Friday, November 28, 2008
Retailers Offer Big Discounts, and Then Pray
Black Friday, long the Super Bowl of shopping, is at hand, but it may have become nearly irrelevant. Check out the deals that were already on offer earlier this week:
Diamond earrings at Macy’s were chopped to $249 from $700. A Marc Jacobs bag at Saks, originally $995, fell to $248.45. And for men, a Ted Baker suit at Lord & Taylor was selling not for the usual $895, but for $399.99.
Such crazy prices are a sign of the times, and analysts expect many more such deals during one of the toughest holiday seasons in decades.
Laden with excess inventory, hungry for sales and worried because of five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, the nation’s retailers went into a price-cutting frenzy long before the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. For weeks, they have been trying to outdo one another to capture the attention of consumers who have become numb to run-of-the-mill discounts. As the latest T. J. Maxx slogan goes: “Every day is Black Friday.”
In fact, retailers have had so many early “doorbusters” — jaw-dropping deals usually reserved for Black Friday — that “it’s almost not necessary to get up at 5 in the morning,” said Bill Dreher, a senior retailing analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities.
But the retailers are just getting warmed up.
The Toys “R” Us chain is planning the deepest discounts in its history on Friday, with 50 percent more doorbusters than last year. Other retailers are promising that their deals will be even more striking than the sales they have already unveiled — with Wal-Mart, for instance, promising large flat-panel televisions for less than $400.
Such bargains are likely to set the tone for the shopping season to come.
“There’s no reason to suspect this will end,” said Dan de Grandpre, editor in chief of Dealnews.com, which has been tracking Black Friday deals for about a decade. “This kind of heavy discounting will continue until we see some retailers start to fail, until they start to go out of business.”
Indeed, the intense competition could erode profits at many chains. Some retailing analysts even fear it could condition consumers to shop only when merchandise is deeply discounted.
Still, stores plan to pull out all the stops on Friday and through the weekend. After all, November and December sales make up 25 to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry group. (The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it was, historically, the day that many retailers moved into the black, or became profitable for the year.)
The deals were laid out in circulars tucked into newspapers on Thanksgiving Day, on retailers’ Web sites and on sites dedicated to sales and shopping strategies, like bfads.net and gottadeal.com. Many stores planned to open just after midnight Friday morning, and others — including Wal-Mart, Sears, Macy’s, Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys “R” Us and Old Navy — set their openings for 5 a.m. Target will open at 6 a.m. and BJ’s Wholesale Club at 7 a.m.
Consumers have been resisting the stores’ entreaties. In the first two weeks of November, retail categories like apparel, luxury goods and electronics and appliances all had double-digit sales declines, according to SpendingPulse sales reports from MasterCard. Grocers are just about the only stores doing well in this economy, as people hole up and eat at home instead of going to restaurants.
“If you’re in a sector that doesn’t sell food, you’re under a lot of pressure,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of SpendingPulse.
Projections vary about the likely success of this year’s Black Friday and the days following. A National Retail Federation survey said fewer people planned to shop this weekend — as many as 128 million, down from about 135 million who said they planned to shop Thanksgiving weekend sales last year. But a survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers found the opposite, that more people plan to shop this year.
Retailers are hoping for the best.
“This year I expect it to be bigger than ever,” said Gerald L. Storch, chairman and chief executive of Toys “R” Us. Citing the down economy, he explained: “I believe it will be huge because Black Friday is all about bargains.” ...
(Full story at nytimes.com)
Thursday, November 27, 2008
GRAPEVINE, Tex. — And on the seventh day, there was no rest for married couples. A week after the Rev. Ed Young challenged husbands and wives among his flock of 20,000 to strengthen their unions through Seven Days of Sex, his advice was — keep it going.
Mr. Young, an author, a television host and the pastor of the evangelical Fellowship Church, issued his call for a week of “congregational copulation” among married couples on Nov. 16, while pacing in front of a large bed. Sometimes he reclined on the paisley coverlet while flipping through a Bible, emphasizing his point that it is time for the church to put God back in the bed.
“Today we’re beginning this sexperiment, seven days of sex,” he said, with his characteristic mix of humor, showmanship and Scripture. “How to move from whining about the economy to whoopee!”
On Sunday parishioners at the Grapevine branch watched a prerecorded sermon from Mr. Young and his wife, Lisa, on jumbo screens over a candlelit stage. “I know there’s been a lot of love going around this week, among the married couples,” one of the church musicians said, strumming on a guitar before a crowd of about 3,000.
Mrs. Young, dressed in knee-high black boots and jeans, said that after a week of having sex every day, or close to it, “some of us are smiling.” For others grappling with infidelities, addictions to pornography or other bitter hurts, “there’s been some pain; hopefully there’s been some forgiveness, too.”
Mr. Young advised the couples to “keep on doing what you’ve been doing this week. We should try to double up the amount of intimacy we have in marriage. And when I say intimacy, I don’t mean holding hands in the park or a back rub.”...
(Full story at nytimes.com)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
As a result of the recent Fatwa, livelihood of many people in the Yoga business will be affected. One of them is Ninie Ahmad, a prominent Yoga instructor in Malaysia. She will now have to either change job or teach Yoga in another country.
Oni thinks Ninie should change job. Ninie might want to consider teaching i-Yoyo from now on instead of Yoga. i-Yoyo is originated from Obamaland and it has no historical link to Hinduism. There is currently no Fatwa against i-Yoyo.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the country. But these are not ordinary times.
For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property.
And for the first time, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan have each asked to lease space from the port for these orphan vehicles. They are turning dozens of acres of the nation’s second-largest container port into a parking lot, creating a vivid picture of a paralyzed auto business and an economy in peril.
“This is one way to look at the economy,” Art Wong, a spokesman for the port, said of the cars. “And it scares you to death.”
The backlog at the port is just part of a broader rise in the nation’s inventories, which were up 5.5 percent in September from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. The car industry has been hurt particularly, with sales down nearly 15 percent this year. General Motors has said it would run out of operating cash by the end of the year if it does not receive a government bailout.
But the inventory glut in Long Beach is not limited to imported cars. There has also been a sharp drop in demand for the port’s single largest export: recycled cardboard and paper products.
This material typically goes to China, where it is used to make boxes for new electronics and other products that are sent back to the United States. But Chinese factories reacting to sharply falling demand are slowing production, so they need less cardboard. Tons of paper are piling up recycling businesses around the port, the detritus of economies on hold.
Long Beach is an important port, particularly for the West. It is where imported products arrive and...
(full story at nytimes.com)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Immelt’s GE Purchases Signal Sell as Insiders Buy
By Eric Martin and Michael Tsang
Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt and Citigroup Inc.‘s Vikram Pandit are back to buying their own companies’ shares. That means there may be more stock declines to come. (Oni: Huh!?? WTF does this mean?)
CEOs, directors and other senior officers at New York Stock Exchange-listed companies purchased $1.37 billion worth of equities in October, according to Bethesda, Maryland-based research firm Washington Service. They snapped them up as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 17 percent, the most since 1987.
Insider buying, a bullish signal for two decades, lost its prescience this year and now may be a harbinger of a retreat in shares because it signals overconfidence, (Oni: sometimes it signals bullishness, sometimes it's just sign of overconfidence. It's fcuking confusing!?). according to Ben Silverman, director of research at InsiderScore.com, a stock tracking firm in Princeton, New Jersey. The last time officers bought as much was in March 2008, preceding a drop in the S&P 500 a month later, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
“Everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid,” said Michael Levine, a money manager at New York-based OppenheimerFunds Inc., which oversees $160 billion. “These guys know their companies better than the market, so they think they’ll be right. But the economic slowdown has happened much more quickly and has been much deeper than people expected.”
Insiders stepped up purchases in the past four months, buying $57 worth of shares for every $100 sold in October, from a low of $21 bought in June. The last time the amount of buying increased as much was in March, when executives bought $62 of shares for every $100 they sold.
Futures on the S&P 500 lost 0.6 percent today. The gauge gained 7.9 percent from the end of March to 1,426.63 on May 19, before giving up the entire advance the next month. The index has dropped 44 percent since reaching a record in October 2007 as signs of a recession increased and banks lost almost $1 trillion on mortgage-related investments.
Insiders scooped up $2.15 billion of stock in August 2007 as S&P 500 companies reported record quarterly profits. Executives at financial firms such as Wachovia Corp. Chairman Lanty Smith and Washington Mutual Inc. director Michael Murphy accounted for a third of purchases after industry profits reached an all-time high. The S&P 500 rose 6.2 percent from the end of the month until the start of the bear market in October.
“Recent history isn’t on their side,” said Silverman, whose firm tracks insider transactions for more than 325 institutional investors. “We saw in financials last year people fooled by their own imagination. Whether it was hubris or being too close, not being able to see the forest for the trees.”
The S&P 500 lost 6.2 percent last week, dragged down in part by a 14 percent plunge in Best Buy Co., the largest U.S. electronics retailer. The Richfield, Minnesota-based company said last week that profit and sales will fall more than analysts forecast. Founder Richard Schulze bought 1.76 million shares three weeks before the announcement. The purchases were his first in at least five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
A phone message left for Best Buy spokeswoman Susan Busch wasn’t returned.
GE’s Immelt purchased 50,000 shares at prices from $16.41 to $16.45 on Nov. 13, the same day the stock dipped below $15 for the first time since 1996.
Immelt, who took over on Sept. 7, 2001, bought GE stock after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington four days later. The 52-year-old executive works without a contract and has always exceeded a requirement that he hold shares valued at least six times his salary. With his most recent purchase, Immelt now owns more than 1.62 million GE shares, based on U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Immelt’s purchase “reflects his confidence in the company,” said Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for the Fairfield, Connecticut- based company.
Pandit, 51, bought 750,000 common shares on Nov. 13, paying an average of about $9.25 apiece, New York-based Citigroup said in a filing with the SEC. He also bought 100,000 preferred shares. In all, he spent about $8.4 million. Citigroup closed last week at $9.52.
“The purchases reflect the belief in the long-term strength and growth opportunities of the company,” said Citigroup spokesman Michael Hanretta.
Nine officers and two directors at Consolidated Edison Inc., including Chief Financial Officer Robert Hoglund, bought the stock at $42.79 on Oct. 3. One month later, the owner of New York City’s biggest utility said third-quarter profit fell 42 percent, more than analysts estimated, on higher operating costs and taxes. The stock dropped 9.2 percent since their purchases.
The Consolidated Edison executives weren’t available to comment, a spokesman for the New York-based company said.
In the past, insider purchases were a reliable indicator for investors looking to buy. Between 1988 and 2007, executives at NYSE-listed companies were net buyers on eight occasions, monthly data compiled by Washington Service show. In every case, the S&P 500 rallied in the following 12 months, posting an average advance of 21 percent.
Penn Capital Management’s Eric Green still considers buying by company executives to be bullish, especially when U.S. stocks are trading at historic lows relative to profits.
The S&P 500 fetches 9.96 times next year’s estimated earnings from continuing operations, compared with the weekly average of 21.1 times historical operating profit over the past decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“It’s always bullish when the insiders are buying because they believe in the fundamentals of the company and think the valuations make no sense,” said Green, director of research at Penn Capital Management in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which oversees $3 billion. “This market could go up very, very quickly, and if you’re not in it you’ll miss it.”
So far, fundamentals such as earnings have dropped along with stocks. Profits at S&P 500 companies declined for five straight quarters, the most since 2001. One-third of companies, including Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Co. and Seattle- based Starbucks Corp., missed analysts’ estimates for third- quarter earnings -- the biggest shortfall since 1997, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
“If you’re a company insider, you may not fully appreciate the economic wreckage going on worldwide,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago, who helps manage about $60 billion. “From the inside out, the company looks a lot more solid than from the outside in.”
Monday, November 10, 2008
SHANGHAI — China on Sunday announced a huge economic stimulus package aimed at bolstering its weakening economy and perhaps helping fight the effects of a global economic slowdown.
In a sweeping move at a time when major projects are being put off around the world, Beijing said it would spend an estimated $586 billion by 2010 on wide array of national infrastructure and social welfare projects, including constructing new railways, subways, airports and rebuilding communities devastated by an earthquake in southwest China in May.
The package, announced by the State Council Sunday evening, is the largest economic stimulus effort ever undertaken by the Chinese government and would amount to about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product during each of the next two years.
Beijing also said it was loosening credit and encouraging lending as part of a more “pro-active fiscal policy.”
“Over the past two months, the global financial crisis has been intensifying daily,” the State Council said in its statement. “In expanding investment, we must be fast and heavy-handed.”
The announcement came less than a week before President Hu Jintao is scheduled to travel to Washington for a global economic summit meeting that will be attended by world leaders and hosted by President Bush. There, China is expected to be pressed by world leaders to do its part to help strengthen the global economy in the face of what some economists say is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
But Beijing has already indicated that it intends to help stabilize the global economy by looking inward, and helping keep the world¡¯s fastest-growing economy on track.
At a weekend meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the head of China’s Central Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, said China can help stabilize international markets by encouraging consumption at home.
And on Saturday, Chinese President Hu spoke by telephone with President-elect Barack Obama about a range of issues, including the global financial crisis and how the two countries might cooperate to help resolve economic problems, according to China’s state-run news media.
Beijing is already struggling to cope with a rapidly slowing economy at home.
After five years of growth in excess of 10 percent, China’s economy is beginning to weaken because of slowing export and investment growth, waning consumer confidence and severely depressed stock and property markets.
The downturn in investment and exports has led to factory closures in southern China, triggering mass layoffs and even sporadic protests by workers who have complained that owners disappeared without paying them their wages.
With many economists in China now projecting that growth in the fourth quarter of this year could be as low as 5.8 percent, and worries that China’s economic miracle could be walloped by the global financial crisis, Beijing is moving aggressively.
While it is unclear how much of the stimulus money is additional government spending, on top of what the government normally earmarks for its infrastructure projects, the government made clear it was aimed at propelling growth for the next two and a quarter years.
“That is much more aggressive than I expected,” said Frank Gong, a Hong Kong based economist at J.P. Morgan. “That’s a lot of money to spend.”
Mr. Gong said that after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Beijing undertook a similar, but much smaller, stimulus package, earmarking huge sums to build the country’s massive highway and toll road system, which helped keep the economy growing.
Arthur Kroeber, managing director at Dragonomics, a Beijing-based economic research firm, said the government is concerned because people in China have suddenly pulled back on spending as a precautionary move because of worries about China suffering with the global economy.
“The government is sending a signal saying: ‘We’re going to spend in a big way,’ ” Mr. Kroeber said late Sunday in a telephone interview. “This is designed to say to the market that people should not panic.”
Thursday, November 6, 2008
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh
And eat well
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody ‘ll dare
Say to me
“Eat in the Kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed -
I, too, am America.
- Langston Hughes
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Vatican, Hit By Crisis, Leads Crackdown on `Slackers'
By Flavia Krause-Jackson
Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- For the first time in almost half a century, Vatican administration staff will clock in for work as part of a clampdown on slackers, a sign that the global financial crisis has also spread to the world's smallest state.
Timekeeping was scrapped in 1960 under Pope John XXIII. Starting Jan. 1, the practice returns. All Holy See employees will be given magnetic badges and forced to clock in and out in an effort to track their movements and ensure they're working a full day, said a Vatican spokesman who declined to be named.
``We can't afford any waste,'' Bishop Renato Boccardo, secretary of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, told La Stampa newspaper. ``There is a lot of work that needs doing, and the financial situation doesn't allow us to hire more staff.'' A spokesman confirmed the comments today.
The Vatican, located across Rome's Tiber River and home to Pope Benedict XVI, relies on earnings from $1 billion in stocks, bonds and real estate to top up donations from Catholics around the world. While the Holy See benefited in the 1990s from booming stock markets and a strong dollar, it plunged into the red in 2003 and again in 2007 because of the U.S. currency's tumble. The financial turmoil is now taking its toll as well.
``The results from the first part of 2008 are worrying and don't inspire optimism,'' according to a Vatican document published on Sept. 26 by U.K. Catholic weekly ``The Tablet.'' Vincenzo Di Mauro, secretary of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs for the Holy See, declined to comment on the current state of the Vatican's finances.
The Holy See, the central administration for the Roman Catholic Church, swung into a deficit in 2007 because of ``brusque and accentuated inversion of the currency markets, above all the American dollar,'' according to a statement posted on the Vatican Web site on July 9. The combined surplus in the past three years was 15.2 million euros ($19.4 million).
The push for greater efficiency comes from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees the property owned by the Holy See. The source of the Vatican's wealth invested in the global markets dates to the 1929 Lateran Treaties, when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini compensated the pope for the loss of the Papal States in 1870 with the reunification of Italy.
The Holy See, which according to its annual financial statement has 2,748 employees including priests and lay people, has also devised an evaluation system to reward hard workers and punish slackers, the spokesman said. According to the new measures, prolonged absences will result in pay cuts while virtuous employees can benefit from bonuses.
Vatican workers earn between 1,300 euros and 2,300 euros a month, according to La Stampa newspaper. In addition to their salaries, they also enjoy perks such as duty-free gas and subsidized housing.