"Piracy helped the young generation discover computers." — Romanian President Traian Basecu to Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates on the role his company's pirated software played in helping Romania build a vibrant technology industry, as reported by Reuters
Ford's (F) decision to rechristen what even one if its top executives called "the much-derided Ford Five Hundred sedan" as a Ford Taurus may sound like marketing spin. But it's actually part of new CEO Alan Mulally's program to change the carmaker's wasteful ways.
Ford stopped Taurus production in October after a decade of declining sales and a year of relegating the model to rental and corporate fleets. In the last two years it offered two new sedans, the Five Hundred and the Fusion. But they have 30% public name recognition, vs. 90% for the Taurus. Ford spent more than $1 billion advertising the Taurus. Canceling it "wasted 20 years of investment in a brand name," Mulally told BusinessWeek in December, when he was considering resurrecting the Taurus (fresh from a business trip for which he'd rented one).
When it debuted in 1985, the car had a breakthrough design, with softened corners that departed sharply from most sedans' "flying brick" look. A freshening in 1992 rescued slipping sales and kept the model on Car and Driver's 10 Best Cars list. But a 1995 makeover inspired by Ford's oval logo flopped. Round edges gave way to a blobby, egg-shaped car dubbed the "bloated seal" by Motor Trend. Toyota (TM) Camrys outsold Tauruses.
Style may be an issue again. Ford has added a new grille and a peppier 3.5 liter engine to the 2008 Five Hundred-slash-Taurus. But the Five Hundred has been dinged for its bulbous shape—a design meant to give baby boomers with widening waistlines and waning flexibility more room. Last year, Volkswagen (VLKAY) renamed its flagging Golf hatchback the Rabbit, the name the car had in the 1970s, and sales jumped 89%. Ford will be happy if its revitalized bull runs half as fast.
After years of struggling in the mobile market, Microsoft may finally be making the right connections. In 2006, according to research firm IDC, (IDC) mobile carriers worldwide sold more Windows Mobile-equipped cell phones than BlackBerry devices. A handful of slick designs created for the Windows Mobile, including Motorola's (MOT) slim Q and the rounder Dash made by Taiwan's HTC, have helped the software giant. And BusinessWeek has learned that LG Electronics, the world's fourth-largest mobile-phone maker, is developing new Windows Mobile phones slated for launch this year. That means Microsoft will have three of the top five handset makers in its camp.
IDC's estimates of 2006 global market share for mobile phones with e-mail and Web access puts Microsoft's share at 9.8%. BlackBerry devices pioneered by Research in Motion (RIMM) came in at 7.3%.
RIM Chairman and co-CEO Jim Balsillie disputes those figures, asserting that proprietary data show that BlackBerry's worldwide share still tops phones running Windows Mobile. (He declined to provide numbers.)
Granted, BlackBerry held the U.S. lead in 2006's first nine months, with a 49% share, vs. Windows Mobile's 29%. And worldwide, both trail Nokia (NOK)-backed Symbian, which is huge in Europe and Japan. But with LG on board, Windows Mobile's days as an also-ran may be over.
Americans are being drawn to Japanese fast food for much the same reason they like Japanese cars: The deals are good, and the products seem better than what some American rivals dish up.
Sales at Japanese and other Asian-fare chains jumped 15% to 20% in 2006, compared with 6% growth for quick-serve chains overall. "There's absolutely potential for more growth," says Darren Tristano, executive VP of Technomic, a Chicago restaurant consultancy.
Yoshinoya, a Tokyo-based fast-food company with more than 80 California outlets, plans to double that number by 2010. Hibachi-San Japanese Grill, a fast-food unit of Panda Restaurant Group in Rosemead, Calif., plans to add a half-dozen sites this year to its 27 restaurants in 13 states.
Japanese food is seen as a low-fat fast-food choice, industry experts say. And younger consumers, who eat ramen (and Asian salads at McDonald's), find the food appealing. Not to mention cheap: At Yoshinoya, a bowl of grilled beef or chicken with steamed rice costs $3.07.
Investors are finally invading the soccer fields of France. The country's top-ranked Olympique Lyonnais team will be listed on the Paris bourse this month—the country's first club to go public. While teams elsewhere on the Continent and in Britain have floated shares, France had long prohibited such listings, saying smaller clubs would be at a disadvantage in attracting investors. But European Union regulators recently ordered an end to the ban, calling it a "barrier to the free movement of capital."
Olympique Lyonnais, the national champion for the past five seasons, hopes to raise $130 million to help finance a new stadium and to develop merchandising.
Investors may be feeling cautious, though. The Dow Jones stoxx football index of 27 European clubs is down 3% since 2002. Recently, after shares of Germany's Borussia Dortmund team tumbled 76%, a hedge fund bought a major stake in the club and is trying to turn it around.
Deep-pocketed new owners may be the best hope for troubled clubs. Even as Olympique Lyonnais prepares its ipo, nearby Olympique de Marseille is being sold to Jack Kachkar, a Canadian pharma tycoon, for $148 million.
In a study entitled Gone with the Wind, three finance professors from Texas Christian University and Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University found that windy conditions have a measurable effect on Chicago Mercantile Exchange futures traders. The study looked at 354 s&p 500 index futures traders judged to be "highly active." It examined the traders' transaction records from 1997 through 2001, matching them with National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration weather data for Chicago.
Gusty mornings tended to correlate with a poor day of trading, the study found. On calm days, income from trades was higher. Researcher Peter Locke, associate finance professor at TCU's Neeley School of Business, says he's not sure why. But he notes that elsewhere in scientific literature, strong wind is linked to fatigue, headaches, and irritability. Thus some traders who step out for lunch or a smoke, he theorizes, may "lose their concentration" in blustery weather. (He says the study controlled for variables like market return, daily trading volume, and time of year.) The research is just the latest in a string of studies looking at the weather's effect on markets, with earlier papers probing the influence of sunshine, the lunar cycle, and geomagnetic storms.
Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group encompasses planes, trains, spaceships, and comic books. And now, stem cell storage. On Feb. 1 the British entrepreneur launched Virgin Health Bank, a venture with London investment firm Merlin Biosciences. The bank preserves stem cells from umbilical cord blood, and Branson says Virgin's 50% profit share will support cord-blood stem cell research. "I'm absolutely passionate about the possibilities of stem cells," he says. "I'd like to make sure the future benefits are open to everyone."
Free of the controversy surrounding stem cells drawn from discarded embryos, cord blood stem cells have been used for years to treat some 75 blood and immune system disorders.
With a shortage of publicly available cord stem cells, Virgin Health points out that it goes beyond private service. It charges about $3,000 for 20-year storage but splits each sample, with 20% kept for the family and 80% deposited for use by anyone worldwide at no charge. Besides goodwill, the bank may give Virgin added credibility as it moves into other high-tech areas such as biofuels.
It has featured different cities, pro teams, and pets along with solid gold pieces and chocolate houses. But one version of Monopoly has been missing all these years: the kind you can play in 20 minutes. Now Hasbro (HAS) is rolling out variations designed for the time pressed. Monopoly Express ($13) eliminates money and has players accumulate properties with a roll of the dice. Monopoly Electronic Banking ($35) speeds play by substituting an ATM-like card for cash. Phil Jackson, head of Hasbro's games unit, says research showed that people got bored with Monopoly's protracted endgame. Not everyone, of course. Says Stephanie Oppenheim, publisher of consumer guide Oppenheim Toy Portfolio: "Monopoly should take forever—until someone cheats or throws the board."
What if the droll antics on NBC's (GE) The Office occurred in real life? Bumbling branch manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) would constantly be in court, says Julie Elgar, an employment lawyer who mines the sitcom for legal issues. Elgar's blog, "That's What She Said," is part of an HR site run by M. Lee Smith Publishers, and it's devoted to imagining the lawsuits that would arise if a real company were run like the fictional Scranton (Pa.) office. Writing about a recent episode, Elgar merrily calculates the cost of an on-site bachelor party with stripper. "Litigation value: $800,000+."
When Japanese consumers need lots of cash in a hurry, they go to their banks and raise their right hands—their palms or their index fingers, more precisely.
ATMs at many banks in Japan now have scanners that take a snapshot of the veins in a customer's finger or palm, then compare that picture against a digital image stored on the account holder's bank card. The extra high-tech step allows customers to withdraw the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars at a time from accounts.
Over the past two years, dozens of financial houses have added the biometric security systems to their ATMs in response to legislation passed in 2006 that holds banks liable for ATM withdrawals made with stolen or counterfeit bank cards. Customers have a few complaints: The scanners can't get a reading in bright light, they say, or when one's forefinger is even slightly curled away from the screen. But for most, the extra cash overshadows the extra hassle.
By now, some 20,000 of Japan's 110,000 ATMs have vein scanners, with sales of the technology at $70 million, according to the Japan Automatic Identification Systems Assn., an industry trade group. Not bad for a business that practically didn't exist three years ago.
Will high-tech palm reading come to American banks? Some bankers and ATM makers have looked into the idea, but there are problems. The systems are expensive to install. And security consultants like Chris McGoey of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting worry that higher withdrawal limits would make ATM robberies more attractive. Perhaps more important, a format war is shaping up in Japan between two versions of the security technology—one that is likely to slow its adoption abroad.
The two incompatible technologies are Fujitsu's (FJTSY) (which scans palm veins) and Hitachi's (HIT) (which reads finger veins). Because most bank cards still have a magnetic strip that works at any ATM for lower withdrawal limits, the format rivalry has had few casualties. But with banks considering phasing out the strips, that may change. "We're hoping the one we chose will become the standard," says Teisuke Kitayama, financial president of Sumitomo Mitsui, which uses Hitachi's system. So far, Hitachi appears to have the lead. Besides Sumitomo Mitsui, its customers include Mizuho Financial Group (MFG) and Japan's soon-to-be-privatized postal system, which also runs a bank with 117 million customers.
A new U.N. report on global warming states with 90% certainty that human activity is the culprit. As a skeptic about policies to cut CO2 emissions, what's your response?
"The report had nothing to lead me to change my view that global warming cannot, at this stage, be distinguished from natural, unforced internal variability. These certainties' are bogus." — Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"Saying that humans have a significant role in the warming is like saying there's gambling in Las Vegas. What can you do about it? A lot of politically possible solutions will do less than nothing." — Patrick Michaels, environmental sciences professor, University of Virginia
"Yes, humans have caused the earth to be slightly warmer, but much less than the report says. Many natural forces are not accounted for. I'd make a big bet that in the next 5 to 10 years the globe will start to cool." — William Gray, emeritus professor, atmospheric science, Colorado State University