Thursday, 6 December 2007

Alitalia SpA in sight for Air France-KLM

Alitalia SpA is said to be in sight for the world’s biggest airline, Air France-KLM Group, as it will try and revive the unprofitable carrier that the Italian government is trying to sell. Air France is one of three candidates to buy Alitalia, the Paris-based company said in a statement today. Deutsche Lufthansa AG of Germany and Italy's Air One may also present offers before today's deadline. Rome-based Alitalia will select a partner for exclusive talks by the end of the month.

Alitalia hasn't reported an operating profit in nine years and is losing more than 1 million euros ($1.5 million) a day. ``No one is going to pay a premium for Alitalia,'' said Gianmaria Bergantino, head of asset management at Bank Insinger de Beaufort NV in Rome, who owns Alitalia convertible bonds. ``Whoever buys it is buying it for its airport slots.'' He spoke before the announcement was made.

Air France-KLM has sent a non-binding expression of interest, it said today's statement. The company already owns about 2% of Alitalia, which was initially slated to join the 2004 merger between the French and Dutch airlines. The Italian carrier was excluded because of mounting losses. (source: Bloomsberg)

Despite trying for months to find a new non-executive chairman for Sports Direct is still looking for this corporate vacancy that is proving impossible to fill. The role would hand the lucky candidate a competitive salary and a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to etch their name in the City’s memory for years to come. Senior headhunters said yesterday that the task could prove extremely difficult, given the challenge of working alongside Mike Ashley, the tycoon who founded the business with one shop in 1982.

Rivals also point to another looming problem – the state of its Sports World and Lillywhites stores. John David Group said on Tuesday that it believed shoppers were getting “tired” of the discount approach taken by Sports Direct, which has made its name on the back of a “pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap” strategy.

Shares in Sports Direct have plunged since listing in March at 300p in a float that handed Mr Ashley a £929 million windfall. A profit warning last month pushed the stock to a new low of only 93.25p. Yesterday they closed at 100p. Despite his vast experience as a retailer, Mr Ashley has admitted that he was “very green” when he floated the business and that he found being in charge of a public company “challenging”.

Analysts believe that Mr Ashley could soon buy the business back. He has a near 68% stake and Sports Direct will ask investors for the right to buy back more shares at an extraordinary general meeting in two weeks. (source: Timesonline)

PepsiCo is set to deal a blow to Apple’s dominance of online music and the music labels’ best efforts to fight piracy. Pepsi is preparing a year-long marketing campaign in the United States in which up to a billion digital music tracks will be given away. Based on the prices charged by Apple, the largest online music retailer, the offer could be worth up to $1 billion (£490 million).

Crucially, the drinks group is believed to be teaming up with, the online retailer vying with Apple’s iTunes music store, to distribute the giveaway tracks. It is also thought that the music will be distributed free of the digital rights management (DRM) technology that limits where legitimately downloaded tracks can be played.

There is speculation that PepsiCo’s huge distribution of DRM-free music could compel other labels, such as Warner Music and Sony BMG, to use the format. This year Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, said that he would drop DRM “in a heartbeat”, but claimed to have had his hands tied by the labels.

Pepsi’s promotion – the latest shot in its long battle with Coca-Cola – is to start in February, in concert with the Super Bowl, one of the biggest advertising magnets in the world. It echoes a giveaway in 2003, in which Apple and Pepsi offered 100 million free tracks Amazon’s music ambitions need a boost. Since it began its download service in September, it has captured an estimated 3% of the market. By contrast, Apple accounts for about 80% and in July said that it had sold more than three billion songs.

PepsiCo is planning to place tokens on five billion drink containers. Consumers will have to collect five tokens to qualify for free tracks. In theory, the campaign could flood the market with $1 billion of free music (Apple charges 99% per DRM-free track), but redemption rates on these types of offers are usually low, at about 2%.

Despite Apple’s success, online music sales still account for only a tenth of the total market and are not yet growing at a rate to compensate for the decline in revenues from CDs – sales of which have fallen by about a fifth in America this year. (source: Timesonline)

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