Archive for December, 2009

South Korea’s Lee in UAE to discuss nuclear deal (Reuters)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

ABU DHABI (Reuters) –
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday in a push to win one of the world's biggest nuclear power contracts.

Both countries want to strengthen economic ties in "peaceful nuclear energy" among other areas such as renewable energies or reducing carbon emissions, the official UAE news agency WAM said after Lee's arrival.

The UAE is expected to award the contract estimated to be worth $40 billion to build several nuclear reactors "possibly early next week," industry sources said.

A South Korean consortium of Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) (015760.KS), Hyundai Engineering and Construction (000720.KS), Samsung C&T Corp (000830.KS), and Doosan Heavy Industries (034020.KS) is in the running to win the largest-ever energy deal of the Middle East.

Other bidders include a consortium of General Electric Co (GE.N) and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp (6502.T), and a French consortium led by EDF (EDF.PA) and GDF Suez (GSZ.PA) and including Areva (CEPFi.PA) and oil group Total(TOTF.PA).

Lee is scheduled to hold a summit meeting with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan during his two-day visit, the South Korean presidential Blue House said in a statement.

"It remains unclear whether South Korea will win the final contract to build nuclear power plants and President Lee's visit to the UAE is part of summit diplomacy to win the final ticket in the bidding," Lee's office said.

The French consortium was initially seen as a front-runner for the deal but it recently appeared to be losing ground to the Korean.

On the Korea Exchange earlier this week, shares of Korea Power Engineering (052690.KS) and Doosan Heavy Industries (034020.KS) rallied on expectations for the deal, analysts said.

IBK Securities analyst Yoon Jin-il said the contract is expected to be split in three stages with the initial order to be worth about $5 billion, but the first-phase winner is likely to take home the remaining two.

Work is expected to begin in 2012, UAE state news agency WAM has said. The UAE is the world's third-largest oil exporter, but it is planning to build a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for an additional 40,000 megawatts of power.

South Korea's commerce and energy ministry said on Monday that it would focus on the nuclear power sector in 2010 and step up work on a plan to develop nuclear reactors with indigenous technology, as it outlined next year's policy objectives.

(Reporting by Cho Mee-young and Jack Kim in Seoul and Ulf Laessing in Dubai and Amena Bakr in Abu Dhabi; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Koss fires executive after alleged $20 million embezzlement (Reuters)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

NEW YORK (Reuters) –
Koss Corp (KOSS.O) fired its vice president of finance after she allegedly embezzled more than $20 million from the headphones maker for a multi-year shopping spree of expensive clothes, jewelry and other personal items.

The executive, Sujata "Sue" Sachdeva, who is in her mid-40s, held the position at Koss since 1992.

Koss, which reported first-quarter sales of $10.8 million, also said on Thursday financial statements at least since the end of its 2006 fiscal year should no longer be relied upon.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin company also said it placed two members of the accounting staff, who served under Sachdeva, on unpaid administrative leave.

Sachdeva allegedly used company funds to pay down her personal credit card bills, which totaled more than $4.5 million between January 1, 2008 and December 19, 2009, according to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in a Wisconsin federal court.

Preliminary estimates indicate that the amount of unauthorized transactions since fiscal year 2006 may exceed $20 million, Koss said. Sachdeva's total compensation for fiscal year 2009 was $173,734, according to a regulatory filing.

Sachdeva racked up bills that often ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars, including spending nearly $1.4 million at Valentina Boutique, a high-end shop in Mequon, Wisconin, the complaint showed.

A reviewer on Yelp, a local search and review provider, says the store's selection of clothes, jewelry and accessories are "like exquisite works of art, but not in that weird, unwearable way -- more in that 'I've been dreaming about this dress, necklace, whatever and didn't know it existed!' way."

"Oh lord if I had five million dollars I would high tail it over to Valentina and go NUTS," the reviewer, identified as Katie W. of Chicago, wrote in a December 5, 2007 entry.

Sachdeva spent liberally elsewhere as well. Among her other bills were: a $670,000 tab at women's clothing store Au Courant in Milwaukee; $649,000 from Zita Bridal Salon in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin; and $255,000 in purchases from Karat 22 Jewelers in Houston, Texas.

The alleged fraud was discovered when American Express noticed that a customer's personal card account balances were being paid via several large wire transfers, originating from a Koss bank account.

Amex told the company's chief executive, Michael Koss, who found credit card statements in Sachdeva's name and "several large piles of women's clothing, with the price tags still attached," in her office.

Sachdeva acknowledged to the FBI that she had been using her position at Koss to authorize wire transfers to pay her personal credit card bills, and that she falsified the balance in Koss's bank account to hide the fact, according to the complaint.

Sachdeva's next court hearing is set for January 11, her lawyer, Michael Hart, said on Friday.

Hart declined to comment further, saying it would be "inappropriate for me to comment at this juncture."

Koss' internal investigation, supervised by an independent committee of the board, is continuing, as are efforts to recover merchandise related to the unauthorized transactions, it said.

(Reporting by Paritosh Bansal, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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Shoppers return to malls, looking for deals (AP)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

Shoppers across the country returned to malls Saturday, rummaging through thinly stocked shelves hunting for deals, next year's Christmas gifts and, for most, gifts for themselves.

Retailers made a push to woo gift-card-toting shoppers by slashing prices and offering doorbuster deals often reserved for the day after Thanksgiving.

Diana Mayfield, a 56-year-old business trainer from Jacksonville, Ill., managed to get two Christmas ornaments for $6, marked down from $28. She was out before dawn Saturday while visiting family in Maryland, scouring for next year's Christmas gifts.

"It's 60 percent off original, so that's pretty good," she said while eyeing a rack of sweaters. "I usually get my electronics the day after Thanksgiving, and we get clothes and paper goods the day after Christmas."

Knowing shoppers would likely spend less, merchants carefully managed inventory this Christmas. That meant on Dec. 26, some store shelves were practically empty.

Weather also could complicate things again this weekend, as a strong snow storm swept across portions of the nation's midsection and rain dampened the mid-Atlantic through New England.

"I think the big concern on all retailers' mind today will be the factor of the weather," said Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Sears and Kmart stores. "But it seems so far, customers have a good resolve to get out. ... You've got a lot of thrifty shopers out today looking for great values."

Donna Brown, a 52-year-old hair dresser from Seaford, Del., visited The Centre at Salisbury on Tuesday but returned Saturday to find few pairs of the $11.99 pajamas she'd been eyeing at J.C. Penney, which opened at 5 a.m.

"Now there's nothing," she said. "Everything's been picked over."

In New Jersey, Bernaden Demesyeux wasn't having much luck, either, despite arriving at her local mall just before 6:30.

"I was trying to find a dress coat for my husband, but didn't find anything," she said after more than an hour of shopping. "Everything is the same prices as before."

The week after Christmas is big business for retailers, making up 15 percent of sales last year, according research from ShopperTrak, which tracks sales and traffic at more than 50,000 outlets.

Thanks to a fluke in the calendar, merchants have a whole weekend to entice shoppers immediately after Christmas. That meant many stores were offering expanded hours Saturday and extra deals hoping crowds of gift-card-toting shoppers would snap up goods.

To help their cause, retailers sent a barrage of e-mails to faithful shoppers in the past day. "Wasn't under the tree? Get it now at the Apple Store," read one from Apple Inc.

Walmart was offering half off toys and Toys R Us touted buy one, get one half-off offers. At Sears, customers could find coats for 70 percent off while some jeans were $10. And Gap Inc.'s Old Navy brand was selling men's and women's jeans for $15 for the day and an e-mail encouraged shoppers to "redeem your gift cards today."

Gift card sales are not recorded until shoppers redeem them.

Retailers received a much-needed last-minute sales surge in the final days before Dec. 25, fueled by shoppers who delayed buying, waited for bigger discounts that never came or were slowed by last weekend's big East Coast snowstorm.

But now they're counting on the days after Christmas to perk up overall holiday sales in a season that looks like it's modestly better than last year's disaster.

The full holiday picture won't be known until merchants report December sales Jan. 7. But most expect merchants' fourth-quarter profits should be intact because they didn't press the panic button.

ShopperTrak is sticking to its prediction for a 1.6 percent gain, compared with a 5.9 percent drop a year ago.

The National Retail Federation expects that total retail sales will slip 1 percent, though some experts say that might be a bit too cautious. A year ago, they fell 3.4 percent by the trade group's calculations.

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AP Retail Writers Anne D'Innocenzio in New York and Michelle Chapman contributed in Livingston, N.J., contributed to this report. Heher reported from Salisbury, Md.

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