Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The World's Greatest Financial Writer Talks About Banking

Why narrow banking alone is not the finance solution
By Martin Wolf
Published: September 29 2009 21:11 | Last updated: September 29 2009 21:11

The FT has a new series on the future of investment. But what, I wonder, is the future of finance itself? Who is confident that the financial system now emerging from the crisis is safer, or better at servicing the public’s needs, than the one that went into it? The answer has to be: few people. The question is how to remedy this dire situation.

What entered the crisis was, we now know, an ill-managed, irresponsible, highly concentrated and undercapitalised financial sector, riddled with conflicts of interest and benefiting from implicit state guarantees. What is emerging is a slightly better capitalised financial sector, but one even more concentrated and benefiting from explicit state guarantees. This is not progress: it has to mean still more and bigger crises in the years ahead.

My friend and colleague, John Kay, is aware of these dangers, as readers of his column know well. His answer, laid out in a pamphlet for the London-based Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, is “narrow banking”*. Mr Kay rejects the notion that regulation can solve the problem created by state-guaranteed finance. Supervision, he notes, is always subject to regulatory capture. Moreover, banks “entered the crisis with capital generally in excess of regulatory requirements. These provisions proved not just inadequate but massively inadequate for the problems faced.” Worse, many of the dangers – notably the growth of off-balance-sheet finance – reflected attempts to circumvent regulation. Regulation, then, has not been the answer, but hitherto has been part of the problem.

So what is the answer? Division of banking into a “utility” and a “casino” is Mr Kay’s answer. The big idea is that insured deposits should be backed by “genuinely safe liquid assets” – known as 100 per cent reserve banking. In practice, these assets would be government bonds. This is the most rigorous form of narrow banking. But he is not clear on whether he would insist on this. It seems he might accept looser constraints.

For the sake of clarity, however, let us focus on 100 per cent reserve banking, an idea also discussed in Austrian economics. Is it workable? What might it imply? To answer, we need to understand how we entered our world of credit-based money.

Suppose someone came up with the following design for the core institutions of our financial system: they would be mainly financed by deposits, redeemable on demand; they would invest in a wide range of often illiquid and opaque assets; they would engage in complex trading activities; but they would have a wafer-thin equity cushion. Surely, people would conclude, this is fraudulent. They would be right. Such a structure can only endure because central banks act as lenders of last resort. The government’s ability to create money is put at the disposal of private interests. Right at the moment, the ability to borrow from the government at zero interest is a licence to print money.

In practice, however, we have gone much further than this. We have also explicitly guaranteed many deposits and implicitly guaranteed many more liabilities. Indeed, in the crisis, policymakers guaranteed all the liabilities of institutions deemed systemically significant. Today, the core financial institutions are, beyond doubt, a part of the state.

Mr Kay’s proposal is, in sum, to end the fraud: banks would be forced to hold assets as safe and liquid as their liabilities. We know there are other ways of making a system of fractional-reserve banks relatively safe: a stable domestic oligopoly achieves much the same thing. But that does seem highly regressive.

Is Mr Kay’s the answer? One obvious objection is that it would impose a massive upheaval in finance. But, given the crisis, such an upheaval is the least we should fear. Another objection (though, to some an advantage) is that, taken to its conclusion, it would eliminate monetary policy. Public debt held by banks would set the money supply.

A more profound issue is whether a financial system based on narrow banking could allocate capital efficiently.

Here there are two opposing risks. The first is that the supply of funds to riskier, long-term activities would be greatly reduced if we did adopt narrow banking. Against this, one might argue that, with public sector debt used to back the liabilities of narrow banks, investors would be forced to find other such assets.

The opposite (and greater) risk is that the fragility of banking would be re-invented, via “quasi-banks”. This is what has just happened, after all, with “shadow banking”. In the end, those entities, too, have been rescued. The big point is that a financial structure characterised by short-term and relatively risk-free liabilities and longer-term and riskier assets is highly profitable, until it collapses, as it is rather likely to do.

The answer to the second dilemma is to make banking illegal. That is to say, financial intermediaries, other than narrow banks, would have the value of their liabilities dependent on the value of their assets. Where assets could not be valued, there would be matching lock-up periods for liabilities. The great game of short-term borrowing, used to purchase longer-term and risky assets, on wafer-thin equity, would be ruled out. The equity risk would be borne by the funds’ investors. Trading entities would exist. But they would need equity funding.

Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University and Edward Leamer of the University of California at Los Angeles are among those who have proposed such radical ideas. It is the simplest way I can see of avoiding the danger that narrow banking would shift the risks inherent in such activities elsewhere.

The most important point is that where we are now is intolerable. Today’s concentrations of state-insured private wealth and power must surely go. At present, the official sector believes tighter regulation, particularly higher capital requirements, can contain these risks. But this is likely to fail. If it does, we will need to be radical. Yet narrow banking would still not be enough. We would need to rule out quasi-banking. Otherwise, we would soon return to the world of fragility and bail-outs. Funds that replace banks would have to pass the risks directly on to the outside investors.

The authorities will not entertain such radical ideas right now. But the financial system is so inherently fragile that radical reform cannot be pronounced dead. It is only dormant.

* Narrow Banking: The reform of banking regulation,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

China Makes A Move On Nigerian Oil

China seeks big stake in Nigerian oil
By Tom Burgis in Lagos
Published: September 28 2009 23:30 | Last updated: September 28 2009 23:30

In the pipeline: oil production in Nigeria is at about two-thirds of capacity after years of rebellion and lack of investment
Nigeria feels pull from east and west - Sep-28

Energy Source: The unanswered questions - Sep-28

In depth: Africa and China - Oct-25

EU condemns Guinea violence - Sep-29

A Chinese state-owned oil company is in talks with Nigeria to buy large stakes in some of the world’s richest oil blocs in a deal that would eclipse Beijing’s previous efforts to secure crude overseas.

The attempt could pitch the Chinese into competition with western oil groups, including Shell, Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil, which partly or wholly control and operate the 23 blocks under discussion. Sixteen licences are up for renewal.

CNOOC, one of China’s three energy majors, is trying to buy 6bn barrels of oil, equivalent to one in every six barrels of the proven reserves in Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest crude producer and a major supplier to the US.

Details of the talks were revealed in a letter from the office of Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s president, to Sunrise, CNOOC’s representative, a copy of which was obtained by the Financial Times. The overall value of the Chinese offer is not disclosed, although some details suggest a figure of about $30bn. Some oil sector executives said the total on the table was $50bn.

A spokesman for Mr Yar’Adua said: “Negotiations are ongoing not only with Sunrise/CNOOC but also with all other stakeholders in the industry. The federal government has not taken any final position on the issue.”

Large deals run aground
The fate of NigComSat-1 has been emblematic of China’s recent dealings with Nigeria

Last November, 18 months after its launch, the controllers of Nigeria’s $257m Chinese-built satellite switched it off after a faulty power supply meant it risked colliding with other objects in orbit.

It was a public relations disaster for China at a time when it seemed to be stumbling in its efforts to gain a strategic foothold in Africa’s biggest energy producer.

In 2006, towards the end of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, Chinese companies won four oil-drilling licences in exchange for pledges to build a hydroelectric power plant, a railway and a refinery.

Oil-for-infrastructure deals have flourished elsewhere for China, notably in Angola. In Nigeria they faltered, as Umaru Yar’Adua, the new president, ordered investigations into the pacts. The projects stopped before they had started.

There are 20,000 Chinese expatriates living in Nigeria, according to official estimates, and Chinese products have made inroads into the country’s teeming markets. But until now the big state-to-state deals that have typically paved the way for China’s entry into other resource rich African markets have mostly run aground.

The letter, dated August 13, said an initial offer was “unacceptable” but added: “Your interest in all the listed blocs will be considered if your revised offer is favourable.”

Details of how the Nigerian government would allocate equity in the blocks to CNOOC have yet to emerge and it is unclear whether this would involve forcing western groups to relinquish stakes.

“There are serious legal implications. You don’t want to go to court but if it gets to this then you have little choice,” an oil industry insider said.

China’s push to gain a significant foothold in Nigeria underlines the scale of its long-term ambitions to secure access to energy resources across the globe. Much of its investment has been for exploration, in contrast with the Nigerian blocks which are already producing or due to start pumping soon.

Tanimu Yakubu, the Nigerian president’s economic adviser, said China might not secure “anything close” to 6bn barrels from the negotiations, adding: “We want to retain our traditional friends.”

However, Mr Yakubu told the FT the Chinese “are really offering multiples of what existing producers are pledging [for licences] ... we love to see this kind of competition”.

The talks come with oil groups and the government at loggerheads over a planned overhaul of the energy sector, where underinvestment and unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta have drastically curbed production.

Basil Omiyi, Shell’s country chair in Nigeria, said: “The blocs referred to are under active exploration, development and production, mostly by the majority government-owned joint venture operated by Shell.” CNOOC declined to comment.

Total, Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

New Sanctions Against Iran

Insurers targeted in Iran sanctions push
By Daniel Dombey in Washington and Paul J Davies in London
Published: September 28 2009 19:25 | Last updated: September 28 2009 19:25
The US and its allies are stepping up efforts to push through sanctions on companies that provide Iran with insurance following last week’s revelation that Tehran is building an undeclared nuclear facility.

The move could affect the business of groups such as Lloyd’s of London and Munich Re, hit Iran’s supply of refined oil and bypass the UN Security Council, where both Russia and China have signalled their misgivings about sweeping new sanctions.

Gideon Rachman: Iran tests the world’s collective will - Sep-28

Missile test increases tensions with west - Sep-29

Iran test-fires long range missile - Sep-28

In depth: Iran - Nov-19

Editorial: Time to confront Iran’s deceptions - Sep-27

Opinion: Confront Tehran now in pursuit of a nuclear-free world - Sep-27

A western diplomat, referring to curbing cover for Iran, said: “It is something that would have real impact and . . . would be achievable but as one of a package of measures.”

Pieter Van Tol, a partner at Lovells, the law firm, in New York, who advises insurers, said: “The insurance/reinsurance industry in general is quite nervous because the industry is being specifically named for the first time as a target.”

The US hopes the move, being discussed in Congress and between Washington and its partners, will limit Iran’s supplies of refined oil because of the importance of insuring valuable cargoes. Tehran’s reliance on petrol imports is considered the weak point in its economy by western officials who admit there are big obstacles to sanctions focused on refined oil – not least because China has stepped up petrol sales to Iran. By contrast, the big insurers at the centre of attention in Washington are European.

Aipac, the pro-Israeli lobby group, has identified groups such as Lloyd’s and Munich Re as providing services to shipments of refined petroleum to Iran.

The London insurance market said: “Lloyd’s covers less than 10 per cent of the shipping that carries refined oil to Iran. If new sanctions were put in place, we would immediately take action to make sure underwriters were compliant.”

Munich Re said it would review any new financial and trade sanctions.

Mr Van Tol said: “Given the inherent dangers involved in shipping to that part of the world, there are definitely limits to how much shipping companies can ‘go bare’, which is what they would be doing through self-insurance.

“The Chinese insurance/reinsurance industry is not very well advanced or capitalised . . . if the big players in the market drop out, it is not realistic to think that there is enough . . . capacity to fill the void in a significant way.”

Such measures are most likely to result from talks between the US and allies in the European Union, notably Britain and France, and from legislation being considered by Congress.

Although some US officials say the UN might impose sanctions on refined oil imports if talks with Tehran this week yield little, Russia and China are wary of measures of the sort used against Iraq in the 1990s that failed to topple Saddam Hussein but caused widespread human misery.

Instead, some diplomats anticipate new UN sanctions targeting named companies and banks linked to Iran’s missile and nuclear programme, while more sweeping action takes place elsewhere.

Even last year, the US had hoped Europe would move to limit insurance groups’ business with Iran and diplomats say talks have recently intensified.

One spur has been US legislation that Howard Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, says he will bring forward next month.

The legislation, which has the support of 318 of 435 House members and 76 of 100 senators, would not only target companies selling refined oil directly but also “any activity that could contribute to the enhancement of Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum resources, including providing ships or shipping services . . . underwriting or otherwise providing insurance or reinsurance for such activity [and] financing or brokering”.

Such a measure might not be enforced even if enacted – similar US sanctions in the 1990s caused tensions with the EU because of their extraterritorial reach. But lawyers say that just by virtue of being discussed such initiatives can have a chilling effect on companies.

Robert Mugabe's Wife ANd Her Illicit Empire

How Grace's empire has fallen into ruin print friendly version
author/source:Cape Argus (SA)
published:Mon 28-Sep-2009
posted on this site:Tue 29-Sep-2009
Article Type : News
At least Robert Mugabe has ensured that the farms he took as part of his "land reform programme" are productive, if not profitable
Peta Thornycroft

Harare - While many of her countrymen remain hungry, Zimbabwe's First Lady Grace Mugabe has destroyed most of the choice white farms she has seized. Grace, the wife of President Robert Mugabe, has established a state-of-the-art dairy on one of the six or more farms she has acquired. And she is controversially selling milk to the Swiss-based company Nestlé. President Mugabe has also secretly grabbed five choice farms for himself, the Weekend Argus revealed yesterday. At least Robert Mugabe has ensured that the farms he took as part of his "land reform programme" are productive, if not profitable. But most of Grace's estates have fallen into ruin. Probably the previously most profitable of them, Zimbabwe's largest seed producing farm, Sigaro, in the rich Mazowe Valley near Harare, now produces no crops. Its infrastructure, packing sheds, a seed factory and a luxury home, burned down in 2007. The farm, among the top 10 most valuable in the country in 1999, lies fallow and it would take millions of rands to get it productive again. Next door to Sigaro, Gwebi Woods, a large export granadilla farm, owned by Washington Matsaire, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, which Grace took early this year, was also burned down and lies fallow.

Even Foyle Farm, which she took in 2003, and where she has built her hi-tech dairy, is nowhere near as productive as it once was. It was Zimbabwe's top producer, yet today, despite the millions of rands of world class dairy equipment supplied and installed for Grace in June by Dairy Care, a South African company, it still produces only a sixth of the milk it did six years ago. Delaval, in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal which supplied Grace with the dairy equipment imported mainly from Germany, Sweden and Poland, said it was a top-of-the-range installation. Delaval spokesman Rykie Visser said he could not discuss the cost of Grace Mugabe's dairy equipment. "We keep that information confidential about all our customers," he said last Friday. Grace Mugabe's milk is bought by Nestlé Zimbabwe, part of the international group in Geneva, and while Switzerland is not a member of the EU it adopted its own measures against some Zanu PF leaders, including Grace Mugabe. The measures rule that Switzerland, like the EU, will not provide funds to anyone on its sanctions list. Other farms taken by Grace Mugabe, Leverdale and Gwina, in Banket, about 80km north of Harare were part of a farming operation run by the Nicolle family which produced 20 percent of Zimbabwe's wheat in winter. No wheat was planted this winter on these famed, rich red soils which have provided food for tens of thousands of Zimbabweans for decades.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Notorious Zimbabwe Swindler Allowed To Resume Life In South Africa

Rautenbach free to live south of Limpopo print friendly version
author/source:Business Report (SA)
published:Sun 27-Sep-2009
posted on this site:Mon 28-Sep-2009
Article Type : News
Some say that he would like to get out of the clutches of Zanu PF, and, now that he can, move to South Africa
By Peta Thornycroft

The past few days have been good for Zimbabwe's rich and controversial businessman Billy Rautenbach. He is spending his 50th birthday at his hunting camp on the lower Zambezi this weekend after paying a R40 million admission of guilt fine for fraud in South Africa and is now free, after 10 years, to resume his life south of the Limpopo. The fine was petty cash considering that in the same week he made about R730m for his share in a British company listed on London's alternative markets. Whether he will get the money or it will be frozen - as he is on the EU and US sanctions list - is not clear. Allegations against Rautenbach in South Africa 10 years ago were that his company, SA Botswana Hauliers, operating out of Botswana and assembling Hyundai vehicles, had massively fiddled customs duties and the SA Revenue Service. Shortly before he fled to Zimbabwe Rautenbach's company was put into liquidation.

Protected by political allies in Zimbabwe from extradition to face trial in South Africa, the complex case against Rautenbach's company became stale and insiders said eventually it was a headache for the National Prosecuting Authority - easier to settle than process through court. The source of Rautenbach's wealth is well documented with its origins in the extraordinary assets he was given, firstly from the spoils of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and secondly by President Robert Mugabe's henchmen in Zanu PF. He used the gifts well, if ruthlessly, and worked hard, developing good contacts among officials in both the DRC and Zimbabwe. He is not a miner, and the DRC and Zimbabwe are wild countries where a bribe to mining officials to circumvent problems happens all the time, according to industry insiders.

Rautenbach is lean, of medium height, with a mane of grey hair and a stable family life and he has successfully avoided press photographers so the last available images of him go back 10 years to just before he fled to Zimbabwe. After escaping ahead of charges in South Africa, Rautenbach was recommended by Zanu PF to head up the DRC's enormous, bankrupt, disintegrated state mining company, Gecamines, after Mugabe had stepped in with his army to save his ally, Laurent Kabila, in the civil war that had sucked in five neighbouring countries. Gecamines was more than just a massive conglomerate with extraordinary mineral assets, it was a source of survival for generations of the labour force, which depended on the company from birth to death, regardless of production and plunder by Mobuto Sese Seko, the president of the DRC, then known as Zaire. Gecamines was a shadow of what it had been when the Belgians fled 40 years or so earlier.

Rautenbach, by all accounts, slashed overheads, boosted production of cobalt in particular, established some financial sense in the mining empire but offended the unionised workforce. Kabila, in fragile control of the DRC after the country's years in the wilderness, accused Rautenbach of cheating Gecamines of cobalt revenues and expelled him from the country. He took back the gifts of mining assets of the three rich sites he had been given, including the famous Mukondo cobalt mountain in Katanga province, which Rautenbach was mining. Expelled from the DRC Rautenbach fled to Zimbabwe again and took the DRC to court for the return of the assets he had been given. In 2004, and with Kabila dead, half of the assets were returned after powerful Emmerson Mnangagwa, who leads a faction in Zanu- PF, and is determined to succeed Mugabe, intervened.

Rautenbach returned to Katanga, and sold a substantial part of his mining and transport companies to the Central African Mining and Exploration Company (Camec), led by British cricketer Phil Edmonds and British chief executive Andrew Groves. It was not a happy company. South African engineers were hauled off to a kangaroo court Groves set up to allegedly deprive them of share options in the company. Another in the South African team employed by Camec had to flee the country ahead of DRC intelligence agents allegedly put on him by Groves. Camec's name was dirt, as dirty at least as some of the Congolese officials demanding bribes. Camec did, however, mine and set up plants in the DRC and, after Rautenbach was expelled again, after an application for his extradition to South Africa was lodged in Zimbabwe, he ran much of it long distance from Harare.

In Zimbabwe, Rautenbach was busy. With his influence, Camec was handed two platinum sites, and paid $100m into Zanu PF for assets that would take more than Camec's resources or skills base to develop. Rautenbach formed a new company, Cutstar, and he is now in effect in control of the largest chunk of rural land in Zimbabwe, when most of the remaining few hundred white farmers are under constant harassment. Rautenbach says he is going to grow sugar and produce biofuels. That development has hardly begun and the sugar industry says he does not have access to enough water to grow more than a token amount. Right now, he is stocking the land he was given with buffaloes secured from the Hwange National Park. The buffaloes will endanger the remaining large cattle in the area but will make the land more attractive for sale as a tourist asset.

Many white businessmen have had a hard time in Zimbabwe in the last 10 years. Most, especially in the retail trade, say that they lost 95 percent of their asset base when Zanu PF slashed prices two years ago and Zanu PF insiders, and others, walked into the shops and looted them. Others were locked up on the orders of central bank governor Gideon Gono for using scarce foreign currency to import goods to keep their businesses going. Serious mining executives had to go into hiding to avoid arrest. While farmers have been harassed and beaten, Rautenbach's family beef farm, 200km north of Harare, has remained untouched. It seems that he was, and is, a law unto himself in Zimbabwe, and it is believed that most of his external assets are hidden offshore, in the Virgin Islands for example. Some say that he would like to get out of the clutches of Zanu PF and, now that he can, move to South Africa. He has assets here, secured during his company's dubious Hyundai days.

Should he leave Zimbabwe, and and cut his ties with his benefactors in Harare, many in the battered business community would feel a sense of relief. A few months ago he was telling Western diplomats and anyone prepared to listen that he had made progress in putting his case to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the senior partner in a difficult unity government where Mugabe blocks every possible positive development. At the top of the MDC, however, indications are that he has made no progress whatsoever. He is seen as a stooge of Zanu PF, which has destroyed the economy. EU and US sanctions against Rautenbach are not going to be lifted easily. He has few friends in any sector in Zimbabwe, many have been angered by his short temper and the selective justice he appears to enjoy and, on a more mundane level, some of his suppliers wonder why he takes so long to settle bills in what is a cash economy.

"It's always been my goal to return to South Africa to pursue potential business opportunities once my name was cleared," said Rautenbach in a press release released by his public relations executives last week. "It's been a frustrating time of exile for me having to watch the evolution of business in South Africa and being unable to make my contribution." Clearing his name, however, among those bruised by his favoured status, may take a bit longer. "Billy Rautenbach's fortunes stem from gifts from political leaders, nothing else," a former associate from Katanga said on Friday.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

A New Legal Challenge To Mortgage Foreclosures

The Mortgage Machine Backfires
Published: September 26, 2009
WITH the mortgage bust approaching Year Three, it is increasingly up to the nation’s courts to examine the dubious practices that guided the mania. A ruling that the Kansas Supreme Court issued last month has done precisely that, and it has significant implications for both the mortgage industry and troubled borrowers.

Times Topics: Gretchen Morgenson

The opinion spotlights a crucial but obscure cog in the nation’s lending machinery: a privately owned loan tracking service known as the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. This registry, created in 1997 to improve profits and efficiency among lenders, eliminates the need to record changes in property ownership in local land records.

Dotting i’s and crossing t’s can be a costly bore, of course. And eliminating the need to record mortgage assignments helped keep the lending machine humming during the boom.

Now, however, this clever setup is coming under fire. Legal experts say the fact that the most recent assault comes out of Kansas, a state not known for radical jurists, makes the ruling even more meaningful.

Here’s some background: For centuries, when a property changed hands, the transaction was submitted to county clerks who recorded it and filed it away. These records ensured that the history of a property’s ownership was complete and that the priority of multiple liens placed on the property — a mortgage and a home equity loan, for example — was accurate.

During the mortgage lending spree, however, home loans changed hands constantly. Those that ended up packaged inside of mortgage pools, for instance, were often involved in a dizzying series of transactions.

To avoid the costs and complexity of tracking all these exchanges, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry set up MERS to record loan assignments electronically. This company didn’t own the mortgages it registered, but it was listed in public records either as a nominee for the actual owner of the note or as the original mortgage holder.

Cost savings to members who joined the registry were meaningful. In 2007, the organization calculated that it had saved the industry $1 billion during the previous decade. Some 60 million loans are registered in the name of MERS.

As long as real estate prices rose, this system ran smoothly. When that trajectory stopped, however, foreclosures brought against delinquent borrowers began flooding the nation’s courts. MERS filed many of them.

“MERS is basically an electronic phone book for mortgages,” said Kevin Byers, an expert on mortgage securities and a principal at Parkside Associates, a consulting firm in Atlanta. “To call this electronic registry a creditor in foreclosure and bankruptcy actions is legal pretzel logic, nothing more than an artifice constructed to save time, money and paperwork.”

The system also led to confusion. When MERS was involved, borrowers who hoped to work out their loans couldn’t identify who they should turn to.

As cases filed by MERS grew, lawyers representing troubled borrowers began questioning how an electronic registry with no ownership claims had the right to evict people. April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, was among the first to argue that MERS, which didn’t own the note or the mortgage, could not move against a borrower.

Initially, judges rejected those arguments and allowed MERS foreclosures to proceed. Recently, however, MERS has begun losing some cases, and the Kansas ruling is a pivotal loss, experts say.

While the matter before the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t involve an action that MERS took against a borrower, the registry’s legal standing is still central to the ruling.

The case involved a borrower named Boyd A. Kesler, who had taken out two mortgages from two different lenders on a property in Ford County, Kan. The first mortgage, for $50,000, was underwritten in 2004 by Landmark National Bank; the second, for $93,100, was issued by the Millennia Mortgage Corporation in 2005, but registered in MERS’s name. It seems to have been transferred to Sovereign Bank, but Ford County records show no such assignment.

In April 2006, Mr. Kesler filed for bankruptcy. That July, Landmark National Bank foreclosed. It did not notify either MERS or Sovereign of the proceedings, and in October, the court overseeing the matter ordered the property sold. It fetched $87,000 and Landmark received what it was owed. Mr. Kesler kept the rest; Sovereign received nothing.

Days later, Sovereign asked the court to rescind the sale, arguing that it had an interest in the property and should have received some of the proceeds. It told the court that it hadn’t been alerted to the deal because its nominee, MERS, wasn’t named in the proceedings.

The court was unsympathetic. In January 2007, it found that Sovereign’s failure to register its interest with the county clerk barred it from asserting rights to the mortgage after the judgment had been entered. The court also said that even though MERS was named as mortgagee on the second loan, it didn’t have an interest in the underlying property.

By letting the sale stand and by rejecting Sovereign’s argument, the lower court, in essence, rejected MERS’s business model.

Although the Kansas court’s ruling applies only to cases in its jurisdiction, foreclosure experts said it could encourage judges elsewhere to question MERS’s standing in their cases.

“It’s as if there is this massive edifice of pretense with respect to how mortgage loans have been recorded all across the country and that edifice is creaking and groaning,” said Christopher L. Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah. “If courts are willing to say MERS doesn’t have any ownership interest in mortgage loans, that may eventually call into question the priority of liens recorded in MERS’s name, and there are millions and millions of them.”

In other words, banks holding second mortgages could find themselves in the same pair of unlucky shoes that Sovereign found itself wearing in Kansas.

Asked about the ruling, Karmela Lejarde, a spokeswoman for MERS, contested the court’s reasoning.

“We believe the Kansas Supreme Court used an erroneous standard of review; this is not the end of the judicial process,” she said. “The mortgages on which MERS is the mortgagee will remain binding contracts.”

BUT Patrick A. Randolph, a law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who described himself as a friend of MERS, described the recent decision as unsettling. “This opinion is hostile to the notion of MERS as nominee and could lead to problems for it in foreclosing,” he said. “The entire structure of MERS as a recorded nominee could collapse in Kansas, and that could lead to a patch-up job where they would have to run around and re-record the mortgages.”

If so, MERS would be hoisted on its own petard. And it would be a rare case of poetic justice in this long-running mortgage mess.

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Texas Finally Orders A Hearing For A Man Wrongfully Executed

Cameron Todd Willingham: Texas Panel Reviews Ruling That Led To Execution
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AP / Huffington Post | By MICHAEL GRACZYK
First Posted: 09-26-09 03:46 PM | Updated: 09-26-09 04:38 PM

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CORSICANA, Texas -- More than five years after Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the state of Texas for the deaths of his three young daughters in a fire at the family's home, a state panel will review a report concluding that the original determination of arson was faulty.

Willingham was executed in February 2004 -- proclaiming his innocence in the deaths of his three young daughters in a fire at their Corsicana home on Dec. 23, 1991.

An arson finding by investigators was key to his conviction in the circumstantial case.

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that investigates possible wrongful convictions, questioned Willingham's guilt. Now the Texas Forensic Science Commission will review a report Friday from an expert it hired who concluded the original arson determination was faulty.

The prosecutor in the case still believes Willingham is guilty, but acknowledges it would have been hard to win a death sentence without the arson finding.

Yet Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, sees it differently: "There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed."

Sheck, a Huffington Post blogger, weighed in on Williinham's execution in late August. The New Yorker's David Grann recently wrote a detailed piece that cast doubt on Willingham's conviction and subsequent execution.

In 2007, Scheck's group gave its review of the case to the state commission, which then hired Baltimore-based arson expert Craig Beyler to study. Beyler concluded the arson finding was scientifically unsupported and investigators at the scene had "poor understandings of fire science."
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John Jackson, the prosecutor in Navarro County, about 50 miles south of Dallas, says the original fire investigation was "undeniably flawed," based on subsequent reviews, but remains confident Willingham was guilty of killing Amber, 2, and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.

"What people missed is that even though the arson report may be flawed, it certainly doesn't mean it arrived at a faulty conclusion," Jackson said.

"I'm an easy target," he added, shaking his head over media reports on the case "about how we're all a bunch of bozos."

The nine-member commission, created by the Texas Legislature in 2005, also will hear from others including the State Fire Marshal's Office. The panel will release its own report, probably next year and what happens then is uncertain. This is the commission's first review case; the panel is not empowered to rule on Willingham's guilt or innocence.

The commission's mandate is strictly to determine forensic negligence, panel coordinator Leigh Tomlin said.

Willingham, in an Associated Press interview about two weeks before his execution, said Amber's cries woke him around 10:30 a.m. His wife, Stacy, had left earlier to run errands.

He said he told Amber to get out of the house and approached the twins' room but couldn't get past the flames and smoke. The house had no phone, so he said he ran to a neighbor's home and "screamed to call the fire department."

He did not go back inside.

"The only way for me to get back into the house was to jump back into the flames," he said. "I would not do that."

Amber's body was found in Willingham's room. The twins were in their room.

Willingham listed other possible causes of the fire, including an electrical malfunction, an intruder who wanted them dead, or an oil lantern on a collapsing shelf.

A state fire marshal -- who has since died -- and a local fire investigator ruled it was arson, that a liquid accelerant was ignited and the blaze was set in a way to keep anyone from reaching the children. Prosecutors arrested Willingham two weeks later.

"It's all a farce," Willingham told the AP from death row.

Years later, Innocence Project investigators and now Beyler, based on notes and photos from the scene, agree with him.

Douglas Fogg stands by his conclusions as the former assistant fire chief who helped investigate the deadly blaze.

"The bleeding hearts that are against the death penalty are trying to stir everything up again," he told The Dallas Morning News last month. "They finally got someone who would say what they wanted to hear."

Other prosecution evidence was largely circumstantial: A county jail inmate said Willingham discussed his involvement in the fire and neighbors reported Willingham worried more about his car than the children as the house burned.

Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor, said the multiple deaths -- not the arson -- made it a capital murder case. But he acknowledged that without an arson determination the capital conviction would have been difficult.

"I'm not sure the evidence would have sustained a conviction from a legal standpoint if we hadn't been able to prove a fire of incendiary arson," he said.

At trial, Willingham's wife, Stacy, testified for him during the punishment phase, denying he ever hurt her. Acquaintances, however, said she told them he'd beaten her several times, even while she was pregnant.

On appeal, courts rejected Willingham's arguments that it was improper to allow hearsay bolstering prosecutors' contentions that the children impeded Willingham's lifestyle. He denied that.

"They were great kids," he said from prison. "They were fantastic kids."

Willingham acknowledged a rocky relationship with his wife, whom he married about two months before the fire and after they'd been living together for almost three years.

"I cheated on her," he told the AP. "I was so full of myself and so dumb."

His venom from the death chamber was aimed at her as she watched his execution.

In the years following his conviction, she became convinced of his guilt, refused his request to testify for him at a clemency hearing, but did agree to his long-standing invitation to see him in prison about 2 1/2 weeks before he was scheduled to die.

"It was hard for me to sit in front of him," she said, describing their meeting to the Corsicana Daily Sun a few days later in 2004 in her most recent public comments. "He basically took my life away from me. He took my kids away from me."

Jackson said jurors who heard the prosecution's case got a more complete picture of Willingham and that the arson questions now raised are "wild speculation."

"I'm pretty ambivalent when it comes to the death penalty," Jackson said. "I guess if it raises the question of the propriety of capital punishment, I think that's a good argument for people to have.

"I'm not losing a whole lot of sleep."

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Laurel Kornfeld

The Top 50 Women In Business Worldwide

FT top 50 women in world business
Introduction by Alison Maitland. Profiles by Sarah Halls
Published: September 25 2009 18:37 | Last updated: September 25 2009 18:37
This inaugural ranking comes as the global crisis has turned a spotlight on male domination of the corporate world: would we be better off if more women were in charge? Some prominent people think so. Helen Alexander, first female president of the CBI, the UK employers’ body, says diversity is needed to prevent “groupthink” by white male boards. And 17 leading businessmen, including the chairmen of Anglo American, BP and Tesco, recently called for faster progress in appointing women to senior positions, saying the economy needed the best talent more than ever. They equated the urgency of the issue to that of climate change and poverty.

Meet the panellists - Sep-25

Countries where women executives fare best - Sep-25

Do top women get the most precarious jobs? - Sep-25

Expert advice for those making the climb - Sep-25

Interactive graphic: top 50 women in world business - Sep-25

FT top 50 women to watch - Sep-25

Our report celebrates women business leaders around the world. The fact is that their numbers remain tiny. Just 3 per cent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women. Across Europe, only 10 per cent of board directors of the largest companies are female (quotas have made Norway the exception, with more than 40 per cent) and the numbers are even lower in Asia. This is all the more surprising given the substantial evidence that better gender balance has a positive impact on performance. Studies by Catalyst and McKinsey in the US and Europe have found a correlation between the number of women in a company’s leadership and the company’s profitability. Financial outperformance is most significant when there is a “critical mass” of women – 30 per cent or more. And Nick Wilson of Leeds University Business School has found that having women on the board can reduce a company’s risk of bankruptcy by 20 per cent.

Top 50 women in world business

Interactive feature: Explore the different themes and categories that connect the top 50 women in the business world. Also view a list of top women to watch.

Should we expect the handful of female chief executives to lead the charge on gender? Some do preside over deep cultural change. Take Xerox, where one-third of the management team are women and where Anne Mulcahy recently handed over to Ursula Burns, the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. But a small group of women chief executives – or women on boards – cannot be asked to carry all the weight. Change requires willing leadership from the male majority. The financial crisis has, at least, made the business and moral case for change more apparent than ever.

What about better governance? The collapse of some of the world’s biggest banks has been blamed partly on directors’ failure to ask tough questions. A study by The Conference Board of Canada found that boards with women directors paid greater attention than all-male boards to audit and risk controls. And a US study showed that boards with more women directors recorded better attendance and were more assiduous at monitoring areas such as CEO performance.

Alison Maitland is an FT contributor and co-author of ‘Why Women Mean Business’, published this month in paperback


First among equals


Name: Indra Nooyi
Nationality: Indian
Age: 53
Company: PepsiCo
Sector: Beverages
Location: US
3-year TSR*: -1.5%

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo, puts much of her success down to place: “Where I am has a lot to do with the United States. I think the United States represents the greatest meritocracy in the world.” It’s the US, of course, where PepsiCo started, with the flagship cola brand, before growing into a global leader in the food and drink sector. Its portfolio includes such snack standards as Lay’s (Walkers in the UK) and Doritos, as well as the kitchen staples made by Tropicana and Quaker Oats.

Nooyi is credited with putting the fizz into profits at the company, which has seen annual revenue increase during her tenure. But she’s quick to dispel any notion that she did it on her own. “So many people here mentored me … the US is a country that likes to see others succeed. That’s been my experience in the last 30 years.”

Nooyi was born in southern India and held managerial positions at Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical group, and Mettur Beardsell, a textile company, before heading to the US to earn a master’s degree in private and public management from Yale. The move led to a profound shift in her thinking. “You come from India off the boat, you go to business school and you realise that you come from a fairly sheltered life,” she says. “I learnt everything over again.”

On graduating in 1980, she took key marketing and strategy roles at Asea Brown Boveri, Boston Consulting Group and Motorola before joining PepsiCo in 1994. She rose quickly, becoming the chief financial officer in 2001 and chief executive in 2006. En route to the boardroom, Nooyi spearheaded the acquisition of Tropicana and the merger with Quaker Oats.

According to Hindu tradition, Indra means “god of war”, and Nooyi has had to battle adversity to lead PepsiCo through the downturn. She says people look for three things at times like this: realism hand-in-hand with optimism, visibility (“CEOs in terms of downturns should never hide”) and a sense that the organisation will take whatever actions are necessary in good time – “as opposed to after you hit a wall”.

Along the way, Nooyi has laid off 3,300 employees and offered $6bn to buy PepsiCo’s two biggest bottlers. She is also championing a move to healthier products and is overseeing a push into philanthropy: PepsiCo is working with the British government to develop a programme to bring “highly nutritious snacks to the undernourished”, a project already in early development in Nigeria, Mexico and India.

As for life after PepsiCo, she is quick to dismiss reports that she might go into politics. “In the future I would like to give back to the [US, but] I have been very clear in saying I am not in the politics arena at all.” She credits her family as being integral to her success – and she remains integral to their lives. “At the weekends, I’m cooking at home in the kitchen,” she says. “I’m doing everything that normal people do.”

*3-year TSR = total shareholder return from June 30 2006 to June 30 2009. 1-year TSR measured from June 30 2008


Name: Andrea Jung
Nationality: Canadian
Age: 51
Company: Avon Products
Sector: Personal goods
Location: US
3-year TSR: -10.5%

“Ding-Dong! Avon calling” rang the advertising slogan of the cosmetics and perfume giant in the 1960s. Fast-forward to 2009 and the brand is running commercials around the Super Bowl and sending forth actress Reese Witherspoon as its “global ambassador”.

This is part of chairman and chief executive Andrea Jung’s idea of “self-reinvention”, which she believes is crucial to her future plans for Avon. “I think that whatever made me successful in the last few years may not be enough to make me successful in the next few years,” she says.

The downturn has been kind to Avon, where revenues have topped $10bn and sales force recruitment has picked up significantly as people look to supplement their income. But Jung, a Canadian who succeeded Charles R. Perrin in 1999, has not always enjoyed such buoyant times. Four years ago, she steered Avon out of one of its most difficult periods on her watch.

She recalls: “2005 was a challenging year for the total company. We really put forth a very aggressive and bold sustainable growth plan that involved some significant cost-cutting and transformational initiatives to be reinvested back into the brand.” Since then, Jung has “incrementally” invested an additional $700m into brand and recruitment advertising and modernising the direct-selling business model. She had taken a similar approach in the late 1990s when Avon’s business in Russia was severely affected by the devaluation of the ruble.

Her ability to persevere is a testament, she says, to her upbringing. “Early in my career, I was in a job that wasn’t very interesting and I said to my parents: ‘I don’t love this, I think I might quit.’ And they said: ‘Are you kidding, you can’t quit! You’ve got to start at the bottom and move your way up.’”

Jung says her biggest source of inspiration comes from Avon’s six million sales representatives worldwide. “These are businesswomen who really started in many cases with nothing, and some of them have become really admirable entrepreneurs.” Although Avon is billed as the “Company for Women”, its diverse portfolio encompasses male grooming ranges, and a small portion of the sales associates are men.

As for women in leadership, Jung, a graduate of Princeton, says the glass ceiling is beginning to “shatter”. But she’s wary of government intervention in this area. Looking to the next generation of executives, she encourages them to be passionate and bold. “I think this is not a time to hunker down and be defensive, I think it’s a time to be offensive if you want to win market share and strengthen your company.”

Jung sits on the boards of Apple and GE. On a philanthropic and personal note, Avon supports Breast Cancer Care, which has raised $160m since its inception. Jung’s mother was diagnosed with cancer at a hospital that had received donations from the charity; she is now cancer-free. “That is when you realise, wow, this is not a job,” Jung says. “My decade of life’s work has repaid me 1,000 times over.”


Name: Anne Lauvergeon
Nationality: French
Age: 50
Company: Areva
Sector: Electricity
Location: France
3-year TSR: -13%

A female executive in an industry dominated by hazard signs, Geiger counters and safety-goggled men has always been an unusual sight. But this has never bothered Anne Lauvergeon, nicknamed “Atomic Anne”. She says she “created” Areva, overseeing the 2001 merger of Cogema and Framatome into a nuclear engineering group in which the French government owns a stake of more than 90 per cent.

A physics graduate, Lauvergeon started her career in 1983 at the French steelmaker Usinor before joining the French atomic energy body, the CEA. In 1988, she became deputy director of the General Mining Council, a move that led to her working on international economic issues for President François Mitterrand. A short stint in the financial services industry followed when she became a partner of Lazard Frères in Paris in 1995, before moving on to Alcatel in 1997 to oversee its energy and nuclear interests. Within a couple of years, she had changed portfolios again, after being chosen by the French government to run the nuclear fuel group Cogema.

As chief executive of Areva, which reported a turnover of €13.2bn last year, she is responsible for 75,000 staff, spanning five continents. “You cannot drive 75,000 people without a sense of leadership,” she says, adding that her management style is direct and transparent. “For instance, we take all the decisions in an executive committee after presentations, so it means that there is no hidden agenda.”

From next year, gender quotas will be introduced. Currently 35 per cent of engineers in Areva are female but this level of representation does not extend to executive ranks. “We have defined an internal rule so it means in 2010 we are going to have a minimum of 20 per cent of every committee in the company with women.”

Her agenda for inclusiveness does not stop at gender, however. Lauvergeon wants Areva to become a diverse company on all levels because, by definition, her “customers are diverse”.

Lauvergeon says she sees nuclear energy as the “future” and intends to convert the sceptics. “For a long time the nuclear industry has not listened to the critics, to the fears of the opponents,” she says. “I think you have no sustainable development without deep dialogue with the stakeholders.”

In 2009, the group researched new commercial opportunities in Britain, South Africa and the US as well as ventures in other countries. Recently, it announced the sale of a 15 per cent stake to strategic partners to help fund investment.

Next year, Lauvergeon aims to continue Areva’s 10 per cent annual growth in turnover (after a drop in 2008 net income due to the construction of a nuclear reactor in Finland) as well as to maintain recruitment levels and manage the development of Areva’s portfolio.

Despite sometimes wishing for a clone of herself to help cope with the workload, Lauvergeon still finds time to get her six-year-old child ready for school: “I started my morning with my son at 8am,” she says.


Name: Irene Rosenfeld
Nationality: American
Age: 56
Company: Kraft Foods
Sector: Food producers
Location: US
3-year TSR: -8.7%

When asked to explain her success, Irene Rosenfeld cites her childhood experience as a school basketball captain, when she regularly led her team to victory. The chief executive of Kraft since 2006, she became chairman after Altria Group spun off the food maker in March 2007.

In an industry that is prone to fluctuations, Rosenfeld’s marketing acumen has kept her ahead of rivals. Ninety-nine per cent of US homes stock Kraft products, which include such global brands as Oreo, Philadelphia, Dairylea and Toblerone. “Our brands are typically staples of the pantry and favourites of the family,” she says. According to Kraft, during the downturn, consumers are becoming more financially discerning and opting to eat at home, a trend that has helped bolster the company’s revenues, which reached $42bn in 2008.

A veteran of the food industry, Rosenfeld has led the expansion of Kraft into emerging markets such as Argentina, Brazil and China. And this month, she made a daring $10.2bn bid for Cadbury. Although the British confectioner snubbed Kraft, Rosenfeld has not ruled out a hostile takeover.

When she joined the company in 2006, Rosenfeld says she handed more power to local managers, helping the group’s turnaround. “Prior to that, a lot of the decisions were being made out of HQ, so we missed opportunities to understand local tastes.” Her biggest achievement to date, she says, was mobilising her 98,000 “very talented” employees by giving them a “road map” to follow.

Next year she plans to invest in the brand portfolio, keep costs down, recruit and train staff and look for opportunities to expand the company’s “footprint in developing markets”. “Three years ago we set out to create new Kraft foods … despite a very challenging macro environment, I think we are well positioned as we look to the future.”


Name: Güler Sabanci
Nationality: Turkish
Age: 54
Company: Sabanci Group
Sector: General industrials
Location: Turkey
3-year TSR: 11.6%

Güler Sabanci is Turkey’s queen of finance. Her family-owned company, the Sabanci Group, is a conglomerate with interests ranging from banking to food to tyre manufacture.

The company was founded by her grandfather, Haci Omer, in the early 1940s, then passed on to Sakip, her uncle. Güler became chief executive in 2004. In the course of its history, the business has transformed itself from a small cotton company to a billion-dollar conglomerate, with operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and in north and south America. Consolidated revenue in 2008 was $15.3bn.

When faced with challenging situations, Sabanci often relies on “search conferences”, a methodology used in business schools to generate ideas, find flaws in strategies and ways to fix them. “I don’t have all the answers, but together we can have all the answers,” she says.

She used this approach when founding the Sabanci University in 1994, calling a search conference of academics and businessmen from around the world. For four days, the 52 delegates discussed the challenges of creating a modern university for the next generation.

Sabanci has this advice for aspiring executives: “It is important what you are doing but it is much more important with whom you are doing it.” And she challenges the perception of Turkey as a country that holds back women. “The issue of gender in business, it’s not only in my country, it’s all around the world. If we don’t focus on gender but focus on the results, on the targets, on the projects, on the achievements, we will see it is less of an issue.”


Name: Gail Kelly
Nationality: South African
Age: 53
Company: Westpac
Sector: Banks
Location: Australia
3-year TSR: 12.2%

A few years ago, Gail Kelly described to a Melbourne newspaper the moment she realised the career for which she’d studied – teaching – was not for her. She had snapped at a young boy over a small matter and afterward “stood there and watched him go and felt so ashamed of myself. I was allowing my unhappiness to affect who I was. I remember sitting at the bus stop that afternoon in Johannesburg thinking, ‘This has got to change, I’m 22 years old, I’m one-year married, how can I be so unhappy?’ But it was quite a seminal moment for me. And I mention it quite a lot to my own people when I try to make a point about how you need to do work that you love.”

Kelly left the job and started work as a teller at Nedcor Bank. Her talent for figures was quickly spotted and she was selected to embark upon an accelerated training programme.

In 1997, the family moved to Australia, where Kelly progressed through several senior management roles at Commonwealth Bank before being headhunted by St George Bank, where she became managing director. In 2008, she was appointed chief executive of Westpac. Later that year, she announced that Westpac would buy St George, in a deal that created Australia’s largest mortgage lender and its biggest bank by market value.


Name: Annika Falkengren
Nationality: Swedish
Age: 47
Company: SEB
Sector: Banks
Location: Sweden
3-year TSR: - 61.9%

Annika Falkengren has been with SEB for most of her working life: she began her career there as a trainee in 1987, worked in the trading and capital markets divisions until 2000, and headed several global departments before becoming chief executive in late 2005.

In 2006, reflecting on working women, she told the FT: “In Sweden, to be a truly successful woman you should have a good job, look after your children – of which you should have three – make good food, go to the spa, see your female friends and take care of your husband.

“When I look at my career, there were sacrifices. Between 30 and 40 I did not have any children [she had a daughter in 2005] … People don’t really talk about it in Sweden, but you cannot do it all and you cannot get it all.”

She is now focused on steering the bank through the recession. It had to write down the value of its eastern European assets this summer, but is cushioned by a robust tier one capital ratio.


Name: Yoshiko Shinohara
Nationality: Japanese
Age: 74
Company: Temp Holdngs
Sector: Support services
Location: Japan
3-year TSR: N/A

When Yoshiko Shinohara launched Tempstaff in her native Japan in 1973, she wasn’t worried about the possible humiliation of failure: “Most of my female friends were housewives, and they wouldn’t have cared a bit even if I failed in business,” she told BusinessWeek in 2004. The idea of a temporary staffing agency was a novelty in Japan at the time; Shinohara had first learnt of the concept while working in Australia and decided to try her hand at it upon returning home and realising that “without any special qualification, I … would end up by serving tea or just being a clerical assistant. My prospects looked extremely gloomy.”

At times, Shinohara has had to deal with ingrained attitudes to women – one businessman compared Tempstaff to the work of an okiya, an agent who dispatches geishas – but she’s taken it in her stride. In October last year, Tempstaff merged with another Japanese group, People Staff, to create Temp Holdings.


Name: Dong Mingzhu
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 56
Company: Gree Electric Appliances
Sector: Household goods & construction
Location: China
3-year TSR: 529.5%

“I never miss. I never admit mistakes and I am always correct.” These are the no-nonsense words of Dong Mingzhu, the boss of China’s largest air-conditioning manufacturer, in an interview in Chief Executive Magazine in 2007.

Nicknamed “Sister Dong” by her employees at Gree, she cuts a formidable presence, swiftly dismissing those who do not pull their weight. But her methods have met with success: Dong has transformed the state-owned enterprise into a global player; in 2008, turnover reached £3.5bn. She said last month that “this financial crisis is a moment for Gree to reorientate itself. The crisis is helping the world to better understand China and the Chinese people at a time when Chinese products have been viewed as low-price and low-quality.

“It is a golden chance for overseas customers to recognise that they can pay less for the best quality machines.”


Name: Ho Ching
Nationality: Singaporean
Age: 56
Company: Temasek Holdings
Sector: Financial services
Location: Singapore
3-year TSR: -2%

Ho Ching has been running Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s state investment company and one of the world’s oldest sovereign wealth funds, since 2002.

Her tenure has not been without controversy – starting at home. As the wife of Singapore’s prime minister, Ho has weathered speculation that the job offer had more to do with family ties than her own qualifications. Still, the company chairman said at the time that she was the best woman for the job, and cited her appetite for risk.

Under Ho, who holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, Temasek has bought stakes in China Construction Bank Corporation and Bank of China. Its ventures into western banks such as Merrill Lynch – in which it became the largest shareholder – and Barclays have yielded losses due to the recession. But this has not deterred Ho, who has said Temasek is open to new opportunities with western financial groups – if, she told the FT, “the opportunity comes and it looks attractive”.

Her plans to retire this year had to be put on hold when US businessman Chip Goodyear withdrew his candidacy as her successor.


Name: Patricia Ann Woertz
Nationality: American
Age: 56
Company: Archer Daniels Midland
Sector: Food producers
Location: US
3-year TSR: -32.2%

On Patricia Woertz’s first day as chief executive at ADM, a vice-president there asked her what she brought to the company. Not exactly a welcoming question, but then again, the century-old agribusiness was not accustomed to outsiders taking executive roles. A certified accountant by training, the unapologetically ambitious Woertz was hired after retiring from an executive vice-president position at Chevron. Still, she wasn’t offended. “I thought that was an honest question,” she told Fortune magazine later that year.

During her tenure, which began in 2006, sales at the group have swelled. Her successes there have borne out her decision to step down from Chevron, partly in pursuit of a CEO post. “I decided to join a board or two so it kind of came up that way,” she told the FT. “I was immediately intrigued.”

Woertz told Fortune that it was thanks to her husband, a logistics consultant, that she was able to put so much energy into her career. The couple have three children.


Name: Ofra Strauss
Nationality: Israeli
Age: 49
Company: Strauss Group
Sector: Food producers
Location: Israel
3-year TSR: 24%

What started as a tiny Israeli dairy farm in the mid-1930s had turned, by the time Ofra Strauss was growing up, into a household name, known nationally for its cheeses and ice cream. In the subsequent decades, Strauss watched her father develop the Strauss Group into a global entity, including tie-ups with Danone and Unilever.

By the time Ofra took over, in 1996, the company was Israel’s second biggest food and beverage group, thanks in part to the purchase of Elite, a coffee and chocolate giant. Looking to strengthen further the group’s portfolio, Strauss has acquired several brands and expanded abroad, while managing to integrate Elite. Sales in 2008 topped NIS6.2bn (£1bn). And its product lines are expanding, with moves into packaged salads and salty snacks.


Name: Antonia Ax:son Johnson
Nationality: Swedish
Age: 66
Company: Axel Johnson
Sector: General industrials
Location: Sweden
3-year TSR: N/A

“I have often thought about the women in this story of three generations of men,” says Antonia Johnson of the family business, Swedish industrials group Axel Johnson. “All three women were foreigners – my great grandmother was German, my grandmother was English-American born in Shanghai and my mother was Brazilian. They brought an international dimension, with discussions that took the business out into other countries.”

Today, with Johnson at the helm, the company is a global operation in its core industries of coal, steel, shipping, retailing, information technology and real estate. Johnson succeeded her father as chairman in 1982. In addition to running the business, she is actively involved in philanthropy and politics, and sits on various corporate boards.


Name: Brenda Barnes
Nationality: American
Age: N/A
Company: Sara Lee
Sector: Food producers
Location: US
3-year TSR: -21.1%

In 1997, Brenda Barnes turned her back on her job as president of PepsiCo North America to bring up her three children. It was as much a surprise to the corporate world as her return, seven years later, when she was hired by Sara Lee, the food and household-goods manufacturer, as its chief operating officer; she became chairman and chief executive a year after that.

Barnes’s stint at home inspired her idea of “returnships”, paid internships at Sara Lee for those looking to return to employment after prolonged periods out of work.

Interviewed about women entering the workplace, she said: “Women run this society. They’re running the schools. They’re running the communities. They’re running charities. They’re doing PTAs. They’re doing all kinds of things that keep society going. That should not be undervalued by them or anybody they’re going to interview with.

“From a professional side,” she said of her own time out, “I felt like I went to graduate school.”


Name: Angela Ahrendts
Nationality: American
Age: 49
Company: Burberry
Sector: Personal goods
Location: UK
3-year TSR: -6.1%

Angela Ahrendts has mastered the art of turning round a troubled brand. Before taking over at Burberry from Rose Marie Bravo in 2006, Ahrendts worked at Donna Karan and Liz Claiborne, reviving the fortunes of the fashion houses through diversification.

While at Liz Claiborne, Ahrendts had been told that she could not expect to be a candidate to replace Paul Charron, the then chief executive. She left. As one insider noted at the time, “Liz Claiborne’s loss is Burberry’s gain.”

Though demand has slowed in some markets, the 153-year-old Burberry brand this autumn entered the FTSE 100 (following Thomson Reuters’ delisting in London). In 2007, the company courted controversy when it shut its Yorkshire and Wales factories in favour of cheaper production in China, despite protests from the Prince of Wales. Still, this summer Ahrendts told the FT that cost-cutting in the recession would have to be borne by the back end of the business: “We’ve told investors [that we’ll] not aggressively cut anything that’s consumer-facing.”


Name: Nancy McKinstry
Nationality: American
Age: 50
Company: Wolters Kluwer
Sector: Media
Location: Netherlands
3-year TSR: -17.1%

Last year, when CNN asked Nancy McKinstry why there weren’t more women running companies, the US-born chief executive of Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer made a distinction between Europe and the US. “I think for a female, particularly in some of the European countries, it’s even more difficult to reach the top because of some of the socioeconomic and the cultural factors,” she said. “In some countries, there isn’t really an economic reason for many women to stay in the workforce, particularly after they have children.” But in the US, “there is a lot more economic motivation for women to work and for them to excel within a corporate setting.”

McKinstry took the job at Wolters Kluwer in 2003 when sales were at an all-time low and embarked on a cost-cutting exercise. “I’m very analytical,” she told CNN. “I really believe strongly in getting out there and talking to as many of our employees and customers as I can, and then using that as a form of stimulation to say: ‘What are we doing right?’; ‘What do we need to improve on?’”


Name: Cynthia Carroll
Nationality: American
Age: N/A
Company: Anglo American
Sector: Mining
Location: UK/SA
3-year TSR: -26.5%

In 2007, New Jersey-born Cynthia Carroll became the first non-South African to take the reins at Anglo American – and become one of three women then heading FTSE 100 companies. During her tenure at the UK mining giant, Carroll has faced some difficult choices including the suspension of the dividend. “We thought long and hard about that before making that decision,” she told a South African trade journal. “On the other hand, we wanted to preserve … major projects and develop them for delivery in the next couple of years when the upturn comes.”


Name: Christina Gold
Nationality: Canadian
Age: 62
Company: Western Union
Sector: Financial services
Location: US
1-year TSR: -33.5%

Since 2002, Christina Gold has been CEO of Western Union, the money-transfer group. The former president of Avon North America runs a company used by an estimated 175 million immigrants to send money home. With telecommunications acumen gleaned from her former stint as president and chief executive of Excel Communications, Gold spearheaded Western Union’s mobile money transfer, updating traditional practices.

Under her leadership, Western Union has also teamed up with USAid to help fund the African Diaspora Marketplace, a competition that promotes, through grants, partnerships between Africans living in the US and those running fledgling businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.


Name: Cheung Yan
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 52
Company: Nine Dragons Paper
Sector: Forestry/paper
Location: China
3-year TSR: -15.5%

Three years ago, Cheung Yan made the news around the globe when she emerged as China’s richest person – and the world’s wealthiest self-made woman. And yet she said soon after: “To me, personal wealth doesn’t mean anything more than if it’s sufficient for my daily use – that will be good enough.” The eldest of eight children raised in modest circumstances in north-eastern China, Cheung’s big break came with a move to Hong Kong in 1985. Over the subsequent two decades, she built her waste-paper trading business from a $4,000 investment into a multi-billion-dollar concern. When it listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2006, her wealth was estimated at £2bn.

In 2007, after a move to Los Angeles, Cheung told CNN’s Talk Asia that her gender hadn’t held her back – or promoted her unduly: “In any business transaction, it’s not sex that makes the difference. It’s actually that you should use your intelligence to win. Whoever has the intelligence will win the game. For the past 20 years, I have been very pleased that I was able to build this success and it was not just because I was a woman.”


Name: Carol Meyrowitz
Nationality: American
Age: 55
Company: TJX
Sector: General retailers
Location: US
3-year TSR: 43.3%

Carol Meyrowitz has been a rising star in TJX since she joined the discount retailer in 1987. Twenty years and several senior management roles later – as well as a stint consulting for the group – she became chief executive in 2007.

TJX has operations in the US, Canada and Europe. Its businesses in Europe, where it is known as TK Maxx, are popular with consumers looking for value-for-money fashion. “There’s no doubt TJX has been one of the best performers throughout this downturn,’’ retail analyst Ken Perkins said this month after Meyrowitz said September sales were looking strong.


Name: Stine Bosse
Nationality: Danish
Age: 48
Company: TrygVesta
Sector: Non-life insurance
Location: Denmark
3-year TSR: 7.7%

Four years ago, Stine Bosse, the chief executive of Norway’s biggest insurer, agreed to answer questions from FT readers about women in business. When one asked whether British women were too polite, she responded: “I think it’s good to be polite. But if you want influence at the top, it’s part of the game to be polite and direct at the same time.”

Bosse, who trained as a lawyer, also told FT readers she had to overcome shyness in order to succeed at TrygVesta, which she joined in 1988. In 2005, four years after she became chief executive, the group went public; last year, revenues climbed 4 per cent, to $3.3bn.


Name: Vinita Bali
Nationality: Indian
Age: 51
Company: Britannia Industries
Sector: Food producers
Location: India
3-year TSR: 34.2%

When Vinita Bali, head of India’s Britannia Industries, learnt last year that her company’s salt had been ranked second in a national market survey, she shrugged and told business magazine Rediff: “If consumers feel that a particular salt is the best food brand in the country, you accept that verdict. This is a consumer democracy.”

Bali has been in the food production business long enough to know what to get worked up about – or not. In the 1980s and 1990s, she shuttled between Cadbury and Coca-Cola, occupying key marketing roles in India, the UK, South Africa and across South America. Her opportunity to take the leadership role at Britannia came after the controversial resignation of Sunil Alagh in 2003.


Name: Zhang Xin
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 44
Company: SOHO China
Sector: Real estate investment & services
Location: China
1-year TSR: 16.8%

Zhang Xin’s is a classic rags-to-riches story. Raised in a poor Hong Kong household, she once worked on assembly lines to earn a living. But after moving to the UK to take a degree at Sussex University followed by a masters at Cambridge, she was employed by several big-name investment banks on Wall Street.

In 1995, Xin and her husband founded SOHO China, an acronym for “small office, home office”. The couple have since built a property empire, catering to China’s nouveaux riches. Its portfolio consists of residential and commercial developments, which have a reputation for contemporary design. Speaking to BusinessWeek in 2004, she said: “Wherever there is ugliness and messiness, that is the place we can make a difference.”


Name: Monika Ribar
Nationality: Swiss
Age: 50
Company: Panalpina
Sector: Industrial transportation
Location: Switzerland
3-year TSR: -16.7%

Promoted to chief executive in 2006 after only a year as the company’s chief financial officer, Monika Ribar’s tenure at Panalpina has been characterised by strong leadership and a drive for expansion. The air and ocean freight company operates in more than 80 countries and employs 14,000 people. In an interview with a German trade journal a year into the top job, Ribar said: “I am certainly not one of those people who agonise over every movement of the share price. After all, value is only created for employees, customers and shareholders if the company can survive in the long term.”


Name: Nahed Taher
Nationality: Saudi
Age: 45
Company: Gulf One Investment Bank
Sector: Financial services
Location: Bahrain
3-year TSR: N/A

Nahed Taher is co-founder and chief executive of Gulf One. She was also the first woman to make it to the top of a Saudi bank. But even before that she was breaking barriers. After earning a PhD in economics at Lancaster University in 2001, she turned down a job at the International Monetary Fund, returned to her country and became the first woman promoted into the executive team of National Commercial Bank, the biggest bank in the Middle East.

Taher was asked by CNN in 2007 whether she found it strange that she could sign multi-million-dollar deals in Saudi Arabia but not drive to the office. “I will leave this to my dearest King Abdullah to decide,” she said. “I cannot go against the wind, but driving for women is definitely a necessity now, it’s becoming an economic need.”

How the rankings were judged

All rankings are subjective to some degree, but our aim was to make the Top 50 more than a simple list of the best-known, most prominent or most influential women in world business, writes Andrew Hill. We underpinned the expert jury’s choices with information on the ranked women’s performance and durability, much of it supplied by Egon Zehnder International, the executive recruitment group. We then used a range of factors to assess the candidates. Biographical information obviously played a part. So did data on the size of the company (turnover and number of employees), its scope and complexity (did it, for instance, operate in multiple countries or sectors?) and the competitive landscape. Women running companies with a multinational reach were likely to rank more highly than those in charge of nationally focused groups.

Our panellists decided early in their discussion that the ranking should focus on executives managing the controlling company in any group. That’s a distinction that can be hard to make – particularly in privately held or state-owned holding companies – but it ruled out senior executives such as Daniela Riccardi, Procter & Gamble’s president of greater China, and Ana Patricia Botín of Banesto. The panel acknowledged that these women – and others like them – oversee units that are sometimes larger and more complex than many individual companies.

Tenure was obviously important. Carol Ann Bartz of Yahoo, Ursula Burns at Xerox and Chanda Kochhar at ICICI Bank are in powerful positions. But they cannot be judged as candidates for the FT ranking until they have served at least 12 months in the role.

Finally, we used total shareholder return to gauge corporate performance. This measure varies according to the country, sector and characteristics of the company. It also cannot, by definition, be applied to privately held or government-owned companies. But that is where the experience and judgment of our panel came into play.

Andrew Hill is an associate editor


Name: Kate Swann
Company: WH Smith
Sector: General retailers
Location: UK
3-year TSR: 17.5%


Name: Li Xiaolin
Company: China Power International Development
Sector: Electricity
Location: China
3-year TSR: -8.5%


Name: Chu Lam Yiu
Company: Huabao International Holdings
Sector: Chemicals
Location: China
3-year TSR: 226.7%


Name: Chua Sock Koong
Company: Singapore Telecommunications
Sector: Fixed-line telecoms
Location: Singapore
3-year TSR: 51.8%


Name: Angela Fick Braly
Company: WellPoint
Sector: Healthcare equipment & services
Location: US
3-year TSR: -30.1%


Name: Lisa Jayne Morgan
Company: Game Group
Sector: General retailers
Location: UK
3-year TSR: 93.5%


Name: Ruby McGregor-Smith
Company: Mitie Group
Sector: Support services
Location: UK
3-year TSR: 10.2%


Name: Susan Ivey
Company: Reynolds American
Sector: Tobacco
Location: US
3-year TSR: -19.2%


Name: Cristina Stenbeck
Company: Investment AB Kinnevik
Sector: Financial services
Location: Sweden
3-year TSR: -12.6%


Name: Lynn Laverty Elsenhans
Company: Sunoco
Sector: Oil & gas production
Location: US
3-year TSR: -64.1%

Who missed out and why

Contenders for 2010 and beyond
(Not considered in this ranking because their tenure as CEO was less than 12 months)

● Carol Ann Bartz, Yahoo (US)
● Ursula Burns, Xerox (US)
● Chanda Kochhar, ICICI Bank (India)
● Ellen Kullman, DuPont (US)
● Monica Mondardini, L’Espresso (Italy)
● Margaret Ma-Yee Ko Leung, Hang Seng Bank (Hong Kong)
● Elisabetta Oliveri, Sirti (Italy)
● Laura Sen, BJS Wholesale Club (US)

(Not considered in this ranking because they are below CEO level or head majority-controlled companies, subsidiaries or divisions)

● Dawn Airey, Five TV (UK)
● Ana Patricia Botín, Banesto (Spain)
● Patrizia Grieco, Olivetti (Italy)
● Lubna Olayan, Olayan Financing (Saudi Arabia)
● Preetha Reddy, Apollo Hospitals (India)
● Amina Rustamani, Tecom Business Parks (UAE)
● Dominique Senequier, Axa Private Equity (France)
● Mian Mian Yang, Haier Group (China)


Name: Harriet Green
Company: Premier Farnell
Sector: Support services
Location: UK
3-year TSR: -25.6%


Name: Ines Kolmsee
Company: SKW
Sector: Industrial metals & mining
Location: Germany
3-year TSR: -35.5%


Name: Emma Marcegaglia
Company: Marcegaglia
Sector: Industrial metals & mining
Location: Italy
3-year TSR: N/A


Name: Dorothy Thompson
Company: Drax
Sector: Electricity
Location: UK
3-year TSR: -44.6%


Name: Mary Sammons
Company: Rite Aid
Sector: Food & drug retailers
Location: US
3-year TSR: -64.4%


Name: Janet Robinson
Company: New York Times
Sector: Media
Location: US
3-yearTSR: -75%


Name: Anita Zucker
Company: InterTech Group
Sector: Chemicals
Location: US
3-year TSR: N/A


Name: Stephanie Burns
Company: Dow Corning
Sector: Chemicals
Location: US
3-year TSR: N/A


Name: Mindy Grossman
Company: HSN
Sector: General retailers
Location: US
TSR from August 2008 to August 2009: 10.4%


Name: Olivia Lum
Company: Hyflux
Sector: Gas, water and other utilities
Location: Singapore
3-year TSR: 4.1%


Name: Nita Ing
Company: Taiwan High Speed Rail
Sector: Travel & leisure
Location: Taiwan
3-year TSR: N/A


Name: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Company: Biocon
Sector: Pharmaceuticals & biotechnology
Location: India
3-year TSR: 22.4%


Name: Shobhana Bhartia
Company: HT Media
Sector: Media
Location: India
3-year TSR: 8.2%


Name: Diana Bracco
Company: Bracco Group
Sector: Healthcare equipment & services
Location: Italy
3-year TSR: N/A


Name: Heather Reisman
Company: Indigo Books and Music
Sector: General retailers
Location: Canada
3-year TSR: -14.7%


Women to watch

Industry and mining

Charlene Begley, GE Enterprise Solutions president and CEO
Since 2007, previously GE Plastics president and CEO

Lorraine Bolsinger, GE Aviation Systems president and CEO
Since 2008, previously GE ecoimagination vice-president

Christel Bories, Rio Tinto Alcan, Alcan Engineered Products, president and CEO
Since 2006, previously Alcan Packaging president and CEO

Carrie Cox, Schering-Plough Global Pharmaceuticals president and EVP

Deidre Connelly, GSK North American Pharmaceuticals president
Since February 2009, previously Eli Lilly US president

Jacynthe Côté, Rio Tinto Alcan CEO
Since 2009, previously Alcan Primary Metals from 2007

Colleen Goggins, Johnson & Johnson, Worldwide Consumer Group chairman
Since 2001, previously Consumer Products chairman

Brigitte Ederer, Siemens, Central and Eastern Europe CEO
Since 2008, previously Siemens Austria CEO

Melanie Healey, Proctor & Gamble, North America president
Since September 2009, previously P&G president Feminine and Healthcare

Deb Henretta, Proctor & Gamble Asia Group president
Since 2006, previously Asean, Australia and India president

Sheri McCoy, Johnson & Johnson, Worldwide Pharmaceuticals Group chairman
Since 2008, previously Surgical Care Group chairman

Margaret Øvrum, StatOilHydro, executive vice-president
Since 2007, previously StatOil executive vice-president from 2004

Dominique Reiniche, Coca-Cola, President Europe
Since 2005, previously Coca-Cola Enterprises Europe president

Daniela Riccardi, Proctor & Gamble, Greater China president
Since 2005, previously P&G Eastern Europe vice-president

Connie Tang, DHL Express, Hong Kong and Taiwan MD
Since January 2009, previously DHL Express Taiwan GM from 2005

Technology and media

Safra Catz, Oracle President
Since 2008, previously President and chief financial officer from 2005

Jennifer Li, chief financial officer
Since March 2008, previously GMAC North America controller of operations

Cathie Lesjak, Hewlett-Packard, CFO, executive vice-president
Since 2007, previously Treasurer and senior vice-president

Ann Livermore Hewlett-Packard, Technology Solutions Group, executive vice-president
Since 2004, previously software and services executive

Amanda J Mesler, Logica North America President and CEO
Since 2007, previously Sysco vice-president

Ann Moore, Time Inc chairman and CEO

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer
Since 2008, previously Google Global Online sales & operations vice-president

Nicole Seligman, Sony Corp, General Counsel and executive vice-president
Since 2005, previously Sony Corp America general counsel

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco chief technology officer
Since 2007, previously Motorola Labs

Neelam Dhawan, Hewlett-Packard India, managing director
Since 2008, previously Microsoft India managing director


Wei Christianson, Morgan Stanley China
Since 2006, rehired from Citigroup by Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack

Mignonne Cheng, BNP Paribas, North & East Asia head and HK CEO
Since 2004, previously BNP Paribas China deputy CEO from 2000

Betty Deng, Deutsche Bank China, chief country officer
Since 2007, hired from Citigroup

Barbara Desoer, Bank of America Home Loans and Insurance president
Since July 2008, previously BoA Global Technology and Operations executive

Manisha Griortra, UBS India chief executive
Since January 2009, previously UBS India investment banker after joining in 1996

Christine Ip - ANZ Bank, China CEO
Since January 2009, previously at Standard Chartered as China head of consumer banking

Sally Krawcheck, Bank of America, Global Wealth Management CEO
Since August 2009, previously Citigroup CFO until ousted

Naina Lal Kidwal, The HongKong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, India group GM
Since 2005, previously HSBC India deputy CEO and head of investment banking

Heidi Miller, JP Morgan Chase, Treasury & Securities Services executive vice-president
Since 2004, previously Bank One Corporation CFO and EVP

Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley, Financial Institutions Group head
Since 2006, previously Morgan Stanley telecoms and technology banker since 1987

Kate Richdale, Morgan Stanley, South East Asia CEO
Since Nov 2008, previously Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific General Industries Group head

Margaret Ren, BNP Paribas, Greater China chairman and CEO, corporate finance
Since Aug 2009, previously Merrill Lynch China Investment Banking chairwoman

Barbara Stymiest, Royal Bank of Canada, group head, treasury and corporate services
Since 2004, previously Toronto Stock Exchange group CEO. Also RIM board director

Katherine Tsang, Standard Chartered Bank China chairman
Since July 2009, previously SCB China CEO from 2005

Sue Wagner, BlackRock, COO

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some New Ways To Search For ET

Weird Ways to Search for ET

By Seth Shostak
Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
posted: 24 September 2009
03:07 pm ET
Despite the accusations of my correspondents, I try to keep an open mind about our search for ET.

That's not entirely trivial. Scientists, whose job description is to learn something wonderfully new, are just as human as the next haberdashed hominid. After pursuing an exploratory experiment for years or decades, they inevitably build up both a psychological and monetary investment in their strategy. They can easily become thoroughly marinated in their current approach, and dismiss other ideas with a sneer and a wave.

I try not to do that, and I credit my colleagues with the same.

It's a constant battle, as SETI scientists (and string theorists, for that matter) are often accused of falling down the wrong rabbit hole. If only they'd adopt a completely different research tack, it's said, they could look forward to stashing a Nobel medal in their desk drawer.

"Why waste time looking for old-style radio signals," many people have written me, "when the aliens will be shooting neutrinos our way?" Neutrinos are one of many types of suggestions for "weird SETI" that make sense, but perhaps not overwhelming sense. These ghostly particles have the advantage of barreling right through such petty obstacles as planets, which means you don't have to worry much about where to aim your "telescope" – the signal could even come from behind you. The problem with these particles is that they cost a tremendous amount of energy to produce, and our neutrino detection efficiency is really low.

Quantum entanglement has become an oft-heard phrase at the low-grade parties I frequent. "The aliens will use entangled particles to signal us," many tell me.

At first blush, this sounds like a nifty idea. QE could offer the gold standard for interstellar chit-chat: inexpensive and instantaneous – a kind of subspace communication channel a la "Star Trek."

Well, you can put that thought away for now. A subtle piece of logic known as Bell's theorem shows that, despite the spooky action at a distance of entangled particles, they're not instruments for faster-than-light shout-outs.

Another perennially popular refrain with correspondents is to suggest looking for gravity waves, probably because a lot of people make the unwarranted assumption that gravity propagates faster than light. As far as we know, it doesn't, and (like neutrinos) gravity waves are difficult to generate and painfully hard to detect.

There's a raft of clever schemes for sending information from one place to the next if you don't demand a lot of bandwidth (which translates into the speed of information conveyed). I've written before about how garrulous aliens might grab our attention with a flash of laser light beamed our way. This might be a once-a-month or even once-a-century signal, but that would be good enough. After all, if a periodic, bright flash were to be seen on some random patch of sky, legions of astronomers would relentlessly study that position – and perhaps turn up a low-power broadcast with gobs of useful information (such as the meaning of life, or how to make a perfect souffle).

Luc Arnold, a French astronomer, has suggested that aliens might signal us with giant shadow puppets. Possibly inspired by NASA's Kepler mission, which uses a space-based telescope to find small planets by the slight dimming they induce when passing in front of their home stars, Arnold opined that the aliens might produce a simple signal that Kepler – or something like it – could easily find. A signal that's always "on the air."

The idea is that the extraterrestrials would construct big, opaque polygonal structures, and sling them into orbit around their sun. Anyone observing stars using a technique similar to the Kepler telescope could notice one of these light blockers. If the screens were some shape other than round, the time pattern of the observed dimming would tip off distant astronomers that they hadn't found a planet – rather, they'd discovered a manufactured object.

None of these types of "transmissions" is currently the subject of SETI scrutiny, and that might sound as if we've got deaf ears to new ideas. Well, not to worry. These schemes may be pursued by others. Neutrino and gravity wave detectors are being deployed by physicists, and Kepler is collecting data as we speak. And frankly, there's ample precedent for serendipity in exploration. Think of the 1967 discovery of pulsars. They were found by a radio astronomer who wasn't looking for anything of the kind. Quasars were also found by accident (as was Viagra).

So in some sense, traditional SETI – which after all, involves only a few dozen professional researchers world-wide – has backup; namely physicists, and just about the entire field of astronomy. That's a good thing, because SETI funding is still too cramped to permit its practitioners to test a whole lot of different strategies.

As for me, I try to constantly reassess our work by keeping an open mind about new approaches. So far, none has swayed me from our schemes to hunt for light or radio signals. But if a slicker idea comes along – even if it's weird – well, I'm willing to give it an audition.

Video - Figure the Odds of ET
Video - Reflections on Fermi's Paradox
10 Alien Encounters Debunked
Seth Shostak is the author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter.

Sir Allen Stanford Wil Not Live To Serve His Life Sentence

Allen Stanford Hospitalized After Fight With Another Inmate
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CONROE, Texas — A U.S. Marshals Service spokesman says jailed Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford is being treated at a hospital after being injured during a fight with another inmate.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Alfredo Perez said Stanford was being treated Friday after a Thursday altercation at the private Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe about 40 miles north of Houston.

Perez says the 59-year-old's injuries aren't life threatening but declined to discuss details of the altercation. He says the incident is under investigation.

Stanford attorney Kent Schaffer says he hadn't talked with his client as of Friday evening but had been told the injuries aren't serious.

Stanford is charged with bilking investors of the now defunct Stanford Financial Group of more than $7 billion.