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"Anybody here heard any good lawyer jokes lately?" -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, in his speech at ComdexEdited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Making Book on a Memory Jogger

Is it the next great idea in e-commerce or just a rehash of something risky? LifeMinders.com has a respected underwriter in Hambrecht & Quist and 4 million members using its Web site. The company hoped to raise $59 million in its initial public offering on Nov. 19. Its basic business is sending members e-mail reminders--little notes not to forget Aunt Suzy's birthday or your nephew's graduation--along with a blitz of targeted ads.

LifeMinders, with $6 million in revenue in the first nine months of 1999, has yet to turn a profit with e-mail direct marketing. So what? Neither have some of its competitors. Yet shares of MyPoints.com have almost doubled recently, while YesMail.com has risen about 24% since its offering.

Some experts are skeptical. John Hagel, leader of McKinsey & Co.'s e-commerce practice, observes that companies that link consumers and vendors generate traffic, but little revenue--not always a great investment. Says Hegel: "It's a very big bet." Not so says Stephen Chapin, CEO. "The companies that know the most about their consumers are the ones that will be successful."By Joan Oleck; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

What a Divine Waterford Purse

Gucci, Prada, LVMH, and...Waterford Wedgewood? If Irish tycoon Tony O'Reilly has his way, the crystal and porcelain company he and associates bought control of back in 1990 will become one of the world's big luxury- goods companies. O'Reilly, the former H.J. Heinz CEO, says the company is looking to grow through acquisitions. Among its possible targets are manufacturers of leather goods, fine watches, and perfumes.

Waterford recently upped its profile by paying $110 million for All-Clad, a high-end cookware company. It has also been trying to boost sales of Wedgewood dinnerware in the U.S. by hiring the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, to be its spokeswoman. Waterford, meanwhile, sealed its highest-profile promotion ever by designing and building the big crystal ball to be lowered in New York's Times Square on the Millennial New Year's Eve. "We know what style is," says O'Reilly. "This is a company that should really take off."

He should hope so: With its American Depositary Receipts trading at just over $10, the Irish-based company is well off the high of $17 it hit more than two years ago.By Richard Siklos; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

The Tax Hombre Cometh

Mexico's maquiladoras, the duty-free assembly plants whose business has boomed under the North American Free Trade Agreement, exported $53 billion worth of goods last year, almost all to the U.S. Now, Mexico, eager for revenue, wants to hike taxes on them. The maquiladoras, mostly U.S.-owned, face only a light income-tax burden, but the Mexican government is signaling that hose days are over.

Earlier this year, Mexico announced an ambitious plan to tax the profits earned from the final sale of maquiladora products--everything from auto parts to answering machines. The industry howled that it amounted to double taxation. Parent companies are already taxed in the U.S. on those profits, and some hinted that they would even leave Mexico over the tax issue.

So Mexico's Finance Ministry and the U.S. have worked out a compromise. The maquiladoras will pay higher taxes--but get to deduct them from their U.S. levy. The plan takes effect in 2000 and will be renegotiated before 2003. For companies with big maquiladoras, like Delphi Automotive Systems or Lucent Technologies, it's a wash. Meanwhile, Mexico gets $150 million or more that would have otherwise ended up in U.S. tax coffers.By Elisabeth Malkin; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top


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