Tuesday, January 22, 2008

IncrediMail shares jump; Google re-instates company as AdSense Online customer

IncrediMail shares jump; Google re-instates company as AdSense Online customer
Shares of IncrediMail Ltd. (NASDAQ:MAIL) rallied Tuesday on heavier than normal volume after the Tel Aviv, Israel-based Internet content and media company said Google has re-instated IncrediMail as an AdSense Online customer.The stock jumped 22% to $4.24 on volume of 85,000. The issue's 30-day average volume is 71,000.Early Monday, IncrediMail said it is cooperating with Google with the goal of resolving any remaining compliance issues. In 2006 and 2007, the company said its search revenue derived from the Google AdSense Online program made a 'significant contribution' to IncrediMail's results.Although recent events will have a negative impact on the company's first-quarter 2008 search-generated revenue, IncrediMail believes that search-generated revenue will continue to be a significant driver of its results.On Jan. 11, IncrediMail received notice from Google that it had decided to stop the Adsense partnership with IncrediMail and therefore was disabling ads to search result pages displayed through the company's account.Greg SaulnierCopyright Thomson Financial News Limited 2007. All rights reserved.The copying, republication or redistribution of Thomson Financial News Content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Financial News.

Hedge funds to set up industry watchdog

Hedge funds to set up industry watchdog
Managers will be asked to contribute to Hedge Funds Standards Board, which would set and promote standards
UK-based hedge fund managers are to be asked to pay a fee to finance a new body to set and promote good standards, it was proposed today.
The new organisation, the Hedge Fund Standards Board, is the centrepiece of proposals from the Hedge Fund Working Group, which was set up by the industry last year to address political and investor concerns about the booming industry.
Sir Andrew Large, chairman of the working group, said that the new body would be a custodian of new standards, but emphasised that it would not be a regulator and would have no powers to sanction rogue firms.
Sir Andrew estimated that the new board would cost £500,000 a year to run and would be financed by a levy on UK hedge fund managers taking part. There would probably be a sliding scale, according to size.
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Christopher Fawcett, of the fund of hedge funds group Fauchier Partners and chairman of the Alternative Investment Management Association, was named a founder trustee of HFSB.
Other trustees would be drawn mainly from the hedge fund industry, said Sir Andrew, who has the backing of 14 of London's largest hedge fund management groups, including Lansdowne Partners, Man Group, Marshall Wace and Sloane Robinson.
Under the comply-or-explain regime, fund managers would either state they complied with the new standards or explain why not.
Among the standards are that fund managers adopt an independent process for valuing portfolios.
Sir Andrew said the original standards had been clarified and sharpened up since the group's interim report last October.
Hedge funds have come under fire from some politicians, especially on the Continent, for their sometimes aggressive approach to listed companies, their opaque and secretive processes and the perceived threat they pose to financial stability.
In some cases, they have been found guilty of insider dealing.

Market Falls Catch Fund Managers On The Hop

Fund managers aren't having much fun right now.
If it wasn't bad enough having to watch renascent bears driving the bulls out of town, and all that means for management fees, some high flying portfolio planners are having to keep their heads well down to dodge their own investors' ire.
Hot on the heels of customer withdrawal freezes by large UK property funds, one quoted asset manager has just fired off a profit warning while another's profits have slowed sharply.
Scottish Equitable has announced that private investors in its £2bn property fund won't be able to access their cash for up to a year. And Scottish Widows has imposed a six month suspension on withdrawals from its own £2.5bn property funds.
New Star Asset Management (LSE: NSAM) has just lost a chunk of its stock market value after admitting that operating profit would be "significantly lower" in 2008.
And Rock investor RAB Capital (LSE: RAB) has revealed its lowest earnings growth since the company's flotation three years ago.
Falling Star
New Star, which has grown into Britain's sixth-largest manager of funds for individual investors, has ‘fessed up to recent client withdrawals of £500m and a 6.5% decline in assets under management to £23bn from £24.7bn six months ago.
Yet what must really have hurt for the asset manager is admitting that most of its UK and European funds have (here's that word again) "significantly underperformed their peers".
Apparently the portfolios were "badly positioned" for a combination of the credit crunch and soaring commodity prices. In other words, the managers held the wrong stocks.
The UK funds generally started undershooting before the first bout of money market mayhem, then failed to join the October rally. And though US fund performance was strong, the damage has been done. Having traded as high as 485p in July last year, the shares have crashed to around £1 each.
Though promising "whatever is necessary" to sort out problems with performance, the company is not keen on 2008. Expecting more client withdrawals and lower profits this year, it has slashed the dividend to 5p from the 9p mooted in April 2007.
Now this isn't Schadenfreude - I've made plenty of poor stock picks over the years - but when you're a well paid professional investor in a publicly quoted company, there aren't too many places to hide if things go awry.
It could take a long time to restore New Star to its former slot in the firmament.
And other portfolios have been suffering, too.
Hedge fund manager RAB Capital, Northern Rock's second largest shareholder, said that net income rose less than 2% last year after its main fund posted its worst-ever annual return.
Property Panic
But it was the news firstly from Scottish Equitable, and then from Scottish Widows, that has prompted the biggest panic amongst small investors.
The £2bn Scottish Equitable property fund is one of the UK's biggest commercial property ventures with 129,000 investors.
Yet the managers have had to put up the shutters by halting withdrawals for up to a year, admitting they no longer have enough cash reserves to meet investor demands following significant customer switching.
With the "buffer" fund down to 1% of total assets from the usual 10-15%, this action "protects" continuing investors as more property than normal needs to be sold, according to the company, with only a "small number" of investors is likely to be affected.
Though now Scottish Widows has joined in, announcing that both its Life Property Fund and its Pension Property Fund, which have a combined value of over £2.5bn, will now operate a 180-day delay period for redemptions, transfers and switches.
Again, the decision was made to "remain fair" to investors staying in the funds, as short-term liquidity has plummeted.
There have been earlier cases of fund managers being forced into property fund protection, as I wrote a month ago. And late last month, Friends Provident halted access to its £1.2bn fund.
But such action seriously erodes investor confidence, as commercial property endures one if its worst slides in decades. After all, if investors can't get their cash out of a fund when they want to, will they ever be prepared to put in back in again?

The Mac That Fell To Earth

Steve Jobs should have tased her. When an enthusiastic fan who writes a sex column for a local newspaper came up to the Apple chief executive at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco last week and asked him to take a picture with her, Jobs declined.
And that's when the bloggers attacked. Jobs was condemned throughout the blogosphere for the brushoff. If Jobs had been cool, the undercurrent suggested, he would have given the writer, Violet Blue, a big hug. And maybe a free iPod.
In Pictures: How To Add Bling And Rollers To Your Apple Gear
Message to bloggers: Get a grip. Jobs is the chief executive of a computer company. It's his job to make great gadgets for his customers and make big heaps of money for his investors. He's not an exhibit in a petting zoo. The problem is that after 2007's bravura introduction of the iPhone, there is simply no way Jobs could top last year's performance. (See "Jobs Fails To Wow At Macworld.") The drop in Apple's (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) shares served as a sobering note: By the end of Jan. 17, Apple shares had dropped more than 5% for the week.
While Apple didn't introduce anything revolutionary this year, some of the vendors gathered at MacWorld to sell Apple-related tchotchkes introduced some strange stuff. Take the Boom Bag. Like the iPhone, which combines a phone and a music player, the Boom Bag combines a suitcase with speakers. Boom Bags creator Mark Wright says the product is useful for people like sales reps and yoga instructors, who have to be able to give audio presentations or play music on the go. What Jobs did last year to phones, you could say Wright has done for rollable luggage.
Of course, many other products were things you've seen before, if you're an Apple fan. IPod speaker setups abounded: One of the more original was the Luna X2, a $119.95 alarm clock for sleepy-headed iPod owners. Then there were the companies selling iPod cases. There were waterproof cases and leather cases, cases for the MacBooks, and cases for the tiny, iPod shuffle. All the laptop backpack vendors gave parts of the show floor the feel of a Third World airport.
Or a cult. Occupying center state at the show was a massive black monolith emblazoned with the Apple logo. Every half-hour or so, a black-clad Apple employee would emerge from the massive, monolithic mother ship--kind of like a Steve Jobs Mini-Me--to indoctrinate a group of Apple fans on the intricacies of Apple's Time Machine backup software or other Mac marvels. Nearby showgoers stared at flat-screen televisions demonstrating the Apple TV's new capabilities. Some Apple fans even got hands-on time with the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the new MacBook Air.
And beyond that, the wilds of the vendor booths beckoned. And if you wandered far enough--through the booth hawking at least eight kinds of iPod speakers, out past the waterproof backpack vendors--you could find dissent. While Apple was hawking updates to its iPhone--which can only be had from AT&T (nyse: T - news - people )--a Verizon (nyse: VZ - news - people ) wireless rep was gamely handing out free wireless modems to any customers that cared to sign up.
Although the wonders of Apple's OS X Leopard were trumpeted throughout the heart of the show, away from Apple's booth exhibitors, including Parallels and VMWare, offered software that could help users sneak Windows onto their pristine Apple desktops.
Word gets around. Back by Apple central, one user paused while stroking one of dozens of MacBook Airs on a long table placed like an altar before the booth, and pointed out that the sleek laptop would make an awfully good Windows machine, once it was loaded with the right software. Heresy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

MacBook Air: top 10 things to love about it

While my colleague Dan Warne opined about ten things wrong with the new MacBook Air I've been occupying myself thinking about what's good about it, and why it's a new, positive direction for Apple.
From a positioning perspective the MBA isn't really designed as a replacement for your current Mac but rather as a partner to it. If your main machine is a desktop then the MBA makes perfect sense. I agree that it's harder to justify a MBA if your main machine is already a portable but with technologies like Back to my Mac and .Mac syncing, Apple make it easier than any other PC manufacturer to run two or more machines in tandem.
So with this point in mind let's go.
1. 80GB iPod hard drive is big enough. 80GB's is ample for *most* people on a portable. This isn't going to be your primary machine so 80GB should be adequate for storing all the apps, and most of the media you need while you're on the road. If it's not, then keep your iTunes and iPhoto libraries on an external drive and move between machines. Would you consider a MBA with a 160GB drive? If the answer is yes then just wait a few months.
2. 2GB is more than most. Like the 80GB argument, 2GB is more than enough for most people to perform most tasks. You're not buying a MBA if you need to do HD video editing all day, so what else, except for virtulisation programs like Parallels do you need more Ram for? My bet is that 2GB is enough for 90% of the population - it's certainly adequate to watch a move, work on a spreadsheet and be running Mail and Safari at the same time. If you need to use Windows, install Boot Camp where 2GB is more than enough to run Vista as well
3. 64GB flash-memory SSD is expensive - If it's too expensive, don't buy it. Sure, Dell are only charging $1102 for the same drive SSD drive but this option isn't for those who are price sensitive. It's priced for early adopters to get into and expand the market so value buyers like you and me can access this technology sooner.
4. One USB port is enough for most things on the road. What's the right number of USB ports the MBA should have? 2, 3 or 4? Some people will never be satisfied - If one USB port isn't enough for you then you're not in the target market for this machine. At home I use a USB hub because not even my MacBook Pro has enough ports. While you're out on the road I'll bet you can manage fine with just one and if you need more invest in a $20 USB hub.
It's easy to dismiss the MacBook Air as under-powered, but when you hold one, you might just change your mind.
5. No wireless broadband: Apple manufacture for a global market and I don't think you'll ever see them build wireless broadband into a machine, mainly because there are too many competing standards in the US. Also I think built-in wireless broadband is an option for the corporate market - a market that Apple doesn't 'officially' play in. Think I'm wrong? How many people do you know who paid for their own laptop and chose a built-in wireless broadband option?
6. Processor that's powerful enough for most tasks: What sort of raw-processing power does a computer that checks email, surfs web pages and creates Word documents actually need. My bet is that the standard 1.6 Core2Duo is more than enough for anybody interested in a MBA.
7. No microphone port: Who cares? When was the last time you needed an external microphone anyway? This machine wasn't called 'MacBook Podcast studio' for a reason.
8. Non-replaceable battery: If you're buying one of these machines, you'll replace it before the battery dies. And if you do need a new battery, Apple will replace it for you without a service charge. Would you rather be able to change the battery yourself, or have a lighter machine?
9. Thin but not that thin: 'Steve Jobs says the MacBook Air is thinner at its thickest point than competing notebooks. But the Fujitsu Q2010 is only 19.9mm thick at its thickest point, and that's 0.5mm -- yes half a millimetre -- thicker. However, in the Lifebook, you get integrated HSDPA/3G/GPRS, an ExpressCard slot (34/54), SD card slot, two USB ports, inbuilt VGA out, Ethernet, Firewire, fingerprint sensor. I'd say that functionality is worth an extra half millimetre' - But you don't get OS X.
10. No built-in Ethernet port, no optical drive: Apple has always been a company known for making or breaking technologies. The original Bondi Blue iMac for example shipped sans floppy drive - the market reacted then as it's reacted now to the lack of optical drive, 'Give it back'! But seriously, when was the last time you needed an optical drive out on the road? If you need Ethernet buy the $39 adaptor and keep it in your bag. I did the same with the Apple USB modem, and in two years have used it once.
A better way to think about the MBA is as an engineering exercise for Apple to see how small they could make a laptop, and how the market responds to the compromises it introduces. In twelve months from now, the MacBook Air will probably have a 160GB drive as standard, and may ship with 4GB RAM for the same price. How much better does a machine with those specs sound?
Even if you can't justify the MacBook Air now, don't underestimate the design cues it introduces - my bet is that you'll see them filter down the line and end up in your next MacBook and MacBook Pro

Sony bites back at Apple

With a doubt, Steve Jobs latest wonder, the Macbook Air, got the tech world all abuzz once more, and his comparison to Sony’s own pride and joy, the VAIO TZ ultra portable, during his Keynote got the company’s attention. Now, it’s Sony’s turn to share their thoughts on the Macbook Air.

The senior vice president of VAIO product marketing, Mike Abary, commended Apple for creating an engineering marvel with the Macbook Air, but quickly followed it up with the results of their own research done way back in 2004 which revealed that thinness is not the key in winning the hearts of consumers. Back then, they had the X505, a 0.16-inch laptop that had a carbon fiber body minus the optical drive. A lot thinner than the MB Air, but obviously not as well-received.
Unfortunately, their vision back then wasn’t quite apt for the time. Four years ago, people couldn’t imagine computers without optical drives. Considering how technology works today, users can do away with the optical drive and live happily ever after with flash drives and Wifi. Apple, of course, provided a solution for those who just can’t live without optical media with the Remote Disc feature. If Sony was able to come up with a similar feature back in 2004, maybe the x505 would have been a succes, but then again, the technology wasn’t there yet for the development of such a feature.
I guess Sony was years ahead of Apple in conceptualizing a slim laptop, but it was a case of having the right idea at the wrong time. Apple, for their part, is on a roll with the success of one hit product after another.

A drop in mutual fund prices isn't always a bad thing

Q: Why do mutual funds' net asset values fall after they pay out dividends?
A: Many mutual fund owners have been writing me in despair. These investors are bemoaning the fact that the share price or net asset value (NAV) of their mutual funds have been falling lately by large amounts.
There are two reasons for this. First, stock prices have been falling since the end of 2007. A fund's NAV is equal to the closing prices of all the stocks it owns plus any cash held by the fund. If share prices of the stocks held by the fund fall, as they have been, then the NAV of the mutual fund falls, too.
This year, through Friday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index has fallen 9.75%.
But there's another reason for falling NAVs. Remember, a mutual fund's NAV is equal to the value of the stocks it owns plus cash. At the end of the year, mutual funds are required to distribute any cash dividends they receive and any capital gains to shareholders. When the funds make these distributions, that reduces the amount of cash they hold. That, in turn, reduces the NAV of the fund, and the share price, by the size of the distributions.

Korea Investment, Mirae Asset Funds Post Weak Losses

Korea Investment, Mirae Asset Funds Post Weak Losses By Park Hyong-kiStaff Reporter
An installment-type fund investing in equities of Samsung companies managed by the Korea Investment Trust Management posted the highest rate of capital erosion.
According to the Asset Management Association of Korea Monday, the fund has recorded a 22 percent investment loss as of last week.
Of 596 equity funds each with over 10 billion won in assets under management (AUM), the association noted 54 percent are reporting losses.
It said of 322 funds posting in the negative zone, 173 are domestic equity funds, while the rest are overseas funds.
If the fund is recording gains, its net assets should be higher than the total value of customers assets managed by asset management companies.
The net assets of Korea Investment's Samsung fund posted 2.9 trillion won, less than its assets under management at 3.7 trillion won.
The gap between net assets and AUMs of funds on the market reached 2-3 trillion won on average amid a steep market corrections on credit woes.
Of the top 10 biggest investment losses, funds managed by Mirae Asset Investments, the country's biggest mutual fund operator, accounted for 70 percent. Its Discovery equity fund recorded a 20 percent loss, followed by the Independence's loss at 17 percent. Other funds in the top 10 losses included the Bonjour China Fund of Shinhan BNP Paribas and the BRICs Fund by Schroders.
Analysts say investors should beware of the fact that they could lose their principal in times of financial uncertainties worldwide, advising to increase their risk management by diversifying their investments and lowering their expectations of returns this year.
However, they expect a fresh flow of money to steadily pour into equity funds this year.
``Despite growing volatility, we can expect investments in funds to increase on bargain hunting,'' said Kim Hak-kyun, an analyst of Korea Investment & Securities.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Real estate troubles hit banking

As the ones who so often hold the purse strings, bankers have a unique perspective on the economic downturn. Whether it's actually a recession is still up for discussion, but they were generally optimistic that Las Vegas would not only pull through, but also come out of it sooner than the rest of the country .
Bankers are the ones making loans to builders, home buyers and construction companies. They are also the ones who, when the economy sours, are faced with declining deposits and increased defaults.
The bankers and economist I spoke with pointed out the obvious: The economic hit on residential real estate is trickling down to nearly all aspects of the economy, including banks.
"It affects us," said Dallas Haun, president and chief executive of Nevada State Bank, the fourth largest bank in Nevada in terms of deposits. "We'll probably see a decline in credit applications and an increase in delinquencies."
"It's going to take this economy a year to digest," he said. "The economy is catching its breath a little bit. During the next 18 months, things are going to slow down."
Keith Schwer, director of UNLV's Center for Business and Economic Research, said via e-mail that the risk of a recession is higher than usual and remains a possibility.
"Credit markets will remain uncertain for at least the first half of 2008 and be a drag on overall investment activity."
John Guedry, executive vice president and manager of City National Bank's Nevada division, said City National's approach during the economic downturn is to remain fairly bullish on the rental market.
Already, the bank has seen the ripple effect on some of its clients, including reduced cash and revenue flows. It has started meeting with clients to discuss the economy's effect on business in an effort to work with them through the downward cycle.
It's important for bankers to remember that although the economy is in a downward cycle, it will come back up, he said.
"I'm not hearing anything different from my counterparts," Guedry said.
It's also important bankers remember their fiduciary responsibilities and follow prudent practices, he said, adding bankers should remain disciplined and make sure they don't add to the problem that already exists, he said.
During this slowdown, industry professionals, he cautioned, "should not do something that bucks the trend."
But, he added, "I'm pretty bullish on where we're headed."
Although the commercial real estate market has remained strong, Guedry said it, too, could be starting to deteriorate.
Of the declining real estate market, Nevada Bankers Association President Bill Uffelman said of mortgage companies and real estate agents, "So many things went wrong in the whole process. There was fraud going on. There is plenty of blame to go around."
That said, Uffelman added, many banks didn't offer residential real estate loans, but ventured into commercial real estate with many loans that are turning out to be "shaky."
"There are big hits some banks are taking," he said.
Schwer said although "community banks may have been originators of mortgages ... they sold these mortgages in the conduit market ... It remains to be seen how the coming slowdown in commercial real estate activity might have on Southern Nevada. I have the impression that some of the community banks have more loans outstanding in this area."
Upstart community banks identified a niche (commercial real estate) they thought they could fill, Uffelman said.
"Hopefully, they came in with their eyes open. Hopefully, they've got the wherewithal to stick it out for the next 12 months. There's a huge resiliency here. Give it a year and a half. Business will be back."
Guedry said he believes the housing crunch is deeper than expected.
"If we don't have the large number of people moving in, there's not a need for retailers to expand," he said. "Yet, we still haven't seen a decline in costs" such as those for construction materials.
What all this means for banks, he said, is some contraction in the industry, including fewer new banks opening and not as much expansion of branches.
Investors "are really going to see stocks and earnings suffer," he said. "A slowing of growth and a decline in earnings are norms to expect for the next year and a half."
Talk of an economic recession feeds into interest rates, said Paul Kadavy, president and chief executive of Paramount Bank Nevada.
"The first thing I think of is, 'What's going to happen to interest rates?' " he said. "I think one of the challenges for banks, as well as our customers, is what's going to happen to interest rates, because it looks like there is a very strong chance that the (Federal Reserve) may cut as much as half a point at their upcoming meeting at the end of January.
This poses challenges, especially for consumers, Kadavy said, because interest rates keep coming down on certificates of deposits and money market accounts.
"It's a greater challenge for them to get a reasonable return on their money," he said. "We try to be at the top of the market on that, and yet, as rates continue to come down, we all have to lower those rates because it probably means the rates on our loans and other investments are coming down as well.
"I see that as a challenge. If in fact we are approaching even a soft landing or a soft recession, it will undoubtedly mean that rates will continue to come down."
From the customer's perspective, the problem is, "How do I get a reasonable return on my money?"
From the bank's perspective, the challenge will continue to be attracting deposits, and to increase the deposit base, Kadavy said.
"The problem over the decades, at least in Las Vegas, has not been how do we attract good quality loans, the problem really is how do we attract good core deposits," Kadavy said.
In so many ways, though, the market will take care of itself, Uffelman said.
"Let the market work through it," he said. "Will there be pain in between? Absolutely ... It's hard to make a buck in the valley, but bankers are resourceful."
Small- and medium-sized banks are "hungry" for business and compete aggressively for deposits and loans. Technology just three years ago thought cutting-edge (such as desktop deposits) is now expected by consumers, Uffelman said.
Consumers are also looking to alternatives such as CDs and money markets to handle their wealth, Haun said.
"The long-term challenge in the banking industry is growing deposits. Consumers have become too sophisticated. The average Joe Blow off the street wants to do his banking online. He doesn't want that extra $5,000 sitting in his account."
And technology is by far the most important aspect to banking this year, he said, such as the development of more online cash products.
"It causes banks to be that more efficient," he said.
The economic dip could also lead to fewer job openings, and even a "hiring chill" among banks, Haun said.
Then there's the possibility of future mergers.
"I won't say no, but at the same time then say I saw this coming," Uffelman said. "It's cyclical ... With depressed stock, it might be a good time to buy."
Still, optimism abounds.
"Slow growth or no growth may seem like a recession compared with the past record of growth" Schwer said. "All in all, Southern Nevada enters 2008 with a lot of economic momentum that will be a big help and growth prospects of the longer run remain bright."

When Is The Real Estate Market Going To Come Back?

Not "When will the market rebound?" or "When will the market take an upturn?" But "When is the market going to come back?" It is as if there was a magical point when the market was where it should be, when it took an ugly turn and went to where it shouldn't be. It is as if they expect a magical day when it will go back to its original special point.Sadly, many people are waiting for this wonderful event to occur before they list their house for sale or before they will purchase one. Sadly, because such thinking is apt to cause them to miss opportunities when there is no need to do so.Commodity markets are constantly in a state of flux, with the commodities on which they report going up and down on a daily basis. It is very easy to observe in the various stock market indexes. We are reminded many times a day whether the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ are up or down and by how many points. The stock market can go up or down hundreds, even thousands of dollars in a given time period, yet people are buying and selling stocks every single day. No one waits for a previous low point to buy stocks, nor do they wait for some previous high point to sell. Except for professional investors, buying and selling decisions often have more to do with life situations than with money situations. If this year's tuition is due now, now may be the time to sell.Alas, many people fail to see the kinetic nature of the housing market. And since the housing market is more difficult to track, many people listen to the so-called pundits. Shouts of doom and gloom can boost TV ratings - we will tune in for assurance when we're scared. A better approach may be to define what it is that we want to know, then seek that information.When is the market coming back? Back to what? A better question might be "At what point would I be willing to sell/buy?" I have to ask it this way, because who is to say where the market went? Yes, the market did shift from a seller's market to a buyer's market in many parts of the country. But where and by how much should be your question. I have heard reports of highs and lows that varied so widely as to be confusing. The Miller Samuel reporting service said that the market was down 2.2 percent when compared with the previous year. At the same time Aubrey Cohen, another expert, was saying 6 percent. Bankrate.com advised to think location; some are up and some are down."Credit crisis" is a term we now hear every day. Problems in the mortgage-lending world do exist. But contrary to the belief of many, people are obtaining mortgages every day. MNS reports that "gasp, mortgage lenders are requiring down payments." What a novel idea! What will they think of next? And yes, the subprime market (i.e. loans to persons with bad or no credit) has all but disappeared. These facts do not mean that houses are not selling.You are probably right about now saying, "That's all well and good, but what about my house?" The accompanying data (see chart) compares the sales of three-bedroom homes in December 2006 with the same figure in December 2007. These numbers hardly reflect a market crash. They do not even represent a reason to refrain from buying or selling real estate at this time. "Not so bad" is the expression that comes to mind.When is the market coming back? No one knows, and anyone who says that they do is trying to sell you a bill of goods. We are talking about the future. And one thing that is certain about the future is that it is uncertain. History has proven that time and time again. Rather then fret about that magical point at which to see or buy real estate, look instead at what conditions exist at any given moment. In December and January, I have observed an increase in the number of people looking to buy and sell real estate.Why now? Who can say for certain? I have observed that the attitude of sellers is more realistic. They are no longer expecting a 60 percent per year return on their house. They do seem pleased when they learn that their house is still worth more than they thought it would be worth and that they have experienced in most cases, a substantial gain.Anyone thinking about buying should consider doing so now. I mean now. There is a large selection of houses available, interest rates are at an all time low, and buyer concessions are common. Oh, by the way, did I mention now is a great time to buy a home?

Retailer Seeks to Allay Real-Estate Fear

HELENA, Mont. — Outdoor equipment retailer Cabela's is trying to improve its image in Montana, where some sportsmen are concerned the company's real estate operations spur ranch sales and cost them opportunities to hunt.
An executive for Nebraska-based Cabela's told Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners Thursday that the company will change how it markets Montana ranches and will give the state agency $110,000 for land-access programs.
Cabela's entered the real estate business several years ago. The company markets properties, but sales are handled by independent real estate agents with whom Cabela's has agreements. Sportsmen say the company's advertising has touted ranches as offering exclusive hunting opportunities that could involve denying access to nearby public land used for hunting.
"I can't fight gazillionaires over (access to) a road, that's been there since statehood, once they put a gate up," said Rod Bullis, a hunter from Lincoln.
Cabela's Vice President Mike Callahan said ensuring people have opportunities to hunt is essential to the future of the company, which sells merchandise through 130 million catalogs distributed nationwide and through its Web site. The company also operates about two dozen stores in the United States.
Under new policies, Cabela's will not advertise the prospect of subdividing land in Montana, Callahan said. He also said the company will not list property if a state land-access program called block management covers it and terms of the sale preclude transferring the block-management contract to the new owner. The block management program pays landowners to allow public hunting and covers about 8 million acres in the state.
Commissioner Shane Colton said there was no way to require that new owners of land renew block-management contracts once they expire.
"While we appreciate the gesture, there's no substance to it," Colton said.
Callahan acknowledged long-term participation in the program cannot be demanded, but said Cabela's requirement that it applies to existing contracts is meaningful.
Cabela's currently lists Montana ranches and other properties for sale at prices up to $6 million. A ranch in the Missouri River Breaks is described as having "monster bull elk." Others are presented as "a fisherman's dream" or as secluded places with fantastic scenery. The company's current real estate descriptions do not suggest exclusive Montana hunting opportunities.
Commission Chairman Steve Doherty said he finds a "bubbling cauldron of passions in Montana about lands and about wildlife." Besides the issue of public access, hunters find ranches that used to be open for hunting are now closed.
Some disturbed by Cabela's real estate marketing have destroyed their Cabela's catalogs or sent them back to the company in protest, according to Montana Wildlife Federation President Chris Marchion. The protests were independent and not coordinated by the group, Marchion said.
As for the $110,000, Callahan handed over a $50,000 check at Thursday's commission meeting and promised annual payments of $12,000 over the next five years.
Commissioner Willie Doll said he had concerns about accepting the money, but did not elaborate. He said public comment about using it should be obtained.
"I'll leave the check ... and it's up to you guys to decide whether you want to cash it," Callahan said.
Doherty, the commission chair, said he expected the money will be spent and suggested funding block-management contracts as a possibility.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bad Credit Card Debt Loan - A Blessing

Bad credit card debt loan can free you from debt and bad credit and also from the hassles of collection agents and harassing phone calls. It will help consolidate your multiple bad loans into one single whole with low interest rates and a low monthly repayment amount. Credit Cards - Boon Or Bane?Credit cards have become a way of life for most people now. They are definitely very convenient in practical life. People, especially students, carry multiple cards like Master card, Visa and others. But if you are not careful about your lifestyle and do not maintain financial discipline, your plastic money soon become a curse. You are trapped in a bad debit trap and soon you find yourself seeking a card debt loan to rescue you. Various Debt Relief Options That is why you have to examine various options of loans. Free debt consolidation programs, also called as debt management loans, are one of the means to consolidate your multiple card loans. Especially when you have the liability of making the payments on several cards. These programs combine all of them into one advance.Best option is to ask your family and friends for help without any ego, pride and embarrassment. They can provide you freedom from arrears and in all probability won´t charge interest. They are also likely to offer the lowest repayment plans around.The simplest way to get advance to pay bad debt loan of various cards is to approach the card companies who offer special introductory low rates to retain the customer and help him avoid bankruptcy. A secured debt loan will have lower monthly payments and lower interest rates than what you are currently paying on all your arrears.
You can examine the option of counseling services as they will allow you to send them a lump sum payment that they will make sure gets to the lenders each month. You have also option of looking into non-profit groups. They can renegotiate with your lenders to lower payments and help you avoid having to borrow money through free debt consolidation programs. They are many professional free consolidation programs options are available. You have to make online and offline research to find out genuine agencies and compare their terms and discuss the terms and option personally. Avoid buying a quick fix offer. You should to look for reliable companies that have been accredited by Consumer Credit Counseling Services.Look at all the options now and decide what best bad credit card debt loan are for you.

Eliminate Credit Card Debt – Get You Life Back!

If the mounting interest bills have started intimidating you, it´s time you eliminate credit card debt to live in peace. Today, due to the easy availability of credit cards and instant approval of consumer loans, many people end up borrowing more than 3-5 times their salary and subsequently realize that they have fallen into the worst trap ever!
Then starts the chain of harassing collection calls, gargantuan late payment charges and a steadily dropping credit score, which further worsens your situation by hiking the interest rates on subsequent loans and credit cards that you sign up for! That´s the time when you seriously need to seek help to legally eliminate your overdue amount from your balance sheets. There are various options to choose from which will assist you in becoming debt free.
Debt Consolidation
If you have a pile of fast accumulating bills and own enough equity in your home, you should consider going for a solution that can make your get rid of all your financial worries. These days, you will find several firms offering free services on the internet. These are meant for people just like you. These management companies consolidate all your outstanding dues into a single loan with just one creditor, who agrees to take on your entire loan, against home equity, at a lower rate of interest than what you are currently paying. You could even get an extension on the term of repayment. This means that now you have to make only one convenient and more affordable monthly payment whereas earlier you were making several monthly payments at different interest rates. This substantially helps you to reduce or even eliminate credit card debt.
Credit Counseling
Financial experts recommend credit card debt management counseling, because most people who use debt consolidation end up charging all their credit cards again and owe the bank, who funded their home equity loan further! So if you have a steady job, you should go for consumer credit counseling to eliminate your pending amount. These counseling agencies not only help you manage your finance in a better way, but also negotiate with your creditors to reduce their interest rates on your loan and bargain with them to give you an extended timeframe for repayment. So you have to make just one payment to your counseling agency every month, and they in turn disburse the amount among your various lenders on whatever terms they agreed upon.
In this manner, you don´t even need to go public by filing for bankruptcy. And if you religiously stick to making those small monthly payments to your credit counseling firm every month, then over a few years of time, you can manage to legally eliminate credit card debt totally from your account. Thus, you can get your credit rating back too.
Eliminate credit card debt to lead a more stress-free life. With an online credit card debt counseling service, you can legally eliminate credit card debt, that too at very nominal or practically nil costs! More relevant information can be found at best credit card debt consolidation.

Why Can't I Get A Credit Card?

That's an increase of nearly 20% in just six months.
But still, I must admit, the letter I received last month came as a shock. "Thank you for your application," it read. "Unfortunately on this occasion it has been unsuccessful..."
The Credit Control Patrol I had been warned by a fellow writer at The Fool that, to get the card I wanted (the then market-leading Capital One cashback credit card), my credit history would have to be whiter-than-white. So I'd taken the trouble of signing up for a free credit report from Experian beforehand, to check whether I had (inadvertently) acquired a chequered past.
But the report merely confirmed that I had never in my entire life missed a bill, credit card or mortgage payment.
Of course, there are other reasons that credit card lenders will reject an application. Failing to register to be on the electoral roll, for example, will mean many will turn you down. Lenders also prefer you to have a long history of getting credit and paying bills.
But, being a Foolish writer, I had the inside track on all this. And all should have been in order.
So it made me wonder: what do you need to qualify for a top-class credit card nowadays? The difficulties sub-prime borrowers are facing following the credit crunch are well-known - but what about prime borrowers? What do credit card companies now expect from them?
Rich As Croesus? According to the letter, my application was rejected because my Capital One credit score was too low. But as far as I could tell, I had the "excellent" credit history required by company. What was it they were after?
I spoke to an underwriter at Capital One and she reassured me that there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with my credit file. She would not go into details about why I was turned down, but emphasised that a professional, such as a lawyer, earning £100,000 a year, would have no problems getting the card.
The press office confirmed that, as well as expecting applicants to have an "excellent" credit record, evidence of a good payment history and few outstanding debts (as far as I know, no problems so far), "the applicant's personal circumstances (i.e. employment status, income etc)" would be taken into account.
Now, admittedly, staff writers on The Fool aren't as rich as Croesus -- but we're not exactly on the poverty line, either. And I'm doing pretty well managing my finances this year, so I did not expect to have any problems paying off whatever I purchased on the card. Still, there's no doubt that, as I am not a lawyer and am some way off earning a six-figure salary, I did not fit the description of the ‘prime' borrower described by the underwriter.
But surely you do not have to earn such a high income before you are classified as a prime borrower? When pressed, Capital One refused to go into any more depth on the kind of "personal circumstances" they expect their applicants to have (although they have offered to review my case).
So I asked American Express, which currently offers the market-leading cashback credit card, whether their applicants were vetted on income and profession. And it turns out that they also take your salary into account when deciding whether to accept your application - but as long as you earn an income of £20,000 a year, you would qualify. Since it offers a higher rate of cashback (5%) in the first three months, this is the card I think I would go for now.
Secret Reasons For Rejection Out of curiosity, I did a bit of digging to find out what else might cause credit card companies to turn down an applicant with a spotless credit history. One source (who did not want to be named) at a credit card lender said that sometimes, companies will turn down an applicant with an excellent credit rating if the applicant does not want to transfer a balance. The source explained that these companies usually charge a higher rate of interest on this type of debt. But purely by coincidence, I am sure.
Another secret reason why credit card lenders reject applicants could be when they have received information from your bank, without your knowledge or permission, that your incomings and outgoings aren't quite matching up (The Secret Way Banks Keep Tabs On You explains more about this underhanded practice).
Finally, it might be something more obvious than devious, such as a typo on your postcode or your surname -- most applications are checked automatically by a computer system, and a rejection can be triggered by a mistake a real live human would disregard.
If, like me, you have been turned down by a credit card company, don't give up hope. There are some credit cards out there for people who have no credit history or even a few black marks on their record (Halifax's Classic card is a particularly good example). But be warned, the rate of interest charged is almost double that of the cards aimed at ‘prime' borrowers. Personally, I would not even contemplate taking out one of these cards unless I was certain I could pay off my credit card in full every month, as otherwise the interest on debt would escalate so fast, it might take decades to pay off.
I don't have that much in common with Rocky (or Rambo), and it's rare that one gets a chance to quote pearls of wisdom from Sylvester Stallone - but in this instance it seems appropriate: "I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat." Perhaps this article will act as a warning to other credit card companies: The Fool is on to you...

Resolving Credit Card Disputes

Dear Alpha Consumer,
I was renting a storage room from a popular company. I set up automatic payments on my credit card to pay for it. After closing my account at the storage place and moving to another state, my card continued to get billed. I realized this about a month later and called to tell the storage company. The manager asked me to fax my paperwork showing I had closed the account. I did so several times, but the company continued to bill me for four months. I have tried calling the manager and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. What are my options, besides just paying the bill?
The good news is that you paid with a credit card, which offers you extra protection. The bad news is that four months have lapsed, which might make it more difficult to get your money back.
When you've been charged in error, the first step always is to ask the retailer for a refund, which you did. If that doesn't work, then it's time to call your card provider. Providers act as referees—and luckily, they want you to win.
All of the companies that I asked, including Discover, American Express, and Bank of America, said that they investigate disputes on behalf of their cardholders, and in the meantime they credit the customer for the charge that is being disputed. But they typically require such complaints to be filed within 60 days (at Discover, it's 180 days), and after that time has elapsed, treat situations on a case-by-case basis. So don't be slow about picking up the phone.
There are other caveats. While the burden of proof to show that the transaction is valid falls on the seller, the merchant may argue that it was legitimate. If the card provider believes the merchant, then you can use paperwork or other evidence to bolster your argument, but there are no guarantees.
Usually, though, credit card providers are like loyal best friends who always take your side in disputes with outsiders. (Disputes about extra fees and interest rate hikes are another story.) "Credit card companies almost always take your side unless the merchant can provide a very good explanation of why your dispute is false," says Justin McHenry, research director at IndexCreditCards.com and Zen Personal Finance blogger.
McHenry warns, though, that complaining too often could earn you a bad reputation, and your card provider may stop being so sympathetic—just like a former best friend.

Lender seeks to shed loans

Countrywide Financial Corp., stuck with tens of billions of dollars in "alternative" mortgages it can't sell, is pushing customers to refinance into traditional loans that can be easily unloaded by the struggling lender.The home-loan giant seeks to have $12 billion of these exotic loans refinanced into uncontroversial mortgages and has told its sales force to pull out all the stops to get borrowers to go along, internal documents show.

Countrywide has authorized employees to knock 1 percentage point off its usual loan-origination fees, waive steep prepayment penalties on existing loans and loosen certain other requirements that would normally apply. If that doesn't work, salespeople are to quickly "elevate any/all issues" to their supervising vice president, a directive says.The initiative is designed to give the Calabasas-based company loans it can sell to government-sponsored home-finance behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or loans that can be insured by the Federal Housing Authority or guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Backing by the FHA or VA makes loans easy to market.The cash-raising effort demonstrates the financial desperation that led Countrywide to accept a $4.1-billion takeover offer from Bank of America Corp. last week. It also shows how the sub-prime meltdown has transformed the mortgage industry.Lenders once found eager buyers for sub-prime and other exotic loans on Wall Street and elsewhere, but that demand has dried up in the wake of surging defaults. If lenders want to sell the loans they make, they now generally must meet the standards of the big government-affiliated mortgage players. These for the most part don't accept the kind of mortgages that helped propel the housing boom with features such as ultralow "teaser" payments and little verification of the borrower's income.Countrywide said Wednesday that its refinancing initiative would give borrowers better rates and other terms while freeing capital for additional lending or other uses. It's unclear exactly what kinds of loans are in the $12-billion refinance mix, except that they are for less than $417,000 -- the limit for purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A senior Countrywide loan officer described them as a "hodgepodge" that includes many adjustable-rate mortgages with optional ultralow payments made to borrowers with good credit who obtained them on a "stated income" basis -- without documenting their earnings. Delinquencies on such "option ARMs" are rising rapidly.Countrywide had always intended to sell the loans but was stuck with them when the market shifted."Countrywide is desperate to dump them to recoup the capital by refinancing them into marketable loans," the loan officer said. "It's the equivalent of a manufacturer who gets stuck with a ton of unsold merchandise after the Christmas season. So he says, 'Let's liquidate the inventory.' " The company's sales memo illustrates the role of aggressive selling in the home-loan business."A lot of these companies had an intense sales culture, and Countrywide was one of them," said Martin Eakes, founder of the Center for Responsible Lending, an advocacy group. "And now the funnel has been restricted to Fannie and Freddie and the FHA, and that's all that they can force through it."The documents describing the program make clear that the replacement loans must be "conforming" -- adhering to the standards of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- or "government loans," the highly documented mortgages that can be backed by the FHA or VA. "You must figure out how to originate every loan as a Conforming or Government loan!" the instructions read. "Ineligible Loan Types: Do not originate!!!" The instructions also spell out how to make computerized "exception requests" -- attempts to win approval for loans that don't meet regular standards for refinancing -- and to contact supervising "sales leaders" to review the requests.If borrowers ask why they are being pitched a new loan, loan officers are told to reply: "As you may have read in recent news articles, Countrywide is committed to ensuring our borrowers are in the best situation possible. We want to help you by determining if we can significantly improve your mortgage rate and payment." The refinancing initiative, however, is separate from Countrywide's participation in a mortgage industry plan, promoted by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., to systematically modify or refinance certain sub-prime mortgages, the kind of loans given to people with poor credit. But Countrywide and other lenders also are trying, with the encouragement of the Bush administration, to refinance as many "prime" adjustable-rate loans as they can before the rates borrowers pay shoot up. Replacing dicey loans with more affordable mortgages may cost lenders less in the long run.Countrywide said in a news release Wednesday that it had helped more than 81,000 borrowers avert foreclosure in 2007, mostly by modifying loans or restructuring payments. The company added that it had agreed with the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a national consumer group, on a plan to help sub-prime borrowers who are not covered under the Paulson-backed loan modification program. The plan includes homeowners who have fallen behind on their loans even before higher payments kick in.As for Countrywide's $12-billion refinancing initiative, its success is "by no means certain," said Frederick Cannon, a mortgage industry analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in San Francisco. "It will be pretty tricky in this market," he said. For one thing, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, after being burned by the national slide in home prices, now buy mortgages for no more than 75% of a property's value."But I guess desperate times call for desperate measures," Cannon said.

Why I'm disappointed in Apple's ultraslim new laptop.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs displays the new MacBook AirApple's new super-extra-ultraslim MacBook Air laptop is undeniably sexy. As shown in Apple's TV spot, the new laptop slides effortlessly into a manila envelope. Its fat end is slimmer than the skinny end of Sony's thinnest Vaio notebook. (The specs: 0.76 inches thick at the back, tapering down to 0.16 inches at the front.) This is a major technical and aesthetic breakthrough, and a killer feature for those vexed by the fact that you can't send laptops via interoffice mail. But as I watched Steve Jobs demo his new products onstage at San Francisco's Moscone Center, I was struck by all the things you can't do with the MacBook Air. That's because the balance of power at Apple, and in the tech world generally, has tipped. In many ways, phones are now more powerful than laptops.
Before unveiling the Air, Jobs showed off an upgraded iPhone. New software created through a partnership with Google and another company enables the phone to figure out where its user is located on a map without using GPS. How? The iPhone detects what cell phone towers it's near and what Wi-Fi hotspots it can sense. It looks these up in a database of known networks at specific map points. Since every block in downtown San Francisco has at least one Starbucks with a Wi-Fi network, and the Moscone has several hotspots of its own, the demo was a no-brainer. Jobs' iPhone confidently placed him at the corner of Howard and Fourth streets. You can't do that with a MacBook Air.
The iPhone has another, even bigger advantage: Its AT&T cellular modem lets it hop online from almost anywhere in America, without the owner needing to log in, type a network password, or fumble with wireless settings. It just works. "After using my iPhone for a few months, it started feeling weird that my PowerBook doesn't have ubiquitous wireless networking," respected Apple-watcher Jon Gruber blogged Monday. "It just feels crippled." Gruber said he'd pay a premium for such a feature to be included in a laptop. So would a lot of other people.

You can buy an add-on cellular card for your Mac, or for your Windows laptop for that matter. As I first discovered in 2003, a cellular modem makes Wi-Fi seem lame. Good luck finding a Wi-Fi hotspot at the beach, at a nursing home, or while rolling down the freeway at 70 mph. In all these situations, I've used a cellular-equipped laptop to file articles, to hit Quicken for Mom, or to book hotel reservations from the passenger seat. You can't do that with Wi-Fi.
As ridiculous as this might have sounded a few years ago, the Sprint add-on dongle I use to get on the Web is thicker than Apple's laptop. The clumsy add-on widget, which some Sprint store clerks falsely told me wouldn't work with a Mac, doesn't integrate that well with the computer—in particular, it drops its network connection frequently, a problem that tech pundits have complained about. At least I can get it to work most of the time. For people who don't consider themselves tech-savvy, my Sprint cellular card is hard enough to figure out that it's not worth the trouble.
Phone and laptop technology is converging. The iPhone and other smartphones have as much processing power as the desktop workstations of five years ago, and laptops are getting smaller and more portable. It's only natural to expect that the advances seen in laptops would come to phones, and vice versa. So, why has Apple failed to make foolproof, always-on Internet access—the iPhone's killer feature—a standard component of its next generation of computers?
It's not like Apple is hesitant about getting its suppliers to engineer new parts—after all, the company coerced Intel to build a special, extra-small version of its Core 2 Duo processor that would fit inside the MacBook Air. It's possible that putting a cell phone inside the Air would mean lots of regulatory hurdles before the device could come to market. But it isn't a new idea. Lenovo, for one, has offered the option for years. And Apple has stuffed AT&T wireless access into 5 million iPhones, all of which are slimmer than the new MacBook. Would it really have been that hard to put a cell card inside the Air?
After kicking around all of these possibilities, it's hard to get away from the notion that Apple simply chose form over function. More than any other technology maker, Apple walks the line between sexy and practical. On the one hand, the company promotes the idea that its products are both more advanced and easier to use than Windows PCs and BlackBerry phones. Effortless data backups, touch-screen photo surfing, an automatic location finder—all of these are pragmatic advantages the company touts in its ads. But Apple's real appeal is looks. No one would buy an ugly iPod, no matter how functionally superior to Microsoft's Zune.
I'm a sucker for products that look good, but there need to be some guts beneath the shiny skin. I don't care about having the world's skinniest laptop. Rather, I need to be able to blog breaking news when I'm not near a Wi-Fi hotspot. I look forward to fawning over my friends' new MacBooks. But when they desperately need to e-mail the boss, I'll just savor the triumph of whipping out my phone.

When Apple's Keynote Bounce Is a Thump

It's funny how perceptions can vary so widely. After spending a day at San Francisco's Moscone Center on Jan. 15 covering Steve Jobs' keynote address and attending Macworld Expo, I was taking a break and watching CNBC. One of the CNBC commentators, Pete Najarian, called the Jobs keynote "disappointing" and went on to rip the company. Everything the chief executive revealed was expected, he said. With no surprise product, there'd been no upside possible for the stock.
I had seen how the markets initially reacted to Apple's (AAPL) announcements. At one point, Apple stock had dropped by nearly 8% during the session, down almost $10 a share, to 164.66. By the close, it had recovered somewhat to 169.04, but still lost more than 5% for the day.
Watching Najarian, I chuckled. Here was one who doesn't get it. And there appeared to be many more like him out there. More than 83 million Apple shares changed hands on Jan. 15, not a record, but unusually high. Many clearly opted to sell on news they judged to be disappointing. For those who bought before Macworld in hopes of cashing in on a keynote bounce, I have only one word: suckers.
Real Numbers Beyond iPhone Mania
Apple's stock has been a huge wealth-generation machine over the last few years. If you had bought it five years ago when shares were worth about 7.50 on a split-adjusted basis, and held it until now, you'd be staring at a gain of more than 2,000% over five years. But that's called investing. By contrast, betting on a short-term gain from a Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld has always been fraught with peril.
Yes, on the surface it might seem a good bet. Going back to 1999, Apple's stock price has gained an average of 4.7% on the day of a Jobs keynote at the January edition of Macworld. But of those 10 occasions, only half have seen the stock rise, the biggest gain coming with last year's unveiling of the iPhone. Developed in the strictest secrecy, the phone was widely expected to make its public debut that day. But with so little known about the device before it was revealed, iPhone mania pushed the stock up more than 8% that day.
But a one-day pop like that can create unreasonable expectations. In fact, if you exclude the iPhone spike from consideration, Apple's stock price has dropped an average of 3.6% on keynote day since 1999.
Not the Biggest Loser
The second biggest keynote bounce came in 2006, when Jobs announced a new MacBook Pro line of laptops and the switch to Intel (INTC) chips for the iMac lineup. The stock gained more than 6% that day. The third-biggest keynote day gain came in 1999, when the stock gained 5% with the introduction of colorful iMacs, fancy studio displays, and the PowerMac G3.
This year's keynote-day drop, it turns out, was not the biggest loser of the past decade. That came in 2005, with the stock sliding more than 6% as Jobs announced the iPod shuffle and the Mac Mini. Other big keynote-day drops came in 2001 (3.9%) and 2002 (3.4%).
What lessons should Apple investors draw from these results? Well, Macworld is clearly the wrong time to make a bet and hope for a fast buck. Certainly, there are exceptions, as last year's iPhone launch proved, but you can't count on exceptions.
Long-Term Opportunities?
It's also notable that keynote day losses sometimes do spin into gains. Take 2001: Jobs announced new PowerBooks, PowerMacs, and the first iteration of iTunes (there was no iPod yet). On keynote day, the stock dropped more than 3%. But 10 trading sessions later, it was showing a gain of more than 23% from its pre-keynote price. As with the iPhone surge of 2007, this case proves exceptional. When you remove it from consideration, Apple's stock has shown an average loss of more than 4% on the 10th trading day following a January keynote.
What makes for a winning keynote day? Generally speaking, lots of flashy hardware such as consumer friendly iMacs and the iPhone—but not always. New PowerBooks in 2003 and the combination of the iPod shuffle and Mac Mini in 2005 both propelled Apple's stock to a keynote-day drop. But in both cases, within 10 days, the stock had risen more than 4% from its pre-keynote close.
So what to make of this year's keynote-day sell-off? More than a few analysts are calling it a buying opportunity. Analysts at Piper-Jaffray (PJC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Pacific Crest, Citigroup (C), and Deutsche Bank (DB) all see the pullback as a chance to buy before another run. It doesn't hurt that the stock has now been beaten down nearly 20% from its December peak at 202.96. Among Wall Street analysts covering Apple, the average price target is 214.69—a third higher than where the stock sits today.
Where Apple's Sales Are Shining
What's to like? Plenty. Mac and iPod sales are expected to show a single-quarter record when Apple reports its results for the final three months of 2007. And while iPhone sales—now totalling 4 million units since the late June launch—may be a little behind expectations, the handheld is already the second most popular smartphone in the U.S. A new version compatible with speedier next-generation cellular networks—expected sometime late this year—will go a long way toward winning international business.
And then there's the great unknown of AppleTV. Is it the next iPod? Will consumers flock to the idea of buying and renting iTunes video content from the comfort of the couch?
Either way, analysts don't seem worried anything has fundamentally changed with this year's Macworld pageant. Once that's clear, all those who sold on what they thought was a bad keynote may feel like suckers, too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PSP / PS2 hacked to support Bluetooth headsets

We're still rocking a first-gen PSP, so we're not too broken up over headphone wires, but now that the PSP Slim can output game video to a TV, this little Bluetooth hack by N3M515 over at Instructables is just the ticket -- and it'll add in some wireless action to your PS2 in the deal. Basically you'll need to sacrifice a PS2 headset adapter, a Bluetooth transmitter / receiver kit, and some basic soldering skills, but when you're done you'll be ready to frag out headset-style -- and it'll even work with PS2 games on the PS3. Check it all out at the read link.

If Jobs says "people don't read anymore," does this headline really exist?

"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore." Yes, it's true, the only books Steve thinks we need are MacBooks.Irony: You're reading right now.Further irony: You're probably not reading Engadget on a Kindle (at least not through its regular RSS reader).Is this like geeky Koan or something? Does this mean Engadget doesn't exist? Either way, we get his point. It's a damn shame fewer people aren't reading real books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Apple's sold 4 million iPhones since launch

Today Apple announced that it's sold 4 million iPhones in the 200 days since launch, at a rate of roughly 20,000 a day. The phone apparently attained a 19% share in the smartphone market in the first quarter of its existence, and Steve Jobs says the phone bested Palm, Motorola and Nokia put together in the space in the first 90 days. It sounds like a pretty impressive pace, especially given the fact that only 1 million had sold by September of last year, but Apple still has a ways to go to compete with the likes of RIM.

Apple and Fox announce iTunes-ready digital copies on discs

It's not exactly a new idea, but Apple and Fox have just announced that DVDs from the studio will include iTunes-ready digital copies of the movies from here on out. That feature (which thankfully comes at no extra charge) will first be available on the Family Guy Blue Harvest disc, which will pack a file that you can "instantly move to iTunes." From there, you'll be able to view it on your computer, iPod, iPhone or Apple TV, with a unique code provided to ensure that you don't spread it around any further. Somewhat interestingly, while Fox's Jim Gianopulos mentioned both DVD and Blu-ray in his presentation, the official press release (linked below) seems to indicate that the digital copies will only be on DVDs, at least for now.

Apple Macworld booth tour

Apple's Macworld 2008 booth is naturally gargantuan this year, but practically empty -- that is, if you don't count the teeming hordes of people surrounding the MacBook Air table and watching the presentations on the big screen. Apple only has its new product on display, which means mainstays like regular iPods, iMacs, MacBooks and MacBook Pros were nowhere to be seen. The booth is fairly dominated by an end-to-end table filled with MacBook Airs and their respective Apple guardians. Time Capsule seems a bit of an afterthought, as does Apple TV.

Way too much Apple coverage at Macworld -- it's all here

It was a big first day at Macworld -- maybe not iPhone big, but certainly big enough. We know most anyone who's not into Apple (and even a few who are) is ready for their regularly scheduled programming to return, and the good news is, for you, the Apple glut is over. But if you're not quite ready to let go (or missed the real-time wall to wall coverage), check it all out below.

Meet the new MacBook family

Here they are! Your oh-so-recently refreshed family of MacBooks. From left to right, we've got the tried and true MacBook, the all new showstopper (you can call it MacBook Air) and the MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, the two wingmen aren't seeing any updates today, but that fellow in the middle sure is getting a lot of attention.

The MacBook Air SuperDrive

The MacBook Air SuperDrive
Apple may think it's over for optical media, but we have a feeling a lot of MacBook Air customers are going to end up spending the $99 on the external SuperDrive. The 1.06-pound USB-powered dual-layer burner is as slickly encased in aluminum as the Air itself, has a built-in cable and features 4X DL read / write speeds, 8x DVD±R, and 24x CD-R. No official word on availability just yet, but we'd guess it'll ship alongside the Air in two weeks. Interestingly, the specs say it requires a MacBook Air -- but we'll be recklessly plugging it into whatever we have handy soon enough, stay tuned.

MacBook Air doesn't have a user-replaceable battery

MacBook Air doesn't have a user-replaceable battery
We sort of understood it with iPods, and we grudgingly accepted it with the iPhone, but the MacBook Air has a sealed, non-user-replaceable battery, and that means we're suddenly a lot less in love. We're digging for details on how much it'll cost to swap out -- and what Apple expects road warriors to do when their slick new ultraportable dies on the go, stick with us.

MacBook Air battery replacements: $129, free install!

MacBook Air battery replacements: $129, free install!
We've got word back from Apple on MacBook Air battery replacement. The good news is a new MBA battery is the same as a new MacBook Pro battery: $129. And hey, installation is even free! The bad news hasn't changed though, you'll still likely have to hand over your machine to Apple until they can get the new battery installed. Who knows, maybe they'll roll out a program for end-user battery installation

The MacBook Air Itconomy

The MacBook Air

Apple just announced the .16-inch thin MacBook Air -- a laptop so thin it fits in a manila envelope. The new machine features a full-size keyboard and LED-backlit 13.3-inch display with built-in iSight, and the new larger trackpad supports multi-touch gestures. Just like the iPhone, you'll be able to pan around, pinch to zoom, and rotate with two fingers, and move windows with a flick. Apple got the size down by using the same 1.8-inch 80GB drive that's in the iPod classic, but you'll be able to order a 64GB SSD as an option. The Air eschews optical media, but there's a separate external you can snag for $99 and Apple's also announced a feature called Remote Disk that'll let the Air get data off the optical drive in any PC or Mac running the Remote Disk software. Pricing starts at $1799, and the Air will be shipping in two weeks.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More "MacBook Air" evidence wafts by Itconomy

More "MacBook Air" evidence wafts by

Sure, all will be revealed tomorrow, but rather than twiddle their thumbs, the Apple curious are scouring the internet for further evidence of the MacBook Air. A certain tipster named "byrd" searched for "macbookair" on Dogpile and found a Google ad listing up top, which redirects to the MacBook page of the Apple Store. Meanwhile MacDailyNews reader "mango" tracked down the macbookair.org domain name and found that it is indeed listed under Apple -- the Whois domain name lookup won't show any info on the .com or .net versions. Obviously these are pretty minor details that don't say a lot in themselves, but the more of these that pile in, the more we're inclined to believe in a magical ultraportable from Apple tomorrow that will fulfill all our wishes -- we're suckers like that.

Macworld 2008 keynote leaked? Nope, not a chance. Itconomy

Macworld 2008 keynote leaked? Nope, not a chance.

For those not paying attention, there's a "leaked" Macworld 2008 keynote making the rounds today, and we'd just like to make sure you know it's completely and utterly false. Not only is it one of many fabricated keynotes making the rounds this year, and part of an annual ritual of keynote fabrications, but it even manages to be self-damning with its listing of a Mac Pro refresh -- which obviously happened last week. Let's try a little harder, people!

Final Macworld predictions?Itconomy

Final Macworld predictions?

Tomorrow morning the tech world will tune in as Steve gets on stage to kick off another Macworld expo -- an event Apple usually uses for only its biggest product announcements. There are all kind of crazy rumors going around, but this year there are a few picks that have seem to stuck: an ultraportable MacBook (Pro) of some kind, iTunes movie rentals, and, of course, the iPhone SDK. But what rabbit will El Jobso pull out of his hat marked one-more-thing? Find out tomorrow when we bring you our live coverage at 9AM PT (and check out other local times here).