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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Las Vegas Now | Poor Economy Delays Las Vegas Echelon Project

The slumping economy has taken a toll on a massive construction project that was supposed to help boost the Las Vegas economy. Work on the Echelon Hotel- Casino stopped Friday and won't start back up for at least a year.

The delay for Echelon is the first huge blow to the future of Las Vegas because of the slow economy. 800 construction workers were told to stop working because Echelon has been placed on hold.

"Clearly, as we look at it, we think in the next nine to 12 months -- we think in the next three to four quarters -- that we will be at a place where we can restart the project," said Boyd Gaming President and CEO Keith Smith.

SLIDESHOW: Poor Economy Delays Echelon Project

Smith made the public announcement at the release of their quarterly earnings report. He says this has nothing to do with Boyd Gaming as a company, but how the slow economy affected the minority partners on the project.

Morgan's Hotel Group committed to building two boutique hotels, but no one would agree to loan them the money for their part.

General Growth Properties was building the mall and could not sign high end stores to long term leases. Smith says that forced Boyd to delay Echelon, "It's interesting. When you turn the clock back a year, you could have never guessed that we would be in this position a year later."

Smith adds waiting about a year will hopefully loosen investment money. Without that money, the third wave of new jobs in Las Vegas will have to wait.

Echelon Delay Could Have Major Economic Impact

Encore opens in December, planning to hire 5,300 people. In 2009, Project CityCenter opens employing 12,000 people. But the 10,000 new jobs at Echelon set for 2010 will have to wait.

"We began to notify the workers and contractors this morning -- having conversations with them. We will be winding down with them as quickly as possible," said Smith.

Some work will continue for the next year, but only to make sure that the equipment stays secure on the construction site.

Smith believes that by 2011, when it's now scheduled to open, the economy should be in a full up-swing.

Boyd Gaming is in the process of renegotiating with Morgan's and General Growth Properties. Because they could not make financing, their contracts with Boyd Gaming are up in September.

General Growth Properties released earnings Thursday. In their call with investors they alluded to this problem. The company owns four other properties in Las Vegas.

The President and CEO says the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian is doing very well. Stores are making an average of $1,200 a square foot. The Fashion Show Mall on the Strip is making about $1,100 a square foot. But the newly opened Shoppes at the Palazzo are struggling. Many of the stores have still not opened.

General Growth's newest property, the Shoppes at Summerlin Centre, has also been put on hold. By waiting a year to open, General Growth hopes to have 90-percent of the shoppes rented.

Profit at Sun Microsystems Falls 73 Percent - NYTimes.com

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Profit at Sun Microsystems, the computer server maker, declined 73 percent in the most recent quarter as slumping sales to big American companies and reorganization charges weighed on the server and software maker.

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Pedro Armestre/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways.

The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., also revealed plans Friday to expand its stock buyback program by $1 billion, a sign that Sun believes its shares, which have fallen by 50 percent over the last nine months, are undervalued and poised to rebound.

Wall Street did not share that optimism.

Sun’s shares sank 12.3 percent, to $9.32, on the company’s worse-than-expected guidance, which indicated that the pressures that hurt Sun in the April-June period, its fourth quarter, are affecting the current quarter.

Sun said before the market opened that it expected a “slight” sales decline in its first quarter, which ends in September, and indicated it most likely would not turn a profit. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting flat sales and a profit of 11 cents a share in this quarter.

The Goldman Sachs analysts David Bailey and Min Park said in a note to clients that Sun’s results supply “another piece of evidence that the problems the company faces have no short-term fixes, and we would continue to avoid the shares.”

Sun blamed weakness in the American economy, which has caused some of its biggest customers to cut spending, and the sale of fewer higher-end servers, which carry better profit margins. Sun faces intense competition in that market from I.B.M. and Hewlett-Packard.

Sun earned $88 million, or 11 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $329 million, or 36 cents a share, in the period a year ago.

Excluding one-time charges, Sun earned 35 cents a share.

Sales were $3.78 billion, down from $3.84 billion last year.

Reuters Business Summary - washingtonpost.com

Small Florida bank is 8th U.S. failure this year

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bank regulators closed a small Florida-based bank on Friday, the eighth U.S. bank to fail this year under pressure from a weak economy and a credit crisis precipitated by falling home prices. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp said First Priority Bank had $259 million in assets and $227 million in deposits and its failure will cost the federal fund that insures deposits an estimated $72 million.

S&P emails slammed mortgage debt products: report

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Analysts at Standard & Poor's Rating Services warned against mortgage-related debt products in internal e-mails that, in one case, called the complex financial deals "ridiculous," the Wall Street Journal reported in its weekend edition. The Journal cited a draft revision of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report on bond-rating firms that was first released on July 8.


Yahoo board wins solid shareholder backing in vote

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc's (YHOO.O) board of directors won strong backing from shareholders at its annual meeting on Friday, with Jerry Yang, the company's embattled CEO, receiving 85 percent of the vote in his favor. Investors holding nearly 76 percent of Yahoo's 1.38 billion shares gave solid votes in favor of all nine current directors, in what represents an endorsement of their tough stance with Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) in talks on a merger or partial sale.

Carrefour denies report it looking for new chief

PARIS (Reuters) - French supermarket chain Carrefour (CARR.PA) denied on Saturday that it had hired headhunters to seek a replacement for Jose Luis Duran, its chief executive. The Financial Times quoted an unnamed prominent businessman as saying he had been approached by a headhunter before a July 28 shareholder meeting called to approve a simplification in the management structure.

U.S. Vehicle Sales Fall 13.2% Amid High Gas Prices and Tight Credit - NYTimes.com

Vehicle sales in the United States fell last month to their lowest level in 16 years, as consumers continued to shun large trucks because of high gas prices, and tight credit kept less creditworthy customers off lots.

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Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor, via Associated Press

A Ford plant in Oakville, Ontario. The automaker reported that sales in the United States fell 15 percent in July from a year ago.

Sales were down 13.2 percent, at a time when the companies had expected to begin seeing an improvement.

Instead, the five largest automakers each reported sales declines on Friday. Sales fell 26.1 percent at General Motors, the largest car company, while Chrysler, which used to be the third-largest, reported a 28.8 percent decline and came within a few thousand sales of falling to sixth place. The Ford Motor Company posted a 14.7 percent decline.

Together, the three Detroit automakers accounted for just 42.7 percent of the vehicle market last month, selling about 150,000 fewer vehicles than they had a year earlier.

The declines in the United States market affected foreign automakers too.

Toyota Motor reported an 11.9 percent decline, while Honda, which builds fewer trucks than its rivals and was the only large automaker to report a sales increase for the first half of the year, said its July sales decreased 1.6 percent. Nissan’s sales rose 8.5 percent on strong demand for its small cars.

As recently as this spring, executives in Detroit forecast that auto sales would rebound in the second half of 2008, as consumers spent their federal rebate checks and overcame difficulties in the housing market. But the July sales figures suggest that will not be the case.

In fact, the industry’s annualized sales rate of 12.55 million was its lowest since April 1992, showing that the market is continuing to deteriorate.

Soaring borrowing costs for the automakers’ financing arms and other lenders have led to higher automotive loan rates and tighter credit standards, which have cut sharply into sales. G.M. said it is losing 10,000 sales a month that it used to get from customers with below-average credit ratings.

“In the next several months, or even the next year I would say, the unfolding credit situation that customers are facing in dealerships will take center stage,” said James D. Farley, Ford’s marketing chief. “A lot more creativity has to take place in the finance and insurance office to sell a car now.”

Meanwhile, leases are becoming significantly harder to obtain, with Chrysler no longer offering leases through its financing arm.

G.M. and Ford said on Friday that they will cut back on leasing but remain committed to that business.

Falling sales of sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks have caused resale values of those vehicles to plummet, and that has turned many leases into huge money losers for the automakers. Unprofitable leases led to write-downs of $2.1 billion for Ford and $716 million for G.M.’s financing arm, the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, which it partly owns. GMAC this week halted subsidies for leases in Canada.

“All the risk, all the liability and all the expense is being put onto the consumer with this move away from leasing,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with the research firm Global Insight. “There may be unintended consequences to this move, and they may be unpleasantly surprised that consumers walk away and go someplace else.”

About 20 percent of customers lease vehicles, according to J. D. Power & Associates’ Power Information Network. Mark LaNeve, G.M.’s vice president for North American sales and marketing, said G.M. hoped to cut leasing so that it accounted for between 10 and 15 percent of its business.

“It’s a move that we have to make to reduce our risk in the marketplace,” said Mr. LaNeve. “If the industry can see its way through this, it’s going to give us much higher quality of sale and a much higher profit per vehicle.”

Chrysler said Friday that it would offer 72-month financing deals so that customers could buy a car with monthly payments similar to leases to ease the transition away from leasing.

Ford estimated that total light vehicle sales this year would be 13.7 million to 14.2 million, a considerable drop from the first half’s annualized rate of 15 million. In 2007, automakers sold more than 16.1 million vehicles in the United States.

Ford said that its car sales were up 7.8 percent last month, but that sales of S.U.V.’s, a segment that used to generate huge profits for all three Detroit automakers, plunged 54.4 percent. G.M. sold 18.9 percent fewer cars and 34.7 percent fewer light trucks.

At Toyota, car sales were roughly flat because of shortages of some models, while sales of pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s dropped 27 percent.

Summer is typically a strong season for the automakers, as they unload their remaining inventory from the old model year and begin selling new vehicles. But $4-a-gallon gas and a sluggish economy have kept many consumers who might normally be in the market for a new car away from dealerships.