Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiffany & Co. Earnings Cheat Sheet: Beats Expectations

S&P 500 (NYSE:SPY) component Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF) reported net income above Wall Street’s expectations for the third quarter. Tiffany & Co. is a jeweler and specialty retailer that sells timepieces, sterling silverware, china, crystal, stationery, fragrances and accessories.

Tiffany Earnings Cheat Sheet for the Third Quarter

Results: Net income for Tiffany & Co. rose to $89.7 million (70 cents per share) vs. $55.1 million (43 cents per share) in the same quarter a year earlier. This marks a rise of 62.9% from the year earlier quarter.

Revenue: Rose 20.5% to $821.8 million from the year earlier quarter.

Actual vs. Wall St. Expectations: TIF beat the mean analyst estimate of 59 cents per share. It beat the average revenue estimate of $799.5 million.

Quoting Management: Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and chief executive officer, said, “Increased sales in all regions contributed to the continuation of strong worldwide sales growth in the third quarter. We were also pleased to achieve an improved operating margin by leveraging the sales growth against fixed costs.”

Key Stats:

The company has enjoyed double-digit year-over-year percentage revenue growth for the past five quarters. Over that span, the company has averaged growth of 19.5%, with the biggest boost coming in the second quarter when revenue rose 30.5% from the year earlier quarter.

The company has now seen net income rise in three straight quarters. In the second quarter, net income rose 33.1% and in the first quarter, the figure rose 25.8%.

The company has now topped analyst estimates for the last four quarters. It beat the mark by 16 cents in the second quarter, by 10 cents in the first quarter, and by 5 cents in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year.

Looking Forward: Analysts appear increasing! ly optim istic about the company’s results for the next quarter. The average estimate for the fourth quarter has moved up from $1.63 a share to $1.64 over the last ninety days. The average estimate for the fiscal year is $3.75 per share, a rise from $3.55 ninety days ago.

Competitors to Watch:?Zale Corporation (NYSE:ZLC), Blue Nile, Inc. (NASDAQ:NILE), DGSE Companies, Inc. (AMEX:DGSE), Coach, Inc. (NYSE:COH),?Signet Jewelers (NYSE:SIG), (NASDAQ:AMZN), eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Macy��s (NYSE:M).

(Company fundamentals provided by Xignite Financials. Earnings estimates provided by Zacks)


3 Things You Should Know About Small Business: Dec. 14

What's happening in small business today?

1. Square hits 1 million merchants. Mobile payments startup Square, founded by Twitter's Jack Dorsey, hit 1 million active merchants, according to Marketing Land.

Square, launched early last year, is targeting small merchants. It offers free hardware to allow them to accept payment on their Apple(AAPL) iPhones and iPads and Google(GOOG) Android devices.

Dorsey apparently announced the milestone Tuesday via his Twitter account, according to the article.

"To put that in perspective: there are only 8 million merchants who accept credit cards in the U.S. @Square has added 1 million," Dorsey tweeted.

2. Lessons from Quiznos. A lot can be said and learned from Quiznos, the troubled franchise chain. The quick-service sandwich shop is in trouble of defaulting. While Quiznos executives scramble to save the company, franchisees are paying the price as multiple franchises close.

Franchise expert Joel Libava offers future franchise owners five lessons from the Quiznos catastrophe in his blog:

  • Don't buy a specific franchise just because it's been named a "top franchise";
  • Don't buy a franchise without talking to current and past franchisees of the franchise you're interested in;
  • Hire a franchise attorney;
  • Make sure that you have enough "fall-back money";
  • Make sure that your skills are a match for your actual role as the franchisee.

3. Small-business optimism rises. Small-business confidence rose for the third consecutive month, according to the National Federation of Independent Business monthly confidence index.

The index rose 1.8 points in November, but still settled at a "weak" 92, the NFIB says. The report is based on the responses of 781 randomly sampled small business members, surveyed in November.Sales ! in addit ion to taxes and regulations remain the top concerns by business owners. Sales reports improved marginally last month, but still remain in negative territory.

Approximately 21% of all owners reported higher sales in the past three months compared with the prior three months, while 29% reported lower sales. (Most of the reports on sales volume were made before Black Friday; the impact of that level of spending will show up in the December reports, the NFIB says.)

More business owners expect higher sales and an improved business outlook, the NFIB says. Hiring also improved last month, ending five months of decline.

"After so many months of pessimism, November's modest gain made it feel like spring again," NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said. "We have good reason to be optimistic about last month's report and hopeful about what it means for the future. Still, our current reality is still very much the ongoing economic winter. November's reading is still well below the average reading prior to 2008 levels from previous recoveries. More acutely, it is 2 points below January's index, which means that there has been no progress over the calendar year. We should be encouraged, but cautiously so."

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Cramer’s “SELL BLOCK” (Jan 18, 2007)

On CNBC’s MAD MONEY tonight, Cramer had another "Sell Block" where he reviewed stocks that should maybe be sold.  This is where he follows up on his wins and losses.

On Coldwater Creek (CWTR) he slapped it and said he needs to eat crow on it.  Here was his original tout on it.

On Guess? (GES) he thinks this stock deserved a triple-buy before, but it’s time to take profits.  At $53.95 on October 9, 2006 is where he first started calling it.  If you own it, ring the register.

On XM Satellite (XMSR), the analyst upped it at $30 and cut it at $11; Cramer thought it was a buy before, but it’s time to ring the register….he thinks that there isn’t upside here and the FCC flip-flop means it’s time to ring the register.  Here is what I posted today aboutthe FCC position.

On Interpublic (IPG); Cramer said they barely skipped a beat on losin Wal-Mart but it’s time to sell it and take the 30% gain even if it can go up.

On Deere (DE) Cramer said it was a buy in September, but he thinks it’s time to sell.  It’s been looking secular and deserves the multiple, but they have to beat big-time to go up much over $108.00.

Jon C. Ogg

Apple: Morgan Stanley Says Buy Now; Bullish On iPhone

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty issued a “tactical’ buy recommendation on Apple shares this morning, an indication that she thinks the stock will rise in absolute terms over the next 45 days, with a confidence level of at least 80%.

The move, more or less the equivalent of an old-fashioned table-pounding affirmation of her bullish stance on the stock, comes in tandem with a release of the bullish results of a survey Morgan conducted that shows strong demand for for the iPhone.

“Apple is a must-own tech hardware stock into early 2012,” she writes, asserting that shares should get a lift from positive retail and supply chain data points over the holidays, Q4 earnings in January and anticipation of the iPad 3 launch will be near-term catalysts for the stock.

Huberty notes that her survey finds that U.S. demand for the iPhone in calendar Q4 is stronger than expected, and could reach 31-36 million units, above her current forecast of 30 million units; she also says that consumers expects to buy even more iPhone in the March quarter than in the December quarter, a sequential improvement not in the Street’s numbers (or hers); and she finds that tablet demand remains strong and that iPad sales should beat estimates next year.

Huberty says her survey finds that 30% of handset buyers in the U.S. plan to buy an iPhone, almost double the current 16% of handset owners who use iPhones today. On tablets, she notes that purchase intentions are more than triple the installed base, while pointing out that unit share is likely to fall slightly due to the Amazon Kindle Fire.

“A cheaper iPad could significantly increase demand, mostly from new adopters,” she adds. “If Apple lowered the price
of the cheapest iPad 2 by $100, 9% of respondents indicated they are very likely to purchase it, boosting overall US demand by 22 million units.”

AAPL this morning is up $3.81, or 1%, to $384.

Align Technology Announces $150 Million Stock Repurchase Program



SAN JOSE, Calif., Oct. 27, 2011 (CRWENEWSWIRE) — Align Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq:ALGN) announced that its board of directors has authorized a stock repurchase program of up to $150 million, effective immediately.

“Our strong balance sheet and healthy cash flow enable the company to return excess cash to our shareholders through a share repurchase program while continuing to invest in our strategic growth initiatives. It will also help offset dilution from our employee equity plans,” said Ken Arola, vice president and chief financial officer of Align Technology. “The Board of Directors believes that our stock represents an attractive investment for Align and its investors and the repurchase program demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to increasing shareholder value.”

Any purchases under Align’s stock repurchase program may be made, from time-to-time, in the open market, through block trades or otherwise. The program does not obligate Align to acquire any particular amount of common stock and depending on market conditions and other factors, these purchases may be commenced or suspended at any time, or from time-to-time without prior notice. As of October 26, Align had approximately 78.5 million shares outstanding and approximately $215 million in cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities on hand.

In a separate announcement today, Align also announced financial results for its third fiscal quarter of 2011. For more information, please see Align’s press release titled, “Align Technology Announces Third Quarter Fiscal 2011 Results.”

About Align Technology, Inc.

Align Technology designs, manufactures and markets Invisalign, a proprietary method for treating malocclusion, or the misalignment of teeth. Invi! salign c orrects malocclusion using a series of clear, nearly invisible, removable appliances that gently move teeth to a desired final position. Because it does not rely on the use of metal or ceramic brackets and wires, Invisalign significantly reduces the aesthetic and other limitations associated with braces. Invisalign is appropriate for treating adults and teens. Align Technology was founded in March 1997 and received FDA clearance to market Invisalign in 1998.The Invisalign product family includes Invisalign, Invisalign Teen, Invisalign Assist, Invisalign Express 10, and Vivera Retainers. To learn more about Invisalign or to find an Invisalign trained doctor in your area, please visit

Cadent Holdings, Inc. is a subsidiary of Align Technology and is a leading provider of 3D digital scanning solutions for orthodontics and dentistry. The Cadent family of products includes iTero and iOC scanning systems, OrthoCAD iCast, OrthoCAD iQ and OrthoCAD iRecord. For additional information, please visit

Forward-Looking Statement

This news release contains forward-looking statements, including statements made by Mr. Arola on Align’s continuing intention to invest in its strategic growth initiatives and other statements about Align’s common stock repurchase program, including the maximum amounts that may be purchased under the program. Forward-looking statements contained in this news release relating to expectations about future events or results are based upon information available to Align as of the date hereof. Readers are cautioned that these forward-looking statements are only predictions and are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions that are difficult to predict. As a result, actual results may differ materially and adversely from those expressed in any forward-looking statement. Factors that might cause such a difference include, but are not limited to, difficulties predicting customer and consumer purc! hasing b ehavior, the willingness and ability of our customers to maintain and/or increase utilization in sufficient numbers, the possibility that the development and release of new products does not proceed in accordance with the anticipated timeline, the possibility that the market for the sale of these new products may not develop as expected, the risks relating to Align’s ability to sustain or increase profitability or revenue growth in future periods while controlling expenses, growth related risks, including capacity constraints and pressure on our internal systems and personnel, our ability to successfully achieve the anticipated benefits from the acquisition of Cadent, continued customer demand for our existing and new products, changes in consumer spending habits as a result of, among other things, prevailing economic conditions, levels of employment, salaries and wages and consumer confidence, the timing of case submissions from our doctors within a quarter, acceptance of our products by consumers and dental professionals, foreign operational, political and other risks relating to Align’s international manufacturing operations, Align’s ability to protect its intellectual property rights, continued compliance with regulatory requirements, competition from existing and new competitors, Align’s ability to develop and successfully introduce new products and product enhancements, and the loss of key personnel. These and other risks are detailed from time to time in Align’s periodic reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including, but not limited to, its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2010, which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on February 26, 2011. Align undertakes no obligation to revise or update publicly any forward-looking statements for any reason.


Investor Relations Contact
Shirley Stacy
Align Technology, Inc.
(408) 470-1150
Press! Contact
Shannon Mangum Henderson
Ethos Communication, Inc.
(678) 261-7803




Friday, December 16, 2011

GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) at its Peak Price of the Year - NYSE:GSK

GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK) achieved its new 52 week high price of $44.42 where it was opened at $44.00 UP 0.30 points or +0.68% by closing at $44.21. GSK transacted shares during the day were over 2.27 million shares however it has an average volume of 1.94 million shares.

GSK has a market capitalization $112.45 billion and an enterprise value at $125.97 billion. Trailing twelve months price to sales ratio of the stock was 2.54 while price to book ratio in most recent quarter was 7.72. In profitability ratios, net profit margin in past twelve months appeared at 6.59% whereas operating profit margin for the same period at 32.04%.

The company made a return on asset of 12.70% in past twelve months and return on equity of 19.16% for similar period. In the period of trailing 12 months it generated revenue amounted to $44.35 billion gaining $17.43 revenue per share. Its year over year, quarterly growth of revenue was -10.50% holding 13.80% quarterly earnings growth.

According to preceding quarter balance sheet results, the company had $10.71 billion cash in hand making cash per share at 4.21. The total of $24.22 billion debt was there putting a total debt to equity ratio 152.59. Moreover its current ratio according to same quarter results was 1.28 and book value per share was 5.73.

Looking at the trading information, the stock price history displayed that its S&P500 52 Week Change illustrated 24.66% where the stock current price exhibited up beat from its 50 day moving average price of $42.46 and remained above from its 200 Day Moving Average price of $40.16.

GSK holds 2.54 billion outstanding shares with 2.42 billion floating shares.

The Market Just Bashed My Stock!

Stocks fell for a third straight day yesterday as fears about Europe's debt crisis deepened. So even though your stock also took a nosedive, don't panic. First, let's see whether it had good reason to fall. Sometimes, panic-fueled drops can make excellent buying opportunities. Here's the latest crop of cratered stocks that could provide a possibility for profit:


CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Wednesday's Change

First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  )



Hyperdynamics (NYSE: HDY  )



BioSante Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: BPAX  )



Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

The market tumbled 131 points yesterday, or 1.1%, so stocks that went down by even larger percentages are pretty big deals.

That's going to leave a mark
At what price are consumers willing to pay for solar energy? Whatever it is, we haven't hit it yet. Despite prices falling 40% year over year, there's still not enough demand and First Solar's cut to guidance is yet another reminder the industry has only had its day in the sun because of taxpayer subsidies. Now that they're drying up all around the globe, so is the artificial demand that propped them up.

Despite all the gains solar has made, this renewable-energy source really struggles to survive on ! its own without government assistance. It pays producers to make the product (subsidies) and it needs to pay consumers to buy it (credits). That's not exactly a robust market.

This is First Solar's second guidance reduction in as many months, and it took down Sunpower (Nasdaq: SPWR  ) and JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO  ) with it. The CAPS solar power sector fell 4% yesterday. So much for that vote of confidence Warren Buffett supposedly gave the solar industry when Berkshire Hathaway's ?MidAmerican Energy subsidiary bought First Solar's Topaz solar farm.

Add the stock to the Fool's free?portfolio tracker?and follow along on its progress. Let us know in the comments section below whether you agree that the only hope this business has is for the government to keep propping it up.

In the breakdown lane
Last month exploration-stage oil driller Hyperdynamics got swept aside as costs for its exploration well off the coast of Guinea surged. It had to start drilling before the end of the year and maybe it wasn't ready, because it continues to be plagued by operational problems at the well.

Hyperdynamics said mechanical and operational issues have curtailed drilling activity, though it expects to be drilling again within 10 days. Those delays, however, are likely to raise its expenses again. If it can get these problems under control, it could have a lucrative field on its hands. Africa is becoming a hotbed of drilling activity, with Harvest Natural Resources, Total, and Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  ) all targeting the country's coast.

But CAPS All-Stars aren't so sure Hyperdynamics can make it through to that point, with 56% believing it will underperform the market. Let us know in the comments section below or on the?Hyperdynamics CAPS page! ?whether you think its drill program will be successful, and follow its progress by adding it to the Fool's free?portfolio tracker.

Crash and burn
BioSante Pharmaceuticals' LibiGel failed to beat a placebo in late-stage trials and the stock was destroyed. The experimental drug was supposed to increase sexual desire in postmenopausal women. The shares lost 16% during regular trading hours, but fell an astounding 78% after the market closed.

LibiGel is a topical testosterone ointment that uses a gel from Antares Pharma (AMEX: AIS  ) . Needless to say, those investors also got a headache from BioSante's news: Shares fell 8% during normal trading and lost another quarter of their value after hours.

It may be that both reactions were a tad overdone, but with investors having been lulled by upbeat progress reports that seemed to indicate the drug was on track to succeed, you probably won't find many willing to plunk down more money on the stock. Once bitten, twice shy.

Add the biotech to your watchlist and tell us on the BioSante Pharmaceuticals CAPS page if it's a stock that will get a rise in the future.

Ready for a resurrection
Just because your stock has taken a beating, that doesn't mean it's going to roll over and die. Markets are?known for overreacting. A closer look on?Motley Fool CAPS?at what's happened to your stock can give you an edge over other investors who just react to the market's lead. With CAPS, you can decide for yourself whether your stock is ready to come back from the dead.

Accenture Earnings Cheat Sheet: Fifth Consecutive Quarter of Double-Digit Growth

Accenture plc (NYSE:ACN) reported its results for the first quarter. Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company.

Accenture plc Earnings Cheat Sheet for the First Quarter

Results: Net income for the management services company rose to $712 million (96 cents per share) vs. $606 million (81 cents per share) in the same quarter a year earlier. This marks a rise of 18% from the year earlier quarter.

Revenue: Rose 17.1% to $7.1 billion from the year earlier quarter.

Actual vs. Wall St. Expectations: ACN beat the mean analyst estimate of 94 cents per share. It beat the average revenue estimate of $6.85 billion.

Quoting Management: Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s chief executive officer, said, “We are pleased with our strong performance in the first quarter. We generated our highest quarterly revenues ever, with double-digit local-currency growth in all five operating groups and all three geographic regions. We grew EPS by 19 percent, expanded operating margin, delivered strong bookings and continue to have a very strong balance sheet. Our excellent results in the first quarter give us confidence that we are executing a growth strategy that resonates with the needs of our clients in the current environment. We remain focused on delivering profitable growth through a relentless focus on industry and technology differentiation and on accelerated geographic expansion in our priority emerging markets.”

Key Stats:

The company has enjoyed double-digit year-over-year percentage revenue growth for the past five quarters. Over that span, the company has averaged growth of 18.1%, with the biggest boost coming in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year when revenue rose 23% from the year earlier quarter.

Last quarter marked the fifth straight quarter that the company saw shrinking gross margi! ns as gr oss margin fell 0.3 percentage point to 29.7% from the year earlier quarter. Over that time, margins have contracted on average 0.7 percentage point per quarter on a year-over-year basis.

The company has now seen net income rise in three straight quarters. In the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year, net income rose 37.4% and in the third quarter of the last fiscal year, the figure rose 28%.

The company has now topped analyst estimates for the last four quarters. It beat the mark by 2 cents in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year, by 4 cents in the third quarter of the last fiscal year, and by 4 cents in the second quarter of the last fiscal year.

Looking Forward: Expectations for the company’s next quarter results are lower than they have been. Over the past sixty days, the average estimate for second quarter has fallen from 87 cents per share to 86 cents. For the fiscal year, the average estimate has moved up from $3.78 a share to $3.83 over the last ninety days.

Competitors to Watch: Intl. Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL), Genpact Limited (NYSE:G), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), Towers Watson & Co (NYSE:TW), Infosys Tech. Ltd. (NASDAQ:INFY), Wipro Limited (NYSE:WIT), Ariba, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARBA), and Accenture Plc (XET).

Stock Performance: Shares of ACN were up 0.2% from the previous close.

(Company fundamentals provided by Xignite Financials. Earnings estimates provided by Zacks)

Fox River Launches ETF Platform

Fox River Execution has collaborated with Barclays Global Investors by introducing a new ETF trading platform that provides a comprehensive system for competitive, real-time price and size discovery in the ETF market.

Fox Spotlight allows traders to access a picture of real-time ETF liquidity and pricing. It's the first such system to display the liquidity in an ETF along with that in the ETF's underlying securities, minimizing market impact for ETF trades of any size.

"With Fox Spotlight, traders can leverage insights into the true liquidity in ETFs to execute trades quickly and efficiently at an optimal price," said Ronald A. Santella, CEO of Fox River Execution. "We appreciate iShares' ETF insights that helped us to bring Fox Spotlight to market."

Fox Spotlight calculates dynamic, real-time limits to sweep and post in the ETF displayed market.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Apple Dusts Blackberry in Middle East, North Africa

By Darrell Etherington, GigaOM

Apple’siPhone, iPad and iPod touch are huge in the Middle East and NorthAfrica, where they account for 55 percent of mobile Internettraffic, according to a new survey by Dubai-based Effective Measure.The iPhone and iPad in particular are doing well, splitting topdevice honors among the countries covered in the study.

During the month of October, the Apple iPhone accounted for 29.6percent of traffic from mobile devices, with the iPad accountingfor 24.1 percent. The iPod touch added another two percent to thetotal for Apple devices. Apple’s iPhone was the most populardevice overall, and the iPad second. RIM’s BlackBerry devicescame in third, with 7.6 percent combined.

Broken down by country, Apple’s lead is even stronger insome places. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 64.5 percent of mobileInternet traffic occurred on Apple devices, with the iPhoneaccounting for 34.3 percent. In Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, the iPadwas the most popular device overall, accounting for 28.7, 24.7 and18.8 percent of mobile traffic, respectively.

Effective Measure’s measured audience for the MiddleEast-North Africa region is 43.7 million spread across sixteencountries. For Apple to own such an impressive share of the marketin an area where BlackBerryhas traditionally been in high demand is an impressiveachievement.

Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
Subscriber content. Signup for a free trial.

  • Connected world: the consumer technology revolution
  • The future of mobile: a segment analysis by GigaOM Pro
  • Carrier IQ and the continued erosion of operator trust

>To order reprints of this article, click here: Reprints

The Gains Of Professional Managed Host Solutions

In order to run a successful website there are many things that you need to take into account. A comprehensive website is very important for people that have businesses. Sometimes a webmaster may lack the resources they need to maximize the performance of their site. It is easier for you to get managed hosting services for the sake of the site’s performance. Anybody can enjoy these products as long as they have a standard website or dedicated server.

The minute you start using managed dedicated servers your back up issues are taken care of. The product updates the software when necessary and handles all the mechanical problems you experience. This means that you get to run the site at a ninety-nine percent uptime. Attention is provided to your customers round the clock. If any emergency arises there are measures set up to deal with it accordingly.

There are different types of options for dedicated servers. Service providers offer customized features meant to meet their client’s specific needs. Those that deal with e-commerce have diverse needs while information sites are not as demanding.

When a person is applying for the products they discuss their needs with the company. Once their needs have been established the professionals develop a system that they will appreciate. You get a site set up for you, the domain name is registered, the shopping cart options are added to the site and a real time inventory is included.

This is a product that you can get even with limited funds. The industry has been experiencing a lot of competition so the professionals are forced to offer discounts to the public in a bid to up their sales. This move is an advantage to the site owners since they are able to exploit various alternatives. In case a potential company offers high rates move on to an affordable one. You can start by looking at the top ranking companies to see if they have the kind of services that you are looking for.

Always remember that the professionals do not of! fer the same services. Some of the professionals are more productive than their counterparts. Make sure that the person hired for the job is qualified to offer you quality services.

The management degrees on offer are different. Use such information to select the ideal company to work with. It is important for you to choose the right professionals when dealing with a fully automated solution. Servers are not so different from each other but dedicated platforms offer a range of resources.

There are so many alternatives that you can choose from. Each product has its own features so you need to be careful about the selection process. Choose a product that has all the features you need in order to run an effective site.

Come up with a list of potentials during decision making. Explore all the options that are available to you before settling for specific managed hosting services. Once you do this it will give you a chance to hire qualified personnel to handle the project. These products ensure that you save on a lot of resources needed to ensure that your site is functioning at full capacity.

Managed hosting services from has plenty of flexibility. When you have managed dedicated servers, protecting data is much more simplified

Could 2012 Be Microsoft's Year?

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) doesn't get a lot of respect from investors these days. I can hardly blame them. While Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) have stolen the show, Mr. Softy has plodded along in the background reminding us that it still makes Office and struggling to expand its presence in the consumer electronics market beyond the Xbox. However, 2012 is looking like it'll be an exciting year in Redmond. Here are the Microsoft stories you should watch.

Welcome to the era of the touchscreen, Windows
Of all Microsoft's new products, Windows 8 is the most important because it should bring Windows-based tablets into the mainstream and maybe make up for lagging PC sales. The latest research out of Forrester says that consumer interest in tablets running Microsoft's OS has dropped significantly since the beginning of the year. While I don't think the company has missed its chance to enter the tablet market, it can't afford to have another Vista-caliber failure. The market simply won't wait.

Fortunately, the early builds of Windows 8 looks promising. It's compatible with chips based on ARM Holdings' (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) designs, which should help Windows tablets compete on important points like price and battery life. The metro interface is gorgeous and the customizable live tiles should differentiate the OS from Android and iOS. Finally, Microsoft has taken a pro-developer approach to its coming app store by giving successful developers a larger cut and providing more flexibility for in-app payments. This plus the large potential market for Windows software should mean stocking the app could be easy.

Look to the clouds
There's no denying that cloud computing is a threat to Office. Online productivity suites ! like Goo gle Apps continue to improve. Eventually such services could greatly reduce the demand for desktop-based software. In response, Microsoft launched Office 365, a subscription service that offers products like Exchange, SharePoint, and Office through the cloud. This should hold Microsoft's competitors at bay, since existing customers looking to move to the cloud will likely choose Office 365 in hopes of maintaining their established workflows, sparing themselves the costs associated with adopting an entirely new system.

As an added bonus, 365 transforms Office into a recurring-revenue model. Given time, the steady stream of subscription renewals could surpass the money Microsoft makes from selling one-time licenses.

In addition to offering a cloud-based version of Office, Microsoft launched its own cloud-hosting service, Azure. Since launching in February 2010, Azure has signed up 31,000 subscribers and hosts 5,000 applications, but it has a lot of catching up to do. (NYSE: CRM  ) and Google's App Engine both top 100,000 applications.

However, Microsoft has managed to snag a few big-name customers like?Lockheed Martin, Xerox, and Travelocity. Also, tech news site The Register recently reported that Apple had selected Windows Azure and?'s (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) AWS to jointly host iCloud.

Time to harvest the Mangos
I remain cautiously optimistic about the future of Windows Phone, but I have to admit that the OS needs to gain traction soon. The OS' current 1.5% worldwide market share doesn't inspire much confidence, but there are a few positive signs. The first batch of Mango phones from Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , Samsung, and HTC have begun to arrive, and have so far received positive reviews. Also, while Windows Pho! ne's app selection still lags those of iOS and Android, it's starting to attract more developer interest. ?Hopefully, the combination of new hardware, a growing app library, and creative marketing will turn around the operating system's declining market share in the next year. Otherwise, Windows Phone will probably have missed its chance.

The evolution of the Xbox
It looks like the next big tech battle will take place in your living room, and for once, Microsoft may have the lead. The latest dashboard update adds Bing search to the Kinect-powered voice controls and allows Windows Phone owners to use their handsets as remotes. The company has also partnered with 40 content providers to expand the consoles' on-demand media offerings and bring live TV to the Xbox. In short, the system now has many of the features that make the rumored Apple iTV so exciting.

As a bonus, Microsoft has sold more than 57 million Xbox 360 consoles to date -- 1.7 million consoles in November alone -- and boasts 35 million active Xbox Live members. Microsoft only needs to convince these users to try the service in order to gain traction, which is a heck of a lot easier than getting consumers to buy a new gadget or high-priced television set.

Foolish takeaway
I won't deny that some or all of these products could fail spectacularly, but overall I'm bullish on Microsoft and so I've initiated an outperform CAPScall for the coming year. You can follow Microsoft and the rest of my picks here.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn about another tech company positioned for greatness in 2012 and beyond, then check out this special report: "The Next Trillion Dollar Revolution." It's free, so click here to download it today.

Budget-Friendly Alternatives to Cable TV

Not long ago, TV reception depended on how well your rooftop antenna picked up the signal. But now cables and satellites have commandeered our screens. Today, about 87% of U.S. households subscribe to a multi-channel video service, mainly cable or satellite TV, according to Leichtman Research Group.

SEE ALSO: Stop Wasting Your Money

Thanks to new offerings via the Internet, viewers are increasingly catching their favorite shows free or for a fraction of what their cable company charges. And going online to view TV shows or movies doesnt mean youre stuck watching programs on your computer or tablet screen.

The Apple TV box ($99), for example, streams iTunes, Netflix, YouTube and some sports programming to your TV. Or you may be able to use a video-game console -- such as a Sony Playstation 3, Wii or Xbox 360 -- or a device designed to stream TV shows and movies from the Web to television, such as a Roku box ($60 to $100) or Boxee ($200). Plus, some Blu-ray players and HDTVs have built-in connections for receiving shows online. Using either a cable or a wireless device, you can connect your PC to your TV and view anything thats streaming to your laptop on your big screen. An HDMI cable, for HDTVs, offers the best-quality picture, and you can find a cable for $15 or less. For about $100 to $200, you can buy a wireless device, such as the Warpia StreamHD, to do the same job.

You may already be paying for Netflix or other services that can substitute for cable, and some replacement programming is free. Heres an incentive: Letting go of cable or satellite TV would save the average household about $840 a year, according to Centris, a market research firm.

Television: A new antenna or shows ordered a la carte from the Web may be all you need.

First, find out what you can watch free on local broadcast TV. At, enter your address and other information about your home to see the stations you can likely receive and the kind! of ante nna you need to access them. You may be able to find an outdoor antenna for $30 to $150, depending on the type; indoor antennas cost $40 or less, but reception may not be as good.

Then check to see whether you can watch your favorite shows free. Hulu has partnerships with many network and cable channels. A lot of prime-time shows appear on Hulu the morning after they air, although you wont find popular shows from premium cable channels. With Hulus free service, you can typically watch only the five most recent episodes in the current season; the subscription service, Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month), provides access to full seasons and the ability to stream programs to your TV via gaming consoles and other devices. Also explore the Web sites of networks and cable channels to see whats available. Many have partnerships with Hulu to aggregate content.

Fans of Fox TV shows, take note: If you dont pay for participating cable or satellite services, you now must wait eight days after episodes air before you can watch them free with Hulus regular service or at; Hulu Plus subscribers can watch them the next day. More networks may follow Foxs lead as they try to boost revenue and ratings.

Some services offer TV shows to rent or buy. With iTunes, you can rent single episodes for 99 cents, and Amazon Instant Video sells discounted episodes if you sign up for a TV pass. Full seasons of shows are also available for purchase. These services may be most useful if youve missed most of a current season and want to catch up, if youd like to buy previous seasons of shows, or if you prefer to own episodes so that you can watch them repeatedly. Otherwise, find out whether you can view new episodes free on Hulu or on the networks Web site.

Movies: Ditch the premium channels and stream or download the latest blockbusters.

Some services allow you to stream the newest movies. Vudu, for example, has a wide selection of high-definition movies available to stream the day they are r! eleased on Blu-ray. (You can also watch Vudu movies at Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, iTunes and Zune also stream new movies that you can watch on your computer or TV. Most of the services also offer a selection of movies (and TV shows) in HD, usually for an additional price. You may not be able to watch HD programming in all formats. Amazon Instant Video, for example, currently streams HD movies to your TV through compatible devices, but not to your computer.

Many online services limit the amount of time you have to watch a rental to one to two days after you begin to play it. Netflix, however, lets you keep discs as long as you wish, and its streaming content is available to view anytime. Netflix is getting heat from customers for changing its pricing model, charging separately for disc-rental and streaming subscriptions. But if you watch several movies in a month, a subscription service could still save you money. If youre primarily interested in newer, popular movies, stick with disc rental. If youd rather browse for less-current movies, documentaries and TV shows, Netflixs streaming service has a broad selection.

You can search elsewhere for lesser-known or older movies at a discount. Look for 99-cent movie specials from CinemaNow and iTunes. Vudu offers a different 99-cent special every day, and you can choose from thousands of movies to rent for $2 for two nights. Amazon Instant Video has special deals on movies and TV shows, and it compiles movies into price categories. Recently, for example, the first six movies in the Harry Potter series were available to rent for $2.99 each. Hulu has a collection of free movies and documentaries but no new releases.

Willing to get up from the couch? Aside from visiting a standard movie-rental store, you can go to Redbox or Blockbuster Express kiosks to rent new movies on DVD or Blu-ray for $3 or less per night. And renting films from the local library is free.

Sports: Its not as easy for rabid fans to watch their favorite teams without cable.

Depending on which sports and teams interest you, you may be able to catch games you want to see free. Fan of the home team? Local broadcast TV may carry most of the games, depending on whether blackout policies prohibit coverage in local markets. (The National Football League, for example, doesnt allow games to be broadcast locally unless they sell out.) streams live broadcasts of professional baseball, basketball, soccer, golf and tennis, as well as college football and basketball. You can stream content to an Xbox 360 gaming console and watch it on your TV, but you must have an Xbox Live Gold membership, which is $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year. (Ditto for streaming Netflix content to your TV with the Xbox 360.)

Some sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, offer packages that stream out-of-market games. So if youre a Los Angeles Dodgers fan living in New York City, you can catch your teams games with (depending on blackout rules). NHL GameCenter Live and NBA League Pass Broadband allow subscribers to watch up to 40 out-of-market games per week.

If you want to watch all the NFL games, you have to buy DirecTVs NFL Sunday Ticket package ($335) -- available only if youre a DirecTV customer. (One exception: If you cant get DirecTV -- say, because your condo prevents you from using a satellite dish -- DirecTV allows you to buy Sunday Ticket and stream to your computer without subscribing to a TV package.)

Broadband: Youll need a fast connection.

Enter your address at to compare prices and data speeds for broadband Internet services available in your area. A tool on the site tests the speed of your current Internet connec! tion. Th e average bill for Internet service from cable and satellite companies is about $47 a month, but you may find that your current service is still the best deal.

Streaming quality increases with the amount of bandwidth you have. Some services list minimum requirements to stream video. Vudu, for example, suggests a connection speed of at least 1 megabit per second for standard-definition movies (480p), 2.25 Mbps for HD (720p) and 4.5 Mbps for HDX movies (1080p). Netflix automatically chooses the level of video quality youll stream based on your connection speed.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Factors Of A Fantastic Appraisal Management Company

To improve success and to take full advantage of your resources, it is necessary to use a company that has a mechanism to totally automate the appraisal process. It will be perfect too if you ever can opt for appraisal management companies that are using the most recent web based tools and software.

As time proceeded, technology has enormously upgraded and it has supplied businesses the likelihood to revolutionize the way they deal with the appraisal approach. This has also helped them manage their business and accounts in a more efficient manner.

As a real estate appraiser, you most likely are conscious of the new rules integrated by HVCC or Home Valuation Code of Conduct. It can be vital that you find reliable appraisals management companies it is possible to work with. There are plenty of alternatives readily available on internet and having the capability to know what to seek out as an appraiser will allow you to uncover the top company.

One of the simplest items to complete, especially online is usually to learn the years of experience the company has in the real estate sector. When there are brand new companies that will give the same services because the currently established ones but it is satisfying to understand that you simply will work with an entity that has serviced by means of the ups and downs of real estate. In addition to experience, reputation of a company is also vital. If the company was able to remain in the business for ten years or even more, then this only implies that they’ve worked effectively with other appraisers.

There are numerous qualities you need to ascertain prior to signing up with appraisal management companies and that incorporate their team of appraisers, lenders, geographic service area, related charges and quite a few others. You are able to get started your search by filtering companies by way of their collective experience in the real estate industry.

To know more information about best appraisal management companies and ap! praisal management services visit

What Happened to InterOil?

As 2011 comes to a close, it's a great time to look back at what happened to the stocks that interest you. By making sure you know the important things that a company accomplished -- as well as the setbacks it experienced -- you can make a better decision about whether it's a smart investment for your portfolio.

Today, let's take a look at InterOil (NYSE: IOC  ) . With its operations squarely focused on the booming natural gas industry, InterOil has looked poised to benefit from efforts to increase demand. Yet the stock has still suffered throughout 2011. Below, I'll take a closer look at the events that moved InterOil's stock this year.

Stats on InterOil

Year-to-Date Stock Return (28.5%)
Market Cap $2.21 billion
Revenue, Trailing 12 Months $1.02 billion
1-Year Revenue Growth 24.5%
1-Year Profit Growth NM (loss of $31.4 million over past 12 months)
CAPS Rating (out of 5) *

Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful.

What happened to InterOil this year?
The biggest event for InterOil in 2011 has been its ongoing controversy over its planned liquefied natural gas project in Papua New Guinea. Initially, InterOil had planned to do a relatively small project, but the Papua New Guinea government rejected InterOil's plans and demanded a larger plan. That sent InterOil to Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) and UBS (NYSE: UBS  ) to try to find a partner for the project.

The fact that George! Soros i s a major investor in InterOil has also caused some ups and downs. While the backing of the investing giant is obviously a vote of confidence for the company, Soros is planning to return outside capital in his fund to investors, which could require sales of his position in the stock.

Still, although natural gas prices remain depressed, the appetite for LNG appears to be rising. With companies including ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) , and Cheniere Energy (NYSE: LNG  ) working on LNG projects that won't be ready until 2015, the race is on to make importing and exporting liquefied natural gas a viable option.

Currently, the stock's weak performance reflects concerns not only about the LNG project but also about whether the company's gas fields in Papua New Guinea will pan out as well as expectations. For now, though, pessimistic investors have won out in 2011, but the future may be much different for InterOil.

For energy investors, though, there's really only one stock you'll ever need to own. Read about it right here in the Motley Fool's special free report on the energy sector and one company that's poised to take advantage of all of its positive trends.

Click here to add InterOil to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making Corporate Housecleaning Easier in 2012

A shareholder trend is building well ahead of the 2012 proxy season. Activist investors are already filing proxy access resolutions at some major public companies such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . Needless to say, this controversial action isn't exactly welcomed by many in the business community.

"Proxy access" refers to allowing shareholders, under certain conditions, to nominate their own directors to companies' boards without having to launch a costly proxy fight to replace incumbents. This is a right many corporate managements and boards don't want shareholders to have.

Holding HP accountable
From the investor perspective, Hewlett-Packard has been a big mess in recent years. Even before the company let go of CEO Leo Apotheker -- named one of The Worst CEOs of 2011 by Fool Sean Williams -- and brought former eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) CEO Meg Whitman on board, Hewlett-Packard shareholders have been seeking change.

For example, a majority of Hewlett-Packard shareholders voted down the company's pay policies last year in their first say-on-pay vote. Yet that didn't stop Apotheker from receiving a handsome golden parachute despite his short tenure and the declining fortunes at the firm.

Now, Amalgamated Bank (a labor investor) has filed a nonbinding resolution at the tech giant, requesting that the board amend the company's bylaws to allow shareholders who hold 3% of shares for three years to nominate directors (not to exceed a 25% threshold of board seats).

According to proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services, 43% of HP shareholders voted for a similar resolution in 2007; given what's transpired since, there's a good chance this resolution could gain majority support in 2012. After all, it might be nice to have the power to more easily clean out the fumblers on HP's board, wouldn't it?

'Tis the seasonHewle tt-Packard is one of the higher-profile targets of such proposals so far, but it's not the only one; so far, 15 proxy access resolutions are planned for the 2012 proxy season.

Public pension funds from five states have taken aim at Nabors Industries (NYSE: NBR  ) , for example. Nabors Industries recently made news because of its insane $100 million golden parachute for its CEO who hasn't actually even entirely left the company, but instead has experienced a "role change" to chairman. Even prior to that headline-grabbing outrage, shareholders have been agitating for better governance policies at Nabors.

Shareholders led by investor activist Ken Steiner have filed proxy access proposals at MEMC Electronics (NYSE: WFR  ) and Textron (NYSE: TXT  ) as well.

Several shareholder activists plan proxy access resolutions that contain less stringent requirements for shareholders to gain access. Jim McRitchie plans a low-threshold proxy access proposal aimed at investment banking giant Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) and John Chevedden's proposal targeting Chiquita Brands (NYSE: CQB  ) requests proxy access for shareholders who own 1% of shares for two years.

The ongoing battle for access
Proxy access rules have been a bone of contention for years. Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission's own proxy access rule was shot down by a federal court after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable sued to overturn it. It's hardly surprising the business lobby would push back against a shareholder-friendly rule that would make nominating new directors as easy as printing the new nominees' names directly on company proxy ballots.

The SEC won't appeal the court's ruling,! but for now will let these proxy access resolutions play out on a case-by-case basis. SEC head Mary Schapiro also says rewriting the rule in the future isn't out of the question, and she claims to "remain committed to finding a way to make it easier for shareholders to nominate candidates to corporate boards." This is good, since many saw the SEC under former Chairman Christopher Cox as more business-friendly than shareholder-friendly, even though the SEC is supposed to advocate for investors.

For the time being, thank your friendly investor activists for filing proxy access proposals, and be sure to vote in favor of them should they crop up on your proxy ballots. Corporate boards and misbehaving management teams might suddenly find ample incentive to clean up their acts if they realize they might get cleaned out by shareholders who are fed up with sloppy performance.

Check back at every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on environmental, social, and governance issues.

Can Microsoft Outdo Apple's Siri?

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is coming out with a TV. Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) is trying to beat Cupertino to the punch. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is preparing for a living-room war. Enter Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) .

The Redmond giant quietly set the stage a few months ago by bringing a gaggle of Verizon FiOS channels to the Xbox 360 alongside content partners such as Comcast and Time Warner. Microsoft has now gone official with its plans with a press release ambitiously titled "The Future of TV Begins Now on Xbox 360."


Source: Microsoft press release.

Unsurprisingly, the push will include Siri-esque voice-control through the Kinect. Microsoft hopes to leverage its existing installed base of more than 57 million people and converting the Xbox into a one-stop shop for content and entertainment. While Mr. Softy's initiative isn't new, it's becoming fleshed out.

The press release compiles all the content partners that Microsoft has been gathering recently, including on-demand services such as Hulu, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) , and's "Netflix of Europe," LOVEFiLM. Those services will be available starting tomorrow, along with Disney's ESPN.

Later this month, Xbox owners can look forward to other live TV services such as Verizon FiOS. YouTube is naturally a requisite, while Wal-Mart's Vudu and Sony's Crackle both made the cut. Comcast Xfinity on Demand is in store for early 2012, as is the U.K.'s BBC and Time Warner's HBO.

The important thing to consider is whom Microsoft! is actu ally coming after. The company isn't trying to promote any cord-cutting. For example, to get FiOS channels, customers must subscribe to both FiOS TV and Internet service along with Xbox Live Gold. The content partners will ensure that the service is a complement rather than a substitute.

Netflix is already popular on game consoles, with half of subscribers connecting through consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so Netflix has nothing to worry about here.

So who stands to lose? Existing set-top box providers such as Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) and Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI  ) may soon find their dusty units obsolete. You also have smaller Web-based boxes such as the Roku and current Apple TV that become less compelling.

Fellow fool Patrick Martin is bullish on Mr. Softy's TV aspirations. The most exciting part of the announcement is the promise of Bing-powered voice control, while the rest is simply evolving the Xbox's feature set. When it comes to the task of revolutionizing the interface, experience, and interaction of TVs, I still think that's a job for Apple.

Add these companies to your Watchlist to see if TV soon sees an evolution or revolution.

  • Add?Microsoft?to My Watchlist.
  • Add?Sony?to My Watchlist.
  • Add?Netflix?to My Watchlist.
  • Add?Google?to My Watchlist.
  • Add?Apple?to My Watchlist.

5-Star Stocks Poised to Pop: Take-Two

Based on the aggregated intelligence of 180,000-plus investors participating in Motley Fool CAPS, the Fool's free investing community, video game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) has earned a coveted five-star ranking.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at Take-Two's business and see what CAPS investors are saying about the stock right now.

Take-Two facts

Headquarters (Founded) New York (1993)
Market Cap $1.23 billion
Industry Multimedia and graphics software
Trailing-12-Month Revenue $957.9 million
Management Chairman/CEO Strauss Zelnick
CFO Lainie Goldstein
Trailing-12-Month Operating Margin (2.1%)
Cash/Debt $269.7 million / $111.3 million
Competitors Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI  )
Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  )
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  )

Sources: S&P Capital IQ and Motley Fool CAPS.

On CAPS, 93% of the 1,247 members who have rated Take-Two believe the stock will outperform the S&P 500 going forward. These bulls include Insaineyesay and F111Driver. ?

Just last week, Insaineeyesay tapped Take-Two as a particularly timely pick:

[W]ith grand theft auto 5 and max payne 3 coming out [in 2012], I plan to see good things. This team has been coming out with great ! stuff fo r at least 5-8 years. I love their games. I back them up. [S]imple as that.

Over the next five years, in fact, Take Two is expected to grow its bottom line at a rapid rate of 23% annually. That's faster than rivals Activision Blizzard (14%), Electronic Arts (19%), and Microsoft (10%).

CAPS member F111Driver expands on the opportunity:

Looking for a significant bounce when they launch the next version of Grand Theft Auto in the fall of 2012. This is mainly a cyclical play, betting on the huge success of the GTA franchise. Like [Activision] and Call Of Duty except that [Take-Two] derives significantly more earnings [relatively from GTA]. ... I'm in with real money and plan on holding until shortly after launch results of GTA affect the price move.

What do you think about Take-Two, or any other stock for that matter? If you want to retire rich, you need to put together the best portfolio you can. Owning exceptional stocks is a surefire way to secure your financial future, and on Motley Fool CAPS, thousands of investors are working every day to find them. CAPS is 100% free, so get started!

MBIA Shares Popped Then Gave It Back: What You Need to Know

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of bond insurer MBIA (NYSE: MBI  ) popped this morning by 11%, but have given it all back and are sitting slightly in the red as of this writing, after it settled an ongoing suit with Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) .

So what: Morgan Stanley issued a press release announcing that the settlement terminates the outstanding credit default swap protection that MBIA had purchased on commercial mortgage-backed securities. The resolution will result in a net cash payment to Morgan Stanley, while the financial giant will recognize a pre-tax loss of roughly $1.8 billion.

Now what: Putting the lawsuit behind both companies will remove some uncertainty for investors, even though MBIA shareholders might not be too thrilled at having to pay $1.1 billion. The settlement resolves the claims at around 10% of face value, which is fairly reasonable. From Morgan Stanley's perspective, it will free up capital that the company can use to reinvest in its client-focused businesses.

Is $150,000 a Year Rich?

How wealthy does someone have to be to be wealthy? Not too much, according to a new poll by Gallup. The data show that Americans, who the government says?have a median household income nationwide?of $50,000, believe that what many would consider a modest wage — $150,000 — is enough money to lead a very good life. That, in turn, shows that American aspirations about income have fallen.

Gallup reports that:

Americans say they would need to earn a median of $150,000 a year to consider themselves rich. Separately, 50% say they would need $1 million or more in savings and investments to consider themselves rich.

It may be that at a time when median income has not risen on a real basis for a decade, the threshold of wealth is not in the millions of dollars. And, in a?period when many Americans?do not have retirement funds, a nest egg that might only yield $40,000 to $50,000 a year on a $1 million principal isn’t enough for the aged to live on. And, with many people over 65?continuing to work because they must, that $1 million?net worth has probably not been attained by many people who are?beyond retirement age.

Gallup's research report on wealth adds:

Americans' perceptions of the annual income they need to be rich are a bit higher than in 2003, when Gallup last asked the question. Then, $120,000 a year was the median?amount Americans said they would need to make in order to think of themselves as rich.

Inflation has eroded income so much that $120,000 in 2003 is nearly equivalent to?$150,000 today

When being rich means $150,000?a year, some of the steam has gone out of the American?Dream. A $500,000 house with two cars in the garage is beyond the grasp of most Americans, and the economy may keep it that way for years.

Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 2011, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, li! ving in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Douglas A. McIntyre

FINRA Top Salaries Remain Squarely In The 1%

These have been tough times at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, far better known as FINRA. The nonprofit self-regulatory organization for stock brokers and stock brokerages has had to weather allegations it altered documents given to the Securities & Exchange Commission, fierce pushback from its effort to get jurisdiction over investment advisors and–still breaking–criticism of its free-pass policy to Jon Corzinebefore the collapse and billion-dollar-customer-funds-disappearance of his MF Global Inc.? A federal appeals court ruled recently that FINRA lacks the power to go to court to collect fines assessed against ex-members. Advocates from both the left and the right think the organization has too much power and too little accountability.

Richard Ketchum

But you’d never know such discord from its just-released tax returns for 2010. The people at the top are ridin’ high.

Chairman and CEO Richard G. Ketchum was paid a total of $2.6 million.? That’s more than double the $1.1 million he was paid for the nine months he headed FINRA in 2009.

Ketchum might be the highest-paid regulator in the U.S. His 2010 haul was about 13 times that of Ben S. Bernanke, who as chairman of the Federal Reserve has sway over the entire world economy rather than just American stockbrokers.

More than a dozen other present and past FINRA regulators also pulled down pay topping $1 million for 2010–each package at least five times Bernanke’s compensation. Vice Chairman Stephen Luparello scored $1.4 million, and chief financial officer Todd T. Diganci and general counsel for regulation Marc Menchel, $1.2 million each.? Even FINRA’s head P.R. man, Howard M. Schloss, clocked in at $1 million.

We invited the FINRA press office to explain why the organization̵! 7;s top brass deserved so much more than Bernanke’s $200,000 annual paycheck.? We were told only that the level of pay is “not new.” Indeed. According to the 2009 tax returns, Mary L. Schapiro, who headed FINRA for just a few months of that calendar year before taking a hug epay cut to become chair of the SEC, was paid $7.4 million, most of that presumably deferred compensation for prior years of service.

The 2010 FINRA tax returns state that those high pay packages were determined by a board of directions committee that “relied on a third-party compensation study performed by Mercer Inc. that compared FINRA executives to industry benchmarking data.” The return didn’t say what industry provided the data. Regulators–mostly in governments–generally aren’t that well paid. Since FINRA compensation seems to be at the very high end, did maybe that “industry benchmarking data” include private profit-making companies like investment banks and exclude? government regulators? We asked FINRA for a copy of the study but was told it “is not public.”

Still, the tax returns (separate ones for FINRA and affiliates that run regulation, its arbitration system and investor education)? say a lot. Top FINRA regulators are offered not one but two supplemental retirement plans. FINRA apparently gives so many expensive “gifts” to its workers that the agency also pays the tax bill.

Does FINRA do a lot of business in a certain sunny Pacific Ocean vacation spot? We don’t know for sure. But the agency actually wrote in the tax returns that it pays “the next cabin above economy … for all travel from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii.”

There is even what looks like a paid conjugal-visit policy.?? “A companion may fly to meet an employee on an extended stay at his or her work location,” the tax return says, adding that FINRA will reimburse the airfare.

Ketchum gets a car and driver in both Washi! ngton, w here FINRA is based, and New York City. He also gets up to $20,000 for “personal financial and tax counseling” as well as paid “spousal travel for certain business-related events.”

Follow William P. Barrett‘s work on Twitter by clicking here.

Philanthropy Focus: Schwab Charitable Reports 76% Jump in Contributions

Kim Laughton, acting president of Schwab Charitable, Schwab’s donor advised fund, said that through Nov. 30, 2011, contributions to the fund are up 76% from 2010, while grant-making is up 35%. In an interview with AdvisorOne on Dec. 12, Laughton (left) called those increases “refreshing, given the amount of uncertainty in the markets,” and pointed out that 68% of those contributions have come in the form of appreciated securities. “When the markets are up,” she said, the percentage of appreciated stock donated goes up as well.

She further noted that in 2009, the last recessionary year when the market declined, appreciated securities amounted to just 49% of contributions to Schwab Charitable.

Regarding grant-making, Laughton said that “One of the wonderful things about donor-advised funds,” is that you can continue to give even in poor market conditions,” noting that “our grants were still up in 2008.”

This fall, Schwab Charitable announced two initiatives making it easier for clients of advisors to indulge their charitable giving tendencies. On Oct. 19, it lowered from $100 to $50 its individual grant minimum–the smallest amount that donors may recommend from their accounts to charitable organizations of their choice. On the same day, Schwab announced a Charitable Legacy Program that enables qualified donors to extend their charitable grant-making over time after the donor’s death.

In addition to giving appreciated stock, Laughton said donors are using donor-advised funds as a strategic tool along with private foundations. With funds like Schwab Charitable, the donor can give anonymously to nonprofits, while when private foundations make a grant, “it’s part of the public record.

“’Private’ foundations are a bit of a misnomer,” she said, since those foundations must, like other tax-exempt organizations, file form 990-PFs with the IRS on which they list the foundation’s grant recipients. With Schwab Charitable, through a Web interface, donors can decide on a case by case basis whether or not they want to be publicly recognized as donors by the charity.

As for advisors, Laughton noted that for Charles Schwab Corp., “the advisor business is an extraordinary part of Schwab’s overall business; our strategy is to make sure that advisors see us as part of the offerings they can provide clients, to make it easy.” 

Part of how Schwab Charitable makes it easy is to provide expert help to advisors when their clients want to donate items such as restricted stock associated with IPOs. After the items are donated, she said that advisors these days are choosing to invest the proceeds in more alternative strategies such as private equity and hedge funds in order to make those assets last longer and thus provide grants to charities over a longer time.

As for overall giving trends, Laughton said that some two-thirds of all charitable is nondiscretionary, i.e., donors will provide that amount of giving every year to their chosen religious, healthcare or education charities, regardless of market conditions. Only about a third of giving is discretionary, and even during recessions charitable giving–notably that nondiscretionary portion–doesn’t get cut.

See Investment Advisor Editor John Sullivan's video interview with Laughton shot during the Schwab Impact 2011 conference in November.

BioLineRx (BLRX) to Develop Drug Candidates Discovered by Compugen

BioLineRx Ltd. (Nasdaq: BLRX)?is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical development company focused on identifying, licensing and developing promising therapeutic drugs. The company's current pipeline consists of drugs that help patients with central nervous system diseases, cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.

The company announced today that it has entered into a collaboration agreement for the purpose of developing and commercializing mutually selected, Compugen-discovered drug candidates for the treatment of various diseases. According to the agreement, Compugen will provide drug candidates, primarily peptides, which were identified as promising using its predictive drug discovery platforms.

BioLineRx will develop these drug candidates through Phase II clinical trials, with the goal of ultimately licensing them to pharmaceutical companies for advanced clinical development and commercialization.

The joint venture has been initialized with the selection of three Compugen-discovered peptides. Two of the peptides named CGEN-855 and CGEN-856 have already undergone animal studies and will enter BioLine's main product pipeline as VL-7070. These peptides focus on preventing and treating cardiovascular disease by controlling inflammation and reducing hypertension.

The third peptide, CGEN-25017, has also undergone animal studies and will enter BioLine's pipeline as BL-8010, and is intended for the treatment of diseases characterized by excessive growth of new blood vessels, such as cancer.

For additional information about BioLineRx and its exciting drug pipeline, please visit the company's website at

Article written by QualityStocks �� Visit for more emerging growth companies to discover and evaluate.

For Quality Stocks full disclaimer, visit the company's Web site

The Smartest Way to Invest in This Cheap Retailer

The following video is part of a special series in which Motley Fool analyst Brendan Byrnes and "Options Whiz"?Bryan Hinmon discuss how to make 2012 the year YOU master the market.

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AMD: Raymond James Impressed, Citi Cautious

Ex-Lenovo president Rory Read, now CEO of AMD, has some of the same passion as the chip maker’s legendary — and infamous — founder, Jerry Sanders, according to Raymond James’s Hans Mosesmann.

As Intel (INTC) continues to slide today as debate rages over the company’s cut in outlook yesterday, competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has broken free, rising 2 cents to $5.32.

Hans Mosesmann with Raymond James today reiterates his Outperform rating on AMD shares, writing that a recent “fireside chat” with newly installed CEO Rory Read (formerly COO of Lenovo) shows him to be every bit as passionate as AMD’s legendary founder, Jerry Sanders.

“Our early read on Mr. Read as AMD��s new CEO: we are impressed,” writes Mosesmann.

Moreover, AMD is in a better spot than Intel, Mosesmann thinks, this quarter, coming off of much lower expectations:

Unlike Intel, AMD��s 4Q11 appears to be in line as we believe the GlobalFoundries yield issues related to Llano gave the company a lower pre-flood base in 3Q11. 1H12 will be tough in terms of hard disk drive (HDD) supply, but Mr. Read indicated that the supply chain is quite a bit more resilient than the Street may think.

Among the tidbits Mosesmann gleaned from his chat with Read is that the company is not ruling out using ARM Holdings (ARMH) designs in its microprocessors, something that is “heresy” for the company, but “quite ! consiste nt with Mr. Read’s philosophy of winning in the market: execution, innovation, and convergence.”

On the other hand, Citigroup’s Glen Yeung today writes that “the risk of an AMD negative pre announcement has increased, given the company��s guidance for sequential revenue increase of +3% +/-2% q/q (similar to Intel��s original +3.3% mid-point), and their greater exposure to low-end desktops.”

Yeung cut his Q4 estimate to $1.61 ill ion in revenue and a six-cent-per-share loss from a prior estimate of $1.74 billion and 3 cents profit.

Perhaps somewhere in between the two, UBS’s Uche Orji this morning reiterates a Buy rating and a $9 price target while cutting his Q4 estimate to $162 billion and 12 cents profit, from a prior $1.77 billion and 17 cents.

Orji thinks investors should look beyond the immediate upset over PCs to the company’s analyst day meeting on February 2nd.

He hopes that meeting will bring AMD’s “vision for next gen low-power processors for tablets, ultrabooks and servers.”

“Key for AMD to regain mindshare,” adds Orji, “is for it to move the debate away from the perception it will get squeezed in the Intel vs ARM battle to one of offering unique value vs Intel and competitive power efficiency and cost + x86 compatibility vs ARM.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Falcone¡¯s Future Hinges on LightSquared Returns as SEC Mulls Lawsuit

A day after being told that U.S.regulators may sue him, billionaire hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone telephoned Sheldon Lowe, a close friend of 23 years, andtold him that he would fight back.

Falcone, 49, who rose to fame with bets against U.S.subprime mortgages in 2007, sounded calm and determined, Lowe, aMiami-based real estate developer, said in an interview.

��I told him it��s tough to stand up to the U.S.government,�� Lowe said. ��But I said that I believed he wouldnever intentionally do anything illegal or ethically wrong. Hesaid to me, ��You know that Sheldon.����

Falcone may be facing his toughest challenge yet as thegovernment considers whether to sue him over alleged violationsof securities laws. The threat of a lawsuit, disclosed lastweek, has prompted the hedge-fund manager to plan suspendingclient withdrawals for a second time in three years, which maymake attracting new investors difficult unless his bet on awireless telecommunications venture called LightSquared Inc.pays off.

Falcone, in an interview yesterday, said he is moving awayfrom hedge-fund investing and plans to use Harbinger Group Inc. (HRG),a publicly traded holding company he controls, rather than hisfund Harbinger Capital Partners, to finance investments in thefuture. Assets in the New York-based hedge fund have slumped to$5.7 billion from a 2008 peak of $26 billion.

��Long-Term Investing��

��I will continue to manage the Harbinger Funds to achievethe best outcome for our investors, but I will structure newinvestments differently,�� he said by telephone. ��Goingforward, I��ve made a conscious decision to evolve away from ahedge-fund strategy. I am focusing on building a public companyand want to do more long-term investing.��

Harbinger Capital, based in New York, Falcone, Omar Asali,head of global strategy, and Robin Roger, the general counsel,on Dec. 8 received Wells Notices from the staff of the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission that relate to alleged��violations of! the fed eral securities laws�� anti-fraudprovisions in connection with matters previously disclosed andan additional matter regarding the circumstances and disclosurerelated to agreements with certain fund investors,�� the NewYork-based hedge fund said last week.

The Wells Notices relate to an SEC investigation intowhether Harbinger allowed some clients, including Goldman SachsGroup Inc., to withdraw money while barring others, the WallStreet Journal reported on Dec. 9, citing unidentified peoplefamiliar with the matter.

Goldman��s Treatment

��There was no inappropriate preferential treatment givento Goldman,�� said Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Harbinger.Andrea Raphael, a spokeswoman for New York-based Goldman Sachs,declined last week to comment on the article.

Harbinger Group said in a filing in July that HarbingerCapital is being probed by the SEC and the U.S. Attorney��soffice over a $113 million loan Falcone took from one of hisfunds, according to a July filing. The investigation also lookedinto possible preferential treatment of some investors, twopeople with knowledge of the probe said last year.

Harbinger told clients in April that the government waslooking into whether it had engaged in market manipulation inits trading of the debt securities of an undisclosed firm from2006 and 2008. Investigators were examining a potentialviolation of a rule prohibiting investors from selling short astock within five business days of a secondary offering and thenbuying shares in that offering, the firm said then.

��Utterly Untrue��

Falcone declined to discuss the Wells Notices and thesubject of the SEC investigations. He said last year thatallegations of preferential treatment of some clients were��completely and utterly untrue.�� He disclosed the loan, whichwas used to pay personal taxes, in the Special Situation Fund��sMarch 2010 financial statements.

Falcone, a 1984 graduate of Harvard University, startedHarbinger in 2001. He limited investor withdrawals fr! om hisfu nds in the aftermath of the September 2008 bankruptcy ofLehman Brothers Holdings Inc. when credit markets froze. Hesegregated about 30 percent of the main fund��s hard-to-sellassets into a separate portfolio and told clients it would takeas long as two years for them to get their money back.

The biggest holding in the side-pocket is a 26.6 percentstake in Ferrous Resources Ltd., an iron ore producer in Brazilthat canceled plans to sell shares to the public in June 2010because of volatile equity markets.

Suspending Withdrawals

��I should have suspended 100 percent of the redemptions in2008,�� Falcone said. ��This would have given me time to sell ina more orderly fashion rather than selling positions into a downmarket, which did nothing but make the portfolio moreilliquid.��

Falcone said he returned as much as $10 billion that yearto clients who asked for their money back.

At the end of March, Falcone told clients seeking to pulltheir money that they would be paid in part by non-tradableshares of LightSquared. Harbinger told clients on Dec. 9 that it��anticipates�� withdrawals from its main hedge fund will besuspended on Dec. 30, following the SEC��s notices.

��Any fund that limits investor withdrawals due to non-market conditions and does it a second time within a short spaceof time will have a hard time convincing institutional investorsto allocate to it going forward,�� said David Slattery, apartner at Castellar Partners, a New York-based firm thatadvises clients on hedge-fund investing.

Betting on LightSquared

As of May 26, LightSquared shares accounted for 62 percentof the main fund��s assets.

LightSquared faces challenges from makers of global-positioning system devices that say the service will disruptnavigation by cars, boats, tractors and planes. The servicecaused interference to 75 percent of GPS receivers examined in aU.S. government test, according to a draft summary of resultsreleased on Dec. 9.

Martin Harriman, executiv! e vice p resident of LightSquared,said in an e-mailed statement that the firm was ��outraged bythe illegal leak of incomplete government data.��

The testing was requested by the NationalTelecommunications & Information Administration, a CommerceDepartment agency that oversees airwaves use. The agency isstill reviewing the data, a spokeswoman said.

Investors ��Hoping��

��Every investor is hoping this resolves in a goodfashion,�� said Charles Holzer, a private investor in Harbinger.��A lot is riding on it.��

To help secure more permanent capital for investments,Falcone��s funds in 2009 bought Zapata Corp., a one-time oildriller, and turned it into Harbinger Group, a holding companythat can raise capital for long-term investments. Falcone plansto use Harbinger Group to finance investments in six industries,including consumer products, financial products and naturalresources, according to a filing last year.

Harbinger Group in March agreed to buy Old Mutual U.S. LifeHoldings Inc., a provider of fixed-annuity and life insuranceproducts, for $350 million. In May, the company said in a filingthat it��s raising $280 million from a group led by FortressInvestment Group LLC for general corporate purposes, which mayinclude investments and acquisitions.

��The Right Time��

The Wells Notices weren��t addressed to Harbinger Group orany of its subsidiaries, including Spectrum, and don��t affectthe hedge fund��s investment in LightSquared.

Falcone said his aim is to return money to his hedge-fundinvestors as quickly as possible.

��I am not trying to hang onto people��s money, I��m waitingfor the right time to monetize those positions,�� he said.

As for LightSquared, Falcone said he��s confident theinvestment will pay off.

��I believe it has tremendous value,�� he said in theinterview. ��I am not afraid to take risk and continue tobelieve in the wireless space.��

The ubiquity imperative and the economics of attention

( -- The media world is quickly changing, being driven by a vast number of new devices from which viewers can access content and the ease of finding content on-demand. Big media companies can no longer rely solely on the strength of their content to win against alternative viewing options: They’re also being forced to be more thoughtful about distribution and the need to be on as many platforms as possible.

The old credo that content is king assumes TV viewers will turn to the most attractive choice possible and good content will win out over bad content. But it also assumes that, all things being equal, viewers are making that choice on a single platform: TV. But what happens when all things aren’t equal, and when some types of content are available on one platform but not on another?

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This is the world in which many of us live in today. Viewers still look for the best content, but in many cases, it’s limited to the best content available on whatever devices they’re using. It also opens the door for other video publishers to potentially win over audiences on platforms where content selection isn’t as strong.

Tak e Revision3, for example: As an independent, online-first publisher, it has limited opportunity to compete with broadcast programming in the traditional TV ecosystem. But on iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio, Rev3 has staked out a claim to be wherever its audience is. In a lot of cases, that means its content is available where traditional TV episodes might not be.

Putting aside its recent struggles due to a price increase and confusion over its DVD-by-mail strategy, Netflix is still the most popular streaming service available today, with about 24 million users in the U.S. alone. But Netflix didn’t become popular because it had the best content library available; it beat the competition because it was available on practically every connected device users might have purchased over the last 12 months.

Whether it’s a connected TV, Blu-ray player, video game console, streaming set-top box, tablet or mobile handset, chances are, if a device is connected to the Internet, Netflix has built an application to stream movies and TV shows over it. In fact, Netflix is no longer just a nice feature for consumer electronics manufacturers; it has become table stakes for the vast majority of connected devices.

Other content companies are quickly following Netflix’s lead. Although TV Everywhere was originally dreamed up as a way to extend on-demand viewing to PCs and laptops, it has very quickly moved on to other devices. HBO’s multidevice strategy is the best example of a cable network making its TV programming available “everywhere,” as the HBO Go app is now available on Roku set-top boxes, the iPad and other mobile devices, and it will soon be on Microsoft’s Xbox Live service.

Even the Hollywood studios are pursuing a multiplatform strategy through their UltraViolet initiative. While the initial implementation of UltraViolet — through Warner Bros.’ Flixster application — has received poor r! eviews f rom early adopters, the long-term strategy of making films that customers have purchased available whenever, wherever and on whichever device they choose is still intact.

Viewers were formerly beholden to the whims of a select group of programmers: If they wanted to watch a show, they were forced to be home and tune in at the time it was broadcast. That world has changed, thanks to the broad proliferation of time-shifted viewing options — whether they be DVRs, cable video-on-demand services or online options like Hulu. Just as importantly, viewership doesn’t just happen on the TV anymore; it happens on laptops, on tablets and even on mobile handsets.

In other words, consumers are now in charge of when and how they watch video content. No longer content to be stuck to someone else’s schedule, consumers expect to be able to access their favorite content whenever they want and on a wide range of devices. As a result, the media companies that will win are those that recognize the need to be everywhere.

When it comes to capturing consumers’ attention now, a piece of content is only as good as its distribution. If it’s not available on the device that a user wants to view video on, then they’ll watch something else. Which is why now is such a critical time for traditional media companies. If they don’t have a strategic plan to distribute their content on whichever device the viewer uses to watch content, they risk alienating and eventually losing that audience.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kiersten Balukas

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AMZN ‘Fire’ Could Yet Be Boon To Nvidia

Following’s (AMZN) announcement today of new Kindle e-readers, and a new, 7-inch tablet, the “Kindle Fire,” a couple of analysts predict a 10-inch version will come next year, and that it might sport chips from Nvidia (NVDA), which has parts in other tablets, such as Motorola Mobility’s (MMI) “Xoom” tablet.

It would appear the 7-inch version of Fire is based on a chip from Texas Instruments (TXN), not on Nvidia’s “Tegra” mobile processor.

Analysts today suggest that could change with a new model.

Romit Shah, with Nomura Equity Research, who maintains a Neutral rating on Nvidia shares, writes:

As expected, Kindle Fire is based on a dual-core TI OMAP processor. Assuming volume of 5-10mn units and an ASP of $10-15 for OMAP, we estimate incremental revenue opportunity of roughly $100mn or less than 1% of TI��s sales. That said, the low price point and configuration could help establish Kindle Fire as a credible device at the low end of the Android tablet market. Furthermore, given strong momentum of the Apple iPad, this introduction could be perceived as potentially squeezing other Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, and RIM Playbook. We believe this scenario would be negative for Nvidia, which has a 70% share of the Android tablets, and is forecasting tablet revenue to almost double to $400-500mn in FY13 (Jan). That said, a larger form factor by Amazon could be introduced next year and may include an Nvidia Tegra processor.

Brian Blair with Wedge Partners writes,

We believe there will be a significant audience for the product as Amazon can essentially upsell its existing cus! tomer ba se into a richly featured color model in a 7 inch form factor that is familiar, albeit with a color screen and apps/media. We do believe; however, that Amazon will follow up the Kindle Fire early next year with a 10 inch offering, which we expect to be powered by Nvidia. It��s unclear whether or not the 7 inch Kindle Fire will utilize Nvidia, but we still believe it��s possible as it makes sense to us to utilize single chip architecture across the platform. If it��s not Nvidia, Texas Instruments is thought to be the chip of choice.

Nvidia shares today closed down 41 cents, or 3%, at $13.43.

Previously: AMZN: ��Fire�� To Crimp Margins, Says Citi; More Competitive, Says Piper, September 28th, 2011. Amazon��s Fire A Threat To Netflix; Would They Buy Streaming Opps? September 28th, 2011.