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Paul McCartney weighs in on JCPenney CEO search

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Paul McCartney weighs in on JCPenney CEO search

Paul McCartney wants JCPenney to get by with a little help from his friend.

The former Beatle recently introduced his longtime buddy and retail honcho, Herbert L. Becker, to the new owners of the bankrupt department store, suggesting him as a candidate for the CEO job, The Post has learned.

McCartney made the introduction via email to Jamie Salter, CEO of Authentic Brands Group, a brand licensing firm that has deals with scores of celebrities and which recently bought JCPenney along with the mall operator Simon Property Group, two sources close to the situation said. 

A brief phone call between McCartney’s friend — a retired magician who performed on television and at Radio City Music Hall before hanging up his wand in 1978 — and the owners has already taken place, one source said.

It’s unclear why McCartney got involved, but he appears to have acted as an intermediary on behalf of Becker, who he’s known for decades, sources said. The former Beatle also has ties to Salter, according to sources.

Salter declined to comment for this story. Neither McCartney nor Becker returned requests for comment.

The top job at the ailing retailer, which filed for bankruptcy in May, became vacant on Dec. 31, when the new owners ousted CEO Jill Soltau, who’d been at the helm since 2018.

Becker was a senior executive with the Canadian department store T. Eaton Company Limited, which ceased operations in 1999. He was also CEO of an upstate New York department store chain called Patrick Hackett Hardware, which was founded in 1830 and has been defunct for about 15 years.

When he was gunning for the top job running the Trump Taj Mahal in 2015, he told The Deal that he has “decades of turnaround” experience, pointing to his stints as an advisor to teen retailer Wet Seal, La Curacao – a department store – and Kohl’s during the companies’ turnaround or expansion periods.

“This is exactly what I do best,” he told the publication. “I come into a situation that seems hopeless and where there are thousands of people depending [on a change]. I am ready for that challenge … and three years from now people will look at this as the turning point.”

Becker’s name has been floated in connection with the Plano, Texas-based JCPenney before. When JCPenney was searching for a new CEO after firing Ron Johnson in 2013, Becker was one of several people who were potential fits, according to a Huffington Post article at the time.

Becker, 65, is also the author of books on magic and was sued by David Copperfield in 1994 for allegedly revealing Copperfield’s illusion secrets in “All the Secrets of Magic Revealed.”

As for his chances of leading JCPenney, one source close to the retailer said the owners are not even close to making a hiring decision.

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A new breed of firms vie for stake in NBA teams

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A new breed of firms vie for stake in NBA teams

Last month, the owners of the Golden State Warriors quietly approached the National Basketball Association for approval to sell a minority stake in the team — not to another business mogul, but to a publicly traded blank-check company that had partnered with a private-equity firm, The Post has learned. 

The unnamed institutional buyers — who, according to sources, had the support of Silicon Valley tycoon Chamath Palihapitiya, a minority owner in the Warriors — were confident the NBA would OK them to buy the stake, sources said. 

But the NBA’s Advisory/Finance Committee put off a decision and the Warriors withdrew the request, figuring it was dead, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. 

The failed bid comes as professional sports teams — from the NBA to Major League Baseball — are squeezed by the pandemic, which has emptied out arenas and stadiums for a year now. Massive team losses have spurred crushing capital calls on investors. Many of them are now looking for an exit, but are finding that there’s a dearth of wealthy individuals willing or able to take their place. 

Enter Wall Street. The pandemic has opened the door to a flood of financial entities with names like RedBall Acquisition Corp. and Arctos Sports Partners hungry for a piece of the action. 

If they succeed, it could change the face of professional sports forever, but thus far they’re having trouble completing a single deal. 

Sources said Glen Taylor, billionaire owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, went to the NBA a few months ago with a pitch to sell to Arctos, a private-equity firm formed in 2019, to buy small stakes in teams. But the idea was shot down because Arctos had not been approved by the NBA, sources said. 

Arctos also recently filed to raise money via a blank-check company that will be used to buy stakes in basketball or baseball teams that need capital to cover losses. This is happening even though neither the NBA nor MLB has approved the controversial idea. 

Also known as SPACs, or special-purpose acquisition corporations, blank-check companies list themselves on a public exchange like the NYSE in order to merge with a business and take it public. 

There are now five SPACs looking to buy stakes in pro sports franchises, according to SPACInsider, including Arctos, which on Feb. 23 raised $275 million for a blank-check company on the NYSE. 

Goal Acquisitions, formed by NBA legend Michael Jordan’s former agent David Falk, this month, raised $225 million after listing on the Nasdaq stock market. “Sports franchises . . . are facing a huge strain on cash flow, leaving ownership groups without the appetite, nor liquidity to continue franchise funding for an undetermined period of time,” it told investors in its prospectus. 

SportsTek Acquisition, formed by former Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, last week raised $150 million via the Nasdaq. Sports Ventures Acquisition Corp., formed by sports investment banker Rob Tilliss, on Jan. 6 completed a $230 million IPO. 

Sources say various SPAC owners have contacted nearly every NBA owner in the past year. And there are many NBA owners — particularly small minority owners — that want the option to sell to the entities, these people added. 

Indeed, frustration appears to be building among some corners of the NBA’s ownership ranks over how slowly the NBA, headed by Commissioner Adam Silver, is working on a solution, sources said. 

“The pressure on Adam is extreme,” a source close to the NBA office said. 

In July, the NBA opened the door for a single private-equity firm — Dyal Capital Partners, a unit of Wall Street investment firm Neuberger Berman — to start buying small minority stakes in NBA teams. Dyal has reached agreements with some owners, but can’t complete the deals until after a new fund closing that’s expected next month, sources said. 

The NBA is also interviewing buyout firms beyond Dyal. In letting them in, Silver may need to loosen the NBA’s ownership rules. In particular, funds have asked him to waive an existing rule that says the NBA can force out any owner at any time that it finds is bad for the league. 

“Private-equity firms are super eager but the current provision is a non-starter,” a source said, adding that he believes Silver will make the exception. 

With private equity seemingly making more headway than SPACs, Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob is now speaking only to private equity firms in his efforts to sell a stake of at least 5 percent of the pandemic-fueled money-losing team, including billionaire Howard Marks’ Oaktree Capital Management, sources said. 

In its response to the Warriors’ SPAC request last month, the NBA raised concerns that letting these publicly traded entities invest in teams could artificially lower their values. Once even a sliver of a team starts trading on a public stock exchange, its valuation would be subject to the whim of investors. 

The NBA, sources said, is likewise concerned that SPAC ownership could lead to league financials getting revealed via public filings. 

Currently, the only publicly traded NBA team is billionaire James Dolan’s New York Knicks. It is owned by Madison Square Garden Sports, which doesn’t reveal the team’s financials. 

SPACs have also been courting MLB teams. RedBall Acquisition Corp., which last August raised $500 million, has been in talks for months to acquire a stake in the Fenway Sports Group, which controls the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. soccer team, but has failed to reach an agreement on price, sources said. 

Three-quarters of the MLB owners would need to approve even a minority stake sale to a SPAC. But whether they would OK it remains an open question — with one source saying many baseball owners have told him they would vote it down on sight. 

It’s why some Wall Streeters think basketball, not baseball, will be the next frontier for complex financial instruments. 

“Baseball guys are dinosaurs,” said one sports financier. “The NBA is a forward-looking league. If this is going to happen, it’s going to happen there.”

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GameStop soars 100 percent as Reddit’s WallStreetBets board crashes

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GameStop soars 100 percent as Reddit’s WallStreetBets board crashes

The mother of all meme stocks is acting up again.

Shares in GameStop skyrocketed 103.9 percent on Wednesday, with almost all of that action bubbling up in the final hour of trading.

The bizarre rally resulted in shares of the video-game retailer being halted with less than 30 minutes to go before the closing bell — and Reddit crashing by 4 p.m. as onlookers rushed to the site to figure out what was going on.

“Wtf!!! How the hell does gme grow from 45$ to 110$ in a hours…. so glad I bought a few more at 43$,” one user wrote.

The frenzied buying resulted in shares of the video-game retailer closing up $46.74 a share to $91.71 and continued to rise after hours, recently up 59.2 percent to $146.00.

The rally follows an executive suite reshuffling Wednesday — and fresh rumors on Reddit of efforts by Wall Street to short the stock, or bet on its decline.

Shares in the Texas-based video game retailer started their climb earlier Wednesday after GameStop said chief financial officer James Bell would leave on March 26 after less than two years in the job.

The company didn’t explain why Bell was leaving, but hinted that the move could help supercharge its digital growth plans by saying GameStop has hired an executive search firm to help pick a successor who can “help accelerate GameStop’s transformation.”

Business Insider, meanwhile, reported that Bell was pushed out by Ryan Cohen, co-founder of Chewy, who made an investment in GameStop last year in an effort to help the company shift to more digital games as the industry moves online.  

Rumors on Reddit’s WallStreetBets trading forum of more short selling may have helped fuel the rally. Just after 2:30 p.m., a user posted that “1.4 million more GME shares have been borrowed today (so far). Hedge Funds are flooding the market with shorts.”

That post was later removed, but fellow Redditors had already begun to respond by posting memes of rocketships and “diamond hands,” which are how the WallStreetBets army signals to each other that they plan to plow into a stock.

Attacking Wall Street short sellers was a driving ethos behind the GameStop rally that sent the stock up more than 1,600 percent in a matter of weeks last month. And it worked to hurt large hedge fund like Melvin Capital, which lost a reported 53 percent last month.

The retail trading frenzy has become the subject of movie and book deals. It also resulted in hearings on Capital Hill last week with popular Redditors like Keith Gill using the forum to express continued confidence in the stock.

Gill — who goes by the name of “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube and “DeepF***ingValue” on Reddit — also sent GameStop shares soaring on Monday after he revealed he had doubled down on his investment one day after getting grilled by lawmakers.

On Wednesday Gill reacted to the rally by tweeting a gif of a man drumming and cat seemingly nodding to the beat of the drum.

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Fed blames ‘operational error’ that crashed Fedwire

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Fed blames 'operational error' that crashed Fedwire

The Federal Reserve said it is restoring services that were thrown offline Wednesday by an “operational error” that spurred outages in a dozen areas, including check clearing and Fedwire, which handles trillions of dollars in transactions daily for the world’s biggest banks.

“A Federal Reserve operational error resulted in disruption of service in several business lines,” the Fed told Reuters in an emailed statement. “We are restoring services and are communicating with all Federal Reserve Financial Services customers about the status of operations.”

All nine of the Fed’s electronic services crashed in the early afternoon, and by 2:30pm EST, had been restored, but the key Fedwire Funds system that allows banks to settle large payments like mortgages or commercial loans, and acts as a clearinghouse for financial institutions executing major transactions, was still down.

The affected services form the hidden backbone to the US banking system, facilitating check clearing and allowing billions of dollars of payments to flow daily through the financial system, including credit and debt transfers, and all transactions of US Treasury bonds.

The outage was being mocked and celebrated on social media by cryptocurrency supporters who have long supported electronic ledger blockchain technology as a superior and safer alternative to the Fed’s current system.

With Reuters

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