Friday, May 18, 2007

Toyota Unveils Its Priciest Hybrid (Breitbart)

AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota's commitment to hybrid automobiles was on full display Thursday when it unveiled its most expensive gasoline-electric vehicle yet—the $124,000 luxury sedan Lexus LS.
Executives at Japan's No. 1 automaker are fully convinced that hybrid cars are the way of the future. And they're betting that growing consumer concern about the environment—and higher gas prices—will lure even wealthy buyers to the new model, which went on sale Thursday in Japan for 15 million yen and will arrive later elsewhere.

Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto denied hybrids were "a transitional technology" that will be replaced by more advanced ecological technology in the future.

"As long as cars exist, the need for hybrid technology will remain," Takimoto said.

Toyota Motor Corp., which introduced its first hybrid, the Prius, 10 years ago, sold about 300,000 hybrids worldwide last year, and it plans to sell a million hybrids a year sometime after 2010.

Although all the world's automakers are working on hybrids, Japan's No. 1 automaker has dozens of patents on the technology and has sold more hybrids than any other automaker.

The most common hybrids today switch between a gas engine and electric motor to deliver better mileage and reduce emissions that cause global warming.

But Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said the technology for hybrid systems can be applied to power other types of vehicles, which run on fuel other than gas, including biofuels and hydrogen.

"The hybrid system is a core technology that can be applied anywhere," Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters.

Toyota, which has introduced two other hybrid Lexus models, said the hybrid LS went on sale in Japan Thursday.

Starting next month, it will roll out gradually in Europe, North America and Asia, including China, and other regions.

Toyota expects to sell 7,000 Lexus LS cars in 2007, including 4,000 in Japan. The company did not give other regional breakdowns.

The success of hybrids has been a big plus for Toyota's image at a time when concerns about the global environment and soaring gas prices are growing. Watanabe said he hopes hybrid Lexus models will further enhance Toyota's value.

Clear Channel Deal Is Sweetened (WSJ)


Clear Channel Communications Inc. entered a sweetened deal to be acquired by Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Bain Capital Partners LLC.

The San Antonio media-and-entertainment company said Friday the new price of $39.20 is 20 cents more than the previous offer. Shareholders will receive an "additional per share consideration" if the deal closes after Dec. 31, the company said. Its shares traded at $37.79 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.

The new agreement also includes provisions limiting the fees payable to the private-equity group in the transaction, and requires the board of the new corporation always include at least two independent directors.

Current stockholders can now either receive the cash consideration or shares in the new corporation to be formed by the acquisition on a one-for-one basis. The deal also offers current shareholders a chance to own as much as 30% of the newly constituted Clear Channel, which would be majority-owned by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Clear Channel's board has unanimously approved the amended agreement.

Earlier this week The Wall Street Journal reported Clear Channel's major shareholders, Highfields Capital Management and Fidelity Investments, were expected to be on board with the new buyout proposal, which was brought forward last week.

The takeover plan has endured months of contention among shareholders, the company's management and the private-equity firms, which had originally hoped to strike a deal at $37.60 per share late last year. The prior offer, totaling about $18.65 billion, probably would have been shot down.

The addition of Highfields and Fidelity would give the deal far greater chance of shareholder approval than previously thought. The company twice delayed its privatization vote, first in an effort to rally support for the privatization at $37.60, and then to give shareholders time to consider the improved bid of $39.

Clear Channel said the special meeting of shareholders scheduled for May 22 won't be held and the company will set a new meeting and record date.

ValueClick says FTC investigating Web site marketing practices (Reuters)

May 18 (Reuters) - ValueClick Inc. (VCLK.O: Quote, Profile, Research said the Federal Trade Commission was investigating certain of its marketing practices for Web sites to check if they violate either the FTC Act or the CAN-SPAM Act.

In a regulatory filing, the company said it got a letter from the FTC on May 16. The letter said the FTC was looking into certain ValueClick Web sites that promise consumers a free gift of substantial value, and the manner in which it drives traffic to such Web sites.

ValueClick said it intends to fully cooperate with the FTC. (Reporting by Ankur Relia in Bangalore)

Microsoft to Buy aQuantive for $6 Billion (Reuters)

By Eric Auchard

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. said on Friday it would buy aQuantive Inc. for about $6 billion, or $66.50 a share, an 85 percent premium to the online advertising company's closing price on Thursday.

Shares of aQuantive shot to $63.95 in pre-opening trade, following news of the deal.

The all-cash deal tops a dramatic one-month consolidation spree across the online advertising market sparked when Google Inc. agreed to buy DoubleClick for $3.1 billion.

Yahoo Inc. followed by snatching up the 80 percent of Right Media it did not already own in a deal valued at $680 million. This week, WPP Group said it would acquire 24/7 Real Media Inc. for $649 million. Ahead of the wave, French advertising giant Publicis bought online ad agency Digitas in December for $1.3 billion.

Microsoft of Redmond, Washington said it would acquire aQuantive, based in nearby Seattle, to expand its push into Internet advertising through aQuantive's tools for managing the buying and selling of online ads.

Shares of aQuantive closed at $35.87 on Thursday on the Nasdaq. ValueClick, the last sizable independent player in the online advertising market saw its shares jump as much as 12.5 percent in premarket trade to $31.36 from $27.88.

AQuantive helps advertisers target online ads through its Atlas technology unit and offers Web-site development services through its design agency Avenue A/Razorfish. It also operates an online advertising network that connects buyers and sellers and provides behavioral targeting for advertisers of Web site users.

Microsoft said the deal would allow it to strengthen ties with advertisers, ad agencies and Web site publishers by enhancing the underlying mix of software and services its MSN consumer Internet business unit can deliver.

The acquisition also provides Microsoft increased depth in building a new generation of advertising in markets such as video-on-demand and Internet Protocol Television, as well as cross-platform ad delivery, which bridges traditional and new media formats.

(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando in New York)

Wolfowitz hands in resignation over pay rise dispute (Earth Times)

By Jayesh P. Yadav

WASHINGTON - World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has resigned even as the Bank's 24-member board was looking to find ways to give him a possible 'easy' way out. Wolfowitz was forced to resign after it emerged that he played a central role in the pay package handed to his girlfriend Shaha Riza.

The former US deputy defence secretary had refused to resign until the board forced him to. However with the White House withdrawing support, it appeared a foregone conclusion that he would have to go. The 63-year-old Wolfowitz said in a statement that it was time for the Bank to move forward.

"The poorest people of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, deserve the very best we can deliver," he said. "Now it is necessary to find a way to move forward. I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership."

The board said Wolfowitz would resign on June 30. It added in a statement that the President felt he had acted ethically in the matter.

“He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution and we accept that,” the board said.

The hunt for the next President has already begun. Traditionally an American has headed the World Bank, but speculation that outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair could be invited is also doing rounds.

China yuan band widening a modest gesture to US - BNP Paribas (AFX News Limited)

BEIJING (XFN-ASIA) - China's widening of the yuan's daily trading band is a modest gesture to the US ahead of a high level meeting with American officials in Washington, said Chen Xingdong, an economist with BNP Paribas in Beijing.

'The band widening band is a gesture because (Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi) is going to the US,' said Chen. He added that the measure is designed to show some movement but no major appreciation in the currency can be expected. 'The message is clear; China wants to show the US that it has done something and it wants to tell the Americans that it's only going to do a little, not a lot.' China widened the daily trading band around the yuan's central parity rate to 0.5 pct from 0.3 pct. The central bank sets the parity rate each day. The yuan is said to be under a managed float with the rate linked to a basket of currencies. Senior Chinese and US officials meet in Washington for the 'strategic economic dialogue' -- a forum for discussing key economic and financial issues. The US has long been pressuring China to make the yuan's exchange rate more flexible.

Ahead of the Bell: Online Advertisers (AP)

NEW YORK — Shares of online advertising company ValueClick Inc. jumped in premarket trading Friday after Microsoft Corp. said it will pay about $6 billion in cash to buy rival aQuantive Inc., a move that could take out yet another online advertising services company.

ValueClick Inc., one of the only companies in the sector that hasn't yet been gobbled up by a search engine operator, jumped $3.65, or 13.1 percent, to $31.53 in the early session.

AQuantive, meanwhile, soared toward the $66.50 purchase price, adding $29.13, or 81.2 percent, to $65 in premarket activity. Microsoft's offer represents an 85 percent premium over the stock's Thursday closing price of $35.87.

In recent, similar deals, WPP Group PLC, the world's second-largest marketing conglomerate, said it would pay $649 million for online advertising company 24/7 Real Media Inc.

Leading search engine operator Google Inc. in mid-April said it would buy DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1 billion, while Yahoo Inc. last month struck a deal to buy the rest of privately held online ad exchange Right Media Inc. Yahoo paid $680 million to take control of the company.

Also in early trading Friday, shares of 24/7 Real Media added 9 cents to $11.74, while shares of Microsoft fell 16 cents to $30.82.