Business

  • The Uranium Market Heats Up

    Deep in the snow-dusted hills along the Colorado-Utah border, George Glasier arrives to inspect the refurbishing of his Whirlwind Mine, a 3,500-foot sloping hole that is as unremarkable as it is remote. Inside, past the mine's rusted gates, Glasier's small crew has been working to shore up critical support beams left to decay after Union Carbide Corp. abandoned the operation more than 20 years ago. The work, he notes, is slow going. "Uranium has been down so low, for so long," Glasier says with a cowboy's patience, as he points to rotting wood. "Well, you just can't bring it back very fast."Refurbishing the Whirlwind Mine may take time, but the commodity Glasier is aiming to bring to the surface is blistering hot. Uranium--the natural ingredient of nuclear reactors and bombs--is back, and bigger than ever. From Namibia to New Mexico, thousands of abandoned uranium mines are being reopened as billions of dollars pour into a decrepit industry that just a few years ago was left for...
  • Embarrassing Moment for Katie Couric

    An entry from the CBS's anchor's video 'Notebook' shares some uncomfortable similarities with a Wall Street Journal column. How musings about a library led to some embarrassing moments—and the firing of a network producer.
  • Geico's Cavemen: Ready for Prime Time?

    Comedian John Lehr is a famous man, though you probably wouldn't recognize him on the street. But trick him out with a sloping latex forehead, decaying brown teeth and nearly as much chest hair as Alec Baldwin, and he's unmistakable. Yes, Lehr is the Geico caveman. Actually, he's one of three post-, post-ironic Neanderthals who sigh and snipe their way through the insurance company's hilarious and unavoidable television ads—a campaign that has helped make Geico, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the fastest-growing major car-insurance company in the nation. Since 1998, sales have jumped to $11 billion from $2.8 billion. (Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett sits on the board of The Washington Post Company, which owns NEWSWEEK.)Geico is known as much for its offbeat ads as it is for its discount auto insurance. It targets older customers with campy spots featuring aging stars—Little Richard, Charo—who knowingly play off their washed-up status. Geico's other mascot, that maddeningly...
  • Quinn: The Nasty World of Subprime Credit Cards

    In recent weeks, you've heard plenty about the sleazy side of the subprime mortgage business. Rising numbers of borrowers are losing their homes after being lured into high-cost mortgages they couldn't afford. But there's another piece of the painful subprime story that hasn't hit the headlines yet: costly—sometimes abusive—subprime credit cards. They're bleeding millions of borrowers who didn't know what they were getting into.Subprime borrowers tend to have credit scores under 660. They've missed or defaulted on payments in the past and already carry a lot of debt. But even prime borrowers, with credit scores solidly in the 700s, can slide into subprime status if they're late on a couple of payments.Subprimes come in two types: Cards that are crazily costly to begin with and cards that look good but hide big traps. You know about traps if you've paid some bills late and are now being charged with interest at 30 percent. In general, here's how the business works:The bottom-feeding...
  • Naughton: Can Detroit Go Green?

    Inside New York’s massive Javits Center this week, the world’s automakers took the wraps off shiny new cars for hundreds of automotive reporters gathered from around the globe. But outside, in a cold downpour, a pair of environmentalists in mountain-climbing gear scaled the front of the steel and glass building and hung a banner criticizing a major automaker for its gas-guzzling ways. The 15-by-20-foot banner hung on the building for 35 minutes before police arrested the protesters and pulled it down. Who was the target of these “eco-warriors?” Toyota. That’s right, the makers of Prius, who have had such a good ride lately as the top seller of gas-electric hybrids. That’s all changed, though, now that Toyota is selling a big new Tundra pickup that gulps a gallon of gas every 17 miles. The banner from the Freedom From Oil activist group showed the Tundra slicing through the planet and made a sly play on its ad slogan, “The truck that’s changing everything.” The enviros edited the...
  • Naughton: Who Will Buy Chrysler?

    Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian raised the stakes this week in the race to acquire Chrysler. His surprise $4.5 billion offer now puts pressure on the other bidders to top him. But even if the other deep-pocketed suitors offer more money, the nearly-90-year-old wheeler-dealer just might have an ace in the hole: Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan's rock-star CEO. Last year, Ghosn and Kerkorian teamed up in an unsuccessful effort to get General Motors to become the American partner in Ghosn's Franco-Japanese auto alliance. Now, Chrysler could complete the global alliance that Ghosn continues to covet, analysts say. "I would not bet against the idea," says veteran analyst David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. ...
  • One Woman's Rage Against Injustice

    It was the evening of May 23, 1992. I picked up the phone and heard that the Italian judge Giovanni Falcone was dead. A mafia bomb had destroyed Falcone's car, killing him, his wife and three of their bodyguards. The message was clear: mess with the mafia, and this is what happens. I was stunned, terrified. I thought of quitting prosecutorial work and going back to handling divorce and commercial cases. Then I began to burn with rage—against the mafia, impunity, injustice.Falcone was a fascinating and courageous man, an examining magistrate from Sicily who had waged war against organized crime and the culture of impunity that was sapping the vitality of his country. In the early 1980s, shortly after I was appointed examining magistrate in Lugano, Switzerland, I was asked to deal with one of Falcone's requests for assistance. This brought me into contact with arguably the most influential individual in my life. Over the years, I was to work with him on some of the most significant...
  • Thanks so Much for the Generous Donation. Now, if You Could Just Sign Here. And Here. And Here

    Let the bragging begin. Candidates for the White House didn't have to tell reporters how much campaign cash they'd raised until the April 15th filing deadline at Federal Election Commission. But many of the presidential hopefuls just couldn't wait. Within hours of the March 31 cutoff for first-quarter fund-raising, Hillary Clinton announced that she had raised $26 million during the first three months of the year. Add that to the $10 million Hillary already had in the bank, and she reports $36 million in receipts. Her announcement prompted just about everybody else to spill the beans, except for her top competition: Sen. Barack Obama, who is expected to release his numbers later in the week. How did everybody do? In spite of sagging poll numbers, Mitt Romney topped his GOP opponents, raising $23 million--including a $2.35 million personal loan that his aides say Romney used as seed money to kick off his campaign. Rudy Giuliani, who tops most GOP polls, raised $17 mi...
  • Trekking Not Required

    Nepal—home to eight of the world's 14 tallest mountains—may be a favorite destination for climbers and extreme adventurers. But it is also becoming increasingly popular among those who prefer Egyptian cotton sheets and caviar to sleeping bags and protein bars, and whose idea of roughing it means giving up heated towel racks. Backpackers are now being joined by "luxury trekkers," who like to put in a full day on the Himalayan trails—but want every creature comfort the moment they walk off.The Mountain Company runs trekking tours that utilize luxury lodges in Nepal's scenic Everest and Annapurna regions. Managing director Roland Hunter says luxury packages—which promise Western and local cuisine, down blankets and central heating—account for 15 percent of his business, and are growing (from $2,000 for 12 days; themountaincompany.co.uk).Ker & Downey Nepal operates its own exclusive lodges and runs tours that minimize the amount of time travelers spend on the trail so they can fully...
  • Robots: Climbing a Wall

    Even the bravest of firefighters can't relish the prospect of walking through a burning building. Robots, though, have no qualms—and now engineers are building a new generation of "Spider-Man" robots that can climb walls and walk on ceilings, acting as eyes and ears in search-and-rescue operations. Jizhong Xiao, an electrical-engineering professor at the City College of New York, has developed a one-kilogram robot that can traverse the right angle between wall and ceiling. The squat robot has a vacuum rotor in its belly that creates suction to hug the wall and wheels that drive it forward and back. The suction device works even on rough surfaces, says Xiao. "The market value for automated building inspections is huge," he says. The robot is intended to do the work of technicians who often work from suspended scaffolding, a dangerous occupation. With its high-resolution camera, it might also be used for surveillance.
  • Four Hours In ... Seville

    This sparkling city in the south of Spain, with its white bullring and orange trees, has rich traditions and a cosmopolitan buzz. Find the best of both:The immense Gothic cathedral, where Christopher Columbus's tomb is held aloft by four giant statues. Climb the 12th-century Moorish tower for a view of the city.Through the Real Alcázar, the royal residence of palaces and gardens built in 1364; don't miss the Ambassadors' Hall dome of gilded wood (off the Plaza del Triunfo).The new Flamenco Dance Museum in the heart of the old quarter, offering high-tech exhibits as well as exhilarating lessons (Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos, 3).Superb Andalusian food with a modern twist at ... ay, Maricrú!, an upscale bar in the Santa Cruz neighborhood. Try the toasts with brie and sweetened onions, and chocolate fondue (Pasaje de Vila, 6-Bajo)
  • Mr. Lam Rio de Janeiro

    When Brazilian mogul Eike Batista set out to staff his new Chinese eatery, he wanted the country's top cooks. But his partner, renowned chef Sik Chung Lam, persuaded him to call in ringers from Asia. Now they're running Brazil's finest—and most authentic—Chinese restaurant. ...
  • Levy: Death to DRM?

    A new deal between Apple and EMI drops restrictive software from their songs, paving the way for better portability of digital music and improved sound quality. So why does it have to cost more?
  • Where Would I Send My Friends?

    It would take a private detective to find Paris bureau chief Christopher Dickey's truly favorite bistros, and you might not like them anyway. So we've asked him for his second favorite Parisian restaurants (which are still pretty darned good).
  • The Best Architecture

    It has been more than 20 years since the Prince of Wales blasted a proposed addition to the National Gallery in London as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend." Charles won that battle—the design was scrapped—but he lost the war. While he was railing, the stainless-steel Lloyds Bank building by Richard Rogers began to go up, sleek as an alien spaceship, among the stuffy office buildings in the City of London. And though the prince's taste might have given a brief boost to the postmodern design of the Thatcher era, the counterinfluence of Rogers and his cutting-edge colleagues, both in Britain and across the Channel, has only continued to grow.Today that generation of designers has become one of Europe's most visible exports. Only Frank Gehry, alone among Americans, has had a bigger impact on contemporary architecture than the Europeans—though without the global reach of a Norman Foster, whose staff of 500, headquartered in London, oversees dozens of projects...
  • Quinn: How You Can Pay for Costly Old-Age Care

    What are the odds that you'd be able to pay for long-term nursing-home care? Say, $75,000 a year or more? Would enough be left over to support your spouse at home? For that matter, how are your parents fixed—or would you have to help them out?Hard questions, but easier to answer than you might think. The majority of Americans can get Medicaid—maybe even you. Don't confuse Medicaid with Medicare. The latter, and better-known, program covers doctor and hospital bills for people 65 and up, but it won't touch long-term nursing-home bills. That's where Medicaid comes in. It's a public-welfare program for those (mostly elderly) who need custodial care but can't afford it.You might think that you won't qualify because Medicaid is designed for the poor. But for now, the nursing-home coverage is unexpectedly inclusive. Not only are middle-class people accepted, some of the affluent have squeezed in, too, thanks to attorneys who use gifts, trusts, annuities and other strategies to disperse...
  • Latino TV Gets Serious

    For viewers of the two main Hispanic TV networks in America, the big decision each night comes down to this: do we watch a telenovela (soap opera), or do we watch a ... telenovela? Consider the 9 p.m., ET, Wednesday time slot. On Univision, you can catch "Mundo de Fieras" ("Love and Cruelty"), in which evil Demián plots to destroy his twin brother. On Telemundo, there's "Zorro: La Espada y La Rosa" ("Zorro: The Sword and the Rose"), an adaptation of the classic that combines horseback chases with lots of quivering, glistening flesh. If soaps aren't your thing, tough luck.Until now, that is. A new Spanish-language network called V-me (pronounced "veh-meh," a play on "see me" in Spanish) hit the airwaves last week, promising to offer "intelligent entertainment." It's show for Wednesday at 9? "Creencias," a repurposed version of PBS's "Religion and Ethics newsweekly" that featured pieces on home schooling and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. The network—a partnership between...
  • Desert Luxe

    Deserts may be inhospitable, but that doesn't mean the ac-commodations have to be. There's abundant luxury to be found even in the world's most arid locales. Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa in Dubai sits on 140 miles of pristine golden desert. Guests can rent one of the Bedouin tent suites with a private pool. For the more adventurous, there's falconry, camel treks and horseback riding, and sand skiing in the Hajar Mountains (rooms from $950 per night; al-maha.com).For more-ecofriendly five-star luxury, Australia's Longitude 131º wilderness camp sits on a dune near Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nation-al Park, offering views of the sunset over Ayers Rock. The white-domed roofs house only 30 guests, who get a taste of Aboriginal lore through tours of the isolated area (single, $1,100; longitude131.com.au).Bahrain's new Banyan Tree Desert Spa and Resort houses the biggest spa in the Middle East. Guests can watch gazelles at the nearby wildlife reserve, tour the gulf country's well-preserved forts or...
  • The Power of Paper

    You've got a PC, a PDA and a cell phone. And the gadgets overwhelm you. What to do? Go retro. Buy a pen and a pad.
  • Reading Leaves

    Forget grandma's milky cuppa. Today's "infusiasts" take their tea loose-leaf, sun-dried and hand-processed. Teance, in northern California, is at the forefront of America's artisanal-tea renaissance. Choose from a menu of more than 60 white, green, black, oolong and herbal teas to sip at the heated stone bar. One favorite: the Formosa Baochong, a Taiwanese oolong tea with a lilac and gardenia fragrance ($17 for 1.5 ounces; teance.com).At TeaSmith in London, experts advise on the selection of exotic flavors from the floral to the bittersweet. Try the Phoenix Supreme oolong tea, made from the cuttings of a 500-year-old plant once reserved for Chairman Mao ($43 for 1.7 ounces; teasmith.co.uk). Le Palais des Thés, with shops throughout Paris, stocks rare blends from Asia, Africa and South America. Thé du Hammam, richly flavored in the traditional Turkish manner with rose petals and orange-flower water, comes in an Oriental silver tea caddy ($60 for 3.5 ounces; palaisdesthes.com). You...
  • Samuelson: The Enigma of Private Equity

    Pictured recently on the cover of Fortune, Steve Schwarzman is "the new king of Wall Street," says the magazine. Schwarzman heads the Blackstone Group, a big "private equity" firm. In capitalism's toolbox, private equity is the latest socket wrench. It's made many people rich. In 2006, Forbes put Schwarzman at 73 on its list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with a fortune of $3.5 billion. The question is whether private equity is good for the country.Modern capitalism is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, it's dominated by massive enterprises that tend to become high-cost bureaucracies. On the other hand, these giant firms are increasingly policed by activist shareholders—including private-equity firms—that focus single-mindedly on profits. To its champions, private equity forces companies to cut costs and improve efficiency; profits are deserved. To critics, profits flow mainly from loading companies up with debt; private equity is a sophisticated swindle that often cheats...
  • The Girl Scout Cookie Hustler

    You thought those Thin Mints you bought were just a snack? They're really a way to teach young girls about marketing (and doing good). A father explains.
  • An Investment You Can't Lick

    Ok. you're sitting around dealing with big Financial Questions. Where's the stock market going? Will your 401(k) be fat enough for you to retire on caviar rather than cat food? How are you going to pay your kids' college tuition? Forget all that small stuff. Your new Big Economic Challenge for 2007 comes down to this: should you speculate in U.S. postage stamps?Stamp speculation usually means buying collector-quality issues and seeing whether they rise in price. But starting this spring, the U.S. PostalService will offer you a new way to play the stamp market: the Forever Stamp. It's a stamp that will forever be good for mailing up to one ounce of first-class mail, no matter how high the cost of stamps rises. These new issues are scheduled for their initial public offering at about the same time the price of a first-class stamp is scheduled to rise to 41 or 42 cents—the price hasn't yet been determined—from the current 39 cents. "You just can't lick this stamp," quips Postal Service...
  • There's Still No Private Bath

    Office cubes may lack space and privacy, but put them in the air, and they're the latest in luxury. United is spiffing up its first-class seats on international flights with features that would make Dilbert look right at home.The new First Suites include on-demand digital video, movies, music and games; a 15-inch flat-screen TV; an iPod plug; a 110-universal plug for powering laptops, and a seat that folds down flat to a 78-inch bed. The suites follow similar moves by American Airlines to add "pods"—hard-shelled privacy screens—around its first- class and business-class seats, and to upgrade those spaces with many of the same features. American touts cotton duvets on its lie-flat beds.Bigger and better private seats in the front of the plane—along with long wine lists and noise-canceling headphones—are designed to appeal to business customers who travel often and pay top dollar. Funny thing is, they're the same folks who wouldn't be caught dead in an office cubicle.
  • Airbus: Headed for a Breakup

    It's hard to believe that just a few years ago, Airbus was cracking open the champagne to claim victory over U.S. rival Boeing. Talk about celebrating too soon. Over the past year, the company has run through three bosses and its shares have plummeted 30 percent. Following announcements of 10,000 job cuts and several possible factory sell-offs, European unionists responded last week with spectacular strikes. At Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, 15,000 protesters marched, waving banners that asked: is there a pilot on the plane?In fact, the company has been on autopilot for the past six years. Airbus's problems stem from three long-term issues: disastrous management, a politically motivated reluctance to downsize or outsource and a failing gamble on the biggest plane in history. The troubles came to the fore last summer, when the company was forced to admit that its new megajet, the A380, had technical problems and couldn't be delivered on time, costing the company billions.Since then...
  • Quinn: Try to Relax—Enjoy the Ride

    Omigosh, what does it mean? are we in for it? A recession? Just when investments finally looked good again? How can anyone trust the market? "Frank, I told you to sell those stocks!"Cool it, friends. I don't know whether prices will be up or down by the time you read this, but the long-term case for holding well-diversified stocks is always good. True, stocks have gone nowhere for seven long years, measured from the bubble peak. But even counting the bust, Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has averaged 7.5 percent a year over the past 10 years, with dividends reinvested. That's less than its long-term average of 11.5 percent but better than bonds, Morningstar reports, and better by far than bank accounts.A slide like the one last week—down 3.5 percent in a single day—draws the doomsters out of their caves. I agree that there's plenty to growl about. Construction and manufacturing are in recession. Orders for durable goods—cars, furniture, machinery, laptops, household appliances...

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