Telstra pays a quarter billion dollars for China website

Australian telecoms giant Telstra has paid 254 million US dollars for a majority stake in Chinese real-estate and home furnishing website SouFun Holdings.

Telstra chairman Sol Trujillo said the site was a market leader in China and would be managed by Sensis, which runs Telstra's online directories such as the yellow and white pages.

Trujillo said SouFun would give Sensis high growth opportunities in a rapidly expanding Chinese market.

"SouFun provides an attractive entry point into China, one of the world's fastest growing economies, allowing Sensis to leverage core capabilities into a larger, faster growing and less mature market than Australia, with high-performing, internationally-experienced local management," he said in a statement.

Telstra chief financial officer John Stanhope said SouFun would be cash-flow positive "from day one" and was expected contribute net revenue of 52 million dollars in the 2007 financial year.

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Many in New Orleans can’t afford insurance

NEW ORLEANS - Attorney Vallie Schwartz fell in love with the 130-year-old Victorian shotgun in the French Quarter, which like all grand houses in this former Spanish enclave has tall, cathedral ceilings and brightly painted cypress shutters.

A successful personal injury lawyer, she could comfortably afford the mortgage on the half-million-dollar house, so she made an offer — one that was soon accepted.

That was before she knew how much it would cost to insure the property: The best quote she got from a private insurer was nearly $10,000 per year, or over $800 a month on top of her monthly mortgage — far more than she had budgeted and enough to price her out of the house.

“I’m in the higher income bracket in this city, and I can’t afford that. I just saw my money floating out the window,” says Schwartz, who pulled out of the deal and is still living in a rental one year after losing her house to flooding.

To a bruised economy still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, add the most recent challenge: Finding affordable insurance. With private insurers retreating from this hurricane-scarred region, residents in New Orleans are facing a new economic reality.

Mortgage brokers are penciling in hundreds of extra dollars to the New Orleans loans they’re writing to account for soaring insurance premiums. Those living in condominiums are being slapped with hefty increases in their condo dues, the result of a spike in the buildings’ wind and fire coverage. Hotel and inn owners are paying more, too — an especially heavy burden at a time when tourists are scarce.

Most affected of all are new homebuyers, who are trying to secure insurance in a landscape few insurers will touch.

“It used to be the conversation went, 'What’s the price? What’s the square footage? And where is it located?”’ says local real estate agent Richard Jeansonne, co-owner of French Quarter Realty. “Now the conversation is, ’What’s the price? What’s the square footage? Did it flood and can I get insurance?”’ he said.

Often, the only insurance new homebuyers in New Orleans can get is through the expensive state-run pool. That pool, modeled after one created in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, was meant to be the option of last resort; by statute it charges 10 percent more than the top private insurers in any given region.

But as of last month, Florida’s pool became the No. 1 insurer in the state with 1.2 million policies. In Louisiana, the state’s pool, known as Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., is receiving 400 new applications a day and is expected to spike to 200,000 policies by year’s end, a 63 percent jump from 2005 when it had 135,000 policies. Dealing with the state-run pool is also an added hassle: It takes between three to five weeks for an application to be processed and with a ballooning work load, homeowners can rarely get through the jammed phone lines to speak to customer service.

“Rather than the last resort, it’s become the market of only resort,” said Robert Page, an insurance broker who heads the state chapter of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.

The lack of affordable options has led some homeowners to buy houses just outside the New Orleans city limit, where private insurers are still accepting new customers.

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Commentary: Microsoft needs more than just buybacks to lift its shares

Tomi Kilgore,

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Don't bet on buying alone to lift a stock's price.
Microsoft shares, which have been dormant for the last few years, have been looking up over the last couple months. The Dow industrials component has gained about 20% since hitting a 4-year low of $21.46 on June 13.
To help move things along, Microsoft not only launched a $40 billion stock repurchase program that lasts through 2011, the company also said its previously announced 4-year, $30 billion stock buyback program was completed in just 2 years.
And by the way, it probably hasn't hurt that the company topped fiscal third-quarter revenue forecasts, and provided a fiscal 2007 outlook was about expectations.
The stock's recent strength has been enough to get it above one well-known technical indicator, but it still has another level to hurdle before it's safe to jump back in.
Microsoft seems to have the will to make this happen, but will $40 billion dollars be enough?
Buying tops 200-day, but not gap resistance
Microsoft spiked 4.4% on Aug. 19 following news that it would only buy $3.8 billion worth of stock, out of the $20 billion that was available, given that its tender offer was undersubscribed. The $24.75 limit it was willing to pay was just too cheap to sell. Read more.
Add that to the $20 billion it has available in a more conventional stock repurchase program, Microsoft still had $36 billion to get the stock out of its doldrums.
The good news is that the buying has pushed the stock above its 200-day simple moving average, which many view as a bull vs. bear market trigger point. And for the most part, the 200-day had acted as pivot point for the shares several times in the past. See java chart. Change "# of Days" to 200.
What makes this move a little more significant, is that the last time the stock was above its 200-day was April 27, the day before it plunged 11% after Microsoft reported disappointing fiscal third-quarter results and provided an outlook that fell short of expectations. Read more.
The not-so-good news is that the stock has appeared to stall before reaching the top of a resistance zone defined by the gap in the charts between the April 27 low of $26.94 and the April 28 high of $24.50.
The stock topped out at $26.25 last Tuesday, and has flat-lined ever since.
Until the gap is filled on a closing basis, you can expect to still see silent selling interest, as those that bought ahead of the April 27 close out positions.
Given the stock's history, it wouldn't be prudent to assume this resistance level will be cleared just because of the company still has $36 billion to spend. Unless the company shows that it can continue to grow its business and beat expectations, you have to stay with the status quo, which in this case suggests the upside will remain capped.
From the close of July 19, 2004 -- the day before the company announced a 4-year, $30 billion stock buyback program -- to the close of July 20, 2006 -- when the program was said to be completed -- and if you take out the $3 special dividend that was paid out in late 2004, the stock lost $2.10, or 8.4%.
Bottomline, if you're going to buy the stock, wait till it proves that it can clear resistance. Or, better yet, wait to see if it will fall to support first.
You can expect some strong buying interest at $24.75, which was where investors were not willing to sell their shares in Microsoft's tender offer; if they won't sell there, shouldn't they want to buy there?
Coincidentally, that price is just above the bottom of the April 28 downside gap.
Lesson learned
One of the hardest hitting lessons I learned in trading was that if you hear about a lot of buying, and the market still doesn't go up, the silent seller is usually the winner. At the risk of dating myself, I thought I'd share the experience.
On one day during the dollar's downtrend against the yen in the early-1990s, there was talk of large selling interest about 0.5% above where the currency market opened during New York hours.
But the dollar still traded higher that day, as talk centered on a certain big-name investment bank that supposedly bought a very large amount of dollars (for an unknown client). While the dollar never reached where the selling interest was supposed to be waiting, and even though the gains were pared by the end of the day, the size and boisterous nature of the buying, coupled with the fact that the dollar had already fallen significantly, convinced me to hold onto a long-dollar position (for a spot FX trader, an overnight position was considered long-term).
If someone that big was willing to buy that many dollars, I better buy too.
Shortly after the Tokyo market opened, however, my position was "stopped out" (my stop-loss was triggered), and the dollar fell throughout the night.
The next morning, an experienced friend of mine mentioned who made money on the overnight move, explained that it doesn't matter who the buyer is or how much they buy, only what the buying was able to accomplish. In this case, all that buying and the dollar couldn't even reach the selling interest -- that's a clear sign that there's enough natural supply in the market to absorb the buying.
Lesson learned -- the market's reaction to the news is more important than the news itself.
Microsoft and the $36 billion left on its current repurchase program sounds big, but so did its previous $30 billion buyback. And if the stock still can't get above resistance.... End of Story
Tomi Kilgore is a reporter for MarketWatch in New York.

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Click-to-Call Ads Offered by eBoogle

Michelle Megna
August 28, 2006

Google and eBay dominated not just the Internet today but the headlines too with their plans for Google to supply eBay with Web-search advertising outside the U.S. and to jointly offer "click-to-call" ads linking shoppers to customer-service operators. (Yahoo!, which in May began providing all of eBay's U.S. ads, apparently was not invited to the party.) The companies plan to begin testing the text-based advertising and click-to-call initiatives in early 2007, according to the Google news release. Both will be evaluated over a period of several months, with implementation depending upon initial test results. Under the click-to-call model, shoppers who click on a link or icon within an advertisement will initiate an Internet voice call to participating eBay merchants or Google advertisers directly from either company's respective sites, the release says. This will be done using Skype, purchased by eBay last September, or Google Talk, marking its one-year anniversary this week. This model lets businesses without a Web site or those who use local directories reach online customers. Starting in the near future, Skype will offer its users the option to download the Google Toolbar, to which Skype will add a custom button. The companies will also explore interoperability between Skype and Google Talk through open standards to enable text chat. No Site? No Worries
Even with all the news about the partnership, Google's far-reaching business practices and eBay's fee hikes, the show must go on. Given that, there are still announcements of new products and services that will equip you to run your business better when dealing with these online behemoths. In another effort to link online ads to brick-and-mortar retail purchases, Google recently began letting merchants post printable coupons at its mapping site. Vendors can arrange to have icons placed next to their listings on the Maps pages, with users then clicking on the icon to print the coupon. Right now the coupon service is being administered through a partnership with ValPak, but soon AdWords advertisers will be able to participate. Google will eventually arrange for those without Web sites to create a coupon page that will be linked as a pay-per-click destination. Au Contraire: Checkout added to Cash Site
In other Google news, PayByCash ironically added Checkout, the new credit-card payment system from the search giant, to its roster of more than 40 non-credit-card payment options. Typically, PayByCash gives Web shop owners a way to extend sales to those who do not use credit or are unable to do so. Kevin Higgins, PayByCash's president, says, "Remarkably, we've been seeing increasing requests from our customers to pay via credit card through our service. With our Google Checkout integration, we can enable our merchant clients to parlay that consumer trust in Google to improved customer conversions." On the search front, Trellian's KeywordDiscovery recently unveiled an upgrade. The new version provides seasonal trend graphs that help identify how searches are influenced by factors such as holiday shopping, addresses data skew and discloses search-engine market share per individual search term. This trend graph data is unique, the company says, because it contains the history of searches for people who are looking for specific products, and, these tend to be customers who are ready to buy. Data Quality, Skew and Market Share Analysis
Another issue addressed with the upgrade is "skew," traditionally a major problem that with keyword-suggestion services. Typically search statistics reported on popular queries are impacted by various automated agents such as search engine crawlers, rank and bid checkers. These inflate the true search numbers making it difficult to accurately estimate available traffic. KeywordDiscovery, however, provides a database of 4.3 billion keyword searches based purely on user-panel data. Therefore, the new database is free from the skew caused by automated agents. Different search engines tend to attract a different user demographic. As an example, Google may hold the largest market share, however Yahoo and MSN often perform better for certain search queries. A new KeywordDiscovery feature enables advertisers to segment the search engine market for all popular search queries. For each of these queries, KeywordDiscovery can now quantify the percentage of search volume that each major engine contributes to the overall total. Pricing begins at $39.95 a month; for a free trial visit here. FYI...Contextual Ads
In other search and eBay news, See Fusion Search Marketing recently unveiled a comparative-shopping engine called Find-Your-Item that lets you search for items by category, keyword or through advanced queries. It is also offering a contextual ad service for eBay affiliates called fyiAds. The new service lets affiliates post ads on their sites that relate to content on their pages. Content is matched to appropriate merchandise listed on eBay, so, for example, if a site mentions kitchen appliances, the fyiAds will display ads for appliances on sale at eBay. Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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Indiana, Ohio try to lure suppliers for Honda plant

Associated Press

The two states are vying to attract auto suppliers that would make parts for the Greensburg plant, which will employ 2,000 workers and eventually produce 200,000 vehicles annually.
Honda plans to spend $1.5 billion each year to provide resources to that plant.
Indiana Commerce Secretary Mickey Maurer said he and Gov. Mitch Daniels are eager for Indiana to beat out Ohio in this next round of Honda-related growth.
"We're going to be very aggressive," Maurer told The Indianapolis Star for a Sunday story.
Ohio has been Honda's U.S. manufacturing home since 1982, and it now operates an 11,000-worker car-making hub in west-central Ohio.
A group of 150 Honda suppliers employ 41,000 in Ohio — 20,000 of them dedicated to Honda parts. Nationwide, there are 525 companies in Honda's supply chain, and Indiana has 40 of those.
Economic incentives by state and local governments could play a larger role than usual in deciding which companies will supply Honda's Greensburg plant because potential suppliers could be just over the Indiana state line in Ohio and still be close enough to the plant.
Greensburg, located about 50 miles southeast of Indianapolis, is just 40 miles from the Ohio state line on Interstate 74. And, because most Honda suppliers in Ohio are in that state's western half, many could serve the plant in Greensburg without moving at all.
The fight over suppliers began last month when Ohio announced zero-percent loans for any auto supplier that expands. The program isn't limited to Honda suppliers, but Honda's new plant prompted the program, said Ohio Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson.
Ohio also held briefings for Honda suppliers, offering the help of multiple state agencies to pull off quick expansions.
But Indiana is fighting back. Hoosier officials are pitching Indiana as an ideal place for suppliers to locate if they want to serve Indiana's multiple Japanese auto companies — Honda's Greensburg plant, the Toyota plant near Evansville and the Subaru-Toyota plant in Lafayette.

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China's Huawei to undertake GMS-IS project for Cambodia

China's leading telecommunications equipment supplier Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd on Monday signed a commercial contract with Telecommunication Cambodia (TC) to materialize an internet construction project which aims to provide the country with a digital information exchange platform to be shared with its neighbors.

Under the project, an optical telecommunication network will be laid all over the country to allow high-quality internet communication among Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and China.

This is a part of the Greater Mekong Subregion Information Superhighway (GMS-IS) Plan, for which the Chinese government will extend policy and financial support as well as 17.5 million U.S. dollars worth of preferential loans, said Duan Jinzhu, counselor at the Chinese Embassy.

"Basic facility construction such as the GMS-IS project is among the important cooperation between China and Cambodia. China is willing to give all possible aids to Cambodia to beef up its economic development," Duan added.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State of Cambodian Ministry of Post and Telecommunications Chin Bun Sean emphasized that the project is very important for the region to step up its overall economic and social development.

"We hope the information superhighway to be completed soon to contribute to the GMS countries and their people," he added.

Source: Xinhua

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NASA scrubs Tuesday shuttle launch

AP Science Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - With Tropical Storm Ernesto breathing down their necks,
NASA managers gave up on a Tuesday space shuttle launch and prepared to move Atlantis indoors if the storm continues to threaten
National Hurricane Center's Monday morning forecast put Ernesto's track almost directly over
Kennedy Space Center late Wednesday or early Thursday, and listed a nearly 50 percent chance of tropical storm force winds just south of the cape.
If NASA decides to move Atlantis, it won't start actually moving the shuttle until Tuesday, giving engineers the opportunity to still launch on Sept. 3 if Ernesto's track moves away from Florida, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Monday.
The preparations are already started but the final decision on whether to move the shuttle likely won't be made before Tuesday morning, he said.
Mission Control informed astronaut Jeff Williams, floating 220 miles above Earth, about the delay in the launch of the six visitors to his home at the international space station.
"Sounds like everyone's got a lot of replanning to do," Williams said. "We're flexible."
NASA is caught between two competing interests: a tight launch schedule to get Atlantis in orbit and a need to keep the multibillion shuttle from preventable damage. NASA rules say the shuttle should not be outside in winds of more than 45 mph.
It takes nearly two days of preparations to get Atlantis from the launch pad into its massive Vehicle Assembly Building.
The first step was the delicate removal of Atlantis' super-cooled on-orbit fuel and other potentially dangerous supplies. After that, NASA removes the explosive devices on the shuttle, its external fuel tank and twin rocket boosters. The slow-moving crawlers then take 12 hours to get the shuttle from the launch pad safely indoors.
Moving Atlantis off the pad would put the space agency in a time crunch, and a delay of Atlantis' launch could threaten the space agency's short-term goal of finishing construction of the international space station and its long-term goal of returning people to the moon, space experts say.
NASA wants to launch by Sept. 7 so the shuttle's visit to the international space station doesn't interfere with the trip of a Russian Soyuz in mid-September.
The launch window for the mission is also tight, running only through Sept. 13 because NASA wants to launch the shuttle to the space station during daylight so it can photograph the shuttle's external fuel tank, where insulating foam has fallen off during previous launches. The shuttle Columbia was doomed after foam hit a wing, causing a breach that allowed hot gases to penetrate during its return to Earth.
After September, there are only two days to try a launch in October and only a few days in December. If they miss those, NASA would have to wait until next year.
If the decision is made to move Atlantis, it would take at least nine days to move Atlantis indoors, then back out to the pad and launch — the fastest time NASA has done something like that was over 11 days in 1999.
Liftoff originally had been set for Sunday afternoon, but it was delayed until Tuesday to give engineers more time to figure out if a lightning strike Friday damaged the spacecraft's solid fuel rocket boosters and other systems. NASA cleared the solid rocket booster system late Sunday for launch.
Part of the Atlantis mission is to add a key construction truss to the space station. Fourteen later shuttle flights until 2010 — the agency's self-imposed construction deadline — depend on its success.
"This flight has to work for the next flight to occur and the next flight to occur and the next flight to occur," NASA space station program director Mike Suffredini said Friday.
And that means NASA's long-term goal of returning to the moon also depends on Atlantis and subsequent flights getting off somewhere close to on schedule.
"They're in a bad situation," said Syracuse University technology professor W. Henry Lambright. "If any one flight gets pushed back and the time frame gets cramped, that raises risk... That's the bind they're in. It's very tight."
AP Writer Mike Schneider contributed to this report.

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Austria kidnap girl asks for time

Natascha Kampusch is escorted by police in Deutsch Wagram, north of Vienna, on Wednesday
No picture of Natascha Kampusch aged 18 has been released

An Austrian teenager recovering from an eight-year ordeal in an underground cell has said she needs time before she can tell her story.

"Give me time until I can tell my story myself," Natascha Kampusch said in a statement read by her psychiatrist.

She said she understood the media "curiosity" about her life with the kidnapper, but insisted that she would not answer intimate questions.

She said she and her captor had eaten meals and watched TV together.

The kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, killed himself by jumping in front of a train after her escape last week.

In her statement quoted on Monday, Ms Kampusch, 18, said Priklopil "was not my lord, although he wanted to be - I was just as strong".

She said he was "part of my life, that's why in a certain way I'm mourning him".

She is at a secure location with psychological carers, and police say she has not asked to see her parents again after a brief reunion.

Mother frustrated

In her statement on Monday, she said she realised "how shocking and worrying" her experience must seem to people.

Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian schoolgirl who disappeared in 1998

But she said she did not feel that Priklopil had robbed her of her childhood.

Together they had furnished her room "adequately" soon after he had abducted her, Ms Kampusch said.

Her mother Brigitta Sirny has pleaded to be allowed to see her. She asked in a newspaper interview on Sunday: "Why can I not see my child?"

Ms Kampusch is reported to have wept inconsolably when she was told the man she had to call "master" was dead.

Police suspect she may have been suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" - a condition where some abductees gradually begin to sympathise with their captors.

Her parents, who separated after her abduction, have complained that they have not been told where she is staying.

Suspected kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil (pic: Austrian police)
Wolfgang Priklopil was a 44-year-old telecoms technician
Austrian police officer Gerhard Lang said the police were not banning contact with Ms Kampusch.

He said she had voluntarily gone to a "safe place" to receive psychological care and protection.

Ms Kampusch, said to be pale and to weigh less than she did as a 10-year-old, managed to flee her abductor on Wednesday after he moved away to take a phone call as she vacuumed his car, it has emerged.

Priklopil threw himself under a train within hours of her escape.

Photos released by police show the underground hiding place in his house, in Strasshof village outside Vienna, where he had purportedly kept her.

The pictures show a small, cluttered, windowless room with wash basin, toilet, bed and cupboards and narrow concrete stairs leading up to a trapdoor.

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Iraq suicide bombing 'kills 14'

Iraqi policeman in Baghdad
A number of policemen are reported to be among the casualties
At least 14 people have been killed in a suicide car bombing in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, Iraqi officials say.

Dozens of people were injured in the mid-morning blast outside the Iraqi interior ministry.

The ministry has been frequently targeted in the past and is heavily guarded. At least eight policemen are reported to be among the fatalities.

It comes a day after at least 47 people were killed in a series of attacks across Iraq.

Insurgents have carried out almost daily attacks against Iraqi and coalition targets since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Thousands of Iraqis have died in apparently sectarian attacks in the past four months alone.

The latest attacks undermined Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's claim on Sunday that the security situation in Iraq was improving.

"The violence is on the decrease, and our security ability is increasing," Mr Maliki told CNN.

The bomber struck as UK Defence Minister Des Browne was in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials.

After meeting Iraqi Defence Minister Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim al-Mifarji, Mr Browne said Iraq was moving forward.

"Each time I come, I see more progress," he said.

Meanwhile, five US soldiers were killed in two separate bomb attacks in Iraq on Sunday afternoon, the US military said.

Four soldiers died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle north of Baghdad, a military statement said.

A fifth soldier was killed when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle in the west of the capital.

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UN chief on Lebanon truce mission

French troops fly into Beirut airport on 27 August
It may be several months before the UN force is complete
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for talks aimed at shoring up the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Mr Annan will meet Lebanese leaders for discussions on the planned deployment of 15,000 UN peacekeepers.

Last week, Mr Annan secured a pledge by EU countries to provide thousands of soldiers for the UN force.

The force was authorised under the UN-backed ceasefire which ended the four-week conflict earlier this month.

Following his visit to Lebanon, Mr Annan will also travel to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Iran.

Mr Annan may also be asked to help facilitate a prisoner exchange with Israel demanded by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday that "contacts" had begun about a prisoner exchange possibly involving Italy and Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri.

Israel however denied any negotiations on a prisoner exchange were under way.

Sheikh Nasrallah also said he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers on 12 July which triggered Israel's offensive, had he known it would lead to such a response.

More than 1,100 Lebanese and 159 Israelis died in the 34-day conflict which left much of southern Lebanon in ruins.

Arms issue

Mr Annan will hold talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Mr Berri and other politicians.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
Hezbollah's leader said he did not expect such a conflict with Israel

It is not clear whether he will meet Sheikh Nasrallah, who said he would welcome talks.

Unifil-2, a force of 15,000 soldiers including 7,000 from European Union states to replace the existing small Unifil contingent, is due to be deployed to maintain the fragile ceasefire.

The UN hopes to have some of the troops on the ground within a week, although the EU says it will be two to three months before the whole force is deployed.

Mr Annan has made clear that UN troops will not be asked to disarm Hezbollah by force.

A close aide to Mr Siniora told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity that the Lebanese government would press the UN secretary-general to pressure Israel to end its blockade of Lebanese airports and harbours.

Mr Annan will find there is plenty of unfinished business, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Tyre in southern Lebanon.

Across the south many villages stand utterly destroyed and in some places villagers still feel too insecure to return until Israel completes its withdrawal.

Some public criticism is finally being heard of Hezbollah for triggering the conflict and that is no doubt why the Hezbollah leader has now spoken of a miscalculation, our correspondent says.

His comments, he adds, may also have the perverse effect of reassuring the Israeli government that its actions were successful in their aim of restoring deterrents against such attacks.

Iran visit

Reporting from New York, the BBC's Mike Sergeant notes that Mr Annan has not visited Iran since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005.

A previous trip was cancelled after the Iranian leader called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

But officials at the UN in New York insist that the Iranians need to be "part of the current dialogue" on the Middle East, our correspondent says.

It is understood that Mr Annan will not reach Tehran before Thursday's UN Security Council deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities, he adds.

In another development, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is to fly to Germany on Monday for talks on Lebanon with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

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Bush Heads to Gulf Coast for Hurricane Anniversary

President Bush travels Monday to America's Gulf Coast as the region marks the passage of one year since Hurricane Katrina hit landfall. The president plans to visit with storm survivors and inspect reconstruction efforts.

George W. Bush
George W. Bush
President Bush will begin his tour of the region in Mississippi - one of the states that felt the full fury of Hurricane Katrina.

The head of the federal government's Gulf Coast reconstruction effort, Donald Powell, says the president will have a message for the people of the Gulf Coast

He spoke on the ABC television program This Week.

"The president's number one message is that there has been progress but we are not done," said Donald Powell. "We are not going to leave until we are done."

In Mississippi, the president will walk through neighborhoods hard hit by last year's storm, visit a recovering business, and meet with local and state leaders.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says most of his state has moved from recovery to rebuilding. During an appearance on the CBS program Face the Nation, he said there is a lot to do but stressed Mississippi is ready to face the challenge of another hurricane season.

"Well, we are ready," said Haley Barbour. "Of course, we had a great plan last time and we got hit by the worst natural disaster in American history."

Barbour said if Hurricane Ernesto, which is now over the Caribbean, changes course and appears headed for the Gulf Coast, he will order an evacuation on Tuesday. That is the day President Bush is scheduled to spend in New Orleans, Louisiana, where an evacuation plan put in place before Hurricane Katrina failed on a massive scale.

Local, state and federal officials have all been blamed for the initial slow response to Katrina in New Orleans, where thousands of the city's poorest residents found themselves trapped in rapidly deteriorating conditions at shelters set up at a sports arena and a convention center.

President Bush came under criticism because he remained on vacation when the extent of the disaster first became known, and because he initially praised those responsible for the flawed early federal response.

The president made a series of visits to the city in the following days when he promised aid and reforms in the federal government's emergency response agency.

"Tonight I also offer this pledge [to] the American people," said President Bush. "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

Ray Nagin
Ray Nagin (file photo)
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, said the president is getting closer to keeping his pledge. He said one problem is the federal government has imposed too much bureaucracy on the aid process, and more assistance needs to go directly to local communities.

"Now the dollars are flowing from the federal government to the state, but they really haven't gotten down to local government and the people to impact and accelerate this [rebuilding effort]," said Ray Nagin.

Nagin told NBC his city has an evacuation plan in place for this hurricane season, and there will be no recurrence of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina. But he indicated he is not convinced the repaired levees around the city will be strong enough if another major hurricane makes landfall in the New Orleans area. He said a storm surge could still top the repaired levee walls.

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Four Indians among Singapore's Richie Rich

NEW DELHI: Here's another example of the growing wealth among the non-resident Indians. And no, these are not the already well known names like Lakshmi Mittal, Swraj Paul and Indra Nooyi, but relatively lesser known Indians who have struck gold in the eatern part of the world.

Four NRIs — Murli Kewalram Chanrai, Mustaq Ahmad, Sudhir Gupta and Kartar Singh Thakral — figure in the latest Forbes list of Singapore's Top 40 Rich List.

The four Indian expats are collectively worth $1.54 billion, which accounts for more than 5% of the combined net worth of $28 billion accumulated by Singapore's 40 richest people.

Chanrai — ranked the richest Indian in Singapore — is the head of the $3 billion Kewalram Chanrai Group, while Ahmad is the owner of the hugely popular Mustafa Centre in Little India. Gupta, on the other hand, is a tyre tycoon who made it big is Russia, while and Thakral is into textiles and IT peripherals.

The 83-year-old Chanrai was placed seventh among the list of Singapore's Riche Rich with a net worth of $880 million. His Kewalram Chanrai Group is held privately by overseas Indian family trusts and is part of the 150-year-old Chanrai empire.

From a humble beginning in trading business in India and Nigeria in 1860, the family business has grown into a conglomerate with business spanning across textiles, commodities, international trade, IT and real estate spanning over 45 countries.

Next in line is 47-year-old Sudhir Gupta, who has been ranked as Singapore's 13th richest person with a net worth of $320 million.

Gupta, a Singapore citizen and a PhD in agricultural chemistry from Russia, started with a tyre company in Moscow. After acquiring a Dutch company, he formed Amtel-Vredestein, a tyre company which was listed on London Stock Exchange last year.

Kartar Singh Thakral, who has been ranked 25th with a net worth of $175 million, joined his family trading business in 1949.

His empire spans across various businesses, including the Singapore-listed Thakral Corp, that distributes technology gears for products like iPods in China and India. The Thakral Group made a humble begining with ‘Punjab Store' in Bangkok in 1905.

Mustaq Ahmad, who happens to be the last among the four Indians at the 27th position with a net worth of $165 million, is the owner of one of Singapore's famous landmarks — the Mustafa Centre. Fifty five-year-old Ahmad runs a bustling store in Singapore's Little India called Mustafa Centre, which is stuffed with more than 150,000 items ranging from beds to spices. The store was opened in 1971.

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Japan's Stocks Drop on U.S. Growth Concern; Softbank Declines

Patrick Rial

Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese stocks fell, led by exporters including Canon Inc., on concern profits will be curbed should the Federal Reserve raise U.S. borrowing costs further amid a slowdown in the world's largest economy.

``The risk for Japanese companies now lies with external demand,'' said Soichiro Monji, who helps oversee $47 billion as strategist at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd. in Tokyo. ``More rate increases by the Fed would be a risk for the U.S. economy together with the global economies.''

Softbank Corp., Japan's second-largest provider of high- speed Internet access, dropped after the Nikkei Financial Daily newspaper reported that the company's purchase of the Vodafone K.K. mobile phone unit resulted in more goodwill than tangible assets.

Benchmarks swung between gains and losses. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 106.94, or 0.7 percent, to 15,831.72 as of the 11 a.m. break in Tokyo, reversing a gain of as much as 0.4 percent. The broader Topix index fell 11.37, or 0.7 percent, to 1608.44. It earlier advanced as much as 0.2 percent.

Canon, the world's largest maker of copiers, slid 50 yen, or 0.9 percent, to 5,550. Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest automaker by value, fell 30 yen, or 0.5 percent, to 6,220. Sony Corp., the maker of the PSP portable game console and Cyber-shot digital cameras, dropped 50 yen, or 1 percent, to 4,950.

In the U.S., existing home sales, which account for 85 percent of the housing market, fell to an annual rate of 6.33 million, the National Association of Realtors said last week. That figure trailed economists' forecasts of 6.55 million in a survey by Bloomberg News.

Slowdown, Interest Rates

The number of unsold homes at the end of July jumped to the highest since records began in 1999.

New home sales dropped 4.3 percent in July according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 2.7 percent decline.

Concern that the pace of growth will slow was heightened on Aug. 22 when Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Michael Moskow said a decline in housing may pose a risk to the economy.

Moskow also raised the prospect that central bankers may have to increase borrowing costs to reduce inflation. The Fed left rates unchanged at 5.25 percent earlier this month after moving them higher 17 straight times over two years.

Interest-rate futures show traders see a 43 percent chance of another quarter-point boost from 5.25 percent by year-end.

Softbank fell 85 yen, or 4 percent, to 2,055, after losing 9.7 percent on Aug. 25. The purchase of Vodafone's Japanese unit in April resulted in 1.1 trillion yen of goodwill, or the excess purchase price above fair market value of net assets acquired under the purchase method of accounting, the Nihon Keizai newspaper said, citing Kazuko Kimiwada, the company's accounting manager. Softbank bought Vodafone for 1.8 trillion yen.

Paid Too Much?

Nicholas Spratt, an analyst at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in Tokyo, raised the accounting issue when he reduced the 12- month price estimate on Softbank's shares to 900 yen from 1,125 yen in an Aug. 21 note to clients. Spratt cited an increase in debt and the possibility that the company overpaid for Vodafone.

``Entering telecommunications might have been a huge mistake for Softbank,'' said STB's Monji. ``The profitability of the business is far from certain.''

Nikkei 225 futures expiring in September lost 0.9 percent, to 15,830 in Osaka and declined 0.7 percent to 15,850 in Singapore.

To contact the reporter for this story: Patrick Rial in Tokyo at .

Last Updated: August 27, 2006 22:12 EDT

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One-person families likely to boost China's economy

BEIJING, Aug. 28 -- The new bachelor trend among Chinese middle-class, white-collar workers will trigger a "single economy" phenomenon in the country, experts say.

White-collar workers and other middle-class people who prefer to remain single have high spending power, which may create a consumption structure different from the family-oriented one, said Zuo Xiaosi, a researcher from the Sociology and Demography Institute of Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences.

"Small-sized houses and cars will be more sellable than ever," Zuo said, adding that household appliances, insurance, entertainment and tourism may also benefit.

A media survey revealed that 30.35 percent of single Chinese women make housing their priority, while 30.02 percent spend the most money on buying clothes and cosmetics.

However, the baby products industry is likely to suffer. The country now has 107 million babies, creating estimated annual market sales of 500 billion yuan (US$62.5 billion). It is estimated that if 30 percent of parents-to-be remain single, total sales will drop by at least 150 billion yuan.

The single trend will have a long-term effect on China's consumption structure, boosting overall consumption, said Yuan Xin, a professor from the Population and Development Institute of the Nankai University in North China's Tianjin Municipality.

Zhong Qing, a sociologist from Qinghua University in Beijing, said that at the beginning of the 21st century, there were already more than 1 million single people in Shanghai. Other cities such as Guangzhou, Wuhan and Beijing are also following the "singles" trend.

Chinese youngsters today care more about freedom and enjoyment. The high cost of marriage is one of the reasons young adults remain single, sociologists said.

"Marriage is not a cost-efficient thing since it takes so much money to buy a large house and raise a child," said Zhou Ying, a single woman in Beijing.

(Source: Shenzhen Daily/Agencies)

Editor: Yan Zhonghua

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Chaos of the internet - the WTO-column

Brussels - China has now over 120 million internet users, a number it achieved in less than a decade. Understanding its effect on China and managing the exploding information flow has become a challenge that is growing by the day.

As the numbers grow, also the importance of the internet grows.

Understanding how the internet works is crucial to have a good understanding of how China works today.

When I started to work in China, I met in my first month a lawyer in maritime law who had the idea of setting up a library containing all the Chinese legal magazines on maritime law. The post office could guarantee a regular delivery of all those magazines. He gave up on the idea when he discovered China had at that time about 123 magazines focusing on that subject only. Even scanning all those magazines would be more than a full-time occupation.

The internet has made this problem, the deluge of available information, even worse. When I started in China, halfway the 1990s, my bicycle was my most important communication tool. At my university only two phone lines shared with hundreds of students allowed me to call outside Shanghai. Mobile phones were unaffordable and sending faxes would cost at least two hours and a fortune.

Now, China and the world are at my fingertips, practically for free, thanks to the internet. Search engines, RSS-readers and mailing lists make unprecedented amounts of information available and manageable.

Calling people for free over Skype and Google Talk is no problem anymore. In theory you can call unlimited, although decades of too expensive international calls have given me a kind of useless discipline in keeping calls short, even when that is no longer necessary to save costs.

What has helped me to come to terms with the information flood from internet is the absence in China of what would be called elsewhere 'leading media'. Almost everywhere you would have a 'must read' paper, a TV-news program you needed to see, otherwise you would not know about the crucial issues in a society. In Europe you sometimes had to read a few papers, to cover the whole political spectrum, but the mechanism was the same.

How different was China, where media were supposed to bring a message.

Initially a political message and later on mixed up with barely hidden commercial bullshit. Here you had to piece together the news together, by talking to friends, your neighbors. Getting your information was more a conversation. You heard a rumor, you checked it, got corrected and adjusted your story.

Does that sound familiar? It is actually the way how in the new media business the process of collecting news is being described. There is no longer one trusted source, only a combination of sources. An article is at best when it is the start of a discussion, where others bring in new sources, give their comments and corrections and, yes, sometimes call you names.

In the US journalists and bloggers go after each other, because both claim to have a patent on truth. In China we know the truth is not available in fixed doses, but a process, a discussion.

China will have at the end of this year about 120 million weblogs. The art of using a conversation ?even very heated conversations ?is very much part of the Chinese way of dealing with information. Our expectation of what is true or not is just a bit more realistic.

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BPI demands action on pirate CDs

CD being put into a laptop
The BPI says greater resources are needed to tackle piracy
UK record companies have demanded stronger action on CD piracy, saying 37m pirated CDs were sold last year.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) says intellectual property crime should be "higher on the police's agenda".

A survey suggests CD piracy cost the industry £165m in lost revenue in 2005 - nearly 10% of total sales.

Car boot sales and markets accounted for over a third of pirated CDs, while a quarter were bought from friends, the survey found.

The survey found that 37 million pirated CDs were sold in the UK in 2005, the value of which was more than the combined legal sales of the leading 13 albums in the UK.

It is the first time the industry has estimated the projected losses caused by pirated CDs.

'Piecemeal' enforcement

Following the report - based on findings from research firm Ipsos - the BPI said trading standards officers should be granted the "duty, power and resources to tackle copyright offences".

While BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said the police and trading standards officers did a "superb job in difficult and dangerous circumstances", he said they were operating with "very limited resources".

Piracy has increased because enforcement has been "piecemeal", said Mr Jamieson.

BPI spokesman Matt Phillips also said owners of markets where counterfeits are sold should be prosecuted.

The BPI also wanted stricter financial punishment for counterfeiters because "damages do not have a sufficient deterrent effect in civil cases".

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Ten Britons hurt in Turkey blasts

Ten Britons have been injured after three explosions hit a holiday resort in Turkey, the UK Foreign Office said.

The blasts, one on a local minibus, happened close to midnight in the coastal resort of Marmaris.

The injured Britons are in hospital with four in a serious condition.They were among 16 hurt in the same blast.

Six people were also injured in Istanbul after a bomb exploded late on Sunday night, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkish police in Marmaris said only one device apparently detonated properly, on the minibus carrying holidaymakers in the centre of the town.

Foreign Office helpline
Britons worried about relatives in the region should call 020 7008 0000
UK tour operator Thomas Cook said five of its customers are among the injured
Tour operator First Choice says it does not believe any of its customers were caught in the blasts

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said she believed another explosion occured by the harbour. The location of the third blast has not yet been made clear.

She added consular staff were on the ground in the area.

She said it was likely that the 10 injured were holidaymakers but that British nationals could be living in the area.

'Bus explosion'

BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford said the Britons hurt are believed to have been caught up in the same explosion.

Tayfun Sentop, a spokeman for the Ahu Hetman hospital, where six of the injured have been taken, said their injuries were "nothing serious".

"They have general body traumas and nothing very serious - they are having treatment as inpatients," he told the BBC.

The other four were admitted to the Caria hospital.

Suzanne Poyraz, foreign operations manager at the hospital, said they had suffered burns and shrapnel injuries to their legs and lower extremities.

"They are not too badly injured. None of them have got life-threatening injuries, but of course they are terribly shocked and two have got particularly nasty injuries to their legs."

She said the explosion appeared to come from the bottom or from outside the bus they had all been travelling in.

Popular destination

Robyn Berry told the BBC News website she was travelling on a bus about twenty minutes before one of blasts.

"We got off the bus about 5 metres from where the explosion happened," she said.

She said following the attack "there was chaos and all you could smell was diesel in the air".

Another witness, Danielle Pearson, told Sky News she saw "the remains of what was left".

"There were ambulances and police cars going everywhere.

"It was the usual holidaymakers walking about, everybody out enjoying themselves."

First Choice, one of the holiday companies operating in the area, said it did not believe any of its customers were involved in the blasts.

"We do have people staying in that area but I have been told that our staff have contacted all of our customers and none of them are involved," a spokeswoman said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

It is currently peak season in Marmaris, which is a popular holiday destination among Britons.

The town is relatively westernised with a large number of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Were you near the explosions? Send in your experiences using the form below.

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NTSB: Crashed jet used shorter runway

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CNN) -- A Comair commuter jet took off from a short runway used by private aircraft rather than a longer one typically used by commercial jets before it crashed Sunday morning, a National Transportation Safety Board official said.

Comair Flight 5191 crashed about half a mile past the end of the runway shortly after takeoff Sunday morning, killing 49 of the 50 people on board. The sole survivor, first officer James Polehinke, was in critical condition at a Lexington hospital.

The Delta commuter flight had been cleared to take off from the 7,000-foot Runway 22 at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, sources told CNN earlier Sunday. Instead, evidence at the scene indicates the plane took off from Runway 26, which is about half as long, NTSB member Debbie Hersman told reporters Sunday evening.

"We're still working on determining what was going on in the cockpit, what information was discussed between air traffic controllers and the pilots," Hersman said. "That's part of our investigation, and we hope to have more information about that later."

Hersman would not discuss how or why the plane ended up on the shorter runway. Nor would she say whether the Canadian-built Bombardier CRJ-100 would have been able to successfully take off from a 3,500-foot runway. (Watch results of early NTSB review -- 3:27)

But former NTSB Vice Chairman Bob Francis told CNN that the twin-engine jet would have needed about 5,000 feet of runway for a successful takeoff.

Hersman said investigators are combing through 32 minutes of cockpit voice recordings and "several hundred" readings from the plane's flight data recorder as they search for the cause of the crash.

The plane was carrying 47 passengers and three crew members. One of the passengers was an off-duty crew member sitting in the plane's jump seat, Blue Grass Airport Director Michael Gobb said. (Honeymooners among victims)

Officer burned during rescue

Flight 5191 was en route to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Georgia, where it was scheduled to land at 7:18 a.m. ET.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said he believes most people died from fire-related causes "rather than smoke inhalation."

First responders extricated Polehinke, according to Blue Grass Airport's Chief of Public Safety Scott Lanter.

They "observed movement at the front of the aircraft, and then extricated the first officer from the nose of the airplane," Lanter said.

Lexington Police Officer Bryan Jared and two airport officers, John Sallee and James "Pete" Maupin, pulled the first officer from the plane, with Jared burning both of his arms during the rescue, Gobb told The Associated Press.

Flight 5191 was cleared for takeoff at 6:05 a.m. ET, which was the last communication between the pilot and air-traffic controllers at the airport, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

County Coroner Ginn said much of the aircraft remained intact, despite a heavy fire that "traveled with the plane." The airport's fire department "got there very fast ... and because of that, we're able to keep a lot of the plane intact," he said.

The coroner's office has set up a temporary morgue in Frankfort -- about 30 miles west of Lexington -- "in order to expedite the autopsies," Ginn said.

He said he is asking family members for dental records to help make identifications.

Bornhorst told reporters in Kentucky that his priority was "to assuage the grief of all of the family and friends of the passengers who have been impacted by this great tragedy."

"That will be job No. 1 for us, but a very close second job is also to assist and to cooperate with the investigation from the NTSB and from the FAA," he said. (Watch Bornhorst detail the facts of the crash -- 7:30)

Comair purchased the CRJ-100 from Bombardier in January 2001 and said its maintenance was up-to-date.

That type of plane has a good track record, according to the NTSB Web site.

Bornhorst said the flight crew had been "on a legal rest period far beyond what is required," but the specifics of the crew's schedule will be part of the NTSB investigation.

The pilot, Capt. Jeffrey Clay, began work with Comair in 1999 and was promoted two years ago to captain, Bornhorst said.

Polehinke has worked for Comair since 2002, and Kelly Heyer, a male flight attendant, had been employed with the carrier since 2004, he said.

The plane went down before sunrise, scaring residents who initially thought it was bad weather.

"I really thought it was a big clap of thunder, so [I] didn't think much about it until I heard all the sirens," one man said.

Another man described what he saw from his back door.

"Over the hillside, I saw a flash of light and then an explosion, and then just a big plume of smoke come up," he said.

Sunday's crash is the deadliest U.S. airline crash since November 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a Queens, New York, neighborhood less than two minutes after the Airbus A300 left the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

All 260 on board Flight 587 were killed, along with five people on the ground, making it the second-deadliest air crash in U.S. history.

CNN's Jason Carroll contributed to this report.

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Megayachts sail to new levels of affluence

Telis Demos,

Fortune reporter

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- What more is there to say about megayachts? They are status symbols, objects of luxury that would make Marie Antoinette blush, perfect for hiding from prying paparazzi or niggling underlings for months at a time.

Not too long ago, a 100-foot yacht with a nice kitchen would have been quite a prize. Nowadays, if you don't have a 600-bottle wine cellar, or a helipad, or a hair salon, or three Jacuzzis, or a couple of grand pianos, you might as well be rowing around in a canoe.

Yet while megayachts might seem like frivolous opulence, they are also feats of naval engineering. Their owners are right to be proud, as these ships are often entirely hand-built by hundreds of artisans crafting the hull, molding the cabinetry and designing high-tech gizmos.

"They are truly amazingly engineered," says Diane M. Byrne, an editor at Power & Motoryacht who compiles an annual list of the biggest motor yachts, which informed much of our list. "They are art forms, too."

Here, we look at 10 of the finest yachts in the world, both motorized and sailing. They are the 10 longest yachts owned by Americans, presented in order of length from bow to stern.

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Getting real about the real estate bubble

Shawn Tully

Fortune editor-at-large

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- For the past five years, the housing bulls have been trotting out one rational-sounding argument after another to explain why the boom made perfect economic sense.

Forget about a crash, they assured homeowners. Expect a "soft landing" where your three-bedroom colonial in Larchmont or Larkspur not only holds onto its huge price gains, but keeps appreciating at a "normal," "sustainable" rate of 6 percent or so into the sunset.

Americans wanted to believe, and they did. Now, the giant popping noise you're hearing is the sound of yesterday's myths exploding like balloons pumped up with too much hot air.

The newest sign that the myth-makers were spectacularly wrong is the data on existing home sales for July. Nationwide, median prices rose .9 percent.

But even that meager number masks the real story. Prices actually fell where housing is most vulnerable, in the bubble markets in the West and Northeast. In the Northeast, they dropped 2.1 percent from July of 2005, at the same time prices nationwide rose around 3 percent, meaning that houses lost over 5 percent of their value adjusted for inflation.

Homeowners just saw their wealth shrink, by a lot. The numbers will only get worse. It's time to examine the clichés that the "experts" - chiefly analysts and economists from realtors and mortgage associations - used to convince Americans that what they're seeing now could never happen. Here are the four great housing myths - and why they never made much sense in the first place.

Myth #1: As long as job growth is strong, prices can't go down

You can almost forgive the bulls for stumbling over this one. In past housing recessions, prices fell sharply in markets with severe job losses, like Texas in the mid-80s and Boston in the early 90s.

But the argument that prices can't fall in a good job market doesn't make economic sense: To be sure, a strong employment picture helps demand. But if far more houses are pouring onto the market than can be absorbed by households lured by the new jobs, and if the sellers are pressured to sell, prices will fall.

That's precisely what's happening now in good job markets such as San Diego and Northern Virginia. In this boom, prices soared to such extraordinary levels that builders kept churning out new homes, and owners of existing houses threw a record number of units on the market to cash out. The supply grew so fast that demand, even in strong job markets, simply couldn't keep up.

As usual, for the believers, it's always easier to fall back on a cliché than read the warning signs.

Myth #2: The builders learned their lesson in the last downturn. They won't swamp the market with new houses when the market turns

You might call this the OPEC theory of homebuilders. The idea was that the builders wouldn't take a chance by building lots of unsold, "spec" units that could clog the market in a downturn. They had supposedly absorbed hard-won discipline from their excessive building in past downturns.

Well, it hasn't turned out that way. Builders are still pouring out near-record numbers of new homes as sales decline, assuring a further fall in prices. "Buyers" are walking away from deposits on houses that were supposedly pre-sold, forcing developers to throw them back on the market at a discount.

The problem is that even now, margins on new homes are still pretty good, though well below the levels of a year ago. As a result, builders will just keep building until those big margins evaporate. High prices are sewing the seeds of their own demise. They always do.

Myth #3: Low interest rates will keep values rising, or at the very least, put a floor under prices

What really matters for all assets, whether it's houses, stocks or bonds, is real interest rates - in other words, nominal rates after subtracting inflation. And real rates fell sharply starting in 2001. That caused a legitimate, one-time increase in housing prices.

The rub is that prices rose far more than could ever be justified by declining mortgage rates. That's where the bubble kicked in. Today's relatively low rates are not, and never were, a reason why prices would keep rising. Once real rates drop and stabilize, the impetus goes away - again, the gain is a one-time, not a recurring, phenomenon.

Today, real 10-year rates are still extremely low. They have nowhere to go but up. When the one-time gain of 2001-2004 reverses, housing prices could take a further hit.

By the way, a decline in rates due to a fall in inflation isn't the boom to real estate it's advertised to be. Sure, rates go down, but workers also receive lower raises. So the fall in rates turns out to be a wash. As for what matters - real rates - what goes down later goes up, and housing prices go in the other direction, namely south.

Myth #4: restriction on development in the suburbs ensure low supply, and guarantee rising prices

This argument ignores that the tough zoning laws and anti-development fervor have been a feature of America's tony towns since the early 1970s. The "not in my town" phenomenon is nothing new.

Sure, it's still difficult to get new building permits in suburbs of New Jersey, New York, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. But America's housing market is extremely fluid. People move farther from job centers, and commute longer hours, to get bargains where housing is plentiful. Then the jobs move to the areas with the cheap houses. People in their 50s and 60s cash out early in San Diego and buy a bigger house for half the money in Texas or South Carolina.

And the cities are just as enthusiastic about developing blighted areas with new, tax-paying high-rises as the suburbs are slamming the door. In the New York area, Brooklyn, Jersey City and Hoboken - and even Manhattan - are sprouting more new housing than in decades, despite a job market that's hardly robust.

A year ago, the reigning cliché was that real estate had entered a new world of "no supply." Now, a record 3.85 million homes are up for sale, and buyers are getting scarce.

No, the world hasn't changed. And the myths haven't changed either. Next time, don't believe them.

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SA women 'prefer shopping to sex'

South African women value shopping above sex, survey results suggest.

Of women who took part in a "Fantasy Survey" promoted by a drinks company, 45% said they valued shopping over sex. Only 26% voted the other way round.

Three quarters of the women who took part described themselves as having a shoe fetish while 70% said they did not have enough clothes in their wardrobes. Almost half (48%) of women surveyed said men had no real understanding of their needs and desires.


A smaller number (40%) said they were still misunderstood, although men made an effort to understand their wishes.

Fame also featured in women's fantasies, with 78% dreaming of a red-carpet welcome at the Oscars, while 72% dreamt of appearing in one of South Africa's local soap operas.

A clear majority of women in the survey (63%) thought the world would be a better and more peaceful place if women, rather than men, were in charge.

Perhaps not surprisingly, just under half of the women who responded to the survey felt that their fantasies would never come true.

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Chad orders foreign oil firms out

Chad has ordered two major foreign oil firms, responsible for 60% of Chad's production, to quit the country in a row over taxes.

President Idriss Deby gave the order to US firm ChevronTexaco and Malaysia's Petronas.

"ChevronTexaco and Petronas must leave Chad because they have refused to pay their taxes," Mr Deby said.

However, Chevron says it has fully complied with tax demands and not had "official notification" to leave.

Meanwhile, Petronas could not be reached for comment.

Taking control

The decision leaves only Exxon Mobil remaining in the consortium which handles the country's oil production.

President Deby said his government would take control of the remaining reserves.

The BBC's Stephanie Hancock in the capital, N'Djamena, says the surprise decision has sent shock waves around the oil industry.

The government has recently been hinting it wants to join the consortium, she says.

Privately, many observers feel the firms may have been kicked out to make room for Chinese oil companies. Just three weeks ago, Chad resumed diplomatic relations with Beijing.

If this proves to be true, it will mark a turning point for relations in this region, our correspondent says.

History of rows

Rows surrounding Chad's oil revenues have been simmering for months.

Earlier this year, Chad threatened to stop oil production if it did not immediately receive several months' worth of oil revenues from the US-led consortium.

And last December the government fell out with the World Bank, after it changed a law which controlled how oil revenues were spent.

The bank, which financially backs the oil project, repeatedly asked Chad not to change the law but it went ahead anyway.

In response, the bank froze all payments of oil revenues to the government.

That row was settled with a deal in July, under which Chad agreed to spend 70% of its oil revenues on development schemes, with 30% going into its overall budget.

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