Turning The Final Page

            This weekend Borders UK, the failed bookseller launched a stock liquidation in its 45 stores over the weekend as administrators prepare to shut down its shops.

The firm has been under severe pressure for a year from the internet competition and supermarkets selling books at heavy discounts. The company is not taking orders through its website and has launched "closing down sales" at some stores. Administrators at MCR said the business will continue to trade while a buyer is sought. Borders UK has struggled with "severe" cash-flow pressure this year as sales falls increased. Stock levels were also hit as several of its suppliers stopped or reduced its credit limits.

Up to 1,100 Borders UK staff could lose their jobs. MCR, the administrator, is preparing to appoint the restructuring specialist Hilco to liquidate the failed company. Many rivals including HMV and Foyles are believed to be interested in picking up a few stores located in desirable areas, but as yet there has been no interest for the business as a going concern. The fire sale will threaten Border’s bookseller rivals who will have to compete over the crucial Christmas period with the discounted stock.

Back in May during my trip to London I dropped to Borders and drank coffee at its Starbucks on Oxford Street. I remember that only at this shop I found a book that I relentlessly looked for for several months. Imagine my surprise in September when I returned to UK, but couldn't find a trace of this shop. And now I found out why.

The Guardian told the sad story of rise and fall of the company in two articles closing the chapter and ending it. I was surprised how caring and sad were the authors. Both articles are written in a reminiscing style that can't help reminding of the cosy atmosphere inside every bookshop in the chain. The author encapsulated the good and  the bad in the industry and guided us to the times of enormous anxiety about the booksellers' future concerns and suggested economic models.

BBC News is concise as usual. Facts and a little notice about the employees who were contacted to be updated on the situation.

Times Online explained the role of Hilco that is expected to wind down the shop before closing them as well as stating the possibility of saving a small number of jobs.

The Daily Mail honoured the legacy of Borders with a little article sorting out those who cast a potentially fatal blow upon the struggling company.

The Independent gathered the specialists' opinions and gave a little overview of potential acquirers of the failed company. It also offers the figures for partner companies, expressing awareness for their possible losses.

Happy Groceries' Christmas Battle

          Tesco, ASDA and Co launch their annual war of prices attracting discount-hunters for the festive products.

Rival groceries informed their customers of money-saving Christmas offers on the same day with a little difference: ASDA unveils £150m while Tesco promises £250m axing off. Chief financial officer at Asda, stated that “This Christmas will be the most aggressive in pricing for a decade.” This was quoted by the all the 4 newspapers I looked through, as well as some other facts:
  • Like-for-like sales grew by 5.6 per cent, excluding fuel and VAT, in the three months to September 30, down from 7.2 per cent in the second quarter.
  • The company increased its market share from 16.9 to 17.3 per cent, stretching its lead over J Sainsbury.
  • Asda is the only supermarket if the big 4 that is not offering an enhanced loyalty scheme in the coming Christmas.
But why did I stop over this piece of news? Thanks to Daily Mail again. It told me everything in few words Asda declares festive price war on Tesco. The Telegraph was more distant and decided not to point out the main character naming its article just Supermarkets start Christmas price war. Times Online seemed to forget that the war supposes several participants, that's why it focuses on Asda signals supermarket war with £150m price cuts. But compared to Independent's dry title Asda sales growth hit by fallin food prices quarter others seem really tasty. 

However, let's take  a closer look. The Daily Mail is definitely writing a war-novel. The gloves are off in the battle, the crucial numbers are unveiled, the rival is Leeds-based and it is filled with dignity that the one can't buy customers with a plastic card. Guess, you got the clew. 

But The Telegraph makes you shrink with cold beginning with the frozen meat and party food. So follow carefully who is keen to take advantage of the demise (are all papers are crazy on historical novels?), why analysts consider the retailers nervous and just get your pen ready to write down who offers the best rate for 75 sausages and where to rush for your new Wii set.

Times Online left all literary expressions behind, providing the full economic overview of supermarkets' Christmas activities. It states facts going more in economic details than pricing policies. The one can learn the state of affairs in the UK grocery market, learn about the main players and read the CEO's opinions about the recovery paces.

The Independent is catching up combining the dry financial figures, analysts' comments and "the grocers do battle" question. However, the paper is not that independent, because from the first paragraph it's trying to find who to blame for a slowdown. The article stresses out that families watching X Factor on Saturday nights are the main "accelerators" in sales volume. 

Summing it up, I would like to say that all this war prices are extremely interesting to watch. I never saw such quick reactions in Russia. You can walk from Tesco to Sainsbury and drive to Asda picking up particular goods in each shop, because you know where the best value is at the moment. It's a pity I won't be in the UK during the hottest days shortly before Christmas, but I will definitely check the latest war-novel chapter at Daily Mail.

Fabulous Opel

            General Motors (GM) has decided to retain ownership of its heavily indebted Opel unit. The decision reverses GM's September tentative consent to sell a majority stake in its European Opel and Vauxhall operations to a consortium including Canada's Magna International Inc. and Russia's Sberbank.

GM's board decided to axe the deal after EU officials asked the company whether it would have agreed to the deal had it known Germany's 4.5 billion euros ($6.58 billion) in state aid would have gone to any buyer, Reuters reported on Tuesday. Instead GM is pursuing a 3 billion euro ($4.42 billion) restructuring plan.

Let us recall that under the terms of the deal, the "New Opel" consortium would have reduced GM to a 35% stake, Russian Sberbank was to take another 35% stake and the Canadian-Austrian parts supplier Magna was to about to obtain 20%, with the remaining 10% held by Opel's employees. Russian oligarch Oleg Geripaska's GAZ plant was to become the "industrial partner" to pay nothing into the venture, though offering its car factory in RF to produce Opel cars there.

That is why GM's abrupt decision caused the rush of indignation in German and Russian media, unlike the US and UK sources. The BBC News article makes a thorough analysis of the situation to conclude that "car analysts were not too surprised by GM's announcement". All this happened only due to their had financial situation, and Magna International regarded this decision with favour, RIA Novosti reported. In the meantime, the German labour union IG Metall intends to stage a strike and is ready to stop the factory for several days to oppose the GM's decision. According to Deutsche Well, Fritz Henderson, the Head of Opel Germany, is extremely negative about the announcement as well. He believes the restructuring failure could end in Opel's bankruptcy.

On the other hand, the Russian journalists are questioning whether this deal was a fake from the beginning. Due to extraordinarily calm reaction of the authorities, the deal is believed to be more a political issue than a real venture. ITAR-TASS hastened to assure that the cancellation of the deal caused no harm to Russia, although  the Prime Minister's words towards GM were quite accusing. The Guardian story is quite bias, and make an emphasis on Putin's indignation over the American "original culture when dealing with counterparties".

However, let's try to learn some lessons out of this story.

What happened? The Anglo-Saxons played for Sberbank that tried to evade it by allying with Magna. However, Magna didn't back Sberbank up in the end as well, because it supported GM's decision. German labour unions threatened the company with strikes, but GM menaced back with making Opel bankrupt. The story has two aspects.

At first comes the geopolitical aspect. The Anglo-Saxon world seems to lead a cautious, but unreconcilable war which aims to make Russia unstable. In this case, they consider that they slow down the technical development of the enemy. This policy consistently proceeds for more than 200 years, and there's no point to expect that it will miraculously change in the next 20 years. That means the opposition of Anglo-Saxon world to Russia will go on. Forewarned is forearmed, that is why Russia has to take measures beforehand not to let anyone harm it in the crunch times. Apparently, Putin understood it, judging by his "scornful" remark about the takeover failure.

Second aspect is politico-economical. The Russian tried to buy a real item for dollars in the country that was minting these dollars. During the past 20 years nobody managed to do the opposite. The deals were crumbed as with Arabs, as with Chinese. It is a strange thing, but for dollars the one in USA can obtain only securities - shares, futures, treasury bonds, etc., nothing real. The Americans value their currency. Besides, there's a number of regulatory rules that forbid to sell the property under US jurisdiction for the other countries' sovereign funds money. That means the sales cannot be processed without US authorities' approval. The buying of shares to obtain the controlling stake won't do as well, because nobody sells shares now, they tend to sell obligations to sell shares. There's another law in the US that states it is not obligatory to supply the ordered goods upon sold futures, because it is enough to pay a margin between a contract price and the price on the delivery date. The Chinese understood these rules after several failures like Opel, and now they are trying to get rid of their $2 billion, investing in property that is still possible to buy for dollars (as in Africa, for example). But the more dollars they sell, the more dollars stay in the reserves. During the crisis, when customers prefer cheaper Chinese goods, China accumulates dollars faster than spends it. Such an inconvertible rouble from Russian fairy tales turns out.

However, so far the Russian authorities have not been selling the Russian property for currency anymore. Two years ago Putin declared that Russia didn't need paper money, if anyone wanted the gas fields, he should invest in gas-distribution networks. Ant it resulted in barter trade with Europeans: assets are exchanged for assets, not currency.

But in this case the Russian tried to buy a real venture for currency that is being minted abundantly in the US. The result is logical. The deal never happened.

iPhone Goes To China

          This Friday Apple finally launched its official Iphone sales in China with the non-contract price of $733.

When my eyes caught these words in the news feed, i was more than surprised. Two years later after the official release the most popular device ever reached the greatest mobile market with the most ridiculous price. But let me explain first what is the state of affairs with the Apple deal in China.

Chinese mobile market calculates more than 700m users. China Unicom is the country's second-largest carrier and the first telecoms group to make a distribution deal with Apple in China. The price set for the device without a mobile contract is 4,999 yuan ($733) and can reach 6,999 yuan ($1,025) depending on the model. China Daily states that this is more than half of the country's per capita urban disposable income, and about 25% higher than it is sold in Hong Kong.

However, the problem that is keeping buyers away is not the high price, but the phone's functionality. As the Associated Press noted this week, the Unicom handsets are missing one very important feature. Unicom's iPhones lack WiFi because it was temporarily banned by Beijing, which was promoting a rival Chinese system. The ban was relaxed in May after manufacturing had begun. Yi Difei, a Unicom spokesman, expressed the hope to have this feature added in the next batch of phones.

Moreover, the lack of WiFi is worsened by the presence of smuggled and grey phones. All the articles I've read are trying to evade discussing these consequences. Financial Times make a slight "afraid" remark, China Daily praises the celebrations and figures out only the positive points of buying the device (actually, it sounds more like a pr-campaign than a news article), two articles in Wall Street Journals turned to be the most informative: one gave the overview of the launching party and the other analysed the cost equation of the device. But for me the absence of WiFi and such a mature grey market are the key signals that the iPhone will have to fight its way to the buyers' hearts. Whatever the newspapers say, the key point of the device is internet everywhere. The 3G networks in China are developed, but not that much. WiFi is still much more popular. And the fact that Apple came officially only now let the people either smuggle the device from abroad (remember, the US price at the beginning was only $199), or buy it on the grey market. Needless to say, Chinese grey market produced half of the grey iPhones that were then sold all over Europe and Russia.

Actually, i still can't understand the Apple's policy in China or Russia. I remember the iPhone launch in Moscow last year. Guess, it was a fiasco. The prices were too high (around $1000 per 8GB model), the demand was too low. Everyone who wanted this phone has already brought it from US or (!) China. The only plus in buying the official version was good quality operating system that didn't need to be reinstalled once in two-months. However, the updates appear so often tha it makes the difference between versions quite vague. Besides the Chinese market remains very Windows-oriented, and this is another obstacle for Apple to fall short there.

Gatwick for sale

          Britain's biggest airport operator BAA sold Gatwick Airport to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), owners of London City Airport, for £1.5 billion to repay part of its' existing debt. 

GIP is paying £1.455m in cash for Gatwick, plus further payment of up to £55m. BAA hoped for a higher price of £1.8 billion, but the recession and the downturn in the airline traffic drove the price down.

The deal should be completed y December if details, including EU merger regulation clearance, are finalized. Remember, BAA has been ordered by the Competition Commission to sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports by 2011.

Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world. It handles over 32.2 million passengers in the year to September, Market Watch informs. During the first half of the year, Gatwick earned £68.7 million before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, on revenue of £217 million.

BAA will use the money from the sale to reduce its debt of £9.7 billion, BBC news reports. However, BAA's most important investee is London's Heathrow. "Terminal 2 is being rebuilt and ... this debt essentially come from the building of Terminal 5" is said in the source.

Already the owners of London City Airport, GIP, an infrastructure fund backed by Credit Suisse and General Electric, saw off a rival bidding group which included Manchester Aiports Group and Borealis, a Canadian fund. The observers believed the deal could lead to better service at the airport, because as it turned out recently the competition between airlines is enormous, but very little between airports.

According to GIP, they will modernize and upgrade the airport pointing out their success in operating London City Airport. Moreover, the group aims to work closely with the airlines themselves to provide best performance. This statement was welcomed by the airlines, but it also heightened the expectations of high-standard operating at Gatwick.

In the meantime, Times Online focuses the reader's attention on the fact the world's busiest single-runway airport is a record that its new owners would love to lose. The acquiring group cannot imagine expansion without a second runway, which, in my opinion, will damage the airport's reputation even more.

However, I believe that the authorities won't let to build a new runway before the new owners fulfill their promises and sort out all the mess in the airport. At the moment Gatwick cannot offer as many connecting flights as Heathrow, which makes the last more preferable y the passengers. Moreover, it should get back the looking and feeling of a passenger-friendly airport, because many people complain about the staff coldness and the awful parking. So there is a lot to improve and sort out besides legal issues, that's why I wish the future owners patience and good luck.

P.S. A little note - when I started reading the articles, it took me some time to figure our whether the airport has been sold already or was just in the process of negotiations. Thanks to Daily Telegraph i managed to sort it out. All other articles gave too many excessive details and created a mess. However, to understand the legal issues I highly recommend the Business week story that is more into the Competition Commission investigation and the reasons for BAA to sell three of its airports.

Google beats recession


              This Thursday anyone who is looking for the sings that the recession is over could've found them in Google's recent profit report.

The company announced a net profit of $ 1.64 billion for the Q3, which is a 27% increase compared to the same period last year. Total revenue reached $ 5.94 billion, up to 7% of last year's figures and over three times the predicted sum of $ 1.29 billion. Moreover, this is the slowestfastest growth pace since the company went public, states the Associated Press article.

Eric Schmidt, who hit the headlines this year when it was revealed he was a member of both the Apple and Google boards, believes that the financial fortunes of the global economy are changing: "The worst of the recession is clearly behind us, and because of what we have seen, we now have the confidence to be optimistic about our future". These words inspired the investors, and the company's shares rose 3.1% to  $ 546.35 (still below the peak of $ 750 in 2007, but well above its 52-week low of $247.30).

Analysts predicted Google to be on of the very first companies to witness the economic downturn changing as businesses put their faith in Google for advertising. It is well noticed in the CNN Money article that "when economic times are tough, people don't stop searching for things online, they just search for different things". Perhaps, that's the reason Google is doing much better than its insignificant competitors - Yahoo! and Bing.

Actually, Yahoo! managed to report increase in profits and sales only due to extensive cost cutting of firing 2000 employees. And the Microsoft's Bing is now too small to rival the giant empire of Google. Though i'm not sure Bing will really do well in future, as it keeps to the "too-smart" practice of all Microsoft products (the search engine tries to give you as few sites as possible, though they should be almost 100% agree to the thing you've been looking for).

Google's obvious advantage hides in its very convenient business model. The company develops and sales everything itself (67% of earnings are gained from Google's own sites). The expenses endured are mainly on staff and technology development and innovation. If we fire some employees and don't build new data-centres, it leads to noticeable multiplier effect on margin. The time will show how long lasting this model is.

Anyway, Google is in very good position in the market. After introducing the AdSense service to blogs (such as Livejournal.com and Blogger.com), the company aims for new acquisitions to develop such services as online book-selling and gmail, to improve Chrome OS and to come to smartphones market with its Android mobile OS.

Peace PRize for Storytelling

            Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples" won the Nobel prize 2009.

This week taught me the fast track to get the prestigious prize: be a president and make promises. The last doesn't have to be fulfilled, by the way. I found it quite surprising due to my strong belief that a Nobel prize is given for the deeds, not the intentions. That's why let me recall what the newborn peacemaker claimed to do for the sake of peace in the world:
  • Published an order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, but has not approved any plans to actually do so
  • Oversaw a decrease in US troops in Iraq, onlt to replace them with private mercenaries
  • Expanded the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan (by increasing the number of air attacks in its border regions)
  • Increased the number of US troops in Afghanistan by tens of thousands, with many more on the way
  • Established a US military presence on Colombian military bases
  • Refused to lend even the most superficial support to the political opposition in Iran, even as the regime there publicly executed dissidents
  • Stood idly by as police and National Guard troops engaged in one of the most vicious crackdowns against free-speech in recent memory while attending the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, PA
and the list can be continued... But is it what the Nobel committee called the "new climate in international politics"? Obviously, "dialog and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts", but is it the real state of affairs? I was about to get disappointed with the silent Guardian, when i came across its journalist's dismaying article. He was shocked "to think that a president carrying on two wars would be given a peace prize" and straightly suggested "the Nobel peace committee should retire, and turn over its huge funds to some international peace organization ... which has some understanding of history", because a peace prize should be given "not on the basis of promises...., but on the basis of actual accomplishments towards ending war".

I was really surprised with such an open resentment, and opened The Economist that highlighted this topic as well. However, the authors were more distant and held back from adverse criticism. They rose the question of  the prize's "maturity" that sounded disturbed, but not indignant. Counting the major achievements of the US President, the authors didn't forget about the controversial side. They give reasons for critics' complaints and it seems that the material is rather neutral. But let me point out one significant thing. The article starts with a question - "Is it premature to give Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize, less than a year into his presidency?". It is obvious that the writers would try to give the answer, but in a veiled way. That's why i made a point of the last sentence that not only contains the word "infuriated", but actually ends with the words "at least". Apparently, this is the answer.

The BBC news suspended judgement and shuffled off the burden on other people's opinion. At first they gave the whole citation of the Committee's decision, and then printed the arguments against it and the world reactions.

Expectedly, The Daily Mail was quite vivid and straightforward starting with the title. What strikes the reader's eye immediately is that Mr. Obama "had not even known he was among the record 205 nominations". But then the story grasps even more amazement - "The deadline for submitting candidates had come just 12 days after he entered the White House". Then the reader is taken to the detailed guided tour   over the previous similar prize winners. The authors cite politicians and conjecture what the President achieved so far. Be prepared that all the negative sides will be highlighted twice and enjoy your Saturday afternoon absorbing the details.

Finally i looked through the titles of my home newspapers. They were seething with sarcasm - "Committee on Nobel advances and curtseys", "Obama gets his prize in advance", "Award Without A Year", etc.

To sum it all up and make some conclusions, i'll just tell you a joke that appeared in Russia soon afterwards:

In 1990 President Gorbachev won the Nobel prize.
In 1991 the USSR collapsed.
In 2009 President Obama won the Nobel prize.
Hmm... Let's see what'll happen in a year!