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Las Vegas Sands Pulls Plug on Spanish Hotel Plan

Cancellation of Casino-Hotel Project a Blow to Spanish Government

MADRID— Las Vegas Sands Corp. LVS -0.43% , the U.S. gambling group led by Sheldon G. Adelson, said Friday it is shelving plans to build Europe’s largest integrated gambling and leisure resort in Spain, a setback for the country’s government.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Sheldon G. Adelson is seen speaking at a news conference at the opening of the Sheraton Macao in this September 2012 file photo. The company announced that it is abandoning an ambitious plan to build Europa Vegas, a gambling and leisure resort west of Madrid. European Pressphoto Agency

LVS said in a news release that it doesn’t “see a path in which the criteria needed to move forward with this large-scale development can be reached.” The company didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the decision.

Spain’s state-owned new agency EFE reported separately that Spain’s government rejected LVS’ conditions to go ahead with the project, quoting government sources. Among those, EFE cited government guarantees on investments made, and a compensation deal to cover any losses related to future changes in Spanish laws regarding the resort. Talks had come close to breaking point in recent months, as Spanish officials said Mr. Adelson’s regularly kept coming up with new demands.

The cancellation of the project comes after years of difficult negotiations between Mr. Adelson’s group and representatives from Spain’s central government and the Madrid regional government. Until last year, the talks also included the Catalonian regional government but Mr. Adelson eventually decided to set the project in Madrid.

Madrid’s authorities were banking on the massive project to contribute to the economic recovery of the region, an economic engine in crisis-hit Spain, and had agreed to Mr. Adelson’s requests to make changes to Spain’s strict antismoking laws. The project had been touted as Spain’s most ambitious investment plan since the collapse of its property market in 2008.

Plans called for the construction of a complex on 1,853 acres in Alcorcón, west of Madrid.

The project, called Europa Vegas, was aiming to draw tourists from all over Europe to what would become the continent’s biggest gambling and leisure resort. When Madrid was selected as the resort’s location in September last year, Las Vegas Sands said it could create up to 200,000 permanent jobs in six casinos and 12 hotels that it planned to open in three phases starting in 2016.

Las Vegas Sands had also said it expected to put up no more than 35% of the resort’s estimated $22 billion cost while seeking additional funds on capital markets.

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Comcast strikes deal to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion

Comcast CEO Brian RobertsComcast CEO Brian Roberts is making a big deal for Time Warner CableComcast Corp. has reached an agreement to buy Time Warner Cable in a deal valued at $45.2 billion, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The proposed blockbuster combination is expected to be announced Thursday and would create a video and Internet juggernaut with 30 million subscribers and operations in some of the country’s biggest markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Besides its cable and Internet operations, Comcast also is the parent of NBCUniversal, which owns the NBC broadcast network, Universal Studios and several popular cable channels, including CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network.

Time Warner Cable also has been expanding into programming and owns two sports channels in Los Angeles.

Under the terms of the transaction, Comcast would pay $158.82 a share for Time Warner Cable, a nearly 18% premium over the company’s latest stock price. Time Warner Cable shares closed Wednesday at $135.31. Comcast has offered 2.875 shares of its stock for each share of Time Warner Cable in the all-stock transaction.

Comcast’s and Time Warner Cable’s boards separately have approved the deal, according to people close to the matter. Time Warner Chief Executive Rob Marcus, who has been in his current position for only 44 days, will resign after the sale closes.

Comcast’s surprise move pulled the rug out from under Charter Communications, another cable operator, which last month offered $132.50 a share for Time Warner Cable. That bid was rejected, and this week Charter unveiled plans to launch a proxy war to install new directors at Time Warner Cable.

In dismissing Charter’s offer, Time Warner Cable said it would entertain a sale at $160 a share.

Charter had hoped to work with Comcast, with its deep pockets, to mount a takeover of Time Warner Cable.

But Comcast was not interested in being part of a hostile takeover and instead started negotiating its own deal to acquire 100% of Time Warner Cable. The deal came together in the last few days, according to knowledgeable people.

A Charter spokesman declined to comment on the deal, which was first reported by Comcast’s business channel, CNBC.

The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable does not run afoul of any current Federal Communications Commission rules.

However, the deal will probably face intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, many of whom have expressed concern about media consolidation and its effect on consumers.

Furthermore, the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal comes only three years after Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, which took more than a year to win the approval of federal regulators.

To ease concerns, Comcast plans to sell cable systems serving about 3 million subscribers so that its national footprint does not exceed 30% of the country, people involved in the deal said. The 30% benchmark was the previous FCC cap on cable ownership until a federal court tossed out that rule in 2009.

Still, the immediate reaction from consumer activists was one of great worry.

“This deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped,” Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a media watchdog, said late Wednesday.

Bitcoin plunges on Japan exchange halt

A twenty-five bitcoin is arranged for a photograph in Tokyo, Japan

Bitcoin prices have plunged after one of the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchanges, Japan’s Mt Gox, said it had suspended withdrawals because of a software flaw that would allow people trading the virtual currency to defraud exchanges.

The price of Bitcoin tumbled 16 per cent to $572.40 on Monday after the Tokyo-based company posted a statement saying the suspension was due to a bug in the bitcoin software that was “not limited to Mt Gox and affects all transactions where bitcoins are being sent to a third party”.

Mt Gox said the defect made it possible for users of the network to alter transaction details and make it appear as if a transfer of bitcoins to a Bitcoin wallet had not taken place. They would then be able to contact the exchange or wallet service and claim the transaction had not gone through.

It had taken action after noticing “unusual activity” and finding transactions that needed “to be examined more closely”. Bitcoin transactions to a Mt Gox address and withdrawals in conventional currencies are not affected.

The exchange said the “design issue” had been largely ignored but was “known to at least a part of the Bitcoin core developers”. It believes it knows how the flaw can be resolved but this would need to be approved and standardised.

However, BTC China and Coinbase, rival Bitcoin exchanges that have grown to rival or surpass Mt Gox in trading volumes, have not reported similar problems. Mt Gox has for some weeks faced complaints from customers experiencing delays in withdrawing dollars from their accounts with the exchange, before the latest problem prevented withdrawals in Bitcoin.

Michael Keferl, a spokesman for the exchange, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The Mt Gox statement offered a technical explanation of the risk to exchanges from the software bug: “An individual could request bitcoins from an exchange or wallet service, alter the resulting transaction’s hash before inclusion in the blockchain, then contact the issuing service while claiming the transaction did not proceed. If the alteration fails, the user can simply send the bitcoins back and try again until successful.”

Mt Gox said it would resume withdrawals to outside wallets once the flaw had been addressed.

The halt at the Tokyo exchange follows news that Russian authorities are preparing to crack down on Bitcoin and have warned that those who use “cryptocurrencies” are breaking the law. Regulatory scrutiny of the virtual payment system is intensifying around the world.

The promise of new measures to curb the virtual currency was made after Russia leapfrogged China to become the second fastest growing territory for Bitcoin software downloads, behind the US.

George Soros picks up $5.5bn as Quantum Endowment fund soars

George Soros

George Soros, billionaire chairman of Soros Fund Management, primary adviser to the Quantum Group

George Soros’s Quantum Endowment fund had its second-best year ever in dollar terms in 2013, adding $5.5bn to the billionaire’s fortune and putting Quantum back in top place among the most successful hedge funds of all time.

The gains mark a return to stability for Quantum, which Mr Soros closed to non-family members at the end of 2011 to avoid regulatory scrutiny under the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. He handed day-to-day trading to Scott Bessent, chief investment officer, after a decade of rapid turnover at the top of the fund.

The $5.5bn return was the best for the $28.6bn fund since 2009, when Mr Soros oversaw a return of 29 per cent by correctly calling the end of the global financial crisis. He has frequently made higher percentage returns, including 32 per cent when he came out of retirement in 2007, but his then-smaller asset base meant lower dollar profits.

Last year’s return means Mr Soros has displaced Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Pure Alpha as the fund that has made the most money for investors. It has generated almost $40bn since it was founded in 1973, according to Rick Sopher, chairman of LCH Investments, who compiled the rankings.

Mr Soros is best known for triggering the collapse of the pound on Black Wednesday 1992, when Quantum made $1bn. Last year’s profits did not come from such an aggressive strategy, with the 22 per cent return spread across the different strategies of the fund.

Four other funds made $4bn or more last year, all correctly calling the strong run in equities, which resulted in the US stock market returning 32 per cent. They were Lone Pine and Viking, the most successful “Tiger cub” protégés of Tiger Management’s Julian Robertson; David Tepper’s Appaloosa; and Baupost, founded by the Boston-based deep-value investor Seth Klarman.

Since they were set up, the top 20 hedge funds have made 43 per cent of all the money made by investors in more than 7,000 hedge funds.

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“They did far better than the hedge fund indexes,” said Mr Sopher, who is also chief executive of Edmond de Rothschild Capital Holdings. “These funds are still in the mode of being get-rich vehicles rather than stay-rich vehicles. They carry on seizing whatever opportunities there are but still exhibit really good risk control.”

“Too many managers now focus on risk control at the expense of returns.”

Andrew Law, who runs the 13th-ranked, $7bn fund Caxton, said the key to success was to give money back to avoid growing too big.

“With one very obvious exception [Quantum], history has not been kind to macro funds that have grown much in excess of $10bn-$12bn, in terms of subsequent return,” he said. Macro funds such as Caxton and Quantum can make freewheeling bets across currencies, interest rates and shares.

While the top 20 managers mainly performed well, hedge funds as a whole have proved less lucrative in recent years than they were before the crisis. Since the start of 2008 the HFRI Composite index of hedge funds has risen 20 per cent, half the return from US equities and US 10-year Treasury bonds. Last year the HFRI was up 9 per cent, its best year since 2010.

Mr Law said long-only managers, who have benefited from rising shares, may face headwinds as a 30-year decline in real interest rates comes to an end.

“The challenge will be to trade tactically,” he said. “The discounting of financial repression over the past few years has merely brought forward future returns and left a rather less enticing landscape to long-only managers.”

Mr Sopher’s ranking excludes large computer-run funds such as Renaissance Technologies and those with no single manager, such as DE Shaw.

Deutsche Telekom Said to Pay $1.1 Billion in Czech Buyout

Deutsche Telekom AG shares have fallen 5.4 percent this year.

Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE), Germany’s biggest phone company, agreed to fully take over its Czech wireless unit from investors including Mid Europa Partners LLP, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The owner of the T-Mobile brand agreed to pay about 830 million euros ($1.1 billion) for a remaining stake of almost 40 percent, the people said, asking not to be identified before an official announcement expected as early as tomorrow, they said.

The buyout is part of Chief Executive Officer Timotheus Hoettges’s strategy to broaden Deutsche Telekom’s reach in eastern Europe. With assets stretching from the U.K. to the Balkans, the carrier agreed to acquire Warsaw-based landline provider GTS Central Europe in November and has offered to purchase an additional 10 percent stake in Hellenic Telecommunications Organization SA (HTO) from the Greek government, people familiar with the talks said last month.

A Deutsche Telekom official declined to comment on the Czech transaction. Manager Magazin reported the agreement earlier today.

Claudia Nemat, who heads the company’s European operations, is set to travel to the Macedonian capital of Skopje on Feb. 13 to present the company’s progress in developing an integrated network in the region.

Telefonica Sale

Deutsche Telekom has offered mobile services in Germany’s eastern neighbor since 1996, according to its website. The Czech wireless company had 5.5 million customers at the end of 2012 and reported sales of 1.04 billion euros for that year. Spain’s Telefonica SA (TEF)last month completed a 2.5 billion-euro sale of its Czech unit to PPF Group NV.

Hoettges, who became CEO on Jan. 1, is renewing predecessor Rene Obermann’s push into eastern Europe after the company’s U.S. business returned to growth following its merger with MetroPCS Communications Inc. Excluding the German home market, eastern Europe accounted for 22 percent of Deutsche Telekom’s net revenue in the first nine months of 2013. The company is scheduled to release fourth-quarter earnings March 6.

The carrier plans to eliminate thousands of jobs at its T-Systems corporate-client unit as it trims outsourcing services with low profitability and refocuses on growth areas such as connected cars and cloud computing.

Deutsche Telekom shares have fallen 5.4 percent this year. They closed at 11.76 euros on Feb. 7 in Frankfurt, valuing the company at 52.3 billion euros.

China Says Banks Can’t Do Business in Bitcoin

Over the past two months, China has become world’s most enthusiastic Bitcoin market, and the country’s central bank has taken notice. In short, it’s concerned.

The People’s Bank of China has barred the country’s banks and payment systems from doing business in bitcoins, though it has stopped short of banning the world’s most popular digital currency outright, according to a note posted on the central bank’s website.

Instead, the bank says that Bitcoin businesses should register with the relevant agencies to ensure that they are in compliance with the country’s anti-money laundering regulations. That’s similar to the approach already taken by U.S. regulators, who have allowed Bitcoin businesses to operate, but also seized bank accounts belonging to the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange after it failed to comply with federal regulations.

The Chinese central bank did, however, answer one question that’s still unclear in the U.S. Bitcoin, the bank said, is not a currency. Bitcoin “can not and should not be used as currency in circulation in the market,” the bank said, according to a Google translation of the bank’s statement.

China has jumped from about 20 percent to close to 60 percent of all bitcoin trading volume over the past two months, according to data compiled by Bitcoin market research company Genesis Block. The Bitcoin client software is now downloaded in China more frequently than anywhere else.

Microsoft banks on the cloud under Nadella

Microsoft has staked its future on cloud computing by appointing a company veteran who has presided over its cloud software platforms and services to lead it into the post-PC age.

The naming of Satya Nadella as only the third chief executive in the company’s 39-year history ended a long-running search that had brought calls for an outsider who could force a bigger shake-up in Microsoft’s business.

The new Microsoft boss will still have the company’s earlier CEOs, co-founder Bill Gates and the outgoing Steve Ballmer, looking over his shoulder as directors of the company. However, Microsoft moved to cut Mr Gates’ out-sized influence over its board by replacing him as chairman, even as it co-opted him to spend more time on helping to revitalise the company’s work on new products.

Microsoft has been sidelined by the rise of mobile computing and the internet, which have put Apple and Google at the forefront of the tech industry and forced a management overhaul as it struggles to catch up.

The elevation of Mr Nadella, head of Microsoft’s cloud computing and enterprise business, ends a search that began in August and initially involved more than 100 candidates. A number of high-profile executives were said to have been approached, including Ford boss Alan Mulally and Mark Hurd, the president of Oracle.

Mr Nadella immediately hinted at a narrowing of Microsoft’s broad portfolio of products and services. He called for the company to “zero in on what [it] can uniquely contribute to the world” and to “prioritise innovation”.

Mr Ballmer faced repeated calls from investors to shed consumer businesses such as the Xbox games console division and Bing search engine, and to focus instead on its software and services for corporate and government customers – a business Mr Nadella has headed in his most recent job.

Rejecting a sharp change in direction, the new CEO echoed Mr Ballmer’s efforts to reposition Microsoft around mobile computing and the “cloud”. However, he shifted the focus away from hardware and instead laid a new emphasis on software, in particular the new cloud-based computing platform and applications the company has built to succeed its traditional PC business.

As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. [This] will require us to reimagine what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world– Satya Nadella, email to staff

The careful repositioning of Mr Gates inside a company at which he remains a central figure has been seen as central to giving the new chief executive more freedom to manoeuvre.

Mr Gates has given up his role as chairman but will spend more time working on new products with a new title as “founder and technology adviser”, the company said. The changes follow complaints from some big shareholders who have been concerned that Mr Gates’ influence over the board made it hard to attract strong outside candidates for the CEO job while threatening to cramp an internal hire.

For the past two years, Mr Nadella, 46, has been head of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise group, with responsibility for pushing it into an era in which business customers look for technology companies to host much of their IT architecture online – or in the cloud – rather than buying software to run on their own machines.

His earlier roles included running the online services division, including the Bing search engine, a business that Mr Gates took a close personal interest in.

Mr Gates gave up the CEO title in 2000 while remaining in charge of Microsoft’s technology and product direction. By the time he stepped aside in 2008 to focus most of his time on the charitable foundation he runs with his wife, Melinda, Apple had already vaulted ahead of it with the launch of the iPhone.

John Thompson, an independent director who led the search for a new chief, will replace Mr Gates as chairman, Microsoft said.

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