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"I need the Mexicans. They don't just pick the mango, they eat the mango." -- Peter Arreola, a Umina Bros. produce salesman, on the slowdown on May 1 as local retailers closed in solidarity with immigrant workers, to The Los Angeles Times For years, he has been the global economy's most prominent bear on Wall Street. Now, Stephen Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, is feeling bullish. It's not that Roach thinks the U.S. is free and clear of the trade imbalance, budget deficit, and housing bubble that kept him gloomy for seven years. But concerns raised at the Apr. 21 meeting of Group of Eight nations and the IMF showed him that the problems of the day are at least being acknowledged. "There's a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done, but this is an important first step," he says. "This was a big deal for me."
Roach says he's cheered by steps being taken by the "stewards of globalization" to deal with record debt. He feels that central banks won't "slam the economy through the windshield, as they normally do."
Some former bear brethren are grumbling about the conversion. "He's the only person on Wall Street with whom I felt some kinship," says Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, a Darien (Conn.) brokerage. Schiff wonders where the solace is in policymakers' admitting "the obvious." Never has Roach's old doomsday scenario been closer to unfolding, Schiff says: "I take it as a very bearish indicator for him to be a bull." When the BMW 7 Series sedan debuted in 2001, reviewers howled that it had the ugliest rump in all of auto design. But in an upcoming print ad for the car, that rump -- lately emulated by rivals Toyota (TM
) and Mercedes-Benz (DCX
) -- is proudly displayed beside the headline, "Not taking risks is risky."
The ad is part of BMW's new U.S. advertising campaign, to debut on May 8 -- a campaign created to sell the Bavarian carmaker as a nimble, innovative company and to ditch any lingering yuppie associations with the brand.
BMW wants to appeal to the type of people identified by author Richard Florida, a consultant on the ad campaign, in his book The Rise of the Creative Class. So along with the 7 Series' so-called Bangle Butt (named after BMW's chief designer, Chris Bangle), the ads will spotlight the carmaker's Leipzig auto plant, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and its Art Cars -- racing vehicles painted by artists like Andy Warhol and David Hockney and exhibited in museums. In one TV ad about the dangers of "idea killers," an Ansel Adams photograph is trashed and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house gets the wrecking ball. The campaign's theme: "At BMW, ideas are everything."
BMW's U.S. sales hit a record 266,000 last year. But marketing chief Jack Pitney has been spooked by research showing that 75% of luxury car buyers won't consider a BMW. "Even some buyers too young to know what a yuppie is, except from a pop culture museum, associate us with the Y-word and can't see themselves in a BMW," he says.
The campaign is the first from Austin (Tex.) ad shop GDS&M, known for Southwest Airlines and Krispy Kreme (KK
) ads and for helping Bill Clinton get elected. Maybe it'll get BMW the votes it's looking for. Will gas prices soon reach $4 a gallon around the country? Ask Guy Barnes, president of Fast-Ad, one of just a few businesses that produce gas station pricing signs for oil companies. In the past two weeks, Fast-Ad, based in Santa Ana, Calif., has been receiving a small but growing number of orders for sign panels stamped with a giant "4" and a decimal point. Both independents and gas stations owned by Big Oil are requesting the 4s, he says. "I'm sending some to the Midwest right now," Barnes told Platts Oilgram News (MHP
) on May 1.
Fast-Ad is also getting calls for 4s from station managers in the South and from those on the East Coast "all the way from Florida to New Jersey," he says. Barnes says that at full-service stations in California prices for premium have already surpassed the $4 mark in San Francisco, Palm Springs, Beverly Hills, and Coronado.
Barnes has been making his signs since 1964, when gas prices averaged 30 cents a gallon. Asked if there are pockets of low-priced gas today, he replies drily that "no one is buying the 1s with a decimal." At least they aren't buying 5s. Yet. To the list of iconic images created by the nonprofit Ad Council (Smokey Bear, the Crying Indian), add the latest candidate: a little girl in the path of an oncoming train. The Ad Council says its series of new public service announcements aims to shock viewers into realizing that global warming from greenhouse gas emissions, if not halted, will hurt today's kids, not just far-off generations.
Created by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in collaboration with Environmental Defense, a nonprofit group, the $100 million campaign is slated to run for three years on TV, radio, in print, and at FightGlobalWarming.com. www.chinalawblog.comWHY READ ITFor dispatches on China's business laws written by international lawyers Dan Harris and Steve Dickinson of Harris & Moure.NOTABLE POSTEven though China's courts are controlled from Beijing, the chances of getting a fair trial are much greater in prosperous commercial cities like Shanghai, Tianjin, or Qingdao than they are in a small city.... [A] foreign company prevailing against a powerful local company in a Chinese court is always going to be less likely than if all parties are of the same strata. So China's courts are not always fair. But, they are fair way more often than credited." After living on the lam for almost two years, Rebecca Hauck, 34, was arrested a few weeks ago by U.S. Secret Service agents in Houston on federal charges of bank fraud, identity theft, and money laundering, among others. Along with her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Cox, 36, Hauck is charged with swindling at least 10 lenders, including Bank of America (BAC
) and SunTrust Banks (STI
), by engineering an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme that spanned Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, and Georgia (BW -- Sept. 5). Authorities say Hauck and Cox rented properties and, assuming the identities of the true owners, then forged "deeds of satisfaction" to erase mortgage liens and obtain multiple loans on the same property.
From 2002 to 2004, Hauck and Cox allegedly amassed millions in fraudulent loans and then disappeared. "Ms. Hauck was the subject of a nationwide fugitive search after her alleged widespread criminal fraud scheme left a trail of victims and a lot of missing money," said David Nahmias, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Hauck was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Hagy on Apr. 24 and is being held without bond. Hauck's attorney, Paula Hutchinson, says she expects her client to enter a guilty plea on May 9. According to Hutchinson, Hauck is cooperating with investigators who are still hunting for Cox. He is rumored to be hiding in Florida, where the pair first met through an online dating service. Hutchinson says she hopes Hauck will receive considerably less prison time if she helps lead investigators to him. Looking, perhaps, for investors comfortable with a certain amount of exposure, Tradingmarkets.com, a site for short-term traders, asked Playboy (PLA
) to assemble 10 former centerfold Playmates for a 2006 investing contest. In January each woman built a virtual five-stock portfolio. As of May 1, four Playmates have matched or beaten the 4.56% return of the S&P 500. Collectively the group has a 7.87% return, topping the results of about 75% of all mutual funds so far this year.
Admittedly, overall results have been skewed by the standout performance of Amy Sue Cooper, now a nursing student, whose picks are up 47.9%. (Only two of the 20,187 mutual funds tracked by Morningstar (MORN
) have done better.) Her portfolio benefits from two energy plays: Pacific Ethanol (PEIX
) (up 214%) and Dril Quip (DRQ
), a maker of offshore drilling gear (up 57%). Cooper says she chose her stocks by looking at "what's going on in the news." Tradingmarkets.com will donate $50,000 to the winner's chosen charity. Can feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of design and object placement, improve driver safety? A report issued by insurer Aon Private Clients (AOC
) in Britain advises its customers to sprinkle sea salt crystals on car floor mats to help "alleviate the negative feelings which can lead to road rage." (Helpfully, the report's commissioned author, feng shui expert Raymond Catchpole, adds: "Don't do this while driving.")
What else, according to the report, can increase the harmony and balance of your vehicle? Clean windows ("the eyes of the car") and a clutter-free interior allow chi, or spiritual energy, to flow more freely. And drivers using cell phones and Wi-Fi devices should drink plenty of water to flush out the "draining" effects of such wireless devices. Tying a blue ribbon around the rearview mirror is also recommended to evoke the beneficial flowing forces of water, one of the five feng shui elements.
Aon Private Clients, which specializes in coverage of the assets of wealthy customers, is aware that the report may be greeted skeptically. "It's a lighthearted way of raising the issue of driver safety," says Ian Cullen, the group's director. But, he adds: "There's a serious underlying message that drivers, under pressure from work or hectic social lives, need to understand the link between their car's environment and accidents."
Alas, no hints in the report about neutralizing the bad energy flowing from kids' fights in the back seat. Or soaring prices at the pump. Ethanol is much in the news for its use as an alternative fuel. But another corn-based substance, made largely by NatureWorks, owned by Cargill, is sprouting up in dozens of products. It's in water bottles and baby wipes. Versace Sport makes jackets and sweatshirts out of it. Sony (SNE
) uses it in packaging. And last fall, Wal-Mart (WMT
) started selling some produce in containers made of it.
The material, made from corn starch, is known as PLA. It's created when corn starch is melted into syrup, fermented into lactic acid, and shaped into a resin. The end product -- pellets that resemble rice grains -- can be melted and spun into fiber or molded into packaging. Since 2002, NatureWorks has been marketing the material as either Ingeo (for textiles) or NatureWorks PLA (for packaging). PLA's eco-credentials -- it's compostable and made from 100% annually renewable sources -- have helped the company grab market share from synthetic products. Some 35,000 retail outlets carry PLA or Ingeo products, including Costco (COST
) and Target (TGT
). NatureWorks says its sales rose 230% from 2004 to 2005.
PLA is pricier than some petroleum-based materials such as nylon. Ingeo, though machine washable and flame-resistant, can melt when ironed. In packaging, PLA has a porous quality that limits its shelf life. But high oil prices make it cost-competitive with the widely used plastic PET. And for eco-conscious consumers who want to eat their corn and wear it, too, it's the perfect fit.