Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Apple market value hits $500 billion

Apple's market capitalization topped $500 billion in opening trading Wednesday, climbing to a mountain peak where few companies have ventured and none have stayed for long.

Apple was already the world's most valuable company. The gap between it and No. 2 Exxon Mobil Corp. has widened rapidly in the past month, as investors have digested Apple's report of blow-out holiday-season sales of iPhone and iPads, and raised their hopes that the company might institute a dividend.

On Tuesday, the Cupertino, Calif., company sent out invites to reporters for an event in San Francisco next Wednesday, apparently to reveal its next iPad model. The launch of the new model was expected around this time, a year after the launch of the iPad 2.

Exxon, now worth $411 billion, was worth just over $500 billion for two short stretches at the end of 2007. Apple's arch-nemesis Microsoft Corp. was worth just more than $500 billion briefly at the end of 1999, then again in early 2000. It even shot up above $600 billion for one day. The company is now worth $267 billion.

Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and General Electric Co. also peaked just above $500 billion in early 2000. Cisco and Intel are now worth a bit more than $100 billion each, while GE is worth $200 billion.

Despite its sky-high market capitalization, Apple's valuation isn't high compared to its earnings. It's worth 15 times its earnings for the last year. That compares to 21 times earnings for Google Inc. and 14 times for the S&P 500 overall. Yet few companies in the index grow their earnings as fast as Apple does: In its latest quarter, its earnings rose 118 percent from a year ago, to $13.06 billion.

Apple's stock accounts for 3.8 percent of the value of the S&P 500 index, according to Standard & Poor's, and it accounted for 6 percent of the operating income of the 500 companies in the fourth quarter.

Analysts say Apple's sheer size works against its stock price. Apple stock already makes up a large share of the holdings of technology and growth-focused funds, and they have little appetite for more. Meanwhile, value-focused funds are often prevented from buying the shares because the company doesn't pay a dividend.

However, the company has been signaling that a dividend is under consideration, and several analysts now consider it a given that one will be announced this year. Last week, CEO Tim Cook told shareholders at the annual meeting that the company has more money than it needs, and the board and management are thinking "very deeply" about ways to use the cash.

Former CEO Steve Jobs, apparently haunted by the company's lean years in the 90s, had a policy of accumulating cash. The company now sits on $97.6 billion.

In the first few minutes of trading Wednesday, Apple's market capitalization climbed near $508 billion as shares rose $8.98, or 1.7 percent, to $544.39.

Facebook revamps pages for businesses

Facebook revamped the pages businesses can set up on its online social network, providing a new way for brands to promote their goods to Facebook's 845 million users.

The new feature lets businesses, as well as celebrities and bands, create self-contained mini websites within Facebook using the Timeline format Facebook introduced for its users' profile pages earlier this year.

The introduction of Timeline for businesses comes ahead of a big event Facebook is holding in New York City on Wednesday to introduce various new services for marketers.

The world's No. 1 social network is ramping up efforts to attract the attention and budgets of large companies and advertisers ahead of its initial public offering.

Earlier this month, Facebook announced plans to raise $5 billion in an IPO expected to value the company at between $75 billion and $100 billion.

Facebook generated $3.7 billion in revenue last year, with 85 percent of it from advertising.

Businesses can set up pages on Facebook for free, but the idea is that companies whose pages experience a lot of customer interest might be interested in advertising on the service as well.

Macy's Inc, Coca-Cola and Walmart Stores Inc were among the first businesses to roll out new versions of their Facebook pages, which gives companies more control to design splashy, media-rich pages. A chronological timeline on the right-hand side of the page lets businesses create customized pages for past years that incorporate images of memorabilia and milestones in a company's history.

Google: Technology is making science fiction real

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt predicted Tuesday that rapid advances in technology will soon transform science fiction into reality - meaning people will have driverless cars, small robots at their command and the ability to experience being in another place without leaving home.

Schmidt said the introduction of books available online, Internet translation of languages and voice recognition for computers all happened much faster than anyone envisioned and that technological research into even more previously unheard of advances is progressing at a fast clip.

"People who predict that holograms and self-driving cars will become reality soon are absolutely right," Schmidt told thousands of attendees at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the planet's largest cell phone trade show.

Schmidt stepped down as Google's chief executive last year but has remained the company's chief representative in the public eye. As CEO, he rarely ventured into long-term visions like those he articulated in Barcelona. He didn't outline how Google, which makes its money from online advertising, would profit from his visions.

Schmidt said research under way will lead to situations where people can put themselves at events like a rock concerts so they can see, hear and even feel the event. And turn down the volume, if it's too loud.

One attendee said she was scared that the possibility could be dehumanizing, but Schmidt replied by holding up his cell phone into the air.

"It has an off button and it is here on the right," Schmidt said. "My point is it is all about your control. If you don't like my version of a rock concert, I'm not forcing you to go."

Small robots could be used so busy people can send them to events for video and voice transmissions when their presence isn't required, Schmidt said.

"In the future you'll be able to dispatch a robot to each event," he said.

Google has been testing driverless cars for years, and Schmidt noted that several U.S. states are already drawing up regulations so they can be used on the road. The technology took a big step forward earlier this month when Nevada became the first state to spell out requirements for the testing of driverless cars on state roads.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval even took a test ride in a self-driving Toyota Prius in July. The car being developed by Google uses radar, sensors that allow the vehicle to "see" the road, other vehicles and people. Human drivers can override the autopilot function.

Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers), Schmidt said.

Underlying it all is the explosion of data and devices that consumers will be able to use without even caring if they are logging onto the Internet, Schmidt said.

"The web will be everything, but it will be nothing," he said. "It will be like electricity, it is just there."

People will eventually be able to use virtual reality go to places like Marrakech in Morocco or to North Korea "whenever it has an election," Schmidt said.

Schmidt compared the new connectivity to a "digital watering hole" where everyone will be able to gather, though he acknowledged it will take much longer for people in developing nations with poor connectivity to take part.

"It will redefine the relationship these people have in the world. In times of war and suffering, it will be impossible to ignore the cries of people calling out for help," Schmidt said. "In this new world there will be far fewer places for dictators."

That already happened during the Arab Spring that saw governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya fall, with more turmoil still under way in places like Syria.

"With information comes power and with power comes choice, and smarter resourceful citizens are going to demand a better deal for their communities," Schmidt said.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Russian nuclear submarine to reach Indian shores in mid-March

India will become the world's sixth operator of a nuclear-powered submarine next month when Russia's K-152 Nerpa attack vessel reaches the country's shores ahead of its formal induction into the Indian Navy.

The submarine, christened INS Chakra, is expected to reach the Indian shores, with its home base as Visakhapatnam, anytime in March, according to navy officers here.

The other global naval powers operating nuclear-powered submarines are the US, Russia, Britain, France and China.

The attack submarine was handed over to the Indian Navy by Russia at a ceremony in the Far Eastern Primorye territory on Jan 23.

Codenamed Akula-II by NATO, the Project 971 Shchuka-B class vessel will be on a 10-year lease with the Indian Navy till 2022 under a contract worth over $900 million signed in mid-1990.

Under the deal, Russia trained Indian submariners on operating the Nerpa for over a month in the Pacific Ocean ahead of its handing over.

With a displacement of over 8,000 tonnes, the vessel can touch a maximum speed of 30 knots and can operate at a maximum depth of 600 meters.

The vessel can lurk in the deep sea without having to surface for 100 days waiting for its prey to appear and to strike hard at will.

Manned by a 73-member crew, the vessel is armed with four 533mm torpedo tubes and four 650mm torpedo tubes.

The Indian Navy operated a nuclear-powered submarine 1987-1991 when it had a Soviet-origin Charlie class vessel, also named INS Chakra, in its fleet. The submarine was returned to Russia after the three-year lease ended.

Nuclear-powered submarines, being silent killers, are considered key weapon platforms in view of the surprise element in case of an attack. They are an important part of India's nuclear doctrine, as these can help in completing the nuclear-weapon triad or the capability to fire nuclear arsenal from platforms over the land, air, and under the sea.

Though Nerpa was originally scheduled to join the Indian Navy in 2009, an unexpected on-board explosion in November 2008 when it was undergoing sea trials in the Western Pacific by the Russian Navy sailors resulted in the death of 20-odd personnel due to a toxic gas release.

India will add another nuclear-powered vessel to its submarine fleet in the next six to 10 months when the indigenously built INS Arihant that is undergoing trials joins the fleet.

Two more Arihant-class submarines, with miniaturised nuclear reactors designed and developed with Russian help, will join the naval fleet in the next four years.

India currently operates 14 conventional diesel-electric submarines. Of them, 10 are Russian-origin Kilo class vessels and four are German HDW vessels.

Facebook announces mobile payment initiative

Facebook said it could team up with mobile operators on payments, in an offer that would give them back part of the revenue and influence they have lost in recent years to Apple and Google.

Speaking for the first time at Mobile World Congress, the industry's biggest gathering, Facebook said operators could help it make money from its hundreds of millions of mobile users buying games or music on the social network.

Mobile operators have been increasingly sidelined by internet companies, which often appeal directly to consumers, hog network capacity with bandwidth-hungry services like YouTube, and compete with the telcos' own products.

"Facebook and mobile were made for each other," chief technology officer Bret Taylor said on Monday, echoing then-Google chief executive Eric Schmidt's first overtures to the industry at the Barcelona event two years ago.

Facebook said earlier this month in its filing for an initial public offering more than half its 845 million active users accessed its site from a mobile device.

It has yet to figure out how to make money from mobile -- the vast majority of its $3.7 billion revenue last year came from ads delivered to desktop users.

That mobile is central to Facebook's future success is clear, but whether it will prove a valuable partner or a value-destroying competitor to mobile operators is less so.

Facebook has a popular messaging service that allows users to have group chats and exchange photos and video in real time for free, which is drawing users away from SMS text services offered by telcos.

Andrew Collinson, research director at British telecoms consultancy STL Partners, said operators should be wary of betting their future on Facebook.

"Short term, Facebook is a good ally for the telcos. The danger is that, I think, it will eventually have to move into communications to justify its valuation," he said.

Taylor said operators could play a vital role in billing for Facebook's services, potentially putting the 30 percent tolls that Apple and Google collect in their app stores in the hands of the operators instead.

The billing alliance includes eight major carriers such as Spanish group Telefonica, U.S. operator AT&T and Japanese company Softbank.

Operators could also help Facebook make money from users of more basic phones in emerging economies such as India and Nigeria, many of whom do not have access to app stores or own credit cards to make online purchases.

Taylor said Facebook would lend its weight to a push for better web standards that enable more apps to be delivered via a simple internet browser, instead of going through Apple and Google's stores.

Apple announces event, iPad 3 launch expected

Apple Inc is hosting a media event next week where it is expected to unveil the latest version of its popular iPadtablet as it looks to thwart increasing competition from deep-pocketed rivals such as Amazon Inc. The invitation-only event will be held on March 7 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the same venue Apple used to unveil the last two iPads.

Apple, which sent the invitation to reporters by email on Tuesday, did not divulge details of the event, but just said that "we have something you really have to see. And touch." The invitation also featured a partial picture of a device resembling the iPad.

Apple launches are some of the hottest events on the tech calendar, scrutinized by fans, investors, the media and industry insiders alike.

The iPad has completely dominated the nascent tablet computer market, but Amazon's Kindle Fire, which sells at half the cost of an iPad, has chipped away at the lower end of the tablet market.
The third iteration of a device that has helped put pressure on demand for traditional laptops and computers is expected to boast a faster, quad-core processor and a higher-definition screen.

Some analysts and industry experts also expect 4G wireless capability, ensuring the iPad remains current as cutting edge broadband technology gains momentum.

Apple iPad tablet sales doubled in the December quarter to 15.43 million units from a year earlier. The company has sold about 55 million iPadssince it introduced the device in 2010.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Microsoft's next Steve: Windows boss faces biggest test

For Steven Sinofsky, the stern but creative engineering manager who runs Microsoft Corp's flagship Windows division, February 29 is showtime.

On that day, in Barcelona, Sinofsky will preside over the public test release of the Windows 8 operating system, the most important new version of Microsoft's cornerstone product in a decade. Optimized for touch computing and low-power microprocessors, Windows 8 will run on tablets as well as desktops and laptops - and maybe even on phones in the future.

If it takes off, it could extend one of the most lucrative franchises in business history and restore some cachet to the fading Microsoft brand.

It could also propel Sinofsky to the top job at the company when CEO Steve Ballmer eventually steps down.

Frank Artale, managing director at Seattle-based venture capital firm Ignition, which was founded by a group of former Microsoft executives, said Sinofsky has both "the tech chops" and the "panache and showmanship" needed for the job.

Supporters credit Sinofsky with bringing order to the sometimes-chaotic software development process at Microsoft - partly by cutting layers of management through what is now referred to internally as "Sinofskyization" - and getting products out the door.

Critics say he lacks the necessary charisma for the top job, and question whether he has the technical brilliance of Gates or the incisive analytical ability and forceful personality of Ballmer .

Most agree, though, that a strong performance for Windows 8 would all but make him the heir apparent.

Microsoft declined to make Sinofsky available for interview.


The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will be the biggest stage yet for Sinofsky, 46, who is largely unknown outside of tech circles.

Born in New York but raised in Florida, where his father ran a sports goods store, Sinofsky joined Microsoft as a software design engineer straight out of graduate school in 1989. He quickly caught the eye of then-chief executive Gates, who took him on as his technical assistant.

It was in that role that Sinofsky, while visiting his alma mater Cornell in early 1994, wrote to Gates to recount how the students and teachers had already come to see email and the Internet as "ubiquitous and expected as regular phone service."

Gates credits Sinofsky, and his contemporary J. Allard - the force behind the Xbox - for helping him to see the full extent of the Internet revolution.

Following his stint in Gates' office, Sinofsky was assigned to the Office team, which rivals Windows as the company's most profitable product. He was elevated to vice president in 1998, and after successfully driving the development of Office 2003 and Office 2007, he established a reputation as a "shipper," a high honor at the company which values getting finished products into the market more than anything else.

He was moved over to the Windows unit in 2006, taking charge of it in 2009.

Despite his powerful position, Windows colleagues say Sinofsky - known by his internal e-mail handle as 'SteveSi' - still takes the time to reply to emails personally and is usually chatty in the hallways, though he may not always be the figure that people want to see coming the other way.

Meetings with Sinofsky can be tough, colleagues say, but he doesn't swear like Gates or scream like Ballmer.

Sinofsky has blogged at length about his management ideas, and even taught a management class at Harvard Business School. Some of his best blogs were used as the basis for a book called 'One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making,' published by Wiley in 2010, which he co-authored with a Harvard academic.

Sinofsky stresses balancing what he calls "bottom-up" ideas from coders on the frontline with the "top-down" needs of managers who have to make sure the product matches the strategy.

"It's a bottom-up plan that is built and locked in a systematic way," said a former senior executive, who worked with Sinofsky in the Windows unit. "Everyone gets input on the plan, but once the plan is set, it's set."

Sinofsky is no longer involved in the day-to-day minutiae of coding: "My code was always nice and orderly, but I probably couldn't write enough code fast enough to really be the very best at programming," he wrote in 2005. But he has the knowledge needed to crack the whip on those who are.

"The techs know they can't sandbag him," said one current staffer in the Windows unit.

Sinofsky joined the Windows unit at the tail end of 2006, just after the ill-fated Vista was released to PC manufacturers and being prepared for its full public launch in January 2007. His first job was to develop a more ordered process for the next release. That work came to fruition three years later with Windows 7, which has now sold 525 million copies.


Sinofsky writes in his blog about cutting the number of managers between him and the lowest rung of the Windows unit to three or four from seven previously.

This streamlining, along with rigorous planning, has become his signature at Microsoft, but has ruffled some feathers at the company because it has reduced the number of general manager positions, where people got to use a wide variety of skills, and focused instead on the core functions of making software: developing, testing and managing specific programs.

But few dispute the results.

"For sure it flattens the organization, it definitely eliminates fiefdoms," said the former Windows executive.

Artale, who led program management in the Windows unit in the 1990s while Sinofsky had the parallel role at the Office unit, added: "Steve is very much a product guy. He lives and breathes the product. He owns it. The product will reflect his personality and his style."

Physically and temperamentally, Sinofsky is almost the opposite of CEO Ballmer.

A trim 5' 8", usually sporting a tidy t-shirt and V-neck pullover, the balding Sinofsky steered clear of the limelight at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, while the burly, effervescent Ballmer boomed his way through a series of press conferences.

Known for his love of roadside Americana, Sinofsky took time out to dine alone at the In-n-Out Burger on the other side of Interstate 15 from Las Vegas Boulevard and the hurly-burly of the show.

A former gym rat and jogger who now prefers yoga for exercise, Sinofsky lives in a condo in the historic center of downtown Seattle, unlike most Microsoft executives who favor large houses in the leafy suburbs east of Lake Washington, an easier drive to Microsoft's Redmond campus.

Public records show he donated $10,000 to the campaign against a state tax on the wealthy in Washington state in 2010, alongside Ballmer who gave $425,000. Gates, though, supported the tax, which had been proposed by his father.

Sinofsky's Microsoft shares are worth about $35 million, according to regulatory filings.

Although not a natural performer, Sinofsky enjoys showing off his product. His perky unveiling of the first test version of Windows 8 last September showed he has a rapport with developers, even getting a laugh out of them by joking that Microsoft updates its 'Task Manager' program "every 15 years or so." But he isn't to everybody's taste.

"I don't think people care for his presentation style. He's one of those super-intelligent types that come off as a little dry," said Ryan Lowdermilk, who hosts a popular podcast for apps builders and attended the unveiling of Windows 8 to developers last year. "But developers respect people who ship product. That's what people like about him the most."

One-to-one, he is all business. Several reporters have received an icy, wordless glare when they ask a tough question.

Mini-Microsoft, the anonymous insider whose blog is a locus of informed criticism of the company, has called him "Spock-meets-Spartan."


In his 13th year as CEO, Ballmer has presided over huge growth in sales and profit, but he's had his critics from the day he started the job. Despite hitting four-year highs last week, the stock is still at the same level it was a decade ago, and Microsoft's market value is only just over half of Apple's.

The criticism reached a peak last May, when outspoken hedge fund manager David Einhorn - whose Greenlight Capital owned only about 0.1 percent of Microsoft shares at the time - said the company had a strong future but it was time for Ballmer to step down and "give someone else a chance."

Contacted on Monday, Einhorn declined to add to those remarks or to comment on Sinofsky.

A successful Windows 8 could help silence the critics. It would also give a big boost to Sinofsky.

Not everyone thinks he's is the right man for the job.

"Bill Gates had the most amazing mind I've ever encountered. You could show him a PowerPoint slide and he would ask why it was different from the one you showed him three years ago," said another former Microsoft executive. "Steve Ballmer is the most intuitively mathematical person I've ever worked with. Steve (Sinofsky) is neither of those things."

But unless Microsoft goes outside of the company for its next leader, which would be a surprise, Sinofsky dominates the field. Some feel the company should recognize that publicly, and be more clear about its succession planning.

"Sinofsky is an executor, he can deliver," said one large institutional shareholder. "They (Microsoft) should be able to provide more transparency to the depth of bench - to demystify the inner circle of management. In the absence of providing that, you get non-productive chatter. It would serve them well to nip that in the bud."

One year later, Nokia and Microsoft deliver

One year ago, Jo Harlow, the head of smart devices at Nokia, stood before a packed convention hall at the Mobile World Congress, the cellphone industry's most important trade show, to explain the Finnish company's new software alliance with Microsoft.

It was only a few days after the agreement had been announced in London. But the need for the deal had been so urgent that Nokia and Microsoft, grasping for a foothold in a mobile computing industry that was quickly slipping away from them, had gone public without a definitive legal agreement, just a handshake and a promise to work together, somehow.

"I remember standing on that stage and saying that I would deliver one device by the end of the year," Ms. Harlow said during an interview last week. And she said she thought to herself: "Now I really have to do it."

One year later, Nokia and Microsoft have exceeded their own predictions, and by most estimations, the expectations of many in an industry now dominated by Apple, the smartphone market leader, and Samsung, the No. 2, whose lineup relies on smartphones running Google's Android operating system, the most ubiquitous phone software.

On Monday, Nokia introduced an enhanced, third-generation cellphone network version of the Lumia 900 that will sell globally outside the United States and an LTE version for Canada. It introduced the Lumia 610, which will cost about 30 percent less than the Lumia 710. At the same time, Microsoft said it planned to open new Windows online marketplaces in 28 countries by March, including China.

Nokia delivered two Windows devices in 2011: the Lumia 800, a premium phone, and the Lumia 710, a lower-price version. In January, the company said it would sell a version of the Lumia 900 in the United States that would run on AT&T's new network using superfast Long Term Evolution, or LTE, technology, something even Apple does not yet offer for the iPhone.

Ms. Harlow, 49, the captain of Duke University's women's basketball team her senior year, had faced pressure before. She explained to the crowd of analysts and journalists gathered at the annual industry convention here last year that Nokia and Microsoft would produce their first phone using the Windows operating system by the end of the year - a pace two to three times quicker than Nokia's previous rhythm.

But deep down, even Ms. Harlow was a bit awed by the task before her, which would require an accelerated, effective collaboration with a completely different corporate culture in a creative endeavor so intimate that both would have to discard mutual mistrust to make it work.

Stephen A. Elop, Nokia's chief executive, said during an interview at this year's Barcelona trade show that the relationship with Microsoft had gone well. Mr. Elop said that neither he nor Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive and Mr. Elop's former boss, had had to intervene to arbitrate disputes in the mixed teams of Nokia and Microsoft employees working on Lumia.

"We have regular reviews where we sit down and go through all the details and have debates about the best way forward, but the teams are quickly able to move through these issues and get to a common point," Mr. Elop said. "A year later, it is all focused just on going forward and not examining, 'What did we say in the contract?' We're getting stuff done."

But the United States is still the most vexing market for Nokia.

"The big question will be how they tackle the U.S. market, where they have virtually no presence anymore," said Mark Newman, an analyst with Informa Media and Telecoms in London.

By the end of 2011, Nokia said, it had sold more than a million Lumia phones, which Mr. Newman characterized as good but "underwhelming."

The wider price range introduced on Monday with the new phones and the expanded geographic footprint provided by the new online marketplaces will increase the potential market for Windows phones by 60 percent globally, said Terry Myerson, a vice president of Microsoft's Windows phone unit. That market has so far been limited primarily to the United States, Japan and Western Europe.

Officials from both Microsoft and Nokia declined to disclose details on the companies' strategy, the promotional budget or the method chosen for trying to persuade the other three big operators in the United States, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile USA, to sell their phones.

Mr. Myerson said Microsoft was aware that Windows was not a dominant force in mobile devices. "We recognize that Windows phone is the challenger in the market against established alternatives," he said. "We have tried to get a very clear point of view about why users should choose Windows phone."

One of the major reasons, he said, is that Lumia Windows phones are "faster at the everyday tasks that busy people have to do every day."

Ms. Harlow said Nokia and Microsoft were far along on their plans for the United States and the rest of the world. The companies' work on Lumia devices is split among five locations: San Diego, Beijing and Taiwan and Salo and Tampere in Finland.

"We are focused on generating demand with consumers and doing the appropriate things across all media," said Ms. Harlow, who has spent time in all Lumia locations over the last year, working with people from Microsoft and Qualcomm, which is making the chips for the phones. "We have what we believe is a comprehensive plan put together with AT&T to ensure that sales associates are knowledgeable and excited and ready to sell the story."

Nokia is a distant No. 3 in smartphone operating systems. Its aging Symbian, the proprietary smartphone operating system that Nokia is phasing out for Windows, had only 12 percent global market share in December and it was declining fast. (Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, is the other sick man of the industry, with a declining 9 percent share, according to Strategy Analytics, a research firm.)

The combined share held by Windows, which includes phones made by Nokia, HTC and Samsung, is just 1.7 percent.

A wild card will be Google's plans for Motorola Mobility, which Google is set to acquire for $12.5 billion. Microsoft hopes that if Google converts Motorola into a high-volume global maker of Android phones, Samsung, the biggest user of Android, would be driven to another operating system - perhaps Windows.

Lee Younghee, senior vice president for global marketing of Samsung Electronics mobile products, described Samsung's work with Google at the Mobile World Congress as a "strong partnership" but noted that Samsung had consciously followed a mixed strategy of Android, Windows and Bada, Samsung's proprietary operating system.

"We believe that Android is a growing market," Ms. Lee said. "We believe there are other sectors where will need a strong partnership with Google, not just in research and development, but marketing. But we can say that as long as we can maintain this business model with Google, our relationship can be well managed. I think so far we are O.K."

Referring to Google's purchase of Motorola, Ms. Lee confirmed that the companies' relations were still good. "Even after their announcement," she said.

Supreme Court directs Centre, states to expedite river interlinking project

The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to implement the ambitious interlinking of rivers project in a time-bound manner and appointed a high-powered committee for its planning and implementation.

Observing that the project has already been delayed resulting in an increase in its cost, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said the Centre and the concerned state governments should participate for its "effective" implementation "in a time bound manner".

The bench, also comprising justices Swatanter Kumar and A K Patnaik, appointed a high-powered committee comprising of representatives of various government departments, ministries, experts and social activists to chart out and execute the project.

The committee will be comprising of Union Minister of Water Resources, its secretary, Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and four expert members appointed by Water Resources Ministry, Finance Ministry, Planning Commission and MoEF.

Representatives from state governments, two social activists and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who has been assisting the court in the case, will also be members of the committee.

"We direct the Union of India to forthwith constitute a committee for interlinking of rivers," the bench said, adding "we direct the committee to implement the project".

"The committee shall plan for implementation of the project," the bench said, adding the delay has already resulted in an increase in the cost of the project.

The river interlinking project was the brainchild of the NDA government and in October, 2002, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had formed a task force to get the project going against the backdrop of the acute drought that year.

A Centre-appointed task force had in a report recommended division of the project into two - the Peninsular component and the Himalayan component.

The Peninsular component - involving the rivers in southern India - envisaged developing a 'Southern Water Grid' with 16 linkages. This component included diversion of the surplus waters of the Mahanadi and Godavari to the Pennar, Krishna, Vaigai and Cauvery.

The task force had also mooted the diversion of the west-flowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, the interlinking of small rivers that flow along the west coast, south of Tapi and north of Mumbai and interlinking of the southern tributaries of the river Yamuna.

The Himalayan component envisaged building storage reservoirs on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries both in India and Nepal in order to conserve the waters during the monsoon for irrigation and generation of hydro-power, besides checking floods.

The task force had identified 14 links including Kosi-Ghagra, Kosi-Mech, Ghagra-Yamuna, Gandak-Ganga, Yamuna-Rajasthan, Rajasthan-Sabarmati, Sarda-Yamuna, Farakka-Sunderbans, Brahmaputra-Ganga, Subernarekha-Mahanadi, and Ganga-Damodar-Subernarekha.

The task force had also concluded that the linking of rivers in the country would raise the irrigation potential to 160 million hectares for all types of crops by 2050, compared to a maximum of about 140 million hectares that could be generated through conventional sources of irrigation.

The fate of the ambitious Rs. 5,00,000 crore project proposing linkages between major rivers by the year 2016 has remained a virtual non-starter and the detailed project report (DPR) is in cold storage.

Yahoo threatens Facebook as social media patent war looms

Yahoo has demanded licensing fees from Facebook for use of its technology, the companies said on Monday, potentially engulfing social media in the patent battles and lawsuits raging across much of the tech sector.

Yahoo has asserted claims on patents that include the technical mechanisms in the Facebook's ads, privacy controls, news feed and messaging service, according to a source briefed on the matter.

Representatives from the two companies met on Monday and the talks involved 10 to 20 of Yahoo's patents, said the source, who was not aware of what specific dollar demands Yahoo may have made for licenses.

Yahoo did not elaborate in an emailed statement on details of its discussions with Facebook, but indicated it would not flinch at taking the social networking giant to court over its patents.

Yahoo said other companies have already licensed some of the technologies at issue, and that it would act unilaterally if Facebook refused to pay for a patent license.

"Yahoo has a responsibility to its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders to protect its intellectual property," the company said.

The meeting between the two companies was first reported by the New York Times.

A Facebook spokesman said: "Yahoo contacted us at the same time they called the New York Times and so we haven't had the opportunity to fully evaluate their claims."

Should Yahoo wind up suing Facebook, it would mark the first major legal battle among technology giants in the social media sphere and a major escalation of patent litigation that has already swept up the smartphone and tablet sectors and high-tech stalwarts such as Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp and Motorola Mobility.

Yahoo's patent claims follow Facebook's announcement of plans for an initial public offering that could value the company at about $100 billion.

Several social networking companies, including Facebook, have seen an uptick in patent claims asserted against them as they move through the IPO process.

However, most of those lawsuits have been filed by patent aggregators that buy up intellectual property to squeeze value from it via licensing deals, and none by a large tech company such as Yahoo.

What is Facebook worth? A view from India

I couldn't help but notice my taxi driver's spanking new Nokia phone on a recent ride in Mumbai.

No, he wasn't carrying the high-end Lumia "smart phone" (retail price about 30,000 rupees, or $611), but it certainly wasn't a basic phone either. It had a qwerty keyboard, wi-fi and Internet access. Pankaj, the taxi driver, said it cost him a cool 6,000 rupees, roughly a third of his monthly income.

Impressed, I asked him "What do you use the Internet for?"
"Facebook," he said.
"You are on Facebook?"
"Yes, of course."
"How much do you pay for net access?"
"99 rupees (about $2) a month."

For Pankaj, Facebook was the main reason to sign up for an Internet plan. While unlimited Internet plans in India cost north of 750 rupees a month ($15 a month), metered plans, or those based on downloaded amounts, start at 99 rupees for 1GB ($2 a month).

He isn't alone. Go onto most mobile carrier's Web site in India and there is a social networking tab describing how to get onto Facebook. Facebook is prominently featured in many mobile carrier advertisements as a reason to get a data plan. One carrier, Vodafone, even introduced a phone that offered unlimited Facebook use for a year, free with the 3,810 rupee phone purchase.

With over 40 million users and growth of more than 1 million users per month, India is already Facebook's third-largest market. That growth, much like India's Internet usage, is coming not
just at the top of the economic pyramid, but across it.

Facebook users represent one of the youngest and most attractive market segments in India. To reach this group in its entirety, companies have few options because of divisions in language and education. Pankaj may watch Hindi-language television shows, his wife may read Gujarati newspapers and neither may read a magazine. India's crowd-pleasing staples, Hindi movies and cricket, may be the only other ways, outside of Facebook, to reach this group.

And India is expected to surpass the United States as the largest Facebook user base sometime in the next five years.

As investors ponder the value of Facebook, users like Pankaj might be worth considering. After all, he earns approximately $300 a month and was willing to spend $2 a month to access the Internet, just to use Facebook. For him, like most of us, the Internet means access to knowledge, social interaction and entertainment. And for him, the portal to that access is Facebook. With long periods of downtime as he waits for fares, he uses Facebook to communicate with his friends, play games and "learn," he said.

When number crunchers try to evaluate the value of a Facebook user, one Holy Grail question has emerged: What if Facebook could charge its users $1 a month? With 750 million users that would lead to revenues of nearly $10 billion a year from user charges alone.

The question is purely hypothetical. Facebook's founders have long pledged that they won't charge its customers. After all, the company derives its power from its user base. But Pankaj shows that Facebook has become such an indispensable part of the lives of folks around the world that they are, in effect, willing to pay for it.

Reams have been written and will be written about the value of Facebook before its initial public offering later this year. Like Google in its early days, Facebook may not have figured out all the ways to monetize its massive customer base, but the view from India is clear - it has grabbed the interest, and the income of users, rich and poor alike.

India will be world's third largest economy by 2030: BP

India will be world's third largest economy by 2030 but its energy demand will slow down to 4.5 per cent, global energy giant BP plc said Monday.

"By 2030 China and India will be the world's largest and third largest economies and energy consumers, jointly accounting for about 35 per cent of global population, GDP and energy demand," BP's chief economist Christof Ruhl said releasing BP's Energy Outlook 2030.

There would be "no surge in energy demand as India industrializes. Demand growth slows to 4.5 per cent per annum (vs. 5.5 per cent p.a. in 1999-2010) as improvements in energy efficiency partly offset the energy needs of industrialization and infrastructure expansion."

India's dependence on imports to meet its gas needs will jump to 47 per cent by 2030 while the same for oil will grow to 91 per cent. The nation will be 40 per cent dependent on imports to meet its coal needs.

He said India remains on a lower path of energy intensity; by 2030 it consumes only about half the energy that China consumes today, at a similar income per capita level as in China today.

Over the next 20 years China and India combined account for all the net increase in global coal demand, 94 per cent of net oil demand growth, 30 per cent of gas, and 48 per cent of the net growth in non-fossil fuels.

Coal remains the main commercial fuel, but its share falls from 70 per cent to 55 per cent in China as a result of maturing industrial structure and from 53 per cent to 50 per cent in India due to domestic resource constraints.

Oil's share is flat at 18 per cent in China and falls to 26 per cent in India, constrained by prices and growing import dependency. Gas gains market share along with nuclear and renewables in both countries, BP said.

In India, the share of industry continues to grow, as infrastructure development catches up and manufacturing expands to absorb a growing labour force, but it never reaches the Chinese level. "India therefore remains significantly less energy intensive, with a relatively high share of the service sector in GDP."

The smartphone market in 2015 is projected to be a billion units.

When Ellie Turner decided she wanted an upgrade from her iPhone 3G, she expected to pay more for Apple's new iPhone 4S than for the other leading smartphones on the market.Instead, Ms. Turner, a public relations specialist in London, got the fast-selling device free.

She consulted Phones4u, a bulk discounter of cellphones and data packages, which offered her a free iPhone 4S and data plan for �2, or $3.20, more than she had been paying each month. She returned to her operator, O2 U.K., which had been selling the 4S for �99 with the same plan. She told people there about the rival offer."They didn't blink an eye," Ms. Turner said. "They matched it."

Apple, the global market leader in smartphones, is enjoying record profits and sales that have transformed it into the world's most valuable company on any stock market. But the mobile computing industry it has conquered in just five years is changing rapidly, and not even Apple's trend-setting image appears guaranteed.

Unlike in the United States where competitors find it difficult to price a comparable phone lower than an iPhone, in Britain, the iPhone 4S costs at least �170 more than the Samsung Galaxy S II with a two-year commitment at O2 U.K. At T-Mobile in Germany, the Samsung model costs about 80 euros, or $108, and the 4S 130 euros. But the iPhone retains its enviable image as the phone to which all others are compared.

It is Apple's reward for being the progenitor of the modern smartphone segment: the sum of its software DNA, intuitive user experience, cash-generating universe of applications, cultivated image of hipness and first-mover advantage.

But Apple's main rivals - Samsung and other sellers of cellphones using the Google Android operating system, like HTC of Taiwan and Huawei and ZTE of China - are making smartphones for much less, and the iPhone is becoming ubiquitous, threatening its cachet.

For now, said T. Michael Walkley, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity in Minneapolis, the iPhone lineup has momentum and Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., should be able to pad its lead over rivals this year.

"But I cannot say with certainty that five years on, Apple will still be on top," Mr. Walkley said, noting that Apple and HTC did not even make smartphones six years ago. "I assume they will be, but it is difficult to predict anything in this dynamic market."

He estimated that Apple had captured 52 percent of all profits in the smartphone industry in 2011, a share he predicted would increase to 60 percent this year.

Apple, following its tradition of participating only in its own promotional events, has no formal presence or exhibition stand at the Mobile World Congress, the industry's largest annual convention this week in Barcelona.Alan Hely, an Apple spokesman in London, said the company had no comment for this article.

Timothy D. Cook, the Apple chief executive, told a Goldman Sachs investment conference this month that Apple would not rest on its laurels after its record fourth quarter, in which it sold 37 million iPhones - 17 million more than it had ever sold in a quarter.

Tongue in cheek, Mr. Cook called the 37 million "pretty good," drawing laughs, but then put it in stark perspective: "As I see it, that 37 million for last quarter represented 24 percent of the smartphone market. So three out of four people bought something else. And it represented less than 9 percent of the handset market, so nine out of 10 people are buying something else.

"The smartphone market last year was a half billion units," he continued. "In 2015, it is projected to be a billion units. When you take it in the context of these numbers, the truth is, this is a jaw-dropping industry. It has enormous opportunities to it. Up against those, the numbers don't seem so large anymore."

Carrying the iPhone has benefited operators, who use it to attract new customers. Sprint, the No. 3 carrier in the United States after AT&T and Verizon, sold 1.8 million iPhone 4S's in the fourth quarter, its first sales of Apple models. In that period, the operator added 1.6 million customers, the biggest such increase in six years.

Deutsche Telekom, France T�l�com and Vodafone have also spoken of the positive effect iPhone sales have on their profits. But over time, the iPhone could be undermined by its own success.

"All of a sudden, every teenage girl has an iPhone," Mr. Walkley said. "The real danger is that Apple becomes so mainstream that there is a breakaway by consumers to something new."Apple's competitors are awaiting that chance, said Mark Newman, the director of mobile research at Informa Telecoms and Media, a research business in London.

That puts pressure on Apple to continue innovating with each new iPhone. The 4s, which looked no different from the iPhone 4, added Siri, the Apple voice-activated command function introduced with the iPhone 4S, which helped make it a top-selling phone.

"Apple is focused on defending the high end of the market, and that is becoming harder to do each year," Mr. Newman said. "Competitors, such as the Galaxy from Samsung, are starting to catch up. I think it is inevitable that the margin pressure increases."

That pressure is not evident at Apple, which continues to derive more than 40 percent operating profit from the sale of each smartphone, Mr. Walkley estimated.In 2011, Apple became the world's largest buyer of semiconductors, according to Gartner. It displaced LG of Korea as the No. 3 maker of mobile phones by volume, trailing only Nokia and Samsung.

Apple narrowed the lead held by Android, the free operating system developed by Google. By last December, 44.5 percent of all smartphone buyers in the United Sttes were choosing iPhones, up from just 25.1 percent last October. The proportion choosing for Android fell to 46.9 percent from 61.6 percent, according to Nielsen.

Patrick R�my, the vice president of devices at France T�l�com in Paris, said he saw no sign of the Apple brand's diminishing. On the contrary, Mr. R�my said, Apple and Samsung have the financial resources to invest in the marketing, image and innovation that are needed to stay a step ahead of the competition.

"We are not seeing any major part of these brands declining," Mr. R�my said.But competition, especially from lower-price rivals, is not standing still.

By 2016, more than half of all smartphones sold will cost less than $300, according to Informa. Last year, 81 percent - most of them iPhones - cost more than $300. The proportion costing less than $200, which currently makes up 5 percent of the global market, is expected to increase almost fivefold, to 24 percent, by 2016.

Shao Yang, the marketing director for mobile devices at Huawei - the Chinese maker of mobile networking equipment which has set a goal of being among the world's top three cellphone makers by 2015 - said consumers would be able to obtain superior performance for less in the future."I think currently the biggest trend is not the price, but the capability," Mr. Shao said. "There is a competition in capability. The function of the phone will change very fast."

Huawei, based in Shenzhen, sold 20 million smartphones last year, up from 3.1 million in 2010. Huawei sold about half of its smartphones in China for between $150 and $200. Its biggest foreign market is the United States, where Huawei in January presented the Ascend P1 S, calling it the thinnest smartphone at 6.65 millimeters, or 0.26 inch.

The P1 S will not start selling until April, and Huawei has not released the price. But Mr. Shao said it would cost less than an iPhone. "Smartphones are going to become cheaper and cheaper," he said. Apple, though, is represented in the low-price smartphone segment. The iPhone 3, a predecessor, is being given away with a �16.50 plan at O2 U.K., while the iPhone 4 is free with a �36 plan.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Warren Buffett on why gold is not a good investment.

Warren Buffett, known as the sage of Omaha, has his own way of making a convincing argument. Here is an extract from his letter to shareholders that reveals what Buffett thinks about investing in gold.

• Gold, currently a huge favorite of investors who fear almost all other assets, especially paper money (of whose value, as noted, they are right to be fearful). Gold, however, has two significant shortcomings, being neither of much use nor procreative. True,gold has some industrial and decorative utility, but the demand for these purposes is both limited and incapable of soaking up new production. Meanwhile, if you own one ounce of gold for an eternity, you will still own one ounce at its end.

• What motivates most gold purchasers is their belief that the ranks of the fearful will grow. During the past decade that belief has proved correct. Beyond that, the rising price has on its own generated additional buying enthusiasm, attracting purchasers who see the rise as validating an investment thesis. As “bandwagon” investors join any party, they create their own truth – for a while.

• Over the past 15 years, both Internet stocks and houses have demonstrated the extraordinary excesses that can be created by combining an initially sensible thesis with well-publicized rising prices. In these bubbles, an army of originally skeptical investors succumbed to the “proof” delivered by the market, and the pool of buyers – for a time – expanded sufficiently to keep the bandwagon rolling. But bubbles blown large enough inevitably pop. And then the old proverb is confirmed once again: “What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end.”

• Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.

• Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?

• Beyond the staggering valuation given the existing stock of gold, current prices make today’s annual production of gold command about $160 billion. Buyers – whether jewelry and industrial users, frightened individuals, or speculators – must continually absorb this additional supply to merely maintain an equilibrium at present prices.

• A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops – and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons).

• The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond. Admittedly, when people a century from now are fearful, it’s likely many will still rush to gold. I’m confident, however, that the $9.6 trillion current valuation of pile A will compound over the century at a rate far inferior to that achieved by pile B.

Box lures Android users with 50GB storage

To celebrate new additions and updating of its Android app, Cloud storage service Box, is giving away 50GB of free storage to all Android users who log in before the 23rd of March. If that's not a reason to celebrate, we don't know what is! To avail this offer, one needs to log in to the Box app for Android, and you'll be upgraded instantly.

It's really quite interesting - last year, around the time iCloud gave away 5GB of free storage, Box offered iOS users 50 GB of free storage, and now, they are tapping into the Android user base.

Box's new revamped Android update features a fully furnished user interface, new features, and is compatible with the latest version of the Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich. The company worked hand in hand with Google to help redesign it; it supports users who have the older versions of Android. Box will be adding support for four languages - French, Italian, German, and Spanish - to the Android app. In addition to this, users will have the ability to comment on files, upload multiple files at once and grant access to other people to files individually.

The past few months have been a rat race in the cloud-storage realm and Box has stepped up their efforts to capture the mobile cloud storage market. Apple recently announced its plan to integrate iCloud with its upcoming Mountain Lion Mac OS. Microsoft is making SkyDrive universally available and integrating that with Windows 8. Then there are the other big boys - Dropbox, SugarSync, and Amazon Cloud Drive. Google might be rolling out its own very soon.

While it is hard to find reasons to complain about 50GB of free storage, one does need to keep a few things in mind. Unlike Dropbox or SkyDrive, Box doesn't offer a free desktop sync tool to create backups of their local files online. This desktop app is available only to those holding professional accounts, which costs $15 per month. Unpaid users are still limited using the lowest file size limit of 25 MB.

Despite the lack of a free desktop utility, Box does have an advantage over the competition - it works with third-party apps and services. You can send files to Google Docs and Gmail, put them up in Microsoft Office, all with Box. No other cloud-storage space allows you to do that.

The new Box Android app is available today in the Android Market.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Behind the Google Goggles, Virtual Reality

It wasn't so long ago that legions of people began walking the streets, talking to themselves.

On closer inspection, many of them turned out to be wearing tiny earpieces that connected wirelessly to their smartphones.

What's next? Perhaps throngs of people in thick-framed sunglasses lurching down the streets, cocking and twisting their heads like extras in a zombie movie.

That's because later this year, Google is expected to start selling eyeglasses that will project information, entertainment and, this being a Google product, advertisements onto the lenses. The glasses are not being designed to be worn constantly - although Google engineers expect some users will wear them a lot - but will be more like smartphones, used when needed, with the lenses serving as a kind of see-through computer monitor.

"It will look very strange to onlookers when people are wearing these glasses," said William Brinkman, graduate director of the computer science and software engineering department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. "You obviously won't see what they can from the behind the glasses. As a result, you will see bizarre body language as people duck or dodge around virtual things."

Mr. Brinkman, whose work focuses on augmented reality or the projection of a layer of information over physical objects, said his students had experimented on their own with virtual games and obstacle courses. "It looks really weird to outsiders when you watch people navigate these spaces," he said.

They have not seen the Google glasses. Few people have, because they are being built in the Google X offices, a secretive laboratory near Google's main Mountain View, Calif., campus where engineers and scientists are also working on robots and space elevators.

The glasses will use the same Android software that powers Android smartphones and tablets. Like smartphones and tablets, the glasses will be equipped with GPS and motion sensors. They will also contain a camera and audio inputs and outputs.

Several people who have seen the glasses, but who are not allowed to speak publicly about them, said that the location information was a major feature of the glasses. Through the built-in camera on the glasses, Google will be able to stream images to its rack computers and return augmented reality information to the person wearing them. For instance, a person looking at a landmark could see detailed historical information and comments about it left by friends. If facial recognition software becomes accurate enough, the glasses could remind a wearer of when and how he met the vaguely familiar person standing in front of him at a party. They might also be used for virtual reality games that use the real world as the playground.

People flailing their arms in midair as they play those games is a potentially humorous outcome of the virtual reality glasses. In a more serious vein is the almost certain possibility of privacy issues and ubiquitous advertisements. When someone is meeting a person for the first time, for example, Google could hypothetically match the person's face and tell people how many friends they share in common on social networks.

This month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research and advocacy group for Internet privacy, asked the Federal Trade Commission to suspend the use of facial recognition software until the government could come up with adequate safeguards and privacy standards to protect citizens.

Mr. Brinkman said he was very excited by the possibilities of the glasses, but acknowledged that the augmented reality glasses could pose some ethical issues.

"In addition to privacy, it's also going to change real-world advertising, where companies can virtually place ads over other people's ads," he said. "I'm really interested in seeing how the government can successfully regulate augmented reality in this sense. They are not really going to know what people are seeing behind those glasses."

Samsung Galaxy S II sales top 20 million

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which emerged as the world's top smartphone maker last year, said on Thursday that sales of its flagship Galaxy S II topped 20 million handsets since its launch in April last year.

Sales of predecessor Galaxy S, introduced in 2010 and at the heart of bruising global patent disputes with arch-rival Apple Inc, exceeded 22 million, the company said in a statement.

Apple sold 93 million iPhones last year, nearly doubling sales from a year earlier, while Samsung raised smartphone sales nearly fourfold to 95 million, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

China to surpass India as top gold consumer

China is set to surpass India as the world's top gold consumer this year, the World Gold Council (WGC) predicted.

The demand for gold in China rose by 20 percent to 769.8 tonnes last year, driven by surging demand for jewelry and investment, while consumption in India, the world's largest consumer, tumbled 7 percent to 933.4 tonnes as a result of volatile gold prices and a weak rupee, the WGC said in a report on Thursday.

"Looking particularly at Asia, there was a major boost to the overall figures from the increase in Chinese demand, which is a trend that we see continuing over the next year.

"It is likely that China will emerge as the largest gold market in the world for the first time in 2012," Marcus Grubb, managing director for Investment at the WGC.

The WGC's prediction came after a surge in gold demand in the Chinese market last year, with imports from Hong Kong, a proxy for its import demand, more than tripling to 428 tonnes from the 2010 level, the Global Times reported.

In the fourth quarter of last year, China was already the largest consumer of gold, with demand reaching 190.9 tonnes of gold, compared with India's 173.0 tonnes, the WGC said.

The trend of surging demand in the market will continue till the end of this year despite signs of growth slowdown, according to the report.

"China, with its large reserve base, adjustable exchange rate and political decisiveness, may be better positioned to tackle a slowdown posed by falling exports and the policy tightening pursued during most of 2011," the WGC said.

"The surge in demand was caused by concerns of high inflation, the country's monetary policy tightening, as well as gloomy global economic prospects, driving investors away from property and stock markets to other investment channels to protect their wealth," Zhang Yongtao, vice president of China Gold Association (CGA), told the Global Times

Friday, February 17, 2012

India strengthening its military against China: US officials

For the second time in less than a fortnight, top American intelligence officials have claimed that India is building up its armed forces focused at China's perceived aggressive posture in the Asia-Pacific region.

"The military situation along the contested border is quiet. However, India is concerned over Chinese logistical improvements and is taking steps to improve its own capabilities," Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency Ronald L Burgess said in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"India is raising additional ground forces, is improving logistical capacity, and has based advanced fighter aircraft opposite China," Mr Burgess told lawmakers.

India, he said, conducts periodic tests of its nuclear- capable missiles to enhance and verify its ballistic missile reliability and capabilities.

"India's current delivery systems include nuclear-capable fighter aircraft and ballistic missiles, and India claims it is developing a nuclear-capable 6,000 kilometre-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will carry multiple warheads. India intends to test this," he said.

China and India resumed military-to-military engagement in mid-2011, held their first strategic economic dialogue in September, and discussed their longstanding border dispute in November, he told lawmakers.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who for the first time made similar remarks less than a fortnight ago, reiterated it before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Despite public statements intended to downplay tensions between India and China, we judge that India is increasingly concerned about China's posture along their disputed border and Beijing's perceived aggressive posture in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region," he said in his prepared testimony.

"The Indian Army believes a major Sino-Indian conflict is not imminent, but the Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean. India has expressed support for a strong US military posture in East Asia and US engagement in Asia," Mr Clapper said.

Mr Burgess said India considers regional stability a prerequisite for maintaining its continued economic growth.

New Delhi views economic growth coupled with a strong military as essential for gaining recognition as a global power, he said.

"Domestic political issues such as unemployment, inflation, and several high-level corruption scandals continue to dominate New Delhi's attention. Senior Indian leaders also remain concerned about the country's Maoist-inspired insurgency, terrorism, and the security situation in Kashmir, although the latter saw a marked decline in violence compared to 2010. While India continues to carefully monitor events in Pakistan, China is also viewed as a long-term challenge," the Pentagon official said.

"In 2011, India continued efforts to increase economic and military engagement with countries in East and Southeast Asia. India and Japan agreed to conduct a bilateral naval exercise, their first since 2008; India and Vietnam pledged to increase naval training; and the India-South. Korea relationship continues to progress following the Indian Defense Minister's late 2010 visit," he said.

The military situation along the contested border is quiet. However, India is concerned over Chinese logistical improvements and is taking steps to improve its own capabilities.

India is raising additional ground forces, is improving logistical capacity, and has based advanced fighter aircraft opposite China, he added.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Moody's downgrades ratings of 6 European nations.

The ratings actions are only the latest to hit Europe, which has been struggling to contain a debt crisis.

Ratings agency Moody's Investor Service on Monday downgraded its credit ratings on Italy, Portugal and Spain, while France, Britain and Austria kept their top ratings but had their outlooks dropped to "negative" from "stable."

Moody's also cut its ratings on the smaller nations of Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta. All nine countries are members of the European Union.

The agency said it took the actions due to the uncertainty over EU financial reforms, the region's weak economic outlook and the resulting pressure on fragile markets. Government debt ratings can play a major role in countries' borrowing costs because they often lead to higher interest rates that must be paid to offset investors taking on greater risk.

Moody's moves were less severe than those taken last month by rival ratings agency Standard & Poor's, which downgraded nine European countries, including stripping France and Austria of their AAA status. Fitch ratings downgraded Italy, Spain, Belgium, Cyprus and Slovenia last month.

"The limited magnitude of our rating adjustments reflects the gradual progress that European policymakers have made in agreeing to and implementing reforms, and their demonstrated commitment and desire to resolve the underlying fundamental macroeconomic and fiscal imbalances," Moody's said in a statement.

Italy's rating was dropped to A3 from A2, which keeps it at investment grade under Moody's system. Spain fell to A3 from A1. Portugal was cut further into "junk" status, dropping to Ba3 from Ba2.

Slovakia and Slovenia were lowered to A2 from A1, while Malta dipped to A3 from A2.

"All of these ratings remain on negative outlook given the continued uncertainty regarding financing conditions over the next few quarters and its corresponding impact on creditworthiness," Moody's said. A negative outlook means Moody's sees at least a 40 percent chance that it could downgrade a country's rating over the next 18 month
While Moody's lowered its outlook on France, Britain and Austria, it maintained those countries' Aaa ratings. It also maintained its Aaa rating on the eurozone's bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility.

Despite the downgrades, Moody's sounded a relatively optimistic note. It said it expects European policy makers to move ahead with economic reforms and does not foresee any government losses on bailout loans. Its Aaa ratings on Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are not expected to come under pressure, it said.

"We continue to believe that the euro area as a whole possesses considerable economic and financial strength, with its creditworthiness constrained by its institutions and by a legacy of fiscal imbalances rather than by its access to resources," Moody's said.

The agency warned, however, that there still could be more downgrades. It cited the possibility of "extreme downside scenarios" coming to fruition, policymakers backing off their reforms, or the region being hit by further significant economic or market downturns.

The ratings actions are only the latest to hit Europe, which has been struggling to contain a debt crisis.

S&P and Fitch downgraded their ratings on a host of Spanish banks Monday. That followed S&P's downgrade of 34 Italian banks on Friday.

Apple stock breaks $500 level for the first time

Apple's stock broke above $500 for the first time Monday. It was the latest step in a rally that began more than two weeks ago, when the company reported staggering sales and profits for the holiday quarter.

The shares hit $503.83 soon after opening, before subsiding to $502.60 in after-hours trading. That was up $9.18, or 1.9 percent, from Friday's close.

Apple Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. have been vying for the position as most valuable company in the world since last summer, but the latest rally has made the gadget maker 17 percent more valuable than the oil company. Its market capitalization is now $465 billion, compared to Exxon's $400 billion.

On Jan. 24, Apple posted net income of $13.06 billion for the quarter that ended in December, more than doubling its profits from the year before. Sales were $46.3 billion, up 73 percent from a year ago.

Even before it posted blow-out results, Wall Street analysts had pointed to a big gap between Apple's share price and its earnings. By common methods of valuation that compare a stock price to earnings and earnings growth, the stock should be worth much more.

The average target price of Apple shares given by 37 analysts who have updated their ratings since the Jan. 24 report is $588, according to FactSet data.

Analysts say the company's policy of keeping its cash rather than paying a dividend has been hurting the stock. Value-oriented funds are often forbidden from investing in companies that don't pay a dividend, and growth-focused funds are often tapped out — they're heavily invested in Apple already, and likely don't want to increase their holdings.

However, company watchers expect Apple to start paying a dividend this year. On a conference call after the earnings report, chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said the board was in "active" discussions about the company's use of cash.

Apple looks set to launch sequels in its hit iPhone and iPad franchises this year. There's also speculation that it will move into the TV market.

Black money worth 500 billion dollars belonging to Indians stashed abroad: CBI Director

Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated 500 billion US dollars (nearly Rs. 24.5 lakh crore) of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens, the Central Bureau of Investiagation (CBI) Director Ambar Pratap Singh said on Monday.

India, in particular, has suffered from the flow of illegal funds to tax havens such as Mauritius, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, British Virgin islands etc, he said.

"It is estimated that around 500 billion dollars of illegal money belonging to Indians is deposited in tax havens abroad. Largest depositors in Swiss Banks are also reported to be Indians," Mr Singh said speaking at the inauguration of first interpol global programme on anti-corruption and asset recovery.

He said getting information about such illegal transactions is a time taking process as investigators have to peel each layer by sending judicial requests to the country where such deposits have been made. "53 per cent of the countries said to be least corrupt by the Transparency International Index are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. The tax havens include New Zealand which is ranked as the least corrupt country, Singapore ranked number five and Switzerland number seven," Mr Singh said.

He said there is a lack of political will in the leading tax haven states to part with the information because they are aware of the extent to which their economies have become "geared to this flow of illegal capitals from the poorer countries."

The CBI Director said tracing, freezing, confiscation and repatriation of stolen assets is a legal challenge, a complex process which requires expertise and political will.

"Managing the asset recovery investigation is complex, time consuming, costly and most importantly requires expertise and political will. There are many obstacles to asset recovery. Not only is it a specialised legal process filled with delays and uncertainty, but there are also language barriers and a lack of trust when working with othercountries," Mr Singh said.

He said global financial markets allow money to travel faster and further making tracking the money trail in such cases even more difficult which necessitates the organisation of such global training programs as they enhance the knowledge of investigators in tracking assets created out of corrupt and criminal acts.

Singh said criminals are using the territorial issues of investigating agencies to their advantage by spreading their crimes to at least two countries and investing in a third.

"In some of the recent important cases being investigated by the CBI such as 2G, CWG and Madhu Koda, we find that money is taken to Dubai/Singapore/Mauritius from where it goes to Switzerland and other such tax havens.

"For criminals all it involves is setting up of a few shell companies and then making layered transfers from account to another in a matter of hours as there are no boundaries in banking transactions," he said.

He said the World Bank estimates the cross border flow of money from criminal activities and tax evasion is around 1.5 trillion US dollars of which 40 billion US dollars is bribe paid to government servants in developing countries.

Mr Singh quoted the report to say that only five billion US dollars of this money has been repatriated during 15 years.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Interceptor missile successfully launched off Orissa coast.

As part of its plan to deploy a two-layer ballistic missile defence system, India today successfully test-fired its indigenously developed supersonic interceptor missile from the Integrated Test Range off Odisha coast.
A surface-to-surface target missile - a modified 'Prithvi' - was first lifted from the launch ComplexIII in ITR at Chandipur, 15 km from here around 1013 hours, defence sources said.

The missile tracking network consisting of long range and multi-function radars and other range sensors positioned at different locations detected and identified the incoming missile.

The interceptor missile at Wheeler Island, about 70 km across the sea from Chandipur, with a directional warhead was launched at about 1016 hours and ground and on board control guided it to the target, the sources said.

The last flight of interceptor missile was conducted on March 6, 2011.

Maruti crosses 1 crore mark in domestic car sales

The country's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India on Thursday said that it has crossed the one crore units milestone of cumulative sales in the domestic market since it started selling cars 29 years back.

"The 10 millionth vehicle, a Red Swift Vxi, was dispatched to Coimbatore on Thursday morning from the company's Manesar plant," the company said in a statement.

Maruti Suzuki India had rolled out its first car – an M800 -- in December 1983 and attained five million domestic sales in February 2006.

"The next five million domestic sales have been achieved in six years," the company said.

Commenting on crossing the milestone, MSI Managing Director and CEO Shinzo Nakanishi said, "Maruti Suzuki's success story is closely linked with the success story of India in the last two decades. Even as India has grown and transformed, Maruti Suzuki has evolved to meet changing demands."

The company that started off as a joint venture between the government of India and Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, had transformed personal transportation in India with its M800 model, which till date continues to find many buyers across the country.

While Maruti 800 and Omni powered sales for almost two decades, the Alto has been India's best-selling car for the last over seven years, the company said.

In recent years, the success of WagonR and Swift, among others, has accelerated the company's progress towards the one crore mark, it added.

"We will continue to drive the growth and evolution of India's car market," Nakanishi said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

IT-BPO revenue for FY-12 to cross $100 bn: Nasscom

Nasscom also projected an 11-14 per cent growth in expert revenue for fiscal 2013, and 13-16 per cent growth in domestic sales.

Fiscal 2012 promises to be a watershed year for the industry, as Nasscom said estimated aggregate revenues from the sector are likely to cross $100 billion this year. Of this, about $69 billion will come from exports alone, which clocked a growth percentage of 16.3 per cent over the previous fiscal.

Nasscom, the industry body for information technology services providers, on Wednesday projected an 11-14 per cent growth in IT exports revenue for fiscal 2012-13, while domestic revenues are slated to grow by 13-16 per cent.

“The domestic market for the last couple of years has been growing faster than the exports sector and would continue to be a key thrust area for the industry,” said Som Mittal, Nasscom’s president.

Driven by government spending and a slew of technology start-ups, domestic IT services grew at 16.7 per cent in fiscal 2012, higher than the 16.3 per cent for exports.

The increase in revenue is complemented by a 3 per cent increase in India’s share of global sourcing to 58 per cent in fiscal 2012.

Global sourcing is also expected to lead the way in technology spending, which is estimated to grow 4.5 per cent in fiscal 2013. India-based resources are estimated to account for about 60-70 per cent of offshore delivery capacities across leading multinational IT-BPO players

The growth was driven by a number of factors, among them new business models, services around disruptive technologies such as cloud, mobility, analytics, social media, and verticalized solutions, Nasscom said in a statement.

The industry also contributed to hiring, adding over 230,000 jobs in fiscal 2012. The industry currently employs about 2.8 million people in India alone. It is estimate that Indian IT companies directly employ another 100,000 people in the US and support jobs for another 200,000 people.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

India to have a National-Counter Terrorism Centre from March 1

The government has said it would set up on March 1 a powerful anti-terror agency that will integrate and analyse inputs on terror threats in India and will have legal authority to make arrests and conduct search operations.

The order comes after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on January 11 approved the creation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), an agency to maintain data of terror modules, terrorists, their associates, friends, families and supporters.

It said the NCTC will derive powers from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows central government agencies to make arrests or searches in terror-related cases while keeping state police concerned into the loop.

"The officers of the NCTC shall have the power to arrest and the power to search under the UAPA," said the order.

The NCTC will also have the power to seek information, including documents, reports, transcripts, and cyber information from any agency, including from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency, NATGRID, National Technical Research Organization, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and all seven central armed police forces including the National Security Guard (NSG).

The agency has worked out on the model of the US' similar body aimed at combating terrorism by collecting and analysing threats, sharing the inputs and information with other agencies and converting these into actionable data.

The counter-terrorism agency will be a separate body located in the Intelligence Bureau under the control of the home ministry.
It will "draw up plans and coordinate actions for counter terrorism" and will "integrate intelligence pertaining to terrorism, analyse the same", according to the government order to come into effect from March 1.

The head of the NCTC will be called director and will be an officer in the rank of additional director IB.

Other officials of the agency will be deputed from other organisations like the Research and Analysis Wing, IB and other intelligence and investigation agencies.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Insurance policies may soon be available in demat form.

India would probably be the first country in the world to undertake such a huge exercise to transform physical insurance policy certificates into electronic form. In fact, life insurance policies are the only major retail financial product that are still issued and maintained entirely in physical, paper form.

After shares and mutual funds, it is now the turn of insurance policies to be digitized, with insurance regulator IRDA expected to give the nod for making policies available in demat form.

Insurance companies and insurance repositories are working on issues connected to the proposal. Several aspects related to making insurance policies available in demat form have been discussed, Life Insurance Council Secretary General S B Mathur said.

An insurance repository is a company maintaining data on insurance policies in electronic form on behalf of insurers, including the history of transactions during the term of the policy.

"Finally, it has to be vetted and approved by the IRDA," he said.

According to a senior official of a private sector life insurance company, there are certain issues with respect to life policies being available in demat form. These include pricing and the cost of the demat and who would bear the cost.

If the proposal becomes a reality, new life insurance policies and over 35 crore life insurance policies issued by 24 life insurance companies that are currently in force will have the option of being held in electronic form.

Shares and mutual funds were 'dematerialized' many years back and it is no longer possible or necessary to have a physical instrument to prove or acquire ownership of these assets as they are kept and traded in electronic form, making them safer and easier to manage.

In fact, life insurance policies are the only major retail financial product that are still issued and maintained entirely in physical, paper form.

India would probably be the first country in the world to undertake such a huge exercise to transform physical insurance policy certificates into electronic form.

According to sources, IRDA is expected to give the green signal for some of the insurance repositories to start operations, paving the way for opening of e-insurance accounts and issuance of e-policies soon.

IRDA has already shortlisted five entities -- CAMS, Karvy, NSDL, CDSL and STCI -- to set up and operate insurance repositories.

While eventually all policies of an individual -- life, health and general -- can be held in electronic form, IRDA is likely to start with life insurance policies in the first phase.

In term of benefits, electronic policies are safe, convenient and easy to manage. Most of the traditional life insurance policies are long-term contracts and safe-keeping and ease of access for dependents in their hour of need can be quite challenging for holders of these policies. E-policies will take that burden off the shoulders of policy holders.

Infosys Chief visits the constrution site of UL CyberPark

Infosys Technologies Co-Chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan visited the Uralungal Labour CyberPark, promoted by Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society Ltd (ULCCS) near Vatakara in this district.

Speaking to reporters after the visit to the park, the first Information Technology Special Economic Zone here, yesterday, Gopalakrishnan said Kozhikode had immense potential in the Information Technology sector and he was willing to provide advise in attracting big companies to the city.

Later, Gopalakrishnan had also interacted with high school students.

To a query from a student whether those studying in government schools can reach top level, Gopalakrishhan said'If you have good education, you can start new companies and lead the same to success.
Former Kerala industries minister Elamaram Kareem, Kozhikode Corporation Mayor A K Premajam and Uralungal CyberPark Chairman P Ramesan were among others accompanied Gopalakrishnan.
The foundation stone for the park was laid by Chief minister Oommen Chandy during last month.
Uralungal Labour CyberPark is coming up in a 26 acre campus. The entire facility is planned with eco-friendly buildings and energy efficient layouts. With a total capital outlay of Rs. 600 crore, the project is planned to be implemented in two phases.

The park, at full capacity, was expected to generate direct employment for more than 20,000 Information Technology professionals.