January 21st, 2011
04:22 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) – “We are very concerned that these companies are being financed by the Chinese government and are potentially subject to significant influence by the Chinese military.”

The accusation leveled against two Chinese telecoms firms – ZTE and Huawei – in a letter published by some U.S. lawmakers last October.  It was designed to undermine a lucrative deal with a U.S. telecommunications company and illustrates the unease and suspicion still present as Chinese President Hu Jintao begins the last day of his high-profile visit to the U.S.

Today, ZTE – the world's fifth largest telecommunications equipment maker – is still pressing ahead with attempts to expand in the United States. But the experience has clearly left its mark on Lixin Cheng, the company’s CEO for North America.

“In the U.S., the fundamental principle is a free economy, free market and a free country,” he told CNN at the firm’s U.S. headquarters outside Dallas. ”Surprisingly I learned from the press that for some projects the government intervenes. I do not believe that should happen.”

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November 12th, 2010
01:32 PM GMT
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October 22nd, 2010
07:19 AM GMT
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(CNN) – This week I wrestled with a thorny ethical dilemma. I was given an iPad for my birthday which triggered a great deal of soul searching.

Many people might say I was lucky to be given one at all. That my wife was thoughtful and generous. The sleek Apple design was certainly enticing and I am apparently a typical iPad user, consuming various types of books, media, video and music.

But as I opened the present, I felt a great sense of unease sweep over me. I knew it was expensive $700 for a 3G version and while we could obviously physically afford to pay for it, it seemed excessive. Could I really justify keeping it?

For days I toiled with the burden of trying to decide: Was I ready for a lifestyle change that would embrace the world of tablets? I’m a huge fan of the iPod, but would I really get that much use out of a portable internet console with a few trendy apps?

But ultimately it came down to this: In this economic climate, was I comfortable with an extravagant toy? Consumer confidence in the United States remains low and this is greatly hindering economic recovery. And those staying away from the shops are not just the millions of unemployed, but people with jobs who are affected by the same sense of unease as me.

I took it back.

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July 11th, 2010
06:01 PM GMT
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(CNN) – If you can spare few seconds during the World Cup final (unlikely, I know), take a look at the rotating ads behind the pitch. There is one ad combination that is particularly striking: McDonald's and Yingli Solar.

This is McDonald's fifth World Cup and the global fast food giant has it down to an art. They run a World Cup advertising campaign and in-store promotions around the world. There are even World Cup Happy Meal toys.

On the other hand, who has heard of Yingli Solar? It is a brand owned by Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, a 12-year-old Chinese company that makes photovoltaic modules, a technology that's increasingly used to convert solar energy into electricity. It has only been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2007.

But Yingli's executives are hoping after this World Cup, you will know their name.

Bryan Li, the company's CFO, says Yingli decided to become a World Cup sponsor because of the increasingly competitive market for solar companies. Yingli felt it could "not just compete with our global competition by cost. We also need to compete with them by the brand."

Li cannot disclose the financial details of the sponsorship because of a confidentiality agreement with FIFA, but says Yingli paid less than others because FIFA was eager to include a sponsor from China and associated with renewable energy. Branding experts estimate that other companies at the same sponsorship level paid between 35 and 50 million dollars.

Nigel Currie, from the UK consulting firm brandRapport, sees Yingli's sponsorship as part of a broader shift from big multinationals to emerging market companies. Four of this year's World Cup sponsors are relatively young brands on the global stage, something Currie says was hard to imagine even five years ago. Newbies include Yingli Solar, South Africa's Telecom giant MTN, Brazilian food company Seara and Indian IT provider Mahindra Satyam. With its hundreds of millions of worldwide viewers and its pitch-side advertising, Currie believes the World Cup provides brand exposure like no other event.

Coming into the finals, Li agrees. He says the impact of the sponsorship has exceeded his expectations. In the first six months of this year, Yingli has had almost two and half times as many orders as they can meet with next year's expected capacity. "A year ago, we approached the client," he says. "Now the client approaches us."

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April 28th, 2010
06:23 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan – As a producer for CNN International, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world to cover important, yet adrenaline-filled events. I’ve been around exploding IEDs, mobs demanding political equity and witnessed the global meltdown of the world’s second largest economy.

Yet putting my baby into day care in Tokyo was the toughest competition I ever went through in my life. Child care facilities for small infants are called hoikuens (Nurturing Garden) in Japan. They are the MUST item for any working mother in Japan where hiring nannies is a near-impossibility.

The cost is prohibitive in this culture, where domestic assistance is considered a jaw-dropping luxury. Public or government-subsidized hoikuens are relatively affordable at about US$600-800 a month (more affordable depending on your income level) with reliable caretakers. Not being able to get a spot in a hoikuen means financial suicide, or giving up your job to stay home with your baby.

After the first few months of my maternity leave with my newborn Anjin, I picked up the phone and started making calls to find a day care center. I was scheduled to return to work and absolutely needed help. A few phone calls were enough to realize that I was facing a monumental crisis. I could not find a single day care with an opening for my son!

One popular private day care in my neighborhood told me they were booked up to TWO years ahead. Yes, some clever working women book day care as soon as conception. But I was a slow turtle. It was well before Christmas when I realized this crisis. Japan’s government estimates 46,000 children are on waiting lists to get into day care. I did not have time to be 46,001. I had to find a day care, any day care, before April when I was scheduled to return to work.

I had a new assignment, perhaps the most pressing of my career. The competition is tough for public day care and you must convince the ward office that you are desperate, or you go to the back of the line. In the Setagaya area of Tokyo where I live, the ward office handles the placement of babies to day care and they have a point system to chart your desperation.

My husband Richard and I both work full time, which gave us 50 points each, equaling 100 points. I will be just out of maternity leave – another 5 points. If you are a single mother, you get another 20 points, if you receive social security, another 10 points. My single mother friend advised me to go to the ward office and show up with a desperate face and a sob letter. I did that, toting my adorable new born in my Baby Bjorn baby carrier. I did everything I could think of. We prayed and crossed our fingers to win this day care lottery.

We waited, and waited, and waited. My return date to work loomed, as I feared the prospect of sticking my child under my desk and towing him around while coordinating live shots for my reporter. After a month, we got the news. Our point score, because we had no child care options, put us barely over the minimum required and we got a day care slot.

The day care center wasn’t close to our home. The one next to our home, a really great day care center with a big garden, was really popular - we were 23rd out of 56 applicants. But a day care center about 15 minutes away got us in - we snagged the very last spot.

To say my husband and I were relieved would be a gross understatement. Some mothers describe entry into a day care in Japan as being more difficult than getting into Japan’s top university. We were, however, angry for the hassle and stress that we went through, along with all the working parents in Japan. It’s an unnecessary competition, which the government has for years been promising to eliminate for the sake of making it easier to raise children.

The government says we need more children, i.e. a future working force. By 2050, 40 percent of Japan will be over the age of 65. But if the nation needs to have more children, it should not discourage parents to have more children.

Working women are forced to give up careers after getting pregnant, anticipating trouble if they continue working. In April 2009 when we finally took our nine-month-old Anjin to his first day of day care, tens of thousands of other children, along with their mothers, were left out. At the beginning of 2010, 46,000 children were in the waiting queue. Behind them, I can see many faces of women desperately willing to work, earning salaries, and hey, paying the national tax as a result.

My mother was the very first working woman in her company back in the 1960s. My parents went through a back-breaking effort to find anyone who could take care of me while she was at the office. The 1960’s was a time when all working mothers in Japan put together a movement to push the government to increase day care centers for working mothers.

The slogan was: “Create as many child care centers as post boxes,” so that anyone who wants to work can put their children in a safe place. Four decades later, her daughter is struggling with exactly the same issue as she did. This simply shows how little things have improved for working mothers in this country.

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March 30th, 2010
04:57 AM GMT
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Shanghai, China (CNN) – On Monday, CNN was among a handful of other foreign and local press allowed into a Chinese courtroom for the reading of the verdict of four employees of foreign mining giant, Rio Tinto.

The hearings had been closed to the public, and even for this access – no doubt due to the extraordinary attention foreign media have given the case – we were allowed to watch only by video monitor from a neighboring court room.

Before going through the metal detector and putting our bags through an X-ray machine, we were asked to remove all recording devices and cameras. We were led up to the seventh floor of the court building, and taken to a room where a total of 34 foreign and local journalists sat in front of two large screens, showing images from the Courtroom No. 1 on the second floor, where the verdict would be read.

A court employee, a young woman, sternly asked us to turn off our mobile phones, and warned that if anyone was caught using them, the phones would be confiscated.

The defense lawyers looked anxious when the clerk called on all to rise as the three judges entered. The judges, wearing dark uniforms, faced the four defendants, who were dressed in street clothes. Then the defendants - Stern Hu, an Australian citizen, along with Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui – walked in.

Though difficult to make out their expressions, it was striking to see Stern Hu’s hair was almost completely white, a startling counterpoint to the dark-haired photographs that had been in the press (whether those photographs were dated or his eight months incarcerated had aged him is impossible for me to say).

The head judge, Liu Xing, began reading the verdict at 2pm sharp, and the four defendants were allowed to sit down during the reading.

Reporters strained to hear and struggled to take notes as the chief judge detailed every bribe the defendants accepted, and the companies, individuals and amounts involved. All incidents centered around the Rio employees helping get the Chinese steel mills favorable terms and contracts for iron ore. All told, the employees were accused of accepting about $13.6 million over a five-year period from more than 10 Chinese companies (Hu was charged with taking about $1 million in bribes from two firms in the past two years).

In the 40-minute reading of the verdict, the judge also detailed the charges of obtaining commercial secrets, a total of eight instances, the most recent of which was last June. The court went said their action had seriously compromised the positions of Chinese steel enterprises negotiating for annual iron-ore prices with Rio Tinto and caused them huge losses, making them overpay $150 million iron ore – a commodity vital for the making of steel.

In closing, the judge announced that the four defendants had used improper means to obtain commercial secrets. But at the same time Stern Hu, Ge Minqiang, and Liu Caikui had “truthfully given accounts of taking bribes,” amounting to turning oneself in, so they would be sentenced leniently. Stern Hu had returned all the money he accepted, and the other defendants had returned most the cash.

At 2:40 pm, the defendants were asked to rise. I could see no expression at all on their faces as the sentences were read out: Hu would serve 10 years, 14 years for Wang, eight years for Ge and seven years for Liu. All also had to pay substantial fines.

After the judge finished reading, he announced that the defendants had ten days to appeal. We were then allowed to leave the room and turn our phones on.

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January 27th, 2010
03:15 AM GMT
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All eyes will be on Apple on Wednesday. Most will be watching to see just what the company unveils at San Francisco. Others will watch for signs of a growing rivalry between Apple and Google.

At a glance, they don’t make obvious competitors. Apple doesn’t have a search engine and Google doesn’t make computers. But the two companies are slowly encroaching on each others’ turf, from phones to web browsers.

It wasn’t always this way. The two used to be close allies. The proof is in the hands of millions of people around the world: The iPhone. The default search engine on the iPhone is Google. The built-in Maps application runs on Google Maps. And every iPhone has a dedicated application to access Google’s YouTube. Google CEO Eric Schmidt appeared at the iPhone’s unveiling in January 2007 to tout these features and the close ties between the two companies.

(Just before launch, Schmidt was seen in this video proudly showing off the iPhone he received for sitting on Apple’s board of directors.)

By November, the first real signs of competition appeared. Google announced that it was partnering with mobile manufacturers like Motorola and HTC to build Android, an open software platform for mobile phones. It culminated in the launch of the Nexus One: An Android phone from Google itself, sold on Google.com.

It’s not just in phones that Google is challenging Apple. Google’s Chrome web browser passed Apple’s Safari in market share at the end of 2009 according to Net Applications. And while an open-source, lightweight operating system designed for netbooks doesn’t sound like a competitor to Apple’s Mac OS X, Chrome OS was specifically cited as a reason for Schmidt’s resignation from Apple’s board by CEO Steve Jobs.

“Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric’s effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest,” said Jobs.

While Google’s moves are fairly public, Apple’s moves against Google are cloaked in the company’s trademark veil of secrecy. Reports across the web say that Apple bought a mapping company called Placebase in 2009. The source? Tweets and the apparent relocation of much of Placebase’s staff to Apple — according to their profiles on LinkedIn. Good luck trying to verify that: Neither Apple nor Placebase has said anything, and Placebase.com was effectively taken offline

Perhaps Apple’s boldest move came earlier this month when it bought Quattro Wireless, which specialises in delivering ads over mobile phones. Advertising is where Google makes its money. And Apple’s acquisition comes two months after Google bought a mobile ad company of its own, AdMob.

Why the sudden interest in mobile ads? Google’s latest acquisition points the finger, ironically, at Apple. On the company blog, AdMob founder Omar Hamoui said that through the iPhone, Apple “showed all of us the way forward and their efforts have led to a landslide of rapid improvements in our space.”

Still, the most surprising sign of the rift came just last week. BusinessWeek reported that Apple was in talks to replace Google as the default search engine of the iPhone... with Microsoft’s Bing.

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January 25th, 2010
08:49 AM GMT
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“Dollar cost averaging” is a fancy term for a simple concept. It’s the idea of investing a set amount of money at regular intervals, usually in individual stocks or a mutual fund, regardless of where the markets might be heading.

Many of us follow the strategy, particularly when we’re able to invest money from a regular paycheck using pre-tax dollars. I’ve done so for years.

However, each month when the statement comes, I tend to just look at how my overall investments have fared. Check the number, then toss the statement in a drawer. (From late-2008 through mid-2009, many statements weren’t even opened)

After more than a dozen years of following the concept of DCA, I finally decided to sit down with a calculator and crunch the numbers: Does it really work?

I picked a widely held mutual fund and tracked how it traded on the first trading day of the month. (For the record, it was hardly a scientific approach. I did not factor in possible dividends. And of course this was just one of countless mutual funds on the market today.)

I put in a hypothetical annual investment of $3000.

- To dollar-cost average, I invested $250 on the first trading day of each month. I tallied up the number of shares purchased.
- My second approach was to invest $1000 at three random points throughout the year.
- Lastly, I took the lump sum of $3000 and invested it each January.

Here’s how it fared after three years: Dollar-cost inched out a random approach by $35.

1. Dollar-Cost Averaging – 154.93 shares totaling $9,148
2. Random Investing – 154.33 shares totaling $9,113
3. Lump Sum Investing – 151.96 shares totaling $8,973

How about five years? Things changed. Looking back over historical figures since 2005, the lump sum strategy took the lead, albeit by about $45 over DCA.

1. Lump Sum Investing – 250.85 shares totaling $14,812
2. Dollar-Cost Averaging – 250.08 shares totaling $14,767
3. Random Investing – 248.73 shares totaling $14,687

Now I was really curious. I took it back to 2003 (at this point my desk was littered with Excel spreadsheets and my calculator was asking for a break)

After seven years, the lump sum approach still held the lead, now by $463. Dollar-cost averaging was second. The random approach finished third.

1. Lump Sum Investing – 387.98 shares totaling $22,910
2. Dollar-Cost Averaging – 380.14 shares totaling $22,447
3. Random Investing – 377.54 shares totaling $22,293

The findings turned my investing brain into mush.

Then I took a step back, and looked at the two years over the past decade where fear and volatility entered into the equation – points when an investor would be most inclined to hold off on investing, or to panic and simply hit the sell button.

As Puru Saxena, puts it “Markets have been run based on greed and fear for centuries, and they will continue to be run on greed and fear for centuries to come. If you want to keep your emotions out of the game, then investing in a disciplined manner on a monthly or quarterly basis is the best option for most people.”

In 2001 and 2008, dollar-cost averaging outperformed the lump sum approach, and it wasn’t close. (In 2001, the dollar-cost approach saw declines of 17 percent while the lump sum strategy fell 20 percent. In 2008, it was 23 percent versus 36 percent.)

And that’s why many advisors point to the dollar-cost approach in the long run. It takes fear and greed out of the equation. It can help prevent investors from making the all too common mistake of buying high, and selling low.

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December 31st, 2009
03:41 AM GMT
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The irony of Apple’s wildly successful App Store is that the company resisted the idea of them in the first place. At the iPhone’s unveiling, CEO Steve Jobs spoke of the importance of Apple controlling everything on the device. “The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work,” Jobs told the New York Times.

Almost three years later, over two billion apps have been downloaded by iPhone and iPod touch users. Apps are now the focal point of Apple’s advertising for iPhones. And competitors are following suit: Palm, Nokia and Research in Motion all opened their own mobile software stores this year.

But it’s the App Store that dwarfs them all. With over 100,000 different applications available, we had a hard time coming up with a shortlist of good ones for World Report (though harder still was singling out the bad apps; the bad vastly outnumber the good on the App Store). Thanks to input from experts across the web, here’s what Kristie Lu Stout and I came up with:

Those are expert picks — so since everyone’s having their say, here are my favorite apps from 2009.

Tweetie 2 ($2.99): There’s a reason this app is on everyone’s list. The iPhone’s best Twitter app is fast, powerful, and incredibly easy to use. The only downside? It doesn’t support Push notifications.

Instapaper (Free; Pro edition is $4.99): I’m the sort of person who finds more stories I want to read on the Web than I actually have time for. This is where Instapaper helps: Mark links you’d like to read and Instapaper will download and save the webpage for you to read whenever you want wherever you want.

Ping! ($0.99): The App Store does have great fully-featured IM apps that do AIM and MSN (like BeejiveIM). So why do I use an app that’s limited to iPhone-to-iPhone messaging? Because that simplicity is what makes Ping work for everyone from the tech-savvy (me) to the not-so-tech-savvy (my aunt).

Pocket Universe ($2.99): This astronomy app probably has more information than you’d ever want to know about the skies. But it has one killer feature exclusive to iPhone 3GS users: It knows what direction you’re looking in, so it can tell you exactly what stars and constellations you should be seeing in the skies.

Canabalt ($2.99): I’m a sucker for simple games, and you can’t get much simpler than this: Tap the screen to make your running man leap from rooftop to rooftop. It’s a game that proves the value of simplicity: It’s so easy to learn that anyone can pick it up. The hard part? Resisting the urge to try and top your high score just one more time.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition ($3.99): This scene-for-scene remake of a classic is just as clever, inventive and genuinely funny as it was in the 90s. They literally don’t make ‘em like this anymore: LucasArts stopped making new graphic adventures a decade ago.

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November 23rd, 2009
11:48 AM GMT
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We’ve all heard the old tale that if you invested $10,000 in Microsoft when the company went public in 1986, today you’d be a multi-millionaire. We think back to when oil was trading at $30 a barrel, and ask ourselves why we didn’t get into the action. Or, look at the price of gold. Why didn’t I invest a bit just a few weeks back? We kick ourselves.

But actually making these investments is of course easier said than done. Because when we’re faced with investment decisions, it’s not that simple. People are comfortable with different levels of risk. And finding out where you stand within that spectrum can be challenging.

On this week’s Biz Clinic, we sampled a series of these tests designed to gauge your stomach for risk.

The following are some from a test put together by professor at Rutgers University:

In general, how would your best friend describe you as a risk taker?

  1. A real gambler
  2. Willing to take risks after completing adequate research
  3. Cautious
  4. A real risk avoider

You are on a TV game show and can choose one of the following. Which would you take?

  1. $1,000 in cash
  2. A 50% chance at winning $5,000
  3. A 25% chance at winning $10,000
  4. A 5% chance at winning $100,000

When you think of the word "risk" which of the following words comes to mind first?

  1. Loss
  2. Uncertainty
  3. Opportunity
  4. Thrill.

Take the full test if you want to get a clear picture of your appetite for risk.

While I was skeptical, the tests can be helpful. One independent consumer survey broke down a possible investment strategy for me. Another suggested a mix of aggressive mutual funds, with bonds. I was told I had a “moderate risk tolerance.”

They helped put my level of risk in perspective. And they got me thinking of another question you might ponder:

A Harvard-dropout has started a relatively new company that could revolutionize the way people use personal computers. You could make millions in the long run. But right now, he needs $10,000. Would you fork over the cash?

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Filed under: Biz ClinicFinancial markets


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