Japan Video Games Blog


Hey guys and gals! We FIND and PROMOTE people's work, we never take credit for things we haven't written, we just love sharing the things that are interesting, but if you don't want your work or pictures shown, please let me know and I'll take it off, we're not trying to harm any one here or infringe on anyone's copyrights, just late night entertainment for my friends and I after a long days of work.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G sells two million

While American gamers are still busy playing Grand Theft Auto IV (we still are!), the Japanese have embraced a wholly different kind of game. Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G continues its ridiculous sales drive, and has reached the 2 million milestone, in less than 50 days since the release of the game. Are we the only ones that suspect that Capcom might be putting some happy candy in these UMDs?

[Via PSPHyper]

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Konami whips up profits in last fiscal year

Konami's fiscal year ending March 31 enjoyed a good rotation around the sun with $175 million in profit, an increase of 13% over the prior year. GameDaily reports the publisher saw revenues of $2.8 billion, thanks to numerous titles in Japan, Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii in North America and Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 in Europe.

The company gave guidance that it expects revenues of $3.15 billion this fiscal year; probably due to a game called Metal Gear something and continued strong sales of its numerous franchises. We're certainly curious to see how Rock Revolution -- and its drums o' doom -- will do this fall.

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Wii could surpass US Xbox 360 install base this month

It's a good thing that Microsoft got its gloating in about selling 10 million units in the US, because the Wii will not only hit that number, but probably surpass it this month. Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel did the math and found that the Wii currently sits at about 9.5 million units in the US. If Nintendo's console sells another 700k units (like it has been) this month and the Xbox 360 sticks to its 200k level, the Wii will blow right past its competition's US install base.

It'll also be interesting to see the impact Wii Fit has on the numbers when it launches next week. Microsoft can take solace in knowing that it can always fall back on saying the Xbox 360 still has the "largest global install base of any current gen, high definition gaming console" ... right?

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Obesity experts frown on Wii Fit's fatty-labeling, Nintendo apologizes - hahahahahahah wtf!!!! are obesity experts obese themselves?

Video games can occasionally be the source of some pretty disheartening self-realizations -- like the time Rock Band revealed that you've been lied to your entire life about your angelic singing voice, or when Vampire Rain made you realize that you have incredibly poor taste in video games. However, something tells us these revelations are a bit less heartbreaking than those about to be unleashed by Nintendo's latest best-seller, Wii Fit -- especially when the heart in question is the fragile, butter-soaked heart of an overweight child.

Or an average-weighted child, for that matter. You see, Wii Fit measures the user's Body Mass Index (BMI), a weight/height ratio commonly calculated by physicians, though the use of BMI measurements in children is criticized by many dietitians for its frequent inaccuracy. Nintendo recently issued an apology following an incident involving the hurtful labeling of a "solidly built" 10-year-old girl. So, it's like an electronic, $90 version of our fifth-grade gym teacher? We're sold!

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Feed your discs to the alligator-skinned Xbox 360

We're usually not ones to post about console case mods of any sort, but we decided to buck that trend today -- namely because no case mod we've ever seen has inspired such fear into our hearts. A forum-dweller by the name of dfw monkie recently posted pictures of his latest monstrosity to The Llamma's Game Console Forums (instilling a greater fear in us that a Llama-themed 360 is in the works) -- an Xbox 360, covered in the pitch-black skin of a gargantuan alligator that dfw monkie killed with his bare hands.

Okay, the crocodilian pattern was created with common crafting supplies, but we much prefer our own "Man vs. Wild" interpretation of the console's backstory. Martha Stewart-esque origins or no, the final product is still downright unsettling.

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Japanese hardware sales, May 5 - May 11: He no nuts, he's crazy edition

The above video may seem out of place on this humble blog at first glance, but we assure you, we have our reasons for including it in this edition of the Japanese Hardware Sales:

1. It's probably viral marketing for either the release of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" or the equally hyped but arguably more adorable Lego Indiana Jones (though hordes of Shia-lovers would vehemently disagree with that last statement). Either way, our excitement for the next entry in one of our most beloved film franchises rivals our anticipation to melt some Lego Nazi faces, so we thought it an appropriate measure to stoke the fires of our own over-hyped hearts.

2. The idea of a six-ton Lego boulder recklessly cascading down a city street serves as adequate symbolism for this week's charts -- coming off of last week's universal sales hike, this week's thorough downpointery is downright depressing. Should this Chutes and Ladders-esque pattern of sales explosions followed by seeming droughts continue in the coming weeks, we'll be giving some serious consideration to entering the Japanese console stock market, if such a thing exists.

3. Literally no other event over the past week or next was worth lampooning. Seriously, nothing. What, want us to poke fun at the West Virginia primary election? A vicious satirization of We Ski? Some humorous commentary concerning the season finale for America's Next Top Model? Our better judgment placed "giant Lego boulder" over "Tyra Banks-related humor" -- a decision we will stand by to our graves, urns, and cryogenic biostasis chambers.

- PSP: 89,884 10,986 (10.89%)
- Wii: 67,308 4,210 (5.89%)
- DS Lite: 51,228 1,314 (2.50%)
- PS3: 8,054 2,123 (20.86%)
- PS2: 7,464 1,338 (15.20%)
- Xbox 360: 1,298 427 (24.75%)

[Source: Media Create]

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Georgia Pretties Itself Up For Game Developers [Game Development]

peachescomeinacan.jpg It's no secret that Georgia wants game developers and it wants them bad. While the state is already home to a large handful of smaller game studios, they are seeking to make Georgia an entertainment mecca. To that effect Governor Sonny Purdue signed into law the 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act this past Monday, granting entertainment companies, game developers included, huge tax credits for creating their art in The Peach State.

Qualifying productions spending at least $500,000 in the state will qualify for a 20% tax credit, with an additional 10% granted if said productions included an animated Georgia logo in the finished product.

As a member of the gaming press residing just minutes away from beautiful downtown Atlanta, I welcome any and all game developers to our lovely state. If you need crash space, give me a call.

Hit the jump for the full press release.

Georgia Boosts Incentives for Entertainment Industry

Monday, May 12, 2008

ATLANTA- Governor Sonny Perdue today signed into law the 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act (HB 1100), new legislation designed to encourage entertainment industry productions in Georgia. The signing ceremony took place at the studios of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS, Inc.), where the Governor was joined by Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of TBS, Inc., and over 100 attendees including legislators, industry leaders and members of the entertainment industry.

"We know that our excellent talent base and outstanding locations make Georgia a very desirable place to film," said Governor Sonny Perdue. "This legislation puts in place the economic cornerstone that will encourage producers to convert that desire into action."

The 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act reinforces and strengthens Georgia's position within the entertainment industry. The new, more competitive incentives replace those currently in use by offering a 20 percent tax credit for qualified productions, which are then eligible for an additional 10 percent tax credit if they include an animated Georgia promotional logo within the finished product.

The incentives apply not only to qualified films, TV series, commercials and music videos, but also to video game productions. The economic impact of all these entertainment segments in Georgia was $413 million in 2007.

"We're proud of this legislation; alot of the credit goes to Governor Perdue for setting up the film commission," said Rep. Butch Parrish, a sponsor of the legislation. "I think this bill will jump start the Georgia film industry."

"This new incentive allows Georgia to once again compete for an industry we used to be famous for," said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh. "It will be a catalyst that will spur immediate economic investment and create jobs. Georgia will once again be on center stage where it belongs."

"The new incentives will put Georgia among the top five states in the U.S. in terms of financial competitiveness for entertainment projects," said Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). "We expect to see an increase in the number of industry jobs and overall economic impact for the state in the coming years."

The state has seen success in the past with competitive incentives. The 2005 Entertainment Industry Investment Act (HB 539), signed by Governor Perdue in 2005, led to a record-setting economic impact in 2006 when film, television and video game companies contributed $475 million to Georgia's economy, up from $124 million in 2004. The total economic impact of entertainment productions from 2005 through 2007 has been over $1.17 billion, due in large part to Georgia's entertainment incentives. Since then, however, film activity in the state has decreased as other states, regions and nations boosted their competitive packages.

"The 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act (HB 1100) will return Georgia to its rightful place of prominence in all major entertainment industry segments," stated Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of the Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, a division of GDEcD. "We expect a significant increase in film and television projects, and Georgia will be the most competitive state in the country for video game productions.

Georgiais one of the few states whose entertainment incentives support the video game industry."

Governor Perdue was joined at the event by Sen.Greg Goggans, who carried the legislation in the Senate, Rep. Ron Stephens, and Rep. Rich Golick.

"House Bill 1100 is a key piece to the puzzle in sustaining Georgia's entertainment industry for the long haul," said Ric Reitz, an actor and producer from Atlanta. "It will provide many new jobs for Georgians, improve the state's entertainment infrastructure, and grow Georgia's indigenous companies."

The Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, formerly known as the Film, Video and Music Office, conducts extensive business development, sales, marketing and promotional activities in order to attract entertainment projects and businesses to the state. The office also assists the local, national and international entertainment industries with information, expertise and resources. The staff points movie production companies to Georgia's highly-trained crews, state-of-the-art facilities, and diverse locations. Georgia's temperate climate and easy access afforded by Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are also factors that attract the industry's interest.

Georgiahas been investing in the entertainment industry for over 35 years. Since the inception of the Georgia Film Commission in 1973, more than 575 major motion pictures, independent films, television series and pilots, and TV movies have filmed on location in the state. As a result, over $5 billion has been generated for the state's economy. Georgia's music industry continues to thrive with an economic impact of $1.97 billion in 2007. Movies were first produced in Georgia as early as 1912, and have continued without interruption during every decade since then.

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Blow $135,000 On This Bogus, Crystal PS3 [Playstation 3]

Ill be a monkeys uncle Let's say you've got $135,000 lying around the house. You're a big PS3 fan, and you just don't know what to do with all that money. Sure, you could buy a bunch of PS3s for hospitals or charities or something, help out people in need, but that's boring. Why don't you blow it all on this auction for a PS3 entirely covered in Swarovski Crystals? Note I say blow it on the auction, not the PS3 itself, because if this is real then I'll...look, just read the auction listing, there's no way this is real.

One Off Swarovski Crystal Covered Sony Playstation 3 Up for Sale [Bornrich]

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2.8 Percent Of Japanese 5th Graders Play Erotic Games [Japan]

Not just Pokémon! What games do little Japanese kids play? Well, according to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers Associations of Japan (PTA), 2.8 percent of the 5th graders said they often play games with explicit sexual content, while 97.2 percent, well, don't. What games were most popular among Japanese elementary school kids? Action games (including fighters) came in at 30.9 percent, followed closely by RPGs at 28.4 percent. Interesting factoid: Out of those polled, only 4.8 percent of grade schoolers don't have home consoles. They probably have other things!

Over 95 Percent [Mainichi via Sankaku Complex] [Pic]

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Mortal Kombat Killers [Tragedy]

A 7 year-old girl is dead, and two teens are being tried as adults. A Colorado judge ruled last Friday that there was enough evidence to take Lamar Roberts, 17, and Heather Trujillo, 16, for child abuse resulting in the death of Trujillo's half-sister, Zoe Gracia. Both will be tried as adults. According to authorities, Gracia died after being kicked, hit and pounded on the floor as the two teens re-enacted Mortal Kombat. Roberts pushed Zoe, twisted the child's arms and held her ankles, according to Trujillo. Police Detective Kathy Halldorson said that Roberts told a friend, "he was doing martial arts on her (Zoe) and that his hands were registered weapons." Tasteless fatality jokes and worrying about how-this-affects-games aside, this is a terrible, terrible tragedy.

Eds Note: Fahey points out that I should've linked back to the 200 other stories where Mortal Kombat is blamed for murder.

Mortal Kombat Killing [The Denver Channel Thanks, Michael!]

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EA Confirms Take-Two Offer Extension [EA Bid For Take-Two]

eataketwopuzzle.jpgElectronic Arts announced this morning that it has extended its bid to buy Take-Two. The prior bid expired on Friday, May 16th, and this latest extension, the third since EA announced its bid, gives the publisher until June 16th to negotiate a deal.

According to the latest SEC filing, EA has not raised its bid, as some analysts had speculated it would. The offer remains at $25.74 per share, and as of the time the filing was made, the company reported that only 6,210,261 shares had been tendered to EA - to acquire a majority stake, EA needs more than five times that many.

"Extending our offer will allow the FTC review process to continue," said EA VP of corporate development Owen Mahoney. "EA's offer price remains unchanged at $25.74 per share and our offer is still subject to conditions that include regulatory approval. As stated earlier, we retain the right to terminate the offer if the conditions are not satisfied."

Following EA's extension announcement, Take-Two executives also issued statements:

"This is the same highly conditional proposal that EA offered Take-Two stockholders on March 13, 2008, which our Board of Directors thoroughly reviewed and unanimously determined to be inadequate and contrary to the best interests of Take-Two's stockholders," said Take-Two Board chairman Strauss Zelnick, stating again that he recommends stockholders not tender share to EA.

"We said we were willing to begin formal discussions with interested parties on April 30, following the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV, and we have in fact begun that process," Zelnick said.

Take-Two CEO Ben Feder said that GTA IV's record-breaking launch, along with recently-announced plans to develop a BioShock feature film , [demonstrate] how Take-Two is delivering value from our powerful and wholly-owned intellectual property. The small number of shares tendered into EA's offer to date demonstrates that our stockholders agree with what our Board has maintained from the beginning: EA's proposal undervalues our Company."

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Bloomberg.com: U.S.

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp., the software maker that scrapped a $47.5 billion bid for Yahoo! Inc. this month, may forge a partnership with the Internet company on search advertising to challenge Google Inc.

Microsoft, which abandoned its takeover attempts May 3, said yesterday that it's exploring a transaction with Yahoo and may renew attempts to buy the entire company. The two may combine units that sell ads that run next to Internet search results, said Morningstar Inc. analyst Toan Tran.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn is pressuring Yahoo to ally itself with Microsoft to compete with Google, which dominates the Internet search market. Icahn, backed by investors such as hedge- fund manager John Paulson, threatened last week to oust Yahoo's board if Chief Executive Officer Jerry Yang failed to sell to Microsoft.

``Carl Icahn is in this to make a quick buck, so whatever helps him make money he'll be happy with,'' said Tran, who is based in Chicago and doesn't own shares of either company. ``What Carl Icahn definitely wants is an outright sale of Yahoo to Microsoft at some price higher than what it is now.''

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, fell 37 cents to $29.62 at 12:17 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo climbed 27 cents to $27.93, while Google advanced $4.60 to $584.67.

The new talks may bring Microsoft closer to a full acquisition of Yahoo, said Mark May, an analyst at Needham & Co. in New York. Today, he changed his recommendation on Yahoo's stock to buy. He had advised clients to hold on to the shares since April 2007.

Better Position

``Microsoft sees an opportunity where their negotiating position has improved,'' May said. ``They clearly have some very large shareholders on their side now and they realize that they can make some moves.''

Icahn, 72, owns 10 million shares and options to purchase 49 million more. He proposed a slate of board nominees last week including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former Viacom Inc. CEO Frank Biondi Jr. Icahn didn't return phone messages today.

Paulson said last week he would back Icahn's slate and that he was disappointed Yahoo didn't reach a deal with Microsoft. Paulson & Co. owned 50 million shares of Yahoo as of March. All 10 of Yahoo's directors are up for re-election at the annual meeting July 3.

Yahoo spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and Microsoft representative Frank Shaw didn't respond to requests for comment today. Google spokesman Matt Furman declined to comment.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft trail Mountain View, California- based Google in Internet search traffic. Together they account for about a third of total Internet searches in the U.S., or about half the share Google has, according to researcher ComScore Inc.

Microsoft's Options

The companies have several options to work together, said analysts including Tran, May and Jefferies & Co.'s Youssef Squali in New York. Yahoo may allow Microsoft to sell some of the ads that accompany Internet searches, with both sharing in the revenue. One company could sell its Internet search unit to the other, or the companies could unite them in a joint venture, the analysts said.

Microsoft will eventually have to buy all of Yahoo if it wants to compete with Google, said Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis. By July, Microsoft will reach an agreement to buy Yahoo, either with Yahoo's current board or with Icahn's replacements, he said.

``It's going to happen just because it has to happen,'' said Munster, who has a neutral rating on Yahoo shares. ``Microsoft needs it too much.''

Internet Operations

Microsoft is investing more in Europe and pursuing smaller acquisitions, Kevin Johnson, president of the Internet business, said yesterday in a memo to employees.

``The fact is that we are not where we want to be in this business yet and we've been in this position longer than we'd all like,'' Johnson said.

Since Microsoft's initial offer on Feb. 1, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang has tried to prove to investors his company can successfully compete without help from Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker.

Yahoo said in April that it would use Google's technology for placing advertisements next to relevant search results on a trial basis. Google made as much as 70 percent more in sales from each query at the end of last year, Yahoo has said.

People familiar with the talks said this month that Google and Yahoo are still examining a partnership. Coming to a similar deal with Microsoft may help Yahoo win approval from regulators for a partnership with Google, since Yahoo's search engine would also strengthen Microsoft's position in the market, Squali said.

``For Yahoo's board and management, it gets Microsoft off of their back and keeps the company independent,'' Squali said in a report today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Thomson in New York at Athomson6@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg.com: U.S.
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Lowe's profit drops 18% on housing-market malaise - MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Lowe's Cos., the No. 2 U.S. home-improvement retailer, said Monday that its first-quarter profit dropped 18%, hurt by the declining housing market and a spate of other economic worries that cut into consumers' discretionary spending. The company lowered its full-year outlook and said it's taking a close look at its store expansion pipeline.

Net income at Lowe's dropped to $607 million, or 41 cents a share, from $739 million, or 48 cents a share, in the year-earlier period, the Mooresville, N.C.-based company said. Sales fell 1.3% to $12 billion in the quarter, while same-store sales decreased 8.4%.

Lowe's said it expects a per-share profit of 54 cents to 59 cents for the second quarter and $1.45 to $1.55 for the year, on continued declines in comparable-store sales. In February, its outlook for the fiscal year ending Jan. 30 was pegged at $1.50 to $1.58 a share.

Analysts, on average, expected the company to earn 40 cents a share in the first quarter, 56 cents in the second quarter and $1.54 for the year, according to FactSet Research. First-quarter sales missed analysts' estimates of $12.4 billion, according to FactSet.

"No signs yet of a recovery," wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Baker. "We don't believe investors were looking for much improvement, but we have yet to see trends get 'less worse.'"

The challenging economic environment of the past six quarters continued into the first-quarter, leading Lowe's to miss its own sales plan, the company said. Cooler and wetter weather in the first two months of the quarter also dampened demand. See related commentary.

Lowe's said it is controlling payroll and other expenses and taking a closer look at its new-store expansion by either postponing some planned openings or walking away from some potential store prospects after some new stores missed the company's internal projections.

"The external pressures facing our industry will likely persist throughout 2008," said Chief Executive Robert Niblock on a conference call.
The company also is taking a "conservative" view on the Federal Reserve's interest-rate cuts as well as the stimulus rebate checks in light of rising costs that are facing consumers, Niblock said.

Home Depot, Lowe's larger rival, also has been hurt by the housing and economic downturns. Earlier this month, Home Depot said it would slow its new-store growth, abandoning plans to add about 50 U.S. stores to save cash for existing locations as part of its strategy to improve customer service and remodel stores after it had lost market share to Lowe's. See full story.
First-quarter gross margin at Lowe's narrowed to 34.69% from 34.99%. Total expenses rose to 26.59% of sales from 25.20%, as the company is on track to open about 120 stores this year.

"Expense control was outstanding," said Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Fassler. "Excellent cost and inventory control should blunt the [sales guidance] blow."

Of the company's stores that have been open at least a year, about 80% were located in markets experiencing housing declines, Lowe's said. California, Nevada, Arizona and the Pacific Northwest each posted double-digit drops in same-store sales, offsetting strong performance in markets such as Texas and Oklahoma, the company said. Florida and the Gulf Coast region, while also posting double-digit declines, showed some improvement.

Lowe's also has gained market share, even against the backdrop of rising food and fuel prices and housing-market malaise. Lowe's said it has gained market share in 15 of 19 product categories and expanded total market share by 0.7 percentage point.

"Less well-capitalized competitors are struggling during this downturn," said President Larry Stone on the call. End of Story

Lowe's profit drops 18% on housing-market malaise - MarketWatch
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Bloomberg.com: Worldwide

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economy will probably exit from a recession by the end of the next quarter as credit markets improve after a year of turmoil, according to a survey by the National Association for Business Economics.

The worst of the U.S. credit crunch and housing slump is about over, and growth will pick up to 2.1 percent in the second half, according to the poll of 52 professional forecasters taken April 17 to May 1. More than 60 percent of the economists surveyed predicted that businesses and consumers will find it easier to borrow in the final six months of the year.

The share of analysts who said the U.S. is in or will have a recession this year rose to 56 percent from 45 percent in February. They anticipate that the Federal Reserve's steepest interest-rate cuts in two decades, tax rebates, record exports and some stabilization in housing will lead to a recovery this quarter or next.

``We are most of the way through the downturn, or the worst of it,'' said Lynn Reaser, a Bank of America Corp. economist in Boston who chairs the economic survey committee. ``Recovery forces are in place and conditions should improve over the next year and a half.''

The worst housing recession in a quarter century, turmoil in financial markets and higher energy prices are taking a toll on current growth.

Second-Half Growth

The economists predicted the expansion will slow to an annual pace of 0.4 percent in the second quarter, following two straight periods of 0.6 percent gains. Second-half growth forecasts were cut to 2.1 percent from 2.8 percent in February. Still, about three-quarters of those predicting a recession said it will end in the second or third quarter.

The NABE survey points to gradual improvement into 2009, when U.S. gross domestic product may increase 2.7 percent, a forecast trimmed from 2.9 percent in the February survey.

``Although housing and credit markets will gradually loosen their grip, U.S. economic growth is expected to only slowly return to health,'' Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the group's president and chief economist at Ford Motor Co., said in a statement.

The growth projections were slightly higher than those in a Bloomberg News survey of economists taken May 2 to May 8. The Bloomberg survey predicted average GDP gains of 1.5 percent in the second half and a 2009 expansion rate of 2 percent.

Lower Rates

The Fed will keep its benchmark overnight lending rate between banks at 2 percent this year, and raise the rate to 3 percent by the end of 2009 as the central bank fights the threat of faster inflation, according to the NABE survey median.

Futures markets show traders expect the rate to hold at 2 percent through October. The Fed's next policy meeting is June 24-25.

Policy makers indicated last month they may take a breather after lowering the benchmark rate by 2.25 percentage points this year, the most aggressive reductions in two decades.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, speaking last week, said financial markets remain unsettled and the central bank will increase its auctions of cash to banks as needed. Markets remain ``far from normal,'' he told an Atlanta Fed conference in Sea Island, Georgia.

Stronger Dollar

The U.S. dollar is expected to gradually strengthen as the economy grows and the Fed raises rates. The survey predicted the dollar will advance to $1.50 per euro at the end of 2008 and $1.40 at the end of 2009. The U.S. currency reached a record low of $1.6019 on April 22.

Slowing growth didn't stop analysts from raising their inflation projections, the survey showed. The economists forecast the consumer price index will rise 3.1 percent in the final three months of 2008 from the same period a year before, compared with the 2.5 percent pace predicted in February.

Weakness in housing was cited as the greatest single cause for pushing the economy into a recession.

A recession hasn't been officially declared. The economy likely peaked in December or January and then started to decline, Martin Feldstein, a Harvard University professor and president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, said in an interview this month. The bureau's business cycle dating committee officially determines recessions.

The NABE panel was divided on how effective the tax rebates will be in stimulating consumer spending. Thirty-five percent said households will spend between one quarter and one half of the money, while 31 percent expected a majority of the rebates to be spent.

Bloomberg.com: Worldwide
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'Iron Man' still strong overseas - Entertainment News, International News, Media - Variety

“Iron Man” stayed golden in its third frame at the foreign box office with $25.6 million at more than 5,000 playdates, while “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” debuted powerfully with $20.7 million at 2,000 in a dozen markets.

As “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” waits in the wings, international multiplexes also saw solid overall biz from “What Happens in Vegas,” which continued to grab counterprogramming coin with $20 million at 4,200, declining only 20% in its soph sesh. But “Speed Racer” remained an underperfomer, falling 44% from its subpar launch to $7 million at 4,700.

With three films topping $20 million, the overseas market appears primed to see “Crystal Skull” deliver monstrous offshore grosses this weekend -- possibly even challenging the $251 million launch record set a year ago by “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

The success of “Iron Man” -- handled by Par in most overseas territories -- has already underlined the appetite for mega-franchise action fare in foreign markets. It’s become the year’s top Hollywood title with $206 million internationally and $428 million worldwide.

“Iron Man” posted impressive holdover biz with a decline of only 34% from its second frame. In the U.K., cooler temps helped as grosses slipped just 5% to $3.7 million, lifting the Brit cume past $25 million. Australian biz also held well, off 30% to $2.2 million, while South Korea declined 56% to $2 million for a $21.9 million cume.

Disney’s “Prince Caspian,” which won’t move into many markets until June, showed solid traction as it launched 33% above comparable markets for predecessor “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which wound up with an impressive $453 million offshore. “Prince Caspian” also delivered well compared with “Iron Man,” topping those launches by 14% in the same markets.

“Prince Caspian” posted its biggest grosses in Mexico with $7.5 million, 36% above the original, and in the booming Russian market with $5.6 million, 53% higher. South Korea matched the original with $3.5 million, while India jumped 57% to $935,000 and Malaysia rose 18% to $924,000.

Fox’s second frame of “What Happens in Vegas” showed impressive legs as U.K. grosses rose 22% to $3 million, German biz bounced up 36% to $2.6 million and Spanish biz declined 33% to $2.3 million while staying in first place.

Foreign cume for “What Happens in Vegas” has hit an impressive $55.1 million, led by $7 million in the U.K., $6.7 million in Spain and $6.6 million in Russia. International grosses are already $15 million ahead of domestic.

Warner Bros.’ “Speed Racer” led the rest of the pack, finishing a distant fourth with Brazil and Mexico the only markets to crack $1 million. The tentpole’s foreign cume has matched the Stateside total of $24.4 million, led by $4.3 million in South Korea and $4.1 million in Mexico.

Sony’s romantic comedy “Made of Honor” charmed its way to $5.7 million at 2,085 in 25 markets, led by a $1.5 million German launch and a $1 million Brazilian opening. Its gambling thriller “21” remained a player with $3.8 million at 1,415 to lift the foreign cume to $46 million.

Universal’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” took in $1.5 million at 694 as its third Brit frame rose 7% to $1.1 million. “Sarah” has cumed $21.8 million from 10 markets.

'Iron Man' still strong overseas - Entertainment News, International News, Media - Variety
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Big fund money and its effect on oil markets - May. 16, 2008

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

More people are pointing the finger at a new breed of investor for sending the price of a barrel of oil to nearly $130.
How far do you plan to travel this summer?
  • Within your state
  • Within the country
  • Outside the country
  • Your couch
America's Money: Gas crunch hits home America's Money: Gas crunch hits home America's Money: Gas crunch hits home
The record-high price of gasoline is putting a strain on American motorists - and spurring some to shift their habits. Here are their stories.
America's Money: In their own words America's Money: In their own words America's Money: In their own words
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- There's no question about it: A new breed of speculator is pouring money into the oil market. What's less certain is whether this new money is responsible for driving up prices or essential to a healthy market.

Many blame record prices on Wall Street investors new to the oil market, saying they're bidding up gas prices to artificially high levels - and soaking drivers.

As oil nears $130 a barrel, some say $10 to $70 of that price is due to Wall Street speculation.

But that's not the whole story. Nearly everyone agrees that speculators have always been essential to a functioning market and that oil prices could be much higher without them.

What's harder to understand is the effect of new speculators flowing into commodities from big-money funds like university endowments, pensions and indexes.

Some say they're a good influence. In addition to limiting demand, they make it easier to sell oil contracts and create a larger market where prices are less susceptible to big swings following individual trades - known as liquidity in financial speak. This camp says $130 oil is justified since demand is rising faster than supply.

Others say big-fund money is making it harder for traditional oil speculators to do their job. This camp says big funds distort traditional models used to predict prices and think $130 oil is a bubble ready to pop.

What is a speculator?

Traditionally, a futures speculator bets on the direction of commodity prices and then guarantees that commodity at that price to a client. This removes some of the risk - and greases the wheels of commerce.

Speculators originated in the food market, and were intended to give farmers a set price in the spring to buy seed, according to Peter Beutel, an oil analyst at Cameron Hanover.

For example, a speculator would offer a farmer $3.50 in April for a bushel of corn to be delivered and paid for in October - these are called futures contracts. The speculator hopes that by October corn will sell for $4, and he'll make money. The farmer can plant his fields certain that he's making $3.50 a bushel.

Conversely, a speculator might bet the price of corn will fall.

He might offer to sell a bushel to a corn bread maker at $3.50 in April for corn to be delivered in October. If corn falls to $3 by October, the speculator comes out on top. The deal allows the bread maker to make long term business decisions, like how many employees to hire.

Without this transparent marketplace, uncertainty would be priced into the product, resulting in higher costs for everyone.

Although the lines between producer, consumer and speculator have been blurred in recent years, this same dynamic is at work in today's oil and gas markets.

"We're trying to get some type of cost certainty," said Brad Samples, a commodities analyst at Summit Energy in Louisville, Ky.

Summit buys energy for clients who use lots of it. One client, Samples says, goes through about $15 million a year in diesel fuel, and it's Samples' job to make sure it gets a good deal at a consistent price.

For Samples, more money in fuel markets means more people willing to sell him a contract. He doesn't think speculators push prices artificially high, arguing that supply and demand support prices.

"All the focus on speculators being the problem misses the point," he said. "The point is: supplies are not growing as fast as demand. You need sharp price growth to bring down demand."

Making the right bet

When Samples buys a contract, he needs someone to sell it to him, usually a bank. To manage the financial risk, the bank will go out and sell that contract to someone else - in other words, a speculator.

Sometimes that person might be someone like George Zivic, managing partner at Almanac Capital, a commodity investment firm.

For him, the influx of big-fund money betting oil prices will move in one direction - in this case up - into the commodities market is a challenge.

Before the new money, price movements were more predictable. For example, in the spring gasoline usually rises in tandem with crude, and Almanac and other related firms would look to make their money by betting on the difference between the two.

This year that hasn't happened - oil prices have greatly outpaced gasoline - and that's made making money in this market more difficult. He blames some of the schism on big-fund money betting oil prices will only go up.

"When you have directional money, it makes the historical relationships distorted," he said. "There's no short term shortage of oil. $127 a barrel doesn't make sense."

Placing blame

Beutel, from the consultancy Cameron Hanover and a former NYMEX floor trader, goes even further in blaming big-fund money.

"We want to see them out, they have no respect for our markets at all," he said.

But Beutel doesn't blame these funds for wanting to diversify their portfolio by investing in oil.

If anyone is to blame, he says, it's the Federal Reserve, which has been predictably cutting interest rates since September to shore up credit markets. When interest rates fall, investors flock to commodities as an inflation hedge.

"The Fed tipped their hand," he said. "[The big funds] were basically told by [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke that this is where the money is."

And if the money is there, why wouldn't the big funds take advantage of it?

"We are following for us what is a prudent strategy to maximize investment returns, said Clark McKinley, a spokesman for CalPERS, California's pension fund for workers in the public sector. "Obviously, there's some unintended consequences."

Not everyone agrees big-fund money is playing a role in driving up prices, starting with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the government's own regulatory agency.

Economists at the CFTC have testified that after studying all the numbers on who is trading what, there is no evidence speculators of any kind are significantly driving up the price of crude.

'You can't just point the finger at speculators," said Michael Haigh, head of U.S. commodities research at the investment bank Société Générale and a former economist at the CFTC. "Fundamentally, the markets are where they are supposed to be."

Haigh said that big-money funds are not just dumping their money onto the market - only betting prices will go up. He and others say these funds are sophisticated investors and take a variety of positions in the market.

Deutsche Bank took a somewhat novel approach in investigating the role of speculative money.

Analysts there looked at the price of commodities that do not trade in a futures market and came to basically the same conclusion.

"The rally in non-exchange traded commodity prices since the end of 2002 has been similar if not greater in magnitude," the bank's analysts wrote in a research note. "We believe this refutes the claim that speculators have been the primary drivers of rising commodity prices during this cycle."

So what's to be done?

Members of Congress, their ears bent by angry motorists paying nearly $4 a gallon for gas, are considering increasing the amount of money investors have to put up front in order to buy oil futures.

Some say this may work, as a lot of the investor interest in commodities is due to the fact that they can essentially gamble with a million dollars worth of oil by putting up $100,000 or less of their own money. In the stock market, they'd need to put up $500,000.

But others say increasing these requirements - known as margin requirements - would merely drive oil trading into less regulated markets where information would be even harder to track.

The motorist organization AAA doesn't have an opinion on what Congress should do. But like many American drivers, they've certainly noticed that oil prices have shot up $50 a barrel since August at the same time that the stock market tanked, while the supply and demand picture for oil remained little changed.

"After Israel invaded Lebanon, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, all of these situations, we haven't seen prices rise to these levels," said AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom. "We have to wonder if the foundation behind these very high prices is nothing more than speculation."
Big fund money and its effect on oil markets - May. 16, 2008
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