Pilgrimage to Omaha + Entrepreneurship, Asian-style! (Go to BeyondProxy.com, where value investing lives)

Bamboo Innovator is featured in BeyondProxy.com, where value investing lives:

Pilgrimage to Omaha + Entrepreneurship, Asian-style! May 1, 2013 (Weblink: BeyondProxy.com)

Pilgrimage to Omaha

Ikigai (Japanese term for “meaning in life”); Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker

What the heck does “meaning in life” mean, anyway?

by eric barker


Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan did a 7 year study of over 43,000 adults age 40 to 79 asking if they had ikigai (a Japanese term for meaning in life) and then tracked their health. People with ikigai were much more likely to be alive 7 years later.

Via Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology:

Even when likely confounds were taken into account, ikigai predicted who was still alive after 7 years. Said another way, 95% of respondents who reported a sense of meaning in their lives were alive 7 years after the initial survey versus about 83% of those who reported no sense of meaning in their lives. The lack of ikigai was in particular associated with death due to cardiovascular disease (usually stroke), but not death due to cancer. Which raises a good question: What does meaning in life really mean, anyway? It seems to be one of those know-it-when-you-see-it type of things. One thing we do know is that it’s not the same as happiness. Roy Baumeister (author of Willpower), Jennifer Aaker (author of the Dragonfly Effect), Kathleen Vohs and Emily Garbinsky explored the similarities and differences between happy and meaningful lives:

Our findings suggest that happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others. Meaningful involvements increase one’s stress, worries, arguments, and anxiety, which reduce happiness. (Spending money to get things went with happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.) Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

In his TED talk, Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow discussed two different types of happiness that sound very similar to the distinction between happiness and meaning. The first is being happy in your life. It is happiness that you experience immediately and in the moment. Like the definition of happiness above. The second is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists in memory when we talk about the past and the big picture. Stories are key here. Closer to the definition of meaning above.

Fred Wilson: TheStreet.com could have been the Twitter and Blogger of Wall Street. We Didn’t Know What We Had

Apr 30, 2013

We Didn’t Know What We Had

Fred Wilson is a VC and principal of Union Square Ventures.

I sat next to Jim Cramer last night at a dinner put on by some mutual friends. I hadn’t seen Jim in a while so it was a great opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. In 1996 or early 1997, my prior firm Flatiron Partners led the first round of outside financing forTheStreet.com. I joined the board and eventually became Chairman before stepping down a decade ago. When I first met Jim, he was running a hedge fund and blasting posts from his trading desk. This was 1996 and what he was doing was unprecedented. He was publishing in real time his thoughts on what was going on in the markets. On some days, Jim would post three or four dozen times. As Jim and I reminisced about those days last night, I said to him “you were tweeting and blogging a decade before anyone else was doing that.” He nodded, “yeah, that is what I was doing”. But we didn’t know that. The money our firm invested went to hiring a team of journalists and we saw ourselves as the Wall Street Journal of the web. That was a mistake. The Wall Street Journal is the Wall Street Journal of the web. What Jim was doing was something way more native, way more powerful, and way more important. But we missed it. TheStreet.com has gone on to build a niche financial publishing business that is a solid and profitable company. But it could have been the Twitter and Blogger of Wall Street. That’s what it was at the start. But we didn’t know what we had.

A guide beyond leadership legends and all that jazz

May 1, 2013 3:39 pm

A guide beyond leadership legends and all that jazz

By Andrew Hill

This is the first management book to prompt me to listen to some jazz, specifically two Duke Ellington numbers: his band’s performance at the 1956 Newport festival, which revived Ellington’s reputation; and a poignant rendition of a ballad composed by his close collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Ellington was a master of all three levels of the leadership process, Nigel Nicholson suggests: acts – he was a management improviser as well as a musical one; tactics; and strategies. He prepared for opportunities, such as that Newport concert, shaped unexpected events to a coherent purpose and, critically, adapted to changing circumstances. Ellington’s elevation to leadership role model is one of the rare original examples in this book. Otherwise, Nicholson mines a seam of familiar stories about the flair and flaws of political and corporate bosses: from Tony Blair and George W. Bush to Jack Welch and Steve Jobs.

The lack of more colourful stories will disappoint anyone who enjoyed the cut and thrust of Family Wars, the analysis of family companies the London Business School professor co-authored in 2008. But it is what he does with the well-worn material that is original – and highly ambitious. “The journey of this book,” he writes, “starts with our animal nature, moves on to take in the sweep of human history since the dawn of time to explain the varieties of leadership and their effects, before closing in on the territory leaders inhabit and what it means to be strategic.” Read more of this post

The Science of Serendipity in the Workplace; To Encourage Interaction and Innovation, Companies Try Smaller Spaces, Games; Trivia Helps Break Awkward Silences

April 30, 2013, 8:38 p.m. ET

The Science of Serendipity in the Workplace

To Encourage Interaction and Innovation, Companies Try Smaller Spaces, Games; Trivia Helps Break Awkward Silences



An installation, planned for Salesforce.com’s workplace, tabulates workers’ responses to ‘voting doors.’

Companies aren’t leaving serendipity to chance.

Firms are thinking up new ways to encourage interactions among employees who normally don’t work with each other. The hope is that these casual face-to-face chats among people with different skills might spark new ideas, lead to new solutions or at the least, increase workplace camaraderie.

To make those connections happen, some firms are taking a scientific approach—collecting and analyzing data about their teams and mathematically computing the likelihood that employees will meet. In some instances, they are squeezing workers into smaller spaces so they are more likely to bump into each other. In others, they are installing playful prompts, like trivia games, to get workers talking in traditional conversational dead zones, such as elevators.

But despite all the buzz around serendipity—several panels at the popular tech conference South by Southwest Interactive discussed the topic—it is hard to know for sure whether any of these efforts really work. The real challenge, companies and workplace scholars say, isn’t merely connecting workers with their colleagues so much as it is connecting them with the right ones. Read more of this post

Your Optimism Might Be Stifling Your Team; by acknowledging the downside and recognizing the messy, iterative path of innovation, they liberated their team to go bigger and reach further.

Your Optimism Might Be Stifling Your Team

by Liz Wiseman  |   2:00 PM May 1, 2013

I admit that I’m prone to an optimistic outlook, a belief that most problems can be tackled with hard work and the right mindset. I’ve read the research that indicates that positive thinkers tend to do better in school, work and life. Perhaps I even assumed that optimism was infectious and that people wanted to work with a confident, hopeful leader. In the true spirit of optimism, how could this possibly go wrong? Then I found out from a colleague that he didn’t find my optimism nearly as reassuring as I did. We were in the middle of a high-stakes research project with a small window of opportunity to write an article for a prominent academic publication. To pull this off, we needed to complete a complex analysis, do a round of additional research, and actually write the article, all while working on several other projects and operating on a thin budget. To me, this seemed like a feasible, interesting challenge, and I enthusiastically dove in. Then at one critical meeting, a more junior colleague turned to me and said, “Liz, I need you to stop saying that!”

“Saying what?” I asked.

“Saying that thing you always say — ‘How hard can it be?'” I looked puzzled. He explained, “You say that all the time. ‘How hard can it be? We can do this. After all, how hard can it be?'”

I recognized what he was saying and began to explain my logic: While I was working for Oracle Corporation, a small but rapidly growing company, I had been thrown into management at the tender age of 24 and was told that I was now in charge of training for the entire company and was tasked with building Oracle University and making it work in globally. I learned to say to myself, “We can do this. After all, how hard can it really be?” Now, I explained how this growth mindset had worked beautifully for me and many of my colleagues over the years. Yet steadfast, my colleague reiterated, “Yes, but that is what I need you to stop saying.”

“But why?” I probed.

He paused and said, “Because what we are doing is actually really hard, and I need you to acknowledge that.”

He wasn’t opposed to the idea that our enormous task was doable; he simply wanted me to acknowledge the reality of the challenge and recognize his struggle. He didn’t want me glossing over the challenge with my coat of optimism. So I did admit, “Yes, what we are doing is hard. It is really, really difficult.” I then assured him that I would do my best to stop saying that thing. Meanwhile, in the back of my mind I told myself “Sure, I can stop saying that. After all, how hard can it be?” Read more of this post

Why Innovation Is Tough to Define — and Even Tougher to Cultivate

Why Innovation Is Tough to Define — and Even Tougher to Cultivate

Published: April 30, 2013 in Knowledge@Wharton

Innovation: It’s something everyone is in favor of, everyone likes the idea of, yet no one really understands it, according to Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach. Werbach moderated a panel on the topic at the recent Wharton Economic Summit 2013 held in New York City, during which he challenged the participants to define innovation, talk about its relationship to entrepreneurship, and explain what is needed to nurture it. He noted that innovation is essential for companies to grow, and that it is transformative.

In response to a question about whether innovation is necessarily related to new technology and big breakthroughs, Lady Barbara Judge, chairman of the United Kingdom’s Pension Protection Fund, defined innovation as either “using something new, or something known, but in a different way, different time or a different place.”

To illustrate the latter, she spoke of two men who are bringing car sharing, a concept popularized most notably by the Nasdaq-traded company Zipcar, to India in the guise of a company called Zoom. “It is not new technology but somebody saw it, used it, did it in a different place, in a different time and it’s really very innovative,” she said of the fledgling firm. Read more of this post

Learning without borders; “If you spend your life working on something, it has to be worthwhile and scale beyond Singapore”

Learning without borders


SINGAPORE — Sitting on a sofa in the middle of an office, Ms Sun Ho surveys a large computer screen with a map of Singapore, which tells her in real time exactly how many of the 35,000 children attending the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) chain of kindergartens turned up for school that day.



SINGAPORE — Sitting on a sofa in the middle of an office, Ms Sun Ho surveys a large computer screen with a map of Singapore, which tells her in real time exactly how many of the 35,000 children attending the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) chain of kindergartens turned up for school that day.

This application is part of a suite of tools produced by Ms Ho’s company, LittleLives, that aims to help pre-school teachers spend more time doing what they do best — teach.

“Teachers have to do a lot of paperwork because of reporting requirements, so by automating some of these tasks, such as taking attendance, it frees them up to focus on teaching,” said Ms Ho, 34, who started LittleLives in 2008 as a technology start-up focused on education. Read more of this post

Six Ways to Separate Lies From Statistics

Six Ways to Separate Lies From Statistics

The discovery of a spreadsheet error in an influential study by Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff inevitably raises a troubling question: To what extent can we trust what any researcher claims to be true?

The unfortunate reality is that mistakes much more serious than the one committed by Reinhart and Rogoff are far too common. Superfast computers and fancy statistical models can’t save us from human frailty. But that doesn’t mean empirical research has nothing to offer.

The Reinhart-Rogoff incident — in which they accidentally excluded five countries from a calculation of the average relationship between government debt and economic growth — is in some sense the wrong launching point for a discussion about modern empirical economics. It’s the perfect made-for-TV mistake: It involved a simple error in a commonly used spreadsheet program that can be explained with screen shots and laughed about with friends. Moreover, it barely affected their findings, and it isn’t representative of the challenges empirical research presents.

Today’s empirical analyses are more likely to be based on a mash-up of huge data sets containing millions of observations, which are processed using specialized statistical software. As a result, errors can be a lot more insidious. Often they can be found only through sophisticated forensics. Read more of this post

Professors are now brands; As professors themselves become bigger brands, firms are reaching out to the instructors directly instead of going through the schools

May 1, 2013, 6:45 p.m. ET

Professors Avoid the Middleman in Hawking Expertise to Companies


For years, when big companies needed to train their leaders to manage large teams, change their thinking on product development or soak up the latest findings about globalization, they called on business schools. Schools’ executive-education offices would suggest a professor or two to lead a brief course on campus or at company offices, for which companies would pay thousands of dollars. Professors usually got a small cut of the earnings. But as professors themselves become bigger brands—aided by TED talks, Twitter and networks on sites like LinkedIn—firms are reaching out to the instructors directly instead of going through the schools. Faculty, meanwhile, are doing more to court outside teaching opportunities. It is a subtle change—executives in those workshops see little difference—but the shift saves companies money and endangers a revenue stream for the educational institutions. Read more of this post

What’s It Like to Interview at Amazon; Retailer Says a Job Candidate’s Projects Trump School’s Name

May 1, 2013, 6:16 p.m. ET

What’s It Like to Interview at Amazon

Retailer Says a Job Candidate’s Projects Trump School’s Name


As Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN -2.20% share price has soared in recent years, so has its stock with M.B.A. students. The company now ranks among the most-coveted destinations for aspiring business leaders. Last year, the Seattle-based online marketplace hit No. 6 in a Fortune survey of where M.B.A.s wanted to work. In 2007, it didn’t even crack the top 25. Amazon’s growing popularity among business-school students keeps Jennifer Boden, director of global university programs, busy. The company hires “hundreds” of M.B.A.s each year, she says, as well as hundreds of recent college graduates and others with technical backgrounds. Amazon focuses its campus recruitment on schools with analytics and entrepreneurship programs, including Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Read more of this post

Korean rapper Psy’s story immortalized in comic book

Korean rapper Psy’s story immortalized in comic book

5:03am EDT

(Reuters) – The story of South Korean rap sensation Psy’s ascent to global stardom with his megahit “Gangnam Style” has now been immortalized in full color and with appropriate dramatic flourishes in a comic book.

“Fame:Psy”, which went on sale in the United States and South Korea on Wednesday, focuses mainly on what went into making “Gangnam Style,” which catapulted the sunglassed singer with the garish jackets to global fame and became YouTube’s most popular song ever with more than 1.5 billion hits. Read more of this post

Billionaire investor Sam Zell’s tip for real estate newbies? “Go to medical school”; Equity Residential chief shares wisdom at NYU REIT conference

Sam Zell’s tip for real estate newbies? “Go to medical school”

Equity Residential chief shares wisdom at NYU REIT conference

April 12, 2013 06:00PM
By Hiten Samtani

Had Equity Residential’s Samuel Zell known that Lehman Brothers would accept a fixed price for Archstone’s sprawling apartment building portfolio, he would have bought the whole company outright, he told participants yesterday at a real estate investment trust symposium hosted by New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. “The fixed price removes a lot of uncertainty from the deal,” said Zell, looking rakish in a grey blazer and jeans, amidst a suit-clad crowd at the Pierre, a swank Central Park-facing hotel at 2 East 61st Street.  In November of last year, Zell and AvalonBay Communities, a Washington, D.C.-based REIT, agreed to pay roughly $6.5 billion in cash and stock for the portfolio, which contained just under 58,000 apartment units scattered around the Northeast. Zell said he wasn’t aware that Lehman would agree to a fixed price — rather than a fair market value deal — and if he had known that up front, he would have gone solo. Still, AvalonBay was a stellar partner on the deal, Zell said. “To do a deal of that size with such limited friction is pretty extraordinary,” he said. In New York City, Equity Residential is building 400 Park Avenue South, a 40-story condominium and rental apartment tower in partnership with Toll Brothers. But ground-up development — given its inherent risk — is only a small part of the publicly traded company’s arsenal, Zell said, noting that the firm built only “5 percent” of its portfolio, valued at $35 billion.

“We’re going to find out in the next three or four years what happens when you’re in the middle of construction and inflation starts to go up,” he said. When asked about the housing market, Zell said that elevated home ownership rates had historically preceded turmoil. “Every time we’ve got into a crisis in this country, the housing rate has hovered over 62 percent,” he said. “It was 69 percent recently, now it’s at 65.5 percent.” Read more of this post

Billionaire Investor Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management ‘Selling Everything’ as Prices Have Risen

Black’s Apollo ‘Selling Everything’ as Prices Have Risen

Leon Black, chief executive officer of buyout firm Apollo Global Management LLC (APO), said prices for traditional buyouts have risen so much that it’s a good time to sell. “We think it’s a fabulous environment to be selling,” Black said today during a panel discussion at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles, adding that Apollo has sold about $13 billion in assets in the last 15 months. “We’re selling everything that’s not nailed down, and if we’re not selling, we’re refinancing.” U.S. equity markets have more than doubled from their 2009 lows, helping push up average prices for leveraged buyouts to nine times earnings, Black said. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose to a record today as consumer confidence offset an unexpected drop in business activity and investors weighed earnings reports. Black’s comments were echoed by buyout executives including Scott Sperling, co-president of Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, and Jonathan Sokoloff, managing partner at Leonard Green & Partners LP. “It has become more difficult to find transactions priced at levels we’d like,” Sperling said on the same panel. “We’re having trouble deploying capital at these price levels,” Sokoloff said. It’s “time to take a pause.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Carey in New York at dcarey13@bloomberg.net

New bird flu poses “serious threat”, scientists say; “This is a very, very serious disease in those who have been infected. So if this were to become more widespread it would be an extraordinarily devastating outbreak”

New bird flu poses “serious threat”, scientists say

Wed, May 1 2013

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A new strain of bird flu that is causing a deadly outbreak among people in China is a threat to world health and should be taken seriously, scientists said on Wednesday. The H7N9 strain has killed 24 people and infected more than 125, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), which has described it as “one of the most lethal” flu viruses. The high mortality rate, together with relatively large numbers of cases in a short period and the possibility it might acquire the ability to transmit between people, make H7N9 a pandemic risk, experts said. “The WHO considers this a serious threat,” said John McCauley, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Influenza at Britain’s National Institute for Medical Research. Speaking at a briefing in London, experts in virology said initial studies suggest the virus has several worrisome characteristics, including two genetic mutations that make it more likely to eventually spread from person to person. “The longer the virus is unchecked in circulation, the higher the probability that this virus will start transmitting from person to person,” Colin Butte, an expert in avian viruses at Britain’s Pirbright Institute, said. Of the some 125 people infected with H7N9 so far, around 20 percent have died, approximately 20 percent have recovered and the remainder are still sick. The infection can lead to severe pneumonia, blood poisoning and organ failure. “This is a very, very serious disease in those who have been infected. So if this were to become more widespread it would be an extraordinarily devastating outbreak,” Peter Openshaw, director of the center for respiratory infection at Imperial College London, told the briefing. Read more of this post

Cancers Share Gene Patterns; Cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined by its genetic fingerprint rather than by the organ where it originated

May 1, 2013

Cancers Share Gene Patterns, Studies Affirm


Scientists have discovered that the most dangerous cancer of the uterine lining closely resembles the worst ovarian and breast cancers, providing the most telling evidence yet that cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined primarily by its genetic fingerprint rather than just by the organ where it originated.

The study of endometrial cancer — the cancer of the uterine lining — and another of acute myeloid leukemia, published simultaneously on Wednesday by Nature and The New England Journal of Medicine, are part of a sprawling, ambitious project by the National Institutes of Health to scrutinize DNA aberrations in common cancers.

Over the past year, as part of this project, researchers have reported striking genetic changes in breast, colon and lung cancers that link them to other cancers. One kind of breast cancer was closely related to ovarian cancer. Colon cancers often had a genetic change found in breast cancer. And about half of squamous cell lung cancers might be attacked by drugs being developed for other cancers. Read more of this post

Robot Aids in Therapy for Autistic Children

Updated May 1, 2013, 12:03 p.m. ET

Robot Aids in Therapy for Autistic Children


SAN SEBASTIÁN, Spain—A two-foot-tall robot therapist may help children with autism learn to be more social, according to intriguing findings from a study being presented this week at the annual conference of the International Society for Autism Research here.

Results from the new study of 19 children with autism—thought to be the largest trial to date of such technology—found that kids improved their conversation skills more when interacting with the robot, compared with sessions with a human therapist alone. Parents reported these children had greater improvement at home as well.

Researchers long have been interested in using technology to help treat autism, a developmental condition characterized by social deficits and repetitive behavior, because many of these children seem particularly interested in computers, iPads and other devices—often more so than they are interested in people. Read more of this post

Xero: A billion-dollar software company that had five years in stealth at the bottom of the planet – New Zealand

Xero: A billion-dollar software company that had five years in stealth at the bottom of the planet

ON MAY 1, 2013

Xero, a cloud-based accounting company that has so far raised $67 million in venture capital, had one hell of a stealth period. By spending its first five years operating only in New Zealand, the company was able to not only build up a strong product – “The Apple of accounting,” as its marketing line goes – but also test it on a sizable market of paying customers, all while evading the attention of legacy competitors. Now, as it is making a serious push in the US, Xero suddenly looks like a major threat to Intuit’s QuickBooks, the dominant player in accounting software, which is attempting to transform itself into an online business.

But that protracted “stealth” period in a quiet southern corner of the planet is not the only thing that’s unconventional about Xero. Because New Zealand’s venture capital sector is so undeveloped (read: barely existent), Xero’s founder and CEO Rod Drury had to think of creative options to raise money for the company. While the biggest venture deal possible in New Zealand at the time, 2007, was about $2 million, Drury had grand plans for Xero from day one. Fresh from selling his company AfterMail to Quest for $15 million in cash, he wanted to hire 50 people from the start and decided the company needed $15 million. He didn’t want to raise money from Silicon Valley VCs because he didn’t want to face the pressure of quickly selling the company to a large company, so he instead decided to list Xero on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. Read more of this post

The Value of Big Data Isn’t the Data. It’s the narrative.

The Value of Big Data Isn’t the Data

by Kristian J. Hammond  |  11:00 AM May 1, 2013


It is clear that a new age is upon us. Evidence-based decision-making (aka Big Data) is not just the latest fad, it’s the future of how we are going to guide and grow business. But let’s be very clear: There is a huge distinction to be made between “evidence” and “data.” The former is the end game for understanding where your business has been and where it needs to go. The latter is the instrument that lets us get to that end game. Data itself isn’t the solution. It’s just part of the path to that solution.

The confusion here is understandable. In an effort to move from the Wild West world of shoot-from-the-hip decision making to a more evidence-based model, companies realized that they would need data. As a result, organizations started metering and monitoring every aspect of their businesses. Sales, manufacturing, shipping, costs and whatever else could be captured were all tracked and turned into well-controlled (or not so well-controlled) data.

I would argue that what you want and what you need is to turn that data into a story. A story explains the data rather than just exposing it or displaying it. A narrative that gives you context to today’s numbers by exploring the trends and comparisons that you need in order to make sense of it all. The belief that Artificial Intelligence can support the generation of natural language reporting from data is what drove me to help found our company, Narrative Science. I fundamentally believe that a machine can tackle and succeed at freeing insight from data to provide the last mile in making big data useful, and this belief was the driver in building out a technology platform that makes it real. Read more of this post

Without explanation, the Shenzhen government has ended a seven-year incentive plan for the city’s much-hyped LED lighting sector

Shenzhen’s LED incentive plan comes to sudden end

Staff Reporter, 2013-05-02

Without explanation, the Shenzhen government has ended a seven-year incentive plan for the city’s much-hyped LED lighting sector, reports Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily. The original plan by the city government called for building a 130 billion yuan (US$21 billion) LED industry in Shenzhen from 2009 to 2015, according to Sui Shirong, head of Shenzhen Light Emitting Diode Industry. An official who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue told the daily that the industry is facing falling prices amid oversupply. Read more of this post

The number of bond funds that own stocks has surged to its highest point in at least 18 years and could expose investors to unexpected losses

May 1, 2013, 8:09 p.m. ET

Bond Funds Running Low on…Bonds



The number of bond funds that own stocks has surged to its highest point in at least 18 years, another sign that typically conservative investors are taking bigger risks to boost returns. Regulators generally allow funds to hold a mix of assets, but the scale of bond funds’ shift into stocks is unusual, fund experts said, and could expose investors to unexpected losses. Read more of this post

“No more Martini lunches”; Mining Woes Snag Financial Firms; Far from any mine shaft, the legions of bankers, consultants and lawyers who benefited from a decadelong commodities boom are now preparing to retrench as the market weakens.

Updated May 1, 2013, 8:08 p.m. ET

Mining Woes Snag Financial Firms



TORONTO—Far from any mine shaft, the legions of bankers, consultants and lawyers who benefited from a decadelong commodities boom are now preparing to retrench as the market weakens. Global mining capitals such as Toronto, Johannesburg and London all flourished amid lofty prices in recent years for everything from gold and copper to potash. Mining companies have tended to flock to a handful of cities to list their shares, set up headquarters and raise cash.

But over the past year, the sector has been hit by a triple whammy of falling prices, still-rising costs and waning investor interest. Most mined commodities have fallen sharply since their 2011 highs. Gold is 23% off its highs, and copper closed at an 18-month low Wednesday. Gold has fallen 14% since the start of this year to $1,446 a troy ounce. As a result, some of the world’s biggest miners are slashing outlays, shedding assets they bought at the top of the market just a few years ago, and shaking up management teams that spearheaded several years’ of frenetic deal making and fundraising. That is having a spillover effect on the industries servicing miners. Bankers and brokers involved in the sector are starting to see revenue dry up, and some are already shedding staff. Read more of this post

Retailers Wage War Against Long Lines; Infrared Vision Helps Kroger Reduce Wait Times to 26 Seconds; Wal-Mart Experiments With Bar-Code Apps

May 1, 2013, 9:33 p.m. ET

Retailers Wage War Against Long Lines

Infrared Vision Helps Kroger Reduce Wait Times to 26 Seconds; Wal-Mart Experiments With Bar-Code Apps



At this Cincinnati Kroger, supervisors monitor a system that says how many lanes need to be open and how many will be needed in 30 minutes.

Supermarket giant Kroger Co. KR -0.52% is winning the war against lengthy checkout lines with a powerful weapon: infrared cameras long used by the military and law-enforcement to track people. These cameras, which detect body heat, sit at the entrances and above cash registers at most of Kroger’s roughly 2,400 stores. Paired with in-house software that determines the number of lanes that need to be open, the technology has reduced the customer’s average wait time to 26 seconds. That compares with an average of four minutes before Kroger began installing the cameras in 2010. “The technology enabled us to execute at the front of the store without that additional (labor) expense,” said Marnette Perry, senior vice president of retail operations for Kroger.”It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to improve execution as much as we have without a big price tag.” Reducing wait times is becoming a top priority for retailers, from high-end department stores to hardware chains to fast-food outlets. Battling both online rivals that offer at-home convenience and intensifying competition among fellow brick-and-mortar outlets, many companies see enhancing the shopping experience as a way to build loyalty. “Since the checkout is the last experience in a store, if it’s a bad experience, you’ll probably see that financially,” says Kurt Kendall, retail strategist with Kurt Salmon, a management consulting firm. “Retailers could speed up their service if they fully staffed their lanes, but they are trying not to staff all their checkout locations. This is the dirty little secret of this.” Read more of this post

Apple to Samsung Develop Smartwatch as Sony’s Time Passes; “Sony was ahead of its rivals to release a watch, but it takes more than an idea to create a hit product”

Apple to Samsung Develop Smartwatch as Sony’s Time Passes: Tech

With growth slowing in the $358 billion handset market, Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Samsung Electronics Co. are developing digital watches that allow users to make calls, check map coordinates, or monitor their physical activity.

They might want to talk to Tokyo-based Sony Corp. (6758), whose feature-laden SmartWatch, on sale for more than a year, isn’t mesmerizing the masses.

Priced at $130, Sony’s 1.3-inch (3.3-centimeter) touchscreen watch wirelessly connects to Android smartphones using Bluetooth technology. The gadget alerts users to calls and allows them to reply to e-mails or texts with an array of pre­written messages. It even connects to Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. and controls a wearer’s phone-based music library.

The SmartWatch, about the size of an iPod Nano, is a slightly smaller successor to Sony’s LiveView watch. Introduced in 2010, it had more limited features and was hobbled by kinks. The newer model is more stylish, although users can’t enter messages and it sometimes requires daily recharging and a stable connection to tell time reliably.

“Sony was ahead of its rivals to release a watch, but it takes more than an idea to create a hit product,” said Keita Wakabayashi, a Mito Securities Co. analyst in Tokyo, who rates the shares neutral plus. “It’s about bringing a product that has functionalities that people would want and marketing the product in the right way.” Read more of this post

Japan’s Abenomics Haunted by Ghost of General MacArthur

Japan’s Abenomics Haunted by Ghost of General MacArthur

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution for the first time risks alienating voters who support his economic agenda and dividing his coalition government before July elections.

Abe aims to make it easier to amend the constitution, a first step in plans to beef up the military at a time when Japan is mired in territorial disputes with China and South Korea. His Liberal Democratic Party is forecast to win the upper house race, potentially giving him the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to alter the charter.

Overhauling a document imposed by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s occupation force after World War II has been a goal of LDP politicians, including Abe’s grandfather, since the party was founded in 1955. While polls show the public backs Abenomics, his strategy to resuscitate the world’s third-largest economy after more than a decade of deflation, a majority of voters don’t rate constitutional revision as a priority.

“The growth strategy can only be accomplished with sustained attention,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “It’s a monumental task in its own right. If he takes up more nationalistic causes and Abenomics is not looking good, this could lead to a loss of authority after the election.” Read more of this post

Energy Makes Up Half of Water Desalination Plant Costs: Study

Energy Makes Up Half of Desalination Plant Costs: Study

Energy is the largest single expense for desalination plants, accounting for as much as half of the costs to make drinking water from the sea, according to a report. Desalination plants on average use about 15,000 kilowatt- hours of power for every million gallons of fresh water that’s produced, the Pacific Institute said today in a report. In comparison, wastewater reuse draws as much as 8,300 kilowatt- hours of power for the same volume and importing a similar amount of water into Southern California requires as much as 14,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, it said. There are 17 desalination plants proposed in California and two in Mexico to help supply area homes and businesses, according to Heather Cooley, co-director of the institute’s water program. While the projects may ease water strains for area utilities, they’ll increase suppliers’ exposure to variable energy prices, she said by phone. “While you may be improving your water reliability, you may be increasing your vulnerability to energy price changes over time,” Cooley said. A 25 percent increase in energy expenses would raise the cost of producing water by about 9 percent and 15 percent at reverse osmosis and thermal desalination plants respectively, according to the report. Electricity prices in California are projected to rise by about 27 percent from 2008 to 2020 in inflation-adjusted dollars as power grid infrastructure is maintained or replaced, capacity is added and more renewable energy is integrated.

Read more of this post

Qatar National Bank is No. 1 in Bloomberg Markets’ third annual ranking of the world’s strongest banks

Qatar Bank No. 1 Supplanting Singapore as Canada Slips

The tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar controls vast gas and oil deposits that feed billions of dollars annually into the state Treasury. Its petroleum riches make it the wealthiest nation per capita in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. While other countries have been struggling to stay out of recession, Qatar averaged 13 percent annual growth during the five years through 2012, Bloomberg Markets will report in its June issue. The Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, has big stakes in Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., Barclays Plc (BARC), Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) and Tiffany & Co (TIF). It owns London department store Harrods outright.

As Qatar’s government has spread its financial wings, the country’s biggest financial institution, Qatar National Bank SAQ (QNBK), has been at its side. Under Ali Shareef Al Emadi, its chief executive officer since 2005, QNB has become the largest lender in the Middle East and one of the most profitable. Even as the bank has expanded, Al Emadi has maintained QNB’S capital base and aversion to risk. As a result, based on its performance in fiscal year 2012, Qatar National Bank is No. 1 in Bloomberg Markets’ third annual ranking of the world’s strongest banks.

Read more of this post

Malaysia’s election provides a chance for long-overdue change; At stake in Sunday’s poll is governance based on race and patronage

May 1, 2013 6:15 pm

Malaysia’s election provides a chance for long-overdue change

By David Pilling

At stake in Sunday’s poll is governance based on race and patronage

Will it be 13th time lucky for Malaysia’s opposition? Malaysians vote this Sunday in the 13th general election since the country gained independence in 1957. This time, just for novelty value, there is actually some doubt about who will win.

Ever since independence, Malaysia has been run by a coalition dominated by the United Malays National Organisation, which represents the interests of ethnic Malays, who make up 60 per cent of the 29m population. (Ethnic Chinese form 24 per cent, Indians 8 per cent, and there are an estimated 3m migrant workers.) Until now, the arrangement has gone roughly like this. Chinese and Indian communities, who have historically been better off, have allowed the government to hand out preferential treatment to Malays. In return, they are left alone to prosper in a half-decently run economy. Umno administers the system through a policy of affirmative action known as bumiputra, which literally means “sons of the soil”. The system provides Malays with preferential access to everything from schools, universities and civil service jobs to lucrative government contracts and even car imports. Public companies must reserve part of their share allocation for indigenous Malays, who also get a discount on housing. Read more of this post

As Australia’s decadelong mining boom evaporates, the government is girding for what the finance minister calls a harsh “new reality.”

May 1, 2013, 6:22 a.m. ET

Australia’s ‘New Reality’ Sets In as Mining Boom Wanes


SYDNEY—Australia faces a harsh “new reality” as a decadelong mining boom evaporates, forcing future governments to seek unpopular savings to avert steep deficits, Finance Minister Penny Wong said. “We have to deal with this new reality,” Ms. Wong said from her Sydney offices ahead of a budget in two weeks that the government already has warned will miss its revenue forecast by about 12 billion Australian dollars (US$12.4 billion). “The new norm is, certainly in the near term, a lower level of revenue growth,” she said. “This budget has to deal with that economic reality, and that is not a popular thing to go out and sell to the public.” And controlling deficits will become even harder in future, Ms. Wong said., as the mining boom fueled by Asia’s demand for Australian raw materials peaks this year and begins to cool.

Read more of this post

Tough times for hedge funds that bet on market tumult using complex trading strategies

Tough times for hedge funds that bet on market tumult

7:06am EDT

By Katya Wachtel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Nelson Saiers, a trader and math whiz, runs the type of hedge fund that tends to perform best when markets are going haywire. The $600 million Saiers Capital fund and other so-called volatility funds use complex trading strategies to take advantage of pricing discrepancies caused by gyrations in global financial markets. These funds flourished in the years after the financial crisis, when volatility was running hot, but this year is a different story. Financial markets have been largely moving upwards with few wild swings along the way. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up about 11 percent and the closely watched CBOE Volatility Index hit a six-year low in March. Saiers Capital’s fund is down about 1.24 percent through April 26, according to an investor. Overall, volatility funds gained 1.16 percent in the first quarter, according to hedge fund tracking firm eVestment, underperforming the broader hedge fund industry’s 3.7 percent gain. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: