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People in the News: Market Moves

Avenue Capital’s Lasry chases NBA hoop dreams; BlackRock’s Fink chides corporates; ex–Deutsche economist Ma gives the PBOC street cred.

  • Staff

Ivy Leaguer Sir Alex Ferguson

A proud institution with a long history of success but beset, more recently, by crisis and stagnation: The U.S. economy today sounds a lot like Manchester United in 1986, when Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager. Ferguson, 72, who retired last year, turned the fabled English soccer club into a fortress of unparalleled glory during his 26 years at the helm, racking up a record 13 league titles. Beginning this month, he’ll pass on his wisdom to the world’s senior corporate executives, when he starts teaching in a Harvard Business School program called The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports. Ferguson, a famously testy manager who in one 2003 dressing room fracas kicked a football boot in David Beckham’s face, might want to offer some tips to his successor, David Moyes. Having won the league comfortably in Ferguson’s last year, Manchester United is on track for its worst finish in more than two decades, a result that led to Moyes’s sacking in late April. — Aaron Timms

Arundhati Roy’s Power Scourge

The political left might be in retreat in India, but the literary left marches on. With the ruling center-left Congress party on course for an ignominious defeat to the Narendra Modi–led Bharatiya Janata Party in this month’s general elections, Arundhati Roy’s new book illustrates the extremes of inequality that still blight the world’s second-most-populous nation, where the 100 wealthiest citizens own assets equivalent to 25 percent of GDP and 800 million people survive on less than 50 cents a day. Roy, 52, who won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel The God of Small Things, says she got the inspiration for Capitalism: A Ghost Story while peering up at the 27-story, $1 billion home of Reliance Industries chair Mukesh Ambani in Mumbai. The book is bold and strident, much like Modi, who’s sweeping the BJP back into power on a pledge of investment, economic liberalization and small government. — A.T.

Marc Lasry’s Bucks Shot

Alternative investments don’t usually come with a point guard and front-row seats, but two U.S. hedge fund titans just bucked that trend. Marc Lasry, co-founder and CEO of Avenue Capital Group, and Wesley Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, have agreed to buy the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks from longtime owner and former Democratic senator Herb Kohl. The pending deal’s $550 million price tag will be the highest ever for a basketball franchise, and the old and new owners are each pledging $100 million toward a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. Lasry, 54, and Edens, 52, have their work cut out for them: The Bucks finished the 2013–’14 season with the league’s worst record and attendance. They join Apollo Global Management co-founder Joshua Harris (Philadelphia 76ers), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner emeritus Joe Lacob (Golden State Warriors) and Platinum Equity founder Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons) as NBA club owners. Kohl will make a tidy profit, having purchased the Bucks for $18 million in 1985. — Ben Baris

Larry Fink: Hey, Big Spenders

Larry Fink has a message for corporate America: Keep your money. The chair and CEO of $4.32 trillion, New York–based asset manager BlackRock recently sent a letter to all S&P 500 chief executives, asking them to act with an eye to creating long-term value. “It concerns us that, in the wake of the financial crisis, many companies have shied away from investing in the future growth of their companies,” wrote Fink, 61. “Too many companies have cut capital expenditure and even increased debt to boost dividends and increase share buybacks.” Although Fink made it clear that he likes a dividend as much as the next stock owner, “when done for the wrong reasons and at the expense of capital investment, it can jeopardize a com-pany’s ability to generate sustainable long-term returns,” he argued. The BlackRock co-founder would rather see compa-nies spend their excess cash on future growth than give it back to shareholders for a short-term bump. — Imogen Rose-Smith

Brian Chesky’s Sleeper Hit

Before Brian Chesky co-founded Airbnb in 2008, crashing at a stranger’s place meant little more than awkward morning conversation. But now the online property rental service, the current darling of the so-called sharing economy, is effectively the world’s largest accommodation chain. And since U.S. private equity firm TPG led a recent funding round that ended up totaling more than $450 million, Airbnb is worth some $10 billion, outstripping hotel giants such as Hyatt. But for CEO Chesky, 32, playing virtual innkeeper has its pitfalls. To appease local governments, Airbnb is lobbying for legal changes, notably in New York and its hometown of San Francisco, that would see users pay hotel taxes. Sorting out this tax mess could remove a potential legal hurdle to a lucrative IPO. And speaking of kinks: In March, New York comedian Ari Teman unwittingly used Airbnb to let his space for a sex party. Within 24 hours of Teman’s plaintive tweet to Chesky, the company sent over a locksmith and put the renter up in a traditional hotel. — Anne Szustek

Ma [Jun] Bull

By naming Ma Jun its first chief economist, the People’s Bank of China has finally put someone with real market cred in a top post. Since his April appointment Ma — previously Deutsche Bank’s top economist for Greater China and a perennial member of Institutional Investor’s All-China Research Team — has already floated a plan to overhaul monetary policy as part of a broader effort by the PBOC and the Chinese government to liberalize interest rates and inject more competition into financial markets. He’ll reportedly push the central bank to mimic the U.S. Federal Reserve Board by setting the rate at which banks borrow from one another. Ma, 50, is no stranger to China’s byzantine bureaucracy: From 1988 to 1990 he was a researcher at the Development Research Center of the State Council, the cabinet’s main economic think tank. Before joining Deutsche in 2000, he served as a senior economist with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A long-standing China bull, Ma has forecast that the nation’s economy will expand by 8.6 percent this year, bucking the 7.5 percent consensus. Good luck with that. — Allen T. Cheng

The Education of Peter Taylor

During his five years as CFO of the University of California, Peter Taylor sparked controversy. In 2012 students slammed him for saddling the public university system with some $14 billion in debt, including the refinancing of a losing interest rate swap. Taylor, previously a Lehman Brothers senior vice president, fired back in an op-ed: “UC has followed a conservative approach to fund capital.” He recently left the system to join Educational Credit Management Corp., an Oakdale, Minnesota–based specialist in student loan processing. Consumer rights groups have condemned ECMC for its aggressive collection tactics. Taylor, whose grandfather Ralph Bunche was a major figure in the civil rights movement, will head the ECMC Foundation, which provides scholarships, from Los Angeles. Charlie Eaton, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley and a vocal critic of UC’s borrowing, says he’ll be watching: “Will the foundation do work to make college affordable, or will it be more about disciplining under-privileged students to be better borrowers?” — I. R.-S.