James Packer can’t take a trick at the moment. The natives are restless at Ellerston Gems, where Mr Packer has been buying shares to support the stock, and now supports a proposal to wind it up, but not immediately, which has got some shareholders upset.

The upshot of the plan is to privatise the company at less than net asset value. Crown, his main gig, has had a nice little kick higher in the past month after hitting a low of $7.52 and closed yesterday at $8.81. Consolidated Media Holdings, the owner of 25% of the stumbling PBL Media and some valuable Pay TV interests, is trading at $3.17 and being held aloft by interest in the motives of a US investment bank which has appeared on the register, and Kerry Stokes, who has 4.82%.

Cons Media shares should be much lower, but Stokes and JP Morgan Chase (which now has a 6.47% stake) have soaked up 11% of the stock, which is equal to around 18% of the Packer float of 62%. Mr Packer owns 38% through his private company.

And then there is Melco Crown Entertainment, 38% owned by Crown. Its Nasdaq listed shares have hit a trio of record lows this week, closing at $US4.96 this morning (and $US5 in after trading), for a loss of $US1.22 since Monday. No announcements, just suggestions that Macau isn’t booming as it should and the number big spending high rollers might be dropping as the Chinese Government tightens access to the region. Prices around the $US5 mark or less compare poorly with the high of $US19.09. That’s a fall approaching 75%. Ouch. — Glenn Dyer

War has broken out in the retail world. Woolworths, it seems, is not impressed that a former staffer has jumped ship. Coles boss Ian McLeod has snared his biggest recruit since taking the job eight weeks ago by hiring big-box retail king Tony Leon, much to the chagrin of his former boss at Woolworths, Mike Luscombe.

Leon was the brains behind the Dan Murphy liquor stores but left in June after 23 years at the company, the last nine under the ownership of Woolies. It seems that a few weeks back, Coles’ McLeod had a chat with Leon, who said he wanted to join and was free to do so.

Just how free remains to be seen. Judging by the muttering from Woolies, the lawyers are on the job. As someone noted, “It is that the same old Leon who told Dan’s staff when he left that he would never work for a competitor.” — John Durie, The Australian

Optional extras deliver treasure to lucky few. As the sap rises in spring, so does the rate of employee and executive option exercises in the wake of companies having reported their annual results. Patient recipients of options, working for companies whose shares have not been decimated by the falls in the market, are happily paying to convert their stock into real shares.

Even at a time of tight credit conditions, many would find little difficulty in getting a bank to fund the exercise of options at a cost of 25¢ each if the market price is 10 times that level. Some may even sell some of their stock shortly after exercise to pay off the financing costs, but that can depend on the rules of their scheme.

Executives of Origin Energy have been exercising their options for weeks, their right to do so triggered by the takeover offer from British predator BG Group.

Just this week some 277,000 options were turned into shares at prices ranging from $4.15 to $7.21. Even after the fall in Origin’s share price this week in the wake of BG pulling out of its offer, the shares still closed at $17 yesterday for a paper profit of almost $3 million just this week. — Ian McIlwraith, The Age

Hedge fund glory days fading fast. Making millions — or even a few billion — by managing a hedge fund has been a running dream on Wall Street in recent years. But suddenly even the masters of this $2 trillion universe are falling on hard times, at least by their own gilded standards.

Hedge funds, those secretive investment vehicles for the rich and, increasingly, the not-so-rich, are supposed to make money whether markets go up or down. But many of them are being swept up in the turmoil in the financial world. The funds’ investment returns are sinking, and so are those big paydays for their managers, whose riches have helped redefine modern notions of wealth and helped drive up the price of everything from Picassos to Manhattan penthouses.

Several big funds have faltered in recent weeks, some of them spectacularly so. While many funds are still flying high, the average hedge fund has lost more than 4 percent this year, according to Hedge Fund Research, putting the industry on course for its worst year on record. — New York Times