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Yahoo shares up on Alibaba report December 3, 2011

There has been growing speculation about Alibaba preparing a takeover bid for Yahoo

Shares in Yahoo rose on reports that China’s Alibaba Group was preparing a takeover bid with private equity firms Blackstone and Bain Capital.

Yahoo shares ended Thursday trading on the Nasdaq tech exchange 3.3% higher, having been 4.8% up at one point.

Unconfirmed reports said the consortium may pay up to $20 per share – well above Thursday’s close of $16.23 – valuing Yahoo at $25bn (£16bn).

Alibaba, one of China’s top internet firms, said it was weighing options.

“Alibaba Group has not made a decision to be part of a whole company bid for Yahoo,” said John Spelich, spokesman of Alibaba Group.

Buying back stake?

Alibaba has had a long association with Yahoo, but relations have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

Continue reading the main story

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Alibaba definitely wants to get its stake back from Yahoo, so whatever can make that happen, they will try for it”

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Dick Wei
JP Morgan

The two companies came together after Yahoo bought a 43% stake in Alibaba in 2005 for $1bn.

However, things between the two have not worked out as planned, prompting Alibaba to try and buy back its stake.

The relations hit a turning point earlier this year after Alibaba spun off its online payment business, Alipay, effectively putting it out of the reach of Yahoo.

Yahoo accused the Chinese company of hiding the switch from it, saying the change had been made in August 2010, but it only found out about it in March this year.

Analysts said Alibaba’s interest in bidding for Yahoo was being dictated in part by its efforts to get back full control of its own company.

“Alibaba definitely wants to get its stake back from Yahoo, so whatever can make that happen, they will try for it,” said Dick Wei of JP Morgan in Hong Kong.

Contrasting fortunes

Yahoo has been struggling to keep hold of its market share amid growing competition from the likes of Google and Facebook.

Its failure to do so resulted in chief executive Carol Bartz being fired earlier this year, and the company launching a strategic review of its operations.

While Yahoo has seen its fortunes fall, Alibaba Group has been growing robustly, helped by a boom in the Chinese internet market.

With more than 500 million users, China is the world’s biggest online market and it is is expanding at a rapid pace.

Alibaba has cashed in on the growth. The group’s online shopping website Taobao is the largest in China and boasts 50 million unique visitors a day.

It has become the top destination for almost three-quarters of the country’s online shoppers.

It hosts 30,000 online stores, and about 53,000 items are sold on the Taobao website every minute.

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Superman comic sells for $2.16m December 2, 2011

Action Comics No 1 sold originally for 10 cents

A copy of the first issue of Action Comics, featuring Superman’s debut, has become the world’s most expensive comic, fetching $2.16m (£1.4m).

It was auctioned online for a starting bid of just $1, with a reserve price of $900,000.

The buyer or seller’s name was not disclosed, but there is speculation it was owned by actor Nicolas Cage.

It is the first time a comic book has broken the $2m barrier. The issue was published in 1938 and cost 10 cents.

About 100 copies of Action Comics No 1 are thought to be in existence, and only a handful of those are in good condition.

Another copy of the same issue sold for a then record-breaking $1.5m in March last year.

But that one was not in as good condition as the copy that sold on Wednesday through New York-based ComicConnect.

It is said to have been stolen in 2000 and was thought lost until recovered in a California storage shed in April this year – just like an issue owned by Nicolas Cage.

The Hollywood star – who has a son called Kal-El, the Man of Steel’s birth name – bought his copy of Action Comics No 1 for $150,000 in 1997.

Connoisseurs of the comic world say this type of investment has become popular during troubled economic times because rare collectibles hold their value more reliably than property or shares.

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US Thanksgiving retail sales up November 28, 2011

US retailers have reported a bumper start to the Christmas season

US retail sales figures in the critical Thanksgiving weekend rose 16% versus a year ago to $52.4bn, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has said.

The figures include Black Friday, the first day after the Thanksgiving holiday, when stores reopen.

NRF estimated that 86 million customers shopped online and in-store on Black Friday – the day traders traditionally leave the red and make a profit.

Thanksgiving Day itself saw 29 million shoppers.

According to research by ShopperTrak, provider of retail and mall foot-traffic counting services, Black Friday sales increased 6.6% over the same day last year.

This is equal to $11.4bn in retail purchases, and the biggest dollar amount ever spent during the day.

Retail foot-traffic rose accordingly, by 5.1% over Black Friday 2010.

Analysts are awaiting the results of Monday’s trading, known as Cyber Monday, which online retailers including Amazon cite as their biggest business day of the year.

‘Largest increase since 2007′

US electrical retailer Best Buy was cited as a strong performer over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Its strategy of opening stores at midnight on Thursday, and offering deals that could only be found in-store, forcing shoppers to step inside, was seen as a smart business move by analysts.

Shoppertrak founder Bill Martin said: “This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak’s national retail sales estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3% increase we saw between 2007 and 2006.

“Still, it’s just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behaviour through the holiday shopping season.”

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Discounts aid online sales surge

Amazon warehouses expect this to be the busiest time of the year for online orders

Online sales rose faster than expected in the US on Black Friday, according to surveys.

Internet sales totalled $816m (£524m), a 26% gain on last year, said Comscore. IBM Coremetrics put the rise at 24%.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is treated by many retailers as the start of the Christmas shopping season. They offer one-off discounts to mark the occasion.

Analysts said heavy promotional activity helped drive demand.

By comparison, a report by Shoppertrak suggested that in-store Black Friday sales were up by 7% on last year, at $11.4bn.

Beating the rush

Around 50 million Americans visited online retail sites on Friday, according to Comscore.

It said Amazon was the most popular destination, with 50% more visitors than any other retailer.

Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Apple were next in line, said the analytics company.

“Despite some analysts’ predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce,” said Comscore’s chairman, Gian Fulgoni.

Mobile shopping

IBM Coremetrics also noted a trend towards shopping on smartphones and tablet computers.

It said Black Friday purchases made on mobile devices had accounted for 9.8% of all online sales, compared with 3.2% last year.

IBM described mobile shoppers as having had a “laser focus” since they had been more likely to view a single page on a retailer’s site rather than browse what else was for sale.

IBM said Apple’s iPhone and iPad had generated the most mobile internet visits to online stores, accounting for more than double the traffic originating from devices running Google’s Android system.

The company also noted a jump in Black Friday related chatter on social networks. It recorded a 110% rise in discussion volumes after consumers had shared tips on how to secure products before they sold out and the best places to park.

Cyber Monday

Friday’s internet sales are expected to be eclipsed today on what is referred to as Cyber Monday – which many experts believe will be the US’s busiest online shopping day of the year.

Close to 123 million Americans plan to make an online purchase according to a survey commissioned by the US National Retail Federation, an industry lobby group. That would be a 15% increase on last year.

NRF said nearly eight in ten online retailers would run special promotions including “flash sales that last an hour” and “free shipping offers”.

The federation also highlighted the shift to mobile devices, saying it expected 17.8 million Americans to use them to shop today, nearly five times the number in 2009.

“Retailers have invested heavily in mobile apps and related content as the appetite for Cyber Monday shopping through smartphones and tablets continues to rise,” said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of the NRF’s website shop.org.

Cyber confusion

UK internet retailers said it was less clear which day will be the UK’s busiest online shopping day this year.

“Over the last couple of years we have seen a fortnight of peak activity over the period corresponding to both this and next week,” said Andy Mulcahy, a spokesman for the industry body Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).

“We expect £3.72bn will be spent online over the two week period.”

Mr Mulcahy said that although some retailers are trying to generate interest in the idea of Cyber Monday in the UK, they are split over which day to mark.

He added that since many online retailers had been offering discounts of up to 70% for several months, customers might not have noticed a big difference in the level of promotional activity.

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Cyber Monday outlook: Big deals, sales

New York (CNNMoney) — Did you skip the lines on Black Friday? There’s still Cyber Monday — and analysts are expecting an abundance of deals to bring in record online sales this year.

Andrew Lipsman, an industry analyst at data tracking firm ComScore, said sales for the one-day shopping event are projected to hit a record $1.2 billion this year.

Almost every major retailer plans on taking advantage of the hottest day to shop online. According to the Shop.org’s eHoliday survey, eight out of 10 online retailers will offer promotions on Cyber Monday.

A survey by comparison shopping site PriceGrabber found that 39% of consumers who planned to shop over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend said they intended to do so on Cyber Monday. That’s up 2 percentage points from last year.

It’s a trend analysts are calling “couch commerce” — more people want to spend money online from the comfort of their homes rather than head out to the shops.

Lelah Manz, chief strategist of commerce at Akamai, cited the rise of tablet computers in the last year as a major game-changer in e-commerce.

Does Cyber Monday really save you money?

Cyber Monday can get you to Hawaii

“If you think about when the concept of Cyber Monday was first born, it was a time when people had dial-up access at home — it was the office place or the workplace where they could access sites,” Manz said. “Now everyone has broadband access. People have tablets, they’re able to get online earlier and at home, and retailers are trying to capture that mind share.”

According to an IBM Coremetrics report, 15% of web traffic in the U.S. in November will stem from smart phones and tablets rather than PC’s. In order to tap into that traffic, retailers are rolling out the deals early this year, said Manz.

As valuable ad space is snatched up by major retailers, mid-sized retailers are leaking deals ahead of Cyber Monday to get their place in the spotlight too, said Graham Jones, general manager of PriceGrabber.

“What we saw last year — a lot of the medium size retailers, they didn’t get in front of the consumers, so they are the ones leaking the deals earlier,” Jones said. “The earlier these deals are coming out is a function of the retailers not wanting to be squeezed out of the limelight.”

But don’t expect the online deals ahead of Cyber Monday to impact the big day. According to a Shop.org survey, nearly 60% of workers will go online to shop for holiday gifts at work, and many of the retailers are waiting for Monday to push out some of the best promotions.

“Consumers have come to expect the absolute best online holiday deals on Cyber Monday,” Pam Goodfellow, BIGresearch Consumer Insights Director, said in a release. BIGresearch is a marketing research firm that conducts surveys for the industry trade group National Retail Federation.

Online companies are still placing big bets on Cyber Monday and taking steps to prep for a day when online traffic is expected to spike. OpenSky, an online shopping platform that offers products curated by various celebrities and influential people — from chef Tom Colicchio to fashion designer Cynthia Rowley — has been ramping up efforts to make sure the site runs smoothly.

“We’re expecting our biggest day ever – we have 10,000 new people joining OpenSky every day and we expect sales to be five times our largest day,” said OpenSky Founder John Caplan. “We’ve made improvements to the site to make it run faster. We’ve added additional shipping options, gift wrapping, customer service staff and have all hands on deck from now through the holiday.”

The company also plans to announce lifestyle guru Martha Stewart as a curator on the site – a move the six-month-old company hopes will boost interest in the biggest online shopping day of the year.


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Google Street View heads indoors October 30, 2011

An Australian chocolate shop is one of the first retailers to sign up to the service

Google has started a pilot project allowing the public to look inside shops and other businesses found on its maps.

The feature is an extension of the firm’s Street View technology, which already lets users view 360-degree exterior images.

The existing service prompted some privacy complaints from people who claimed the technology was intrusive.

However, Google said the new scheme was on a completely voluntary basis.

“Building on the Google Art Project, which took Street View technology inside 17 acclaimed museums, this project is another creative implementation of Street View technology, to help businesses as they build their online presence,” said a company spokesman.

“We hope to enable businesses to highlight the qualities that make their locations stand out through professional, high-quality imagery.”

First steps

Initially the roll-out is limited to select locations including London, Paris and a number of cities in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The US company said it was beginning the process by inviting the most searched types of businesses to request a visit by its photographers.

Google said these included restaurants, hotels, shops, gyms and vehicle repair workshops.

However, it has ruled out big-brand chains for the time being. Hospitals and lawyers’ offices have also been excluded.

Business owners are told they must warn their customers and employees about the photoshoot before it begins. Google has promised it will blur out or refuse to publish any images that include bystanders.

The photoshoots will produce 360-degree images using fish-eye and wide-angle lenses as well as stills. Business owners are also invited to upload their own pictures.

The search site notes that all photographs taken will become its property and that they may be used for other applications. Business owners may request their removal, but the terms and conditions do not include a commitment to comply.

“Retail is always a competitive sector, but this is particularly true at a time of falling disposable incomes,” said Sarah Cordey, spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium.

“Many retailers are increasing their online presence and use of technological innovations, so this is a development some businesses will no doubt consider with interest.”

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Online Program Touts Reunification to South Korean Youth October 28, 2011

This week negotiators from Washington, South Korea, China and Russia are trying to get the stalled North Korea nuclear talks back on track. The talks are aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program – something that South Korea has long insisted must occur before they could consider reunification. But for many young South Koreans, born decades after the Korean War, reunification is one of the last things on their minds. However a new government-sponsored online television channel hopes to change that.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry handles relations with North Korea.  It is also responsible for preparing the South Korean people for the day when reunification with the North eventually happens.

Lee Seung Shin of the ministry’s public relations department, says the government is trying new ways to get its message out to the people.

Lee says new media technologies are allowing the ministry to better promote its policies.   He says people do not read pamphlets anymore.  They are more accustomed to getting information from the Internet, SMS, television or smart phones,

Unification Channel

Starting this October, the Unification Ministry launched an online video on demand website called the Unification Channel.

The site is updated weekly and features news reports, interviews and media briefings from the ministry all about North Korea.

But the Unification Channel also aims to provide some laughs.

Viewers can watch a 20-episode comedy about a South Korean family that adopts a North Korean refugee.  The description of the show says the characters will confront various issues related to reunification.  

Reluctant youth

The Unification Ministry says the online channel, as well as new Facebook and Twitter accounts, are all attempts to get young South Koreans interested in North Korea.

But some observers say that reaching out to Koreans in their teens and early twenties will not be easy.  

Analyst Andrei Lankov at Seoul’s Kookmin University says after nearly 70 years of division, most youths just do not see the point anymore of reunification.  

“Pretty much nobody among the younger generation of Koreans is seriously interested in unification and North Korea,” he said. “North Korea is increasingly seen as a distant country, an irrelevant place, a poor dictatorship whose population happens to speak the same language.”  

Lankov says the irony is that this generation is more likely than any before to witness a time when the North Korean government ceases to exist.

Despite that, Lankov says he doubts the Unification Channel will be able to change the apathy of young Koreans.  

“Such efforts, efforts to promote unification, to remind South Koreans that North Korea does exist, are essentially good. However I am very skeptical about the results.  Frankly, I don’t think all these new kinds of channels and talks will make much difference,” he said.

The Unification Ministry’s Lee Seung Shin says he understands that many young South Koreans have more immediate things to worry about, like studying for school or finding jobs.  

But Lee says what most concerns nearly all South Koreans is the potential cost of reunification.

Heavy price tag

Lee says the costs are going to be huge. When Germany reunited, the Western Germans had to suffer and were burdened because of costs.  He says people here know reunification will be tough on them too so this is another reason why they have lost interest in reunification.   

The Korea Institute for National Unification estimates that the price tag of reunifying the peninsula at up to $200 billion.

To offset that economic burden, the South Korean government has proposed setting up a so-called Unification Tax.  If enacted, the money will come out of the paychecks of mostly young workers.  

Twenty-four-year-old Hwa Seung Hyun, a student at Seoul Women’s University, says the unification channel should explain how that money would be used.     

“We have to know about North Korea before we unify and also government should teach us why we have to unify before they get our tax,” said Hwa. But she adds she is not so sure she will actually log in to watch the Unification channel.

The same goes for her classmate, 21-year-old Ta-eun.  She says she cannot understand why the two nations should reunite, especially after attacks launched by North Korea in 2010, which killed 50 South Koreans.

“It seems like they do not want to cooperate with us or the world,” she said. “I think that all the members of the world are trying to solve the bad relationship between the South and the North, but only the North is uncooperative.”  

Although it is still too early to tell how many South Koreans will watch the new Unification Channel, there are signs that North Korea is paying attention.

Recently, the North’s own official media called the channel psychological warfare and declared it an act of aggression aimed at preventing reunification.

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Groupon plans scaled back flotation as eurozone crisis deflates plans October 20, 2011

Online discount firm Groupon is planning a scaled-back stock market flotation that will value the firm at less than half the sky-high price it was hoping to fetch less than six months ago.

The firm is planning an initial public offering of less than 10% of the company at a value of $12.5bn (£8bn), according to reports. In May when the company announced plans to go public, analysts were predicting values of between $20bn and $30bn.

But a series of missteps by the company and stock market jitters caused by the eurozone crisis have cut into the company’s plans.

The three-year-old firm founded by the former music student Andrew Mason sells discounts to local businesses. By some measures it is the fast growing firm of all time and now has over 50 million subscribers in 43 countries.

Last year Google offered $6bn to buy the firm but was rejected as the company seemed headed for one of the biggest IPOs in recent history. But in August regulators forced Groupon to pull an unusual accounting metric called “adjusted consolidated segment operating income” from its offering materials.

And in September questions from the US’s top financial watchdog the Securities and Exchange Commission led to the firm cutting its reported revenue in half. The company cancelled plans for an IPO roadshow to court investors and its chief operating officer left the firm.

The company is now expected to begin marketing a scaled back share sale next week. The move comes as a number of social media firms preparing IPOs have also reviewed their plans. Zynga, the online game developer behind CityVille, FarmVille and Words With Friends, announced plans in July for a $1bn IPO and has yet to set a date for completion. Amid the stock market turmoil, Facebook has put back plans for an IPO next year that could value it at more than $66bn.

Selling a small slice of shares has proved successful for other recent tech firm IPOs, at least in the short term. Shares in LinkedIn, the business-focused social network, more than doubled on their first day of trading when the firm went public in May. The company sold an 8% stake in the IPO. Its shares are now trading below that first day “pop”.

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Rupert Murdoch’s Daily averaging just 120,000 readers a week September 29, 2011

Rupert Murdoch‘s iPad-only newspaper is averaging just 120,000 readers a week, less than a quarter the number he said the publication needs to make money, an advertising executive close to the Daily has told Bloomberg.

Murdoch personally launched the Daily in February, just before he became embroiled in the News Corp phone-hacking scandal. The news service would herald a new journalism for new times, he said. It would combine the “serendipity and surprise” of newspapers with the speed and versatility of new technology and make news-gathering “viable again”.

Murdoch said: “We believe the Daily will be the model for how stories are told and consumed.”

Eight months on, the title appears to be struggling to find an audience. The 120,000 figure comes from John Nitti, executive vice-president of Publicis Group’s media-buying division Zenith Optimedia, who has seen internal figures for the title. Nitti told Bloomberg the actual figure may be less, since people can read the Daily free for two weeks and the figure for so-called unique weekly visitors includes people who pay and those who don’t.

“They won’t tell us how many paying subscribers, but that’s how many uniques the Daily is getting,” said Nitti, who gets figures from the publication because he works with Verizon Wireless, a Daily sponsor.

The circulation figures would put Murdoch’s star launch on a par with the readership of the Blade in Toledo, Ohio and the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Murdoch said in February that the Daily needed 500,000 readers a week to break even. After the free trial, subscribers pay 99¢ per week or $39.99 a year to read the publication. News Corp has not given out figures on the Daily’s readership, but has said that more than 1m people had downloaded the application to their iPad’s by the end of June.

In May, Chase Carey, News Corp’s chief operating officer, defended the Daily. He told analysts on an earnings call that the company viewed the title as “a work in progress,” insisted it was “early days”, and said that the company was “not going to build this in a fishbowl.”

Paul Grabowicz, associate dean of the Berkeley School of Journalism, said he had not been following the Daily and was not a subscriber.

“What I would say is that if you take a general newspapers content and put it online, chances are you are going to get a low subscriber rate.”

But professor Paul Levinson of Fordham University said 120,000 wasn’t bad for a new publication. “They have built something from nothing,” he said. “The problem is that anything you have to pay for is going to be a problem online.”

News Corp is expanding the Daily’s reach beyond Apple’s iPad. It has released a version for Facebook that offers a small selection of articles for free and will be available on tablets using Google’s Android software.

Nitti told Bloomberg that 120,000 readers was a respectable figure for the fledgling publication.

“We do value the Daily and what it brings to the table,” he said, pointing out that Verizon will continue to advertise with the publication. “It’ll be interesting over the next six months, without the launch buzz, how engagement continues.”

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Amish jailed by Kentucky judge over warning triangle fine non-payment September 17, 2011

Eight Amish men have been jailed by a judge in Kentucky for non-payment of fines after refusing to fix reflective orange warning triangles to the back of their horse-drawn buggies.

The unusual suspects, whose mugshots have been published online, were arrested for misdemeanours. A ninth man was arrested but not jailed.

The group hail from the stricter Old Order Swartzentruber sect and objected to the bright triangles on modesty grounds, saying they were barred from wearing or displaying anything bright or colourful.

Members of the sect can affix reflective tape to their vehicles but refuse the orange triangle – a legal requirement on slow-moving vehicles.

After their arrest, the group subsequently refused to pay any fines as that would, in turn, mean recognising the law they refuse to obey.

Judge Deborah Hawkins of Graves County district sentenced eight of the men to between three and 10 days in jail for their refusal to pay up.

Local television station WPSD reported that a “concerned citizen” had paid the fine for the ninth man so that he could be with his sick child.

The case has been running since 2008 and the men have been represented by a civil rights group, but it was reported that their latest appeal was refused in June. William Sharp, their lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, invoked their constitutional right to religious liberty.

“This case is about the right of Kentuckians to freely exercise their religious beliefs and, by necessity, the limits of government’s ability to impose a substantial burden on that right.”

Because of the belief no bright clothing should be worn, the men were given dark-coloured jumpsuits to wear rather than standard issue orange overalls.

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