MediaFile

Tech wrap: Olympus shareholders want entire board purged

Pressure mounted on Japan’s Olympus to take radical action after it admitted to hiding losses on securities investments for decades, with the camera and endoscope maker’s largest foreign investor demanding the resignation of the company’s entire board. Southeastern Asset Management, which owns about five percent of the 92-year-old company, said Tuesday’s admission “changes everything”.

Brushing aside new Olympus President Shuichi Takayama’s insistence he was “absolutely unaware of the facts,” Southeastern told Reuters correspondents Sinead Cruise and Kirstin Ridley that any further reign of the Olympus board risked damaging the company’s key medical business. Takayama, a previous board member who was promoted last month, blamed former Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, Vice-President Hisashi Mori and internal auditor Hideo Yamada for the cover-up, saying he would consider criminal action.

Former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford, who was fired on October 14 after persistently asking why the company had spent around $1.3 billion on obscure fees and acquisitions, told Reuters that the company’s partners should come under close scrutiny after Tuesday’s admission and that questions remained to be answered about the money trail. “You need forensic accountants going in there to find out where the money has gone, who has worked with Olympus, who has cooperated with Olympus, who has received fees from Olympus,” he told Reuters Insider. “Those are questions we need answered. And then we need an impairment test.”

Discontent continues to grow among a group of Research in Motion shareholders who are demanding the BlackBerry maker do more to breath life into its slumping share price. As Reuters correspondents Pav Jordan and Alastair Sharp report, three Research in Motion shareholders backing a call from merchant bank Jaguar Financial for transformational change at the Canadian smartphone company said the still-informal group was bound to grow if RIM’s shares don’t rebound soon. Jaguar says the dissidents want a sale of the company as a whole or in parts, and the replacement of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. The pair are RIM’s two largest shareholders and the most powerful figures in its management.

British billionaire Richard Branson has made a “multimillion” dollar investment in Square, a mobile payment startup led by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, reports Reuters correspondent Alexei Oreskovic. Branson’s investment in Square follows a $100 million investment in June led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and an investment for an undisclosed amount by credit card company Visa in April. Square’s technology lets merchants accept payments using tablet PCs or mobile phones. The company recorded $10 million in daily transactions for the first time this past weekend, spokeswoman Katie Baynes told Reuters, up from the $4 million per day in gross payment volume that it announced during the summer.

Tech wrap: Groupon goes public, super nova

Shares of daily deals site Groupon rose more than 50 percent in their stock market debut, but at least some of the early trading exuberance may have come from limiting the fraction of the company that was sold. The shares rose as high as $31.14, or 55.7 percent above the IPO price, in early trading on the Nasdaq, at one point pushing the market value of the company up to $19.9 billion.  The shares later eased back, closing at $26.11. Despite the early success, there are still lingering questions about Groupon’s business model and about competition from better-funded rivals such as Amazon.com and Google.

Yahoo has signed confidentiality agreements with several parties interested in buying all or part of the company, according to people familiar with the matter. The Internet pioneer said potential buyers had to sign an agreement by Friday to be allowed a close look at Yahoo’s finances. But the Friday deadline could be extended into next week to provide more time for other firms to sign on, the sources said. Some private equity firms have balked at signing Yahoo’s nondisclosure agreement because of restrictions that would prevent them from forming consortiums, sources told Reuters last week.

EU regulators are investigating whether Samsung and Apple may have breached EU antitrust laws with patent infringement claims in their global legal battle over the lucrative smartphone and tablet market. “The (European) Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of ‘standards-essential’ patents in the mobile telephony sector,” the European Commission said in a statement. Standards-essential patents means they have been incorporated in internationally accepted technology standards, which in the case of Samsung and Apple, means 3G and UMTS technology.

Tech wrap: Yahoo finds interclick, pays $270 million for it

CORRECTION: The original headline falsely stated that Yahoo will pay $240 million for interclick. The correct amount is $270 million.

Yahoo will pay $270 million for interclick as it tries to revive its ailing online advertising business, even as the search and advertising giant continues to scout for potential bidders. Yahoo is paying $9 per share, or about a 22 percent premium, for the online advertising technology firm. “It’s not a transformational acquisition, but it helps Yahoo in a market they are not strong in … they have to take some steps to keep pushing forward,” BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said. Among the parties interested in Yahoo are private equity firms Silver Lake, TPG Capital, Bain Capital, Blackstone, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Providence Equity Partners, Hellman & Friedman, Carlyle Group, and Russian technology investment firm DST Global, apart from rivals Microsoft and Google.

Olympus named six men, including a former Japanese supreme court justice, to investigate past M&A deals at the core of a scandal engulfing the endoscope and camera maker in a bid to stem an exodus of irate investors. None of the six have had any previous association with the company, an Olympus spokeswoman said. As yet, no deadline for the group to report its findings has been set, she added.

How to generate media value: Fire your CEO

Some outfit called General Sentiment has set about the task of evaluating the media value of top global brands and then ranking those companies accordingly. Some brands made their way up the list because they ousted their head honcho.

To compile the rankings General Sentiment monitors the news, blogs, tweets and other social media for a brand’s “buzz” — negative or positive — to calculate the estimated cost to generate the same media exposure through traditional advertising.

For the latest list, Google claims the spot as the “top brand” with $917 million worth of media value during the third quarter ahead of Apple

Tech wrap: Apple misses, Intel beats quarterly expectations

Apple reported a rare miss in quarterly revenue after sales of its flagship iPhone fell well short of Wall Street expectations. The September quarterly report was Apple’s first under new CEO Tim Cook, who took over in August after co-founder Steve Jobs resigned. The company reported a net profit of $6.62 billion, or $7.05 a share. That fell shy of expectations for earnings of $7.39 per share.

One analyst blamed lofty expectations for the miss. “The reality is their business is not an annuity. They have to sell their quarter’s worth of revenue every 90 days. They had a big upgrade cycle with the iPhone, the numbers came in weak. They need to set records every time they report to keep the momentum”, said Colin Gillis at BGC Partners.

Intel forecast quarterly revenue above expectations, defying concerns that the growing popularity of tablets and a shaky economy are eating into demand for personal computers. Intel said revenue in the current quarter would be $14.7 billion, plus or minus $500 million. Analysts on average had expected current-quarter revenue of $14.23 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Intel’s processors are used in 80 percent of the world’s PCs but the company has failed to gain traction in mobile gadgets like Apple’s iPad and Google’s Android smartphones. It also increasingly depends on China and other emerging markets to make up for weak sales in the U.S. and Europe.

Yahoo’s next CEO? Don’t ask Ross Levinsohn

It’s been more than a month since Yahoo fired Carol Bartz as Chief Executive, but there have been few signs indicating who might succeed her.

Ross Levinsohn, the head of Yahoo’s Americas business, is one insider that many think would be a natural choice. But if Levinsohn has any such aspirations, he didn’t let on when he took the stage at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Monday.

Asked point-blank by moderator John Battelle if he was interested in the top job, Levinsohn embarked on a long, rambling answer that managed to provide little information of value, while not explicitly taking himself out of the running.

AOL, Yahoo, Demand Media set sights on the ladies

It’s early October in New York which means that Advertising Week, which kicked off on Monday, is officially in full churn.   This year, the organizers of the conference that attracts all stripes from publishing outfits to retailers to ad agencies  may as well have slugged the event Ladies Week given the number of companies pitching to women.

Specifically that would be AOL, Yahoo and Demand Media all of which launched in the past couple of days “premium” video channels catering to the women, and, by extension, consumer packaged goods companies looking for a means to place their online advertising dollars.

AOL rolled out more than 15 original Web series some aimed at the ladies with such titles as “Little Women, Big Cars,” ” A Supermodel Stole My Husband,” and “Jocks & Jills.” (An aside: AOL also touted its “You’ve Got” one minute series lumping in President Barack Obama with other “notables” such as Kevin Bacon and Paula Abdul.)

Tech wrap: Microsoft still into Yahoo

Microsoft Corp is considering a bid for Yahoo Inc, resurfacing as a potential buyer after a bitter and unsuccessful fight to take over the Internet company in 2008, sources close to the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

Microsoft joins a host of other companies looking at Yahoo, which has a market value of about $18 billion and is readying financial pitch books for potential buyers, they said. Those companies include buyout shops Providence Equity Partners, Hellman & Friedman and Silver Lake Partners, as well as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Russian technology investment firm DST Global, the sources said.

Rival smartphone makers could exploit a rare letdown by Apple in the launch of its new iPhone 4S model, which failed to wow fans, and grab a bigger share of the most lucrative part of the phone market.

Tech wrap: Oracle and HP keep sparring

Oracle and Autonomy escalated their war of words on Thursday, sparring publicly over whether the British software firm had ever been shopped to the U.S. technology giant.

Autonomy, which Hewlett-Packard this year agreed to buy for $12 billion, is at the center of a debate on Wall Street over the tenure of fired HP CEO Leo Apotheker and the future direction of the company he once ran. The spat comes at an inopportune time for HP, fighting to salvage its reputation with investors.

Entrepreneur, venture capitalist and HP board member, Marc Andreessen, referred to Oracle as an “oldline” software company and took a jab at outspoken CEO Larry Ellison: “Larry is one of my idols,” Andreessen said. “I wouldn’t quite say my role model.”

The Yahoo chronicles. Needs: new CEO. Has: new Flickr app

Yahoo opened the doors to the bunker on Wednesday, inviting reporters to its San Francisco outpost even as the company faces a barrage of questions about its future.

The event was to unveil a couple of new product announcements from Yahoo’s Flickr division, the 50-person photo-sharing product group based in San Francisco’s financial district.

The Flickr folks unveiled the official Flickr app for Android smartphones, with features such as built-in photo filters to spiff up pictures and various social networking capabilities. The other new product is called “photo session,” a real-time collaboration tool that allows groups of friends to flip through and play with online photo albums together in their Web browsers.