Archive | April, 2013

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30 Apr

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Unilever offers $5.4 billion to raise stake in Indian unit

30 Apr

By Tony Munroe and Swati Pandey

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever Plc offered to pay as much as $5.4 billion to raise its stake in its Indian unit, banking on fast-growing spending power in Asia’s third-largest economy.

The offer to lift its share to as much as three-quarters of Hindustan Unilever Ltd, India‘s largest consumer goods maker, is the latest big corporate bet on long-term consumer demand in India despite economic growth at a decade low. It also reflects Unilever‘s focus on emerging markets amid weakness in the United States and Europe.

“This represents a further step in Unilever’s strategy to invest in emerging markets and offers a liquidity opportunity at what we believe to be an attractive premium for existing shareholders,” Unilever’s chief executive, Paul Polman, said in a statement.

Unilever said it would buy an additional stake of up to 22.52 percent in Hindustan Unilever, of which it already owns just over half, in what would be the most valuable such offer in India.

The bid at 600 rupees per share – a 20.6 percent premium to Monday’s closing price – sent shares in Hindustan Unilever surging as much as 20 percent to an all-time high early on Tuesday.

Several market watchers said investors might be unwilling to part with their shares at the offer price, which could force Unilever to settle for a smaller stake or raise its offer price.

“Many of the foreign funds or institutional investors hold the stock and when they play the India growth story they love to play it with HUL (Hindustan Unilever),” said Aneesh Srivastava, chief investment officer at IDBI Federal Life Insurance, which holds shares in the company.

“It is a very attractive stock and the quality of management is the best. So, given these factors, investors will not sell so easily,” he said.

On Monday, Hindustan Unilever beat expectations with a 15 percent increase in March quarter earnings.

The offer, payable in cash, is expected to begin in June. In a similar deal in November, UK-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc offered to buy a further 31.8 percent stake in its Indian consumer products business for about $940 million. That offer ended up lifting the parent company’s stake to 72.5 percent, just shy of its 75 percent target.


The Indian economy is likely to have grown at just 5 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March, far below the government’s double-digit ambitions, and foreign direct investment has been sluggish as companies worry about bureaucratic red tape and uncertain regulation in India.

Still, several recent deals point to robust corporate interest in long-term spending growth in India.

Last week, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways struck a deal to pay $379 million for a 24 percent stake in India’s Jet Airways, while Swedish clothing chain Hennes & Mauritz said it would spend about $130 million to open an initial 50 stores in India.

In November, UK-based Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits maker, agreed to buy a majority stake in United Spirits Ltd, the dominant Indian player, for $2.1 billion. Automakers, meanwhile, are investing to add plant capacity despite a decline in car sales in the last fiscal year.

“It makes a lot of sense to increase stake if the company is serious about staying here for long term,” said G. Chokkalingam, chief investment officer of Centrum Wealth Managers, which bought a small stake in Hindustan Unilever after the company reported results on Monday.

“In the long term, we expect there will be more incentive for the parent company to share technology to the Indian unit, introduce more brands here and raise market share,” he said.

Last week, Unilever, which makes products including detergent, soap, margarine and ice cream, posted weaker-than-expected first-quarter sales growth of 4.9 percent for the three months to March 31. Its results were bolstered by 10.4 percent growth in emerging markets, which account for 57 percent of turnover.

Numerous global companies have Indian-listed subsidiaries, the legacy of earlier ownership caps.

Two investment bankers who declined to be identified said they expected more such activity over the near to medium term, especially in consumption driven sectors.

Indian law requires a minimum public shareholding of 25 percent for listed companies. While many global companies have considered delisting their local units, some have been deterred by the high cost of buying out minority shareholders.

HSBC is the manager of the Unilever offer.

The stock was last trading at 577.55 rupees, up 16 percent.

($1 = 54.2600 rupees)

(Additional reporting by Kaustubh Kulkarni, Sumeet Chatterjee, Abhishek Vishnoi and Nandita Bose; Editing by Chris Gallagher)


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First Data names JPMorgan executive Bisignano as CEO

30 Apr

* Nadal beats fellow Spaniard Almagro 6-4 6-3 * Wins eighth Barcelona title in nine years (Updates with details, quotes) April 28 (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal became the first player to win four titles this year when he defeated fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-3 to win the Barcelona Open for the eighth time in nine years on Sunday. Since returning from a seven-month absence with a left knee injury in February, the world number five has reached the final at all six events he has played, his Barcelona triumph adding to the victories in Sao Paulo, Acapulco and Indian Wells. “I’m very happy. …


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Alibaba pushes into social networking with Weibo investment

30 Apr

By Sayantani Ghosh and Sruthi Ramakrishnan

(Reuters) – Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba Group acquired an 18 percent stake in web portal Sina Corp’s microblogging service Weibo in its first big move into selling advertising on China‘s highly competitive social networks.

Sina‘s U.S.-listed shares surged 21 percent to $60.81 in early trading, before easing back to $56.90.

The $586 million deal, which values Weibo at over $3 billion, will provide more advertising revenue to Weibo as Sina tries to monetize the service and increase its lead over rival Tencent Holdings’ social messaging product, WeChat.

The deal, seen by analysts as generously priced, should drive more web traffic to Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace, China‘s largest e-commerce website with a consumer focus.

Alibaba is tipped to go public within the next year.

Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, has grown at a fast clip since its launch in 2009 and has gained from the blockage of Twitter by the Chinese government.

More than 500 million Chinese use Weibo to opine on everything from Korean soap operas to China’s latest political intrigue.

“(The stake purchase) is as an endorsement from Alibaba … of the value of Sina’s Weibo platform,” Morningstar analyst Dan Su said.

“This indicates the tremendous value of the data that is present on the Weibo platform that can be mined for a lot of activities, such as ecommerce.”

Unlisted Alibaba, controlled by charismatic Chinese internet entrepreneur Jack Ma, also runs, the country’s largest business-to-business commerce platform, and Alipay, a PayPal-like online payment platform.

Ma, one of China’s best known corporate leaders, reckoned to be worth $3.4 billion by Forbes late last year, built his e-commerce empire from scratch.

He plans to step down as CEO on May 10 and become executive chairman. Alibaba is likely to go public in a listing in Hong Kong that could value the company at about $100 billion, according to industry sources.

Alibaba has kept mum about its IPO plans, but its listing will likely be a windfall for Yahoo Inc, which owns nearly a quarter of the company.


Some analysts, who had valued Weibo between $600 million and $2.5 billion, said the deal offered by Alibaba was generous.

“We believe this deal is very positive for Sina. It instantly gives pricing to Sina Weibo with a valuation of $3.26 billion; the per share base could be $48,” T.H. Capital Research analyst Tian Hou said.

“Sina’s resource consolidation with Alibaba Group, which has a huge dominant position in China’s e-commerce, can escalate Weibo’s development,” she said.

Sina, which makes most of its revenue from online advertising both on its website and Weibo, has had investors worried as the growth rate of Chinese online advertising slows. Its shares have slipped 15 percent in the last 12 months.

Maxim Group analyst Echo He said the Alibaba deal would help Sina in the longer term, but giving Sina cash would not solve its problems and its valuation would still depend on its own profitability.

This is not the first time Sina has tied up with a major Chinese company to seek new streams of revenue.

Sina allied with Baidu Inc last year, integrating Baidu search in its mobile website, while Baidu said its cloud initiative would come with the Weibo app preinstalled.

The analysts said Sina could potentially team up with many other companies, while Morningstar’s Su said the deal ruled out any near-term plans for another such major alliance.

Sina has also granted Alibaba the option to increase its stake in Weibo to 30 percent within a stipulated time, which it did not specify.

The alliance is expected to generate about $380 million in advertising and social commerce services revenue for Weibo over the next three years, Sina said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)


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Pakistan: Suicide bomber targeting police kills 6

30 Apr

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) ? A suicide bomber targeting a police van killed six people in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, including the son and nephew of an Afghan official involved in peace negotiations with the Taliban, officials said.

The bomber, who was riding a motorcycle, detonated his explosives as the police patrol drove by in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said city police chief Liaqat Ali Khan.

The two Afghans who were killed ? Qazi Mohammad Hilal Waqad and Mohammad Idrees ? were working at their country’s consulate in Peshawar, said Afghan Consul General Syed Mohammad Ibrahim Khel in Islamabad.

However, it did not appear they were the target of the attack, Khel said.

Waqad’s father, Qazi Amin Waqad, is a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, a group appointed by the Afghan government to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban, said an official at the consulate in Peshawar, Shakir Qarar.

The peace council member was in Afghanistan when the attack occurred, while Waqad and Idrees were driving to work when the bomber struck, Qarar added.

Three policemen were among over 30 people who were wounded by the blast, said the police chief, Khan. Many of the dead and wounded were from a nearby passenger bus, which bore the brunt of the attack.

Local TV footage showed the wreckage of the bus and the motorcycle, as rescue workers rushed wounded people to hospitals in the city.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion will likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and has stepped up attacks ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.

Also Monday, two gunmen riding a motorcycle attacked a campaign office of an anti-Taliban political party in the city of Nowshera in northwestern Pakistan, killing a worker there, Khan said.

On Sunday, the Taliban killed 11 people in bomb attacks on a political rally and two campaign offices in the northwest, part of their quest to disrupt the election. The group has killed at least 60 people in attacks on politicians and party workers since the beginning of April.

The Taliban have specifically targeted more secular political parties that have supported military offensives against the militants in the northwest. The Taliban have largely spared Islamic parties and others who believe the government should strike a peace deal with the militants, rather than fight them.

There is a concern that the violence could benefit the parties that take a softer line toward the militants because they are able to campaign more freely ahead of the May 11 election.

“Unless the government, the country’s independent election commission and security forces ensure that all parties can campaign freely without fear, the election may be severely compromised,” Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said in a statement issued Monday.


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Hunting Ranches Resist Efforts to Curb Feral Swine

29 Apr

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Long a bane in the south, feral pigs are becoming common in the north, often having escaped from private shooting preserves, which are fighting efforts to ban them.



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A Chinese Winery That Mimics Everyone’s Favorite Five-Armed Glyph

29 Apr

Here’s a fun little piece of literalism for a Monday afternoon: Asterisk, a winery designed by the Japanese firm Sako Architects.

Sited on an artificial island in a complex outside of Beijing, the building’s five prongs each house a different program?one for eating, one for boozing, and so on. The 60,000-square-foot winery is part of a luxury complex called the Park Hotel Group, which operates properties all over Asia.

Wine is increasingly in demand in China, where Western-made symbols of wealth?like Expressionist painting reproductions and Neoclassical architecture?are increasingly popular. And according to World Architects, most of the wineries popping up outside of Beijing are built to replicate French villas or German castles, keeping in line with the popularity of European grapes amongst Chinese drinkers. So Asterisk, then, is a kind of outlier amongst Chinese wineries (and a welcome one, I’m willing to bet).

My tolerance for iconography in architecture is pretty low, but it’s hard not to like this little gem. It’s like a polite little footnote to the landscape itself. See more on Sako’s website. [World Architects]


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