July 25th, 2011
04:36 PM GMT
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Amy Winehouse's CDs have sold out in shops across the UK, after the troubled star's untimely death sparked a surge in sales of her critically-acclaimed work.

Downloads of the "Valerie" singer's albums - 2006's "Back to Black" and 2003's "Frank" - spiked over the weekend, and sales of her CDs and records have jumped, both in store and online.

Winehouse, 27, was found dead at her home in Camden, London, on Saturday. The cause of her death is as yet unexplained, but she had a long and well-publicized battle with drink and drugs.

"Back to Black," which featured some of the singer's best-known hits, including "Rehab" is currently topping the sales charts at Amazon.com, and on the online retailer's French and German sites.

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June 21st, 2010
05:13 PM GMT
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(CNN) – After a lot of finger pointing, squabbling, and teeth-sucking, the Chinese have finally loosened their grip on their currency.

Over the weekend, the government said it would allow the yuan to be more flexible. So far, no one thinks the Chinese will tolerate anything more than a small blip.

However, longer term the flexibility could bring greater purchasing power to Chinese consumers by making imported goods cheaper.

Brokerages say consumer companies globally could benefit from a new currency rate and the official push to encourage the Chinese to spend.

Internationally-branded cars and cell phones might become more affordable.

Other kinds of multinational firms like those in the construction business may also enjoy a bump in buyers. Analysts though say major retail chains could suffer a bit as some of their suppliers struggle to offset potentially unfavorable currency fluctuations.

In business, are you a Chinese currency winner or loser?



April 5th, 2010
12:42 PM GMT
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Hong Kong, China - While politicians and business leaders in the United States lobby for a stronger Chinese currency, many of the people who work in the manufacturing belt of southern China quietly hope their government will keep the yuan more or less where it is.

The Chinese government has been controlling the rate of its currency, the yuan, for years, mainly because officials believe a stable currency is key to supporting their exporters. However, now that China is the world's biggest exporter, more critics of Beijing's tactics are emerging in Washington. They argue Beijing is setting the yuan too low, keeping it artificially cheap, a policy that hampers American businesses and contributes to the U.S.'s trade deficit with China.

Yet at this shirt factory in Dongguan, the people are grateful for that stability. China's predictable currency rate has helped tens of thousands of factories to thrive here. The boss at this factory though acknowledges momentum is building for Beijing to loosen its reins on the yuan. He's preparing for the possible changes. His biggest question - how much more are American consumers willing to spend on clothes from China if the yuan appreciates? Because if the currency appreciates, he says he would need to pass on some of the costs.

Eunice Yoon looks at China's currency control

How much more would you be willing to spend?



March 24th, 2010
09:48 AM GMT
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MTN bills itself as Africa's biggest cell phone operator. Either way, when you walk into the company's headquarters in Johannesburg they reek of success. The buildings are relatively new and have that expensive architectural look that allows for streams of natural light and other clever design tricks, which make you feel like you are in a contemporary art museum. Even the escalators and elevators look like art installations.

The reason I notice this is that many corporate headquarters are based, of course, in office blocks. No matter how plush the carpets, the environment still smacks of a charmless, gray place that makes me want to run screaming out of the swinging doors. So it makes a nice change to turn up for an interview and spend some of the pre-interview time admiring the company's interior design - there were cool chairs and fabulous art (a stunning Cecil Skotnes hung outside the ladies bathroom entrance.)

The CNN crew was treated to a generous lunch and the MTN staff couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful. I was looking forward to meeting Phuthuma Nhleko, the CEO who has been at the helm of one of Africa's corporate successes for eight years. He steps down next year after a tenure that has seen some spectacular growth in the telecoms market. Nhleko and his team have taken full advantage of these opportunities, particularly in emerging markets.  The group has operations in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East, where they are in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran.

Nhleko was, however, not that delighted to meet us. Perhaps it was because he had done more than twenty interviews that day to publicize MTN's annual results, or perhaps it was because I asked him questions that he didn't want to answer. Either way, Nhleko made it clear he was unhappy to be asked about aspects of MTN's presence in Iran, where it had "recorded a strong subscriber growth of 45 percent to 23.3 million in 2009, increasing its market share to 40 percent," according to the company's annual results media release.

Now, that is a sizable share of the Iran mobile phone industry, so I asked him, with the anti-government protests last year, if the Iranian government asked MTN to monitor phone calls or to turn off the network.  Remember, during the political turmoil after the 2009 disputed elections, there was global condemnation at the government's decision to limit internet access and filter content.

Also, of course, since the protests were largely communicated to the outside world via text messages and social networking sites like Twitter, they were recorded with cell phone cameras and emails were often sent via mobile phones.

So what was it like, literally, being the messenger in such a tense political environment?

Mr Nhleko said MTN "were not asked" to monitor and intercept SMSs, for example, and that the company complied with the Iranian license regulations. He did concede that "every country has got interception requirements for security."

Fair enough. But what about the moral angle? With South Africa's history, and the emphasis on freedom of speech and access to information, I asked him if he was uncomfortable having to work within the parameters of the Iranian regulations.

In a forceful but erudite manner he batted away my question, saying repeatedly that he thinks the company's role is to be a service provider and "not to make political commentary on any particular country."

He answered his questions with that steely self-confidence of a top-tier CEO who seems irritated with the nagging questions of a journalist, who kept on badgering him for an answer. I left wondering if perhaps he could have given our global audience - many of whom are MTN customers - a little more insight into how an industry-leading company does business in a geopolitical hotspot.  Whether he likes it or not, politics and business might not mix but they are inextricably linked.

More on Marketplace Africa >>



May 19th, 2009
08:22 AM GMT
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HONG KONG, China — The Chinese banner above a modest Hong Kong store reads, "Time Coupon Place."

The 'money' that buyers use at the 'Time Coupon Place' in Hong Kong.
The 'money' that buyers use at the 'Time Coupon Place' in Hong Kong.

It makes you wonder what this store sells. Does it sell clocks? Does it sell watches? No, not exactly. It literally buys and sells time through the old-fashioned art of bartering.

But there is more. I soon learn that the store is really a platform for creative buying and selling.

I walk into the store and am surrounded by a hodgepodge of items. Shelves are jammed with toys and used books. There are crates of vegetables for sale - eggplants, spinach, string beans. There is a table piled high with second-hand clothes, like denim jeans and cotton shirts.

Talk about a mixed bag. This is not your ordinary second-hand store. This is a time coupon store. It is a place that uses a combination of cash and time coupons as its currency. A time coupon looks like play money from the Monopoly board game. In this case, time coupons come in the value of minutes - from 1, 5, 10, 30 and 60 minutes.

Here is how it works:  If I agree to tutor someone in English for 30 minutes, I can earn a 30-minute time coupon. Then, for example, I can come to the store and buy a wooden toy boat with the 30-minute time coupon. The actual price tag has an hourglass symbol with the number "30" next to it.

This boat's price tag has an hourglass symbol with '30,' meaning you need a 30-minute coupon to buy it.
This boat's price tag has an hourglass symbol with '30,' meaning you need a 30-minute coupon to buy it.

Only a few time coupon stores exist in Hong Kong. Community organizers and NGOs came up with the idea in a bid to help local families save money. The first time coupon store launched here in 2001 with a few members. (It is easy to become a member. You pay a small membership fee and sit through an orientation class to learn how time coupons work. Anyone can join.)

But in the past six months, 120 new members have joined, pushing up the total membership to 1,200. It is a significant spike, which community organizers attribute to the current global recession. You can also earn time coupons by donating used items that other members might want. This explains the random assortment of stuff around the store.

On the day I visited, I noticed the most popular items were organic vegetables. A farmer had rolled in a cart of fresh vegetables straight from her organic farm in the New Territories, which is across the harbor from Hong Kong island. A few customers hovered over the different crates - pulling, picking and squeezing the greens. Each vegetable is priced with a combination of time coupons and cash. For example, a bunch of eggplants and spinach might cost a 11-minute time coupon and 7 Hong Kong dollars (about US$1). Not a bad deal!

The old-fashioned idea of bartering skills, services and personal items seems to be the new practical "trend." In Argentina, barter clubs are gaining popularity. The barter clubs started there in 2002 after Argentina's economy took a dive. Then they sort of faded away and now they are enjoying another surge in this recession.

Back at the Hong Kong time coupon store, a woman quietly works at a sewing machine in the back corner. She is creating fabric handbags that are a nice patchwork of different colors. The handbags are sold at the front of the store. The community organizer says the handbags are quite popular with the expatriates who wander into the store. The seamstress splits the proceeds with the time coupon store in yet another creative way of doing business.

As I exit the store, I appreciate the idea of a different kind of currency. Time has value. Time is money. But here is the added bonus: community involvement.



March 25th, 2009
12:38 PM GMT
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Toyota has unveiled the much-anticipated third generation of it's best-selling Prius hybrid car, promising greener credentials, better performance and a smoother ride - but with cheaper rides competing for its slice of the dwindling car market, can it deliver?

Similar in appearance to the previous two generations, the Prius 2010 stands out, say engineers, when you drive it.

"This time, we have both engine and motor strength. A balance between performance and fuel efficiency," says the Prius' chief engineer, Akihiko Otsuka.

The new version of the Prius, the world's best-selling hybrid vehicle, boasts 10 percent increased fuel efficiency, its makers say. Engineers claim their success with this version comes with increasing performance,  jumping engine size from 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters and boosting horsepower from 110 to 160. Engineers say the increased performance was met by keeping the weight of the car down and improving aerodynamics.

CNN was invited to test drive the prototype, due to release worldwide this year. The new Prius has three driving modes to give the driver options to increase fuel efficiency, from an "eco" to "EV" to "power" mode. The power mode focuses on performance, so the vehicle drives like a sporty sedan. The EV and eco mode will remind Prius fans of the first and second generation models.

Driving it on the Fuji Speedway, it seemed to deliver on the engineers' promise of performance, hitting 70 kilometers per hour in seconds. But that was in power mode. In eco-mode, the Prius matched the familiar, quiet (and much slower) pick up of the second generation. The engineers say to get the 10 percent fuel efficiency improvement, you can't exactly drive that sporty power mode all the time.

The Prius also continues to forge ahead with eco-friendly touches, like a new solar panel on the roof that runs vents in the summer to keep the car cooler when idle.

Toyota is banking on the popularity of the hybrid as a bright spot in what's been a sagging portfolio since the credit crisis began. But analysts say that expected profit could be smaller, thanks to a challenge from Honda.

Honda re-introduced its Insight, an updated model of Honda's first stab at the hybrid race. The Insight is priced lower than the Prius, approximately US $3,000 less. Toyota says despite media speculation that it would lower the price of its 2010 Prius, the current price won't waver. Analysts say the success of the new Prius depends on what the car buyer is willing to pay for in this recession.

"No doubt the Insight is a lot cheaper than the Prius," says Credit Suisse auto analyst Koji Endo. "But at the same time, the Prius is supposed to be a little higher quality and little bit more luxury segment. The Prius should have low emission, better fuel mileage and higher quality standards. So the question is, are you going to pay for price or are you chasing the performance?"

The Prius goes on sale in the US in late spring, mid-May in Japan, and early summer in Europe.

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February 9th, 2009
04:09 PM GMT
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LONDON, England – You might think Pablo Dimoglou was a little crazy when he decided last year to launch a new grocery store just a mile or so away from one of the biggest Tesco supermarkets in the UK.

Dimoglou has made a success of underselling superstores.
Dimoglou has made a success of underselling superstores.

Dimoglou had had enough of his career in the events management business and decided to open a farm shop selling local produce from farmers around Norfolk, eastern England. So he and a partner set up shop, literally, and it didn't go well. Bags of fresh carrots sat for days and were then thrown away. Potatoes just sat on the floor.

Even though he was providing an alternative to the big Tesco and was trying to help local farmers, his set up did not interest many local suppliers because sending over a few bags every week was not worth the effort.

But he did not give up. He went to Tesco and checked out the prices and decided to undercut the superstore on most vegetables.

After failing to interest the local media with his strategy, he put 5,000 leaflets through the doors of neighbours and put a big sign out front stating "Cheaper than Tesco." It worked.

It seems customers do not care where the food originates or who sells it - they want lower prices, period.

On many days Pablo goes to Tesco and does a price check and then shows customers which products are cheaper at his place. On the day we were there, Tesco onions were cheaper and he clearly displayed that.

Now, suppliers gladly deliver whatever he orders. He is selling many more bags of carrots and sacks of potatoes and has added non-grocery items so customers don't have to head up to the superstore for items such as staples, even if they are a little cheaper there.

His business model is simple: Instead of trying to sell (or not) something at a 50 percent mark up, he now sells a whole of something at a 10 percent mark up. He still makes his money, his suppliers are happy, his parking lot is busy and now Pablo is building a summer restaurant on site so people can sit and watch the traffic head up the road to Tesco.

He figures by this summer, he will have nine employees. Nine people who would not have a job if he did not undercut his rival.

Do you have any similar examples where you live? Let us know.

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