Archive for January, 2012

French implant boss released, faces bodily harm charge

French implant boss released, faces bodily harm charge

French implant boss released, faces bodily harm charge

(Reuters) – Jean-Claude Mas, the Frenchman who sparked a global health scare by selling substandard breast implants, was released from police custody on Friday and faces a charge of causing bodily harm, his lawyer said.

Mas will not be investigated for the graver charge of manslaughter, as was expected, and is under court surveillance.

In the first arrests since the two-year-old scandal made headlines worldwide in December, Mas and a second executive at his now defunct company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) were seized at their homes in southern France shortly after dawn.

Mas was released after a day of questioning by a judge, his lawyer Yves Haddad said. The formal investigation may lead to criminal charges, which carry longer sentences than those he now faces in a fraud case expected to go to trial around October.

Women who have been campaigning against PIP since French authorities banned its products nearly two years ago welcomed the move as giving them a sense that the law was now in action:

“It’s been too long,” said Murielle Ajellio, who heads an association for women with implants. Up to now, she said: “You feel like you’re fighting against the wind.”

French authorities have been criticised for being slow to react to a case that has sown fear among tens of thousands of women who carry PIP implants. French inspectors ordered them off the market in March 2010, due to concerns over their quality.

But only last month did officials in Paris recommend their surgical removal, drawing attention to the problem for patients worldwide who had been fitted with products from the company, which was at one time the third biggest global supplier.

Lawyers for women in France who have filed complaints over PIP implants welcomed the arrests and said there must be no escaping justice for the 72-year-old Mas, who has been quoted as deriding those suing him as being motivated only by money.

“This is a comfort for the victims,” said Laurent Gaudon, whose clients are pursuing PIP and surgeons who used its implants for fraud. “It’s the feeling that justice is advancing and they have not been forgotten. It’s the assurance that the guilty are at last going to be held accountable.”

Philippe Courtois, who represents 1,300 people with PIP implants, said Mas should not be freed pending any trial.

Mas and PIP’s former chief executive Claude Couty were questioned at home, as police conducted searches. They were then moved to police custody in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, under the orders of prosecutor Jacques Dallest.

SUBSTANDARD SILICONE

PIP enjoyed years of success with international sales, but behind the scenes employees, and Mas himself, have admitted to hiding from certification agencies the fact they were using cheap, industrial silicone, not approved for medical use.

Health authorities in France and elsewhere have stressed that PIP’s products carry no proven link to cancer, but surgeons report that they have abnormally high rupture rates. Responses to the problem have varied among different foreign authorities.

Thursday’s arrests follow an investigation opened in Marseille, close to PIP’s former premises, on December 8 after the death from cancer in 2010 of a woman with PIP implants.

Mas and Couty can be held for up to 48 hours while a judge decides whether to open a formal probe and, if so, what bail conditions, if any, to set.

A trial date could be years away, given the extent of inquiry required, but the bodily harm case could make it harder for Mas to avoid appearing in court later this year on other charges of fraud and deception.

That latter case targets half a dozen former PIP executives and could also carry prison terms for them of several years. It has dragged on as investigators have had to quiz up to 2,700 women who have filed complaints over PIP implants.

Mas, who sold some 300,000 implants around the world, has acknowledged that he used unapproved silicone but dismissed fears that it constituted a health risk.

Earlier in January, leaks from a police document showed Mas admitting to lying about the quality of PIP’s implants and describing the women filing complaints against him as just seeking money. The comments sparked public anger against him.

PIP closed down in March 2010 after regulators discovered it was using a non-approved, industrial silicone gel, and pulled its implants off the market.

Last month, the French government advised women with PIP implants to have them removed, and said it would pay for the operations in France, sparking alarm around the world.

Officials in several other countries, including Britain and Brazil, have asked women to visit their doctors for checks.

France has called for tighter European Union regulations on medical devices in wake of the PIP affair, saying suppliers of prosthetics should require the same sort of authorisation as manufacturers of prescription medicines.

(Writing by Catherine Bremer and Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Louise Ireland)

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admin on January 27th 2012 in World

India lose early wickets in improbable run chase

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admin on January 27th 2012 in Top News

Asia may not be such easy pickings for Apple

Asia may not be such easy pickings for Apple

Asia may not be such easy pickings for Apple

(Reuters) – Investors in Apple Inc have a one-word answer for those who wonder whether this corporate juggernaut can maintain its phenomenal momentum in the years ahead: Asia.

The iconic maker of the iPhone, iPad and iPod has barely scratched the surface of the region, home to around 60 percent of the world’s population — a fact that Apple itself alluded to in reporting an eye-popping set of earnings this week.

Apple’s numbers, which included a 70 percent jump in December-quarter revenues and a doubling in profits, actually excluded sales of its hottest new product, the iPhone 4S, from its biggest single potential market, China.

The latest iPhone did not go on sale there until this month, and there were near-riots as demand immediately ran ahead of supply, with empty-handed shoppers throwing eggs at Apple’s typically minimalist glass-fronted store in Beijing.

And in China’s long shadow, other virtually untapped Asian markets such as India and Indonesia are waiting to be conquered, together home to around 1.4 billion people.

“I want an iPhone because of the lifestyle, it’s a trendy phone to have,” says 19-year-old Dylan who works at a hip fashion boutique, The Goods Dept, in downtown Jakarta.

Sporting a trendy haircut, a long pendant necklace, jeans and vintage Ray Ban sunglasses, he is typical of style-conscious consumers everywhere to whom Apple’s sleek devices are not so much useful gadgets as essential fashion accessories.

But Dylan, and hundreds of millions of other aspiring Apple customers from Jakarta to Shanghai to Mumbai, have a problem: they cannot afford to buy the main objects of their desire. At about $830, even the older iPhone 4 costs twice the monthly salary of a young foreign exchange dealer in Jakarta.

That simple fact — unaffordability across emerging Asia — has begun to test faith in Apple’s ability to maintain its torrid sales growth without a big foray into a new product category, like TV. Though its shares keep rising, its future earnings become cheaper: valued at about 30 times earnings a few years ago, Apple’s stock now trades at half that multiple.

As Apple waits for Asian incomes to catch up, there is a risk that savvy competitors, especially main rival Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS), could catch it napping with cheaper products that are becoming better, and cooler.

Indonesia remains a redoubt of Research in Motion Ltd’s (RIM.TO) BlackBerry, largely because it is more affordable, according to those like Dylan who use it: “If they (iPhones) got cheaper, I would consider buying one,” he says matter-of-factly.

Pricing is also an issue in India, where the smartphones of choice belong to Samsung, maker of the Galaxy, and to Nokia (NOK1V.HE) and RIM’s BlackBerry.

“I would much rather have bought one but I didn’t have enough money to buy it. It’s as simple as that,” said Soubhik Mukherjee, 26, a social-media marketing strategist in New Delhi.

“It’s quite ridiculously priced in India … I don’t have that kind of disposable income.”

Mukherjee plans to buy a smartphone next month and is considering a BlackBerry or a Samsung Galaxy. “Apple’s biggest strength till now has been the user interface. It is the sleekest phone possible, the possibilities, design, basically the App store … But I guess now there is an alternative. Two years ago it wasn’t there, but now it’s there.”

THE CULT OF APPLE

Industry experts say Apple could develop a cheaper version of iPhone for the big Asian markets, without jeopardising its prodigious profit margins, but other obstacles would remain, such as compatibility of new products with local telecoms networks and how to distribute them.

In China, for example, network technology is not sufficient to fully support iPhone and iPad capabilities, so some customers there cannot surf the Internet through either device unless they connect to a WiFi hotspot such as at a cafe or hotel.

China’s biggest service provider, China Mobile Ltd (0941.HK) with more than 600 million subscribers, may not have matching technology in place commercially until late this year or 2013.

Network problems also exist in India where 3G telecom services are only now starting to be rolled out, just as Apple prepares for the 4G revolution in its advanced markets.

The pick-up of 3G in India has been slower than expected, partly due to high service prices but mainly because most Indians still use phones just to talk or send text messages. Internet browsing and making video calls are a technological world away for those living outside India’s cities.

Even after overcoming Asia’s network challenges, Apple still needs to cater for the region’s fondness for pre-paid phones. Consumers prefer not to sign up for 12-month or two-year contracts under which telecoms firms are more likely to subsidise the cost of an iPhone and help drive sales.

“I don’t see the carriers subsidising the cost of the handset,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at consultancy Gartner Inc.

“There’s no money with the consumer, there’s no money with the carriers … When they (carriers) subsidise the cost of the handset, they will have to pay Apple the money upfront.”

DON’T WORRY, JUST WAIT

Despite signs that Asia is not all low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking by Apple, some industry analysts are confident the region’s collective yearning for an iPhone will ultimately be satisfied, and Apple’s profits will keep soaring as a result.

China has more than 950 million mobile phone users, more than Europe’s population, and its economy threatens to overtake the United States as the world’s largest within 15 years.

Barclays Capital says Apple’s five stores in China and one in Hong Kong are its busiest and among its best revenue-generators on the planet, a hint of the potential in coming years as it confronts Samsung on its Asian home turf.

Chinese demand is so strong that smuggling of real iPhones and sales of fakes are rising and copy-cat stores masquerading as real Apple outlets — and selling genuine Apple products — have sprouted up everywhere from Beijing to Kunming.

“Network incompatibility and those kind of issues will probably get resolved very quickly. I don’t think that is an issue which could be a real hurdle,” said Gokul Hariharan, an analyst at J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong.

“Pricing, probably yes, would need to come down over time to enable market penetration, but I think for now the brand is basically viewed more like an aspirational brand… Even 10 to 15 percent penetration is actually quite a high number.”

Around the region, Apple distributors are finding novel ways to ease the burden of buying an iPhone or an iPad. Croma, an Indian electronics store chain store owned by the Tata Group, is offering a WiFi-only version of the iPad 2 for a down-payment of just 2,458 rupees with the rest due in 12 equal monthly instalments.

Currently, though, Apple’s overall sales in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding the mature market of Japan, account for less than a fifth of group sales and the penetration of the iPhone, its top seller, trails behind its biggest rival, Samsung.

For some analysts, this is Apple’s biggest risk: while it waits for Asians to scrimp and save for an iPhone or an iPad, these consumers instead develop a taste and a loyalty to other products such as Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and tablets.

Apple’s share of the smartphone market has more than doubled in China since the first quarter of 2010, but Samsung, which recently passed Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker, has meanwhile seen its share more than quadruple.

Apple stole back its global lead with sales of 37 million iPhones in the December quarter, more than double its sales from a year earlier, versus 36.5 million smartphone sales for Samsung, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

But other hungry competitors are also aggressively targeting China and eyeing other new Asian markets.

China’s own Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp (0763.HK) 000063.SZ are producing smartphones for less than 2,000 yuan, half the price of a basic iPhone 4.

APPLE ENVY

Apple’s new boss, Tim Cook, who took over as chief executive shortly before founder Steve Jobs died in October, is targeting China aggressively and has indicated that Apple’s experience there could help it to penetrate other new Asian markets.

Apple has hinted that adding carriers is probably one way to expand in these countries, but no announcements have been made.

“I have tried to be very clear in the past, and I will do so again, that we have a ton more energy in the China market today,” Cook said in presenting Apple’s results on Tuesday.

“China is an extremely important market for us and we continue to look at how to grow it further.”

Some analysts say Apple needs to hasten its Asian expansion, developing cheaper handsets and working with more telecoms carriers in the region, but confidence remains high that it can conquer new markets and keep the juggernaut rolling.

In Indonesia, consumers like shop assistant Dylan will be waiting for it.

“The chance for Apple to dominate the market is there, perhaps over three years from now as our GDP per capita is increasing and the iPhone price is going down,” said Harry Su, head of research at Jakarta-based PT Bahana Securities.

“I’m sure many Indonesians would love to buy an iPhone.”

(Additional reporting by Janeman Latul, Camilo Mejia and Estelle Griepink in JAKARTA, Miyoung Kim in SEOUL, Devidutta Tripathy in NEW DELHI, Lee Chyen Yee in HONG KONG and Poornima Gupta in SAN FRANCISCO; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Neil Fullick and Alex Ricardson)

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admin on January 27th 2012 in Technology

Rupee hits 2-1/2 month high

Rupee hits 2-1/2 month high

Rupee hits 2-1/2 month high

(Reuters) – The rupee touched a two-and-a-half month high on Friday, aided by firm local shares, as demand for riskier assets was spurred by hopes Greece will soon reach an agreement on restructuring its debt.

At 10:15 a.m. (0445 GMT), the rupee was at 49.72/73 to the dollar, after touching 49.65, its highest since November 9, and firmer than 50.09/10 at close on Wednesday. The market was closed on Thursday for a local holiday.

“I expect the bullishness in euro as well as in stocks to continue for some time, and rupee can test 49.00/05 level,” said Hari Chandramgathan, a forex dealer with Federal Bank in Mumbai.

The euro held onto most recent hefty gains against the dollar on Friday, after hitting a five-week high, as the Fed’s pledge to keep rates near zero for the next three years encouraged carry trades funded in dollars.

The BSE Sensex rose 1 percent in early trades, extending gains to a sixth consecutive session, on rising foreign fund investments.

Foreign institutional investors have bought Indian shares worth $1.56 billion so far in January, and invested $3.39 billion in debt.

Traders said developments in Greece would provide directional cues and influence dollar inflows into India.

Greece and its private creditors made progress on Thursday in talks on restructuring its debt, both sides said, and they will continue negotiating on Friday with the aim of sealing an agreement within a few days.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday the U.S. central bank was ready to offer the economy additional stimulus after it announced it would likely keep interest rates near zero until at least late 2014.

One-month offshore non-deliverable forward contracts were at 50.10, indicating some weakness in the short term in the onshore spot rate.

In the currency futures market, the most-traded near-month dollar-rupee contracts on the National Stock Exchange, the MCX-SX and the United Stock Exchange were all around 49.7, on total volumes of $1.8 billion.

(Reporting by Shamik Paul; editing by Malini Menon)

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admin on January 27th 2012 in Business

Europe searches for mythical ‘jobs and growth’ formula

Europe searches for mythical 'jobs and growth' formula

Europe searches for mythical 'jobs and growth' formula

(Reuters) – Since the start of the year, one phrase has tripped off the lips of European leaders more than any other: “jobs and growth”. After two years of debt crisis and budget austerity, there is a strong desire to shift the narrative on.

To that end, the EU’s first summit of 2012, to be held on January 30, will focus on finding ways to kickstart growth and create jobs across the 27-country union, which is on the brink of recession and has average unemployment of 10 percent, rising to 45 percent among the young in countries such as Spain.

The problem is that after years of preaching austerity and telling wayward governments to cut spending and raise revenue, there is scarce capital readily available for investment, either at a national level or across the EU budget.

As a result, there is little expectation that Monday’s summit will produce concrete measures to boost either output or employment in the near-term, despite EU leaders first adopting their competitiveness mantra more than a decade ago.

“They don’t have much of a strategy apart from the typical laundry list of structural and labour market reforms, which is fine, but that is not going to deliver much in the short-term,” said Guntram Wolff, deputy director of Bruegel, a Brussels think-tank whose analysis frequently informs EU policymaking.

“It’s become clear that this focus on austerity and fiscal consolidation is not enough, so they need the economic growth and employment element. The signal is the right one, but we need to do better about how we go about achieving it.”

While there may not be readily accessible pools of capital to launch infrastructure projects or other labour-intensive schemes that can boost output, the EU does have large amounts of funds squirreled away in its long-term budget that could be released to help countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Thursday that any leftover money in the EU’s structural funds should be used to generate jobs.

There is also a need to create more stability in the banking system so that banks have the confidence to lend to small- and medium-sized companies, the biggest engine for job creation in the EU, delivering up to 85 percent of new jobs since 2000.

The European Central Bank’s flooding of the bank sector with nearly half a trillion euros of cheap three-year money – an offer it will repeat in February – has helped in that regard.

The summit is also expected to see leaders commit to making it easier for young people in struggling countries such as Portugal and Greece to travel abroad to seek work in high-performing economies like Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“I want us this time to focus on immediate action to be taken in the specific areas of youth unemployment, the single market and SMEs,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council and the chair of EU summits, wrote in an invitation letter to EU leaders on Thursday.

“In the present economic situation, we must continue our efforts to ensure financial stability and fiscal consolidation: this is necessary in itself, but it is also a condition needed for returning to structural economic growth.”

Greece, Portugal, Spain, and to a lesser extent, Ireland, still face a year or two of economic strife as severe austerity measures rip into growth prospects, a Reuters poll showed. Portugal and Greece will both shrink by more than three percent this year it predicted.

For Germany, which looks like it will steer well clear of recession while many of its partners succumb, the focus remains structural reforms rather than hard cash.

“Sustainable growth in European economies is not something that one can buy with public money,” a senior German official said on Thursday. “Sometimes it requires political courage to take the steps necessary to create a foundation for sustainable growth. We need structural reforms.”

DANISH MODEL?

Denmark, which holds the presidency of the EU until the end of June, has been held up as an example of a country that chose a particular path for investment and largely delivered.

Two decades ago it set out to turn itself into a champion of green technology, investing heavily in alternative energy sources including wind turbines. Danish turbine maker Vestas (VWS.CO) is now a world-leader in the field.

But one of the pitfalls of the strategy was laid bare this month when Vestas announced it would have to cut more than 2,300 jobs – 10 percent of its workforce – to restore profitability as it faces stiff competition from China.

In the economic downturn stalking Europe, the higher cost of investing in alternative energy sources is a barrier for cash-strapped governments – even if it may be the future – and as a result industry-leading companies can suffer.

In terms of a pan-EU growth strategy, therefore, analysts say Europe needs to look at an industry that is critical across all countries and will require large amounts of investment to deliver jobs, efficiency and expansion over the long term.

One natural candidate is the energy sector.

“They need to think about a typical investment project that has a strong European component, such as the energy transition story,” said Bruegel’s Wolff. “It’s a long-term story, but on the other hand, the adjustment we’re going to see in southern Europe is going to take 5-10 years anyway.”

The key will be finding the money to invest. At a national level, that means focusing on what policymakers are calling “smart austerity” – cutting budgets but not in areas where investment is critical. That could mean defence and some social spending being cut so more resources are available.

At an EU level, it means unlocking structural funds, money set aside in the union’s long-term budget to help bring poorer countries’ infrastructure up to EU standards but which is not always used by recipients. For example, Greece has around 15 billion euros of unused funds from the 2007-2013 EU budget.

In a letter setting out their aims for the summit, France and Germany raised the possibility of pooling up to 25 percent of unused money from 2011 in a special growth fund, although they didn’t say how much that would add up to.

Some estimates show that there is about 12 billion euros of unused capital in the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, a 60 billion euro fund that is underwritten by the EU budget and has been used to help bailout Ireland and Portugal.

On his Facebook page, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann proposed using 10 billion euros in dormant EU social funds to help put young people to work.

The money would appear to be there. The challenge is unlocking it and putting it to work so results are delivered.

(Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Vienna and Noah Barkin in Berlin, writing by Luke Baker, editing by Mike Peacock)

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admin on January 27th 2012 in Economy

Rupee rises early on capital inflow hopes

Rupee rises early on capital inflow hopes

Rupee rises early on capital inflow hopes

(Reuters) – The rupee strengthened early on Friday on expectations Greece will reach an agreement on restructuring its debt, which is likely to spur demand for risky assets.

At 9:02 a.m. (0332 GMT), the rupee was at 49.72/74 to the dollar, firmer than 50.09/10 at close on Wednesday. The market was closed on Thursday for a local holiday.

(Reporting by Shamik Paul; Editing by Ranjit Gangadharan)

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admin on January 27th 2012 in Business

Iran won’t move toward nuclear weapon in 2012 – ISIS report

Iran won't move toward nuclear weapon in 2012 - ISIS report

Iran won't move toward nuclear weapon in 2012 - ISIS report

(Reuters) – Iran is unlikely to move toward building a nuclear weapon this year because it does not yet have the capability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium, a draft report by the Institute for Science and International Security said on Wednesday.

The report by the institute founded by nuclear expert David Albright offered a more temperate view of Iran’s nuclear program than some of the heated rhetoric that has surfaced since the United States and its allies stepped up sanctions on Tehran.

“Iran is unlikely to decide to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today,” the report said.

The United States and Iran are engaged in a war of words over sanctions, with Iran threatening to retaliate by blocking oil shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States said it would not allow that to happen.

The escalating rhetoric and tensions have led to concerns about the potential for missteps between the adversaries that might spiral into a military confrontation that neither wants.

But the report, financed by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, said Iran had not made a decision to build a nuclear bomb. The USIP is an independent, non-partisan center created by the U.S. Congress in 1984 that receives federal government funding.

“Iran is unlikely to break out in 2012, in great part because it is deterred from doing so,” said the ISIS report, which has not yet been publicly released.

The report turns down the temperature, saying that sanctions and the fear of a military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities have worked as a deterrent.

The institute has advised U.S. and foreign governments about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and Albright is considered a respected expert on the issue. The report tracks closely with what is known of official U.S. government assessments.

U.S. officials say Iran has not made the decision to build a nuclear weapon and that Iranian leaders haven’t made the decision because they have to weigh the cost and benefits of building a nuclear weapon.

Much of what the Iranians are doing with their nuclear program has civilian uses, but they are keeping their options open, which significantly adds to the air of ambiguity, U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Some conservative and Israeli analysts in the past have challenged these types of assessments, asserting that Iranian nuclear efforts are sufficiently advanced that they could build a bomb in a year or less.

But according to the institute’s report: “Although Iran is engaged in nuclear hedging, no evidence has emerged that the regime has decided to build nuclear weapons.”

“Such a decision may be unlikely to occur until Iran is first able to augment its enrichment capability to a point where it would have the ability to make weapon-grade uranium quickly and secretly,” the report obtained by Reuters said.

It added that despite a report last November by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency alleging that Iran had made significant progress on nuclear weaponization, “Iran’s essential challenge remains developing a secure capability to make enough weapon-grade uranium, likely for at least several nuclear weapons.”

Some European intelligence officials have disputed a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published in 2003 which said that Iran had stopped working on a program it had launched earlier to design and build a bomb.

The Europeans maintain that Iran never stopped research and scientific development efforts which could be bomb-related.

Tensions spiked after Iran announced earlier this month that it had begun to enrich uranium deep inside an underground facility near the holy city of Qom. The secretly built facility was publicly revealed by the United States in 2009.

AIRSTRIKES ‘OVERSOLD’

Among possible policy options for halting Iran’s nuclear program, one of the least likely to be successful is a military attack on its nuclear program, according to the institute’s report.

Limited military options, such as airstrikes against nuclear facilities, are “oversold as to their ability to end or even significantly delay Iran’s nuclear program,” the report said. Limited bombing campaigns would be “unlikely to destroy Iran’s main capability” to produce weapon-grade uranium, it said.

Iran has taken precautions by dispersing the centrifuges it uses for enrichment to multiple locations, has mastered the construction of centrifuges, and has probably stockpiled extra centrifuges, the institute said.

A bombing campaign that did not totally eliminate these capabilities would leave Iran “able to quickly rebuild” its nuclear program and even motivate it to set up a Manhattan Project-style crash program to build a bomb, which would only make the region more dangerous and unstable, according to the institute.

The report said that clandestine intelligence operations aimed at detecting secret Iranian nuclear activities, including the construction of new underground sites, are “vitally important.” Known methods used by spy agencies include the recruitment of secret agents, cyber spying operations, overhead surveillance by satellites and drones, and bugging of equipment which Iran buys from foreign suppliers.

The report says another “well known tactic” used by Western spy agencies against Iran has been to infiltrate Iranian networks that smuggle nuclear-related equipment and supply them with plans or items which are faulty or sabotaged. The report says this tactic has helped the West to uncover at least one of Iran’s secret nuclear sites and, according to official statements by the Iranians, has caused enrichment centrifuges to break.

Other more violent covert operations strategies, particularly the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers, have “serious downsides and implications,” such as high risks of Iranian retaliation through militant attacks which could be directed against civilian targets. The United States has emphatically denied any involvement in the assassinations.

The report said that since thousands of specialists are involved in the Iranian nuclear program, assassinations were unlikely to be effective in slowing it down. It also warned that Iran could construe assassinations as acts of war and use them to justify retaliation.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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admin on January 26th 2012 in World

Conservative India unlikely hotspot on gay tourism map

Conservative India unlikely hotspot on gay tourism map

Conservative India unlikely hotspot on gay tourism map

(Reuters) – When Thomas Roth first visited India, he was often asked about his wife and children — questions he would try to evade.

That was thirty years ago, when homosexuality was a criminal offence in India and for many the term “gay” only meant “happy”.

Roth is again planning a trip to India, this time with his partner, and hopes the visit will coincide with the annual Queer Pride parade in New Delhi.

“(Earlier) like most gays in India at that time, I was basically invisible,” said Roth, who runs a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community market research firm in San Francisco.

“Now, with emerging Gay Pride events, film festivals, parties, etc. gay visitors can have it all,” he added, in an email interview.

Since homosexuality was decriminalised in India in 2009, an increasing number of LGBT tourists are viewing India as a holiday destination.

A survey conducted by Roth’s firm in the United States last year ranked India as the second most desired cultural or adventure destination, just behind Thailand.

Changing mindsets have created business possibilities for travel operators, who are now portraying India as an emerging gay-friendly destination.

Four years ago, there wasn’t a single gay tourism company in India. The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) now lists seven gay-friendly or exclusively LGBT travel agents in India.

“Word about India has travelled far and wide through the Internet,” said Sanjay Malhotra, owner of Indjapink, which calls itself India’s first gay travel boutique. He started with 20 clients but now has more than 100.

“Five years ago, the gay community had so many apprehensions travelling to India,” he added. “Now, they look at the option of travelling to India without acting heterosexual.”

Tours cover everything from honeymoon packages and candle-lit dinners to wildlife safaris and spiritual retreats. An opportunity to interact with the local gay community is the icing on the cake.

Malhotra has even conducted weddings with traditional Hindu rites for two couples.

Not that it is impossible for LGBT tourists to experience India without a travel agent. When economist Qing Wu visited North India with his partner, he said he “never felt uncomfortable” as a couple.

“In India, it is fairly common to see boys holding hands,” said Wu, who lives in San Francisco, via email. “I personally feel pretty safe.”

The special packages provided by LGBT tour companies in India also ensure clients can be completely uninhibited during their visit. The entire staff, if not gay, is gay-friendly.

“It is my duty that no taxi driver or guide says anything offensive,” said Abhinav Goel, owner of Out Journeys in New Delhi.

Typically, these packages are mid-range to luxury and most of the clientele comes from the United States and Australia. A majority of these agencies still cater to men, though the survey by Roth’s firm showed India was the most desired destination among lesbians in North America.

“We cannot truly call ourselves LGBT till we do something about the ‘L’ part of it,” said Goel, who is planning on starting a group package for lesbians.

India is still way behind places such as Hong Kong and Thailand, which have openly gay communities and gay-friendly infrastructure.

Operators say it would be hard for India to compete with these destinations without visible government support.

“They just have to make the statement that Incredible India supports gay travellers,” said Goel. “That small and simple statement could really open the doors.”

(Editing by John Chalmers and Elaine Lies)

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admin on January 26th 2012 in Top News

Apple CEO faces first test with massive cash mountain

Apple CEO faces first test with massive cash mountain

Apple CEO faces first test with massive cash mountain

(Reuters) – Apple CEO Tim Cook has a problem, a $98 billion problem.

Just 18 months ago, Apple’s $46 billion mountain of cash – while huge by most standards – attracted only muted complaints from investors, who did call for a dividend or share buyback, but were mostly happy with the meteoric rise in the stock price.

But with the growing cash balance now a much bigger overhang on the stock, widely considered to be undervalued, investors are clamoring more vocally for Cook to put the money to work.

No one could have foreseen just how quickly that warchest would grow. Indeed, some analysts estimated Apple’s cash holdings would increase to $65 billion at the end of 2011. That it has swelled nearly 50 percent above even those lofty projections is nothing short of awesome.

Apple now has about $104 in cash per share.

But to paraphrase rapper P. Diddy, with more money comes more problems. Apple’s runaway success presents Cook with his first real public test as chief executive officer – figuring out what to do with the money.

Apple’s cash balance is now a quarter of its $415 billion market capitalization and roughly equals California’s 2012-2013 state budget. And even though $64 billion of Apple’s cash is overseas – meaning it will have to pay a hefty tax to bring it into the United States – calls for a dividend on Wall Street grew louder after the company said on Tuesday it was in “active discussions” internally on what to do with the money.

Wall Street is strongly in favor of Apple returning the money to shareholders through buybacks or dividends, even if it is only a one-time deal. But the ultra-conservative company, which typically ignores Wall Street, gave no clues about that during its earnings call on Tuesday.

“They are clearly trying to signal that they are not ignoring the issue,” said Michael Holt, an analyst with Morningstar. “It doesn’t mean that a decision is imminent.”

Others, however, are convinced a dividend will be paid this year.

“With Apple stating that it is ‘actively’ pursuing its options with regards to its cash balance, we believe the commentary may be setting itself up for a cash dividend in FY12,” Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White said, raising his target on the stock to $666.

Katy Huberty, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, echoed White’s view, saying: “Apple appears committed to making a decision on cash return in the near-term and we continue to believe a dividend makes the most sense.”

Some big technology companies have started paying a dividend to help allay investor concerns about slowing growth by returning part of their ample cash holdings. Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) began paying a dividend last year, while Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) started in 2003.

FAR TOO MUCH MONEY

Apple stock gained 25 percent in 2011, adding about $77 billion to its market cap and it touched an all-time high of $454.45 on Wednesday. Some continue to bank on a share-price rise to as high as $700.

The company’s core business is throwing off massive amounts of cash every quarter – Apple recorded a $16 billion increase in cash sequentially – in part because of its reluctance to pay a dividend or buy back stock and its limited acquisition history.

The company earned a mere 0.77 percent on its cash and investments in fiscal 2011, mostly due to its preference for safe, but low-yielding U.S. Treasury and agency debt.

This is a tad higher than the 0.75 percent it earned in fiscal 2010, but down from 1.43 percent in fiscal 2009, 3.44 percent in 2008 and 5.27 percent in 2007.

Fiscal prudence has long been part of Apple’s mantra and the Cupertino, California-based company runs a tight ship with total revenue rising 66 percent in fiscal 2011, but operating expenses rising only 37 percent.

For now, Apple’s Chief Financial Officer, Peter Oppenheimer, has veered away from his usual script, which was to tell Wall Street that Apple has always had internal discussions on the best use of its cash, with capital preservation being key.

He characterized these discussion as “active” on Tuesday.

“We recognize that the cash is growing for all the right reasons,” Oppenheimer said, but added he had nothing to announce. “In the meantime, we’re not letting it burn a hole in our pockets.”

Oppenheimer also suggested that Apple might invest in its supply chain or make acquisitions. But Apple has typically preferred to acquire small companies, which has had little or no material impact on its results so far.

Apple’s major expense last year was paying the lion’s share to acquire – along with Microsoft and a few other companies – the patent portfolio of bankrupt telecommunications company Nortel for $4.5 billion.

Apple said it spent $4.3 billion in fiscal 2011 to acquire “property, plant and equipment,” $3.2 billion in “acquisition of intangible assets” and $244 million in “payments made in connection with business acquisitions,” according to its annual regulatory filing.

That is in sharp contrast to rivals such as Google Inc (GOOG.O), which is acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in cash, and which completed 54 acquisitions during the first nine months of last year alone. The company’s $44.6 billion warchest of cash and investments at the end of December was far lower than Apple’s.

Google has also resisted pressure to announce a dividend or buy back stock.

Apple may do the same in the next few months, said Michael Walkley, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity.

“We believe Apple is likely to announce a dividend during 2012, potentially next quarter when crossing $100 billion in cash and cash equivalents,” Walkley said. “We view this as very bullish for investors, as we believe a new group of investors seeking dividends would invest in Apple and drive shares higher.”

(Reporting By Poornima Gupta; editing by Andre Grenon)

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admin on January 26th 2012 in Technology

POLL: Bernanke keeps Wall St stimulus expectations intact

POLL: Bernanke keeps Wall St stimulus expectations intact

POLL: Bernanke keeps Wall St stimulus expectations intact

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke lent support on Wednesday to expectations at most leading Wall Street firms that the U.S. central bank will provide new stimulus for the economy in the first half of this year, a Reuters poll showed.

Economists at 12 of 18 primary dealers, the large financial institutions that do business directly with the Fed, said the central bank would do further quantitative easing. The poll was conducted after Bernanke’s news conference.

Bernanke told a news conference after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting that additional purchases of securities is an option if the recovery falters or inflation does not move toward the new target of 2 percent the central bank set.

Eight of the dealers forecast the Fed would undertake a new stimulus program in the first half of 2012, while the remainder of those looking for more stimulus said it would happen later in 2012.

“It is an old call, but we feel much better about it after today’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting,” said Aneta Markowska, economist at Societe Generale in New York. Societe Generale forecasts the Fed will announce a $600 billion program in March.

The Fed has already done two rounds of asset purchases — known as quantitative easing or QE1 and QE2 — under which it has bought $2.3 trillion of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury debt. Lingering economic weakness has fueled expectations of more such stimulus.

The median forecast from 10 dealers pointed to a program of $600 billion of purchases of Treasuries or mortgage-backed securities.

The Fed’s current $400 billion stimulus program, dubbed “Operation Twist,” extends the maturity of the central bank’s Treasury debt holdings in an effort to bring down longer-term rates like those on mortgages. Operation Twist is scheduled to last through June.

In its post-meeting statement on Wednesday, the Fed said it did not expect to raise rates from the current ultra-low level near zero until at least late 2014 in an effort to support a sluggish economic recovery.

Bernanke indicated that the securities purchases so far had had the desired effects.

“In Bernanke’s press conference he seemed to take whatever opportunity he could to emphasize that if the progress toward lower unemployment is too slow and if inflation remains benign, the Fed will be looking for more opportunities to be accommodative or to extend its balance sheet,” said Dana Saporta, economist with Credit Suisse in New York.

Credit Suisse expects the Fed to announce a securities purchase program of about $600 billion in the first half of 2012.

Most economists at primary dealers had already been calling for further Fed stimulus, with 12 of 17 dealers saying the central bank will undertake further quantitative easing in a poll conducted late last week.

The median of forecasts for the size of the program was also $600 billion in the earlier poll, and eight dealers also forecast such a program would be announced in the first half of this year.

There are 21 primary dealers, of which 18 answered the poll on Wednesday.

Do you

expect the

Fed to

announce a How large

further round will the

of quantitative program be?

COMPANY easing? When?

BAML Yes (Yes) Sept 2012 (Sept 2012) 800 (800)

BMO Capital Possibly (Yes) NA (Q2 2012) NA (400)

Bank of NS Yes (Yes) Mid 2012 (Mid 2012) 500 (500)

Barclays No (No) No (No) No (No)

BNP Yes (Yes) April (April 2012) 400 (400)

Cantor Yes (Yes) April (June 2012) 750 (750)

Citigroup No (No) No (No) No (No)

CSuisse Yes (Yes) H1 2012 (2012) 600 (600)

Daiwa No (No) No (No) No (No)

Deutsche No (No) No (No) No (No)

Goldman Yes (Yes) Mid 2012 (H1 2012) NA (NA)

HSBC Yes (Yes) June (June) NA (NA)

Jefferies Yes (Yes) Q2 (Q2 2012) 750 (750)

JP Morgan No (No) No (No) No (No)

Mizuho Yes (Yes) Q2 (March) NA (800)

M Stanley NA (NA) NA (NA) NA (NA)

Nomura Yes (Yes) Q2 (Q2) 475 (475)

RBC Possibly NA (NA) 500 (500)

RBS Yes (NA) Mid 2012 (NA) 600 (NA)

Soc Gen Yes (Yes) March (March) 600 (600)

UBS NA (NA) NA (NA) NA (NA)

(Additional reporting by Pam Niimi; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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admin on January 26th 2012 in Economy



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