) announced that it would pay InterTrust Technologies $28.5 million to license processes that could require consumers to pay extra to "unlock" music disks for downloads and MP3 burning. These could be embedded in disks to prevent unauthorized copying, a Sony exec says.
Sony turned to an outside copyright protector for help a week after technophiles trumpeted a way to foil safeguards on CDs from Sony and other labels--merely by dragging a felt-tip marker around the rim. News that the marker blocks Sony's Key2Audio copy-preventing technology spread quickly on Internet news groups and chat rooms. "They spend millions on copy protection, and a 20 cents marker breaks it. haha," said one posting on geek.com.
Sony, which has sold more than 20 million protected disks by artists such as Celine Dion, says the markers can damage CDs and players. But that has done little to discourage determined copiers. With every new safeguard, someone almost always figures out a way around it.
If history is any guide, folks could be illegally burning CDs for months or years to come. High-tech investment bank Robertson Stephens raised more than $2 billion in public offerings during the tech boom, but has lost millions ever since. And now that owner FleetBoston Financial (FBF
) has put it on the block, the firm looks about as frothy as a day-old latte. Industry sources say at least three foreign banks have considered buying Robertson, including HSBC (HBC
) and BNP Paribas. But none has pulled the trigger--at least not at the price Fleet wants. (Early estimates of the bank's value were about $500 million.) Other lookers, including Bear Stearns and Wells Fargo, have already passed.
Time is now running out to fetch a decent price. Not only does the firm face potentially significant liability from government probes into how it may have charged excessive commissions, but talent is walking out the door. Most recently, biotech banker Mark Simon, who has brought in 33% of Robertson's revenues so far this year, left to join a rival. "This is a rapidly declining asset," says one source. Fleet declines comment.
For now, that leaves the most likely scenario a management buyout, which could bring back former Chief Executive Michael McCaffrey as chairman, the sources say. To restore the old froth, he'll have his work cut out for him. When Brazilian soccer superstar Ronaldo takes the field this month at the World Cup in South Korea, he'll be clad in the lightest high-performance soccer shoe ever--one-third the weight of others. Nike is betting Ronaldo will help it grab a larger share of the $2.5 billion global soccer business and supplant the dominant player, Adidas-Salomon. Soccer, says Nike Vice-President Joaquin Hidalgo, "has become a priority for the Nike brand."
In fact, Nike's global expansion plans center around soccer. In most countries, soccer mania rules, and basketball and baseball are viewed as quintessentially American. If Nike can penetrate the global soccer-shoe market, it can then promote spin-offs such as soccer clothes and street shoes. Nike hopes for soccer revenues of $1 billion in five years, up from $450 million last year.
Nike's chances are those of a corner kick--promising, but far from certain. The $170 ultralight, the Mercurial Vapor, is costing millions to develop and market. But success will prompt a fierce match between Nike and Adidas. During the bull market, it seemed as if mutual-fund managers were about as loyal to their own funds as day traders were to their stock picks. Hedge funds and investment banks, flush with cash, lured away many of the hottest mutual-fund managers, such as PBHG's Jim McCall, who, after suing to get out of his employment agreement, went to Merrill Lynch. Others fled the industry to start hedge funds. A wave of mergers brought still more rounds of musical chairs.
As it turns out, these were just the high-profile cases. At the biggest funds, rather than bouncing from job to job, it seems fund managers mostly have been staying put, new research from Morningstar shows. Tenures for managers at the 50 largest mutual funds have increased to an average of 8.1 years, vs. 5.7 years when last measured in 1997, before the tech boom took hold. Collectively, the 50 largest funds manage well over $1 trillion.
Unless a fund is doing poorly, turnover can be cause for concern because a new manager can change a fund's strategy. That can leave investors with stock picks and risks they hadn't bargained for, never mind the possibility of falling returns. And long-serving managers often have excellent records. The manager with the longest stint among funds surveyed is Ed Owens, with 18 years at Vanguard Health Care and a 10-year average annual return of 21%. Next is Bill Gross, who has managed bond fund PIMCO Total Return for 15 years. He has returned about 9% annually since 1987.
Still, Morningstar hasn't established a solid link between manager tenure and performance. Overall, says Russel Kinnel, Morningstar's director of mutual fund analysis, "lousy funds stay lousy, and good funds stay good." No matter who's at the helm. For adventurous folk not ready to spend $20 million on a vacation in space, the cost of exploring the earth's last remaining frontier--the ocean--is a comparative bargain. For $15,000, Graham Hawkes, the world's leading designer of commercial and scientific submarines, will teach you to "fly" his sub-sea craft, the Deep Flight Aviator.
His new creation resembles the U.S. Air Force's A-10 Tank Buster jet. It does, in fact, "fly" through the water like a plane, but its upside-down wings generate reverse lift, pulling it deeper. Its top speed is almost double the 7 miles per hour of whales, and it can track ocean creatures at depths up to 1,500 feet. Hawkes holds the record for a solo dive in a different craft: to more than 3,000 feet.
This October, Hawkes will launch the Sub Sea Aviation School in the Bahamas. After a three-day course, graduates will be invited to plunk down more money to "crew" on five scientific expeditions a year. "We're offering people the chance to see a part of the planet that only a handful of people have ever seen before, firsthand," says Karen Hawkes, Graham's wife and business partner. Graduates can also buy their own Deep Flight Aviator, for about $1 million. More info is at www.deepflight.com.