Unstructured Finance

Deals wrap: Investors willing to overlook LinkedIn’s risks

LinkedIn’s IPO, which is expected to price after the close of U.S. markets on Wednesday and start trading on Thursday, appears set to be a stunning success, but it carries a number of risks that may shake up investors in the future.

Potential risks include LinkedIn’s gutsy bet on future growth, an admission that it does not expect to be profitable in 2011 and the prospect of having its site blocked, which would limit its user base and could curtail some of the potential growth so attractive to investors.

After two years of losses, LinkedIn finally made money for its common stockholders in 2010 — but then it was back to only breaking even in the first quarter of 2011. A profitable company flatlining or swinging to a loss in its first year as a publicly traded stock could prove an unwelcome surprise for investors betting on the booming growth of social media companies.

On Seeking Alpha, IPO Candy says LinkedIn’s growth, positioning and financial performance in large part justifies their stocks filing range. But unless their future execution surpasses recent performances, investors will not see expected returns.

Takeda Pharmaceutical will announce the $12 billion purchase of closely held Swiss rival Nycomed later today as it seeks to expand in Europe and emerging markets.

UPS to U.S. consumer: relax, have an app!

UPS/UPS expects healthy profits in 2010, no thanks to the U.S. consumer the company is trying to entice with iPhone and BlackBerry applications.

Announced in November and December, the free applications enable users to create and track shipments, calculate rates and delivery times and find the nearest UPS location.

“People can browse the web on their phone as easy as on their home computer, so that’ll make it easier and easier to shop for holiday presents and birthday gifts,” Chief Financial Officer Kurt Kuehn told Reuters.

Walmart takes to iPhones to find holiday shoppers

wmtiphone1Walmart has launched an aggressive push to win market share this holiday shopping season, cutting prices on everything from books to toys to lean ground beef and televisions.

Now, it is taking its effort to reach potential holiday shoppers beyond its typical TV or print ads.

While Walmart is already tweeting, and has launched an official Facebook page (where it now has 43,112 fans), it has now come out with an iPhone application to help shoppers pick out holiday gifts.

This holiday’s shiny new toy: social media

iphoneCompanies that cater to consumers are always chasing after the latest consumer technology trend (anyone remember Second Life?), and this holiday season that means following them into the world of social media.

Companies ranging from Wal-Mart and Panda Express to J.C. Penney and Target are experimenting with Facebook, TwitterYouTube or Flickr. Some are tweeting special coupons or limited-time deals, while others are doling out fashion advice or providing play-by-plays from product launch parties on Facebook. M.A.C. said it is using its Facebook page to feature artists, color collections, and what is happening backstage at fashion shows. 

While figuring out if all this tweeting, posting and friending is increasing sales is difficult, companies said one thing is certain: Social media is giving them a direct, unfiltered link to consumers.

Auto insurer launches virtual toolbox

nationwide-mobile-screenshot-1Auto insurer Nationwide has joined businesses such as Kraft Foods, eBay and Amazon.com in developing applications that customers can access on Apple’s popular iPhone.

While Kraft’s iFood Assistant offers recipes and shopping lists for consumers, Nationwide’s application gives policyholders instant tools to help deal with some of the calls and paperwork that follow a vehicle bust-up, including access to tow truck service, and getting a claim started.

Nationwide says it is the first insurer to launch such an application, or “app” as iPhone tools are more often referred to.

Blogosphere not kindled on Kindle 2 launch

AMAZON-KINDLE/Resembling a larger, whiter, thinner, but not-as-sexy iPhone, the Kindle 2 got its high-profile launch on Monday by Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer.
 
Analysts, media and gadget hounds filled New York’s Morgan Library to hear Chief Executive Jeff Bezos touting the slimmer, faster new version of the e-reader that at $359 is still hardly a steal.
    
The press conference even featured an appearance from horror author Stephen King, whose novella “Ur” — about a college instructor who orders a Kindle (no joke) to frightening consequences — is only available on the Kindle.
    
But despite the advance hoopla — read Reuters’ preview of the Kindle launch here — the blogosphere was surprisingly low-key about Monday’s unveiling — perhaps given leaked photos of the supposed device that could be seen on the Internet beginning last fall.
    
“Wow, even Amazon is jumping on the iPhone-killer bandwagon,” said one blog, http://www.boygeniusreport.com, adding that the new Kindle is 25 percent thinner than the iPhone. Gizmodo, calling its new design a success, wrote: “It looks like Amazon got a few clues from Apple and Braun’s design guidelines.” The www.Techcrunch.com blog summed it up even more succinctly: “It’s much less ugly.”
    
Bloggers praised its thinness, more storage, better battery life, better display and faster page turning, but some still griped at its price tag and design, with one blogger saying the new Kindle is “still not pretty.” 

“If I’m going to spend $370, why wouldn’t I buy an iPod Touch or a Netbook and get way more functionality,” asked one posting. Another referenced the ubiquitous debate in cyberspace over open devices: “Where is the universal open device that consumers really want? Limited consumers just so you can direct all sales through Amazon will not play out in the long run.”
 
For an interesting read on how Amazon is currently cornering an underserved market niche, but how competition from tablet PCs could be an issue in the future, read here.    
    
Few bloggers commented on the new “read-to-me” feature, which allows users to hear their content read by either a female or male voice — although one blog said it “should be fun.” That may steal away some sales of books on tape, but Kindle said the feature was still experimental.
    
Amazon won’t disclose how many advance orders for the Kindle 2 it expects — nor how many of the first version it sold. And still a mystery is whether or not the Kindle is cannibalizing sales from the company, whose highest margin business is physical book sales, according to Bernstein Research’s Jeffrey Lindsay.
 
Bezos said last month for every physical book an Amazon customer with a Kindle buys, he or she buys 1.6 to 1.7 Kindle books.

(Photo of Bezos/Reuters)

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