Unstructured Finance

Not your father’s soda machine

cokeCoca-Cola is trying out high-tech, flat-screen vending machines.

The new machines, which feature a touch screen, will be tested this spring in select Simon malls in the southeastern U.S. 

Coca-Cola and Simon will also test several interactive promotions with the machines, which will accept Simon gift cards.

“The new machines incorporate sight, sound and motion video to take the vending experience from transaction to true interaction,” said Anthony Phillips, global brand manager at Coke.

Coke did not say which malls will feature the next-gen machines, but some of Simon’s properties in the Southeast include Orlando’s Waterford Lakes Town Center,  Miami’s Dadeland Mall, Atlanta’s Lenox Square and The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, VA.

(Photo: Provided by Coca-Cola)

Sensex bounces back, closes 1.47 pct higher

MARKETS-SOUTHASIA-STOCKS/After a sharp drop yesterday, the Sensex managed to climb 1.47 percent, helped by strong Asian markets.

The benchmark also managed to post its first quarterly rise since December 2007.

The rise was led by ITC (up 3.3 percent), SBI (up 4.3 percent) and Infosys (up 2 percent).

Do you know where you’re going to?

It is still a moot point whether institutional investors are putting more money into hedge funds or taking money out.

rtx4ut4Yesterday Antonio Borges, chairman of the Hedge Fund Standards Board, told Reuters that there had been a “dramatic reversal” since December and that institutions were “returning to the hedge fund industry in a very serious, well thought-through process”.

However, a Reuters poll published today of 10 UK investment firms showed that on average they reduced allocations to alternative assets in March.

The Value of Experience

BRITAIN/(Corrected – Bank of America did not purchase Countrywide early this decade)

Now that the nation’s top public servant is wielding The Donald-like powers over chief executives of bailed-out companies, expectations are high that more heads will roll, and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is looking like the next contestant on a new economic prime-time drama: The Executive.

Rick Wagoner, ousted as General Motors CEO, had spent more than three decades in the company and had been in the driver’s seat for most of the last one. He also presided over the era of the energy-unfriendly Sport Utility Vehicle and is criticized for sticking with trucks far longer than he should have.

Check Out Line: Get ready for another going-out-of-business sale

gott1Check out the latest liquidation sale in the retail world.

U.S. regional department store chain Gottschalks will be liquidated after it failed to attract a buyer willing to operate the company as a going concern, the creditors’ committee said.  Going-out-of-business sales at the company’s 58 department stores and three specialty apparel stores in six western states are expected to begin around April 3.

A joint venture of liquidators won the auction for the assets of the Fresno, California-based chain, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January.  The auction is subject to bankruptcy court approval.

Liquidation sales in the current environment of lower consumer spending are not unusual.  In November, Circuit City Stores became the highest-profile retailer to file for bankruptcy during the recession and liquidated its assets after failing to find a buyer.

Soft drink sales fizzle

Are you drinking fewer soft drinks these days?  It appears many Americans are, with the volume of carbonateUSA/d soft drinks sold in the United States down 3 percent in 2008, according to Beverage Digest.

Last year’s fall, combined with smaller drops in the previous three years, means that the growth seen in 1997 through 2004 has been wiped out.  Coca-Cola and PepsiCo each lost a little bit of market share, while No. 3 player Dr Pepper Snapple saw its market share rise to 15.3 percent from 15 percent.  Coca-Cola is still the leader, with 42.7 percent of the market (down from 42.8 percent).  PepsiCo‘s got 30.8 percent (down from 31.1 percent).

The United States still has the highest per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks anywhere in the world, at 760 eight-ounce servings in 2008.  That’s 6,080 ounces for each person, or just over 506 cans of soda.

Sensex ends 4.8 pct lower; below 10,000

INDIA-BUDGETThe Sensex started the week on a negative note, closing 4.8 percent lower after a 12 percent rally last week.

The benchmark index ended at 9,568, having struggled throughout trade as investors booked profits. It had dropped over 5 percent just before close.

The fall was led by financial stocks such as ICICI Bank, HDFC and SBI.

Top among the Sensex losers were ICICI Bank, Tata Steel and JP Associates, all dropping over 12 percent.

Best of British

There has been no shortage of calls from continental European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy for regulation of the hedge fund industry to limit potential systemic risks to the global financial system.

rtxd6kuBut it’s little surprise that some executives in London, where the vast majority of European hedge funds are actually based, have privately suggested the calls stem from motives rather more mixed than simply wanting better regulation.

These, they say, can be anything from these leaders wanting to hide their own political problems, to them feeling some ownership because many hedge fund investors are based in continental Europe, to a simple feeling jealousy of an industry that in Europe at least is mostly British.

South American LNG Terminals

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The above map shows South America’s LNG import terminals ahead of the coming Southern Hemisphere winter, including Chile’s Quintero terminal, which is expected online in June. (Click on individual terminals for details)

South America’s nascent import capacity will add a new dynamic to the Atlantic Basin market, drawing LNG counter-seasonally when demand in the Northern Hemisphere wanes during summer.

LNG imports to South America are not expected to be huge in 2009 due to falling industrial demand, but they could tighten the LNG market in the longer term. – Ed McAllister

Fund details under lock and key at Blackstone

BANGLADESH/No surprise that private equity firms (even the publicly-traded ones) are reluctant to disclose the individual performance of their funds, particularly in a down market.

A letter from Blackstone Group to the SEC argues against disclosing such information to its public shareholders.  Looks like investors voted with their wallets on Monday, with Blackstone’s shares down 9 percent. Here’s an extract from the Dec 5 letter, first reported by Bloomberg:

“We do not believe that disclosure of detailed performance information within MD&A for each of the investment funds that we manage for each period presented is either required by Regulation S-K or, more importantly, a meaningful measurement of our results of operations. The principal disclosure to reflect our revenue recognition of performance fees is the disclosure of changes to performance fees and investment income set forth in our segment disclosure in MD&A and the financial statements. The individual rates of return have no direct impact on our financials and therefore we question the relevance to our investors.”