Monday, May 30, 2011

The Mini Cooper That Costs As Much As A Porsche


How much are Rolls-Royce-caliber leather and woodwork worth if they’re in, say, a Mini Cooper?

About $67,000, if the Mini Cooper Inspired By Goodwood is any indication. That’s how much the Rolls-Royce-esque coupe costs under current exchange rates from its European price of 46,900 euros–just about the same as the Porsche Cayman R ($66,300) and Cayenne S Hybrid ($67,700).

The car is a limited-production model meant to combine the rally-car heritage of the Mini with the workmanship of Rolls-Royce. One thousand of them will be made in Mini’s Oxford plant (not, ironically, in Goodwood).

Mini Inspired By Goodwood certainly is plush, if not quite as roomy as a Ghost: The dash, console, carpeting and seats are clad in the exclusively Rolls-Royce “cornsilk” tone (beige, in common parlance); the door handles and control panels are cased in walnut burr, a finish also exclusive to Rolls-Royce.

The car itself is based primarily on the Mini Cooper S, with similar front and rear styling and the l.6-liter four-cylinder turbo engine that debuted in the 2011 Mini S. (The engine gets 181 hp and up to 192 ft-lbs of torque, with a zero-to-60 mph sprint of 6.6 seconds.) Fuel economy ratings are 35 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in the city under the manual transmission variant. A six-speed automatic is also available.

Inspired By Goodwood comes painted in Rolls-Royce Diamond Black metallic with 17-inch light alloy wheels in an ever-so-posh multi-spoke design. Aluminum badges stamped “MINI INSPIRED BY GOODWOOD” and “One of 1000,” flank various points on the car.

It’s a lot of luxury for one little car, as the price reflects. But by the time this Mini hits U.S. shores, its sticker will likely have been adjusted to be slightly more palatable for American buyers.

Deliveries start in Europe in March 2012.

Drought affects 35 million in China



A severe drought in China's central, eastern and southern provinces has affected nearly 35 million people and caused an economic loss of almost 15 billion yuan ($2.3 billion), officials said.

The National Meteorological Centre said the dry weather will continue over the next few days in the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan.

The middle and the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, Asia's longest, have been put under "yellow" alert, after the water level in those river stretches dropped alarmingly.

China's meteorological disaster alerts are categorized as blue, yellow, orange and red depending on the severity of the crisis.

Since early January, precipitation in the affected provinces has been about 60 percent less compared to the figure in the corresponding period last year, according to the civil affairs ministry.

The water level in China's two largest fresh water lakes - Dongting in Hunan and Poyang in Jiangxi - is fast depleting, China Daily reported quoting officials Monday.

Some 34.83 million people were affected in the five provinces, the ministry said. Of which, about four million people are short of drinking water.

The drought has also caused a direct economic loss of 14.94 billion yuan, it said. More than one million cattle and 3.7 million hectares of crops have been affected.

Soaring vegetable prices amid China's worst drought in 50 years have triggered worries that inflation would climb to a new high.

Vegetable prices rose nearly 19 percent from May 23-27, according to figures from the Baishazhou market in Wuhan, the capital of drought-hit Hubei province in central China.

The central government has allocated 1.96 billion yuan for drought relief, said Zhang Xu, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Meanwhile, water from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river has been being released to tackle the situation downstream.

From May 25 to June 10, the water discharge rate was increased from the normal 10,000 cubic meters a second to up to 12,000 cubic meters a second.

The National Meteorological Centre urged authorities to use emergency water supplies and called for greater water conservation efforts in the affected areas.

The observatory also warned of forest fires in the drought-hit regions.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Return of the dot-com boom? LinkedIn soars 109%


There was an unmistakable echo of the dot-com boom Thursday on Wall Street.

LinkedIn, a trailblazer in the online networking craze, went public with a roaring stock offering. Within minutes, shares were trading at twice the value set by the company.

Buyers crowded the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and financial news networks flashed LinkedIn's stock price urgently all day. By the closing bell, the company had a market value of $9 billion, the highest for any Internet company since Google had its initial public offering seven years ago. Millionaires and even one billionaire were made, at least on paper.

The stock, issued at $45, went as high as $122.70 just before noon and closed at $94.25 on a trading volume of 30 million shares. All this for a company that skeptics say amounts to an online Rolodex, a place on the Internet for professionals to post resumes and connect with one another and potential employers.

It was enough to remind some people on Wall Street of the heady late 1990s and the debuts of companies like Netscape Communications — and, more infamously, long-forgotten names like Pets.com and Webvan. Investors wondered whether LinkedIn will be a precursor to another financial frenzy in Silicon Valley.

"I definitely think this will be a catalyst," said longtime technology investor and analyst Michael Moe, CEO of Global Silicon Valley Asset Management. "Investors who like growth stocks have been stuck in a desert for a long time, and now it's like they have found this great pitcher of water."

LinkedIn is already worth $9 billion, or 18 times its projected revenue this year. Major Internet companies, including Google, trade at an average of about five times projected revenue, according to an analysis by Capital IQ.

Using another measure, price-to-earnings ratio, which compares a company's market value with its profit, LinkedIn finished the day at a staggering 554 — a number reminiscent of the late 1990s tech bubble. By comparison, the average P/E ratio of technology companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index like Google and Apple is 15.

Two-thirds of LinkedIn's revenue comes from the fees it charges to help companies find and hire workers. Francis Gaskins, president of IPOdesktop.com, said that makes the company more like Monster, an employment firm where business depends a lot on the health of the job market.

"Can we stop asking if we are in a bubble now?" venture capitalist Mitchell Kertzman said after hearing that LinkedIn stock was trading above $100. "We are clearly in a valuation bubble."

If the stock market is thirsty for more businesses that connect people on the Internet, there's a backlog of privately held companies that might one day satisfy it.

The short list includes Twitter, the 140-characters-or-fewer messaging service; Zynga, which makes online games like FarmVille; Groupon, the coupon site; and, of course, Facebook, the social network with more than 500 million users.

None of those companies has revealed specific plans for going public. Facebook has at least dangled the possibility of filing for an IPO before May 2012. A private investment led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. valued Facebook at $50 billion in January.

"If people are this excited about a professional networking service like LinkedIn, you can imagine what kind of frenzy there is going to be when Facebook goes public," said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

The 109 percent first-day gain for LinkedIn, based in Mountain View, Calif., nearly mirrored Netscape's first day when it went public on Aug. 9, 1995. Netscape rose that day from $28 to a close of $58.25, or 108 percent.

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen's venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Twitter, Groupon, Zynga and Facebook.

As an individual, Andreessen was also an early investor in LinkedIn and is among the more than 102 million people who have posted their resumes and profiles on its website, a buttoned-down version of Facebook's online playground.

It may be as much fun as playing games, chatting and posting pictures on Facebook, but LinkedIn has steadily grown since it started in 2003 and it's now adding about a million accounts a week.

In a key distinction from the dot-com days, it also makes money — $3.4 million last year on revenue of $243 million. Its revenue more than doubled during the first three months of this year, putting it on pace to bring in about $500 million in 2011 from advertising and fees.

Kertzman, managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, was CEO of Liberate Technologies, a maker of software for TV set-top boxes, during the height of the dot-com boom. In 2000, its market value soared to $12 billion.

"I knew something was wrong because I knew we weren't worth that much and it scared the hell out of me," Kertzman said.

Aaron Levie, CEO of an Internet storage service called Box.net, sees things differently. Levie, who is 26 and was in high school during the dot-com boom, thinks it's a good sign that LinkedIn, Facebook and other companies are taking their time to build companies that make money before going public.

"You can tell this is a very different period than the late '90s," Levie said. "Silicon Valley is definitely back, and much healthier."

LinkedIn's CEO, Jeff Weiner, said he doesn't plan to dwell on high investor expectations.

"It's exciting, but it's a point in time," Weiner said a few hours after he rang the opening bell at the stock exchange, where LinkedIn's shares traded under the symbol LNKD. "One day's trading is not going to be too meaningful, and the same holds true for the next few days and the next few months. I know it sounds a little like a cliche, but we are in this for the long haul."

Weiner, a 41-year-old former Yahoo executive who became head of LinkedIn two years ago, still took some time to celebrate the IPO in a meeting that was beamed to all of LinkedIn's roughly 1,300 employees from the company's offices in the Empire State Building.

Many of LinkedIn's employees are now millionaires, at least on paper. The richest is co-founder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman. Already considered one of the smartest and best-connected people in Silicon Valley, Hoffman joined the ranks of the world's billionaires Thursday. Hoffman, 43, owns a 20 percent stake in LinkedIn, good for about $1.8 billion.

That value could wildly fluctuate, based on how other hot technology IPOs have performed through the years.

Until LinkedIn came along, software maker VMware Inc. had boasted Silicon Valley's biggest one-day gain among IPOs completed during the decade after the dot-com bubble burst. VMware stock rose 76 percent on the first day of trading in August 2007. Thirteen months later, it had fallen below its IPO price of $29.

VMware's experience also serves as a reminder that what goes up and comes down can go up again. The company's stock closed Thursday at $93.89.

Japan falls back into recession after disasters


Japan's economy shrank in the first quarter, veering back into recession as factory production and consumer spending wilted in the aftermath of March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Real gross domestic product — a measure of the value of all goods and services produced domestically — contracted at an annualized rate of 3.7 percent in the January-March period, the Cabinet Office said Thursday.

The result marks the second straight quarter that the world's No. 3 economy has lost steam and undershoots an annualized 2.3 percent fall forecast in a Kyodo News agency survey.

While there is no universally accepted definition of a recession, many economists define it as two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction. Others consider the depth of economic decline as well as other measures like unemployment.

Martin Schulz, senior economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, said there is "no doubt" that recession has returned. More surprising is just how quickly the economy crumpled, he said.

The latest GDP report includes just 20 days following the disaster, but "the impact is huge," said Schulz, who had expected to see most of the economic fallout in the second quarter.

The Nikkei 225 stock average fell 0.4 percent to 9,620.82.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami left more than 24,000 people dead or missing, and wiped out entire towns in the hardest-hit areas. Damage is estimated at $300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history.

It damaged factories in the region, causing severe shortages of parts and components for manufacturers across Japan, especially automakers. A crippled nuclear power plant caused widespread power shortages that added to the headaches faced by businesses and households.

As a result, Japan's factory production and consumer spending both fell the most on record in March. Exports in March went south for the first time in 16 months. Companies are reporting lower earnings and diminished outlooks for the rest of the fiscal year.

The recent events have deeply unnerved households, who are likely to remain cautious for the coming months, Schulz said.

"The nuclear disaster showed just how much is wrong in Japan actually," he said. "And many things that seemed so stable and sure like electricity supply ... are looking not safe at all."

Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's biggest automaker, said last week that its quarterly profit tumbled more than 75 percent because of parts shortages after the tsunami. As of May, the crisis cost the company production of 550,000 vehicles in Japan and another 350,000 overseas.

Toyota is expected to lose its spot as the world's top-selling automaker to General Motors Co. this year.

Even before the disaster, Japan's economy was shaky.

In a historic shift, China overtook the country as the world's No. 2 economy last year. Japan struggled to address a slew of problems including years of deflation, a rapidly aging and shrinking population, and ballooning public debt. Japanese companies increasingly relied on exports to drive growth and offset the persistently lackluster demand at home.

After four solid quarters of growth, Japan's GDP turned negative in the last three months of 2010 due to weaker exports and consumer demand. The downturn was expected to be temporary.

Instead, Japan has now recorded consecutive quarters of contraction for the first time since the global financial crisis. GDP fell for four straight quarters starting April 2008.

Japan's economy and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano described the current slump as milder than the previous slide, when global demand "evaporated instantly."

"The Japanese economy's ability to rebound is sufficiently strong," Yosano said, according to Kyodo News agency.

Goldman Sachs said the economy will likely bottom in the second quarter. It expects GDP to begin growing again in the third quarter as reconstruction bolsters demand in both the private and public sectors.

"We assume the production and exports will shift to mild growth facilitated by supply chain restoration, although power supply is an uncertain factor," chief Japan economist Naohiko Baba said in a report to clients.

The first-quarter GDP figure translates to a 0.9 percent fall from the previous three month period, according to the Cabinet Office data.

Consumer spending, which accounts for some 60 percent of the economy, declined 0.6 percent. Capital investments by companies retreated 0.9 percent from the October-December quarter.

To fund recovery spending, Japan's parliament passed at 4 trillion yen ($49 billion) budget supplement earlier this month. Further government outlays are expected to follow in the months ahead.

The money will be used to build new houses for the more than 100,000 people who remain without proper shelter, clear debris and rubble, restore fishing grounds, and provide support for disaster-hit businesses and their employers.

China has asked US to respect Pak sovereignty


In the wake of the US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, China has "warned in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China", a media report claimed today.

The warning was formally conveyed by the Chinese foreign minister at last week's China-US strategic dialogue and economic talks in Washington, The News daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying.

China also advised the US to "respect Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity", the report said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao informed his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani about the matters taken up with the US during their formal talks at the Great Hall of the People yesterday.

The report said China "warned in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China".

The two premiers held a 45-minute one-to-one meeting before beginning talks with their delegations.

The Chinese leadership was "extremely forthcoming in assuring its unprecedented support to Pakistan for its national cause and security" and discussed all subjects of mutual interest with Gilani, the report said.

Gilani described Pakistan-China relations and friendship as "unique".

Talking to Pakistani journalists accompanying him, he said that China had acknowledged his country's contribution and sacrifices in the war against terrorism and supported its cause at the international level.

"China supported Pakistan's cause on its own accord," Gilani said with reference to the Sino-US strategic dialogue where the Chinese told the US that Pakistan should be helped and its national honour respected.

Gilani said China has asked the US to improve its relations with Pakistan, keeping in view the present scenario.

Pakistan reiterated its position on the one-China policy and said it fully supports China on the issues of Taiwan and Tibet, he said.

He said both sides will continue their consultations on UN reforms.

It was also agreed that both countries will formulate a long-term joint energy mechanism for electricity generation in Pakistan through various means, including nuclear energy.

Wen announced that the Chinese leadership will send a special envoy to Islamabad to express solidarity with Pakistan at this "crucial period in its history".

The envoy, a senior minister, will take part in celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The US has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist sanctuaries and to probe whether military and intelligence officials were aware that bin Laden had been hiding in the garrison city of Abbottabad, which is home to thousands of soldiers.

Pakistan has turned to China, its "all weather friend", for support in the face of reports that US lawmakers are pressing for cuts in aid.

China has agreed to provide Pakistan 50 new JF-17 Thunder multi-role jets under a co-production agreement, The News reported.

It is likely that these planes will be supplied by June next year.

The two countries are also discussing the supply of Chinese J-20 stealth jets and Xiaolong/FC-1 multi-purpose light fighter aircraft to Pakistan.

They are discussing the mode of payment and the number of planes to be provided to Pakistan, the report said. China will also launch a satellite for Pakistan on August 14.

The satellite will supply "multifarious data" to Pakistan, the report said.

Prime Minister Gilani said both sides had agreed to increase defence cooperation and China had assured Pakistan of help in enhancing the capacity of its armed forces.

He said Pakistan's trade with China had registered a significant increase in the last two years and efforts were being made to raise it to USD 15 billion a year.

Gilani said Pakistan has the capability and capacity to defend its frontiers and the armed forces are fully vigilant, and no incident like the US raid against bin Laden will happen in future.

He said Pakistan will continue its efforts to stop US drone attacks, which have proved to be counter-productive.

To a question, Gilani said Pakistan's political and military leadership will decide about a military operation in North Waziristan agency.

No pressure will be accepted in this regard and Pakistan alone will decide on this issue, he said.

Gilani said Pakistan desires good relations with all its neighbours, including India, Afghanistan and Iran.

San Francisco makes a TV comeback



San Francisco will make a thrilling return to TV. Fox has picked up the J.J. Abrams series "Alcatraz" for its fall lineup.

The series is about a group of past wardens and prisoners from Alcatraz who have apparently traveled through time to the modern day. On their scent: cop Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) , as well as Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), a hippie who's an expert on the Rock.

Abrams helped create other popular shows such as "Felicity," "Alias," "Lost," and "Fringe."

San Francisco has frequently been a star on the small screen, from the iconic "The Streets of San Francisco" to "Full House" to "Nash Bridges."

Unlike "Full House," which was not shot in San Francisco but in L.A., shooting for "Alcatraz" has been done in town. We can thank the SF Film Commission which has been trying to lure more big productions to the city.

Fake gunfire rang through Russian Hill back in February. There was also a casting call for locals to portray tourists on the Alcatraz ferry.

This could be the beginning of more San Francisco cameos to come.