Monday, June 27, 2011
The city is home to some of Europe's largest commercial banks and the headquarters of two of the world's biggest central banks: the European Central Bank and Germany's Bundesbank. The proposed acquisition of NYSE Euronext by Deutsche Börse AG looks to tie the Frankfurt-based exchange operator to the New York Stock Exchange, the largest share-trading venue in the world.
Meanwhile, Frankfurt also boasts one of the world's busiest airports and is drawing major companies such as KPMG to set up base here.
Yet Frankfurters describe their home as a "20-minute city," because of the ease of getting from one end to another. Its Westend, Ostend, Nordend, Bornheim and Sachsenhausen districts are all connected by bus, underground and trams.
Industry is scarce here, too. Most of the big drivers of the German economy are in the south. And while Frankfurt's airport and its banking district have seen huge amounts of new development and renovations in recent years, office properties in some of the outlying suburbs have fallen into disuse.
The city's ties to finance date all the way back to the Middle Ages, when Frankfurt's central location made it a mercantile hot spot. Later, after the invention of the printing press in nearby Mainz, the Frankfurt book fair took off, along with related banking businesses. The city also minted money for German and Austrian monarchs.
Frankfurt's financial importance waned as the political winds shifted. World War II destroyed 70% of the city, although its central location and excellent rail and air connections kept it relevant.
Then things changed again. The post-war transfer of Germany's capital from Berlin to Bonn meant industry and business were once more scattered throughout Germany. Frankfurt regained its role as the nation's financial capital. The city also rebuilt in a modern style, allowing for Germany's tallest skyscrapers, earning the city a nickname, "Mainhattan," referring to the Main River.
In recent years, new buildings such as the Commerzbank Tower have ushered in a trendier look. Certain eyesores have been replaced, and a small part of the city's medieval center restored. Some of the more interesting ways of getting around town, meanwhile, include Apfelwein (apple wine) trolleys and portable bars, called BierBikes, which are pedaled (but not steered) by beer-drinking revelers.
The city is now entering the post-crisis era, with boosts from the booming German economy and the advantage of relative stability, compared with some of its bigger rivals.
Frankfurt Airport—practically a city in itself, with 70,000 employees in the vicinity—is the world's ninth-largest, moving over 53 million passengers last year, not including the dogs, cats, thoroughbred horses and even elephants in transit that made use of the "animal lounge." A new runway will give the airport even more capacity.
Companies are taking notice, especially those that depend on travel. KPMG is moving its European headquarters to Frankfurt from London, installing more than 2,000 consultants and other staff in a massive new building across from the airport. It's the longest commercial structure in Europe, at seven football fields in length. Two Hilton hotels are going up at the airport, too.
But perhaps nothing symbolizes Frankfurt's financial prowess more than the European Central Bank's €850 million ($1.2 billion) office complex now going up on the banks of the Main, in the city's gritty East End. In three years it is scheduled to replace the ECB's rented buildings downtown, which have housed the bank since its creation in the 1990s.
The site of the new headquarters formerly hosted one of Germany's largest wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, the Grossmarkthalle. The facade of the historic market building will be retained as the base of the new skyscraper.
The site is part of a strategy to eke out small quantities of growth throughout its operations, starting with the factory floor. Vuitton's size means it has fewer unexplored avenues to tap for growth than competitors.
Their paradox is how to grow without diluting our image.
Unlike mass-market consumer brands, luxury labels must maintain an aura of exclusivity. Vuitton is constantly pushing the limits. While it sells limited-edition runway pieces, priced at thousands of euros, millions of women own the house's iconic brown and gold monogram bags and wallets, available to aspirational shoppers. Vuitton is considering launching a perfume—a product that many high-end fashion houses use to appeal to the masses. Vuitton says it would sell a perfume only in its own stores, instead of in the department stores and perfumery chains where most fragrances are peddled.
In the luxury-goods industry, Vuitton is in an unusual position. Analysts estimate it is billions of euros bigger than rivals such as Gucci, which logged sales of €2.7 billion last year. Vuitton's parent, luxury-goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, doesn't break out sales by brand.
Other brands in the LVMH empire include Dom Pérignon champagne, the Fendi fashion house and the Sephora cosmetics chain.
Vuitton's growth over the years means it is constantly bumping up against its full production capacity. The company owns 17 factories that manufacture bags and accessories. Marsaz is the twelfth in France; in addition, there are three factories in Spain and two in California. Last year, Vuitton was running so low on inventory that it closed its French stores early in the day. The company only manufactures components such as zippers in Asia.
Most luxury-goods labels are hitting the accelerator now that the financial crisis has passed; Vuitton is tapping on the brake. After sales rose 22% last year, Mr. Carcelle said he is intentionally tapering growth this year. Prada and Hermès are scrambling to open boutiques in China—territory that Mr. Carcelle feels Vuitton has largely blanketed in its 20 years in the country.
Vuitton has 456 stores around the globe, over 100 more than rival Gucci. Its omnipresence has pushed it to be more selective in its openings. This year, Vuitton will add only about five addresses to its network, with new megastores in cities such as Singapore. Mr. Carcelle is now putting the emphasis on enlarging existing locations, such as Milan.
Shortly after Vuitton opened a factory near Mont Saint-Michel in 2002, Mr. Carcelle began plotting the next opening. Its first factory outside of Paris, opened in 1977 in Saint-Donat in central France, wasn't up to the company's standards anymore, so Mr. Carcelle decided to build a site nearby, with the latest machines. The new site, in Marsaz, could accommodate all of Saint-Donat's 200 workers plus some. Vuitton spends "tens of millions of euros" annually on industrial investments, Mr. Carcelle said.
During the years it took to build Marsaz, Vuitton had to find other ways to increase its production. Mr. Carcelle implemented a lean production process, inspired by Japanese car makers.
By reorganizing teams of about 10 workers in U-shaped clusters, Vuitton was able to free up 10% more floor space in its factories. They were able to hire 300 new people without adding a factory.
Each step of production was analyzed for potential gains. At Vuitton's shoe factory in Italy, robots now fetch the foot molds around which a shoe is made instead of workers walking back and forth from their workstation to the shelves. The use of robots resulted in a considerable time gain, Mr. Carcelle said.
Vuitton developed a computer program to help leather cutters identify the flaws in the skins they receive.
The program determines where to cut out the dozens of different pieces of a bag, a process that has drastically reduced the amount of wasted leather.
Vuitton remains known for high quality, but the work isn't all artisan. Indeed, last year two of its ads showing workers making things by hand were banned by Britain's advertising watchdog for potentially misleading consumers.
At Marsaz, veteran workers are busy training the dozens of new hires. About 15 of them worked in nearby shoe factories before the French industry collapsed. Others have no factory experience. There are former hairdressers, dog groomers and dental-model makers.
The factory manager said he looks for candidates with manual dexterity, the ability to work in groups, and motivation. Previous experience with sewing machines isn't a prerequisite.
Their sentiments in a poll suggest that the public is open to the recommendations of the majority of President Barack Obama's debt commission. Members of the group, which included current and former members of Congress and White House officials, called for revenue increases and spending cuts that would have shaved deficits by $3.8 trillion over the next decade.
More than 60 percent of those surveyed say that interest on the debt may lead to a recession and that the rising costs of Medicare and Social Security represent real dangers, according to the poll.
At the same time, the poll found that most Americans aren't swayed by the arguments Republicans and Democrats make to advance their competing remedies for debt reduction and strengthening the financial stability of entitlement programs, viewing them as empty rhetoric. Among the rejected assertions are that either spending cuts or tax increases would cause a double-dip recession or would lead to continued joblessness.
"They always spin things one way or another and you can't really trust it," says Richard Klimczuk, 58, an independent voter living in Cleveland. "Democratic and Republican sides are both doing it. We have real problems in this country, but they'll just say things to get people worried so things turn out the way they want them."
Scaring Each Other
Taken together, the results show that while Americans are concerned about the country's fiscal condition and that of cherished social programs, they don't trust either party's assessment of what's needed to address those issues.
"The level of trust of politicians is frankly at an all- time low, and it's at an all-time low because both sides have recognized how to scare the living hell out of the other," said Frank Luntz, a Republican polling expert and message strategist. "The tragedy of it is, people know they're in the middle of a crisis, but politics has so poisoned the well that voters don't want to drink from the fountain of knowledge."
Public skepticism extends to the negotiations in Washington between the White House and congressional Republicans to reach a deal on reducing spending and raising the nation's debt limit. In the past, Congress has lifted the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow more money without debate. This year, Republicans are using the once pro-forma vote as an opportunity to press for spending reductions, an issue that normally is negotiated separately.
Low Bond Yields
For all the concern about the deficit in Washington, bond market yields in the U.S. are lower now than when the government was running a budget surplus a decade ago. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was 2.91 percent in New York yesterday, below the average of 7 percent since 1980 and the average of 5.48 percent in the 1998 through 2001 period, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader.
Fifty-one percent of poll respondents say they aren't convinced the U.S. could default on its obligations unless Congress raises the debt ceiling. They say that's a scare tactic, compared with 43 percent who say default is a real danger.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he will run out of options for staving off a default by Aug. 2 if Congress and the White House don't reach an agreement on spending levels and raise the legal borrowing limit by then. Obama has also been sounding the alarm. Those messages, however, aren't breaking through with about half the public even while Wall Street investors and economists have said a default would be debilitating to the economy.
Republicans are the most skeptical about the specter of a default, with 61 percent deeming it a scare tactic and only 34 percent calling it a real danger. Still, even Democrats aren't convinced; they are split, with 49 percent calling it a real danger and 46 percent saying it is a scare tactic. Independents are also divided on a potential default, with 46 percent believing it is a genuine risk and 47 percent disagreeing.
The poll tested 10 statements on economic dangers often cited by public officials, asking respondents whether they consider each a "real danger" or more of a "scare tactic." Majorities of respondents consider six as scare tactics -- three of them Democratic messages and three voiced by Republicans.
In contrast, respondents coalesce around what they deem three real threats -- all of which affect them in personal ways.
On Medicare, 62 percent see a real danger that the program would go broke if not dramatically overhauled, compared with 35 percent who say that's a scare tactic. Sixty-six percent see Social Security going broke without changes as a genuine threat, compared with 31 percent who call it a scare tactic. And respondents see the prospect that interest on the debt could drag the economy into a recession as a real danger rather than a scare tactic by 66 percent to 31 percent.
"Every year you've got more and more people getting on the government bill and more borrowing, and now we have less and less people paying in," said Jason Gibson, 28, a truck driver from Romulus, Michigan. "You get too many people on one side of the ship, it's going to tip."
Public sentiment fractured when the poll tested the partisan solutions to those dangers.
Only 27 percent say -- as some Democrats have argued -- there is a real danger of a double-dip recession if government spending is cut, compared with 67 percent who don't. A greater proportion, 37 percent, say there's a real danger that spending reductions will lead to an increase in the unemployment rate, compared with 59 percent who call that a scare tactic.
On the Republican stance on tax increases, 40 percent say it is a real danger they could lead to a double-dip recession compared with 54 percent who say it isn't. Thirty-nine percent say there's a real danger the jobless rate won't go down if taxes are raised, while 56 percent say that is a scare tactic.
"What this shows is that politicians' claims just aren't credible on a lot of issues; we've done a lot of damage," says Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "The messages that do seem to have sunk in are that Social Security and Medicare are in trouble -- that these programs that we care deeply about are in very serious trouble -- and people really are spooked about the idea of a continuing recession, and what it would mean for them."
Split on China
Respondents are evenly split on the bipartisan claim that China and other countries will stop lending money to the U.S. government if deficits aren't significantly reduced, with 48 percent saying that is a real danger and 48 percent calling it a scare tactic. Republicans are more likely to see the issue as a danger, with 55 percent identifying it that way, while 55 percent of Democrats call it a scare tactic. Independents are divided, with 49 percent saying an end to foreign investment in the U.S. is a real danger and 46 percent disagreeing.
The public dismisses a charge that emerged during the debate over the overhaul of the health-care system: that the U.S. will become a socialist economy.
Sixty-five percent say the accusation is a scare tactic, while 31 percent of respondents say it's a real danger. A slim majority of Republicans, 51 percent, backs the assertion, as do 58 percent of respondents who identified themselves as supportive of the Tea Party. Still, 46 percent of Republicans say it's a scare tactic, along with 67 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats.
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Obama summoned Senate leaders Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell to the White House for separate meetings on June 27 aimed at breaking the impasse that scuttled a seven-week negotiating effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.
The two sides are seeking a path to cutting at least $1 trillion from the long-term deficit and raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline. Obama will have to show some leadership if there is to be any compromise, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking House Republican, said in an.
“He’s got to get off the golf course, and he’s got to get engaged,” said McCarthy, a third-term representative from California.
Last weekend, Obama played a round of golf with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, as part of a commitment to work toward more bipartisan camaraderie.
The administration is insisting that any deal must include raising government revenue by removing or limiting some tax breaks while Republicans say taxes must be off the table.
“We won’t support an approach that gives millionaires and billionaires $200,000 in tax cuts annually while 33 seniors pay for that with a $6,000 per person increase in their Medicare costs,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday. “We just don’t believe that that’s a fair or balanced approach to solving this problem.”
McCarthy rejected any tax increases and said a bipartisan deal must include limits on Medicare spending to save the government health insurance program for the elderly from bankruptcy.
“If you ignore Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in a few short years, it’ll take every single dollar that government brings in,”
McCarthy said. He also dismissed ideas of eliminating tax breaks for oil companies or raising fees on banks as ways to narrow the U.S.
Moody’s Investors Service this month said it will put the U.S.
Government’s AAA credit rating under review for a downgrade unless there’s progress on increasing the limit by mid-July. Standard & Poor’s in April put the U.S. on notice that it risks losing its top credit rating unless policy makers agree on a plan by 2013 to reduce budget deficits and the national debt.
Speaker Boehner said Republican conditions for raising the debt ceiling include no tax increases, spending cuts and a government spending overhaul.
“If the president and his allies want the debt limit increased, it is only going to happen via a measure that meets these tests,” Boehner said in a statement. “If the president wants this done, he must lead.”
Administration officials including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said they were confident a deal can be reached to raise the debt limit by Aug. 2.
“We are going to avoid a default crisis because we are a country that meets its obligations,” Geithner told reporters yesterday in Manchester, New Hampshire. “We have no alternative.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and second-ranking Senate Republican Jon Kyl walked away from the Biden-led talks on June 23, putting the onus primarily on Obama and Boehner to bridge the partisan divide.
Biden and the six lawmakers involved in the talks -- Cantor, Kyl and four Democrats -- had sought to reach the broad outlines of a plan by yesterday. The decision by Cantor and Kyl to leave the talks followed a contentious session a day earlier during which Democrats pressed Republicans to agree to tax increases, according to an aide familiar with the talks.
“It is my hope that the president requested this meeting in order to finally explain what it is that he’s prepared to do to solve our nation’s fiscal crisis,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
“With Republicans threatening to give up amidst internal divisions, Senator Reid is prepared to step in and make sure we stay focused on creating jobs and cutting the deficit,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid.
Republicans are pressing to cut spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats want to eliminate tax breaks for corporations including oil and gas companies, according to Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic participant in the Biden group.
Democrats proposed phasing out tax breaks for those earning more than $500,000 a year, Van Hollen told reporters on a conference call yesterday.
A final deal “will have to include some Democratic priorities,”
Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the call.
Speaking at a political fundraiser June 23 in New York, Obama said he’s “prepared to bring down our deficit by trillions of dollars”
and that spending cuts must be “balanced” with tax increases on the wealthy.
“As it gets closer and closer, you’re talking about simply a debt- ceiling solution, not a deficit and debt solution,” said Bill Frenzel, a Republican former member of the House Budget Committee and scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Instead of making the $4 trillion or $5 trillion arrangement they need to make to stabilize the debt in a decade, they’ll probably do something to coast them through the end of the year or perhaps through the election.”
The U.S. debt risks exceeding the size of the entire U.S. economy by 2021, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
McCarthy, rejecting an idea put forward by McConnell of resorting to short-term increases in the debt limit, said lawmakers and the administration “can get to the point where we solve this problem”
if Obama becomes more involved.
A handoff to the White House will force Obama to be specific about what kinds of tax increases he supports to help close the budget deficit, something Democrats have avoided amid tension in their party over raising tax rates versus closing tax loopholes for corporations.
It also increases pressure on Boehner, who would have to find enough Republican votes to pass a possible deal that might draw opposition from much of his caucus.
“It’s going to involve twisting a lot of arms and calling in favors,” said Paul Weinstein, a former White House official and senior adviser to Obama’s fiscal commission. “It’s not pretty for either side.”
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell said he had a “useful and productive exchange of views” with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai. Cui didn’t speak to the press after the meetings.
Cui, earlier this week, told the U.S. not to get involved in territorial disputes over the oil-and gas-rich South China Sea.
Recent Chinese moves to stop Vietnam and the Philippines exploring for oil and gas in disputed waters have drawn criticism from U.S. Congressional representatives. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 23 reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to defend the Philippines, a treaty ally.
China asserts jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea, including oil and gas blocks more than 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from its shores. Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s claims as a basis for joint exploration, setting the stage for clashes in areas where Exxon Mobil Corp., Talisman Energy Inc., Forum Energy Plc and Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, have operations.
Claims to various islands and strategic shipping lanes have been made by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Singapore. Vietnamese and Chinese boats have clashed twice in the South China Sea since late May.
Vietnam said China breached the exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles (320 kilometers) from its shores when it prevented Vietnamese vessels from conducting oil exploration surveys near the disputed Spratly islands.
China and Vietnam agreed to address their dispute through negotiations and consultations, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported today after Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son in Beijing.
Chinese ships chased away a Forum Energy survey vessel under contract from the Philippines in March, and rammed survey vessels operated by PetroVietnam twice in the past month. China has disputed that version of events, saying it is committed to maintaining peace in the seas.
The U.S., which has patrolled Asia-Pacific waters since World War II, has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand, and guarantees Taiwan’s security. The U.S. Navy has said it will conduct joint training exercises with both the Philippines and Vietnam over the next two months.
Earlier this week, Campbell said the U.S. had “no intention” of inflaming territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He said he wanted recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail.
Campbell said his discussions with Cui in Honolulu included military development, Chinese diplomacy with North Korea and Myanmar and U.S. interests in the region, as part of an effort to promote transparency.
Talks with China will continue at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Hawaii in November, at the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, and at the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia.
The U.S. “welcomes a prosperous and successful China” and the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in China at a mutually agreed upon time, Campbell said. “These dialogues enhance cooperation and contribute to better understanding between the U.S. and China.”
Purchases rose 0.1 percent in May, the smallest gain since June 2010, according to the median estimate of 63 economists in a survey before a Commerce Department figures tomorrow. The disaster in Japan also held back American factories this month, a survey of purchasing managers may show.
The highest gasoline prices since 2008 and unemployment hovering around 9 percent caused households to pare spending, which may temper demand at factories already contending with higher input expenses and supply chain disruptions. The recent drop in fuel costs bolsters Federal Reserve Chairmen’s prediction that the slowdown will be temporary.
“We’re seeing a deterioration in the labor market combined with still-high gasoline prices eating into discretionary spending,” said a chief U.S. economist at. “Probably, the worst of the Japanese supply chain disruptions are behind us.”
Economic growth slowed to a 1.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter from 3.1 percent in the previous three months as surging energy costs strained consumer finances.
Payrolls grew by 54,000 workers in May, the weakest reading in eight months, and the jobless rate climbed to 9.1 percent, the highest this year.
Manufacturing, which drove the recovery as growing overseas economies propelled U.S. exports, began to cool in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake in March and as raw-material costs climbed. The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index fell to 51.8 this month from 53.5 in May. Readings above 50 signal expansion.
Reports released earlier this month showed manufacturing in the regions covered by the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and New York unexpectedly shrank in June.
Fed officials last week attributed some of the slowdown in the first half of the year to “factors that are likely to be temporary.” They lowered projections for economic growth this year to 2.7 percent to2.9 percent, down from forecasts of 3.1 percent to 3.3 percent in April. Unemployment will average 8.6 percent to 8.9 percent in the final three months of 2011, compared with the 8.4 percent to 8.7 percent projected in April.
The economic recovery appears to be proceeding at a moderate pace, though somewhat more slowly than the committee had expected.
Reports on housing this week may show that purchases will pick up even as property values continue to drop.
Pending home sales, or contract signings for existing homes, increased
2.5 percent in May after dropping 12 percent the prior month.
The S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 cities, due June 28, likely fell in April from March, the 10th straight monthly drop on a seasonally adjusted basis.
Persistent high unemployment, a weak housing market, high fuel prices and inflation all put pressure on consumer. In response to the economic outlook, customers of the largest U.S. drugstore chain are shifting spending to essential goods.
The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump has dropped from $3.99 on May 4, the highest since July 2008, to $3.60 as of June 23. The decrease may be helping boost retailers’ shares. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index of 92 companies has increased 3.7 percent since June 10 compared with a 0.2 percent decline in the broader S&P 500.
Friday, June 24, 2011
The companies said Wednesday that each will invest $102 million in Alta V, a 168-megawatt project. That's on top of the combined $110 million in financing that the companies said last month they would put into the Alta Wind Energy Center wind farm in California's Tehachapi Mountains. In total, Alta will have a capacity of 1,550 megawatts, or enough to power 450,000 homes. That's nearly twice as much as the largest operating wind energy installation in the U.S.
Google has been investing hundreds of millions in wind energy as it seeks reliable new ways to power its massive server farms, or data centers, which are notorious power hogs. Google has also invested in solar energy. The latest financing of the Alta farm brings Google's total clean energy investments to more than $500 million.
Citigroup and Google are committing to buying the wind projects at the start of commercial operations and leasing them back to Terra-Gen Power, an affiliate of ArcLight Capital Partners and Global Infrastructure Partners.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A massive wildfire in eastern Arizona is burning more acres than the largest in state history, although some of that area is in New Mexico, where flare-ups that skipped along treetops Tuesday threatened a small mountain town.
The Wallow Fire has burned more than 733 square miles since Memorial Day weekend. A fire spokesman said Tuesday morning it's not yet certain whether the acreage that has burned in Arizona makes it larger than the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, which burned 732 square miles, destroyed 491 buildings and cost about $400 million to fight.
The current blaze has burned only 31 homes and some other structures. It has encroached into New Mexico about a mile from the working-class community of Luna, where residents were warned to be prepared to flee.
In the state's opposite corner, near the Colorado border, a wildfire fanned by high winds that has forced hundreds of people from their homes more than doubled in size to more than 9 square miles.
One citizen comment they were watching trees explode before their eyes. A 20-mile section of the main north-south highway through New Mexico and Colorado remained closed, causing hundreds of travelers to drive hours out of their way.
Crews worked furiously to protect Luna from the Wallow fire, after a successful weekend of no major fire growth despite gusting winds and dry conditions.
Hundreds of firefighters worked along U.S. Highway 180 between Luna and the state line, hacking down brush, using chain saws to cut trees, and burning fuel in the fire's path.
At Luna Lake in Arizona, just a few miles from town, helicopters collected water and flew west to attack flames sending up thick, gray smoke.
Catron County’s roughly 200 Luna residents hadn't yet been ordered to leave, but evacuation plans were in place.
Fire spokesman said the work crews have been clearing brush and setting their own fires to burn off fuel along the state line, and that has so far spared Luna from the inferno. There's no fire in New Mexico that they haven't set themselves.
Roughly 7,000 residents of the two Arizona mountain towns of Eagar and Springerville on the fire's northern edge were allowed back home over the weekend. Crews had stopped the blaze's northern advance and were trying to corral its eastern push into New Mexico.
Officials continued to express optimism that their efforts were paying off.
About 2,700 people who live in several Arizona resort communities in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest remained under an evacuation order. Fire officials said they were working to make the picturesque hamlets of Alpine, Nutrioso and Greer safe for residents to go home, possibly within the week.
Greer, considered the jewel of eastern Arizona's summer havens, lost more than 20 homes and a couple dozen outbuildings as flames moved into the valley last week.
The wildfire near the New Mexico-Colorado border started Sunday on the west side of Interstate 25 and jumped to the east side later that day. Up to 1,000 people were asked to leave their homes northeast of Raton.
The fire prompted the closure of I-25 from Trinidad, Colo., to Raton, sending summer motorists on lengthy detours. Fire officials said at least two structures had burned, but they couldn't say whether they were homes, businesses or outbuildings.
The blaze more than doubled in size in a matter of hours Monday, to about 9 square miles, as crews worked to protect structures.
Another wildfire in southern Colorado spread to about 1,000 acres and forced the evacuation of a church camp. Crews were attacking the blaze near Westcliffe from the air after it broke out Sunday and quickly spread in dry conditions.
Meanwhile, in southeastern Colorado, crews were close to containing three large wildfires that broke out last week.
Several other fires were burning around Arizona, including a huge blaze near the southeastern border town of Portal that has burned more than 267 square miles since May 8. It was about 53 percent contained. Another fire that broke out Sunday outside Sierra Vista near the Coronado National Memorial also forced evacuations.
Motorists caught between quick-lube chains' and automakers' guidelines on when to get an oil change may finally catch a break.
The largest chain, Jiffy Lube, is ditching the long-held one-size-fits-all mantra that oil should be changed every 3,000 miles. Instead, it says, franchisees will combine customer information on driving habits and the recommendations from their car's owner's manual for types of driving, from light to severe, to come up with a specific schedule for that customer.
The system, which uses a kiosk with a computer to access a database of manufacturer guidelines, has been in testing for several months.
A Jeffy Lube representative said, "We're showing them on a screen (what) a manufacturer recommends. He says 47% of the customers at participating locations opted for the severe-driving schedule, with plans to get oil changed an average of every 3,502 miles. Customers are choosing oil-change schedules that indicate they will return regularly.
Regular oil changes are a key way to prolong the life of an engine, but automakers have lengthened recommended intervals in recent years to as many as 10,000 miles. Oil-change intervals are determined by operating conditions and driver habits, not by miles driven - busting the 3,000-mile oil-change myth.
In a further blow to the quick-lube business, many vehicles now let drivers know electronically when it's time for an oil change.
Parts in modern engines fit more tightly, and gasoline quality is generally higher, prolonging oil life, says an auto editor. He says he suspects that as customers have visited less often, chains may be coming up with the consultation idea or coaching motorists toward the severe-driving schedule as a way to drum up more business.
Some quick-lube operators argue, however, that if car owners haven't changed their oil for 5,000 miles or more, despite what a manual might say, they are asking for trouble. These operators know what they see and they say that most people who drive in city traffic and temperature extremes should be put on the more-frequent severe-driving schedule. And they say dashboard warning lights can provide a false sense of security, because they aren't necessarily accurate.
States including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, California, Arizona and Alabama have banned all outdoor burning in certain areas, as well as the sale and use of fireworks.
The governor's office in Texas has granted 14 requested countywide bans. That has led to the cancellation of traditional fireworks shows in multiple Texas cities, including Austin and the Lake Travis area.
In Florida, officials in cities including Jacksonville and St. Augustine are watching weather conditions and may cancel professional shows as the date approaches.
Jacksonville doesn't expect to have to cancel because their fireworks are shot from two barges in the water, but they will not know until closer to July 4th if any kind of cancellation would take place.
The bad economy also is continuing to fizzle fireworks shows in areas not affected by drought.
A group of University of Florida’s media outlets, including the school's radio stations, canceled the fireworks display they have hosted in Gainesville for the past 20 years after more than a half-million dollars was cut from their budget. The cost of the celebration was $30,000 to $40,000.
Chicago has cut funding for fireworks this year.
•Cincinnati's annual $30,000 All-American Birthday Party and fireworks display have been canceled because of budget concerns.
•A $50,000 celebration in New Britain, Conn., has been canceled for budget reasons.
•Jersey City’s fireworks display is off for the second consecutive year.
Some people are not letting traditions go without a fight. On citizen of Bloomingdale, N.J., has collected more than 600 signatures he will present to the borough council today in an effort to reinstate canceled fireworks, which cost $7,000 last year. He said it is important to have the fireworks and events like that because it brings the community together. A Council member said she believes the council will consider the petition.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Wal-Mart President and CEO Mike Duke outlined a five-point program at the company's annual meeting to help the company sell more on the Internet at home and abroad while keeping costs and prices low.
He commented that their next-generation customer will include millions who are striving to join the emerging global middle class. They're connected to the world through smartphones and social media. They're in charge of when they shop and how they shop, and they know who has the lowest prices.
Duke said the company has five priorities:
• Grow by adding customers, opening new stores and acquiring other retailers.
• Keep costs low and pass the savings on to customers.
• Build a global Internet business.
• Develop talent, including a greater focus on women and minorities.
• Expand the company sustainability effort.
Wal-Mart's approval this week for its $2.4 billion purchase of a majority share in a South Africian retailer is a major step in its international strategy.
But Duke said the world's largest retailer will also win new customers in Chicago and New York, where Wal-Mart has struggled to win approval to build stores.
Wal-Mart is working to increase its presence on the Internet, particularly in China and the U.S., an effort Duke says must extend to all countries in which the company operates.
Duke commented they can combine their stores, their systems and their logistics expertise into one continuous channel to drive growth and serve the next generation customer around the world. They will play to win in this area also.
Duke also promised the company would to do more to develop diverse management and keep striving for higher sustainability goals, which he said customers want to see.
They are right in the sweet spot of the next generation customer. But to succeed, they must also be the best at how they run their business, and turning around the U.S. business remains the greatest priority for CEO and the entire Walmart U.S. team.
The company also announced a $15 billion share repurchase program Friday.
The buyback will replace a previous $15 billion repurchase plan begun a year ago. The company bought back 244 million shares worth $12.9 billion under that program.
This reflects the strong financial performance of the corporation. The news comes after the company in March increased its stock dividend in its current 2012 fiscal year from $1.21 to $1.46 per share, an increase of 21% that returned $1.3 billion to shareholders.
The shareholder meeting maintained the tradition of being part pep rally, part business, with actor Will Smith serving as master of ceremonies. The 2011 "American Idol" winner, Scotty McCreary, also appeared.
About 16,000 people packed the arena, including Wal-Mart employees from 15 countries.
Wal-Mart's international sales are sizzling, and much of the meeting focused on the happy topic of overseas growth. But the company is still trying to reverse a two-year sales slump at home, with no clear sign when that will happen.
They made a lot of progress over the last 11 months, and they believe they have the right plan.
It is also noted that two-thirds of the business has seen gains in a key measure of sales, most of which is coming from groceries.
But Wal-Mart leaders cautioned, "You certainly can't predict the weather and the economy." They also said it would take more time to straighten out mistakes Wal-Mart made on pricing and selection more than two years ago.
The company has been racing to restock thousands of items it pulled as part of its overzealous bid to clean up its stores two years ago. It's also gone back to its "Everyday Low Price" roots.
Wal-Mart is also battling increasing threats from competitors, particularly online rivals like Amazon.com and dollar stores, which have expanded their assortments and become more competitive on price.
Wal-Mart's low-income shoppers have also seen the source of their financial problems shift. A year ago, they were worried about losing their jobs. Now, rising gas prices and other household costs are squeezing their budgets and making it tough to stretch their remaining dollars.
Thursday's reports on May sales from major retailers, including rival Target, provided more evidence that rising prices for gas and other goods are causing shoppers to pull back on discretionary items like clothing and home goods.
On Thursday, Wal-Mart commented that low-income shoppers are going through a "prolonged malaise." Such financial woes could stall Wal-Mart's campaign to turn its U.S. business around.
Wal-Mart's fears have deep repercussions because it's a bellwether of consumer spending and accounts for nearly 10% of all nonautomotive retail dollars spent in the U.S.
Shares of Wal-Mart have tracked closer to its profits than its domestic sales this past year, and its robust international business, fueled by Mexico, China and Chile, has propped up revenue and profits. In the U.S., revenue at stores open at least a year has seen eight quarters of decline.
Wal-Mart stores account for 62% of the company's revenue, which reached $418 billion in its fiscal year ended Jan. 31; international makes up 26%.
The company's overall revenue is also getting a lift from its improving Sam’s Club division, which has enjoyed five quarters of gains in stores open at least a year. Sam's Club has benefited from better quality merchandise.
How do you pick that great name? You have three options: You can pick a clear name, you can pick an obscure name, or you can hire a business to come up with a name.
The first method is probably my favorite because it always works well. What you do here is simply to pick a name that says exactly what your business is. No, it's not fancy, but it works. The important thing is that people know what you do when they hear the name.
So begin with what your business is going to do and what image and brand you are trying to create. Using this method, you would pick a name that quickly explains what the business is: Mr. Plumber, or Bill's Auto Repair. Boring? Maybe, but people will never have to guess what the business does.
Even better: Take this process one step further by adding a word or phrase to your name that expresses the benefits that people will get by patronizing the business – think Jiffy Lube or Kwik-E-Mart.
As you settle on a name, be sure it is not already in local use and it is not too similar to that of a competitor. Try and pick one that is catchy and memorable; alliteration often works well.
Be sure too to pick a name that is not difficult to pronounce or spell. When people try and Google you, you want them to be able to find you. For example, when one man started his business, he wanted to name his company Syzygy. Luckily, that name was already taken, so he settled on Atari instead (a word used in the Japanese game GO to warn opponents that they are about to be conquered).
Atari was using the second naming method: Picking a name that is totally unique - think Amazon.com or Xerox. These names are great because they are in fact so unique, and therefore, memorable. The risk though is that while yours may be memorable too, if you can't afford to get people to remember it, it may just be an odd name. One reason Amazon and Xerox are memorable names is because those companies had the wherewithal to get people to remember them. If you do not have a sizable marketing budget, picking an obscure name can be more of a curse than a blessing.
The last method for creating a winning business name is to hire a business to name it for you. There are companies whose business is to come up with business names and catch phrases. They usually do a great job of coming up with a memorable name, and get paid handsomely for their efforts. For the right business, it may be a smart marketing move, but most small businesses are best served by coming up with a name themselves.
The bottom line: Find a few names, get some feedback, and pick one that will catch people's attention.
Michigan last week eliminated several tax credits, including those for small donations made to universities, food banks, museums and public television. The state also capped at $25 million a year the tax incentives it gives the film industry, which has been lured to the state since 2008 by some of the more generous incentives in the nation. The changes were part of a tax overhaul that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder says will spur job growth.
The Oklahoma Legislature has set up a special committee to review tax incentives there. A report from the Oklahoma Tax Commission in October 2010 listed the cost of hundreds of credits and incentives.
Economists generally favor more uniform taxation but acknowledge that incentives can advance policy goals such as capital investment, cleaner energy use or job creation.
Taxes can be used, just like direct subsidies, to encourage certain behavior, but the question remains: Is it worth the revenue?
Three Ohio think tanks have called for a review of tax credits to help solve that state's $8 billion budget shortfall.
A director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, a progressive think tank that has joined with the libertarian-leaning Buckeye Institute and the centrist Center for Community Solutions in calling for a review of the state's tax policies, feels that it’s holding Ohio back. Greater Ohio estimates that such tax breaks cost state government $300 million a year.
One of the breaks that Michigan eliminated had allowed taxpayers to get a 50% refund of some charitable donations when they filed their state tax returns. About 550,000 people claimed it in recent years. Without it, Michigan will save $47 million a year, according to state budget estimates.
Eliminating tax breaks isn't easy because each has a constituency. The Montana Legislature earlier this year voted to repeal a host of clean-energy tax credits, although the Governor vetoed the changes last month. The governor commented that to repeal these credits would be to subtract jobs in Montana's energy, construction, and agriculture sectors.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Construction's malaise could hurt overall gains, even if the economy rapidly regains its pre-May pace of about 200,000 more jobs a month. Home building ripples through such industries as appliances and furniture.
The construction industry will continue to experience double-digit unemployment rates for a long time. Construction firms added 2,000 jobs in May, while all U.S. payrolls grew by 54,000. Yet, while all employers added 1.8 million jobs since February 2010, construction lost 4,000. Its payrolls of 5.5 million are down 2.2 million since 2007.
Construction’s 16.3% jobless rate is also down from 22% a year ago. That's because many discouraged workers stopped looking or switched to trucking or manufacturing.
The problem: Housing starts are anemic due to tight lending standards and foreclosures that swell inventories and depress prices, says economists.
Public construction that propped up the industry when commercial work disappeared in the recession is ending as the federal stimulus winds down and states slash budgets.
Hospital, university and utility projects are rebounding. Office and retail work should tick up in 2011.But the gains won't offset public cutbacks. One economist cut his estimate for 2011 industry job growth to 100,000 from 250,000.
One company had to lay off the 150 workers he hired when he won $100 million in stimulus-funded highway projects. Now, the company worries that cuts to the Highway Trust Fund by Congress will force more layoffs.
There's progress in pockets. Princeton Properties in Lowell, Mass., is developing 320 apartments, its first since 2007. As young people get jobs, many leave parents' homes.
Rebuilding is needed after tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo. One construction company in Tuscaloosa is repairing a shopping center and rebuilding an office building, among other work, leading to three hires.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Some teens down the shots to focus and stay awake while studying. For truckers, the two-ounce serving size means fewer pit stops.
Now, the shots are appealing to a growing number of people over 60 who aren't ready to slow down with age. At the Raleigh Costco, cases of energy shots are stacked beside Ensure nutrition shakes and across from tubes of wrinkle cream.
Living Essentials of Farmington Hills, Mich., which makes 5-Hour Energy, initially built sales by targeting students and people who work long hours, like cops. But when CEO Manoj Bhargava heard that aging Baby Boomers were increasingly buying energy shots, he looked to them for the company's next sales jolt.
Last October, the company handed out thousands of samples at the annual AARP convention in Orlando. The company was amazing to see the number of people who took it right there and then.
In January, 5-Hour began running full-page ads in the AARP Bulletin, which is delivered to 22 million households. The ad shows John Ratzenberger, best known as postman Cliff Clavin on "Cheers," holding a bicycle. "Getting older is fine," says the 64-year-old Mr. Ratzenberger. "But not having the energy to do the things I enjoy isn't."
5-Hour sales teams call on doctors, giving them coupons to pass out to older patients. Staffers tells physicians that 5-Hour's main ingredients appear naturally in foods and include niacin, often prescribed to lower cholesterol, and citicoline, used in some countries to fight dementia.
5-Hour Energy created the energy shot trend seven years ago and dominates the market, with a nearly 80% share. Annual sales of 5-Hour Energy total about $1 billion.
Mr. Bhargava says he isn't worried about the brand losing its cachet with young people, since it has always had cheesy commercials and a non-cool name.
NVE Pharmaceuticals, the market's second-biggest player with a 5% share, is also reaching out to older adults by advertising on the Learning Channel and the Discovery Channel instead of just MTV and Comedy Central.
Sold as dietary supplements, energy shots don't require Food and Drug Administration approval. A study in the journal Pediatrics in February warned that consumption of too many energy drinks can give children heart palpitations, seizures and other problems.
AARP says its health consultants vetted 5-Hour before allowing the company to advertise at its convention and in its publications. AARP refuses ads for controversial products such as reverse mortgages and tobacco, but found nothing worrisome about 5-hour Energy.
Energy-shot makers generally don't confirm the precise amount of caffeine in their shots, but a recent review found a 5-Hour shot has 207 milligrams of caffeine, while a tall-sized Starbucks coffee has about 260 milligrams. Another report said the caffeine would likely provide a lift but there was little if any research showing the other ingredients would help.
One geriatrician says she's a skeptic. Most adults get more than enough of the B vitamins and other nutrients found in energy shots, so any extras are just excreted from the body, she says. She claims medically and physiologically that it doesn't hold water.
Other skeptics say that older adults can get more energy by eating right and exercising, not by guzzling excessive amounts of caffeine. A well balanced diet will give you extended energy where the energy drinks just give you a caffeine rush.
Friday, June 3, 2011
The New York-based company is trading 15 percent above the $17-a-share bid from Malone’s Liberty Media Corp., the most since the deal was announced last month and the widest gap of any all-cash takeover in the U.S. Barnes & Noble may get $24 a share, 41 percent higher than Malone’s bid and almost double the stock’s average price before the offer.
While the largest U.S. bookstore chain has been exploring a sale since August as the shares slumped to a 15-year low of $8.77, Barnes & Noble’s revenue is projected to jump to a record this year helped by sales of the Nook e-reader - that uses nook microfiber cloths - which competes with Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle. Ron Burkle, the largest investor after founder Leonard Riggio, boosted his stake four days after Malone’s bid at an 8.8 percent premium to the deal price. Now, traders are betting on a sweetened offer from Malone or Burkle.
The market believes that the intrinsic value for Barnes & Noble is much higher. Burkle is going to try to get the best price.
Barnes & Noble, declined to comment. Heather Liberty Media, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Burkle and his investment firm, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Liberty of Englewood, Colorado, offered $17 a share in cash on May 19, a 40 percent premium to the 20-day trading average, to buy 70 percent of Barnes & Noble. The deal is contingent on the company’s chairman, keeping his 30 percent stake and a management role. A board committee is evaluating the proposal, which values the retailer at about $1 billion plus $278 million in net debt.
Malone, Liberty’s 70-year-old chairman, is betting on increased sales of the Nook e-reader and digital books for the device, as well as a boost from Borders Group Inc. closing stores after filing for bankruptcy protection in February.
The offer values Barnes & Noble at 0.19 times its $6.95 billion of revenue in the 12 months through January.
That’s the cheapest for any takeover of a U.S. retailer greater than $500 million since a Mexican billionaire bought the 85 percent of CompUSA Inc. he didn’t already own in 2000. He acquired what was then the largest U.S. computer superstore chain at an 83 percent discount to revenue.
Barnes & Noble closed at a one-year high of $19.62 yesterday. The price implies that arbitragers are expecting at least $158 million more from Liberty or a competing offer,the data show.
Clearly people are betting that maybe Burkle comes back.
It took nine months for a buyer to materialize after Barnes & Noble hired Lazard Ltd. to explore a sale. Some potential bidders balked at a purchase because of how long it may take the chain to generate more digital sales, two people with knowledge of the process, who asked not to be identified because negotiations weren’t public.
If Barnes & Noble is left without a buyer, investors risk the shares retreating 37 percent to their 20-day average of $12.35 before Malone’s proposal.
Liberty’s expectation is that the $17-a-share offer will be successful and represents fair value.
Burkle’s Yucaipa began building its stake in Barnes & Noble in November 2008, acquiring 8 percent of the stock at an average of $14.68 a share. A year later, the Los Angeles-based investment fund boosted its position to almost 17 percent with purchases averaging $19.86 a share.
The company’s board then adopted a so-called poison pill to prevent an unwanted takeover if an investor accumulates more than 20 percent.
Burkle, 58, lost a bid in court last year to invalidate the defense.
Yucaipa considered a buyout of Barnes & Noble at $25 a share before deciding it would be a waste of time because of the Riggio family’s stake.
Now, Yucaipa holds just under 20 percent of Barnes & Noble, after purchasing an additional 603,000 shares at an average of $18.49 on May 23, four days after Malone’s $17-a-share offer.
Burkle would like to take it private. He made that very clear last year. If Burkle and Aletheia Research and Management Inc., the company’s third- largest shareholder, don’t get a price they think they deserve, it may lead to a lawsuit.
Liberty will probably complete the deal at about $23 or $24 a share. That would represent a premium of as much as 41 percent to the current offer, or a boost of about $422 million.
While the company could afford to pay $22.60 a share, it will probably only go as high as $20.
Barnes & Noble suspended its dividend and sacrificed profits to build its digital book business since introducing the Nook in October 2009.
The company claims about 22 percent of the e-reader market and 27 percent of e-book sales in the U.S. Seattle-based Amazon released the Kindle about two years earlier and controls 67 percent of the e-reader market and 58 percent of e-book sales.
The Nook helped drive a 7.3 percent increase in revenue at stores open a year in the quarter ended Jan. 29, the first gain since 2007. Total revenue is projected to gain 5.6 percent to $7.4 billion in the fiscal year ending April 2012, while the company is expected to record a second consecutive net loss.
Getting Riggio’s support is necessary for anyone to pull off an acquisition. Shareholders’ best bet is to hold out for a higher bid from Liberty.
It’s more likely they will sweeten the offer than run away. It makes sense for Barnes & Noble shareholders to wait it out and hope for a better offer.
Overall, there have been 10,378 deals announced globally this year, totaling $1 trillion, a 22 percent increase from the $820.6 billion in the same period in 2010.