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Today's Date: U.S. Attorney News Feed
New York seeks probe of Wal-Mart for surveillance
Business Law Info | 2007/04/11 16:01

New York City is seeking a probe of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) over the retailer's reported surveillance of shareholders who submitted proxy petitions that could potentially disrupt the company's annual meeting. New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. sent letters to the U.S. Attorney General's office and the Securities and Exchange Commission, asking for an investigation into the world's largest retailer for what he called "ill-considered and possibly illegal surveillance operations."

"As New York City's Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Investment Advisor to the City's Pension Funds, I am particularly troubled by reports that Wal-Mart engaged in chilling and truly outrageous surveillance activities," Thompson wrote. Copies of the letters were posted on the comptroller's Web site.

Wal-Mart could not immediately comment on the story. The SEC declined to comment.

Last week, a report in The Wall Street Journal said an internal Wal-Mart security group was asked to investigate the potential threat of those submitting proposals to its June shareholder meeting.

Following the article's publication, Tom Hyde, Wal-Mart's top legal officer, sent a letter to shareholder proponents saying that while the article implied that the company had initiated an intrusive "threat assessment" of shareholders who submitted proposals for inclusion in Wal-Mart's annual proxy statement, that was not true.

"In spite of a January 2007 memo referenced in the article, there were no inquiries made with respect to the proponents of shareholder proposals," he wrote in the letter, a copy of which Wal-Mart provided. "Given the nature of the matters proposed and our familiarity with the individual proponents, the request contained in the memo was not acted upon."

The New York City Pension Funds represent nearly 600,000 active members, beneficiaries and retirees and are valued at nearly $100 billion, according the Web site.

Wal-Mart shares fell 24 cents to $47.70 in morning New York Stock Exchange trade.

Chrysler Gets Big Offer from Billionaire Kerkorian
Business Law Info | 2007/04/09 14:47

Los Angeles billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Company said Friday that his 4.5-billion-dollar bid for Chrysler would be based on "a true partnership" of the automaker's management, workers and investors. The company said what Kerkorian's camp has "in mind is a true partnership of all the constituencies -- the company's management, all of its employees (both union and non-union) and the investors bringing the necessary new funds to the company to enable it to substantially enhance its product spending -- the life blood of any auto company".

"What we are talking about is a transformation in the way the risks and rewards in a large enterprise are shared -- an arrangement in which the interests of all constituencies are more fully aligned than in today's typical structure," the company said in a statement.

"We acknowledge that such an approach cannot be 'forced' on any of the parties, but rather can only be achieved with all parties feeling as if they are the recipients of a fair deal," the statement said.

Tracinda's offer to purchase Chrysler was announced Thursday. The bid is about one-fifth of what Kerkorian offered for Chrysler in 1995. Last year, Chrysler lost 1.5 billion.

In a letter to the board of Chrysler parent company Daimler Chrysler AG, Tracinda officials also offered to post a 100-million-dollar deposit to ensure exclusive negotiating rights on the sale.

According to The Detroit News, other bidders for the company include Blackstone Group and Cerberus Capital Management and Magna International Inc.

Kerkorian was named by the Los Angeles Business Journal last year as the richest man in Los Angeles, with an estimated worth of 9.3 billion dollars.

Born to Armenian immigrants in Fresno in 1917, Kerkorian, who never attended college, made billions of dollars in investments in Las Vegas casinos, airlines, and MGM studios -- which he later sold.

He was Chrysler Corp.'s largest shareholder in the 1990s. Last year, Kerkorian sold his holdings in General Motors after a failed proposal to merge the company with Renault and Nissan Motor Co.

Sony drops cost of PSP handheld game device
Business Law Info | 2007/04/05 02:58

Looking to lure more American gamers, SONY Computer Entertainment America announced Tuesday it will cut the price of its handheld PlayStation Portable game device from 200 U.S. dollars to 170 dollars. Sony is hoping to deepen its market penetration alongside Nintendo DS and Nokia's N-Gage by attracting young male gamers with a lower priced handheld game system.

"We have always been passionate about making great entertainment accessible to everyone, and the new price for PSP, as well as the continued growth of the "Greatest Hits" library, reflect our ongoing commitment to supporting and expanding the PSP community," said Jack Tretton, president and CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment America.

The PSP is in its third year of production, and lately has been outshone by the popular DS.

"The PSP needed a price cut to reinvigorate the market. Wal-Mart sold the PSP for 169 dollars for five hours on Black Friday -- a time in which we believe the company was able to sell over 100,000 pieces of hardware," BMO Capital Markets analyst Edward Williams said in a client note.

Williams said main beneficiaries of the price cut should be video-game retailer GameStop, and to a lesser extent Take-Two Interactive Software, which has a healthy line-up of games for the paperback book-sized device.

"In general, though, all publishers should benefit," Williams said.

In 2006, PSP shipments rose to nearly 25 million units worldwide, with more than one million new PSP systems sold in North America in December alone. In addition, software shipments increased to more than 90 million units last year, according to Sony's figures.

The PSP platform is also slated for further market penetration this year with new game releases. The 2007 game releases lineup includes "God of War," "Ratchet & lank," "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs," "Daxter," and "Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror."

Sony Computer Entertainment America is a division of global electronics maker Sony.

A representative for Sony in Japan said there would not be an immediate price cut on the PSP in that market.

CB Richard Ellis' Downtown Development Group
Business Law Info | 2007/04/02 17:54

Is downtown Los Angeles finally headed towards the likes of New York or Chicago's bustling and vibrant urban environments?  With the recent boom of construction and real estate development going on, it appears that downtown LA will once again be a popular destination for Angelinos.

The real hints that the neighborhood is changing come in more subtle forms — such as the tours Derrick Moore has been giving around downtown recently. Moore, a senior associate in CB Richard Ellis' Urban Development Group, has been helping representatives from national chain stores such as Walgreen's and the Outback Steakhouse group — who have long shied away from downtown — search for properties in the area. He has wined and dined potential retailers at local hotspots — and found their reaction a distinct shift from even a few months ago, when most took a wait-and-see attitude toward the neighborhood.

Residents have moved in, with the population now at 30,000. Some of downtown's long-anticipated, large-scale projects — including a supermarket and a movie theater — are only months from opening. Questions about downtown's future have heightened with the recent cooling of Southern California's real estate market. But downtown so far doesn't appear to be suffering much, and there are growing signs that retail is actually strengthening.

"First and foremost," Moore said, "we have to figure out the parking issue in downtown. We have to make parking easy for all the folks we are expecting to attract … for a reasonable amount of money."

One key test for downtown will be the role that parking plays in its evolution. Several observers said it is hard to find inexpensive, easy parking in the district — and that could harm the push for an active street life in downtown.

One thing that the area is lacking is a grocery store.  People don't want to live somewhere where they have to drive for 30 minutes to the closest supermarket. After over 30 years without one, the arrival of Ralphs — which started downtown at 6th and Spring in the late 1800s but abandoned the district in 1950 — is seen by many as a sign that the district's fortunes have returned.

"I think that the Ralphs opening is going to be the adhesive to hold it all together," Moore said of the retail renaissance. "That's what's missing."

Apple unveils DRM free music on Itunes
Business Law Info | 2007/04/02 15:50

CUPERTINO, California--Apple® today announced that EMI Music’s entire digital catalog of music will be available for purchase DRM-free (without digital rights management) from the iTunes® Store ( worldwide in May. DRM-free tracks from EMI will be offered at higher quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, resulting in audio quality indistinguishable from the original recording, for just $1.29 per song. In addition, iTunes customers will be able to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free versions for just 30 cents a song. iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today--128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM--at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside DRM-free higher quality versions when available.

“We are going to give iTunes customers a choice--the current versions of our songs for the same 99 cent price, or new DRM-free versions of the same songs with even higher audio quality and the security of interoperability for just 30 cents more,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think our customers are going to love this, and we expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”

“EMI and iTunes are once again teaming up to move the digital music industry forward by giving music fans higher quality audio that is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings, with no usage restrictions on the music they love from their favorite artists,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group.

With DRM-free music from the EMI catalog, iTunes customers will have the ability to download tracks from their favorite EMI artists without any usage restrictions that limit the types of devices or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on. DRM-free songs purchased from the iTunes Store will be encoded in AAC at 256 kbps, twice the current bit rate of 128 kbps, and will play on all iPods, Mac® or Windows computers, Apple TVs and soon iPhones, as well as many other digital music players.

iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song. All EMI music videos will also be available in DRM-free format with no change in price.

The iTunes Store features the world’s largest catalog with over five million songs, 350 television shows and over 400 movies. The iTunes Store has sold over two billion songs, 50 million TV shows and over 1.3 million movies, making it the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store.

With Apple’s legendary ease of use, pioneering features such as integrated podcasting support, iMix playlist sharing, seamless integration with iPod® and the ability to turn previously purchased songs into completed albums at a reduced price, the iTunes Store is the best way for PC and Mac users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online.

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and will enter the mobile phone market this year with its revolutionary iPhone.

AT&T, Verizon win government telecom contract
Business Law Info | 2007/03/29 20:57

The U.S. General Services Administration cast Sprint Nextel Corp. <S.N> aside and picked AT&T Inc. <T.N>, Qwest Communications International Inc. <Q.N> and Verizon Communications <VZ.N> on Thursday for the largest-ever federal telecommunications contract.

Government agencies are expected to spend at least $20 billion on the contract over 10 years, the GSA estimates -- a move that will overhaul the government's telecommunications services.

Under terms of the GSA contract, called Networx Universal, agency spending could be increased to as much as $48 billion.

The announcement comes after weeks of anticipation and years of preparation. The four companies have spent millions of dollars preparing bids and called on thousands of their employees to develop proposals and hammer out the details.

The failure to include Sprint is seen as a huge upset as it has provided telecommunication services to U.S. government agencies for 18 years.

"Sprint is disappointed not to receive a portion of the Networx Universal contract," it said in a statement. "The Sprint team spent significant time and energy on the program and has made large investments to meet the diverse requirements of the agencies."

The company said it will request a meeting with GSA next week and will decide whether to "protest or not" after that.


Even though Sprint is out of the picture, the three winning companies will still have to compete for individual contracts within the government agencies.

The companies agreement with the GSA would allow them to sell phone and Internet services to as many as 135 federal agencies, such as the treasury and defense departments.

"It's a big win for Qwest," said the company's senior vice president Diana Gowen, while AT&T senior vice president Don Herring said his company could not be happier that it won.

Both said it was too early to say how the contract would impact overall revenue and earnings except to acknowledge that Networx Universal is a very large contract.

"We will get our fair share of the 20 billion, or 40 billion, it's all about your creativity," Gowen said.

It is not mandatory for the agencies to use a company the GSA has chosen, but there are benefits to be had, such as a common billing platform.

The Networx Universal contract is one of two that comprise the Networx program. Companies bidding on Networx Universal had to demonstrate that they could provide 36 mandatory services, such as private phone lines and secure e-mail.

The second, called Networx Enterprise, is expected to be awarded in May 2007 and required companies to show they could provide nine mandatory services. Projected spending on Enterprise is estimated at $20.1 billion.

The complete Networx contract is the third in a series of telecommunications procurement programs developed by GSA that are designed to leverage the buying power of the federal government and save U.S. taxpayers money.

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