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Now that French media mogul Jean-Marie Messier will be spending half his time in the U.S., Vivendi Universal has bought him a $17.5 million Park Avenue duplex. -- The New York Observer Mad cows? Growth hormones? Health craze? Whatever the reason, milk is out, soy milk is in. Sales of pasteurized soy milk more than doubled their share of the refrigerated milk-products market last year, from 0.3% in 1999 to 0.7%, at milk's expense, says Susan Ruland of the International Dairy Foods Assn. In fact, the leading brand, Silk, is flying off the shelves so fast that some cities are reporting shortages.

Why? Fresh soy milk is low-fat, low-cholesterol, bovine-hormone free, full of protein--and it tastes like milk. Silk has had sales almost triple over the past year, from $30 million to $81 million, after its privately held producer, White Wave of Boulder, Colo., put it in milk-like cartons in 27,000 dairy sections nationwide. That's despite the fact that Silk costs more than double what milk does. Randy Rose, manager at Dehof's Key Market in Redwood City, Calif., sells 10 cases a week. "That's really high for a milk substitute," he says. "Everyone is drinking it."

Adherents of the growing Not Milk campaign (www.notmilk.com), who blame milk for everything from allergies to cancer to early-onset puberty, are ecstatic.

But the National Milk Producers Federation isn't. It is awaiting response to a February, 2000, letter to the Food & Drug Administration in which it asserted that soy milk is mislabeled. "The law says you don't got milk if it doesn't come from a cow," says a milk producers' spokesman. For the time being, though, consumers are moo-ning over the alternative. Want the latest buzzword on the business circuit? Just say "visibility." Or rather, lack of it. In recent months, the gyrations of the economy have caused corporate prognosticators, who once thought they could project far ahead on their earnings, to have a bit of trouble. Yahoo!? "Visibility is really poor for the back end of the year," said outgoing CEO Tim Koogle on Mar. 8. Cisco Systems? "The visibility is the tightest I have ever seen," CEO John Chambers told The Boston Globe on Mar. 15.

It's not clear when the word picked up this currency, but the Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms published in 1995 doesn't list it among its 5,000 entries. An unscientific scan of references found "visibility" used with earnings about 300 times a month late last year. But in March, even before the month ended, the same scan found 871 and counting.

Why? "Look at how bad the earnings estimates have been," explains Wharton School finance guru Jeremy Siegel. "Trying to look into the future, I don't know of a time that has been more difficult than now." It would be a slap in the face to John J. Sweeney, but the 500,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters is on the verge of pulling out of the AFL-CIO. Why? The carpenters feel that Sweeney isn't doing enough to revitalize labor and that they can spend their dues money better on their own. The last time such a split happened was 1968, when the United Auto Workers stomped out over the AFL-CIO's support of the Vietnam War. While carpenters' dues amount to just $3 million a year, the AFL-CIO needs every penny for its $100 million-plus budget. It has even drawn down its reserves.

Carpenters President Doug McCarron, who like Sweeney took over in late 1995, has moved more aggressively than any other labor leader. He has shoved out hundreds of deadbeat officials, merged overlapping locals, and drastically stepped up recruitment. In February, Sweeney sent McCarron a blistering letter that culminated two years of discord. In it, Sweeney asked to address the carpenters' executive council in a last-ditch effort to halt a breakup vote. He did so Mar. 27, but insiders say McCarron had already made up his mind. He wants out. Boeing caused a second earthquake in Seattle recently by announcing that it planned to move its headquarters to either Chicago, Dallas, or Denver. A look at the data shows why the move won't make much difference to Seattle's economy:

JOB GAINS FROM TECH

10,800 in past 12 months; Microsoft to add 2,100 more this year

JOB LOSSES FROM BOEING'S MOVE

500 (out of 1.7 million in the Puget Sound area)

BOEING'S SHARE OF STATE'S WORKFORCE

2.5%, down from more than 10% in 1968 The price battle in long-distance rates is getting so bloody that telecom companies are barely covering costs. As most consumers know, 5 cents a minute is the best rate they can get. But the federal government has that beat--with an offer from AT&T (T) for just 2 cents a minute, says Susan Kalla, a telecom analyst at BlueStone Capital Securities. Since AT&T has to pay local carriers to originate and end the calls, it's probably only just breaking even, she says. (Neither AT&T nor the government will comment.)

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, intrigued with Kalla's study of falling prices, is asking officials to look into their economic impact. Why? A current glut of optical fiber could cause long-term chaos. Companies began building up capacity in 1996, and things really picked up with the dot-com craze. But by 1999, supply shot ahead of demand and prices started dropping 30% to 40% a year. Kalla says each carrier thinks it will survive by picking up the customers of its dying rivals: "It's a kamikaze market-share game." In the end, though, they may just end up killing each other. Not everyone has written off the fortunes of dot-coms. In fact, Ritz-Carlton Hotels is counting on them being around for a good long time. Its newest hotel, set to open Mar. 30 in Half Moon Bay, just 30 miles from the epicenter of Silicon Valley, is up to its sheets in techie games and gadgets for the New Economy set.

Six months ago, Ritz-Carlton held a focus group with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, executives, and venture capitalists to find out what would really appeal to them. The result: Each of the Ritz's 261 rooms is equipped with a Nintendo 64 system (as requested) as well as standard high-speed Internet access and a safe that fits a laptop. What's more, the hotel has satellite capability, cell-phone rentals, and a 24-hour "tech butler." And the spa, built in consultation with a feng shui expert, boasts a co-ed mineral bath. A spokeswoman says the $100 million resort shows no indication of a tech downturn: Bookings are 21% higher than expected, "more than any other hotel at opening," she says. Hard to believe that California hasn't been able to build a major power plant for a decade? Not when you consider the case of Ahmanson Land Co., which has been trying for 15 years to build homes in Ventura County, north of L.A., to alleviate California's housing crisis.

It has battled 15 lawsuits and ceded 85% of its 13,000 acres to the state for park space. In 1999, two endangered species were discovered there: the San Fernando Valley Spineflower and the California red-legged frog. So prevalent in the 1800s that the frogs were common for dinner, fewer than 50 remain in Southern California.

Ahmanson President Guy Gniadek says that he plans to build around the spineflowers and frogs and--just in case--plant and breed more of them on the nearby park acreage. But environmentalists don't buy it. "This is a unique ecology," says Paul Nicholson of Save Open Space. "If we develop it, the frog and the flower won't survive."

A new environmental study is due in April. After that, the county, the state Fish & Wildlife Dept., the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all have to approve, too. Rough timetable? About two more years. U.S. online consumers "comfortable" providing credit-card information: via the Internet, 57%; by phone, 43.5%

Data: Market Facts Interactive


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