May 17, 2014 in Business

In brief: SAC Capital portfolio manager sentenced to prison

From Wire Reports

NEW YORK – A portfolio manager for one of the nation’s largest hedge funds was sentenced on Friday to 3 1/2 years in prison for his insider trading conviction, though a judge cited his overall good character as he showed him leniency.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan in Manhattan described Michael Steinberg as generous and thoughtful but said he must go to prison for serious “crimes that go to the heart of what it is to live in an honest society.”

Steinberg, 42, was convicted in December of five conspiracy and securities fraud charges related to trades made on two technology stocks, Dell Inc. and Nvidia Corp., between 2007 and 2009.

The government said those trades produced illegal profits of at least $1.8 million, which the judge said was “a lot of money to most people.” The judge also fined Steinberg $2 million and ordered forfeiture of more than $365,000.

The trades were made as Steinberg worked at Stamford, Connecticut-based SAC Capital Advisors. The company, owned by billionaire businessman Steven A. Cohen, last year agreed to pay a record $1.8 billion to settle civil and criminal insider trading charges. Cohen has not been charged criminally but faces civil claims.

Swiss to vote on raising minimum wage to $24.70

GENEVA – In a nation of mostly haves and have-mores, Swiss voters head to the polls Sunday to decide on a union proposal that would create a new nationwide minimum wage at 22 Swiss francs, or $24.70, an hour – the world’s highest.

But the proposal “to protect equitable pay” is only the most prominent of several referendums on the ballot.

Most attention is focusing on the push to set a minimum wage at 4,000 francs ($4,500) a month for those working a 42-hour week. The Swiss Trade Union Federation has based its proposal on 2010 figures when the median wage was almost 6,000 francs monthly.

The union submitted the referendum in 2012 in keeping with Switzerland’s tradition of direct democracy. Voters in the country who collect 100,000 signatures can force a binding referendum on any issue.

Groups representing Swiss employers are opposed to the plan to create a minimum wage that is more than three times the rate in the United States and more than double Germany’s current proposal for $11.64 per hour as of 2017. Opponents say it would tinker too much with the economy and hurt businesses by causing production costs to rise.

Wages have to be high in the Alpine nation to keep up with what some surveys have found to be the world’s highest prices.

Unia, a Swiss trade union with more than 200,000 members, argues that “the fight against poverty” must include fast-food workers and coffee chains.

Jump in housing starts due mostly to apartments

WASHINGTON – U.S. home construction surged in April to its highest pace in six months. But almost all that increase came from the volatile apartment sector, a sign that Americans are still struggling financially to buy single-family homes.

The Commerce Department says builders started work on 1.07 million homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in April, up 13.2 percent from 947,000 in March. The gains were driven by a 42.9 percent jump in the construction of apartments and condominiums. The rate of building single-family homes rose just 0.8 percent.

Most of the gains in multifamily housing were concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, regions that are bouncing back from the harsh winter.

Applications for building permits, a gauge of future activity, rose 8 percent to an annual rate of 1.08 million.

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