Pernod wins Absolut auction

France’s Pernod Ricard, the world’s No. 2 liquor company, agreed to buy Vin & Spirit AB from the Swedish government for $8.9 billion, including taking on debt. Pernod beat out Fortune Brands, Bacardi, and Swedish private equity firm EQT to buy Vin & Spirit, which makes Absolut vodka. (Reuters) Absolut will allow Pernod to compete head-on with Diageo’s Smirnoff brand in the U.S., which is the largest vodka market by value. Absolut is second only to Smirnoff in U.S. vodka sales. Still, the deal seems a bit expensive, said analyst Gerard Rijk at ING Wholesale Banking. “It doesn’t seem strange that they are winning with this price.” (Bloomberg)

Lehman sues Japanese firm over fraud

Lehman Brothers sued Japanese trading company Marubeni in Tokyo today, accusing it of allowing two employees to steal $350 million through a fraudulent partnership to fund hospitals. Lehman claims that the employees of the 150-year-old Japanese trading house forged documents and presented an impostor in what was essentially a Ponzi scheme. (The Wall Street Journal) Lehman wants its $350 million back. Marubeni says it, too, was deceived, and shouldn’t be liable for the fraud. (AP in “Marubeni may say it’s a victim,” said Nomura Securities analyst Yasuhiro Narita, but that may “give rise to the perception that the company has problems with its corporate governance.” (Bloomberg)

U.S. to propose broad regulatory overhaul

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is detailing a proposal today to overhaul the government’s financial regulatory system, streamlining several agencies and formally granting new responsibilities to the Federal Reserve. The sweeping changes, if enacted, would be the biggest regulatory reform since the Great Depression. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) Among the larger proposals is to put the Fed in charge of policing “market stability,” diminishing the power of the SEC, and creating a federal insurance regulator and minimum standards for mortgage lenders. Critics said the plan, on the whole, weakened oversight. No action is expected in the next year. (The Wall Street Journal)

Going topless in the Valley

Silicon Valley’s tech companies are increasingly going “topless,” or banning laptops from meetings, along with smart phones, BlackBerrys, and other wireless distractions. In a corporate culture where meetings have never been very popular, tech firms are finding that eyes glued to iPhones means workers who are only partly engaged in business, at the expense of productivity and team cohesion. Other firms just started banning meetings. “No-laptop meetings make sense,” says former Yahoo! marketing director Joe Lazarus. “No meetings make even more sense.” (Los Angeles Times, free registration)