Wal-Mart Set To Finally Buy-Up Seiyu

David Dolan and Nathan Layne

In an effort to consolidate its ownership, Wal-Mart Stores Inc will spend up to 100 billion yen ($878 million) to buy out minority shareholders in Japanese supermarket unit Seiyu Ltd in an effort to turn around the money-losing chain.

The world's largest retailer has invested more than $1 billion in Seiyu since 2002, but has yet to see anything more than temporary upswings in sales amid tough competition with rivals such as Aeon Co.

Seiyu is headed for its sixth straight annual loss in 2007, which had led to speculation that Wal-Mart would either need to invest more in the unit or that it would pull out of Japan, as it did from South Korea and Germany last year.

"We have not necessarily provided as strong a value as our customers would like," Ed Kolodzieski, Seiyu's chief executive, told a news conference.

The buyout will put an end to rumors Wal-Mart may abandon Japan, making it easier to do business with local suppliers and lenders, Kolodzieski said.

"From a business partner and supplier standpoint, they too should also see this as very positive news, for Seiyu now has the full-backing of Wal-Mart," he said.

Wal-Mart, which currently owns 50.9 percent of Seiyu, said it would offer 140 yen per Seiyu common share in a tender offer from Tuesday through December 4. The offer price marks a 61 percent premium to Friday's closing share price of 87 yen.

Trade of Seiyu's shares was suspended by the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Monday, following reports of the buyout.

"It really does give (Wal-Mart) the opportunity to do whatever they want to do with Seiyu," said Roy Larke, editor of Japan Consuming, an industry newsletter.

"They still don't have a major share of the market but they do own the number three retailer in the country. They have a much solider base than they ever had in Korea and therefore something to build on," Larke said.


For the year to December 31 2007, the company has forecast a net loss of 10.4 billion yen.

However, there may be signs of progress: same-store sales showed their first annual rise in 15 years in 2006, although they still fell short of the company's target.

Seiyu's Kolodzieski said there were no plans to shut down any of the supermarket's nearly 400 outlets in Japan and that it was looking to accelerate its renovation of existing stores.

Last month, Seiyu said it would offer early retirement to 450 of its employees, or about 7 percent of its work force. In 2004 the company eliminated about 1,600 jobs.

Cracking Japan's retail market, the world's second-largest, has proved a challenge for foreign companies, due to fickle shoppers and tough competition.

In recent years France's Carrefour and Britain's Alliance Boots have both pulled out of the market.

Shares of Seiyu have lost three-quarters of their value since the end of 2002, the year when Wal-Mart first bought into the supermarket.

During the same period, the Tokyo stock exchange index of retail stocks has gained about 25 percent.

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War On Amazon.com's 1-Click Online Shopping Patent

Stephen Hutcheon

Amazon.com, one of the world's largest online retailers, is on the brink of losing one of its most coveted patents. And it knows who to blame: a New Zealander called Peter Calveley.

The 36-year-old from Auckland has waged a solo campaign against Amazon and its army of lawyers since 2004 over the retailer's claim to its famous 1-Click patent, a process that enables online shoppers to buy goods with the single click of a mouse button.

In response to Calveley's request to re-examine the intellectual property, the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) has just handed down a decision rejecting all but five of Amazon's 26 claims to the patent.

The Patent Office agreed with Calveley's claim that processes similar to the 1-Click solution had been documented before the Amazon patent was lodged in 1997.

Eight of Amazon's 26 intellectual property claims were dismissed because of a Newsweek magazine article entitled The End of Money?. It was published in 1995 - two years before the 1-Click patent was lodged.

The article described a process where someone could click a button to pay for "an annotated bibliography of every article ever written about Sandra Bullock" and download the file.

The decision came after a 17 month-long investigation by the USPTO into US Patent number 5,960,411, described as a "method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network". Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and its current CEO, is listed as one of the four inventors.

Calveley has not been officially informed about the adjudication because the letter from the USPTO has yet to reach his post office box. But the decision has been posted on the USPTO site and the actor and choreographer was tipped off when he noticed a surge in traffic to his blog.

"They [Amazon] deserved to get slapped a bit around the head," Calveley said in a telephone interview after learning about the decision.

He said that challenging patent holders could become a "new and fun sport", indicating he had several other targets in the crosshairs.

Amazon has two months to lodge an appeal with the USPTO and can opt to take its fight to the civil courts.

An Amazon spokesperson told the CNET technology news website that the company expected to file a response to the USPTO decision by the deadline of December 9.

The process works for subsequent purchases after a shopper has already input their credit card details.By expediting the process, the shopper is less to bail out of a transaction.

Critics argued that Amazon used its monopoly over what some claimed was a simple process unworthy of being patented to stifle competition.

In 1999, less than a month after the patent was approved, Amazon sued one of its major competitors, barnesandnoble.com, for using a similar process on its website. The company was forced to stop using it after losing the court case. Amazon now licences the process to many websites.

Calveley, who has no formal legal training, launched his crusade against Amazon after he used the site to order a book called Presenting Digital Cash in September 2004. He paid the extra few dollars to have the delivery fast-tracked by a courier company.

When the book failed to turn up, a frustrated Calveley vented his frustration in a post on his blog. "GRRRR!!!," he wrote on October 4, 2004.

Assuming the book had been lost in transit, he ordered another copy of the book. And while he was waiting for that to arrive, the first one turned up.

Ironically, the books were ordered not directly from Amazon but through one of the retailer's affiliate booksellers. And Calveley, who says he was only "mildly annoyed" by the stuff up, accepts that the delay was probably more the fault of the courier company than of Amazon.

Nevertheless, he decided to target Amazon. "OK, time for some UTU for the annoyingly slow book delivery," he wrote in his blog in November 2004, using the Maori word for revenge.

After trawling the US records, Calveley found another patent describing an "online secure financial transaction system" which had been lodged in 1996 - a year before Amazon's.

He also found references to a so-called DigiCash payment method in which a click on a website payment link would trigger a server to send a payment request to the customer. That also pre-dated the Amazon patent.

With the help of donations from readers of his blog, Calveley was able to cobble together the $US2520 fee the Patent Office office charges to re-open patent examinations.

In May 2006, the USPTO informed Calveley that his request for a re-examination had been granted after an initial investigation raised "substantial new question of patentability of claims".

Over the course of the past year, Calveley says Amazon was obliged to send him copies of documents presented to the USPTO to support its case. He now has some 65kg of paperwork stored at his home.

This is not the first time Calveley has made headlines. In 2003 he launched a one-man campaign to get his name included on the credits of Peter Jackson's Lord of Rings movies for his work as a motion capture artist.

Jackson's digital effects operation Weta Studios filmed Calveley and about a dozen other actors, using their movements as the basis for the computer-generated orcs and elves.

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How To Move Forward When Job Promotion Is Denied

Caroline Levchuck

There are few things worse than pursuing a promotion only to be passed over for it. Whatever the reason, it could take you a while to get over the shock or humiliation you're feeling and to adjust to having a new supervisor, if that's the case.

Follow these three steps to help you move on after you didn't get to move up.

1. Be gracious.

New York career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman advises, "Be great! You have to be great and professional when this happens." Even if a much-loathed coworker receives a promotion you'd coveted, extend congratulations to her. Also, offer sincere assurances that you're going to be the same team player you've always been.

Doing your best to support all of your colleagues will only help your professional reputation. A stalwart attitude will deflect any passing pity people may be tempted to feel for you.

2. Get answers.

Brown-Volkman counsels her clients, "When you're trying to find out what happened, first look inward. Many times people know why they didn't get a promotion."

After your emotions have settled, set up a meeting with the powers that be to discover why you didn't win the promotion. Brown-Volkman, author of numerous books including "Coach Yourself to a New Career," says, "People don't like to tell other people the cold hard truth, so you have to give them permission to tell the truth." She suggests assuring your supervisor and colleagues that there won't be any consequences for being honest. "Tell them, 'This is just for me.'"

Bring questions to your meeting so you can learn how to overcome any professional shortcomings or lack of specific skills. Ask for suggestions as to how you can better improve your performance. Request specific situations that made your superiors doubt your ability to handle the new position. Try to get your employers to help subsidize some professional development courses that might improve your performance on the job.

And then, says Brown-Volkman, "Start making changes."

3. Make your move.

After you learn why you didn't get a promotion, you may come to understand that you're not perceived as management material and even the best in-office public relations campaign would be futile. To climb to the next notch, you may need to move on to a new employer.

"If you've given it your best shot and it's going nowhere, it may be that you're just not a fit for that organization," says Brown-Volkman. "Find a place where you do fit."

Employees who have worked for only one company often face a similar predicament. Diversifying your employment experience is a plus, and Brown-Volkman firmly believes that other companies will value your talents.

"People get stuck in failure," she states. "But you didn't fail. It was a learning experience."

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How To Be Clever And Cautious During Job Interview

Tom Musbach

Well-meaning job seekers sometimes get too creative when making their cases to potential employers, such as the candidate who said he was "allergic to unemployment."

The contrived allergy and other wacky pitches were revealed by hiring executives in a recent survey by Accountemps, a large staffing service for financial professionals.

Creativity Can Backfire

The group of 150 senior executives offered several other examples of candidates going too far in their attempts to stand out:

* "One candidate said that we should hire him because he would be a great addition to our softball team."
* "A candidate sang all her responses to interview questions."
* "One individual said we had nice benefits, which was good because he going to need to take a lot of leave in the next year."
* "An applicant once told me she wanted the position because she wanted to get away from dealing with people."

The statements above reflect poor approaches to an interview question that is very common: "Why should I hire you?" Career experts offer several alternatives that can help job candidates respond more successfully.

Break It Down

Richard Phillips, founder of Advantage Career Solutions in Palo Alto, California, suggests a three-step approach that flows from the job description:

1. Begin your answer by listing the top three to five requirements of the job as you understand them, based on your research and what you've learned in the interview
2. Summarize how your skills and experience will enable you to make a significant impact in those areas.
3. Finish by stating your interest in the organization. Keep it short and sweet.

Tailor Your Story

Joe Turner, who wrote "Job Secrets Unlocked!" and runs jobchangesecrets.com, suggests that you prepare your best "story" to answer the question by showing how you will go the "extra mile."

"Here is where you recant that story of exactly how you worked 60-hour weeks, acquired new skills, or whatever it took to distinguish yourself and meet the challenge head-on to successfully make the sale, save the project, rescue a client, or whatever it was," he says.

"If you can monetize (put a dollar value on) the end result, your story will only be that much more dramatic. Since no other candidate can duplicate your own personal story here, you'll make a memorable impression."

Run With Your Ideas

During the process of researching the employer and preparing for the interview, think of what you might do if you had the position, advises Carla-Krystin Andrade, author of "Kick Start Your Job Search."

"Perhaps you have an idea for a new feature for their product or a new process that is relevant to the position," she says. "This is the perfect time to tell them about this idea and show them how you would bring value to the position if they hired you."

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Working For A Funny Boss

Tom Musbach,

When you think of the ideal boss, actress Carol Burnett and late-night TV host David Letterman probably don't come to mind. But those two celebrities have a quality that most workers say is essential to being a good boss: a sense of humor.

When asked in a recent poll how important it is for a manager to have a sense of humor, 65% of workers answered "very important," while 32% answered "somewhat important." The survey, conducted by staffing firm Robert Half International, also revealed that most of the workers (87%) rated their managers as having good senses of humor.

Max Messmer, chairman and chief executive of RHI, said the survey underscores that humor can make a boss seem more approachable, but it's not a license to be a clown.

"To be taken seriously, supervisors must balance their desire to keep the mood light with the need to accomplish business objectives, inspire great performance, and maintain professionalism," Messmer said.

Is Your Boss Funny?

You may not know whether your boss has a good sense of humor. "In this case, it's best to let your manager set the tone for humor," says Liz Bywater, president of Bywater Consulting Group, a Philadelphia-area firm focused on organization performance.

"It's OK to 'test drive' using some humor to see how it's received," she adds. "Just do so cautiously at the beginning. Take a mental note of your manager's response and let that be your guide."

"Definitely stay away from sarcasm or any statements that might be offensive or potentially viewed as criticism," advises Debra Mandel, a psychologist and author of "Your Boss Is Not Your Mother." She continues, "Some managers take the workplace too seriously, but it's not an employee's job to loosen them up -- unless of course the employee doesn't mind the view from the unemployment line."

Humoring the Boss

What if you don't think your boss is very funny?

"Humoring a not-so-funny boss is OK," says Bywater. "Think of it as being kind and sensitive to the feelings of another human being. Don't, however, humor a boss who has gone over the line from funny to offensive."

Manage the Punch Lines

For bosses who want to flex their humor muscles more, Bywater suggests the following guidelines:

* Do not make jokes about anyone's physical appearance.
* Do not attempt humor that could be construed as sexist or racist, even if it's not intended as such.
* If you've got a direct report who is particularly sensitive or has no sense of humor, it's best to play it straight.

Having a good sense of humor at work helps everyone, Mandel concludes.

"Both bosses and employees need to stay on track and be productive, but everything doesn't have to be heavyweight," she says. "Sometimes it's good to just have a big belly laugh, especially when things go wrong, and look forward to the next day to get back on track."

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How To Handle Workplace Gossips

Heather Boerner

Getting ahead at work may hinge on resisting the urge to spread the latest news about your coworkers.

"You may think gossip is harmless, but you might just be shooting yourself in the foot as far as your credibility goes," said Rachel Weingarten, author of "Career and Corporate Cool: How to Look, Dress and Act the Part at Every Stage of Your Career." She continues, "Let your work speak for itself. You don't need to be the one making yourself look better by talking down someone else."

Consider the Damage

Sure, gossip can be almost too enticing to keep to ignore -- but consider these consequences:

* You lose your reputation. "My reputation is my business," said Weingarten. "If someone says something bad about me, or I become known as a gossip, that could affect my entire career."
* Coworkers avoid you. "If people view you as a gossip, they may stop sharing information with you," said April Callis, president of Gossip Stoppers, a program designed to create positive workplaces. "Then instead of being the one with all the power and information, you're out of the loop because no one trusts you."
* Your work suffers. The negativity spread by gossip makes people hate their jobs. "They miss work, they get less done while they're there, and they feel unappreciated," says Callis. Suddenly, you're not giving your best, and your boss may notice.

There's a better way to deal with water cooler talk. First, and perhaps most obvious: Keep the information to yourself.

It's one thing to learn the office scoop -- it's another to share it. Even asking someone else at work to verify what you've just heard counts as gossip, said Callis. If it's something criminal, tell your boss. If not, let it drop.

Resist the Urge

Next, teach your coworkers not to gossip with you. Use these techniques:

* Replace gossip. Sometimes gossip is the only thing you have in common with coworkers, said Weingarten. So find something to replace it. Do you both knit? Are you both sports fans? If you must gossip, do it about movie stars or soap operas, she said. Just leave the office out of it.
* Set a timer. If a coworker or employee comes to you determined to gossip, set a timer for five minutes, and let the person spew. When the time's up, so is the gossip. You don't have to respond, said Callis. You can just listen.
* Write it down. When a coworker runs to your desk with the latest juicy gossip, get out a pad and pen. Writing down the facts serves two purposes: It shows the gossip that everything she says is being documented. And it helps you focus on facts instead of feelings.

What you may find is that you and those around you feel happier as they gossip less, says Callis.

"When I walk into a positive workplace, people are engaged and they feel valued," she says. "They stay."

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Allegations About Millionaire Factory's Financies On The Spotlight

Nick Mathiason

In Australia, Macquarie Bank is known as the "millionaires factory" for good reason. In the past 10 years, it has come from nowhere to become one of the world's most aggressive buyers of airports, toll roads, energy firms and utilities. If an asset has a reliable cash flow, Macquarie, it seems, has pounced.

In so doing, the Sydney-based bank has left better-known institutions trailing in the dash to seize valuable prizes.

The rewards for being a "diversified financial services company", as Macquarie likes to style itself, are immense. Allan Moss, its bookish chief executive, is Australia's highest paid businessman with a $38.4 million package.

But as interest rates rose last year, and world credit markets seized up this summer, Macquarie was put in the uncomfortable position of being subject to speculation.

This boils down to fears that its ambitious growth is unsustainable.

With its hard-to-fathom structure placed under the spotlight, the talk has been that potential financial problems could rebound not just on Macquarie shareholders, but also citizens from dozens of countries which have key public services supplied by Macquarie.

In Britain, for example, this includes Thames Water, which Macquarie acquired from German firm RWE last year for £8 billion ($21 billion); the London Underground; Bristol airport; and the M6 toll road in the Midlands.

Thames Water faces fines of up £12.5 million from industry regulator Ofwat for misreporting poor processes that led to customers receiving unsatisfactory services.

Last week speculation about Macquarie turned up a notch after the publication of an eight-page report in the influential Fortune magazine. The author was Bethany McLean, the journalist who first spotted that Enron, rather than being a stock market darling, was instead a fraudulent web of off-balance sheet structures that was heading for the rocks.

Although there is no suggestion that Macquarie has behaved fraudulently, McLean's report made a number of allegations about the bank's finances. The most serious of these were that:

* Macquarie overpaid for assets to trigger performance fees.

* It is impossible to calculate independently how much debt the bank is exposed to.

* Though the practice is not illegal, the bank borrows money to pay dividends to shareholders on the assumption of future growth.

* The majority of deals on which Macquarie advises involve another Macquarie entity with a number of separate Macquarie funds holding the same asset.

To the bank the report made uncomfortable reading, but insiders say many of the claims have been aired before and can be rebutted. In a statement, Allan Moss said: "The sorts of comments to which you refer have been made, but they have been made by people who have not taken the trouble to study Macquarie Bank closely.

"They are not views that have been adopted by serious investors or serious analysts. Our view is that it is well understood that we have a very robust business model."

Macquarie believes that rather than being secretive, the fact that many of its funds are publicly quoted makes it more transparent than many of its rivals. Reacting to criticism that the aggressive financing model leads to excessive charges in some of its airports - like Sydney - and toll roads, the company says this scenario does not represent the way it runs its other airports.

Though concern is rising about Macquarie, it is nevertheless linked to many big infrastructure deals currently available.

When Royal Bank of Scotland last week signalled its intention to sell its €4 billion ($7 billion) Angel train leasing firm, Macquarie was understood to be interested.

And it has been widely rumoured that it is set to team up with US bank JP Morgan in the £4 billion bid battle for Southern Water. JP Morgan Asset Management's infrastructure investment fund has been in advanced talks to submit a joint offer with Macquarie and other smaller funds, according to well-placed sources.

The bank refuses to comment on any of these possible deals, which could consolidate its position as one of the country's most important businesses.

As a signal that the company is broadening into new areas, it recently signed a deal with troubled Wembley stadium building firm Multiplex worth £339.5 million to develop three hospitals in the UK.

The pair will build a 612-bed acute hospital, a 102-bed mental health unit and a 34-bed integrated care centre in Peterborough. The project is being worked through a special purpose entity called Progress Health, 30 per cent owned by Multiplex UK and 70 per cent by Macquarie Bank.

But the firm is in the business of selling. Two weeks ago, Australia's Victorian Funds Management and Canada's Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan bought a combined 48.25 per cent stake in Birmingham International Airport for £420 million.

The two funds bought the stake from Macquarie Airports and Ireland's Dublin Airport Authority.

As the firm ratchets up its activity throughout the world, questions about whether its finance structure is sustainable may increase as uncertainty in credit markets continue, whether the company likes it or not.

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Auckland Airport Deal Collapse, DAE's Chief Exec Resigns

Liam Dann

Kjeld Binger, chief executive of Dubai Aerospace (DAE) Airports, has resigned just weeks after his company pulled the plug on its $2.5 billion bid for Auckland Airport.

The charismatic Dane was the public face of the Dubai bid which ran into trouble after a public backlash about foreign ownership of the airport.

Despite the political difficulties the bid faced, Binger remained confident about the chances of success until a sudden backdown on August 31.

There has been speculation that the decision to pull the bid was made over Binger's head - by DAE's wealthy owners, the al-Maktoum family, who were upset at comments made by senior New Zealand politicians.

Trade Minister Phil Goff expressed his personal opposition to the sale and local body politicians such as Manukau mayor Barry Curtis were even more outspoken.

The bids needed support from Auckland City and Manukau City Councils, which between them hold just over 23 per cent of the airport.

Despite the withdrawal of the DAE offer, Auckland Airport is subject to a similar ownership proposal from Canada Pension Plan.

The Canadian Government-owned fund plans to buy a minority stake as opposed to DAE's offer which would have seen it take a 50.1 per cent stake.

DAE has said Binger departed amicably to pursue new endeavours but that it has no further comment.

He could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Binger - previously a highly successful executive with Copenhagen Airport - joined DAE only in January.

He brought across nine executives to DAE Airports from Copenhagen Airports and was to have led a US$4 billion spend-up on airports around the globe.

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Taking A Closer Look At Foreclosure

A situation where a loan is recovered, given on a defaulted property either by selling the property or by taking possession on it, is known as foreclosure.

If you are facing foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy will delay the process. However, this is only a temporary delay as until the mortgage is either refinanced reinstated, or the house is sold, the auction is bound to happen sooner or later. Filing for bankruptcy will not indefinitely delay or prevent the foreclosure of your house, but it will certainly delay the process to a very large extent.

Since your mortgage is on your home, filing for bankruptcy does not guarantee that your house will not undergo a forced sale. If you have income after filing for bankruptcy, you can arrange for your debts to be paid off in a certain fixed period of time. Under chapter 13 bankruptcy you can make up for all the times that you defaulted on your repayments, but the problem is that if you default under this program, your lender can legally facilitate the foreclosure of your home. On the other hand, chapter 7 bankruptcy is the stage where you can be forced to sell your assets to pay for your liabilities, and all the home equity will go to your lender.

Since these are huge steps, never be forced to file for bankruptcy and discuss your options with a reliable and recommended bankruptcy counselor. Also, beware of scams such as ones which tell you that you will receive a certified copy of your deed if you pay a certain amount of money. Your local deed recorder or county will give you a certified copy of your deed for about ten dollars, while scammers will ask you for much more money than is fair. You should consider a home equity line of credit when debating between the same and a fixed rate mortgage, as the line of credit is much more flexible. It is easy to get and no closing costs are involved. Unless you write a check to use the money, you are not charged for it.

Then after you have paid it off, you can decide whether you want a new first mortgage. If an elderly citizen passes away without a will, a local probate court will decide who will inherit the deceased’s assets. The surviving family members will be seen in a specific order with regard to who is considered first as entitled to the inheritance. A will can be prepared for as low as a hundred or a couple of hundred dollars and will ensure after your death that your assets and money will go to the individuals you want them to go to.

If someone remarries, their new spouse’s name is not required on the mortgage loan papers. However, the spouse who legally owns the house can sign and record a quitclaim deed, thus giving the other spouse part of the interest in the house. Joint tenancy has many advantages, two of which include equal rights to joint tenants and the avoidance of probate if one of the joint tenants dies. The title can even be put into a revocable living trust.

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