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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Apple Says It Sold 5 Billion Songs; Could Movies Become A $100M Business? - washingtonpost.com

Apple ( NSDQ: AAPL) announced today that it has sold a total of about 5 billion songs, up from th 4 billion mark it announced in Jan this year. The more interesting bit is that it is now renting and purchasing over 50,000 movies every day, the company says. Apple has recently done deals with all of the major movie studios after a few years of trying to convince others besides Disney ( NYSE: DIS) to come onto the service. At this rate, it will have sold or rented about 18.25 million movies on an annualized basis.

Cynthia Brumfield does some basic calculations on the possible annual revenues for Apple: "iTunes movie sales are priced at $9.99 (for library titles) and $14.99 (for new releases). Rentals are priced at $2.99 (library) to $3.99 (new releases), with Apple TV HD versions of film rentals priced at $1 above the standard rental prices. Assuming that the average price of a sale/rental combined is around $6, then Apple is raking in around $110 million in movie revenue alone on an annual basis." While that isn't necessarily a huge amount, that is the amount that didn't exist before. It is also big in the online/digital video world.


This figure does not include TV shows, which is a much bigger business for Apple, which could bring in as much as $200 million in revenues this year.

Fortune: On the music side, this represents a significant acceleration in music sales. It took Apple (AAPL) nearly three years to sell its first billion songs (Feb 23, 2006), ten months to sell its second billion (Jan. 6, 2007), seven months to sell its third (July 31, 2007) and fourth billion (Feb. 27, 2008), and only three and a half months to sell its fifth (June 19, 2008).

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Hundreds swept up in mortgage fraud arrests - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON - More than 400 real estate industry players have been indicted since March — including dozens over the last two days — in a Justice Department crackdown on incidents of mortgage fraud nationwide that have contributed to the country's housing crisis.

The FBI put the losses to homeowners and other borrowers who were victims in the schemes at over $1 billion.

"Mortgage fraud and related securities fraud pose a significant threat to our economy, to the stability of our nation's housing market and to the peace of mind to millions of Americans," Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip said in a statement Thursday. The Justice Department and FBI planed to announce the cases at an afternoon news conference in Washington.

Since March 1, 406 people have been arrested in the sting dubbed "Operation Malicious Mortgage" that saw 144 cases across the country. Sixty people were arrested on Wednesday alone, including in Chicago, Miami, Houston and a dozen other regions policed by the FBI.

In a separate sweep, two former Bear Stearns managers in New York were indicted Thursday, becoming the first executives to face criminal charges related to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

Across the country, reports of mortgage fraud have soared over the past year as the subprime mortgage market collapsed and defaults and foreclosures soared.

Banks reported nearly 53,000 cases of suspected mortgage fraud last year, up from more than 37,000 a year earlier and about 10 times the level of reports in 2001 and 2002, according to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

The most common type of mortgage fraud was misstatement of income or assets, followed by forged documents, inflated appraisals and misrepresentation of a buyer's intent to occupy a property as a primary residence.

Over the last several months, the FBI has been investigating an estimated 1,300 mortgage fraud cases — including 19 involving subprime lending practices by U.S. financial institutions.

The Justice Department also is expected to ask Congress for more money to help combat mortgage fraud as part of a larger funding request to curb white collar crime and violent crime.

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Acquisitions fuel profit, sales growth in Smucker's fiscal '08 - Business First of Columbus:

A flurry of acquisitions in the past fiscal year bolstered top- and bottom-line gains for J.M. Smucker Co. despite a fourth-quarter dip in profit, the company told investors Thursday.

The Orrville-based company said its earnings for the fourth quarter ended April 30 totaled $37.1 million, or 67 cents a share, down 13 percent from $42.5 million, or 75 cents a share, a year ago. Part of the decline stems from the absence of a gain on peanut-butter sales, which jumped last fourth quarter when Smucker grabbed more market share as a competitor temporarily left the market.

The quarter also includes a $4 million insurance settlement following storm damage at a Tennessee distribution center and $2.08 million in merger and integration costs, which hit nearly $8 million for the year.

Smucker over the past fiscal year struck several acquisition deals, including the $248 million purchase of Gahanna's Eagle Family Foods Inc. The company also made deals to buy frozen fruit brand Europe's Best Inc. and the Carnation Milk brand, both of Canada, and Knott's Berry Farm.

A $3.3 billion all-stock deal to buy the Folgers coffee line from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. is pending and should close in the fourth quarter of 2008, the company said.

Fourth-quarter sales increased 20 percent to $590 million from $493.5 million a year ago. The company attributed more than half its sales growth to acquisitions.

Smucker said it suffered in the fourth quarter from margin-squeezing higher raw material costs, mainly for soybean oil and wheat. The cost of sales jumped to 69 percent of revenue in the fourth quarter, up from an unusually low 64 percent a year ago.

Full-year profit grew 8 percent to $170.4 million, or $3 a share, versus $157.2 million, or $2.76 a share, in fiscal 2007.

Revenue for the year increased 17 percent to $2.52 billion, up from $2.15 billion the year before. Acquisitions added about $280 million to sales.

Smucker (NYSE:SJM) makes and markets jams, jellies and other food brands, including Pillsbury, Eagle Brand and Hungry Jack. The company employs more than 3,000.

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U.S. weekly jobless claims fall 5,000 to 381,000 UPDATE - Forbes.com

WASHINGTON (Thomson Financial) - The number of individuals filing new claims for unemployment insurance fell slightly in the latest week, but remain high enough to suggest the labor market is still in contraction, economists say.

The number of first-time claims filed in the week ending June 14 fell by 5,000 to 381,000. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters IFR Markets were expecting claims to fall further, to 375,000.

Despite the smaller-than-expected decline in the latest week, the level of initial claims are still in recession territory, 'at least if the experience of 2001 is a guide,' said Ian Shepherdson of High Freqency Economics. He noted that the eight-week moving average of claims in early March -- the very beginning of the recession in that year -- totalled just 362,000, with claims rising rapidly thereafter.

Shepherdson says he doesn't expect that to happen in the current downturn, 'but the key point here is that the pace of layoffs is now quite high, with no prospect of any reversal or even a levelling-off in the near future.'

Even so, claims 'remain low enough to suggest the contraction in the economy has thus far been shallow,' said Tony Crescenzi of Miller Tabak.

Meanwhile, the four-week moving average for initial claims increased by 3,250 to 375,250, the highest level since April 12. Economists prefer the four-week moving average because it smooths out fluctuations in weekly data.

'The slow and steady creep of the four-week moving average inside the claims series does not imply at this point that the claims series will see a positive correction in the aftermath of the settlement of the American Axel strike,' said Joseph Brusuelas of Merk Investments.

The massive strike at the General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) auto parts dealer had contributed to a rise in claims earlier this year.

For the week ending June 7, the number of individuals continuing to receive unemployment insurance fell by 76,000 to 3.060 million, the lowest level since April 26. Economists were expecting claims to increase to 3.150 million from the preceding week's originally reported 3.139 million. That figure has been downwardly revised by 3,000 claims.

'While the big drop in continuing claims is positive news, there is no clear evidence yet that continuing claims are levelling off,' said Abiel Reinhart of JPMorgan Chase (nyse: JPM - news - people ).

The four-week moving average for continuing unemployment claims decreased by 2,000 to 3.096 million.


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Bloomberg.com: Worldwide

June 19 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil fell more than $3 a barrel on speculation demand will decline, after China said it will raise fuel prices starting tomorrow.

China, the second-biggest fuel consumer after the U.S., will increase gasoline and diesel prices by 1,000 yuan ($145.50) a ton, the National Development and Reform Commission said. The increases represent a 17 percent gain for gasoline and 18 percent for diesel. Gasoline, natural gas and heating oil also fell.

``The announcement of the Chinese fuel price increase sent the market sharply lower,'' said Michael Fitzpatrick, vice president for energy risk management at MF Global Ltd. in New York. ``This should have a big impact on demand.''

Crude oil for July delivery fell $3.18, or 2.3 percent, to $133.50 a barrel at 12:46 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures climbed to a record $139.89 on June 16. Prices are 93 percent higher than a year ago.

Brent crude oil for August settlement declined $3.02, or 2.2 percent, to $133.42 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices climbed to a record $139.32 on June 16.

China will also raise jet-fuel prices by 1,500 yuan a ton, or 25 percent, tomorrow, the top policy planner said. On July 1, China will increase electricity prices by an average 0.025 yuan a kilowatt-hour, or 4.7 percent. China will impose temporary caps on thermo-coal prices until the end of this year.

The government is considering a so-called environmental tax, a new levy on auto fuels and changes to existing taxes on natural-resource use, Fu Jing, deputy director of policy and legislation at the State Administration of Taxation, said at the Energy Efficiency Asia conference in Beijing today.

Developing Countries

``The developing countries, in particular China, have been driving demand growth,'' said Eric Wittenauer, an analyst at Wachovia Securities in St. Louis. ``Subsidies and price caps insulate consumers from the full impact of higher prices. By rolling them back, some of the insulation is reduced and we can expect to see a demand response.''

Oil demand will fall 240,000 barrels to 48.71 million barrels a day among the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. Energy Department said in a report on June 10. The OECD doesn't include developing countries such as China.

Chinese consumption is expected to rise 440,000 barrels to an average 8.02 million barrels a day this year, according to the report.

India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have increased fuel prices and reduced subsidies this year, a move that may cut Asian demand and slow global oil-consumption growth.

Jeddah Meeting

Oil rallied for the first time in four days yesterday as President George W. Bush said he doesn't expect pledges of higher supplies to emerge from a June 22 meeting of producers and consumers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia plans to increase crude-oil production by 200,000 barrels a day, according to a statement from the kingdom's embassy in London.

The statement didn't specify the timing of the increase. Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi pledged on May 16 to boost output by 300,000 barrels a day in June. The country has since indicated it plans to announce a further addition at the Jeddah meeting.

Gasoline for July delivery fell 11.82 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $3.3485 a gallon in New York. Futures reached a record $3.5762 a gallon on June 16. Heating oil for July delivery dropped 9.77 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $3.7623 a gallon in New York.

Natural gas in New York declined after an Energy Department report showed that U.S. inventories advanced 57 billion cubic feet to 1.943 trillion cubic feet last week. Analysts forecast an increase of 58 billion cubic feet, according to the median of 23 estimates compiled by Bloomberg News.

Natural gas for July delivery fell 41.9 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $12.122 per million British thermal units in New York. Futures are up 54 percent from a year ago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Shenk in New York at mshenk1@bloomberg.net.

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China to Dramatically Raise Gas, Diesel Prices - washingtonpost.com

SHANGHAI, June 19--After resisting pressure to hike fuel prices for seven-and-a-half months, China--the world's second-largest consumer of oil--said late Thursday it would dramatically raise the cost of gasoline and diesel.

China's chief economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, said gasoline and diesel would go up by 1000 yuan or $145 per ton -- 17 and 18 percent respectively. Aviation fuel, meanwhile, would rise by 1,500 yuan or $218 per ton.

The official New China News Agency said electricity prices would also be raised for most businesses, but residential homes and some industries would be exempt.

For the past year, Beijing has been struggling with how to deal with rising global oil prices while reining in record inflation at home.

In November, the government allowed fuel prices to jump by 11 percent to 5,980 yuan per ton for gasoline and 5,520 yuan per ton for diesel. At that time, the government pledged to keep those prices and prices for other daily necessities, such as pork and cooking oil, frozen for the near future.


China's artificially regulated oil prices have been blamed for spurring shortages in the domestic market as oil companies have hoarded supplies and refineries have stopped processing in order to avoid losses. At the previous prices, domestic refineries were losing more than $100 for each ton of crude they processed.

The situation has caused China's oil company stocks to tank in recent months. For instance, shares of PetroChina, which in November became the world's first trillion-dollar company by one measure of stock market capitalization, is now trading at half its peak.

The fuel price increase is the latest in a string of measures China has taken to cut its use of fossil fuels and raise energy efficiency. The soaring cost of energy, along with environmental damage due to high use of oil and coal, is threatening to derail the country's double-digit economic growth.

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XM, Sirius shares fall after Goldman price target cut | Markets | Hot Stocks | Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - XM Satellite and Sirius Satellite Radio shares tumbled on Thursday after Goldman Sachs slashed its price target on the two companies, who hope their proposed merger will soon pass its last regulatory hurdle.

XM shares fell $1.84, or about 17.7 percent, to $8.54, and Sirius stock fell 33 cents, or about 13.5 percent, to $2.11 in active morning Nasdaq trading.

Goldman Sachs cut its six-month targets on Sirius to $1.75 from $2.25, and reduced its price target on XM TO $6.50 from $11.50. Goldman kept its "sell" rating on XM and "conviction sell" rating on Sirius.

The new outlook comes in the wake of news that U.S. Federal Communications Commission chief Kevin Martin supports the companies' merger plan, leading some to think that the deal's completion may come within weeks.

"While the FCC draft circulation signaling the merger's likely ultimate conditioned approval generated a short-term lift to the stocks, we think any 'imminent merger' related strength has passed," Goldman said.

In addition, Goldman said that the companies declining cash flow is "insufficient to justify valuations even giving credit for merger synergies."

"With core demand for satellite radio falling amongst the younger demographics, versus rapid increases for MP3 players and other new technologies ... we see long-term risk to the outlook," the note said.

(Reporting by Franklin Paul, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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5M haven't applied for stimulus checks yet - Jun. 19, 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- About 5 million people who do not normally file income-tax returns have yet to apply for their stimulus checks, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman told the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday.

The IRS had sent notices in March to an estimated 20 million recipients of Social Security and some veterans benefits, who were eligible to receive stimulus checks, said Shulman. Only about 15 million of them have filed returns or are listed on somebody else's return as a dependent.

The IRS began mailing out stimulus checks April 28 - up to $600 for individuals and $300 per child for families. As of June 13, the agency had sent out around $63.8 billion to 76 million Americans, according to Shulman. The IRS is on track to send out a total of 110 million payments by July 11. However, applying for benefits requires that individuals file an income tax return.

People whose main income is Social Security or veterans benefits may not be required to file a federal tax return.

"Communicating with this population presents a significant challenge, given the complications of age and disability," Nina Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate, told the committee.

Olson cited lack of mobility, lack of access to or familiarity with the Internet, confusing information and fear of contact with the IRS as possible barriers to filing.

The IRS kept about 320 offices open March 29, a Saturday, and cooperated with organizations such as AARP and United Way of America to help those who wouldn't ordinarily file fill out federal tax forms. The IRS plans to send out a revised package later this summer, which is easier to read and contains a 1040A form, to those who have not yet filed.

The IRS said it would continue to work with other organizations as it reaches out to veteran and retiree communities through the summer and helps coordinate free face-to-face tax preparation services for them. To top of page

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