Friday, December 31, 2010

Millions gather worldwide to ring in new year

Dazzling fireworks lit up Australia's Sydney Harbor, communist Vietnam held a rare, Western-style countdown to the new year, and Japanese revelers released balloons carrying notes with people's hopes and dreams as the world ushered in 2011.
In Europe, Greeks, Irish and Spaniards began partying through the night to help put a year of economic woe behind them. And in New York, nearly a million New Year's Eve revelers were expected to cram into Times Square to watch the midnight ball drop, just days after the city got clobbered by a blizzard.
As rainclouds cleared, around 50,000 people, many sporting large, brightly colored wigs this year, gathered in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square to take part in "Las Uvas," or "The Grapes," a tradition in which people eat a grape for each of the 12 chimes of midnight.
Chewing and swallowing the grapes to each tolling of the bell is supposed to bring good luck, while cheating is frowned on and revelers believe it brings misfortune.
Police had painstakingly screened all those arriving to make sure drinks and bottles were left behind to avoid injury in the crowded square, so many quickly downed their sparkling cava wine before joining the animated party.
"It's an annual tradition and I'm here to make my wishes for the new year, if you eat the grapes your wishes will come true," said beautician Anita Vargas, 22.
As the 12th grape was swallowed, the skies above most Spanish cities lit up with fireworks that slowly filled the air with smoke and the smell of gunpowder.
2010 was a grim year for the European Union, with Greece and Ireland needing bailouts and countries such as Spain and Portugal finding themselves in financial trouble as well.
"Before, we used to go out, celebrate in a restaurant, but the last two years we have had to stay at home," said Madrid florist Ernestina Blasco, 48. She said her husband, a construction worker, is out of work.
In Greece, thousands spent the last day of 2010 standing in line at tax offices to pay their road tax or sign up for tax amnesty. "We can see that the quality of life is being degraded every day. What can I say? I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Giorgos Karantzos of Athens.
New Zealanders and South Pacific island nations were among the first to celebrate at midnight. In New Zealand's Auckland, explosions of red, gold and white burst over the Sky Tower, while tens of thousands danced and sang in the streets below. In Christchurch, partyers shrugged off a minor 3.3 earthquake that struck just before 10 p.m.
Multicolored starbusts and gigantic sparklers lit the midnight sky over Sydney Harbor in a pyrotechnics show witnessed by 1.5 million spectators. "This has got to be the best place to be in the world tonight," said Marc Wilson, 41.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor to watch fireworks explode from the roofs of 10 of the city's most famous buildings.
In Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, an estimated 55,000 people packed a square in front of the city's elegant French colonial-style opera house for their first New Year's countdown blowout, complete with dizzying strobe lights and thumping techno music spun by international DJs.
Vietnamese typically save their biggest celebrations for Tet, the lunar new year that begins on Feb. 3. But in recent years, Western influence has started seeping into Vietnamese culture among teens, who have no memory of war or poverty and are eager to find a new reason to party in the communist country.
At Japan's Zojoji temple in Tokyo, monks chanted and revelers marked the arrival of the new year by releasing silver balloons with notes inside. The temple's giant 15-ton bell rang in the background.
In Dubai, the world's tallest building was awash in fireworks from the base to its needle-like spire nearly a half-mile (828-meters) above. Sparkling silver rays shot out from the Burj Khalifa in a 10-minute display.
In France, police were on alert for terror attacks and for celebrations getting out of hand. Rampaging youths typically set fire to scores of vehicles on New Year's Eve. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said 53,820 police were mobilized — 6,000 more than usual.
France has been extra vigilant following threats from al-Qaida and the kidnapping of five French citizens in Niger.
Italians planned to ring in the new year with illegal fireworks, shot off in squares and alleys — a tradition that usually results in numerous hand and eye injuries. Naples Police Chief Santi Giuffre appealed to citizens to "give up or at least cut back on this" practice.
In London, higher temperatures after weeks of frigid weather were expected to draw about 250,000 onto the streets. Many planned to line the River Thames to watch fireworks and hear Big Ben toll at the stroke of midnight.
In Scotland, the four-day Hogmanay festival began Thursday night with a torch-lit procession through the streets of Edinburgh. Around 25,000 people took part, marching to the top of a hill to watch the burning of a model Viking ship. Hogmanay is derived from the winter solstice festival celebrated by the Vikings.
The Dutch celebrate by eating deep-fried dough balls covered in powdered sugar and washed down with champagne. The Danes jump off chairs to "leap into the new year." And the Austrians twirl in the new year with a waltz, carrying radios so they can dance to Strauss' "Blue Danube" as the clock strikes midnight.

Investors' wealth swells over 10-fold in 10 years

In an eventful decade, the wealth of investors in the Indian stock market has grown over 10-fold to nearly Rs. 73 lakh crore by the end of 2010.Besides, during the decade ended today, the total investor wealth, measured in terms of cumulative market capitalisation of all listed companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange, grew to nearly 10-fold from about Rs. 7,00,000 crore at the end of the year 2000, to Rs. 72,96,725.14 as on December 31, 2010.Last 10 years have seen the stock markets bellwether Sensex travelling from 4,000 mark in 2001, to over 20,500 by the end of 2010."Sensex has grown over five-fold over the past decade. To put in other words, if somebody has invested Rs. 1,00,000 in Sensex at the beginning of the decade, it would have, at present, become Rs. 5,16,792," SMC Capitals equity head Jagannadham Thunuguntla said.Stock markets have witnessed a smart surge over the decade on the back of robust overseas investments and strong India growth story, said an expert."The barometer of Indian capital markets Sensex has moved up five fold from 4,000 to 20,000 in this decade and the FII investment, which was Rs. 6,200 crores in the year 2000 has surpassed Rs. 1,00,000 crore in 2010," Unicon Securities Vice President Research Madhumita Ghosh said.Going forward, experts feel that with the growing stature of India on the global front, the coming decade will also be equally fruitful for India.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

China to go after internet phone services

China is going after Internet phone services such as Skype in a move to protect the country's state-owned telephone companies, causing alarm among consumers who rely on cheap Internet calls. A notice by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on its website this month says it's working to fight "illegal Internet phone services" but doesn't specify any actions. Experts say companies like Skype operate in a legal gray area and that the notice is a warning to them not to grow too big or to challenge the state-owned telecoms. China, which on Thursday announced its number of Internet users rose to 450 million this year, also has a strong interest in exercising tight control over information, and Skype has been a popular tool with activists and others who want to share information relatively freely.
The ministry's move, however, also has business in mind. China has said only state-owned telecoms China Telecom and China Unicom have the right to offer Internet phone services for calls that link telephones and computers. But few do. The country's major telecoms have been offering Internet phone services only on a trial basis in four cities, according to Kan Kaili, a director of China VoIP & Digital Telecom Inc., a company that has offered Internet phone services. That leaves the market to the hundreds of small-scale companies have sprung up. "This notice is actually protecting the telecoms' traditional voice services," said Kan, who is also a professor at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. It's "obviously a wrong thing, absolutely wrong." The ministry's move is a warning to Skype and similar companies not to expand too much in China, said Wang Yuquan, chief consultant for research firm Frost and Sullivan in Beijing. "If the ministry hadn't made this announcement, I think Skype would have offered its services in a very large scale. Now, with the announcement, it can't," he said. Skype did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Telephones at the ministry rang unanswered Thursday evening. China's number of Internet phone users is not known, but a commentary in the Beijing News on Thursday estimated it at 15 million.

Sahara acquires iconic UK hotel for Rs. 3,250 cr

Ending the year 2010 on a high note, Sahara India Pariwar has said it acquired the iconic Grosvenor House hotel in London for 470 million pounds (around Rs. 3,250 crore), which will give it a toehold in the global hospitality business.
Sahara bought the hotel, located at Park Lane in Mayfair, London, having 420 rooms, 74 suites, 27 meeting rooms, from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
"The valuation of the hotel three years back was more than 1 billion pounds. The valuation even today is quite high but due to highly satisfactory due diligence by the RBS who owned the property and after long and strict negotiations, we have purchased it for 470 million pounds," Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy said in a statement.
The acquisition that marks Sahara's entry into international hospitality market will also enable the company to launch other business ventures outside India.
"This acquisition is a part of the major expansion plans of the group. In addition to the acquisition of Grosvenor House, London will be the gateway for Sahara to introduce some of its new business ventures, internationally," Roy said.
Sahara has plans to make additions to the property including new restaurants, bar, night club, business centre, swimming pool and spa.
The hotel is currently being managed by international hospitality brand Marriott and was refurbished by Royal Bank of Scotland two years back.
Going ahead, the property will be owned by Sahara Group company Aamby Valley Ltd. The acquisition was brokered by Richard Lewczynski of Blandford Goldsmith, the statement added.
Sahara Group has businesses in hospitality, real estate financial services, mutual funds, life insurance, media, film production, sports, information technology, healthcare, commodity sales and services and consumer products.
In India the company has two projects in the hospitality sector--Hotel Sahara Star and Aamby Valley City.

ADAG to use 'Reliance' as master brand

Anil Ambani-led ADAG has decided to use 'Reliance' as master brand henceforth for all products and services offered by its group companies, dropping the word 'ADAG'."The brand 'Reliance' has a strong consumer connect, so we have decided to use it as the master brand for all the products and services," a senior ADAG official, who did not wish to be identified, said.The official, however, added that there will be "flexibility" to use the ADAG logo as and when required.The group has already started using 'Reliance' as the mother brand in its internal communications and, going forward, advertisements and touch points will be used to communicate the change to consumers. It has no plans of any mega campaign."Reliance has a strong brand awareness among consumers, so we do not need to spend heavily to communicate the change anyway," the official added.According its official website, the group has a customer base of over 100 million in India and has business interests in communications, financial services, power, infrastructure and entertainment.

Where India Inc is spending New Year’s eve?

New Year celebrations have already begun for India's C-suite.While Dabur's Anand Burman is exploring the jungle canopy of the exotic Koh Samui island in Thailand, Raymond's Gautam Singhania is throwing a house party at his Alibaug farmhouse.Also, Videocon's Venugopal Dhoot is flying his private jet on New Year's eve. While adman Aleeq Padamsee is in Singapore, Essar's Prashant Ruia is in Switzerland and Malvinder Singh is in London with his family.Some corporate bigwigs have different plans to ring in the New Year.However, according to sources this year Mukesh Ambani is planning to spend some quite time with their family as are the big daddies of retail like Future Group's Kishore Biyani and Govind Shrikhande."I just plan to be here with my daughter who is back from US. I have heard about flight delays and very cold weather abroad. So don't want to spend the year waiting at some airport due to flight delay," said Govind Shrikhande, MD of Shopper's Stop.With India Inc all set to ring in the New Year in style, we hope that the party continues through 2011.

RIL’s SEZ at Haryana getting back on track

Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Industries is relooking their ambitious 25,000 acres multi product special economic zone project in Haryana which the company had practically put on hold since the beginning of this year.NDTV has learnt that in the last 7-8 days, it has started fresh land acquisition in the Jhajjar district.But this time around RIL might have to invest significantly more than in their original plan because the state government has decided to almost double the land price for the project, to Rs. 38 lakh per acre, from the original contract of Rs. 22 lakh per acre.“We have decided to increase price of land, because we want prosperity to reach the last man in the mile. We have already communicated it to RIL, and they have started buying land at the increased prices,” said Shiv Bhatia, advisor to CM, Haryana government.In fact, RIL will also have to pay an annuity income of Rs. 42,000 per year for every acre of land for the next 30 years and this amount will have to keep increasing by Rs. 1,500 per acre every year.So far, RIL has acquired close to 8,000 acres for the project. According to the original contract, the company will have to buy 17,500 acres directly from the farmers and the state government will then allot the remaining 7,500 acres, to help the company achieve continuity in the project.The RIL SEZ project has been on hold since the beginning of this year. In fact, earlier this year, RIL even proposed a watered down version of the project, mainly because of adverse conditions in the export market.But now, the project is primarily back on track after RIL saw Mitsui and Panasonic showing interest in setting up large operations at the SEZ.

Mecca's new look evokes harsh criticism

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world's holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London's Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam's architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government."It is the commercialization of the house of God," said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development's most vocal critics. "The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions" for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. "If you can see the mosque, you pay triple."Saudi officials say that the construction boom -- and the demolition that comes with it -- is necessary to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of people who make the pilgrimage to Mecca, a figure that has risen to almost three million this past year. As a non-Muslim, I was not permitted to visit the city, but many Muslims I spoke to who know it well -- including architects, preservationists and even some government officials -- believe the real motive behind these plans is money: the desire to profit from some of the most valuable real estate in the world. And, they add, it has been facilitated by Saudi Arabia's especially strict interpretation of Islam, which regards much history after the age of Muhammad, and the artifacts it produced, as corrupt, meaning that centuries-old buildings can be destroyed with impunity.
That mentality is dividing the holy city of Mecca -- and the pilgrimage experience -- along highly visible class lines, with the rich sealed inside exclusive air-conditioned high-rises encircling the Grand Mosque and the poor pushed increasingly to the periphery.There was a time when the Saudi government's architecture and urban planning efforts, especially around Mecca, did not seem so callous. In the 1970s, as the government was taking control of Aramco, the American conglomerate that managed the country's oil fields, skyrocketing oil prices unleashed a wave of national modernization programs, including a large-scale effort to accommodate those performing the hajj.The projects involved some of the world's great architectural talents, many of whom were encouraged to experiment with a freedom they were not finding in the West, where postwar faith in Modernism was largely exhausted. The best of their works -- modern yet sensitive to local environment and traditions -- challenge the popular assumption that Modernist architecture, as practiced in the developing world, was nothing more than a crude expression of the West's quest for cultural dominance.These include the German architect Frei Otto's remarkable tent cities from the late 1970s, made up of collapsible lightweight structures inspired by the traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribes and intended to accommodate hajj pilgrims without damaging the delicate ecology of the hills that surround the old city.Fifty miles to the west, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Hajj terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport is a similar expression of a form of modernity that can be sensitive to local traditions and environmental conditions without reverting to kitsch. A grid of more than 200 tentlike canopies supported on a system of steel cables and columns, it is divided into small open-air villages, where travelers can rest and pray in the shade before continuing their journey.The current plans, by contrast, can read like historical parody. Along with the giant Big Ben, there are many other overscale developments -- including a proposal for the planned expansion of the Grand Mosque that dwarfs the original complex -- in various mock-Islamic styles. But the Vegas-like aura of these projects can deflect attention from the real crime: the way the developments are deforming what by all accounts was a fairly diverse and unstratified city. The Mecca Clock Tower will be surrounded by a half-dozen luxury high-rises, each designed in a similar Westminster-meets-Wall Street style and sitting on a mall that is meant to evoke traditional souks. Built at various heights at the edge of the Grand Mosque's courtyard, and fronted by big arched portes-cocheres, they form a postmodern pastiche that means to evoke the differences of a real city but will do little to mask the project's mind-numbing homogeneity.Like the luxury boxes that encircle most sports stadiums, the apartments will allow the wealthy to peer directly down at the main event from the comfort of their suites without having to mix with the ordinary rabble below.At the same time, the scale of development has pushed middle-class and poor residents further and further from the city center. "I don't know where they go," Mr. Angawi said. "To the outskirts of Mecca, or they come to Jidda. Mecca is being cleansed of Meccans."The changes are likely to have as much of an effect on the spiritual character of the Grand Mosque as on Mecca's urban fabric. Many people told me that the intensity of the experience of standing in the mosque's courtyard has a lot to do with its relationship to the surrounding mountains. Most of these represent sacred sites in their own right and their looming presence imbues the space with a powerful sense of intimacy.But that experience, too, is certain to be lessened with the addition of each new tower, which blots out another part of the view. Not that there will be much to look at: many hillsides will soon be marred by new rail lines, roads and tunnels, while others are being carved up to make room for still more towers."The irony is that developers argue that the more towers you build the more views you have," said Faisal al-Mubarak, an urban planner who works at the ministry of tourism and antiquities. "But only rich people go inside these towers. They have the views." The issue is not just run-of-the-mill class conflict. The city's makeover also reflects a split between those who champion turbocharged capitalism and those who think it should stop at the gates of Mecca, which they see as the embodiment of an Islamic ideal of egalitarianism."We don't want to bring New York to Mecca," Mr. Angawi said. "The hajj was always supposed to be a time when everyone is the same. There are no classes, no nationalities. It is the one place where we find balance. You are supposed to leave worldly things behind you."The government, however, seems unmoved by such sentiments. When I mentioned Mr. Angawi's observations at the end of a long conversation with Prince Sultan, the minister of tourism and antiquities, he simply frowned."When I am in Mecca and go around the kaaba, I don't look up."

2000-2010: A decade of growth in the auto sector

The noughties or 2000-2010 will be remembered for the rise of Indian auto as a strong and lucrative domestic market. During this period, Indian manufacturers became bold and aggressive with global ambitions to boot in the in the second half.It began with Tata snapping up the truck business of ailing South Korean Daewoo motor in 2004 for $102 million.In 2004 or the same year Mahindra & Mahindra was also looking for inorganic growth overseas and it acquired a 80 per cent stake in the Chinese tractor maker Jiangling for $10 million gaining a foothold in one the fastest growing tractor markets in the world.Subsequently in 2007, M&M also won a keenly fought race for Punjab Tractors Ltd acquiring it for $250 million and then in 2008 it also picked up majority 51 per cent stake in Yancheng, another Chinese tractor maker, for $26 million making Mahindra the world's largest tractor maker today.The other big high point of the decade when it came to M&A in the auto sector was Tata's big $ 2.3 billion Jaguar Land Rover buyout in 2008.Tata has shopped plenty since picking up Norwegian electric battery maker Milijo for $12 million in 2008, and Spanish bus assembler Hispano Carocerra in 2009.On the two wheeler front, Bajaj Auto acquired a significant 14.5 per cent stake in Austrian super bike maker KTM in 2007. The relationship has blossomed with Bajaj stake increasing to 38 per cent in 2010.Mahindra shopped some more too acquiring Italian bike and small engine specialist Engines Engineering for 2008.And M&M also bought out Kinetic Motors to enter the two wheeler space for $25-30 million in 2008 and it also bought out its erstwhile Logan JV partner Renault. M&M further acquired electric car maker Reva for in 2010 and is all set to finish the paperwork on its latest buy – South Korea's SUV maker – Ssangyong, also snapped up in 2010 for $473 million.All this has meant a greater interest in India from the world's biggest manufacturers and today every big auto group is represented in India except France's PSA, which too is on the verge of announcing an India strategy.Others who have set up plants include Volkswagen, BMW, Renault Nissan, and Toyota and Honda have added a second plant each.On the CV side, new capacity has come from the Volvo Eicher, Man-Force and Nissan-Ashok Leyland joint ventures for trucks.The world's largest truck maker Daimler signed a JV with Hero which was aborted but is still on the lookout for a potential partner for its upcoming plant in Chennai.Every year has seen a multitude of new models with entry motorcycles and small cars accounting for 3/4th of the market.This got further impetus with the government announcing manufacturing, R&D and tax cuts for these vehicles.The total car making capacity in India has grown from close to 6,00,000 units to 1.8 mn units today and two wheeler capacity has jumped from 4.5 million units to over 10.5 mn units in 10 years.The CV side may have seemed slower but it too has gone up from 1,89,940 to 644,164 units.In all this came Ratan Tata's dream project – the Nano or the one lakh wonder. The car hasn't been a runaway success but it gave Tata the pioneer tag and has spawned similar projects globally. All this has also given a solid boost to component players.Notably the Indian automotive industry has grown six-fold to over $25 billion from $4 billion at the start of the decade. Given that over $35 billion likely to be invested for the coming decade, the industry is confident of breaching the $100 billion mark by 2020.The Indian car bazaar is expected to hit 9 million units by 2020 when 2- and 3-wheeler sales would be at 30 million units and CV sales at 2.2 million. Just like the last 10 years, the next ten will also see growth coming largely on the back of the rise of auto finance and by automakers going rural.

Carrefour enters India, sets up first cash-and-carry store

The world's second-largest retailer, Carrefour, on Thursday announced that it has opened its first 'cash-and-carry' outlet in the country in New Delhi."The opening of this first store marks Carrefour's entry into the Indian market and will be followed shortly by the opening of other cash-and-carry stores," Carrefour CEO Lars Olofsson said in a statement.Carrefour has made its intent to enter the multi-brand retail segment in the country known and is understood to be at an advanced stage of talks with home-grown retail giant, Future Group.However, the existing policy of the Indian government does not permit FDI in multi-brand retail, as it is feared that traditional kirana ('mom-and-pop') outlets would be wiped out.Nevertheless, it is understood the two companies could sign a deal as early as next year for a partnership in India.Olafsson said opening of the first store was essential to allow Carrefour's teams to fully understand the modalities of doing business in the India market before building the company's presence in other formats. The company however, did not disclose investment details.The new store -- Carrefour Wholesale Cash&Carry – in Seelampur area of New Delhi is spread across 5,200 square meter and will house over 10,000 stock-keeping units to cater to professional businesses, institutions, restaurants and local retailers.Since the FDI policy in India does not allow foreign companies to open multi-brand retail stores in the country, global retailers have opted for the cash-and-carry route to establish their presence here.India currently allows 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in single-brand retail and 100 per cent in the cash-and-carry segment, but none in multi-brand retail.The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, announced a joint venture with Bharti Enterprises in 2007 and set up the 'Best Price Modern Wholesale' cash-and-carry store in Amritsar in May, 2009.The Bharti Wal-Mart joint venture operates four such stores in Amritsar, Zirakpur, Jalandhar and Kota and is expected to open up to 15 more wholesale cash-and-carry stores over the next three years.German company Metro made an entry into the India market even earlier, in 2003. It currently operates six cash-and-carry stores in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai and Koltata.Even Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd's retail arm, Reliance Retail, is understood to be chalking out plans to enter the cash-and-carry business by opening at least three outlets next year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

India's first Web TV "Indiavibes" set to be launched

India's first Web TV 'Indiavibes' would be launched in Kochi on January 1.The new media platform, being promoted by the Kochi-based Vibes Visual & Media Pvt, will be inaugurated by media personality K Sasikumar on January 1 at Gold Souk Grande Kochi.This would be followed by a panel discussion on Journalism, New Media and emerging trends. Indiavibes would be creating contents and programme of its own giving its users ultimate freedom to watch their choice of contents and appreciate the nature and demands of internet spectators, ultimately their taste and priority will be the content."Web TV" concept has never been effectively tried in the market because the challenge of making visually appealing content to the general public is not an easy task. The backbone of this concept is the confidence; it can create visually appealing, quality content that has not been tried in any other mediums in the market before. The team is backed up by people who have immense experience in terms of developing innovative concepts in the most challenging situations."We cover all categories fashion, music, films, business, technology, blogging, lifestyle, current affairs and almost everything that this century and the years ahead would ever need. We are focused on targeting people and not on celebrities', Andrine Mendez, Founder Vibes Visual &Media private Ltd said.There are plans to set up production hubs at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore to start with and from then move on to er Tier 1 & tier II cities.The company has also plan to set up production hubs at UAE, US & UK, he said.'Our vision is to showcase the richness of India's entertainment culture to the world. We wish to make Indiavibes as its name suggests the one stop shop for all the entertainment for global audiences," he added.Public can access all contents from from January 1 onwards. For best user experience, it needs to have atleast 1 Mbps broadband speed though. Through 3G these can also be accessed through mobiles. The company is looking for partnerships with ISPs and broadband providers to ensure more data traffic to these providers and it also helps to reach people better.Vibes Visual & Media Pvt Ltd is a fully fledged visual production company, with Indiavibes Entertainment portal its flagship project. English will be the primary language of communication. Internet having a viral effect for such concepts, the idea will spread like a wildfire in the market attracting people of all age groups.

A decade of booms and bust-ups for the aviation industry

For all of us air travelers in India, the last decade has no doubt been hugely transformational: swanky airports and numerous airlines to choose from. No doubt for the airline industry the last 10 years has been a long eventful flight.The decade began with just three home grown airlines – Air Sahara, Jet Airways and Air India. During the disinvestment drive in NDA regime, the national carrier was put on the block for a stake sale. However, the plan faced stiff political and employee resistance and resulted in the idea being stalled.It was about then that Captain GR Gopinath, founder of Air Deccan, made his entry into the aviation space – launching the first-ever low cost carrier, Air Deccan, making the common man's dream to fly, come true. Deccan proved to be a game-changer. More budget airlines followed and in a span of just three years Air India express, SpiceJet, indigo and go-air all began commercial operations.It was during this phase that the king of good times, Vijay Mallya launched his kingfisher airlines. Just as quickly as the sector has emerged, it also saw consolidation. Jet airways' bought out Air Sahara and air Deccan was acquired by Kingfisher Airlines. With the sudden emergence of the aviation sector, airports in the country were choking, unable to cope with the load. The government stepped in giving a green signal for privatization of all major metro airports. But by then hit by the onslaught of private airlines, national carrier air India was bleeding. The government decided to merge Indian Airlines and Air India to fly it out of rough weather.But soon after, the financial meltdown struck, and the global aviation sector took a hard hit. Fuel prices soared, air traffic dipped. By the end of 2009, the domestic airline industry had accumulated losses to the tune of $1.7 billion. The national carrier which was accumulating losses for over 4 years was forced to go to the government seeking financial aid.The year 2010 saw the global economy make a fragile recovery and airlines witnessed a rise in traffic. Though domestic airlines have begun to book profits for the first time in last three years they find themselves cash strapped with their collective debt piling over Rs. 60,000 crore.The private airlines are looking at the RBI's debt restructuring plan as a ray of hope while Air India is seeking more cash infusion from the government to see itself out of the red. It will no doubt be interesting to see in which direction the Indian aviation industry flies to in the coming decade.

Where are the jobs? For many US firms, overseas

Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn't anyone hiring?Actually, many American companies are — just maybe not in your town. They're hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat.More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute's senior international economist."There's a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy," says Scott.American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated — think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.And now many of the products being made overseas aren't coming back to the United States. Demand has grown dramatically this year in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.Meanwhile, consumer demand in the U.S. has been subdued. Despite a strong holiday shopping season, Americans are still spending 3 percent less than before the recession on essential items like clothing and more than 10 percent less on jewelry, furniture, electronics, and big appliances, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse."Companies will go where there are fast-growing markets and big profits," says Jeffrey Sachs, globalization expert and economist at Columbia University. "What's changed is that companies today are getting top talent in emerging economies, and the U.S. has to really watch out."With the future looking brighter overseas, companies are building there, too. Caterpillar, maker of the signature yellow bulldozers and tractors, has invested in three new plants in China in just the last two months to design and manufacture equipment. The decision is based on demand: Asia-Pacific sales soared 38 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. Caterpillar stock is up 65 percent this year."There is a shift in economic power that's going on and will continue. China just became the world's second-largest economy," says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, who notes that half of the revenue for companies in the S&P 500 in the last couple of years has come from outside the U.S.Take the example of DuPont, which wowed the world in 1938 with nylon stockings. Known as one of the most innovative American companies of the 20th century, DuPont now sells less than a third of its products in the U.S. In the first nine months of this year, sales to the Asia-Pacific region grew 50 percent, triple the U.S. rate. Its stock is up 47 percent this year.DuPont's work force reflects the shift in its growth: In a presentation on emerging markets, the company said its number of employees in the U.S. shrank by 9 percent between January 2005 and October 2009. In the same period, its work force grew 54 percent in the Asia-Pacific countries."We are a global player out to succeed in any geography where we participate in," says Thomas M. Connelly, chief innovation officer at DuPont. "We want our resources close to where our customers are, to tailor products to their needs."While most of DuPont's research labs are still stateside, Connelly says he's impressed with the company's overseas talent. The company opened a large research facility in Hyderabad, India, in 2008.A key factor behind this runaway international growth is the rise of the middle class in these emerging countries. By 2015, for the first time, the number of consumers in Asia's middle class will equal those in Europe and North America combined."All of the growth over the next 10 years is happening in Asia," says Homi Kharas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and formerly the World Bank's chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific.Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent often points out that a billion consumers will enter the middle class during the coming decade, mostly in Africa, China and India. He is aggressively targeting those markets. Of Coke's 93,000 global employees, less than 13 percent were in the U.S. in 2009, down from 19 percent five years ago.The company would not say how many new U.S. hires it has made in 2010. But its latest new investments are overseas, including $240 million for three bottling plants in Inner Mongolia as part of a three-year, $2 billion investment in China. The three plants will create 2,000 new jobs in the area. In September, Coca-Cola pledged $1 billion to the Philippines over five years.The strategy isn't restricted to just the largest American companies. Entrepreneurs, whether in technology, retail or in manufacturing, today hire globally from the start.Consider, which powers the search engines of sites like Yahoo Travel and Aol Autos. The company was founded in 2005 with employees based in San Francisco and Serbia.Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria worries that the trend could be dangerous. In an article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, he says that if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home.Other economists, like Columbia University's Sachs, say multinational corporations have no choice, especially now that the quality of the global work force has improved. Sachs points out that the U.S. is falling in most global rankings for higher education while others are rising."We are not fulfilling the educational needs of our young people," says Sachs. "In a globalized world, there are serious consequences to that."

‘Gold bull run to continue, target Rs. 25,000’

Despite the sharp recovery of India's capital markets, appetite for gold in the world's largest consumer of the precious yellow metal remained robust in 2010, sending prices soaring to record highs at the retail level.Prices had been on an upward climb throughout the year, particularly since May, when the economies of some European countries went into a tailspin and gold was seen as a safer bet for investors.But soon after Diwali, the festival of lights, in November, they touched an all-time high of Rs. 20,893 per 10 grams on December 7. Analysts expect prices to remain high next year as well, with some even predicting Rs.25,000 per 10 gms by May.It is estimated by the World Gold Council, the premier global institution on all matters on the yellow metal, Indians, including the government, hold an estimated 18,000 tonnes of gold worth some $800 billion now, or 11 per cent of the global holding.This means per capita gold of around 15 gms in India. Or to put it differently, each Indian citizen potentially holds 15 gms of the precious metal worth over Rs.30,000 at today's prices."India is the largest gold market in the world. As such, the likely recovery of local gold demand to pre-crisis levels is of considerable strategic importance to the wider gold market," said Eily Ong of the World Gold Council."India has one of the highest savings rate globally. It is estimated that around 30 per cent of per capita income is saved and out of this 30 per cent, 10 per cent is already invested in gold," the council said.According to Balram Garg, managing director and chief executive of the Delhi-based PC Jewellers' Group, banks across nations stored more gold this year, as it can be easily sold and bought easily during crises.In fact, the Indian government's gold reserves, which were worth a mere $3.832 billion a year ago, are now valued several times more at $22.124 billion as on Dec 17, as per data available with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).The council also says when compared with the country's gross domestic product in the past 10 years, which grew by around six per cent annualised, the value of gold demand in India has increased at an average rate of 13 per cent per year."As an asset class, gold has outperformed selected domestic equity indices and has provided an average annual rate of return of 30 per cent over a five-year period ended Sep 30, against one per cent by Sensex of Bombay Stock Exchange."Analysts explained that traditionally, India has seen gold demand surge during the festival of Dhanteras -- considered the most auspicious day for buying gold and utensils -- just before Diwali.But over the past few years, Akshaya Tritiya in May has emerged as another major strategic date for the purchase of gold in India. The sale of gold on that date surged 28 per cent this year, the analysts said."This year we had more footfalls for jewellery than in 2008 and 2009, though prices kept soaring. People believe like any other commodity, gold prices will remain high and want to buy as much as possible," said Pawan Verma of Vipul Jewellers.In 2009, the Indian demand accounted for 559 tonnes, or 15 per cent of the total global gold market worth $19 billion. This year, the demand is expected to have surged further ahead, with 624 tonnes of imports during the first three quarters.Looking ahead analysts expect prices to remain firm. Said PC Jeweller's Garg: "The price is likely to cross the Rs. 25,000 per 10 gms mark by Diwali time of next year."Here are some key facts and figures concerning gold in 2010:-India is estimated to have accounted for 15 per cent of global gold demand in 2010.-Imports amounted to 624 tonnes in first three quarters against 559 tonnes during whole of 2009.-Prices touched all-time high of Rs.20,893 per 10 gms Dec 7.-Gold prices appreciated nearly 30 per cent this year against 15.5 per cent rise in Sensex.-Prices seen crossing Rs.25,000 per 10 gms by Diwali 2011.-The Indian government's gold reserves shot up from $3.832 billion last December to $22.124 billion now.-Nearly 10 per cent of India's household savings invested in gold.-Demand for gold from jewellery up 53 per cent during first nine months-2010 expected to end with largest demand from the Indian jewellery sector since 2005.

Indian casino king's kingdom crumbles in Nepal

A billion-dollar gambling industry built up in Nepal by a chartered accountant from New Delhi, which encompassed seven casinos and employed nearly 7,000 people, has been left tottering with lawmakers Tuesday ordering the government to scrap their license unless they cleared their dues within 30 days.The Public Accounts Committee of Nepal's interim parliament Tuesday issued the directive to Kishore Thapa, secretary at the tourism and civil aviation ministry, after grilling him last week over the casinos' growing failure to pay the royalty it owes the state, now estimated to be about NRS 193 million.Rakesh Wadhwa, a Xaverian from Kolkata and former runner of casinos in Sri Lanka, was not available for comments on the unravelling of his kingdom. He has been incommunicado since last month, after the casinos came under fire, and skipped even the launch of his own novel, "The Dealmaker" published by Rupa.Currently, he is believed to have fled Nepal.
The 53-year-old heads Nepal Recreation Center (NRC), the organisation that had a monopoly on the casino industry in the 1990s, when Nepal was still a kingdom and the royal family had a stake in the industry.At that time however NRC was ruled by an American, Richard Tuttle, who took Wadhwa, then a chartered accountant working with a five-star hotel in Kathmandu, under his wing.By 2007, the relationship between the two had changed dramatically with Wadhwa routing his mentor and establishing his control over NRC and the casino kingdom.However, the controversial victory was short-lived with another powerful player entering the stage.It was Raj Bahadur Singh, the son-in-law of deposed king Gyanendra, who threw out NRC from one of the best-known casinos - the Casino Royale from which Charles Sobhraj was arrested in 2003 - for non-payment of rent to the Yak and Yeti hotel whose premises it had leased. Singh then began running the casino himself.Soon another hotel, the Shangri-la, sued NRC for non-payment of rent and won the long legal battle. Now the hotel says it will throw out NRC from the Casino Shangri-la operating from its premises and will run the gaming centre itself.Wadhwa is left with only four casinos: Casino Nepal, the oldest casino in the country and where Dev Anand shot some of the scenes of "Hare Krishna Hare Ram", Casino Anna, Casino Tara and Casino Everest.Casino Tara too remains under a cloud with reports about the Hyatt Regency hotel, whose grounds the casino operates from, also seeking to evict it.Besides the rent, the casinos are also way behind in paying the royalty they owe the government.Last week, Finance Minister Surendra Pandey locked horns with Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari, demanding that the casinos be shut down since they were not paying the royalty due to the government.The fight is regarded as a political duel between two major parties - the ruling communists and the opposition Maoists.The Maoist trade union controls the casinos and the ruling party's demand for jobs for its men went unheeded.This triggered a series of raids on the casinos ordered by Home Minister Bhim Rawal, who belongs to the communist party.Nepal's laws forbid Nepalis from gambling in the casinos but with the number of Indian tourists falling, Nepalis have been flocking to the casinos.Ironically, the Maoists, who during their 10-year People's War banned card-playing and other forms of gambling, have now been demanding that the ban be lifted.It is also ironical that Wadhwa has stakes in four casinos in Goa, whose development as a gaming destination is weaning away Indian gamblers from Nepal.In the 1990s, Wadhwa's casino kingdom in Sri Lanka fell after the government took over in the name of nationalisation.Now it remains to be seen if fate has dealt him the same card in Nepal or whether he can bounce back.

Road rage in India growing along with economy

On a recent chilly evening, Gaurav Kumar eased his small truck onto a congested road in the Indian capital and accidentally scraped another vehicle in the honking mass of cars, scooters and motorbikes.Enraged, the other car's driver blocked Kumar's truck and attacked him. He pulled the 24-year-old deliveryman out and shoved him so hard that his head hit the sidewalk. An hour later, Kumar died in a nearby hospital."It was a small scratch. For this he lost his life," Kumar's widow, Prem Latha, said by telephone from the nearby town of Aligarh, where she lives with her 7-week-old daughter.Once rare in India, such cases of road rage are becoming routine on the streets of New Delhi, according to OP Mandal, the police officer investigating the Dec. 7 attack that led to Kumar's death.
"This is what we are seeing every day," Mandal said. "A minor quarrel escalates, people take the law into their hands, and a life is snuffed out."While Indian police keep no specific numbers on traffic-related assaults, officers interviewed agree that road rage is on the rise, fueled by the country's economic boom and the masses of new vehicles it is adding to the already crowded roads.Roughly 10 million cars, buses, trucks, scooters and motorbikes crowd New Delhi's potholed roads every day, causing long traffic jams, gridlock - and frayed tempers.The city's roads have not kept up with traffic growth. While the vehicle count has soared 212 percent over the past two decades, the number of miles of road has grown a mere 17 percent, according to the New Delhi Transport Department."People are on the road longer, and everyone is on a short fuse," Satyendra Garg, the police official in charge of New Delhi traffic. "The result is a situation which begins verbally, then escalates to physical confrontation."And because vehicles are a powerful symbol of often-newfound wealth, any scratch can feel like an assault on a person's status, he added. "So if someone scrapes their new car, they find it unacceptable and are ready to hit out."Sociologist Abhilasha Kumari also senses a change in attitude as the country's new economic wealth makes society more materialistic."It's as if Delhi's centuries-old culture of graciousness has been wiped off and has been replaced by a frenetic and pushy 'me first' ruthlessness," she said.Migrants from nearby rural areas, some newly rich from selling their land for real estate development, have also helped change the city's texture from a quiet government town to a thriving commercial hub."People are more upfront in their aggressiveness," Kumari added. "They believe if you have the money, you flaunt it, with your big shiny new car, and you assert yourself forcefully on the road."Almost every day, newspapers carry reports of people being assaulted after getting into an argument on the roads.In one recent incident, a motorist at a crowded toll booth pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot the toll collector if he served another driver who had cut in line, local papers reported.Driving on Delhi's roads is a hazardous exercise at best. Cars and buses graze fenders with farm tractors, motorbikes and the occasional ox-driven cart.At red lights, scooters zigzag between cars trying to get to the front. Small cars ignore lane lines and wedge themselves into any free space. Pedestrians, beggars and hawkers weave around the vehicles. It's a honking, rugby-like scrum that revs up to a slow crawl when the light turns green.Shalu Singh, an accountant who drives to work in Delhi, said it makes her angry to see drivers breaking the rules and getting away with it."You have people talking on their mobile phones while driving or jumping traffic lights or tailgating you to make you drive faster," she said."The police are mute spectators," she added. "They feel if they stop a driver who is breaking the rules, they will hold up traffic and make the situation worse. So the offender gets away scot-free."Maxwell Pereira, a retired police officer, said there is only so much the police can do."It's high time vehicle drivers learn to be civilized and follow road rules," he said.As the situation on the roads deteriorates, he worries that even normally levelheaded drivers will resort to road rage."There's no saying whom it will strike next," he said. "Even the most sober and most calm person will lose his cool."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snowpocalypse shuts down New York

The US National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for parts of New York, New Jersey and other states along the east coast of the United States as a major winter storm bears down on the area on Sunday.A band of frigid weather was snaking up the East Coast on Sunday, promising blizzards and a foot of snow for New York City and New England, while several states made emergency declarations as the storm caused crashes on slick roads.Heavy snow and blizzards in parts of North Carolina were making driving conditions difficult, and there were dozens of traffic accidents.North Carolina authorities reported a fatal traffic accident near Charlotte.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said late on Saturday that most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice.The storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast that will strengthen into a major storm as it moves northeast, according to the National Weather Service.The snow brought a rare white Christmas to the South.Columbia, in South Carolina, had its first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.Airlines grounded hundreds of flights on Sunday along the Northeast corridor in anticipation of the storm, affecting major airports including New York's John F Kennedy Airport and Newark.New York City-area airports alone cancelled close to 1,000 flights.The National Weather Service is expecting heavy snow and strong winds with considerable blowing and drifting of snow with almost no visibility at times.The snow estimates are 11 to 16 inches (28 to 41 centimetres) with locally higher amounts possible.In Secaucus, New Jersey, road clearing crews were out early and pre-positioned to start treating roadway surfaces as the snow started to fall.Residents of Secaucus in New Jersey have been buying shovels and sacks of sand in local supermarkets, preparing to fight severe weather conditions.The Northeast is expected to get the brunt of the storm.Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday, with a forecast of 11 to 16 inches (28 to 41 centimetres) of snow and strong winds that will reduce visibility to near zero at times.A blizzard warning was also in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts including Boston, with forecasters predicting 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 centimetres) of snow.A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 miles-per-hour (56 kilometres-per-hour).As much as 18 inches (46 centimetres) could fall on the New Jersey shore with wind gusts over 40 miles-per-hour (64 kilometres-per-hour).Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency as of 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Sunday, and he urged residents to stay off the roads.In Washington DC, transportation officials treated roads with salt and readied 200 salt trucks and ploughs in preparation for the six inches (15 centimetres) of snow to fall in the Mid-Atlantic region.In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency that bans parking on all major streets.By early Sunday, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina had also declared states of emergency.Amtrak cancelled several of its trains in Virginia.

Indian-American Kamala Harris 'female Obama' in making

Indian-American Kamala Harris, California's next Attorney General, is the "female Obama" in making and likely to be a national figure shortly, a media report said on Saturday.Daughter of an Indian mother and African-American father, Harris is being called the future of the Democratic Party, a rising political star in the mold of one of her big supporters President Barack Obama, the 'Politico' said in a lead story."At first glance, the President and Harris have much in common: Both are mixed-race children of immigrants raised by a single mother; both are eloquent, telegenic big-city lawyers with strong liberal credentials who catapulted from relative obscurity to the national stage."And like the first African-American President, Harris has broken a long-standing barrier she's California's first African-American Attorney General and the first woman to hold the office," Politico said.
She is a rare talent who will be a national figure shortly, Chris Lehane, a former Clinton aide, who is now a consultant in California, was quoted as saying."People call her the female Obama. It's more apt to say she is the female Obama that progressives thought they were voting for," Lehane said.Harris replaces Democratic Jerry Brown, who won election for Governor of California.In December 2003, she was elected as the first woman District Attorney in San Francisco's history, and as the first African-American woman and South Asian-American woman in California to hold the office.She was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in November 2007.Born and raised in the East Bay, Kamala is the daughter of Dr Shyamala Gopalan, a Tamilian breast cancer specialist who traveled to the US from Chennai to pursue her graduate studies at UC Berkeley.Harris has spent the majority of her professional career in the trenches as a courtroom prosecutor.In 1998, she was named managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, where she prosecuted three strike cases and serial felony offenders. She then served as the head of the San Francisco City Attorney's Division on Families and Children.As San Francisco District Attorney, Harris focused intensively on fighting violent crime. In an interview to Politico, Harris said she wants to create a smarter criminal justice policy.Like Obama, Politico said, Harris has sought to avoid being tied to Democratic orthodoxy.Her "smart on crime" approach in San Francisco included cracking down on truancy including charging the parents of chronically truant children with a misdemeanour punishable by jail time and a fine.Civil libertarians and conservatives alike raised questions about the move but Harris was unapologetic, she said."Harris' new post gives her an instant national platform: Her predecessors in the post, including California Governor-elect Jerry Brown, used the office to influence national environmental policy, while New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, who was his state's top prosecutor, raised his profile as a crusader for consumer rights," the news article said.Given California's giant auto and utilities markets, Harris can position herself as a major player in shaping federal climate policy and in using her post to drive federal environmental policy if Washington doesn't act.She has also signaled an interest in other high-profile battles that could garner national attention, including online privacy in social networks like Facebook, Politico reported."We are making decisions about suing the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) around what we want to do around our standards, and whether there should be national standards," Harris told Politico."I want to use my position of leadership to help move along at a faster pace what I believe and know the Obama administration wants to do around the urgency of climate change," she said.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What billionaires splurged on in 2010

What's more extravagant than spending $330,000 on two white truffles, the pricey fungi popular with foodies around the world? Spending $330,000 on the mushrooms and then not even eating them. Billionaire Stanley Ho, the casino king of Macau, did just that at a London auction last month. According to a truffle expert, the large, aged Italian specimens Ho bought--"grand champions," in industry parlance--were not the sort you'd want to sprinkle on your risotto. "They're mostly or entirely unusable for culinary concerns," says Britt Bunyard, publisher of Fungi magazine. "They're over-mature, split open, and often have bad or decomposed parts. The truffle connoisseur would pass them over for younger, fresher ones."
This wasn't Ho's first time spending six figures on inedible mushrooms. November's $330,000 purchase matches the Hong Kong-based developer's own 2007 record for the delicacy, and he's well-known to Bunyard and other truffle specialists as the man to beat at auctions worldwide. The high prices Ho routinely pays for truffles are inflated, as proceeds from these auctions generally benefit charities, but Bunyard is still not sure why the ultrarich flock to buy what he calls "a strong-smelling, black, dirty potato" over any other luxury item on the market.
"It has me scratching my head," he says. "When anything gets to be rare and really expensive, the rich have to have it."
[See Toys of the Ultra Rich: What They Cost]
Some of the other extravagant purchases made by members of Forbes' World Billionaires list this year are decidedly more appealing than Ho's decomposing truffles, but no less frivolous. Hong Kong real estate magnate Joseph Lau paid $16.7 million for two antique incense burners at Christie's earlier this month. They're shaped like cranes, the long-legged birds symbolizing longevity in China.
The London jeweler Laurence Graff paid a world-record sum for a gem, spending $46 million at a Geneva auction in November for a rare 24.78-carat pink diamond that was last on the market 60 years ago. The chairman of Sotheby's (NYSE: BID - News) international jewelry department, David Bennett, believes the emerald-cut stone is worth its enormous price tag. "Truly extraordinary objects will bring truly extraordinary prices," he said in a statement after the sale.
American hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen bypassed the auction circuit to snap up the year's priciest piece of art via a private sale. He is understood to have spent $110 million on Jasper Johns' famous "Flag" painting, setting a record for most expensive work by a living artist. Last month Cohen won the star lot at Sotheby's contemporary sale: Andy Warhol's iconic 1962 painting of a Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO - News) bottle. He spent $35.4 million, way above the $20 to $25 million estimate.
The world's wealthiest didn't break any real estate records this year, but they've certainly contributed to a rebound in the ultra-high-end market. "I've seen a 125% increase in property selling for over $20 million in 2010 vs. 2009," says Beverley Hills realtor Joyce Rey, who deals exclusively in luxury mansions. "It's a thin market, but that growth is considerable." Texas pipeline tycoon Kelcy Warren did his part to boost sales figures, spending $46.5 million in April on the 3,500-acre BootJack Ranch near Telluride, Colo. The estate can house 50 guests, and includes a 12,000-square-foot spa and aquatic center.

Beijing fights nightmare traffic

Traffic jams in Beijing are worsening with each passing day. The city now has 4.76 million vehicles, compared to 2.6 million in 2005 with nearly 2,000 new cars hitting the road each day.Now, China is going to sharply limit the number of new vehicles by registering only 2,40,000 vehicles next year, which would be decided by a licence plate lottery system.But these restrictions are expected to be unpopular with China's middle class.At the news conference, held to announce these measures, one car owner tried to question the move, but was prevented from doing so.
People on the streets of Beijing felt the government should not interfere in private car ownership. But experts say tackling car jams in the capital city is an urgent priority for the government.However, the clever public had already anticipated the new limits and went on a buying spree last week.Nearly 30,000 new vehicles were registered in the past week alone, at least three times the normal rate.One car salesmen said many of the most popular car brands had already sold out.During the 2008 Olympics, Beijing banned vehicles with odd or even-number plates to drive on alternate days.Now all cars are banned from the streets one day a week, based on their licence plate numbers. But some Chinese have sought to evade that rule by buying a second vehicle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

BMW's cheapest model drives into India

In its bid to strengthen leadership position in the Indian luxury car market, BMW India today launched a new sports utility vehicle, 'X1' with a price tag of up to Rs. 29.9 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).The company, which has emerged as the number one during the January-November period beating rival Mercedes, said it has also increased production at its Chennai plant to 8,000 units annually this month from 5,400 units earlier on a single shift in order to meet increasing demand.Bullish on its latest model, the company said it expects the X1 to be its biggest volumes driver in India."Already we have 1,000 orders for the BMW X1 and we are sold out for the first quarter of the next year. We expect the X1 to be the biggest volume model for BMW in India," BMW India President Andreas Schaaf said.
The vehicle will be available in both petrol and diesel variants.While the petrol option will be available for Rs. 22 lakh (ex-showroom, all-India), the diesel variant will have two options priced at Rs. 23.9 lakh and Rs. 29.9 lakh (ex- showroom, all-India), respectively, the company said.At present BMW's 3 Series and the 5 Series sedans are its largest selling models.In the Jan-Nov period, while 3 Series sold 2,220 units, the 5 series sold 2,030 units.The X1 will be assembled at the company's Chennai plant, which also assembles the 3 series and 5 series sedans.Asked if the company would be able to maintain its number one position in the Indian luxury car market, Schaaf said: "We will do utmost to maintain the position. This year we have grown at 60 per cent and we are optimistic of carrying forward the momentum in the next year also."According to the latest Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers figures, BMW sold 5,345 units compared to 5,109 units sold by Mercedes Benz during Jan-Nov period this year.Commenting on the overall growth of the luxury car market in India, he said it is expected to be around 15,000 units this year, up from 8,500 units last year."India is still a growing market, it is not yet matured and we are creating market with the launch of new vehicles. If the market continues to grow at 25 per cent, in ten years time India will be among the top 10 markets of BWM globally," Schaaf said.On the production increase at the Chennai plant, he said it has been achieved by optimising process and additional manpower."We have added 200 more people and by the end of the year we will have a total of 400 people at the plant."On the company's plans to enter the premium bike market in India, he said BMW has not yet started business in the segment although some bikes are already in India and deliveries are expected to start by January.

Google splashes $2 bn on New York office

Internet powerhouse Google is muscling in on New York. The web search giant confirmed Wednesday that it had bought one of the most prestigious office buildings in Manhattan.No price was given for the property at 111 Eighth Avenue, but the Los Angeles Times put the price at $2 billion.The company said that more than 2,000 Googlers would work in the 18-storey building, which fills an entire city block and has some 280,000 square metres of office space. Google said that current tenants, who include Current Armani Exchange, Barnes & Noble, Nike, WebMD, Sprint, and Lifetime Networks, would stay in their offices.A statement by one of the sellers, Taconic Investment Partners, said the deal "is reported to be the largest single-asset sales in the entire US in 2010 and the largest-ever acquisition by a tenant-user".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

RIL to enter 4G services space

Even as operators like Bharti Airtel, Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications try to get their act together in 3G services, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd has started trials on fourth-generation (4G) mobile technology and is getting ready to enter 4th generation telecom services.As per reports, RIL team at Navi Mumbai has started trials of 4G connection and got download speed of 80 Mbps and upload speed of 20 Mbps – that’s much higher than current 3G connection of 3.1 Mbps or 7.2 Mbps.The 4G technology — which is due to be launched sometime next year – will be provided through RIL's telecom arm Reliance Infotel that won wireless internet spectrum auctioned recently.The 4G enables subscribers to watch high-definition video streaming while on the move and live mobile TV. Here the data delivery on mobile phones is even higher than 3G services, thus, you surf internet at lightning speeds.RIL at the moment is looking to finalise equipment as well handset orders.Sources tell NDTV that RIL is in talks with global technology major Qualcomm to get their LTE technology which will allow it to provide 4G services using the BWA band.What could prove challenging for many of the existing telcos is the fact that along with data, RIL is looking to provide voice service, and also making it literally into a full-fledged mobile service. And all of this will be at a much lower cost than 3G because the price of BWA spectrum is much lower than 3G spectrum.

Now, computers that trade on the news

The number-crunchers on Wall Street are starting to crunch something else: the news.Math-loving traders are using powerful computers to speed-read news reports, editorials, company Web sites, blog posts and even Twitter messages — and then letting the machines decide what it all means for the markets.The development goes far beyond standard digital fare like most-read and e-mailed lists. In some cases, the computers are actually parsing writers’ words, sentence structure, even the odd emoticon. A wink and a smile — ;) — for instance, just might mean things are looking up for the markets. Then, often without human intervention, the programs are interpreting that news and trading on it.Given the volatility in the markets and concern that computerized trading exaggerates the ups and downs, the notion that Wall Street is engineering news-bots might sound like an investor’s nightmare.But the development, years in the making, is part of the technological revolution that is reshaping Wall Street. In a business where information is the most valuable commodity, traders with the smartest, fastest computers can outfox and outmaneuver rivals.“It is an arms race,” said Roger Ehrenberg, managing partner at IA Ventures, an investment firm specializing in young companies, speaking of some of the new technologies that help traders identify events first and interpret them.Many of the robo-readers look beyond the numbers and try to analyze market sentiment, that intuitive feeling investors have about the markets. Like the latest economic figures, news and social media buzz — “unstructured data,” as it is known — can shift the mood from exuberance to despondency.Tech-savvy traders have been scraping data out of new reports, press releases and corporate Web sites for years. But new, linguistics-based software goes well beyond that. News agencies like Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters have adopted the idea, offering services that supposedly help their Wall Street customers sift through news automatically.Some of these programs hardly seem like rocket science. Working with academics at Columbia University and the University of Notre Dame, Dow Jones compiled a dictionary of about 3,700 words that can signal changes in sentiment. Feel-good words include obvious ones like “ingenuity,” “strength” and “winner.” Feel-bad ones include “litigious,” “colludes” and “risk.”The software typically identifies the subject of a story and then examines the actual words. The programs are written to recognize the meaning of words and phrases in context, like distinguishing between “terribly,” “good” and “terribly good.”Vince Fioramonti, a portfolio manager at Alpha Equity Management, a $185 million equities fund in Hartford, uses Thomson Reuters software to measure sentiment over weeks, rather than minutes or hours, and pumps that information directly into his fund’s trading systems.“It is an aggregate effect,” Mr. Fioramonti said. “These things give you the ability to assimilate more information.”Bloomberg monitors news articles and Twitter feeds and alerts its customers if a lot of people are suddenly sending Twitter messages about, say, I.B.M.Lexalytics, a text analysis company in Amherst, Mass., that works with Thomson Reuters, says it has developed algorithms that make sense out of Twitter messages. That includes emoticons like the happy-face :) and the not-so-happy :\.Skeptics abound, but proponents insist such software will eventually catch on with traders.“This is where the news breaks,” said Jeff Catlin, the chief executive of Lexalytics. “You have a leg up if you are a trader.”The computer-savvy traders known as quants are paying attention. According to Aite Group, a financial services consulting company, about 35 percent of quantitative trading firms are exploring whether to use unstructured data feeds. Two years ago, about 2 percent of those firms used them.Quants often use these programs to manage their risks by, say, automatically shutting down trading when bad news hits.But industry experts say the programs are also moving the markets. Last May, as Greece’s financial crisis deepened, Wall Street computers seized on a news story with the word “abyss” in the headline and initiated sell orders, according to industry experts.But some warn of a growing digital divide in the markets. Well-heeled traders who can afford sophisticated technology have an edge over everyone else, these people say.Paul Tetlock, an associate professor at Columbia University who did research that was used to create the news algorithms, worries that technology has skewed the playing field. Regulators, he said, should keep a close eye on these high-speed traders.“People are trading news at very high frequency,” he said. “People worry about that.”But the experts are already talking about the next thing — programs to automatically digest broadcast and closed-caption television.Adam Honoré, the research director at Aite Group, said the innovations did not end there. He said some traders were using software that monitored public statements by corporate executives and administered the computer equivalent of a lie-detector test.“It is the next wave of trading,” Mr. Honoré said of unstructured data. “It goes hand in hand with more and more of everyday life being digitized.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

UAE hotel erects $11-million-dollar Christmas tree

Jewellery decorates an 11-million-dollar Christmas tree at the Emirates Palace hotel in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. A luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi which unveiled a Christmas tree decorated with jewels valued at 11 million dollars has decided to put the record straight against criticism of having gone over the top.
A statement from the Emirates Palace hotel said it regretted "attempts to overload" the Christmas tree tradition by adorning it with premium bling including gold, rubies, diamonds and other precious stones from a hotel jeweler.
The statement was a rare bit of reflection on the Gulf's ethos of excess. The tree was unveiled last week with full fanfare in a hotel that features its own gold bar vending machine and a one-week $1 million package that includes private jet jaunts around the Middle East.
But the hotel management apparently had second thoughts after questions arose about whether the opulent tree was innocent good cheer or unfortunate bad taste.
The hotel regrets "attempts to overload the tradition followed by most hotels in the country with meanings and connotations that do not fall in line with the (hotel's) professional standards," said a statement carried on the state-run news agency WAM.
The hotel even tried to distance itself from the 43-foot (13-meter) faux fir in one of its rotundas, saying a hotel-based jeweler was solely responsible for creating and decorating the tree.
"The hotel is just a venue for exhibiting the tree," the statement said.
The hotel also claimed the tree was not a stunt, but rather an effort to boost the holiday mood for its guests based on the United Arab Emirates' "values of openness and tolerance."
Although officially Muslim, the UAE features many signs of Christmas for its huge foreign population. Lights, carolers and Santas are fixtures in nearly every mall.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shopping online without a computer

This holiday season, consumers are beginning to shop and make purchases on their mobile phones. The shift from buying presents in front of the computer at home or work to doing it during bus commutes or while standing in line at cafes is small, but, for the first time, noticeable and even significant.Shopping on cellphones and portable tablet computers like iPads accounted for about 5 percent of online sales in November, while last year mobile shopping sales were too insignificant to measure, according to Coremetrics, an e-commerce measurement service owned by IBM. Many more shoppers are using their phones to research items and compare prices before making purchases offline or on computers."There were early adopters last year, but it's absolutely real this year," said Kelly O'Neill, director of industry marketing for ATG, which provides online and mobile commerce technology to retailers like Best Buy and J C Penney. And mobile shoppers are buying high-ticket items like diamond rings and cars, not just virtual goods and ring tones.On December 12, eBay's busiest mobile shopping day of the year, worldwide mobile sales nearly tripled from last year to $13 million, according to the company, which expects $1.5 billion in mobile sales this year.
Virtually every product that people buy on computers sells in similar proportion on mobile devices, said Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president for mobile. He said shoppers bought an average of four Ferraris a month from their cellphones.Tiffany English, 30, of Hoboken, New Jersey, bought her mother's Christmas gift, a painting of a child, when the eBay mobile app alerted her that the auction was about to end while she was out in Greenwich Village. She used eBay's RedLaser app to compare prices on a set of barbecue tools for her brother, and bought the set on her cellphone from while standing in Bed Bath & Beyond, where the same item cost more."It's saving me time and saving me money," Ms. English said. "I feel like my grandma: 'You can do that with your phone?' "EBay is so convinced of the future of mobile phone shopping that on Wednesday it acquired Critical Path Software, a mobile phone app developer, to speed its move into this new arena.At Blue Nile, the diamond and jewelry e-commerce site, mobile revenue is up sixfold this month from the period a year ago. The company says a mobile shopper recently bought a ring for more than $250,000 via a cellphone."A year ago, we really didn't know whether mobile would be very impactful for our business, because this is a very considered purchase, a high-ticket luxury item," said Diane Irvine, chief executive of Blue Nile. Now, she said, "we can envision a time when sales from a mobile device will eclipse sales over the desktop website."Most shoppers still use their phones for finding nearby stores or looking up reviews and comparing prices, rather than for buying goods, retailers and analysts say. Still, that type of research increasingly leads to mobile sales, particularly for online retailers that compete heavily on price, like consumer electronics stores, said Sucharita Mulpuru, principal analyst for e-commerce at Forrester Research.Perhaps the biggest reason for the spike in mobile shopping is simply that more Web retailers have created mobile Web sites or apps that make it easier to search inventory on a small screen without a mouse, by forgoing fancy Flash graphics and selling a limited number of products on phones.Mobile apps often have features that Web sites don't. For example, Amazon's app lets people scan bar codes, speak into the phone or take a photo of an item to search for products. Bluefly's sends a cellphone alert when an item that was out of stock becomes available again.Just as e-commerce made it possible for people to shop in the office and late at night, mobile phones let them shop anywhere. And because shoppers on cellphones often have a purchase in mind, they can be more valuable to retailers. "Mobile shoppers are the hunters, and people sitting at their computer are gathering," said Jill Dvorak, senior consultant for the e-commerce advisory company FitForCommerce.Tom Keithley, 49, of Monkton, Md., is one of those hunters. He travels often for his job in financial services, and this year he did half his holiday shopping while on the road. From his cellphone he bought a Blue Nile ring for his wife and a eucalyptus wreath from Gump's, the home décor shop."I'm usually in airports and airplanes, so it's more convenient for me to use the time to do things I might normally do if I were sitting at my desk," he said.Mobile shopping is particularly appropriate for customers of flash sale sites like Gilt. Its limited-time sales start at noon each day and sell out quickly, so people miss out if they are away from their computers. Since Gilt introduced its mobile apps, shoppers have more consistently made purchases at noon, and mobile sales generally account for 10 percent of revenue and close to 20 percent on holidays and weekends, said Carl Sparks, president of the Gilt Groupe.The iPad has also helped mobile commerce, but in a different way. While cellphone apps are made to complete transactions as quickly as possible, iPad apps tend to be for shopping as sport. For instance, Amazon's iPad app, called Windowshop, shows many images and lets people browse and view close-up shots of items."It makes it much more visual and fluid and entertaining," said Sam Hall, director of mobile at Amazon, "Something that never could have been done on a smaller-screen device."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg named Time 'Person of Year'

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been named Time's "Person of the Year" for 2010, joining the ranks of winners that include heads of state and rock stars as the person the magazine believes most influenced events of the past year.
At 26, Zuckerberg is the youngest "Person of the Year" since the first one chosen, Charles Lindbergh; he was 25 when he was named in 1927, Time said Wednesday. Zuckerberg beat out Britain's Queen Elizabeth II by just two weeks: She was 26 when she was named in 1952.
Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II has recently joined Zuckerberg's social networking behemoth.
Time's "Person of the Year" is the person or thing that has most influenced the culture and the news during the past year for good or for ill. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke received the honor last year. The 2008 winner was then-President-elect Barack Obama. The 2007 winner was Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Other previous winners have included Bono, President George W. Bush, and CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
In naming Zuckerberg, Time cited him "for changing how we all live our lives."
In a posting on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg said that being named Time's "Person of the Year" was "a real honor and recognition of how our little team is building something that hundreds of millions of people want to use to make the world more open and connected. I'm happy to be a part of that."
Zuckerberg has put himself on the map not only as one of the world's youngest billionaires, but also as a prominent newcomer to the world of philanthropy.
Earlier this year, he pledged $100 million over five years to the Newark, N.J. school system. Now, he's in the company of media titans Carl Icahn, Barry Diller and others who have joined Giving Pledge, an effort led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett to commit the country's wealthiest people to step up their charitable donations.
Zuckerberg owns about a quarter of Facebook's shares.
Zuckerberg has built Facebook into an international phenomenon by stretching the lines of social convention and embracing a new and far more permeable definition of community. In this new world, users are able to construct a social network well beyond what would ever be possible face-to-face.
"I'm trying to make the world a more open place," Zuckerberg says in the "bio" line of his own Facebook page.
Born in Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room, the site has in six years grown to more than 500 million users worldwide and a dollar worth in the billions.
Facebook was the subject of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's film "The Social Network." It features a dark portrayal of Zuckerberg by Jesse Eisenberg, as well as the direction he's taking his company and his status as one of America's most influential figures.
The film has been picked as the best of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review. On Tuesday, it received six Golden Globe nominations, including best picture, drama, going up against its chief rival, the British monarchy tale "The King's Speech," which led with seven nominations.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Now rent an apartment for a night at world's tallest tower

For those who would like to spend a night at the world's tallest tower, an online company in the UAE is offering a lucrative deal.An overnight stay at a fully furnished apartment in Burj Khalifa can now be hired for as much as USD 285 and the deal announced by a Dubai-based firm comes with groceries, if needed.Fitted with air conditioners, wireless Wi-Fi access point and work desks with PCs, the property can accommodate a maximum of four persons with a bedroom furnished with a double bed and two sofa beds.However, if you are looking for a panoramic view of the 188-floor tower you are bound to be disappointed because the apartment is located on the 19th floor.
Burj Khalifa has 900 studio, up to four-bedroom apartments, while it also has Armani Residences with 144 fully furnished private apartments.It offers luxurious recreational and leisure facilities including four swimming pools, an exclusive residents' lounge, health and wellness facilities.Atmosphere, the world's highest fine dining restaurant at Level 122 and at the Top, the world's highest observatory deck with an outdoor terrace on Level 124 are the other attractions.The deal is available at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

As China rolls ahead, fear follows

For nearly two years, China's turbocharged economy has raced ahead with the aid of a huge government stimulus program and aggressive lending by state-run banks.But a growing number of economists now worry that China -- the world's fastest growing economy and a pillar of strength during the global financial crisis -- could be stalled next year by soaring inflation, mounting government debt and asset bubbles.Two credit ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch Ratings, say China is still poised for growth, yet they have also recently warned about hidden risks in its banking system. Fitch even hinted at the possibility of another wave of nonperforming loans tied to the property market.In the late 1990s and early this decade, the Chinese government was forced to bail out and recapitalize these same state-run banks because a soaring number of bad loans had left them nearly insolvent.
Those banks are much stronger now, after a series of record public stock offerings in recent years that have raised billions of dollars from global investors.But last week, an analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland advised clients to hedge against the risk that a flood of cash into China, coupled with soaring inflation, could result in a "day of reckoning." A sharp slowdown in China, which is growing at an annual rate of about 10 percent, would be a serious blow to the global economy since China's voracious demand for natural resources is helping to prop up growth in Asia and South America, even as the United States and the European Union struggle.And because China is a major holder of United States Treasury debt and a major destination for American investment in recent years, any slowdown would also hurt American companies.Aware of the risks, Beijing has moved recently to tame its domestic growth and rein in soaring food and housing prices by raising interest rates, tightening regulations on property sales and restricting lending.At the end of the Central Economic Work Conference, a high-level annual economic policy meeting that concluded on Sunday, Beijing promised to combat inflation and stabilize the economy. Those pledges came just days after the central bank ordered banks to set aside larger capital reserves in a bid to slow lending, the sixth time it has done so this year. And the government reported on Saturday that the consumer price index had climbed 5.1 percent in November, the sharpest rise in nearly three years.Analysts say more tightening measures are expected in the coming months but that the challenges are mounting."There are so many moving pieces," said Qu Hongbin, the chief China economist for HSBC in Hong Kong. "It wouldn't be honest to say things aren't complicated."Optimists say China has been adept at steering the right economic course over the last decade, ramping up growth when needed and tamping it down when things get too hot.But this time, Beijing is not just struggling with inflation, it is also trying to restructure its economy away from dependence on exports and toward domestic consumption in the hopes of creating more balanced and sustainable growth, analysts say.China is also facing mounting international pressure to let its currency, the renminbi, rise in value. Some trading partners insist China is keeping its currency artificially low to give Chinese exporters a competitive advantage. Beijing contends that raising the value of its currency would hurt coastal factories that operate on thin profit margins, forcing them to lay off millions of workers.The most immediate challenge appears to be inflation, which some analysts say may be even more serious than the new figures suggest. Housing prices have skyrocketed. And prices for milk, vegetables and other foods have soared this year."The money supply is too large," said Andy Xie, an economist based in Shanghai who formerly worked at Morgan Stanley. "They increased the money supply to stimulate the economy. Now land prices have jumped 20 times in some places, 100 times in others. Inflation is broad-based. Go into a supermarket. Milk is more expensive in China than it is in the U.S."In Shanghai, where the average monthly wage is about $350, a gallon of milk now costs about $5.50.Wages have also risen sharply this year in coastal provinces amid reports of labor shortages and worker demands for higher pay. Many analysts expect more wage increases next year.That may be good for workers, analysts say, but it will also change the dynamics of the Chinese economy and its export sector while contributing to higher inflation.Beijing is now under pressure to mop up excess liquidity after state banks went on a lending binge during the stimulus program that got under way in early 2009. Analysts say a large portion of that lending was diverted to speculate in the property market. In addition to restricting lending at the big state banks, Beijing recently moved to close hundreds of underground banks and attempted to restrain local governments from borrowing to build huge infrastructure projects, some of which may be wasteful, according to analysts. Some economists say the real solution is for Beijing to privatize more industries and let the market play a bigger role. After the financial crisis hit, the state assumed more control over the economy.Now, state banks and big state-owned companies are reluctant to surrender control over industries where they have monopoly power, analysts say."Inflation is not the most serious problem," says Xu Xiaonian, a professor of economics at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "The most fundamental problem we have to resolve is structural. We need more opening up and reform policies. Look at the state monopolies in education, health care, telecom and entertainment. We need to break those up. We need to create more jobs and make the economy more innovative."Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at Yale, agrees."The state economy and the local governments will be where the future problems occur," Professor Chen said in an e-mail response to questions on Sunday. "They will be the sources of real troubles for the banks and the financial system."Though no economist is forecasting the end to China's decades-long bull run, many have turned more cautious. And Fitch Ratings recently released a study it conducted with the forecasting consultancy Oxford Economics that examined the effect a slowdown in China would have on the rest of the world. Fitch expects China's economy to grow at an annual rate of 8.6 percent next year, down from about 9.7 percent this year. But the report, which was released a few weeks ago, said that if growth slowed to 5 percent, the economies of many other Asian nations would suffer seriously. Steel, energy and manufacturing industries around the world would also be hard hit, it said.Fitch analysts are careful not to forecast a sharp slowdown in China. But if one comes, they say, it is "most likely to stem from a combination of property crash and banking crisis."