Unstructured Finance

Spidey makes the ‘Hot Dozen’

Spidey 1.jpgA web-slinging toy by Hasbro Inc. and a racing timer featuring a digital LCD screen by Mattel Inc. should be two of the hottest selling toys this summer, according to the Spring 2007 Hot Dozen list by Toy Wishes Magazine.

Hasbro’s Deluxe Spinning Web Blaster lets children sling silly-string webs with a flick of the wrist just like Spiderman. The device looks like it was cut from Spiderman’s costume and straps onto the wrist.

Mattel’s Hot Wheels Racing Timer is meant to time foot or bike races and applauds competitors when they cross the finish line. The racers hear an announcer declare the winner while a digital LCD screen displays the time and speed for two racers.

Mattel’s Rainbow Adventure Elina Doll and DVD game, which are part of the company’s plan to revitalize its sagging Barbie line also made the list. The doll functions as an interactive controller for the game. 

The most expensive item to make the list is the $399.99 Banzai Double Drop Raceway by ToyQuest, an inflatable backyard waterslide featuring a waterfall.

Outlook for Chicago grains/soy for week of March 26

Chicago Board of Trade corn, wheat, soybean prices seesawed this week as traders seemed disinterested in the markets, waiting for the government to issue an annual bellwether — its annual planting intentions report — on March 30.
    The biggest feature this week was buying of the distant deliveries, especially in soybeans. The November 2008 contract  — “red” November, not this year’s but next year’s crop — rose nearly 50 cents this week.
    “We officially started … the acreage fight for next year,” said analyst Roy Huckabay, noting farmers haven’t started planting the 2007 crop. Ideas of increased corn demand and shrinking soybean acreage are keeping everyone on the trading floor a little edgy, especially as we approach the most volatile time of the year as weather concerns take the upper hand.
    Everyone is expecting the government to  confirm next Friday a massive, ethanol-fueled hike in U.S. corn acres — up to 10 million more than in 2006 — with a significant drop in soybeans.  Final trade estimates will run by Wednesday.
    Most traders expect prices to keep within recent ranges in the days leading up to Friday’s report.
    The other fundamental factor starting to creep into prices is the worry about planting delays. U.S. soils in the heart of the crop belt are saturated, which is slowing spring fieldwork.
    “They’re already behind with fieldwork in the eastern Corn Belt,” one analyst said late Friday, noting that up to 1.5 inches of rain is forecast for that area over the next three days.
    The biggest change in trade data issued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission late Friday was a build up of short positions by managed funds in CBOT wheat. That could offer some support to wheat prices Sunday night or Monday morning.
    Part of the reason behind the disinterest in trading this week was CBOT trader-members distracted by a potential bidding war by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the IntercontinentalExchange over the CBOT. The ICE offer  came out of left field last week and raised the value of a full CBOT membership by roughly $1 million overnight. 

Borders CEO waits for Harry’s magic

BordersBarnes & Noble and Borders Group, the top U.S. bookstore chains, reported quarterly results on Thursday.  Borders also announced a slew of changes, such as the possibility of exiting the bulk of its international business and closing down nearly half of its Waldenbooks stores.

Borders CEO George Jones, on the job since July, spoke with Reuters about his company’s plans.

Before we got down to some details on the major changes, here’s what Jones — a self-proclaimed “big, big Harry Potter fan” — had to say about the July launch of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

Help wanted at Wal-Mart Canada

canadianflag.jpg    Baby Boomers and “Millennials,” Wal-Mart Canada has a job for you.
    The world’s largest retailer is looking to expand its employee base in Canada from 70,000 today to over 110,000 in the next five years.
    “When you factor in both our growth and turnover, we must hire over 40,000 people every year just to keep up,” said Mary-Alice Vuicic, vice president of people for Wal-Mart Canada, speaking at the retailer’s analyst and investor day that was held in Canada on Tuesday.
    To meet the challenge, Wal-Mart has taken a scientific approach, slicing its Canadian workforce into four key generational groups: traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and “Millennials.”
    Here is what Vuicic had to say about each demographic and why Wal-Mart Canada is focusing on two of them — Baby Boombers and Millennials — as sources of new employees:
    — The traditionalists: “Born between 1933 and 1945, they make up less than 10 percent of the Canadian workforce and a little less at Wal-Mart. They’re focused on duty, they tend to be loyal to the company throughout their career, changing companies only one to two times at most,” she said.
    “While this group plays an important role in our office and in our stores today, we’re really not focused on them because it’s such a small segment,” she said.
    — The Baby Boomers: She said they were born between 1946 and 1964. They make up about 45 percent of the overall workforce, and represent the largest segment of the workforce in Wal-Mart.
    “They are competitive, work is their No. 1 priority and they strive to achieve,” she said. “They were the first to learn about layoffs during their careers and as a result they will change companies about two to three times in their career.”
    “As they age, because they focus so much on work, they are looking for more work-life flexibility,” she said. “If we can leverage that, that need for balance, we can grow this segment of our work force.”
    — The Gen X’ers: “They were born between 1965 and 1976,” she said. “They make up a quarter of the overall workforce in Canada and much less at Wal-Mart.”
    “They grew up in families where both parents worked,” she said. “This group is expected to change companies eight to ten times in their career. It’s not a group that we’re focusing aggressively on.”
    — The Millennials: “The newest generation, however, working in our stores, the millennials, born 1977 to 2000, is a target segment for us,” she said. “They make up 22 percent of the general workforce, and they are the fastest growing segment of our workforce in Wal-Mart.”
    “The millennials are already familiar with our company, they shopped our stores with their parents, as they moved out to go to school, and today as they begin to set up their homes,” she said.
    “They were raised in the most child-centric period in history. And thanks to the boomers, they were coached over dinner on how to negotiate for jobs and salaries. Tough group. They’re bright, keen and they need to be stimulated and involved in everything.”
    “They have short attention spans. They don’t respond to working for a boss, but they do respond to working for a leader and unless they are engaged, they are expected to change companies 19 times in their careers.”
    To try to get Baby Boomers and Millennials to consider Wal-Mart, she said the retailer is honing in on their wants:

    –A supportive manager
    –Interesting work
    –Work-life flexbility
    –Learning opportunities
    –Social Interaction
    –To work for a company that values environmental sustainability

So which of these groups do you fall under and would you consider working for Wal-Mart?

Wedded bliss. And everyday low prices!

walmartwedding.jpgWhat could be luckier than getting married on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year? How about having that July 7, 2007 wedding at your local Wal-Mart?

The world’s largest retailer on Tuesday announced a contest where seven couples will win a wedding and reception at a Wal-Mart lawn and a garden center.

The contest, sponsored by Wal-Mart and G Squared is in connection with something called “Proposal Day.”

Outlook for Chicago grains/soy for week of March 19

If there was any feature this week it was long liquidation in corn and wheat. In corn, open interest fell nearly 30,000 contracts during the week.

The general consensus among traders is that the markets are oversold after this week’s slide and seem to be finding a bottom on weekly charts. Most expect the uncertainty about USDA’s March 30 planting intentions report to keep traders from getting too aggressive until then.

The March planting report has always been key to trading but it’s never had the kind of attention that it has this year.

Outlook for the market for week of March 12

beans.jpgBarring any big market surprise in the next two weeks, prices should keep within recent ranges until USDA releases its first U.S. planting numbers for corn and soy based on a farmer-survey, traders said. Everyone is expecting a big hike in U.S. corn acres given the projected demand for corn. 

Private analyst planting estimates are expected to start surfacing next week. National Oilseed Processors Industry Association will issue its February crush figures.

This week, Friday’s monthly USDA report failed to stir any excitement as U.S. stock estimates were unchanged, just as traders expected. 

Sales storm

February storms blew in mixed results for U.S. retailers, with the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Federated Department Stores Inc. reporting weak February sales, while upscale department stores like Nordstrom Inc. and Saks Inc. thrived.
The following are February same-store sales for select U.S. retailers, compared with what analysts expected.

The table includes the range of mean estimates* given by analysts polled by Reuters, the average of those means#, and the actual change in same-store sales reported by the companies^.

All figures are expressed as percentage changes over the same period last year except for “number of estimates.”

tesco.jpg   British grocer Tesco’s move into the U.S. market is likely to be evolutionary and influence how other food retailers address the U.S. market.
    Those are the thoughts of H.J. Heinz Co. Chairman and Chief Executive William Johnson.
    Tesco, the largest retailer in Britain, is set to open its “Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores this year, initially targeting Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and the greater Phoenix area.
    “We’ll be very interested to see the Tesco experiment on the West Coast, very interested, because I think Tesco is an outstanding retailer. It will be interesting to see how that plays out,” Heinz Chairman and CEO William Johnson said at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago.
    “It’s going to be an evolution in the way that American consumers buy products and that the retail trade is going to have to address.”
    Johnson’s comments were made at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago. The summit continues through Thursday.

‘Upward correction’ expected in grains this week

There’s every reason to expect more volatility this week. 

Traders anticipate an upward correction after the sell-off. Technicals seem to be the driving force for day-to-day action but long-term fundamentals are supportive. USDA’s preliminary supply-and-demand stocks estimates for the upcoming year issued on Friday reinforced that sentiment. 

Fundamentally, soybean yield reports out of South America are confirming a big harvest. Traders are also watching export demand, waiting to see if this week’s slide stimulated fresh business. Commercial grain firms definitely took advantage of the break to price some business in both soybeans and corn. 

On the morning of Friday March 9 USDA will issue its monthly supply and demand forecasts. But the big report everyone is waiting for is USDA’s  annual US planting intentions on March 30.