Friday, February 26, 2010

Rules That Warren Buffett Lives By

Warren Buffett is arguably the world's greatest stock investor. He's also a bit of a philosopher. He pares down his investment ideas into simple, memorable sound bites. Do you know what his homespun sayings really mean? Does his philosophy hold up in today's difficult environment? Find out below.

"Rule No. 1: Never Lose Money. Rule No. 2: Never Forget Rule No. 1."

Buffett personally lost about $23 billion in the financial crisis of 2008, and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, lost its revered AAA ratings. So how can he tell us to never lose money?

He's referring to the mindset of a sensible investor. Don't be frivolous. Don't gamble. Don't go into an investment with a cavalier attitude that it's OK to lose. Be informed. Do your homework. Buffett invests only in companies he thoroughly researches and understands. He doesn't go into an investment prepared to lose, and neither should you.

Buffett believes the most important quality for an investor is temperament, not intellect. A successful investor doesn't focus on being with or against the crowd.

The stock market will swing up and down. But in good times and bad, Buffett stays focused on his goals. So should we. (This esteemed investor rarely changes his long-term investing strategy no matter what the market does.

"If The Business Does Well, the Stock Eventually Follows"

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham convinced Buffett that investing in a stock equates to owning a piece of the business. So when he searches for a stock to invest in, Buffett seeks out businesses that exhibit favorable long-term prospects. Does the company have a consistent operating history? Does it have a dominant business franchise? Is the business generating high and sustainable profit margins? If the company's share price is trading below expectations for its future growth, then it's a stock Buffett may want to own.

Buffett never buys anything unless he can write down his reasons why he'll pay a specific price per share for a particular company. Do you do the same?

"It's Far Better to Buy a Wonderful Company at a Fair Price Than a Fair Company at a Wonderful Price"

Buffett is a value investor who likes to buy quality stocks at rock-bottom prices. His real goal is to build more and more operating power for Berkshire Hathaway by owning stocks that will generate solid profits and capital appreciation for years to come. When the markets reeled during the recent financial crisis, Buffett was stockpiling great long-term investments by investing billions in names like General Electric and Goldman Sachs.

To pick stocks well, investors must set down criteria for uncovering good businesses, and stick to their discipline. You might, for example, seek companies that offer a durable product or service and also have solid operating earnings and the germ for future profits. You might establish a minimum market capitalization you're willing to accept, and a maximum P/E ratio or debt level. Finding the right company at the right price -- with a margin for safety against unknown market risk -- is the ultimate goal.

Remember, the price you pay for a stock isn't the same as the value you get. Successful investors know the difference.

"Our Favorite Holding Period Is Forever"

How long should you hold a stock? Buffett says if you don't feel comfortable owning a stock for 10 years, you shouldn't own it for 10 minutes. Even during the period he called the "Financial Pearl Harbor," Buffett loyally held on to the bulk of his portfolio.

Unless a company has suffered a sea change in prospects, such as impossible labor problems or product obsolescence, a long holding period will keep an investor from acting too human. That is, being too fearful or too greedy can cause investors to sell stocks at the bottom or buy at the peak -- and destroy portfolio appreciation for the long run.

You may think the recent financial meltdown changed things, but don't be fooled: those unfussy sayings from the Oracle of Omaha still RULE!

Petra sets record, sells diamond for $35 million



Petra Diamonds sold a 507-carat diamond for $35.3 million on Friday, breaking a record as the highest price ever paid for a rough diamond.

Analysts had estimated the value of the stone, one of the 20 biggest high-quality rough diamonds, at around $25 million.

"It is fitting that the Cullinan Heritage should achieve a sale price of $35.3 million, the highest sale price on record ever achieved for a rough diamond, as it has the potential to produce one of the world's most important polished gems," Chief Executive Johan Dippenaar said.

London-listed Petra said in a statement the gem was purchased in a tender by Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Co Ltd in Hong Kong.

Proceeds will help boost Petra's profit for its fiscal year to end-June after the firm swung to a first-half profit on higher production and sales.

AIM-listed Petra found the gem last September at its 74 percent owned Cullinan mine in South Africa, which it bought from sector giant De Beers in 2007.

The Cullinan mine has been the source of many large diamonds, including the world's largest rough diamond -- the Cullinan -- at 3,106 carats. That gem was cut into the Star of Africa stones that are now set in Britain's Crown Jewels.

Petra was a member of a consortium that paid $148 million when buying the Cullinan mine from De Beers, which is 45 percent owned by mining group Anglo American.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bloom Energy Shifts Power via Fuel Cells



Company Website

http://www.bloomenergy.com

Here's the link to the "60 Minutes" Segment.

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/main3415.shtml

Breakthrough technology from a richly funded Silicon Valley startup could revolutionize the energy business, especially in the developing world

Around 1.5 billion people, or nearly a quarter of the world's population, live without electricity today. That's according to figures from a November U.N. report centering on the plight of people in places like South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to modern energy. Many of these "powerless" live as humans did centuries ago, in darkness and cooking over wood fires that damage their health and the environment.
To halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015—one of the U.N.'s eight Millennium Development Goals—1.2 billion more people must gain access to electricity and 2 billion more need to obtain other fuels such as natural gas or propane, according to the U.N. But building traditional power grids would take too long, cost too much, and only add to the world's climate change woes.
Enter Bloom Energy, one of 26 companies named on Dec. 3 by the World Economic Forum as 2010 Tech Pioneers offering new technologies or business models that could advance the global economy and have a positive impact on people's lives. Through its cutting-edge work with fuel cell technology, the Sunnyvale (Calif.) company aims to help homes and businesses generate their own electricity and fuel their own vehicles—bringing power and light to remote villages and even reducing dependence on today's electricity grids in the developed world.
The technology at the heart of Bloom Energy's vision to help planet earth was first developed for use in outer space. While working as a director of the Space Technologies Laboratory at the University of Arizona, the company's Indian-born co-founder and chief executive, K.R. Sridhar, was asked by NASA to come up with a way to make life sustainable on Mars. His lab's initial project was a device that would use solar power and Martian water to drive a reactor cell that generated oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to power vehicles.

The Bloom Box
The project set Sridhar thinking. If he reversed the reaction—feeding oxygen and fuel (hydrogen) into the cell to generate electricity—he could change the way people generated and consumed energy. He developed the first of his so-called Bloom boxes to do just that, but took it a step further by making the process reversible. That way, when hooked up to a renewable power source such as a wind turbine or solar panel, the refrigerator-size unit makes and stores hydrogen and oxygen. And at night or when the wind dies down, it changes direction and uses the stored gases to make electricity.
"I quit doing my NASA work because I believe this particular technology can change the world," says Sridhar. "Just like developing nations leapfrogged over fixed telephony to mobile, we think our technology will allow developing nations to do the same thing for electricity."
The Bloom box also has another benefit that could become increasingly important if the world's automakers succeed at developing hydrogen-powered vehicles. Since one of the byproducts of the Bloom fuel cell is hydrogen, the device could be used to create fuel for cars. And even if hydrogen vehicles don't materialize for decades, Bloom boxes could generate electricity for hybrid or electric cars. Either way, the system would allow people to sidestep traditional gas stations.
With his ideas in hand, Sridhar approached venture capitalists Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers, and the venerable Silicon Valley firm responded by making its first-ever cleantech investment. Precise funding figures aren't public, but Bloom Energy says it has raised "hundreds of millions" of dollars in financing. The company's valuation has been pegged in press reports at more than $1 billion.
It’s being hailed as the Holy Grail of clean energy: a refrigerator-sized personal power plant that produces energy cheaply and cleanly and may one day replace the traditional power grid. Its inventor wants to put one in every home by 2020.
So what is Bloom Box?
It’s a collection of fuel cells – skinny batteries – that use oxygen and fuel to create electricity with no emissions.
Fuel cells are the building blocks of the Bloom Box. They’re made of sand that is baked into diskette-sized ceramic squares and painted with green and black ink. Each fuel cell has the potential to power one light bulb. The fuel cells are stacked into brick-sized towers sandwiched with metal alloy plates.
The fuel cell stacks are housed in a refrigerator-sized unit – the Bloom Box. Oxygen is drawn into one side of the unit, and fuel (fossil-fuel, bio-fuel, or even solar power can be used) is fed into the other side. The two combine within the cell and produce a chemical reaction that creates energy with no burning, no combustion, and no power lines.
About 64 stacks of fuel cells could power a small business like a Starbucks franchise, according to Sridhar’s 60 Minutes interview.
Working with an investment of around $400 million, aerospace engineer K.R. Sridhar spent close to a decade inventing the Bloom Box. It grew, he explained to 60 Minutes, from a device he originally invented to produce oxygen on Mars. When NASA scrapped the Mars mission, Sridhar reversed his Mars machine, pumping oxygen in, instead of making oxygen, he said.
Sridhar already has some 20 well-known customers, including Google, FedEx, Walmart, Staples, and Ebay. The corporate boxes cost about $700,000 to $800,000.
Ebay installed five Bloom Boxes nine months ago, and they fuel about 15 percent of its San Jose campus, said CEO John Donahoe in the 60 Minutes interview. “It’s been very successful thus far,” Mr. Donahoe says, adding that the company has saved $100,000 in electricity costs already.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is also on Bloom Energy’s board of directors.
But the Bloom Box isn’t without skeptics.
Michael Kanellos, editor of Greentech Media, which covers the clean energy market, says Bloom Energy isn’t the first company to claim it has invented a clean energy fuel cell. Cost is always a concern with fuel cells, as is round-the-clock, 24-7 functionality. Bloom Energy still has to figure out how to mass-produce the unit and get its costs down low enough to outfit every home with a Bloom Box, Mr. Kanellos said on 60 Minutes.
Sridhar says he eventually wants to get costs down to $2,000 per box.
Bloom Energy has also been cryptically silent about its new device. As of Monday, its puzzling website has no information about the Bloom Box, and the company has not replied to multiple requests for interviews.
Still, Sridhar has ambitious goals for his Bloom Box, planning not only to place it in every American home in 10 years, but also in homes in Africa, India, and China. He’d like to start, he says, with America’s first family.
“I want a Bloom Box next to the [White House] organic vegetable garden,” he says on 60 Minutes. “It’s about seeing the world as what it can be.”

Fuel Cell Trials
From the start, the eight-year-old company has been shrouded in secrecy, and its executives remain tight-lipped. But some details are slowly leaking out. Stu Aaron, Bloom Energy's vice-president for marketing and product management, confirms press reports about a University of Tennessee trial in which a Bloom box capable of powering a 5,000-square-foot home proved twice as efficient as a traditional gas-burning system and produced 60% fewer emissions.
The company won't comment on reports that the city of San Jose recently granted online auction giant eBay (EBAY) permission to install five fuel cells from Bloom Energy that will generate up to 500 kilowatts of power, nor that search giant Google (GOOG) is separately testing the system. But Bloom Energy does confirm it's aiming its initial systems at business customers that want to explore whether they can get reliable green energy at the same price or less than they now pay the electric company.
Why all the secrecy? To date, fuel cells have underdelivered on their promise, says Aaron, so Bloom Energy wants to wait until it has solid field experience with real customers to tell its full story.
What is known is that the company's fuel cell technology is different from hydrogen fuel cells, which have been around for decades. For starters, Bloom's system relies primarily on oxygen rather than hydrogen. And instead of requiring expensive precious metals, the fuel cell is built from a cheap ceramic material, sand. That should allow it to be more easily mass-produced, helping cut costs and widen its potential market.

New Industry
The ceramic core acts as an electrode. At high temperatures, a hydrocarbon fuel—ethanol, biodiesel, methane, or natural gas—on one side of the cell attracts oxygen ions from the other. As the ions are pulled through the solid core, the resulting electrochemical reaction creates electricity. Though the technology consumes hydrocarbons, Sridhar says, it doesn't involve carbon-releasing combustion, so it emits only about half the greenhouse gases of conventional energy sources.
If the technology works as envisioned on a commercial scale, Bloom boxes could help cut carbon emissions and energy costs in the developed world, where they're likely to be used as a complement to, rather than a replacement of, traditional power grids. But the biggest impact will be in villages throughout the developing world that are now cut off from power supplies. "Access to electricity is a life-enhancer," Sridhar says. "It means access to information, access to education, to clean water, and to good health because refrigeration will prevent food from spoiling."
Sridhar figures it will take three to five years before Bloom boxes reach "grid parity" for home use, or price competitiveness with traditional residential-scale electric supplies. Replacing gas stations is expected to take longer, and depends on the emergence of new vehicles. "We are really building an industry, not a company," says Sridhar. "We need an entire supply chain around us to scale."
Then again, the company is based in Silicon Valley, where people know how to do that. The flat sand electrodes used in Bloom boxes, for instance, could be manufactured using some of the same processes now used by the Valley's chipmakers. Synergies like that are what lead Bloom Energy executives to hope they can someday create an equally important new industry that will help power the world in whole new ways.

How to Make $1 Million Before You Graduate

Valuable lessons from preternatural wealth builders.
American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, "If a society is to preserve stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values and fantasies on everyday life." Too bad Hoffer never met Jamie Murray Wells.
In 2004 while studying for final exams at University of the West of England, Wells, then age 21, went shopping for a pair of prescription glasses. Nonplussed by the $150 pound ($300) price tag, Wells decided to funnel his $2,000 student loan into what would become Glasses Direct, a London-based online retailer that now generates $5 million in annual revenue.
Wells is part of an elite club of preternatural wealth builders who managed to cobble million-dollar enterprises before they graduated from college. The "million-dollar" measure refers to either total revenue generated or the value of the enterprise built (as opposed to the size of the total profit pile). That's no mean feat for any entrepreneur, let alone one who can barely buy a drink legally in the States.
The nine entrepreneurs featured in our slideshow -- six from the U.S. and three from the U.K. -- started launching businesses by the tender age of 15, and one before he broke double-digits. Some of these wunderkinds, like Wells, identified problems and created companies to solve them; others turned their hobbies into money-making ventures. Some teamed up with friends, siblings and mentors; others plowed ahead on their own. Their common thread: singular focus, preternatural financial savvy and the optimism and confidence to wrest financing from seasoned investors.
Here's a look at how a few of them pulled it off.

Smelling Opportunity: Jamie Murray Wells
When Wells was bemoaning the price of his lenses, four retailers dominated the U.K. prescription glasses market; all relied on pricey retail stores to move their merchandise.
Wells figured he could move the entire purchasing process online. All he needed was a factory to make the lenses, assemble them with frames and package them. He would then ship them to shoppers, who would simply e-mail or mail in their prescriptions and pay for their glasses online. Without the costly infrastructure, Wells could sell glasses for about one-tenth the price of the established brick-and-mortar players.
Getting Started
A nifty new business model isn't nearly enough to launch a thriving company, let alone when you're 21 and have no track record. "I was knocking on the door of an industry, saying, 'The way that you're selling glasses is wrong, and I've got a better idea,'" says Wells.
Luckily he had friends and family members who agreed to put up a few thousand pounds to help him get started. Wells didn't disappoint: In the first year, Glasses Direct's revenue topped $2 million. And unlike many zealous entrepreneurs, Wells figured out how to manage his cash flow to bootstrap the business. The company took credit card payments upfront but didn't pay suppliers for another month. Wells used part of the float to hire a public relations firm to hype his low-cost strategy.
The next year Wells turned to professional angel investors. "With some investors, I simply walked in to a meeting with a sales graph and let that speak for itself," says Wells. As demand grew, Wells raised $34 million in venture capital from the likes of Highland Capital, Index Ventures, and Munich-based Acton Capital Partners. That should tide Wells over until he turns his first profit.
Asking for Help
Wells believes his age and inexperience helped him. "Having a young founder helps to add a lot of personality to a business," he says. Still, you can't cover payroll with personality.
Recognizing his limitations (yet another challenge for many entrepreneurs), Wells sought out mentors, including ophthalmologist Dr. David Spalton, and David Magliana, a marketing guru who helped bag the 2012 summer Olympic games for London. While Spalton lent credibility with the eye-care community, Magliana worked with Wells on getting the word out about Glasses Direct.
"As an entrepreneur, it's a lot easier than you'd think to reach out to people," says Wells. On the flipside, "entrepreneurs love to be written to and asked for their advice," he adds. "If your question is appropriate for them and they're emotionally interested in you, you will get a letter back, and you will get to meet them for coffee."

Running on Empty: Michael Furdyk
In 1996, as the dot-com boom started to simmer, Michael Furdyk started a Web site, called MyDesktop.com, an online computer magazine, in the basement of his parents' home in suburban Toronto. Furdyk was 16 and a bona fide computer geek. His site was filled with tips and advice Furdyk gleaned in online chat rooms, where he also came across fellow teenager Michael Hayman in Australia. The twosome figured they could turn their passion for technology into a paying business. Hayman was so convinced that he moved to Toronto to get things started.
Just one problem: Their only source of income was Furdyk's paper route. Solution: barter. In exchange for Web site storage space, they ran their host's ads on MyDesktop.com. They negotiated cheap rent on their modest office by designing their landlord's Web site.
Soon MyDesktop.com was bringing in $60,000 a month in advertising revenue from blue-chip clients like Microsoft and IBM. Furdyk and Hayman used some of their excess cash to scoop up smaller technology sites for $5,000 to $10,000 apiece. By 1999 the company was attracting 1 million unique visitors a month (serious numbers back then). Furdyk, Hayman and a third partner sold the company to Internet.com for "over $1 million," says Furdyk.
Absorbing the Blows
As part of the MyDesktop sale, Furdyk and company received a small amount of venture capital funding for their next project, a product review site called Buybuddy.com. They raised an additional $5 million and brought on an outside management team. But the good times were short-lived. In 2001 the tech bubble burst; Buybuddy suffered and shut down within three years.
Furdyk hasn't soured on entrepreneurship; indeed, he is promoting it via TakingITglobal.com, a nonprofit social networking site he launched for youngsters and educators interested in using technology to solve global problems. "Never be afraid of failure," says Furdyk. "Just learn from it. When you're young you have even less to lose."

Going With the Flow: Fraser Doherty
While his fellow mini-moguls were making a mint on the Internet, Fraser Doherty was doing things the old-fashioned way. In 2002 at the age of 14, Doherty started making jams from his grandmother's recipes in his parents' kitchen in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neighbors and church friends loved them. As word spread Doherty received orders faster than he could fill them, so he leased space at a 200-person food processing factory several days a month.
By age 16 Doherty left school to work on his jams full time. In early 2007 Waitrose, a high-end supermarket in the U.K., came knocking, and within months there were SuperJam jars on the shelves of 184 Waitrose stores. Doherty borrowed $10,000 from a bank to cover general expenses and more factory time to produce three flavors: Blueberry & Black Currant, Rhubarb & Ginger and Cranberry & Raspberry.
Spreading the Word
Last year Doherty ramped up the company's marketing efforts, printing 50 million coupons in newspapers across the U.K. He also ran a promotion in the Sun newspaper offering readers a free jar of jam. Good moves: SuperJam's revenue hit $1.2 million in 2009, flat from the prior year. Doherty's retailers now include U.K. chains Asda Wal-Mart, Morrisons and Tesco. This year he plans to introduce three new flavors.
Doherty remains the company's only full-time employee, although he hired three part-time staffers to hand out samples in grocery stores. Within the next four months, he hopes to produce mini jars for airlines, hotels and gift boxes. Based on a reasonable valuation multiple of one time revenue (jelly maker J.M. Smucker generally trades between 1 and 1.5 times revenue), Doherty's debt-free stake is worth between $1 million and $2 million.
As for taking SuperJam up a notch, Doherty asserts that his supply chain and operations can safely scale to meet heavier demand. "We're sticking with what works," says the entrepreneur, now a seasoned 21 years old.

MyYearbook.com: Catherine Cook
In 2005 Catherine Cook, 15, and her brother Dave, 17, were flipping through their high school yearbook and came up with the idea to develop a free interactive version online. The Cooks soon merged their social networking site with Zenhex.com, an ad-supported site where users post homemade quizzes, more than doubling traffic to their site. By 2006 MyYearbook had raised $4.1 million from the likes of U.S. Venture Partners and First Round Capital. The business attracted advertisers such as Neutrogena, Disney and ABC, grew to 3 million members worldwide and raked in annual sales in the "seven figures," says Catherine.

Whateverlife.com: Ashley Qualls
Conceived by 14-year-old Detroit native Ashley Qualls as a personal portfolio with pictures and graphics, the ad-supported site evolved to offer free MySpace layouts and tutorials for teens who wanted to learn how to do their own graphic designs and coding. Whateverlife.com, which Qualls owns outright, claims to nab 7 million unique visitors a month and counts Verizon Communications as an advertiser. In March 2006 Qualls reportedly received an offer (from an undisclosed buyer) for $1.5 million, but turned it down.

Israel unveils new drone fleet that can reach Iran




TEL NOF AIR FORCE BASE, Israel – Israel's air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel's military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet's inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

"With the inauguration of the Heron TP, we are realizing the air force's dream," said Brig. Gen. Amikam Norkin, head of the base that will operate the drones. "The Heron TP is a technological and operational breakthrough."

Israeli officials refused to say how large the new fleet is or whether the planes were designed for use against Iran, but stressed it was versatile and could adapt to new missions. The plane's maker, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, has said it is capable of reaching the Persian Gulf, which would put Iran within its range.

"The Heron TP has the potential to be able to conduct new missions down the line as they become relevant," said Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, commander of Israel's air force.

Israel believes Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and has repeatedly hinted it could strike Iran if diplomatic efforts to curb the nuclear program fail.

Israeli defense officials said the Heron TP could be a useful tool against Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly called for the Jewish state's destruction. In addition to providing surveillance, the aircraft can jam enemy communications as well as assist in communications between ground control and manned air force planes.
The officials requested anonymity because they were discussing sensitive military technology.

The Heron TP has been in development for about a decade, but the aircraft first saw action during Israel's offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip just over a year ago.

Palestinian witnesses have long claimed that Israeli drones fire missiles in Gaza, both before and during the Israeli offensive. Israel has never confirmed that its unmanned aircraft are capable of firing missiles.

Israel first began using drones in the early 1970s, and its fleet has steadily increased since then. The unmanned planes are now considered an integral part of the military and tend to accompany air and ground forces on various missions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where Biggest Investors Are Putting Money



Warren Buffett eased the throttle on energy while Bill Ackman had less on Target. George Soros and John Paulson loaded up on financials, while Carl Icahn backed off on Yahoo but jumped into Take Two.

Those were the positions some of the country's biggest investors took in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to the portfolio updates (13-F forms) they filed this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

While the stock market was winding down its gains from its violent 2009 rally, its deepest pockets were tweaking and in some cases overhauling their portfolios to weather the quarter ahead.

A few highlights:

George Soros

Through his hedge fund, Soros Fund Management, the prolific investor also known for his funding of liberal political causes increased his portfolio to $8.8 billion, or more than 40 percent.

Among his biggest moves were in the financial space, with additions to positions in Citigroup, BB&T and Fifth Third Bancorp. Conversely, he cut his holdings of JPMorgan Chase by about 94 percent to just 4,500 shares.

In addition to banks Soros went for telecomms, doubling his holdings in both Leap Wireless International and Motorola.

Soros hiked his position in retailer Kohl's but halved his stake in Macy's. In technology, the firm added to its Intel shares.

He also added positions in the SPDR Gold Trust, an exchange-traded fund that closely tracks movements in the precious metal. (Read more here)

Carl Icahn

The activist investor who spent years criticizing Yahoo management reduced his position in the Internet company by 76 percent.

Icahn's two biggest holdings are now Motorola (32 percent) and Biogen (24 percent).

Among significant new additions, Icahn also went for financials, choosing troubled commercial lender CIT Group which is now more than 9 percent of his total portfolio.

He also spiked his Take Two Interactive holdings by 234 percent in the quarter and has since added significantly to that position. Genzyme Labs is his fourth-biggest holding after Ichan added 231 percent to his portfolio.

John Paulson

The hedge fund magnate's biggest moves were additions to gold and banks.

Though his portfolio edged lower to under $20 billion in the quarter, he used various vehicles to up his gold exposure nearly 10 percent to $3.4 billion.

He also increased stakes in Citigroup, Bank of America, Capital One and a host of other financial institutions.

He added positions in private educator Apollo Group as well as Comcast, which is in the process of purchasing CNBC.com-parent NBC Universal.

Bill Ackman

Also an activist investor, Ackman added several positions through his Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund.

Ackman generally keeps a small quantity of companies in his portfolio, most recently turning to new additions Hyatt Hotels (NYSE:H - News) and Landry's Restaurants (NYSE:LNY - News).

An outspoken Target (NYSE:TGT - News) investor, Ackman reduced his holdings in the company in the fourth quarter by about 20 percent.

Ackman announced his position in Landry's in November after the company tried to go private at a price Pershing deemed too low.

Warren Buffett

The biggest moves for Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway came in trimming exposure to energy mainstays ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil as well as bluechip consumer companies Johnson and Johnson and Procter & Gamble.

Among the few companies where he added exposure were Wells Fargo, Wal-Mart, Republic Services and Iron Mountain.

He closed his holdings in Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific ahead of Berkshire's acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

The total value of the Berkshire portfolio rose to nearly $58 billion for the quarter, a gain of about 2.4 percent.

Investors that manage more than $100 million are required to file the public 13-F forms within 45 days of quarter's end. The deadline for filing was Tuesday, and most big managers waited until then to file.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hottest temperature ever heads science to Big Bang



Scientists have created the hottest temperature ever in the lab -- 4 trillion degrees Celsius -- hot enough to break matter down into the kind of soup that existed microseconds after the birth of the universe.

They used a giant atom smasher at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to knock gold ions together to make the ultra-hot explosions -- which lasted only for milliseconds.

But that is enough to give physicists fodder for years of study that they hope will help them understand why and how the universe formed.

"That temperature is hot enough to melt protons and neutrons," Brookhaven's Steven Vigdor told a news conference at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington on Monday.

These particles make up atoms, but they are themselves made up of smaller components called quarks and gluons.

What the physicists are looking for are tiny irregularities that can explain why matter clumped out of the primeval hot soup.

They also hope to use their findings for more practical applications -- such as in the field of "spintronics" that aims to make smaller, faster and more powerful computing devices.

They used the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced "rick"), a particle accelerator and collider that is 2.4 mile around and buried 12 feet underground in Upton, New York to collide gold ions billions of times.

"RHIC was designed to create matter at temperatures first encountered in the early universe," Vigdor said. They calculate the 4 trillion degree temperature gets pretty close.

"How hot is it?" he asked.

In comparison, "The predicted melting temperature of protons and neutrons is 2 trillion degrees. The temperatures at the core of a typical type-2 supernova is 2 billion degrees," he said.

The center of our sun is 50 million degrees, iron melts at 1,800 degrees and the average temperature of the universe is now 0.7 of a degree above absolute zero.

BIRTH OF MATTER

Vigdor's team believe they are looking at a recreation of the moment just before the quark-gluon soup condensed into hadrons -- the particles of matter that make up most of our universe.

Something happened in the milliseconds after the Big Bang to create an imbalance in favor of matter over anti-matter. If there had not been this disparity, matter and anti-matter would have simply reacted to create a universe of pure energy.

Later this year, physicists using the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland hope to smash lead ions together to create even hotter temperatures that should replicate moments even earlier in the birth of the universe.

Brookhaven has also patented some potential commercial applications of the research, said theorist Dmitri Kharzeev.

"The goal here is to create a device that can operate not only on the current of an electric charge but also on the current of spin," Kharzeev told the news conference.

Quarks spin in different directions and understanding how and why they do this can help scientists harness the power.

It may be possible to replicate a symmetrical spin in graphene, for example, said Kharzeev. Graphene is a so-called nanomaterial that scientists believe may replace silicon in super-fast and super-small devices.

"We are thinking of other practical applications as well," said Kharzeev.

Friday, February 12, 2010

America Lines Up for Piece of Buffett



Mr. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-B), whose multi-thousand-dollar share price made it a thinly traded luxury of wealthy investors and institutions, is going mainstream as it joins the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.

More than $1 trillion of investor money directly tracks the index. The result is a scramble for Berkshire shares by index funds that, by one estimate, will reach $14 billion of buying. This further exposes Berkshire stock to the stratagems of fast-moving traders, a brand of investor anathema to Mr. Buffett's general buy-and-hold approach.

Small-time investors, meanwhile, will finally be getting a piece of Mr. Buffett just as uncertainty builds about the future of his $178 billion conglomerate, which is one of the largest public companies in the U.S., selling everything from insurance to underwear. The 79-year-old Mr. Buffett is entering the twilight of his career, and little is known about his succession plans, other than that he has placed the name of his replacement in an envelope he keeps in his office.

Yet small investors are likely soon to have billions of dollars more in Berkshire stock, thanks both to its entry into the index and to a recent stock split.

Berkshire has long had two classes of stock. It split the lower-priced of these, known as the B shares, 50 to 1, making them affordable to more individual investors.

Joel Nath, a 25-year-old accountant who participates in an investment club called "Scratch & Win," always wanted to buy some Berkshire. The late-January split put the B shares, commonly known as Baby B's, within his reach. He bought nine at $73 each. (They closed Thursday at $76.69.)

Mr. Nath, who lives and works in Omaha, Neb., where Berkshire is based, was turned on to investing at a young age by his grandmother, Marlene Matney. While baby-sitting for him and his two brothers, Ms. Matney, now 78, taught them to look at ticker symbols on television when they were learning the alphabet.

More recently, Ms. Matney was disappointed when she wasn't allowed to join "Scratch & Win," because the investment club didn't want two members from the same family. But she still has an edge. In the aftermath of the stock split, Mr. Nath and his brothers all bought shares for more than $70 each, Ms. Matney said, "but they didn't know that I waited until it went down." She bought hers for $68.

Sensing opportunity in Berkshire's move to the S&P 500 index, hedge-fund manager Jonathan Carmel has already made his move to play the stock.

In early November, when Berkshire first said it would split its Class B shares as part of a $26 billion deal to purchase Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNI), he raced to crunch the numbers on how Berkshire's share price might be affected.

Conventional wisdom holds that the flood of purchase orders from fund managers with portfolios tied to the S&P 500 will drive up the price of Berkshire shares as the markets close Friday. Both the A and B shares would appear to be proving the theory correct: They are up more than 10% since the stock split.

Realizing that the split made Berkshire a likely candidate for the S&P 500, Mr. Carmel calculated how big a weighting the company would be in the index. From there, he estimated that maybe $40 billion in investor capital might flow into the stock, and began scooping up the higher-priced Class A shares for about $100,000 apiece. (There's no affordability issue for an institutional investor.)

His expectation was for a 20% pop in Berkshire stock as the S&P addition neared; so far, he is more than halfway there. The A shares closed at $114,950 Thursday.

On Thursday, Berkshire shares gained 3% on the New York Stock Exchange.

Berkshire is expected to make up about 1.4% of the S&P 500, although the figure could change based on Friday's trading. Other funds that closely follow the index are likely to buy billions more, pushing the amount closer to the estimate of Mr. Carmel, whose fund is Carmel Asset Management.

A continued upswing would allow speculative traders who recently bought Berkshire shares to flip them for a profit to index managers. But that isn't guaranteed. "Some traders will buy now and try to sell on the close," said Tom Joyce, chief executive of the trading firm Knight Capital Group. "But if everybody does that, then there's nothing to buy. Then you have a surprise on the other side of the trade, meaning the close is lower." Mr. Joyce's traders estimated that of about 160 million B shares that index managers will need to buy, half have already been snapped up.

Berkshire's B shares, which traded an average of 36,000 shares a day before the split, spiked to 23 million shares of trading volume on Thursday. As of Feb. 9, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was the issue's largest holder, with a 10.5% stake, followed by Mr. Buffett, with a 10.1% stake, according to data from FactSet Research Systems Inc.

A typical new S&P component stock would be heavily traded for three to five days before it joins the index, traders say, with volume spikes at the open and close of trading on the final day or two. Since Berkshire trading jumped dramatically after the Class B stock split and the S&P announcement, though, there's talk that Friday's traffic could be lighter than expected.

The jockeying among hedge-fund pros hasn't stopped smaller players from making a grab at Berkshire B shares.

Retail brokers like 82-year-old Floyd Jones, who has been recommending Berkshire to his clients for decades, advocated adding to Berkshire positions.

An investment in the company "will be paying off for many years to come," Mr. Jones said. He and his son Steve Jones, who works two doors down from him at the small brokerage firm First Washington Corp., believe they and their clients together have one of the largest concentrations of Berkshire shares in the Seattle area.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seoul launches 'floating island'




SEOUL – A giant steel float that will be part of a "floating island" in Seoul boasting off-shore entertainment facilities began a snails-paced trip towards the city's Han River Saturday.
The football-field-sized structure, resembling the hull of a cargo ship, moved at a barely noticeable speed over rows of giant rubber airbags from a riverside assembly site to the water just 60 metres (198 feet) away.
Linked by huge iron chains to giant winches, the buoy weighing 2,000 tonnes was not due to reach the water until Sunday.
The three-metre high float, 85 metres long and 49 metres wide, will be part of Viva, one of three artificial islets to be built near the southern end of Banpo Bridge.
Along with two other artificial islets, Vista and Tera, to be launched by the end of April, the cluster of man-made floating islets will be used for conventions, water sports, restaurants, performances and exhibitions.
The project will be completed and open to the public in August.
"We hope that the floating island will serve as Seoul's new landmark," a Seoul city government spokeswoman said.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sovereign Risk Meets Sovereign Reality



After months of shrugging off debt problems in Dubai, Greece and other smaller economies, markets yesterday seemed suddenly aware of the risks of sovereign default.

Back in November, when the question of Dubai's solvency came to a head, it was ultimately bailed out by its rich older brother, Abu Dhabi. Now, the European Union is doing its best to avoid promising a similar bailout to Greece, though in the end few believe Brussels will allow Athens to go under.

The current crisis in Greece is only the worst example inside the EU. The PIGS—Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain—all boast public debt above or headed for 100% of GDP. Though the PIGS acronym was apparently coined by British bankers, Britain, Ireland and Iceland also smell distinctly of bacon.

The problem isn't confined to Europe. Japan and the United States, by most reckonings the world's largest economies, also face pressing questions about their sovereign debt levels. To be sure, the U.S. and Japan can sustain such deficits more comfortably than small countries like Greece or Portugal where the government's ability to curb public-sector spending is rightly suspect. Yet even in economic giants, bad policy could cause investors to move out of debt they have long considered a safe haven. The moment is approaching when the artificial line separating the wealthy from emerging markets will lose much of its relevance.

Countries like Germany, whose fiscal balances have deteriorated largely due to the economic downturn, might have a greater capacity to stabilize their debt ratio. The U.S. and Japan will also be among the last countries to face investor aversion. This is because the dollar is the global reserve currency, and the U.S. has the deepest and most liquid debt markets. Japan is a net creditor and largely finances its debt domestically. But over the next few years, investors will become increasingly cautious about even the U.S. and Japan if the necessary fiscal reforms are delayed.

Investor perceptions about how Brussels handles the current crisis will be a key factor going forward. European countries such as Spain and Greece have delayed reforms and face a severe competitiveness problem. Japan's aging population and economic stagnation is reducing domestic savings. The U.S. is a net debtor with an aging population and slower growth.

For the U.S., the implications are clear. The annual fiscal deficit in the U.S. will remain close to $1 trillion over the next decade. Ultimately, concerns among foreign investors about a weak dollar will force Washington to put its house in order. The U.S. will have to raise taxes on most income groups and investors, close tax exemptions and loopholes, and reduce entitlement benefits.

Foreign creditors won't suddenly move away from U.S. Treasurys—the trend will play out gradually. The same holds true for domestic investors who consider U.S. Treasurys a safe haven and remain confident about the country's debt-servicing ability relative to other developed economies.

But as the Federal Reserve begins to raise interest rates to head off inflation—something likely to begin only in 2011—foreign investors and central banks will be willing to finance the U.S. only at higher yields. Rising interest costs will be one of the factors constraining U.S. policy. That's where sovereign risk meets sovereign reality.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

World's Most Beautiful Cities




Paris, France
Long considered the paragon of style, Paris is the most glamorous city in Europe. It is at once deeply traditional – a village-like metropolis whose inhabitants continue to be notorious for their hauteur – and famously cosmopolitan. While such contradictions and contrasts may be the reality of any city, they are the makings of Paris: consider the tiny lanes and alleyways of the Quartier Latin or Montmartre against the monumental vistas from the Louvre to La Défense; the multiplicity of street markets and old-fashioned pedestrian arcades against the giant underground commercial complexes of Montparnasse and Les Halles; or the aristocratic wealth of the grand quarters against the vibrant chaos of the poorer districts.
At times, Paris can feel inhumanly magnificent, the arrogance of its monuments encompassing the chilly pomp of the Panthéon, the industrial chic of the Eiffel Tower and the almost spiritual glasswork of the Louvre pyramid. Yet it also operates on a very human scale, with exquisite, secretive little nooks tucked away from the Grands Boulevards and very definite little communities revolving around games of boules and the local boulangerie and café. And even as Paris's culture is transformed by its large immigrant and gay populations, even as extravagant new buildings are commissioned and erected, many of the city's streets, cafés and restaurants remain remarkably, defiantly unchanged.
In the great local tradition of the flâneur, or thoughtful boulevard-stroller, Paris is a wonderful city for aimless wandering. Relaxed quarters such as the vibrant Marais, elegant St-Germain and romantic Montmartre are ideal for street-browsing, shopping and café-sitting, and the city's lack of open space is redeemed by beautiful formal gardens, by the pathways and pavements that run beside the River Seine, and by endless hidden or unexpected havens. And everywhere you go, historic landmark buildings and contemporary architectural wonders remind you of the city's pride and grandeur – and stop you getting lost.
There are over 150 art galleries and museums in the city – few of them duds – and an uncounted number of cafés, brasseries and restaurants lining every street and boulevard. The variety of style and decor is hard to beat, ranging from ultra-modern fashion temples to traditional, mirrored palaces, and from tiny bistrots where the emphasis is all on the cooking to bustling Vietnamese diners. After dark, the city's theatres and concert halls host inventive and world-leading productions of theatre and dance, while many classical concerts take place in fine architectural settings, particularly chapels and churches. Above all, Paris is a real cinema capital, and the city's vibrant cultural mix puts it at the forefront of the world music scene.

San Francisco, CA

SAN FRANCISCO proper occupies just 48 hilly square miles at the tip of a slender peninsula, almost perfectly centered along the California coast. Arguably the most beautiful, certainly the most liberal city in the US, it remains true to itself: a funky, individualistic, surprisingly small city whose people pride themselves on being the cultured counterparts to their cousins in LA – the last bastion of civilization on the lunatic fringe of America. It's a compact and approachable place, where downtown streets rise on impossible gradients to reveal stunning views of the city, the bay and beyond, and blanket fogs roll in unexpectedly to envelop the city in mist. This is not the California of mono-tonous blue skies and slothful warmth – the temperatures rarely exceed the seventies, and even during summer can drop much lower.
The original inhabitants of this area, the Ohlone Indians, were all but wiped out within a few years of the establishment in 1776 of the Mission Dolores, the sixth in the chain of Spanish Catholic missions that ran the length of California. Two years after the Americans replaced the Mexicans in 1846, the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills precipitated the rip-roaring Gold Rush. Within a year fifty thousand pioneers had traveled west, and east from China, turning San Francisco from a muddy village and wasteland of sand dunes into a thriving supply center and transit town. By the time the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, San Francisco was a lawless, rowdy boomtown of bordellos and drinking dens, something the moneyed elite – who hit it big on the much more dependable silver Comstock Load – worked hard to mend, constructing wide boulevards, parks, a cable car system and elaborate Victorian redwood mansions.
In the midst of the city's golden age, however, a massive earthquake, followed by three days of fire, wiped out most of the town in 1906. Rebuilding began immediately, resulting in a city more magnificent than before; in the decades that followed, writers like Dashiell Hammett and Jack London lived and worked here. Many of the city's landmarks, including Coit Tower and both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, were built in the 1920s and 1930s. By World War II San Francisco had been eclipsed by Los Angeles as the main west coast city, but it achieved a new cultural eminence with the emergence of the Beats in the Fifties and the hippies in the Sixties, when the fusion of music, protest, rebellion and, of course, drugs that characterized 1967's "Summer of Love" took over the Haight-Ashbury district.
In a conservative America, San Francisco's reputation as a liberal oasis continues to grow, attracting waves of resettlers from all over the US. It is estimated that over half the city's population originates from somewhere else. It is a city in a constant state of evolution, fast gentrifying itself into one of the most high-end towns on earth – thanks, in part, to the disposable incomes pumped into its coffers from its sizeable singles and gay contingents. Gay capital of the world, San Francisco has also been the scene of the dot.com revolution's rise and fall. The resultant wealth at one time made housing prices skyrocket – often at the expense of the city's middle and lower classes – but the closure of hundreds of start-up IT companies has brought real-estate prices back down to (almost) reasonable levels. Despite the city's current economic ebbs and flows, your impression of the city likely won't be altered – it remains one of the most proudly distinct places to be found anywhere.

Sydney, Australia

The 2000 Olympics were a coming-of-age ceremony for SYDNEY. The impact on the city was all-embracing, with fifty years' worth of development compressed into four years under the pressure of intense international scrutiny. Transport infrastructure was greatly improved and a rash of luxury hotels and waterside apartments added themselves to the skyline. The City of Sydney Council spent $200 million to improve and beautify the city streets, public squares and parks, and licensing laws changed too, creating a European-style bar culture. Sydney now has all the vigour of a world-class city, with the reputation of its restaurants in particular turning the lingering cultural sneers to swoons. It seems to have the best of both worlds – twenty minutes from Circular Quay by bus, the high-rise office buildings and skyscrapers give way to colourful inner-city suburbs where you can get an eyeful of sky and watch the lemons ripening above the sidewalk, while to the centre's north and south are corridors of largely intact bushland where many have built their dream homes. During every heatwave, however, bushfires threaten the city, and sophisticated Sydney becomes closer to its roots than it sometimes feels. In the summer, the city's hot offices are abandoned for the remarkably unspoilt beaches strung around the eastern and northern suburbs.
It's also as beautiful a city as any in the world, with a setting that perhaps only Rio de Janeiro can rival: the water is what makes it so special, and no introduction to Sydney would be complete without paying tribute to one of the world's great harbours. Port Jackson is a sunken valley which twists inland to meet the fresh water of the Parramatta River; in the process it washes into a hundred coves and bays, winds around rocky points, flows past the small harbour islands, slips under bridges and laps at the foot of the Opera House. If Sydney is seen at its gleaming best from the deck of a harbour ferry, especially at weekends when the harbour's jagged jaws fill with a flotilla of small vessels, racing yachts and cabin cruisers, it's seen at its most varied in its lively neighbourhoods. Getting away from the city centre and exploring them is an essential part of Sydney's pleasures.
It might seem surprising that Sydney is not Australia's capital: the creation of Canberra in 1927 – intended to stem the intense rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne – has not affected the view of many Sydneysiders that their city remains the true capital of Australia, and certainly in many ways it feels like it. The city has a tangible sense of history: the old stone walls and well-worn steps in the backstreets around The Rocks are an evocative reminder that Sydney has more than two hundred years of white history behind it.

Cape Town, South Africa




CAPE TOWN is southern Africa's most beautiful, most romantic and most visited city. Indeed, few urban centres anywhere can match its setting along the mountainous Cape Peninsula spine, which slides into the Atlantic Ocean. By far the most striking – and famous – of its sights is Table Mountain, frequently shrouded by clouds, and rearing up from the middle of the city.
More than a scenic backdrop, Table Mountain is the solid core of Cape Town, dividing the city into distinct zones with public gardens, wilderness, forests, hiking routes, vineyards and desirable residential areas trailing down its lower slopes. Standing on the tabletop, you can look north for a giddy view of the city centre, its docks lined with matchbox ships. Looking west, beyond the mountainous Twelve Apostles, the drop is sheer and your eye will sweep across Africa's priciest real estate, clinging to the slopes along the chilly but spectacularly beautiful Atlantic seaboard. Turning south, the mountainsides are forested and several historic vineyards and the marvellous Botanical Gardens creep up the lower slopes. Beyond the oak-lined suburbs of Newlands and Constantia lies the warmer False Bay seaboard, which curves around towards Cape Point. Finally, relegated to the grim industrial east, are the coloured townships and black ghettos, spluttering in winter under the smoky pall of coal fires – your stark introduction to Cape Town when driving in.
To appreciate Cape Town you need to spend time outdoors, as Capetonians do, hiking, picnicking or sunbathing, or often choosing mountain bikes in preference to cars and turning adventure activities into an obsession. Sailboarders from around the world head for Table Bay for some of the world's best windsurfing, and the brave (or unhinged) jump off Lion's Head and paraglide down close to the Clifton beachfront. But the city offers sedate pleasures as well, along its hundreds of paths and 150km of beaches.
Cape Town's rich urban texture is immediately apparent in its diverse architecture: an indigenous Cape Dutch style, rooted in the Netherlands, finds its apotheosis in the Constantia wine estates, which were themselves brought to new heights by French refugees in the seventeenth century; Muslim slaves, freed in the nineteenth century, added their minarets to the skyline; and the English, who invaded and freed these slaves, introduced Georgian and Victorian buildings. In the tightly packed terraces of twentieth-century Bo-Kaap and the tenements of District Six, coloured descendants of slaves evolved a unique brand of jazz, which is still played in the Cape Flats and some city-centre clubs.
Sadly, when most travellers expound the unarguable delights of the city, they are referring only to genteel Cape Town – the former whites-only areas. The harsh reality for most Capetonians is one of crowded shantytowns, sky-high murder rates, taxi wars, racketeering and gangland terror. In the late 1990s this violence has been characterized by a complex and bloody war between coloured gangs and Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs), a Cape Flats organization that started with the ostensible aim of stamping out crime. Fortunately, this conflict has remained largely restricted to the Cape Flats and isn't something tourists need be unduly concerned about. Having said that, petty crime is nonetheless a problem in central Cape Town, but it's a risk you can minimize by taking a few simple precautions.

Plane that can fly underwater



NEW YORK -- Virgin unveiled the latest addition to Richard Branson's luxury fleet on Friday: an underwater plane that will fly riders into the depths of the Caribbean Sea.

Guests on Necker Island, a retreat in the British Virgin Islands, will be able to dive underwater in a submarine dubbed the Necker Nymph for $25,000 a week. But that's only after shelling out around $300,000 for a one-week stay on Necker, the private island owned by billionaire and Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson

Beginning on Feb. 20, two riders and a pilot and will be able to take the plunge from land, or from a boat. The underwater plane uses the downward pressure on its wings to fly through the water for up to two hours at a time, while an open cockpit will give riders a 360-degree view.

The Necker Nymph's typical speed is 2 to 5 nautical miles per hour and it can dive more than 100 feet, said Karen Hawkes, a spokeswoman for Hawkes Ocean Technologies, the company that designed the Nymph.

A statement released Friday by Virgin Limited Edition, the luxury arm of Virgin Hotels, described the Nymph's launch like a plane's takeoff. "Gliding on the water's surface like an aeroplane on a runway, one of the three pilots will operate the joystick to smoothly dive down."


Vacationers will be able to fly the Necker Nymph while chartering the Necker Belle, Branson's 105-foot yacht, or the submarine can be launched from shore. Necker Belle is rented out to guests for $88,000 a week, bringing the full Necker Island experience to more than $400,000 per week.

Riders must follow SCUBA procedures and be trained or accompanied by a certified pilot before entering the underwater plane. SCUBA tanks are mounted in the submarine and passengers must wear masks while underwater, said Hawkes.

The Necker Nymph claims "near-zero" environmental impact because its "positive buoyancy prevents the sub from landing on a reef, and its low light and noise emissions ensure the fragile ocean ecosystems remain undisturbed," Virgin said.