December 19th, 2010
08:45 AM GMT
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A rare note of caution coming from UK businesses, in reference to BRIC economies.

The business advisory firm, Deloitte, has released its annual entrepreneurship report.  It surveys about 350 entrepreneurs across the United Kingdom, and finds that the UK, Western Europe, and North America remain the preferred markets for growth.

Surprisingly, there’s an abundance of caution towards the BRIC nations, even though Brazil, Russia, India, and China represent 70% of global growth.   Among the entrepreneurs surveyed, just 1.5% consider China as a prospect for the growth of their business.  Less than 1% choose India and Brazil, and just 0.3% like Russia, despite its resurgent market.

Specifically, the survey asked: “Which geographic market represents the best opportunity for significant growth for your business over the next three years?”  Expansion plans are predominantly focused on the UK market, although North America grew in favor over the previous year.  Very few entrepreneurs are targeting the BRIC.

The head of Deloitte’s entrepreneurial business team, Tony Cohen, says “there’s less optimism and more caution for the BRIC because doing business there… opens up new risks.  One has to look at culture, regulations, contacts, systems… North America speaks the same language. Western Europe is much closer.”

While entrepreneurs may be wisely managing risk as the economy recovers slowly, are they also missing out on opportunities in the fast-growing BRICs?   Tony Cohen says, “It’s always possible…. But UK businesses appear happy to build growth in the UK for now, with a view to expanding in due course.”

The survey also finds that more than half (55%) of entrepreneurs surveyed expect short-term negative effects as a result of financial pressures on their business.  However most report no change in their overall strategy as a result of the difficult economic times.



December 16th, 2010
03:47 PM GMT
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While the football world and all its fans were rightly focussed on Qatar 2022, a story kept on the boil by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the tiny Gulf state announced a big milestone for the natural resource that made it famous - natural gas.

Seventy-seven million metric tons may not trigger alarm bells of excitement in the general public, but it certainly does within energy circles.

Qatar is two years ahead of schedule in hitting this annual target for liquefied natural gas, and is the largest exporter of LNG ahead of Southeast Asian stalwarts Malaysia and Indonesia.

It has a fleet of 54 super tankers hauling its products East and West. Qatar’s veteran energy minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said that the fleet provides him with the ability to stay on top of a rapidly changing customer base. “We can today - because of our flexibility of products and transportation - reach any new customer, even the next day.”

Qatar has been a game changer in the market for this product and made a huge bet on the new technology to compress natural gas into liquid form when the Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani took the reigns of power.

The milestone marked at the Qatari industrial city of Ras Laffan -– in the company of chief executives from Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips –- comes during the same week that the Qatar Foundation announced the biggest sponsorship package in football history, signing on with Barcelona for a five year, $225 million deal.

It was the Emir’s roll of the dice on LNG technology, helped along in both technology and capital by the energy majors in Qatar, which allows for such high-profile investments.

How have times changed: The country was nearly bankrupt in the early 1990s when oil prices plummeted and Qatar was not a big enough player in the crude market to carry sway. It still ranks near the bottom, just above Ecuador in terms of OPEC rankings, but is third in natural gas reserves behind Russia and Iran. Iran may have problems securing investors for its South Pars field due to economic sanctions, but Qatar continues to produce at a record clip on its side of the same field. Minister Al-Attiyah said that he hopes to expand capacity by as much as 10 million tons in the near future.

To put this into perspective, the Persian Gulf state is producing the gas equivalent of five million barrels a day of crude. That is a handsome sum with a population of just 1.6 million people, 70 percent of them expats.

The minister tries to keep his feet on the ground despite all the fanfare surrounding the milestone. He is expressing concerns for example that oil prices are closer to $90 a barrel rather than $80 and that may dampen demand in 2011.

“I need a very strong consumer. If my consumer becomes weak, I will become weak too,” says Al Attiyah. Indeed higher prices may dent demand, but certainly not the new 77-million-ton giant.



December 16th, 2010
06:20 AM GMT
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(CNN) – As Australia nursed its wounds from a humiliating Dec. 7 cricket defeat at the hands of England in the second test of the 2010 Ashes tournament, the nation was soon buoyed by news that unemployment rates fell to 5.2%.

That struck a chord for Andrew Barrelle, a Sydney trader for Merrill Lynch. “I was sitting at my desk last Thursday afternoon when it seemed to click:  Australia started to do poorly in the Ashes since 2005, and it seemed to coincide when our economy started going up,” Barrelle said.

Jumping on his Bloomberg terminal, Barrelle compared UK and Australia unemployment rates to performance at the biennial Ashes test match series – and was shocked by how right his hunch proved: When England does well in the Ashes, unemployment there rises – and vice versa for Australia.

“I was surprised to the extent to which it’s matched, even the volatility matches,” Barrelle said.

So what does this mean? Barrelle estimates that, based on the historical record and current unemployment, England will win the series by 2-0 or 3-1. However, “a 3-0 or 4-0 result would spell real problems for the UK economy – a rise in unemployment by 1-2%,” Barrelle wrote in his subsequent research note.

Also - tongue firmly in cheek - Barrelle recommended “it is in the UK unemployed best interests” that England should take out star players Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen.

“The UK public should be thanking the bankers and Gordon Brown for their recent ashes success,” Barrelle concluded.

Barrelle’s work joins the pantheon of unusual economic indicators, such as the Super Bowl Indicator (if the team that wins was an original member of the National Football League, the market will go up for the year; if from the old American Football League, the market will go down).

Or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Indicator – if the cover model is from the U.S., the S&P 500 will outperform for the year; if the model is non-American, the S&P will underperform. Both indicators, though random, are surprisingly accurate over time.

Does Barrelle think there is a real link between Ashes success and poor economic performance? “I think it’s a coincidence, a bit of fun … but it holds up reasonably well,” Barrelle said.

That could be good news for England as it begins its third test Ashes play in Perth Thursday – UK unemployment rose unexpectedly to 7.9% in the third quarter, government figures showed Wednesday. (True to form, by lunch Thursday Australia was down 4-65).



December 15th, 2010
03:26 PM GMT
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So Ghana has joined the club of oil producing nations. The taps have been turned on at the offshore Jubilee field.

So what does this mean for Ghana? How will ordinary Ghanaians benefit from this resource windfall?

The first concern that should be addressed is the perception that suddenly the country will become flush with petrodollars. Importantly, expectations must be managed. As those citizens in Nigeria or Angola know, the oil money often doesn't trickle down to the people.

Firstly, Ghanaians have to not think that oil will magically create more jobs, or make people richer. Secondly, civil society has to be tough on government and ensure they constantly monitor how proceeds are being spent.

Also, Ghanaians need to quickly implement legislation to govern the administration of this new industry; hopefully these laws will be passed soon. An independent regulator is also needed to oversee the sector.

Luckily, Ghana has a relatively diversified economy compared to other oil-rich African nations. ­The country earns foreign currency from gold and cocoa. This alone makes it more likely to avoid the mistakes of places like Nigeria, where oil revenue accounts for approximately 92% of the GDP, or Angola, which is just about entirely reliant on oil proceeds.

However, the numbers are staggering. ­The Jubilee fields are some of the richest and largest oil deposits discovered in many years. In the long term, oil production is estimated to bring in $1 billion a year. This is a lot of responsibility, as well as a wonderful gift for Ghana.

So my questions: Is this oil discovery a blessing or a curse? Can Ghana avoid the mistakes of some other African countries where oil revenue is used to enrich the elites and not the ordinary people?



December 15th, 2010
12:53 AM GMT
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Shanzhai (山寨) is such an awesome word.

It's Chinese slang to describe a range of pirated or imitation goods. But with a difference. Shanzhai products include cellphones, cameras, computers and laptops that try their darndest to look like the real deal.

But Chris Chang of MIC Gadget offers a more nuanced definition. He says, "if a device looks like the authentic iPhone at first sight, we call it an iPhone knockoff. If it doesn't, we just call it shanzhai."

In tech markets like Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei you can score shanzhai versions of everything from Sony PSP players to Nokia phones. But Apple's designs are the most copied, as they are the most coveted.

Chang, a 19-year-old student based in Hong Kong, came by the studio armed with a select array of charming and eyebrow-raising shanzhai gifts including the shanzhai iPad. At first glance, you can imediately tell it's smaller than the real thing. It also runs a rival operating system, Google's Android, and lacks a truly multi-touch screen. In fact, you have to use your fingernails to touch it. But the shanzhai version has a handy feature that Apple left out of its tablet - a micro SD card slot. It retails in China for $135.

Next up, the Magic Mouse Phone. It has absolutely no link to the iPhone and looks just like Apple's mouse. It's a $45 GSM-only handset styled after a much-loved peripheral. Consider it a charming nod to Apple's design savvy. Shanzhai as geek tribute.

And then Chang revealed the very buzzy Apple Peel. It's a skin that turns an Apple iPod Touch into a GSM-only iPhone. When fully charged, it provides 4.5 hours of call time and 120 hours of standby time. Price tag? $45.

It may be a clever hack, but you have to extremely clever to put it together. It took Chang more than two hours to assemble at his first go, and that after jailbreaking his iPhone.

And yet Chang is a big fan, as the Apple Peel showcases Made-in-China tech not as a shameless rip-off or even shanzhai tribute... but as a "magical" example of innovation.

But there is one more thing...

The S-J "iDoll" is designed by MIC Gadget. With black turtleneck, glasses, and New Balance sneakers... it is a remakarable likeness. MIC had 300 figures made and, at just under $80 a pop, they quickly sold out. But then Apple told them to stop immediately, for violating Apple's copyrights and trademarks.

A bit ironic, considering the blog's content. It is after all a celebration of all things shamelessly shanzhai.



December 14th, 2010
10:47 PM GMT
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December 14th, 2010
10:44 PM GMT
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December 14th, 2010
08:04 PM GMT
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CNN's Maggie Lake looks at Rupert Murdoch and his new online media venture.

Filed under: Business


December 14th, 2010
06:10 PM GMT
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December 14th, 2010
06:27 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan (CNN) – It’s a tried and true method of gaining attention in the business world: try something visibly different. For Japanese mobile phone company Softbank, “different” is in the form of 33-year-old Dante Carver.

Carver is a member of the quirky Japanese family that fronts the ad campaign for Softbank. If you haven’t guessed by his name yet, he’s not Japanese. He’s an African-American from New York. Granted, he’s not the only non-Japanese member of the advertising campaign: there’s also the dog, who is the father of the family.

The ad campaign is certainly nonsensical. But it has been a popular and successful ad campaign, running for four years on Japanese television.

The ad propelled Carver into an unusual place in the heart of the Japanese public: a blend of fascination and adulation. CM Databank – a Japanese marketing research company who tracks the country’s top television actors – ranked Carver as Japan’s number one television commercial star. It’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself. That Carver is a black American propels it to  “what-the?” status.

Carver never expected to find success in Japan as an actor. He followed a traditional US path: he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with an international business degree and went to work for an insurance company. But when his job ended, Carver saw a chance: pursue a childhood dream to try acting, a “now or never” moment. That he chose Japan to follow that dream drew criticism from friends and family who thought he was “crazy.”

“I had people around me that said you can’t do it in Japan because you can’t speak the language, you’re obviously not Japanese, it’s impossible. But my personality is very much the opposite. If someone says it can’t be done, I’m going to at least try it. So I tried it and I’ve been lucky, honestly,” says Carver.

Carver’s success is a mixture of luck and timing, says Billboard reporter Rob Schwartz in Tokyo. Schwartz says Jero, an African-American, quarter-Japanese singer, broke barriers for other black Americans in Japanese pop culture. Jero found success three years ago by singing a blend of traditional Japanese enka and modern hip hop.

“Even though it’s a very inward looking country, they are drawn to things from outside to spice up life, to add some variety. Even if it’s put into a little box as a foreign thing, they’re still drawn to that,” says Schwartz. “Does it signal that Japan is changing? I think it does. I think that Carver is an African American signals that Japan is changing. How much it’s changing is an open question. But I don’t think it would have been possible 15 years ago, much less 35 years ago.”

The cultural barriers have turned into a boon for Carver. “If you’re willing to stay open, the differences can become very useful, very positive, where at first, it can seem very harsh, very negative,” says Carver. “So it’s worked out pretty well just from me not being Japanese national.”

Not that being different hasn’t been without its challenges, says Carver, who believes being black in America is as similar as being black in Japan. “A stereotype I had here when I first came is, oh, you drink grape juice, play basketball and listen to rap music. It’s like, wow, it’s like I’m back in Alabama. Arigato.”

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