Thursday, October 30, 2014

long cable car in the world’s largest cave

Phong Nha Ke Bang, Quang Binh, Vietnam
Phong Nha Ke Bang, Quang Binh, Vietnam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A Vietnamese resort company has been granted approval to begin surveys to build a 10.6 kilometer (6.6 mi) long cable car in the world’s largest cave, the UNESCO-listed Son Doong in north-central Quang Binh province in Vietnam. If completed it would make it the longest cable car ride in the world, ahead of Tianmen Shan in China.
Vietnam has a fondness for cable cars. They pop up in many tourist spots, from the Ba Na hills in the center of the country to provincial spots popular with domestic tourists such as Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain), south of Saigon. However, the prospect of this cable car, to be built by the large Sun Group (which owns the InterContinental Hotel in Danang and built the Ba Na hills cable car system), has upset environmentalists, the cave’s original discoverers and inspired an online petition.
The proposed $212 million cable car system would travel through Tien Son and Phong Nha caves (the latter was formerly believed to be the largest cave in Vietnam) and then Son Doong cave, with three of its seven stations in the 9 kilometer long Son Doong.
Son Doong was discovered by local Ho Khanh in 1991 and explored by a group from the British Cave Research Association in 2009, led by Howard and Deb Limbert. The UNESCO-listed cave receives under 250 visitors a year who all trek with the one travel company licensed to offer tours, Oxacis Tours. Those doing so have to trek and camp, with porters carrying baggage and food.
Whilst Son Doong still hosts few visitors the other caves, such as Phong Nha, within the Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park are far more touristed. The area has received 2.5 million visitors this year so far and this may rise to three million in 2015, according to Vietnamese news sources. The impacts of mass tourism are already being felt and experts worry that extending that to the pristine Son Doong, which is so large it contains a jungle and could fit skyscrapers within it, would be reckless at best.
Dang Minh Truong, Sun’s CEO, told Saigon-based Tuoi Tre News that the project will involve foreign experts and satisfy UNESCO’s criteria for sustainable development. He also noted that 80 UNESCO-listed sites already have cable car systems (though it should be noted that none of those are in remote cave systems within national parks).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

rapid-fire investors get access to market-moving documents

Hedge funds and other
English: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Comm...
English: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission headquarters located at 100 F Street, NE in the Near Northeast neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
rapid-fire investors get access to market-moving documents before other users of the Securities and Exchange Commission's system for distributing company filings, giving them a possible edge on the rest of the market, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two independent studies.
The two sets of researchers have been examining when paying subscribers receive SEC filings compared with when they become available on the agency's website, the newspaper reported.
They found a wide variation in the lag time, from no delay to one lasting more than a minute. The ability to get the information before it is on the SEC website can give traders extra seconds to act on the news, WSJ said.
The studies focus on the SEC's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system, or Edgar, which is used to disseminate earnings reports and other documents filed to the regulator.
Representatives for the SEC were not immediately available to comment on the report outside regular U.S. business hours.
However, an SEC spokeswoman told the Journal that the agency has reviewed the working paper and was conducting a thorough assessment of the dissemination process to make necessary systems modifications.
A book by best-selling author Michael Lewis that asserted equities markets are rigged by high-frequency traders - who can dip in and out of markets in fractions of a second - triggered renewed regulatory scrutiny earlier this year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AT&T fined again

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...
Logo of the United States Federal Communications Commission, used on their website and some publications since the early 2000s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The FTC said on Tuesday that the second-largest U.S. cellular phone network charged its customers for "unlimited data," but nevertheless reduced their browsing speeds. In some cases, speeds dropped by close to 90 percent.
Filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California [PDF], the federal agency charged with protecting consumer's rights said the company had performed a "deceptive failure" to disclose its mobile throttling plan.
FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez summed up her sentiment in three words: "Unlimited means unlimited."
She added: "AT&T promised its customers 'unlimited' data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise."
Here's the nutshell to the FTC's complaint.
The FTC said despite "unequivocal promises" by the company to its customers that they would receive unlimited data, AT&T began in 2011 throttling data after they used just 2GB of data in a billing — which most average users can go through quite easily.
About 3.5 million individual customers may have been throttled more than two-dozen times, the agency claims.
Simply put: AT&T broke the law by changing the terms of the customers' unlimited data plans while they were still under contract. And, AT&T didn't "adequately" disclose its throttling program.
Although AT&T falls within the realm of the Federal Communications Commission's jurisdiction, FCC staff were consulted and worked closely with the FTC on bringing charges.
It's the second time this month the company has been bitten by the federal government.
Earlier in October, AT&T was forced to pay $80 million back to consumers after it billed customers for unauthorized third-party charges.

Monday, October 27, 2014

McDonald’s showing a 3.3 per cent drop in customer traffic worldwide

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.
English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-r...
The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-recognized trademark representing a global brand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some of the biggest companies serving consumers are showing signs of stress this week, with McDonald’s showing a 3.3 per cent drop in customer traffic worldwide and worldwide sales by Coca-Cola flat.

A more discriminating and health-conscious consumer is eating into profits at both companies, and the strategies they’ve taken to change their product offerings have not caught on as hoped.

In the case of McDonald’s, a significant misstep in China also hurt its prospects throughout Asia

Sales there are down 9.9 per cent after a McDonald’s supplier based in China was shown on TV repackaging expired beef.

Reputation hurt in China

McDonald’s previously had a reputation for quality control, consistency and safe food in China, a country that has an uneven record on food safety. It seemed modern and Western in a place where 25 years ago dining rooms were concrete bunkers where customers commonly rinsed their dishes with tea to sanitize them before being served.

McDonald’s apologized and stopped buying from the offending factory, which resulted in shortages of beef and chicken throughout its Asian operations. Its reputation is still suffering.

Revenue declined to $6.99 billion US, short of the $7.23 billion Wall Street expected. Net income declined to $1.07 billion, or $1.09 per share, also missing expectations.

In North America, McDonald’s, like Coca-Cola, is fighting to hold on to customers amid shifting tastes in food and heightened health-consciousness.

To defend the image of its food, McDonald's launched a social media campaign last week in the U.S. inviting customers to ask questions about the ingredients it uses. Among the first questions McDonald's was forced to address were "Why doesn't your food rot?" and "Do you use real chicken in your Chicken McNuggets?"
Customers are shunning burgers, but new McDonald's menu items have not caught on in the same way. The chain, with 14,000 U.S. restaurants, is losing out to rivals such as Chipotle, which emphasizes the freshness of its ingredients.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Web sales dipped for PetMed Express Inc.

Lead Photo

Web sales accounted for 80% of the retailer’s sales but decreased 3.6% from the second quarter of fiscal 2014.
Web sales dipped for PetMed Express Inc. in the second quarter of fiscal 2015 compared to the same quarter last year, though e-commerce accounted for a higher percentage of the company’s declining sales.
PetMed Express sells prescription and non-prescription pet medications and other health products for dogs and cats online at and over the phone at 1-800-PetMeds.
The second quarter was especially rough, said Menderes Akdag, the chairman, president and CEO, on the company’s Q2 earnings conference call because flea and tick season started late, possibly decreasing sales of medication designed to keep dogs and cats free of the pests. Despite that, the average order size was up to $75 compared to $73 in the same quarter last year.
The company’s advertising cost of acquiring a customer rose to $45 for the quarter and $50 for the first six months, Akdag said. That’s an increase from $41 and $46, respectively, from 2014. Akdag attributed the increase to higher advertising costs, and said the advertising costs for online channels increased faster than for TV channels.
For the second quarter ended Sept. 30, PetMed Express reported:
  • PetMed Express didn’t break out web sales in dollars in its second quarter earnings filing, but did report that the web accounted for 80% of total sales for the quarter, compared with 79% in the previous quarter. Based on those percentages, web sales totaled $46.08 million in Q2 2015, a 3.6% decline from $47.80million in Q2 2014.
  • Total sales decreased 4.8%to $57.6 million from $60.5 million.
  • Net income decreased 9.5% to $3.8 millionfrom net income of $4.2 million in the second quarter of 2014.
For the first six months of fiscal 2015 PetMed Express did not break out web sales but did report:
  • Total sales decreased 3.4% to $130.1 million from $134.7 million in the first six months of fiscal 2014.
  • Net income decreased 1.1% to $8.8 million from net income of $8.9 million in the same period last year.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Professor Ballmer shows up on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to teach

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The truth is that Ballmer is a thoughtful man who operates not in one mode but four or five modes. Most of us oscillate among different flavors of our personalities, depending on the situation. Ballmer, I think, has more extreme shifts.
There’s the bombastic guy everyone knows: He’s the Ballmer now running the Los Angeles Clippers, the guy we profiled in this week’s cover story. Then there’s the man in the Stanford office–much more on him below–who paces around and tugs at the window shade chain and pokes me in the shoulder and makes wild gestures, all while speaking in mostly measured tones. That Ballmer showed up at a lot of Microsoft meetings. There’s also the guy at the steakhouse who is calm, analytical, fun to talk to, and deft at hopping from subject to subject. And, of late, there’s Professor Ballmer, more self-aware than people would imagine and contemplating his future with the same vigor his students bring to mulling theirs.
Professor Ballmer shows up on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to teach 80 or so MBA hopefuls. His class, Leading Organizations, runs two hours to covers topics ranging from accountability to time allocation. I popped in recently for a class dubbed “storytelling,” which mostly hit on the thinking that went into marketing products at Microsoft—and whether or not the various approaches worked. Ballmer teaches the class with Susan Athey, a well-regarded economics professor, and they were joined on this day by Mark Penn, the pollster and political strategist who has done work for the Clintons, Tony Blair, and Microsoft.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tesla store on opens today

The Tesla store on opens today, offering a Model S for nearly $170,000.
Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Tesla Motors Inc. began taking online orders for its Model S electric car in China today, joining General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG in selling vehicles through Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s online shopping mall.
Buyers can place a 50,000-yuan ($8,200) deposit for the electric car through Alibaba’s, according to Tesla China spokeswoman Peggy Yang. “Tmall offers us an opportunity to reach out to general customers,” she said by telephone.
[The full price of this limited-edition Model S is about 1 million yuan ($170,000), Tesla says. A customer pays the balance at a physical Tesla location in China. In the United States, the Tesla Model S starts at $69,900. The price in China includes transportation and import duties.—Internet Retailer]
Tesla, led by billionaire Elon Musk, began deliveries of the Model S to the world’s largest auto market in April. The automaker is seeking to cut down the time required to ramp up its sales by selling directly through the web rather than set up a network of dealerships across the country.
“We know that it’s a big, big challenge for all car manufacturers to penetrate into the huge mainland,” Klaus Paur, London-based global head of automotive at researcher Ipsos, said by phone. “This plays perfectly into their strategy. Tesla came into the market doing things differently.”
A total of 18 pre-configured cars are being offered through the marketplace, meaning consumers can’t choose their trim and other features, Yang said.
Besides Tesla, Buick, Chevrolet, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. and Shanghai Volkswagen also have official sites on Chevrolet sold 245 cars through the online mall this month, according to its web site on the marketplace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Netflix’s total revenue tops $1.4 billion

In a quarter that included a major European expansion, Netflix’s total revenue tops $1.4 billion, but fewer than expected new consumers signed up.
Netflix Inc. revenue climbed 27.5% and net income 86% in the third quarter, but the video streaming company fell short of its forecast for new customers. The e-retailer reported today that it added 3.02 million new customers in Q3; its forecast was 3.69 million.  
Most the customers who signed up, 2.04 million, came from outside the United States. International streaming revenue grew 89% year over year and accounted for 28% of total revenue. In September, Netflix launched streaming services in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
In their letter to shareholders, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and chief financial officer David Wells also addressed the competitive threat HBO plays. News broke today that HBO will begin to offer HBO as a streaming service separate from any cable or satellite company. “It was inevitable and sensible that they would eventually offer their service as a standalone application,” they wrote. “Many people will subscribe to both Netflix and HBO since we have different shows, so we think it is likely that we both prosper as consumers move to Internet TV.”
For the quarter ended Sept. 30, Netflix, No. 7 in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, reported:
•Total revenue of $1.41 billion, up 27.0% from $1.11 billion in Q3 2013. Total revenue for the nine months ending Sept. 30 is $4.02 billion, up 25.6% from $3.20 billion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

consumers may do more of their spending online

 U.S. consumers may do more of their spending online than ever before this holiday season, adding pressure on shopping malls already struggling to lure traffic.
44% of the average consumer’s shopping will be on the web, compared with about 40% last year, according to a survey released today by the National Retail Federation. That proportion, which includes browsing sessions where shoppers don’t make a purchase, is the highest since at least 2006, when the NRF first asked the question.
“Online has done a much better job of captivating the consumer with prices and early promotions,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at consulting firm NPD Group Inc., said in an interview. “The more people spend online, the less people are in the stores, and the less the impulse purchasing.”
U.S. retail sales are expected to rise 4.1% to $617 billion in November and December, the most in three years, according to an earlier report by the NRF. Employment gains are lifting consumer confidence and giving more shoppers the money to buy gifts this year. Given the online shift, brick-and- mortar stores may miss out on a chunk of this resurgence in spending.
According to the NRF, consumers also will spend less on themselves this holiday season, with 57% planning to spend $126.68 on non-gifts, down from $134.77 last year. On top of that, the survey found that shoppers will be more discerning, with 36% planning to check products and prices before they buy, the highest proportion in at least four years.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

eBay cuts outlook

EBay Inc (EBAY.O) on Wednesday joined Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) in cutting its outlook for the all-important holiday season, suggesting that the fourth quarter may turn out to be weaker than some analysts predicted as recently as last week.
The warnings from two of the retail industry's most influential players comes as investors re-assess the state of the global economy after weak data this week from the two largest countries, the United States and China.
EBay and Wal-Mart blamed divergent factors such as food stamp reductions and unfavorable search-engine optimization for the lower outlooks.
Both complained about the stronger dollar putting the skids on their forecasts, lowering the value of overseas sales once converted into the U.S. currency.
But analysts say stagnant incomes are also prompting U.S. consumers to curtail spending.
"EBay, especially on the marketplaces side, is actually suffering from company-specific setbacks," Wedbush Securities analyst Gil Luria said. "But overall, if e-commerce was growing faster or as fast as it was last year or a couple years ago, it would have probably helped them hide that."

EBay's fourth-quarter outlook was undercut by the strength of the dollar against the British pound, the euro and the Australian dollar, which together account for 35 percent of eBay's volume.
The stronger dollar alone forced eBay to cut its fourth-quarter revenue outlook by $120 million. Coupled with slower-than-expected growth in its marketplaces division, eBay was forced to lop off $300 million from its annual revenue forecast.

"As expected, (retail) sales have accelerated in the second half of the year, though economic signals remain mixed and consumers are still facing headwinds such as weak income growth," Moody's analyst Michael Zuccaro wrote on Wednesday.