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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Miranda Richardson: ‘I hate our sneering attitude to success’

Category : Business

Miranda Richardson is one of Britain’s leading actors, and this year is chair of judges for the Women’s prize for fiction. On one thing she is clear: leave Hilary Mantel alone, she’s brilliant

Miranda Richardson was fully primed for a fight. Ahead of the recent meeting to decide the shortlist for the Women’s prize for fiction – previously the Orange prize – the actor, chair of this year’s judges, had her fists balled tight in defence of Hilary Mantel and her novel Bring Up the Bodies. Over the past six months, as Mantel racked up her second win in the Booker prize and her first in the Costa, before adding the David Cohen award – sometimes known as the “British Nobel” – to her haul last month, Richardson noticed a growing disdain for the writer’s success, a swirling bitterness. “I so despised the backchat that I heard in relation to Bring Up the Bodies,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “I picked up a very negative vibe, and it was very distasteful to me.”

There have been increasing murmurs that Mantel doesn’t need another prize, that less well-known writers could use the veneration instead. This undercurrent bubbled up ferociously in February, when an excellent, perceptive speech Mantel had given on society’s treatment of royalty was selectively quoted in the tabloids, her comments about the Duchess of Cambridge described as vicious and venomous. (These articles conveniently ignored the essay’s conclusion, which called for everyone “to back off and not be brutes” to Kate.) The hullabaloo was used by some as an excuse to kick Mantel in the most personal terms, to bring up her weight and infertility; an attempt, said the author later, to

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From Batman to Iron Man: the super-rich superheroes | Michael Moran

Category : Business

Money is the real superpower as vendettas dominate plotlines – when did these guys stop championing the oppressed?

It’s 75 years to the week (give or take, comics haven’t always had precise issue dates) that the first Superman comic hit the newsstands.

While he wasn’t entirely unprecedented, Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 was a watershed moment. In short order dozens of caped imitators were launched to exploit the reading public’s immense appetite for stories of strong men in tights punching lumps out of one another.

Interestingly though, Superman’s earliest foes weren’t giant robots or genetically modified supercriminals. That first story – Superman: Champion Of The Oppressed – saw the illegal Kryptonian immigrant right a miscarriage of justice, put an end to a domestic abuse case and strike terror into the heart of an unscrupulous political lobbyist.

The simple farm boy from Kansas was morally grounded in that same post-Depression sense of moral rectitude that informed Preston Sturges or John Steinbeck.

Fast forward 75 years and superheroes are bigger news than ever. But they aren’t just regular Joes with a talent. The two biggest box-office stories right now are billionaire playboy, industrialist and crime-fighter Bruce Wayne and billionaire playboy, inventor and retired arms dealer Tony Stark. Batman and Iron Man respectively.

The plot of the first Iron Man movie was centred on a boardroom battle between Stark and his rival, Obadiah Stane. The second focused on a business rivalry between Stark and a rival arms manufacturer, Justin Hammer. Expect more corporate shenanigans in chapter 3, due next week.

Similarly Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s feted relaunch of Gotham City’s crimebusting vigilante, involved a corporate sellout from within Bruce Wayne’s own company. There was more of the same in the concluding part of Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

So when did popular culture grow up and fall in love with the military industrial complex?

In part, the recasting of billionaires as supermen is down to the current trend for realism. Money Supermarket threw together some figures on how much it might cost to become a superhero. Batman came out at around $690,000,000. The price of becoming Iron Man was an even more impressive $1,600,000,000.

Now, those numbers are fanciful estimates rooted in the weird science of superhero world, but they’re probably in the right order of magnitude. Until we find a planet populated by creatures who can fly and shoot lasers from their eyes, or an interstellar police force armed with near-omnipotent jewellery, money is the only real superpower.

Of course, billionaires aren’t the only heroes of hit superhero flicks. There’s also The Hulk (scientist employed by the US military), Captain America (super-soldier created by the US military), Hawkeye and Black Widow (assassins employed by a US-dominated covert military force) and Thor (a god).

And that was just The Avengers.

Marvel also devised Spider-Man, but his adventures are often surprisingly domestic in nature. He spends more time disciplining family friends who have morphed into lizards or goblins than standing up to slum landlords. Marvel’s X-Men do, to their credit, seem to care about events beyond their immediate social circle.

DC Comics has enjoyed fewer cinema successes than its great rival Marvel. Its only recent live-action superhero flick apart from the Batman films featured Green Lantern – a test-pilot employed by a US defence contractor who became a sort of space cop.

All that may well change in June when Man Of Steel, a second attempt at rebooting the Superman franchise, reaches cinemas. Plot details are still sketchy, but the principal antagonist seems to be exiled Kryptonian warlord General Zod.

There’s a skein of New Testament self-sacrifice running through many Superman stories, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw an element of that here. But as it currently stands Man Of Steel does feel as if it might concern a super-powered vendetta where the “little man” is irrelevant except as cannon fodder.

Don’t misinterpret my angle here. I love this kind of film. There’s barely a superhero flick that I haven’t seen and at least partly enjoyed. But just for a change of pace it would be nice to see the supermen stop fighting among themselves and becoming Champions Of The Oppressed again.

JCPenney fighting for survival

Category : Business, Stocks

The troubled retailer hired the Blackstone Group to help it raise $1 billion in equity. Several private equity groups are looking at JCPenney’s books.

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Cancel the Apocalypse: The New Path to Prosperity by Andrew Simms – review

Category : Business

A radical solution to the west’s damaging obsession with economic growth has depressing implications

With its cover illustration of a giant thumb raised approvingly over an image of the sun – and upbeat, call-to-arms title – Andrew Simms’s book seems to exude confidence in our ability to overcome extreme adversity. Perhaps best known as the author of Tescopoly, a withering attack on the supermarket chain, Simms believes long-cherished economic principles are to blame for impending environmental ruin and prescribes an overhaul of modern-day lifestyles to stave off cataclysm. But some of his recommendations are so radical that readers may finish this book feeling gloomier about the planet’s prospects than before.

Simms’s main thesis is that the relentless pursuit of economic growth – measured in terms of an increase in a country’s gross domestic product – is environmentally damaging and based on a shibboleth of mainstream, “neoliberal” economists. In a developed economy with a relatively stable population, such as Britain, growth no longer generates improvements in wellbeing and life expectancy, but continues to exert pressure on natural resources and fuels global warming. A few establishment figures have publicly expressed this opinion, including Adair Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, but for the vast majority such thinking seems pure heresy.

Simms attributes this largely to habit. The history of developed countries is one of economic growth, as living standards have risen and populations bloomed. The systems that have taken root are geared to ensure this growth continues in perpetuity, regardless of the cost. Having denounced the conventional wisdom, and explained the rationale behind it, Simms argues that societies can prosper in other, more sustainable ways. Encouraging people to behave more like “citizens” – a word that has been steadily falling out of use over the past century – and less like “consumers”, he goes on to address the related apocalyptic threats, from our addiction to flying to our dependence on fossil fuels.

This is a sprawling, ambitious book, chock-full of bold ideas about our capacity to lead greener and more fruitful lives. Where the author succeeds is in conveying the magnitude of the problems we face, making it hard to fault his judgment that society is in need of an urgent fix. Simms also has a laudable go at debunking the central tenet of free-market thinkers that human beings are instinctively selfish creatures, arguing this is neither consistent with the findings of scientific research nor to everyone’s ultimate advantage. For evidence of the latter, look to widening income inequality in Britain, set to hit Victorian levels by 2030 if the current trend continues.

Simms is on riskier footing when in manifesto mode, and may provoke a backlash from the mainstream economists he derides. In straightforward, traditional terms, the alternative to growth is stagnation or decline, and economies in these states are often bedevilled by social unrest and political instability. Simms calls for greater focus on the “quality” of economic activity, and a rekindling of community values, but readers may be unconvinced such nebulous measures represent a happy substitute. Similarly, in tackling the “productivity trap” – the drive for increased output with fewer workers that is usually offset through economic growth – he talks up health and education, where cutbacks rarely have the desired, gainful effect. Essential as these sectors are, any notion that economies can be more reliant on them may strike some as fanciful.

Nevertheless, crises demand dramatic remedies. Wartime rationing is used as an example of how society previously rose to what may have initially seemed an insurmountable challenge. Could a similar policy combat overconsumption today? Simms makes an often compelling case for its introduction, but that is unlikely to make it much more palatable.

E-books added to inflation basket

Category : World News

E-books have been added to the basket of goods used to calculate the UK’s rate of inflation, but champagne loses its fizz.

Continued here: E-books added to inflation basket

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Supersize v undersize: food portions and obesity

Category : Business

Manufacturers have to list calories, fat and sugar on food labels, but their ‘portion size game’ hides a shocking truth contributing to our obesity epidemic

In 2008 Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, and her co-author David Ludwig published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association directly questioning whether the western food industry could play a constructive role in solving the obesity epidemic. Long-time foes of the junk food merchants, Nestle and Ludwig accepted that the food producers’ priority was “to make financial returns to stockholders”.

However, they calculated that the US food market was then supplying a staggering 3,900 calories per head/per day to the American public – nearly twice their energy needs. To keep (and increase) their own market share, fast food outlets soon hit on the obvious: they launched a “supersizing” war – outbidding each other to offer customers ever bigger portions first for their dollar, and not much later, for

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The Last Days of Detroit by Mark Binelli – review

Category : Business

Detroit native Mark Binelli’s account of the decline of the city mixes despair with faint hope

The dramatic decline of Detroit, once America’s fourth largest and most productive city, has been captured of late in several photography books, most notably The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. This pictorial sub-genre – decay rendered formally beautiful – has prompted some critics to lament the rise of “ruin porn”, which is, in some way, to try to ignore the end-of-empire romance of the place in all its ghostly grandeur and emptiness.

“For all the local complaints about ruin porn,” writes Mark Binelli, a former Rolling Stone reporter, “outsiders were not alone in their fascination. Among my friends and acquaintances, Phil staged secret, multi-course gourmet meals… in abandoned buildings… John and his buddies played ice hockey on the frozen floors of decrepit factories… Travis was hired to shoot suburban wedding photographs in the ruins of the old Packard plant.”

Binelli, a native of Detroit, is pretty easy-going about this kind of thing – he even uses one of Marchand and Meffre’s evocative photographs of a once opulent, now crumbling downtown Detroit interior on the cover of his book. Nevertheless, for all his reasonableness, The Last Days of Detroit is a sustained counterblast to the received wisdom that the city is a place devoid of hope and doomed to a terminal, post-industrial decline. It is not the angry book one might have expected from someone who grew up “just outside of Detroit” in the 1980s and has recently moved back there to a spacious apartment in an edgy neighbourhood, more a restrained attempt to come to terms with what has happened to the city he so obviously loves.

How, though, to describe that city today? Back in the 1980s, when Binelli was coming of age, Detroit was the backdrop to two popular films, the dystopian science-fiction fantasy Robocop, and the only slightly more believable Eddie Murphy vehicle Beverly Hills Cop. Now, though, a great swathe of the inner city looks like the setting dreamed up by the late JG Ballard. Detroit’s once ornate theatres, concert halls and civic buildings are derelict and decaying, its open spaces sprout prairie grasses and wild flowers, and its remaining houses are often covered in creepers and climbing shrubs that emerge, triffid-like, from chimneys and broken skylights.

Detroit is broken seemingly beyond repair. Once the uncrowned capital of industrialised America, the fabled Motor City where Henry Ford created the first mass-produced car, its decline is stark and wondrous: some 70,000 abandoned buildings, an alarming crime rate that includes around 1,100 shootings a year, and a dramatically declining population that has fallen from 2 million in the early 1950s to just below 900,000.

Binelli traces the city’s dramatic history, its often tumultuous mix of ultra-capitalist entrepreneurial swagger and deep corruption, the simmering racial tensions that first exploded in 1833 in a riot against slavery, and again in 1967, when around 3,000 buildings burned for several days and 43 people were killed. And, against that, he hymns Detroit’s rich pop cultural history: Tamla Motown, the first and greatest black-owned hit factory; the radical proto-punk of 1960s rockers the MC5; the strange ball of contradictions that is Eminem.

It is a story of extremes, mapped out by a restrained, clear-headed guide who loves the city as much as he is baffled by it. The book is sprawling in parts as befits its subject, and the most enthralling parts are the most journalistic, not least Binelli’s detailed delineation of a double murder that shocks in its grisly details, but that went all but ignored by every other reporter in town.

The murder case seems to sum up something about Detroit, where people often seem too beleaguered by circumstance or worn down by political posturing and attendant corruption to realise how bad things are. But, for all that, there is hope, even amid the rise of the “ruin porn” industry. Artists and bohemians are moving back into the city, attracted by low rents and big spaces – even if there are no shops or amenities for miles. Since moving back there himself, Binelli notes towards the end, “My optimism was proving tenacious. I couldn’t say why.” The book provides a few clues: Detroit will survive, and perhaps thrive, if there is the will, political and social, to make it so.

Print book sales rise hailed as a sign of a fightback in a digital world

Category : Business

Celebrity titles help sales of physical books break through £75m mark, the strongest weekly performance since Christmas 2009

The strongest weekly sale of print books in three years is being hailed as a sign that “real books” are fighting back in a digital age thought to be dominated by e-readers and tablet computers.

Big-selling celebrity titles helped physical book sales break through £75m in the seven days to 22 December, delivering the book trade’s strongest week since Christmas 2009. The weekly takings of £75.4m were a near 20% increase on the previous week and £1.4m higher than in the equivalent week last year.

A Jamie Oliver cookbook that promises home-cooked meals in (almost) the time it takes to microwave a ready meal, comic Miranda Hart playing her life for laughs, and Bradley Wiggins’s account of his road to Tour de France and Olympic glory proved to be the nation’s last-minute stocking fillers of choice.

With many authors and publishers fearful about how book-buying habits are being altered by the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets as reading devices, the news was welcomed by writers including William Dalrymple, author of Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, who took to Twitter saying: “Real books fighting back!”

Antony Beevor, whose books include The Second World War and Stalingrad, said the figures were potentially good news for an industry that has been hit hard by the economic downturn as well as structural changes wrought by the internet.

“This looks to be positive in many ways but the question is, what are the figures for sales of serious fiction,” Beevor said. “I would fear they are down quite considerably, and that is probably true of serious books across the board.”

He cautioned that physical copies of celebrity memoirs tended to sell well because part of their attraction lay in the pictures, which are often not included in digital versions.

Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals was the bestselling book, shifting 140,155 copies in the UK last week, according to industry magazine the Bookseller. The celebrity chef retains pole position in the official UK top 50 ahead of Hart’s Is it Just Me? and Wiggins’s My Time, which sold 64,691 and 59,524 copies respectively.

The last-minute presents dash pushed Guinness World Records 2013 into fourth place, while the boost provided by Peter Jackson’s blockbuster treatment helped a film tie-in edition of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which was first published in 1937, complete the top five. The Tolkien novel sold 72,900 copies across its numerous physical editions in the pre-Christmas week, up nearly 40% on the previous week. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi also enjoyed a big-screen surge, with sales of the Man Booker winner up more than 60% on the previous week, shifting close to 40,000 copies.

Philip Downer, a books industry consultant whose career has included stints at Waterstone’s, WH Smith and Borders UK, said it was too early to hail a comeback of the “p-book” – an industry joke for the old-school printed version. “It’s a case of swallows and summers. I think everything is in flux,” he said.

Downer pointed to industry data from Nielsen BookScan that shows physical book sales in the UK have declined every year since hitting a peak of £1.8bn in 2007 – the year the final Harry Potter instalment landed in bookshops. In the first 10 months of 2012, printed book sales were down 3.5% year on year in volume terms and 5.5% by value.

While e-readers such as the Kindle, the Kobo and the Nook were among this Christmas’s most popular gifts, the monochrome devices are already being outsold by a new generation of tablets which includes the iPad Mini and Google Nexus 7. Indeed, industry experts think e-reader sales may already have peaked.

James McQuivey, of research firm Forrester, thinks Amazon will soon give the Kindle away for free to encourage customers to keep buying content: “Tablets will become so cheap, the screens will get better, battery life will improve significantly and then e-readers will only be kept alive for sentimental reasons,” he said.

Fears that the sun is already setting on the e-reader market did not deter Financial Times owner Pearson from ploughing investment into the technology.

On Friday the UK publisher said it was paying £55.5m for a small stake in the company behind the Nook series of e-readers and tablets, which is part of US book chain Barnes & Noble. While the deal was well received, the US store hinted that book sales had not been so rosy there during the holiday season, warning investors that its sales had fallen short of expectations.

Do you visit bookshops to window shop, then buy online?

Category : Business

All high street retailers have seen sales fall because of online shopping – but bookshops have suffered more than most. And to add insult to injury, according to the BBC many of us now use bookshops only to browse in, then buy online. Are you guilty?

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Publishing industry: waving or drowning? | Editorial

Category : Business

In this chaotic world, only the boldest would forecast the impact of the Random House–Penguin merger

The merger between two of the UK’s biggest publishing houses, Penguin and Random House, is expected to give them at least a quarter of the market in non-digital book sales. It won’t be quite enough to attract the scrutiny of the Office of Fair Trading but that doesn’t mean there’s no frisson of alarm in the already anxious publishing world. The consolidation will give Random House’s German owner, Bertelsmann, 53% of the joint business, to Penguin owner Pearson’s 47%. The question is whether it is a predatory strike – or a survival strategy that would free up cash to invest in the new territory of e-publishing.

On the surface the book trade is as tumultuous as the seas off New York. But there are some unexpected constants. In the first six months of this year, ebook sales grew by 188% over the previous January-June, but overall sales of non-digital books are declining only slowly. When a product is cheap and readily accessible, people really do buy more of it. So far, the most obvious victims of the revolution are the bookshops, which struggle to compete in either price or convenience with the e-tail market. But that’s not for want of trying. Innovative strategies proliferate: this week, the US bookstore chain Barnes & Noble launches its own e-reader, the Nook, in the UK to compete with various Kindles, Kobos and iPads. In May, Waterstones startled observers by climbing into bed with Amazon, which means that personal shoppers can now buy ebooks from Amazon courtesy of Waterstones’ internet connection, despite chief executive James Daunt’s earlier view that the online retail giant was a “ruthless moneymaking devil“.

In this chaotic world, only the boldest would forecast the impact of the Random House–Penguin merger. In more traditional times, reducing the number of big players in an industry and putting a significant share of the market in the hands of the new company would be interpreted as a direct attack on consumer choice. In a move that might hint at a little anxiety about the attentions of the OFT, both parties to the merger are insisting their imprints will maintain their distinctive identities, and deny talk of anything other than back-office cuts.

But the only obvious casualties are likely to be blockbuster authors and their agents, who may feel the impact of one fewer competitor in the small market for books that win heroic advances. It is unlikely to matter much to readers. The independent publishing sector, which has about 45% of the market, repeatedly shows that big isn’t necessarily best. The real change defining the relationship between writer and reader, and the one that may yet dynamite for ever the traditional business model, is self-publishing, which does away with publishers altogether.