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  • Capital Ideas

    The U.S. housing bubble may have burst, but many American investors are looking at real estate in Europe and Asia. It's been a smart play: foreign real estate doesn't move in tandem with the U.S. market, so it can be a good way to diversify. And the numbers are compelling: between 2001 and 2006, the value of a one-bedroom apartment in New York appreciated 33 percent. But the same money invested in London, Paris or Mumbai would have returned 92 percent, 129 percent and 149 percent, respectively.But before you book your round-the-world shopping trip, remember the currency factor: about half the gain of European properties comes from the dollar's decline against the euro, says Ward Naughton of HiFX Inc., a San Francisco company that arranges financing for international deals. "At some point, you know that will turn." When it does, Americans investing abroad could lose money. He recommends Asian properties, where economies are growing. Some tips:
  • Edison’s Dimming Bulbs

    Fluorescents still cost more upfront. But Wal-Mart's attention and the policies of many governments are pushing incandescents toward extinction.
  • It’s Time To Be The Biggest

    When it comes to timepieces, size matters. Tired of squinting at dainty wristwatches, women are embracing bigger models that make a bold fashion statement and are also easier to read.Corum's limited-edition Artisan Collection, which features hand-painted works of art on mother-of-pearl dials (from $29,000), introduces several new themes a year, such as brightly colored toucans. The 46mm Classical Billionaire Tourbillon comes in four varieties, including a diamond-and-sapphire bracelet model ($975,000; corum.ch).At Kriëger, one size fits all. Its unisex Gigantium family features at least four limited-edition collections with specs up to 51mm. The Fav Elite collection sets a vintage look with bright dial colors and alligator straps to match (from $2,000; kriegerwatch.com).Gerald Genta's most popular larger model for women is the Octo Biretro. The triple octagon case with red enamel dial has a mosaic of black and white diamonds, and comes with a matching zebra-print leather strap ($64...
  • Traveling On A Song

    The passing of Luciano Pavarotti has inspired much lamenting about the future of opera. Aficionados needn't worry: companies are offering special tours that combine spectacular singing with unforgettable dining and accommodations.Euridice Opera organizes personalized trips that can include meeting a singer or even a private performance at, say, England's Glyndebourne Festival. On Dec. 7, the company will arrange for couples to see Puccini's "Turandot" at the famed Teatro La Fenice in Venice, followed by a formal ball inside the hall (from $3,500; www.euridice-opera.com).JMB Travel specializes in holidays featuring 28 European and North American houses. Visit a theater in a different country each night, including Krakow's Slowacki Theater and Milan's La Scala; wine tastings are often included (from $700; www.jmbtravel.co.uk).The Hotel Imperial in Vienna offers a three-night stay and a performance at the State Opera across the street (from $1,500; luxury collection.com/imperial)....
  • Visitors Wanted Now

    Creating a brand identity for any country is hard. Being honest is the first step.
  • Spa Makeover

    Canyon Ranch is the ultimate in health resorts. Now it's expanding to condos, day retreats and a cruise ship.
  • Abbe Raven's Staying Power

    In the land of TV, the talent's always on the move. At A&E, the CEO began her career there 23 years ago.
  • Just Stay Out Of The Rain!

    Green is the new black, at least for clothing companies providing environmentally friendly textiles. Ingeo is a new fiber made of fermented corn sugars. Manufactured by NatureWorks, a subsidiary of agri-giant Cargill, Ingeo is now showing up in everything from socks and shirts (ecowearusa.com) to carpet tiles (interfaceflor.com). Because it's made from corn, it is both inexpensive and easy on the earth to produce. It's also hypoallergenic, wicks away moisture and can degrade in only a few months if composted professionally with high temperatures and liquids.In Britain, scientists have developed high-fashion dresses that can disappear even faster—dissolving in hot water. The material is the brainchild of University of Sheffield chemist Tony Ryan, aided by British designer Helen Storey and a team from the University of Ulster. They don't intend to market the dress, but see it as a "metaphor for wastefulness," says Ryan.He and Storey are experimenting with other forms and possible uses...
  • Bad Credit? 6 Cards for You

    Has your credit rating taken a few knocks lately? Here are six cards that can keep you charging and won't make you pay through the nose.
  • Payday Loans Can Be A Trap

    One employee got disgusted when he saw a customer had paid $8,000 in fees on a $375 loan. 'That made the picture clear.'
  • There’s No Inflation (If You Ignore Facts)

    Imagine that a cardiologist told you that aside from the irregular heartbeat, the stratospheric cholesterol count and a little blockage in your aorta, your core heart functions are just fine.That's precisely what the government's cardiologist—Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve—has just done. The central bank is supposed to make sure the economy grows fast enough to create jobs and make everybody richer, but not so fast that it produces inflation, which makes everybody poorer. "Readings on core inflation have improved modestly this year," the Federal Open Market Committee said in justifying its 50-basis-point interest-rate cut last month, while conceding that "some inflation risks remain."Catch that bit about "core inflation"? That's Fedspeak for: inflation is under control, unless you look at the costs of things that are going up. The core rate excludes the prices of food and energy, which can be volatile from month to month. Factor them in, and inflation is about as...
  • The Bernanke Era Has Begun

    Last week the Fed shifted its emphasis from fighting inflation to preventing panic. Was that the right call? Certainly it was the popular call.
  • Personal Finance: It Pays to Hire Your Kids

    Maybe it's time your kids started pulling their weight. With tough new kiddie tax rules, it doesn't pay to feed their savings accounts: the interest they earn is taxed at your rate until they're 18, and next year that goes up to 23, as long as they're students. But it does pay to hire them and pay them a salary. That earned income can be effectively shielded from taxes and used to amass savings. Here's how to make the system work: ...
  • Travel: Zanzibar's Island of Spices

    Known as the spice island, Zanzibar is a beguiling mix of Arabic, African and Indian cultures. From Stone Town's tiny streets to isolated coral reefs, this paradise off the coast of Tanzania draws anyone looking to chill. Stone Town is the best place to start. Stay at the seafront Serena Inn, where rooms overlook the Indian Ocean and the interior celebrates the island's Persian and European influences (from $285 per person; serenahotels.com). Set aside an afternoon to get lost in the city's labyrinth of houses, bazaars and courtyards.Head out of town to enjoy the powdery white beaches. Each of the nine rooms at Matemwe Bungalows features a porch with huge hammocks and a sumptuous bath. Meals are served on the patio, and guests can relax at the two pools or sip a dawa (Swahili for medicine) cocktail of vodka, lime and sugar at the beach bar ($230 per person in low season; matemwe.com).Suites at the Zamani Zanzibar Kempinski offer grand views of the ocean. Guests can enjoy floral foot...
  • Jewelry: Savoring Sparkles

    The clear skies and glittering water of summertime are gone, but there's a way to remember them: the aquamarine, pink, turquoise and blue of sea-colored gems. The latest collection at Chanel Fine Jewelry centers on the geometrical perfection of art deco, drawing on the seaside that Coco Chanel loved. The earring, pendant and ring designs feature either aquamarine and turquoise or coral and tourmaline stones set in 18-karat white gold with cacholong—a variety of opal—and diamonds (from $8,600 to $27,000; chanel.com).British designer Stephen Webster (www.stephenwebster.com) uses the latest laser-cutting techniques to perfect his collection, including the Crystal Haze Classic white-gold bracelet with turquoise and diamonds ($17,000). Theo Fennell, the eccentric creator of silver Heinz ketchup and Smirnoff bottles (theofennell.com), shows he is about more than gimmickry with his delicate Cradle range of rings in 18-karat white gold. From the marquise aquamarine to the mint-green octagon...
  • Q&A: Controlling Bad News

    In the Internet era, bad news travels fast. A guru explains how companies should play smart defense.
  • Shutterfly's Photographic Vision

    Shutterfly was a survivor of the dotcom crash. Now it's a leader in online photographic services and a trusted brand. The CEO explains how he did it.
  • Travel: Rent a Chauffer With Your Car

    Here's a new accessory for rental cars: a driver. Avis Rent A Car is offering chauffeurs to its customers in 10 top business markets, including New York, L.A., Chicago, Washington, Detroit and the Bay Area.A driver costs about $35 an hour, with a minimum of three hours. WeDriveU, a San Mateo, Calif., firm, provides the drivers. Time-pressed business customers like the new service because drivers can pick up the car and collect renters at baggage claim, says WeDriveU CEO Dennis Carlson.And it's still cheaper than hiring a limo service. One customer, for example, recently rented a car and driver at New York's La Guardia Airport for a day of meetings. He spent $280 for the driver and $120 for the car, compared with $640 for a car-for-hire. At the end of the trip, the driver drove him back to the airport and returned the car. Booking the driver is done separately from the car rental, through an additional phone call. WeDriveU provides extra insurance to cover its drivers.Some customers...
  • Travel: Luxe Hotels Better Than Ever

    Hotels are getting more fabulous. With even mid-tier rooms sporting Egyptian cotton linens, granite baths and Wi-Fi, the bar is being raised for upscale spots worldwide. U.S. luxe hotels have higher occupancy rates and are raising prices more rapidly (7.3 percent this year) than any other category, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Developers are responding with new hotels offering top amenities, says Steve Joyce of Marriott International.Starwood Capital Group, which already owns the vaunted Hotel de Crillon in Paris and is building a Crillon chain, recently announced it's developing Baccarat Hotels and Resorts, named after the crystal company it owns. The first will be in Hawaii. Marriott is putting up Ritz-Carltons and JW Marriotts in China and elsewhere. It has also partnered with Ian Schrager, a boutique hotelier who developed Studio 54 in the 1970s, to come up with an international chain of 100 small hotels it describes as "luxury redefined."Not all new luxe hotels are...
  • Gross: Businesses Go 'Green' and Get Positive Press

    Westport Wash & Wax proudly bills itself as the only solar-powered carwash in the state of Connecticut. The proprietors, brothers Craig and Scott Tiefenthaler, have just covered the roof of their business with 18 panels. The total cost: $21,000, with the state's taxpayers footing 60 percent of the bill.This sort of behavior drives economists and global-warming skeptics to distraction. Even with the massive government subsidy, it'll take seven years for the owners to recoup their investment. And on sunny days, the panels provide only enough juice to run the shop's refrigerators and lights. "To run my main motors, I'd need a city block of solar panels," says Craig.At first blush, the carwash has all the hallmarks of a greenwash: a feel-good gesture that detracts attention from painful efforts that could really influence energy use. People who are serious about using less energy could skip the carwash altogether and bathe their vehicles with a hose and cold water. And if they're...
  • Gross: Why Mattel Must Save Face with China

    Quick to blame its Chinese suppliers for a massive recall, the toy giant now apologizes for its own mistakes. Why Mattel—and other major American companies—must save face with China.
  • Net Interest

    Squeeze more out of your money with tools and tips at these sites: FINRA.org Check out your broker, your mutual-fund expenses and the latest scams at this new securities regulator. ambest.com/consumers Get free insurance-company ratings and learn the basics before you buy a policy. finance-weblog.com A clever blog about money with a philosophical bent and a healthy dose of cynicism. financialaidletter.com See real examples of college financial-aid award letters and plan your own strategy.
  • From Me To You

    Who needs banks when you've got Facebook? Peer-to-peer lending sites are drawing more borrowers and lenders who prefer to make their deals directly with each other. Sites like prosper.com and circlelending.com have done $85.5 million and $200 million in loans, respectively. Lendingclub.com integrated with social-networking site facebook.com early in the summer and says it arranged $500,000 in loans in its first seven weeks.But are these sensible places to borrow or lend money? The interest rates on these unsecured loans tend to be high, so borrowers with good credit scores could get better rates on most mainstream credit cards. Lenders—anyone willing to put up money in the hopes of earning better rates than they would at a bank—might find more to like. Prosper and Lending Club both check borrowers' credit records and are aggressive about collecting on payments, and lenders can make up to 13 percent on their loans.Would-be borrowers and lenders should check out prosperlenders.com for...
  • Getting A Bang For Your Buck

    Here's the silver lining of the mortgage mess: those cash-strapped banks are raising the rates they pay on certificates of deposit and money-market accounts to bring in more green. Why not lend them some money and pick up some safe FDIC-insured returns?For example, Countrywide Bank (countrywide.com) is currently offering 5.55 percent interest on a six-month CD and 5.65 percent on a one-year CD. AmTrust Direct (amtrustdirect.com) is paying 5.3 percent on its money-market deposit account. That's better than the rates being offered by most money-market mutual funds these days, and way more stable than anything this year's stock market might hand you.You can compare rates at bankrate.com or banx.com, but go to individual bank Web sites, too, as the rates listed there can be better than the ones at secondary sites.Also, check with your broker: most online and full-service brokers can get top CD rates and pass them on to you. Brokers can split your money among several banks, and that's...
  • Freeze, Id Thief!

    There's an easy way to protect yourself from identity theft without spending time and money on costly credit-monitoring services: just freeze your credit file.Credit-file freezing is relatively new. Two years ago only four states had laws allowing it; now 39 states and the District of Columbia do. When you freeze your file, nobody—not even you—can use it to open a new account. You can lift the freeze temporarily if you want to apply for a mortgage, car loan or new credit card yourself. "We recommend that everyone consider it," says Gail Hillebrand of Consumers Union. To freeze your file, you'll have to notify all three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. There will probably be a small fee, but the procedures are different in every state, so find your state at consumersunion.org/securityfreeze.htm and follow the steps outlined. The freeze won't change your credit score, but if you're about to enter a flurry of credit applications yourself, wait until your own borrowing...
  • Ask the Pro

    Linda Sherry: Director, National Priorities, Consumer Action
  • Start Planning Now

    When you turn 50, it's more than an embarrassing birthday. It's the outer door to retirement, whether you know it or not. Some people save for years so they can retire early (55 is a favorite age). Others have retirement thrust upon them: they're fired, their health breaks down or they have to take care of an ailing spouse. Of those 60 to 65, a mere 33 percent still work at their primary jobs full time, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Joanna Rotenberg of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says that 40 percent of retirees are forced to leave work earlier than they'd planned—ready or not. The average retirement age is currently 57.That's what makes your 50th birthday so important. From then on, your employment options narrow. "If you're 20 years older than your boss, you can assume that your days are numbered," says Bedda D'Angelo of Fiduciary Solutions in Durham, N.C. You have to be ready if your boss, your knees or your spirit cries "halt."To retire early...
  • Schmooze Nation

    Geeks don't normally get to play the role of national hero, but Orkut Buyukkokten will not soon forget the trip he made to Brazil earlier this year. The 32-year-old creator of the social-networking site Orkut.com was mobbed by reporters, photographers and autograph seekers. In the United States or Europe, Orkut's name would probably draw a blank stare.Brazil, it seems, is emerging as a bellwether nation for Internet trends. Brazilians have been quick to check out new social-networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Fotolog. And they're largely responsible for the spectacular growth of Orkut's site—Brazilians account for 57 percent of its 44 million members. This is impressive, considering how badly the country is wired. Only a fifth of Brazilians have ever gone online, and fewer than 11 million have Web access at home. But they're a zealous minority. A recent Nielsen/Net Ratings poll showed that Brazilians spend almost 24 hours a month online on average—more than Net surfers from...
  • Q&A: Is the Tiny Smart Car a Dumb Idea?

    It's hip, it's fuel-efficient, and it's cheap. Smart USA's president explains why he's betting on this tiny Euro two-seater gaining  traction in the United States.
  • Hiking In High Style

    There's no better way to explore a place than on foot. But forget the trail mix and sleeping bags; walking tours are increasingly going upscale, adding amenities from goat-cheese tastings to bath butlers. The Wayfarers' Pathways of the Impressionists is a seven-day journey through the French Provençal landscape. The easy-to-moderate daily walks through hilltop olive groves incorporate side trips like a visit to an herb farm and a cooking lesson with a two-star Michelin chef (from $3,850; thewayfarers.com).Bothfeet's new Great Ocean Walk, southwest of Melbourne, covers 56 miles of remote Australian coastline in six days. But a personal masseuse visits hikers' rooms to ease the pain. And the trip concludes with a spectacular helicopter ride retracing the journey (from $2,295; bothfeet.com.au).On the Heritage Tours Private Travel personalized vineyard and tea tour in northern Portugal, visitors stroll through a 17th-century wine village for port tastings en route to a tea ceremony...
  • Gross: The Tao of Junk

    Pundits bemoan our trade deficit with China. But those container ships aren't heading home empty. Here's what's inside.