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    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Reuters - Oil falls nearly 4 percent on economic outlook, dollar

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    Oil falls nearly 4 percent on economic outlook, dollar

    Monday, Jun 22, 2009 7:28PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices fell nearly 4 percent to below $67 a barrel on Monday as the dollar firmed and concerns about the possibility of an economic rebound weighed on the market.

    The World Bank said prospects for the global economy remained "unusually uncertain" as it cut 2009 growth forecasts for most economies, adding to concerns of a slower turnaround.

    U.S. crude for July delivery, which expires on Monday, traded down $2.62 to settle at $66.93 a barrel. Brent crude lost $2.21 to settle at $66.98 a barrel.

    "Crude and products futures fell for a second day on a bearish revision from the World Bank and on a stronger dollar," Addison Armstrong, an analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut, said in a research note.

    The U.S. dollar gained against the euro on worries over the euro zone's economic and fiscal outlook. A stronger dollar can limit the appeal of commodities to investors.

    Further weakness came as economic concerns dragged down equities. Optimism over a potential economic rebound had lifted stocks in recent months and helped push crude up from $32.40 in December.

    Some support came after Nigeria's main militant group said on Sunday it had attacked three oil installations belonging to Royal Dutch Shell, widening a month-old offensive against the OPEC nation's energy industry.

    Data showed implied oil demand in China, the No. 2 consumer, rose 6 percent in May over a year earlier, its fastest growth since August 2008.

    Surging demand in China and other emerging economies sent oil and other commodities on a six-year rally that peaked when crude topped $147 a barrel last July.

    Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guards threatened to crack down on street protests in the OPEC producer after opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi called on supporters to stage more demonstrations over the disputed June 12 election.

    A Reuters poll of analysts ahead of weekly U.S. inventory data forecast crude stocks in the world's top consumer fell by 1.3 million barrels last week on lower imports, while product stocks were seen rising.

    The American Petroleum Institute will release its weekly stockpile data on Tuesday, while data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration comes out on Wednesday.

    (Reporting by Matthew Robinson, Robert Gibbons and Gene Ramos in New York, Alex Lawler in London and Fayen Wong in Perth; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

    Reuters - Used cars congest Indian roads as sales spike

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    Used cars congest Indian roads as sales spike

    Monday, Jun 15, 2009 7:18AM UTC

    By Janaki Krishnan

    MUMBAI (Reuters) - When Indian insurance executive K. Shankar shopped for a car, he was pleasantly surprised to discover he could buy a three-year-old SUV in near mint condition for just a bit more than a new hatchback.

    "This SUV is ideal for me ... and if I can get it for the price of a much smaller new car then why not?" said Shankar.

    Used car purchases are soaring in India, the world's second most populous country, as a host of global and local auto firms offer attractive trade-in deals to build customer loyalty and boost new car sales.

    Many of these used vehicles are getting snapped up by people who have never owned cars before or families adding second or even third vehicles to their fleets.

    With over one million cars being added to India's roads every year, experts worry the country's creaky infrastructure won't keep up with the volume of traffic, causing unbearable congestion and more traffic accidents in a country with already one of the world's worst road death tolls.

    "Growth in vehicle ownership has reduced rush hour speeds to 5-10 km an hour in the central areas of major cities," the World Bank said in a recent report on India.

    The number of vehicles on Indian roads has grown at an average pace of 10.2 percent annually over the last five years, it said, adding that 50 percent of roads were in a state of disrepair and only 30 percent of highways had two lanes or more.

    PRE-OWNED CARS

    Until recently, the used car market in India was dominated by neighbourhood dealers and roadside garage mechanics who controlled nearly 90 percent of the market, say industry experts.

    But several global car makers such as Hyundai <005380.KS>, Ford <F.N> and General Motors <GM.N> have entered the market with pre-owned certified car programmes, causing used car sales to soar. India's largest vehicle maker, Tata Motors <TAMO.BO>, also entered the market earlier this year.

    Local firms Maruti Suzuki <MRTI.BO> and top utility vehicles maker Mahindra & Mahindra's <MAHM.BO> were the first to spot an opportunity when they launched their pre-owned certified cars programmes more than five years ago.

    The used car programmes allow customers to get new cars in exchange for their older ones at substantial discounts. These used cars are then refurbished and sold with warranties.

    For auto firms, the exchange programmes are a way of building brand loyalty. For new car owners they are an opportunity to buy bigger cars at entry-level prices.

    "We will be able to ensure customer loyalty and it will also reflect in the sale of new cars," said General Motors India's Vice President P. Balendran.

    Most used car buyers are first-time owners or those buying additional cars for their spouses or their children, said Hormazd Sorabjee, auto expert and editor of Autocar India magazine.

    According to industry estimates, in the last fiscal year ending March 2009, new passenger vehicle sales were about 1.5 million units while sales of used cars were about 1 million.

    "If you look at the mature markets such as the U.S. and Europe, used car sales are in multiples of new car sales ... and that is the sort of trend we are seeing replicated in India," said Jayesh Jagasia, founder of VeriCAR, a company that inspects used cars for customers.

    The growth in used cars might make life more convenient for many Indians, but it has the potential to grind life down to a halt in major cities where road infrastructure is not keeping up with the ballooning volume of traffic.

    Car accidents are also a major concern. India's road toll is one of the worst in the world with around 100,000 people getting killed in road accidents in 2007 alone.

    As business grows, an industry for used cars has also sprung up such as web sites advising customers on good car deals and rating used vehicles.

    The financial crisis, in which India's growth has slowed to 6.7 percent in the fiscal year ended March from 9 percent a year earlier, has also been behind the growth in used car sales.

    "Interest in used cars has increased over the last one year or more because of uncertainty prevalent in the market and unavailability of loans," said Umang Kumar, co-founder of Gaadi.com, a search website for used and new cars.

    (Editing by Sugita Katyal and Megan Goldin)

    Reuters - Goldman free of government but Buffett looms large

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    Goldman free of government but Buffett looms large

    Friday, Jun 19, 2009 12:45PM UTC

    By Steve Eder

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Now that Goldman Sachs <GS.N> has settled its $10 billion (six billion pounds) debt with the U.S. taxpayer, investors are wondering about the Wall Street firm's other looming presence -- Warren Buffett.

    Last September, shortly after Lehman Brothers <LEHMQ.PK> went bankrupt, but before the U.S. Treasury unveiled plans to bail out the banking industry, Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway <BRKa.N><BRKb.N> invested $5 billion in Goldman and acquired preferred shares and warrants to buy common stock.

    Goldman, which received $10 billion from the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, repaid that money on Wednesday. But Buffett's presence is large, not just because of his huge investment, but also given his reputation for integrity and as one of the world's savviest investors.

    So what will Buffett, the second wealthiest man in the United States, according to Forbes magazine, do?

    "Basically not much," said Vahan Janjigian, author of the book 'Even Buffett Isn't Perfect.'

    "He has a history of making fairly large investments in these kinds of companies and sitting back and letting the management team run the company."

    Janjigian expects Buffett to sit tight as Berkshire collects $500 million of annual dividends on the preferred shares and earns paper profits on accompanying warrants to buy $5 billion of common stock at $115 per share for up to five years.

    Goldman closed on Thursday at $143.09, meaning Berkshire would earn more than $1 billion in profits if it cashed the common stock warrants now. That is in addition to the 10 percent preferred stock dividend, which is twice the 5 percent rate the government was getting from the TARP investment.

    A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to comment and Buffett did not return a message left with his assistant seeking comment.

    Despite what Goldman gave up, the Buffett deal was critical at the time, said Marshall Sonanshine, the chairman and managing partner of Sonanshine Partners.

    "It was sensible when it was done, but tragic it had to be done the way it was done," said Sonanshine. "The last four months of 2008 were such an extraordinary time of fear and financial collapse one cannot realistically ask: 'Should we have? Might we have? Could we have?' The point is Goldman is a very strong franchise."

    INVESTMENT PROSPECTS WERE DIM

    Buffett's investment didn't always look so promising.

    In November, two months after he made his move, Goldman common shares were as low as $47.44. Some doubted the wisdom of Buffett's investment and began to question his stewardship of Berkshire itself.

    But Buffett stuck with Goldman through all the ups and downs -- even after his trusted investment banker, Byron Trott, announced planned to strike out on his own.

    Bill Bergman, an equity analyst with Morningstar <MORN.O> in Chicago, recalled an October newspaper column in which Buffett said he planned to buy stock in U.S. companies.

    "No one is noticing now that the market is above where it was when he wrote the article," Bergman said.

    Bergman initially expected Goldman to be a safe and strong investment for Berkshire.

    "That is what it looks like increasingly," he added.

    And making the deal even sweeter, Goldman's top executives are publicly committed to protecting Buffett's investment.

    In a regulatory filing in October, a group of Goldman executives, including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, agreed not to sell more than 10 percent of their common shares in Goldman until October 2011, or until Berkshire redeems the $5 billion in preferred stock it purchased last year.

    Gary Townsend, the president and chief executive of Hill- Townsend Capital LLC, said it was obvious Buffett will stick with Goldman over the long haul.

    "Buffett tends to be a long-term holder," Townsend added. "I don't see him quickly leaving."

    And with a deal like that, why should he?

    (Reporting by Steve Eder; editing by Andre Grenon)

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    Obama signs law giving FDA authority to regulate tobacco


    Expressing a hope that America's teens will not be hooked as he was, President Obama just signed into law a bill granting the Food and Drug Administration sweeping new authority to regulate tobacco.


    The president, shown here at the signing ceremony with lawmakers and teens representing the generation they're all trying to save, said he's trying to reduce the estimated 1,000 teenagers a day who become smokers.


    "I was one of these teenagers. And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time," said Obama, who has been public about his own struggles to quit smoking.

    The bill represents "the strongest action the federal government has ever taken to reduce tobacco use," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.


    Obama said the focus is on stopping sales pitches to children.


    "The kids today don't just start smoking for no reason. They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting," the presient said.

    The law Obama signed aims to end that. By this fall, it will take flavored cigarettes off the market. By January, it will require tobacco manufacturers and importers to give the FDA about ingredients in their products to their products; by next April, tobacco companies will be banned from putting their logos on sporting, athletic or entertainment events or on clothing and other promotional items. By next July, the terms "light," "low" or "mild" may no longer be used to market tobacco products. By 2011, all tobacco products must carry larger and stronger warning labels.

    As USA TODAY's Wendy Koch outlined in a story earlier this month, Obama's signature culminates a better-than decade-long effort by members of Congress to give the FDA regulatory power over tobacco,a product that played such an important part in the early U.S. economy that some of the pillars on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol are topped with marble facsimiles of the Golden Leaf.


    The Campign for Tobacco-Free Kids says more than 1,000 organizations, including public health and faith groups, joined to support the bill, which passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.

    A bipartisan delegation of House and Senate members who helped shepherd the bill through Congress was on hand for the White House signing ceremony. Absent was the bill's chief author, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Kennedy, who remains in Massachusetts undergoing cancer treatment, issued a statement hailing passage of the "long overdue" bill and suggesting it's a promising sign for the president's efforts to overhaul the health care system.

    Decade after decade, Big Tobacco has seduced millions of teenagers into lifetimes of addiction and premature death. Enactment of this legislation will finally put a stop to that. It is truly a life-saving act, and a welcome demonstration that this Congress is capable of enacting major health reform.


    (Posted by Kathy Kiely)

    Reuters - Dutch muggers caught on Google street view camera

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    Dutch muggers caught on Google street view camera

    Friday, Jun 19, 2009 5:14PM UTC

    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch twin brothers who mugged a teenager in the northern town of Groningen were arrested after being caught on camera by a car gathering images for Google's online photo map service, police said.

    The pair stole the 14-year-old boy's mobile phone and 165 euros ($230) in cash last September.

    "The picture was taken just a moment before the crime," a police spokesman said.

    In March, the victim recognized himself and the two robbers while surfing Google Maps, which has a "Street View" feature allowing users to see images of buildings. The images are usually taken by a camera mounted on a car.

    After an investigation by the police, one of the 24-year-old twins confessed to robbing the boy.

    ($1=.7183 Euro)

    (Reporting by Harro ten Wolde)

    Reuters - Ericsson signs LTE patent deals

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    Ericsson signs LTE patent deals

    Monday, Jun 22, 2009 2:8PM UTC

    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson has signed its first license agreements for LTE technology patents, allowing other companies to use the technology, an Ericsson official said on Monday.

    Gustav Brismark, vice president of patent strategies at Ericsson, told Reuters the firm already had more than 80 similar patent agreements in place for earlier mobile network technologies, such as GSM and WCDMA.

    "The first agreements including LTE have been signed, and over time more or less all these agreements will be renegotiated to include LTE, but that will not be done in a day," he said.

    LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is a new high-speed mobile network technology, intended to boost capacity in wireless networks to cope with increasing data traffic.

    Ericsson invests heavily in research and development. Licensing agreements for patents is one way of capitalizing on these investments.

    "We see that we are keeping our leading position as we go from GSM to WCDMA to LTE. That is important to be able to continue the strategy of having license revenues as one part of what Ericsson makes money from," Brismark said.

    (Reporting by Sven Nordenstam; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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