"The bad guys are simply outrunning most of the technology out there today." — Patrick Peterson, vice-president for technology at spam filtering firm Ironport, to The New York Times on how spam volume worldwide has doubled in the past year
"Pssst. The housing market is bouncing back. Buy now before it's too late." Heard that one from a real estate agent lately? It's certainly the message emanating from Wall Street, where there's near-panic buying of homebuilding stocks. The Standard & Poor's Supercomposite Homebuilder Index rose 17.5% in the month ended Dec. 6, making it the biggest gainer of all 147 s&p groups. The latest jolt came on Dec. 5 after Toll Brothers (TOL) reported a sharp drop in quarterly profits but said that some of its markets "seem to be dancing on the bottom or slightly above."
But don't feel pressured to come up with a downpayment. What's smart for Wall Street isn't necessarily right for Main Street, or wherever you're looking to buy. Homebuilder stocks are rising well ahead of an actual upturn in housing prices because investors don't want to miss the rally. In contrast, homebuyers have a longer-term perspective and don't need to worry about timing the market bottom.
Besides, who says Wall Street is right? Many economists believe housing prices are still too high in many parts of the country and will keep falling well into 2007. "It just takes a while before sellers finally realize what the real price is. It's not the highest price their neighbors got plus 10%," says James F. Wilson, an analyst for JMP Securities in San Francisco.
In toy stores she's a dancing princess. But behind the scenes, Barbie is kicking down doors and taking names. In a 58-page complaint filed in federal court in Riverside, Calif., on Nov. 20, Mattel Inc., Barbie's corporate parent, claims archrival MGA Entertainment and its ceo, Isaac Larian, maker of the sassy Bratz dolls, and a number of former Mattel employees stole trade secrets. Mattel bases its case on forensic computer analysis.
Mattel claims that in 2004 three of its employees in Mexico created a private e-mail account, email@example.com, that they used to correspond with mga. One of the employees later tried to destroy his computer's hard drive and use a software program to erase his tracks, according to Mattel.
The complaint says an employee in Canada allegedly copied 45 sensitive company documents onto a portable storage device. Mattel says she labeled the file "backpack" and carried it out of Mattel's offices in a knapsack. The complaint also alleges she spoke to Larian from home that night. She resigned four days later. Mattel alleges this employee later viewed the documents after she started working for mga.
Larian vigorously denies all the allegations. He says he tells new hires, "Do not bring anything with you except what's in your brain."
In the beginning, there was MP3 sharing. Then came friend sharing (MySpace), photo sharing (Flickr), and video sharing (YouTube). Now it has come to this: PowerPoint slide sharing.
SlideShare.net offers a place to upload, view, and search for PowerPoint presentations. And since opening up its beta site in October, it has received tens of thousands of files.
The site's "decks," as the slide shows are called, are diverse: conference presentations, classroom lessons ("Let's Learn Colors!" from a middle-school Spanish class), and PowerPoint satire (Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address famously summarized in bullet points, created in 2000 by Peter Norvig, Google's research director).
Site co-founder Jonathan Boutelle came up with the service while organizing a conference. It will hardly grab as many eyeballs as YouTube, but corporate firewalls won't block the likes of "Let's Learn Colors."
Expect a bumpy proxy season. Companies are bracing for shareholder outrage in light of new SEC rules that require them to disclose top executives' total compensation, including the value of pension plans, deferred compensation, and perks. Many compensation experts expect astronomical numbers. Some predict a 2007 bumper crop of new Hank McKinnells. The former Pfizer chief was pushed into early retirement this year in the wake of shareholder anger over his pay package.
Compensation consultants Richard V. Smith of law firm McDermott Will & Emery has been telling clients to make changes to pay plans now to deal with any possible future excess compensation issues. Crisis communications adviser Chris Lehane tells clients to be prepared to fire CEOs if they attract too much criticism.
Some companies have already begun changing their compensation plans. NCR stopped paying in to the pensions of its top execs. UnitedHealth Group, reeling from an options-backdating scandal, eliminated lucrative change-of-control plans. NCR says the changes were made primarily to cut costs; UnitedHealth says its changes are part of a broader corporate governance plan.
Whatever the exact reason, the moves are just the sort of steps the SEC is looking for. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, in a speech last March on the intended impact of the rules, put it this way: "I have a feeling that when people are forced to undress in public, they'll pay more attention to their figures."
Ever since Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC) launched the first hybrids in the late 1990s, Detroit's carmakers have been scrambling to catch up. Now General Motors (GM) is saying it will launch a dozen hybrids over the next several years, and one of them—a Saturn VUE SUV—will have batteries that you can plug into a standard home outlet.
That may not sound like a big deal, but the added electric power will enable the VUE to get gas mileage of around 70 miles per gallon, compared to 29 for a regular hybrid VUE and 25 for a gas-powered VUE. And the cost of electricity to provide a full charge works out to the equivalent of just 60 cents a gallon.
There could be another big pay-off, too: GM says the technology not only saves fuel but also helps pave the way for an electric drive system that could power hydrogen fuel-cell cars. GM aims to sell affordable fuel-cell autos by as early as 2011.
A plug-in hybrid brings GM's electric vehicle odyssey nearly full circle. GM killed its EV1 electric car program in 2000 because consumers didn't want to plug in their cars for eight hours just so they could go 150 miles on a charge. One reason gas-electric hybrids gained in popularity is that they don't ever need an external charge.
GM's push for a plug-in hybrid shows how improved auto technology combined with pricey oil is giving new life to GM's old dream. But plug-in hybrids aren't perfect. Once the battery's power runs low, its gasoline engine will have to work harder to lug around big, heavy lithium ion batteries and an electric motor. That could drop fuel savings—especially on long trips. But if GM can deliver on its promise, the plug-in could go a long way toward buffing GM's long-tarnished reputation for high tech.
Vince McMahon has become a modern-day Bob Hope. He and his 50-strong World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) group are on their fourth annual holiday tour of Iraq. Good thing, since he's one of the biggest names still visiting the troops. Early on they could see stars such as Jessica Simpson, Kid Rock, and Bruce Willis. Now, as the war drags on, marquee names are scarce. But McMahon and such pro wrestling luminaries as Undertaker and John Cena are touring 25 bases. What's missing this time as a result of all the security concerns, says McMahon, is contact with the locals. Says the WWE chairman: "You wouldn't believe how many ardent [Iraqi] fans we have."
Who says the younger generation doesn't read the news? Play Bac Presse, which publishes popular children's daily papers in France, has just launched an English-language online version in the U.S. called My Daily 10. Aimed at 8- to 10-year-olds, it's delivered electronically five afternoons a week. Kids log on after school to read articles such as "Mars Probe Lost in Space." Subscriptions start at $6.99 a month.
My Daily 10 is modeled on Play Bac's French children's newspapers, which have 200,000 subscribers, about two-thirds as many as Le Monde. "Kids love getting their own paper every day," says editor François Dufour, who founded Paris-based Play Bac 20 years ago with two friends. Now a $39 million- a-year business, Play Bac ventured across the Atlantic in 1992 with Brain Quest, an educational quiz game that has sold 25 million copies in the U.S.
With so much free content on the Internet, subscriptions could be a tough sell. But the paper boasts a big plus: Unlike children's TV and many kid-oriented Web sites, My Daily 10 has no advertising.
WHY READ IT
Guy Kawasaki, a former product promoter at Apple and current venture capitalist at Garage Technology Ventures, calls his blog "How to Change the World." That may be a stretch, but it does offer advice with a Silicon Valley slant for marketers and entrepreneurs. Kawasaki, a speaker at conferences, posts tips for pitches and presentations, interviews business book authors, and offers a quiz for aspiring venture capitalists. Says Kawasaki about his unproven track record in the VC world: "When has the lack of knowledge stopped a blogger?"
What do you make of recent efforts to scale back Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform legislation?
"Global companies should look at processes that are material to them, not processes that really don't make that much difference. We need to focus only on areas that could create a real risk for the institution. We also need greater reliance on internal audits." — John A. Thain, CEO of the NYSE
"We have been able to identify a number of ways to make internal control audits more efficient. We are focused on how to eliminate unnecessary costs, particularly for smaller companies, while retaining important benefits" — Mark W. Olson, Chairman, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a nonprofit that oversees auditors
"Investors have a need and a right to fully accurate finance statements. I'd be very surprised if Congress wants to open that box again. Looking back over the events of the past few months, it's clear we should not be rolling things back." — Jack Ehnes, CEO of the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which manages investments of $153.3 billion