Obama speech stirs oil markets; Toyota tries to take foot off gas pedal as problems accelerate; Greeks stymied by corruption, tax-evasion, bureaucracy; Hyundai motors back to good profits; Apple’s iPad sends shares in display makers soaring; Indonesia seen as another brick in emerging market wall;
Netflix shows not everybody had a lousy 2009
Netflix, which rents DVD and Blu-Ray movies streamed online, had a stellar 2009, adding one million subscribers in the final three months of the year, and raising revenues by 24% over the same quarter a year ago. That’s 31 % more subscribers than it had at the start of the year, giving it somewhere between 15.5 million and 16.3 million paying customers. Observers say the company’s wider selection of products, faster delivery and “Watch Instantly” programming has helped it win the video rental wars, with instant streaming to PCs, Macs and TVs over the Internet. It also mails its offerings “free” in one business day, and doesn’t charge late fees on flat-rate charges of about $9 a month to watch as many movies as you like. But bloggers on the company’s website are not always so taken by the wonders of technology. Some say that they can’t get the movies that they request, especially the new releases.
Obama speech stirs oil markets
The markets must have thought it was a pretty slick speech, with oil growing toward $74 from six-week lows. By promising Americans he would prioritise job creation and curb ballooning deficits, and with the Fed saying it would keep interest rates low, US President Barack Obama put some confidence back into the global economy during his State of the Union address. Asian oil prices bounced back after drops caused by uninspiring energy stockpiles data from the US. Obama also moderated his tone on legislating big banks, and said he’d make sure US exports doubled within five years. Some analysts reckon Obama’s words could see a turnaround in stock markets, raising demand for oil. The Prez was light on plans to limit the size and scope of US banking business, after saying last week that he’d curb risky lending practices. This had a negative effect on commodity and energy markets, and he doesn’t want to bring the house down again.
Toyota tries to take foot off gas pedal as problems accelerate
Toyota’s troubles in the US vehicle market accelerated with the further recall of 1.1 million vehicles on top of the nearly five million already heading back to workshops. Earlier in the week, the world’s largest carmaker stopped the sale and production of eight models in the US, including Corolla and Camry sedans, after accelerators kept getting stuck and causing runaway acceleration. The problem has been linked to some 19 deaths on US roads, and has triggered a congressional investigation. And now, the prospect of recalling its vehicles in Europe and markets elsewhere is threatening its 17% share of the US car market and its all-important worldwide reputation for quality and service. So far, the company has been instructing drivers on how to stop their vehicles if the pedals get stuck, saying they should turn off the engine or change to a lower gear. But that’s like a doctor recommending you choose your own medicine, or putting a plaster on a leg that a shark’s bitten off. The biggest hit has come from three major rental car companies, who have temporarily removed tens of thousands of Toyotas from their lots. Things have stopped going right with Toyota for now, and the firm will be hard-pressed to put its vehicles back on the road.
Greeks stymied by corruption, tax-evasion, bureaucracy
Greece is trying to bail itself out of its worst financial crisis in nearly 20 years, with a debt burden of some $270 billion causing international markets to chew their nails. But an ugly reality of Greek life has become even starker of late, and may prompt investors to bite their nails to the quick. Along with Bulgaria and Romania, Greece is one of the most-corrupt countries in the 27-member EU, according to the Greek research arm of Transparency International. It suffers rampant bribery and tax evasion, which many blame on its stifling bureaucracy. Corruption is known to make countries less competitive, and unless something is done about it, Greece will retain its reputation as a “poor man of Europe”. But much worse, a collapse of its economy under the weight of its jarring debt, could endanger global recovery.
Hyundai motors back to good profits
Watch out Japan, the Koreans are coming! Hyundai, South Korea’s top car manufacturer nearly quadrupled fourth quarter profit to $819.7 million, with new models and government incentives for buyers cementing its place as the world’s fourth biggest car firm, together with affiliate Kia Motors. That won’t please the Japanese. Since the early 1970s, Japan has been unmatched in automotive efficiency. But now its vaunted car makers, such as Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Nissan are being chased by South Korea’s nimble giants, who are building a worldwide reputation for quality and service. Hyundai’s net profit of in the quarter far exceeded market expectations, and was nearly four times bigger than the same quarter a year before. Reports say carmakers suffered their worst year in 2009 since the end of the Second World War in 1945. But Hyundai shares more than tripled last year, outstripping by a big margin the 50% gain in South Korea’s broader stock market. But Asian economies are not out of the woods yet, and Hyundai’s stock has dropped 10% in 2010 on fears that the global economic recovery may falter.
Apple’s iPad sends shares in display makers soaring
Apple will probably source liquid-crystal displays for its new iPad from South Korea’s LG Display and Taiwan’s Innolux Display, and one other unnamed manufacturer, a California-based market research group says. The Wall Street Journal says the maker of Macs has already ordered large quantities from the South Koreans, but nobody’s confirming that. The iPad displays use the same touch-screen technology as the company’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices, according to ISuppli Corp., predicting that many of the more than 200 million users of iPhones, iPods and Macs will want one. Apple wants to market the iPad tablet computer from the end of March, with the 25-centimetre colour screen mini selling from $499. Shares in LG Display, the world’s second-biggest manufacturer of LCDs, rose 4% on South Korea’s exchange, while Innolux soared 5.9% in Taipei.
Indonesia seen as another brick in emerging market wall
Mark Mobius, chairman of Templeton Asset Management, has always punted the joys of Asian business. Now he believes that Indonesia, Asia’s second-best performing stock market in 2009, may be ready to join Brazil, Russia, India and China among major emerging nations. He reckons the county’s political and economic outlook has vastly improved of late, and this may up demand for Indonesian stocks. Morgan Stanley advised that investors should stick with the Bric in future, as they pretty much comprise half the world’s population, even without Indonesia’s more than 200 million people. The Bric are trending toward new and technology-hungry middle-classes, that will soon exceed the combined populations of the US and Europe. Jakarta’s Composite index soared 87% in 2009 after nine interest rate cuts by the central bank, with economic growth looking to average nearly 7% over the next five years. A new brick in the wall of emergent market powers would benefit everybody, so Mobius may soon start punting the Brici.