors, and they would have 10 children. Dickens provided for the growing family with increasingly nicer homes by churning out one masterpiece after another.

In 1838-39, he had two smash hits — “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” Then in 1841, he had two more: “The Old Curiosity Shop” and “Barnaby Rudge.”

Under Armour and Nike’s Big Christmas Day Battle

Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA) are bound to be gift-wrapped under some Christmas trees on Friday morning as athletic wear continues to hold sway in the style world.

But the two brands will also go head-to-head on the court on Christmas Day at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) ABC as Nike icon LeBron James takes on Under Armour ambassador and league MVP Stephen Curry in a much-anticipated Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors matchup.

James remains a fan favorite, topping ESPN’s quarterly popularity poll for the 10th consecutive quarter with 22.4% of the vote. But Curry zipped up to third place, behind retiring Kobe Bryant, with 12.5% — a huge year-over-year climb from the 1.9% he notched up in the same quarter a year earlier, according to the sports network.

And in June, Steph Curry jerseys became the No. 1 selling jersey in the NBA, outselling LeBron James jerseys.

In many ways, Curry’s place in the big leagues parallels that of Under Armour, the company that signed the slender point guard in 2013. Both the man and the brand have ascended to the spotlight relatively quickly, though each underdog-turned-contender remains overshadowed in the public eye by more dominant forces, in the form of LeBron and Nike, respectively.

And each is committed to becoming No. 1. When Time magazine asked him if he is the best player in the world right now, Curry responded, “In my mind, yes. That’s how I have confidence out there that I can play at a high level every night.”

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, whose more than $3 billion sportswear company is still about a tenth of the size of Nike by sales, talks a similar game.

“(A)fter 10 years of being in the business, we are proud to report nearly 40% market share as the No. 2 player in the space, with eyes set on being the No. 1 player in the very near future,” said Plank at the company’s investor day in September.

He later added, alluding to Nike, “We don’t enjoy playing No. 2 to anyone.”

Nike topped earnings estimates earlier this week, boasting hefty futures orders growth that exceeded Wall Street expectations. And Under Armour footwear sales continue to climb amid the success of their signature Curry One shoe. The launch of the next edition, the Curry Two, has generated excitement among sneakerheads.

Fans of basketball and flashy workout gear should expect to see much more of James with Nike and Curry with Under Armour in the coming years: Under Armour has extended Curry’s contract through 2024, and James recently inked a lifetime deal with the Swoosh.

Under Armour shares fell 1% to 81.20. Nike fell 1.8% to 63.18.

Solar Outlook Cut Worries As SunEdison Zooms On Talks

Shares of solar energy system developer and installer SunEdison (NYSE:SUNE) jumped nearly 10% in Thursday’s shortened session after the company disclosed that it’s in talks for a substantial credit line as it powers ahead with an acquisition.

But that rise overlooks lowered installations guidance for the fourth quarter, which was tucked into Thursday’s business update from SunEdison, Axiom Capital analyst Gordon Johnson tells IBD. Last month, SunEdison had guided to 833-933 megawatts of solar installations in Q4 2015, but its new business update now sees total megawatts completed in the quarter at 450 million.

Johnson headlined a Thursday research report “FLASH: ‘Bah Humbug’ … SUNE Just Cut Its C4Q15 MW Delivered Guidance By ~50% (and is guiding C1Q16 down q/q) … On Christmas Eve!” The company is guiding Q1 2016 megawatts delivered “down incrementally, while leaving the full-year unchanged. On this, the stock is up 10% in today’s trading session,” he wrote.

The news comes the day after installer SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY) said that it will exit Nevada because the state on Tuesday slashed net metering rates that pay solar users for energy fed back to the grid. Rival Vivint Solar (NYSE:VSLR) — the installer that SunEdison is acquiring — had also this week threatened to leave Nevada. And all of this activity comes less than a week after Congress handed the solar sector a five-year extension to a key subsidy, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which underpins the industry.

SunEdison Updates Vivint Plan

On Thursday morning, SunEdison posted a detailed business update noting that it has “successfully renegotiated the Vivint Solar acquisition terms with Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX).” Under the new terms, which SunEdison first announced Dec. 9, the cash consideration has been cut by $2 a share, stock consideration has increased by 75 cents a share, and Blackstone is providing a $250 million unsecured loan to fund business growth.

The renegotiated terms “help improve liquidity for SunEdison,” the company said in its Thursday statement, noting that the transaction is still expected to close in Q1 and adding that its bank groups “remain fully committed” to a new $300 million Vivint non-recourse term loan and a $795 million TERP bridge.

TERP is TerraForm Power (NASDAQ:TERP), a SunEdison yield-company subsidiary that has come under fire from activist investor Appaloosa Management, which has demanded to see SunEdison’s books ahead of the Vivint acquisition.

SEC Filing Details Loan Talks

A SunEdison Form 8-K, filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, states that since Dec. 10 the company “has been engaged in ongoing financing discussions with certain potential financing sources, including existing investors and lenders,” in particular “relating to a new up to $650 million second lien credit facility, a portion of the proceeds of which would be used to repay the Company’s existing second lien credit facility.”