"I miss my old job terribly." -- Martha Stewart, at a meeting with shareholders of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
Republicans typically appeal to conservative, anti-Castro Cuban-American voters in South Florida by maintaining a strict trade embargo against the Communist regime. But a tough new Administration policy may be hurting President George Bush with that politically important group.
Cuban-Ameri-cans visiting Cuba have until July 1 to get home. That's when new rules kick in restricting visits to once every three years -- and only to see immediate family. Previously, Cuban-Americans were allowed one visit a year. Last year, 120,000 made the trip, feds say. New rules even limit luggage to 44 pounds -- to reduce the number of gifts visitors can bring.
Charter operators, the only U.S. airlines allowed to fly to Cuba, must get in touch with some 3,000 visitors and send them home to the U.S., in what frantic agents are calling "the Mariel airlift." Says Michael Zucatto, of Cuba Travel Services: "The Administration is messing with their families, and Cuban-Americans are not going to like that." If so, one of the GOP's big supporters in the closely contested state could be up for grabs.
BellSouth (BLS) will begin testing a broadband-on-demand service next month that will let customers jack up the speed of their Internet connection with a mouse click. BusinessWeek has learned that the new service, dubbed Turbo Button, will accelerate to a speed of 3 megabytes per second all BellSouth Web connections -- even its poky dial-up access.
The new service would double BellSouth's fastest broadband connection. With about 80% of its 14 million homes wired for broadband, the telecom giant has the capacity to offer instant bursts of swift Web access. "If you are trying to download some music files or open a long PowerPoint attachment, you'll just hit a button and boost your speed," says Mark Feidler, who oversees marketing at BellSouth.
Zippy Web services are key revenue sources as the Baby Bells lose voice customers and as cable companies such as Comcast (CMCSK) push deeper into high-speed Internet access. The company won't disclose how much it will charge, but dial-up customers will pay more than broadband users. Turbo Button should be available by yearend. For Web surfers with a need for speed, that could be manna from cyberspace.
Is the party over for stock options? Of the companies in the Standard & Poor 500 that voluntarily began expensing options, three-fourths reduced grants to employees last year, says Bear Stearns (BSC). In all, the companies awarded $7.2 billion worth, down from $14.7 billion in 2002. While these are mostly nontech companies -- Silicon Valley is still fighting expensing on Capitol Hill -- Bear Stearns says mandatory expensing in 2005 means stingier grants will probably persist.
How much that hurts depends on your job title. Most surveys suggest that companies will, if forced to expense, cut from the bottom. New York consultant James Reda says he tells clients that no one below vice-president should receive options. So far, every client has taken his advice.
Meanwhile, a new study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide (WW) says that CEOs are actually taking the brunt of the option cuts. But don't worry: They're getting big stock awards to cushion the blow. Apparently, most boards believe the top dogs have a pretty low threshold of pain.
Spider-Man in a dhoti? To cash in on the comic book hero's popularity in India (not to mention the upcoming Indian premiere of Spider-Man 2 on July 23), Marvel Enterprises (MVL) has licensed a "transcreation" of the classic web-slinging superhero for Indian audiences. Instead of Peter Parker, Spider-Man India's alter ego is Pavitr Prabhakar (pavitr means pure). He battles reinvented arch-nemesis Green Goblin, now known as Rakshasa, the name of a mythological Indian demon. Spider-Man India, written in Hindi, hits Indian stores mid-July.
Hotel chains are finding that their push to book rooms directly from customers on the Web is paying off. Hilton Hotels (HLT) says bookings from its sites jumped 30% in the first quarter, while sales through independent travel sites such as Expedia.com (IAC) were up 10%.
Hotels have good reason to push their own sites: Online bookings will double, to $24 billion, by 2006 -- accounting for 27% of all revenue, says forecaster PhoCusWright. Travel sites keep 22% of the sale, vs. 10% for travel agents. If the customer books direct, the hotel pays no commission.
In more than 30 years as a money manager, William Gross has built PIMCO into the world's largest bond-fund company, with nearly $400 billion in assets. But with job growth accelerating and interest rates at 49-year lows, Gross is in the unusual position of advocating rate hikes that are likely to whack the value of his holdings.
Gross, 60, wants Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to double the overnight lending rate, to 2%, by November. He fears low rates have caused asset bubbles in housing and commodities. "It has been a hell of a party," he says. "It's time for Greenspan to call a cab for all the speculators."
Gross has been taking steps to cover his assets, cut-ting the average maturity of his holdings, buying inflation-adjusting Treasury bonds, and putting cash into European government bonds. He got good news recently: New Jersey dropped Gross's bond unit from a lawsuit saying it allowed a large investor to make frequent trades. Now back to the rate push.
With the proliferation of wireless networks in thousands of homes and public places such as Starbucks (SBUX) and McDonald's (MCD), finding a Wi-Fi hotspot to zip onto the Web is getting easier all the time. Now a growing number of telecom companies want to use those wireless networks for calls.
It's the next frontier for Internet phones, which use arcane voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology. Today most only operate when tethered to a PC. But new offerings will include cordless "VoIP over Wi-Fi" phones for the home, and pricier models will use either wireless or cellular networks. Because calls made over the Net don't require per-minute charges, phone bills could be much lower.
The technology could put more pressure on phone companies to move away from decades-old approaches. Motorola (MOT) will introduce a $300 phone by yearend that can begin a call using a wireless network and have it automatically rerouted to a cellular network if you move out of range of a Wi-Fi connection. Others, including Cisco Systems (CSCO), are working on cordless phones that can be used in any home with a broadband connection and a Wi-Fi router. Internet phone pioneer Vonage Holdings plans to roll out such a device by Christmas.
Meanwhile, IDT (IDT) is launching a pilot offering in a Newark (N.J.) neighborhood and will supply Wi-Fi access for free. That means the phones work in homes that don't have a broadband hookup or a wireless router of their own.
Corporate governance may be improving, but business is being held to higher standards in another area, too: gender equality. On June 23, Calvert Group, which manages $10 billion in socially respon-sible funds, out-lined actions that companies should take to promote gender equality. Calvert Women's Principles covers everything from trying to source from female-owned suppliers to health issues.
Calvert will use the code in screening investments as well as in rating the 600-plus companies in its portfolio. Dell (DELL) plans to use the code to measure its own progress in this area. Does the timing have anything to do with the newfound zeal for good behavior in the corporate suite? Calvert says no, but it must help that execs are under pressure these days.