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Jan. 26, 2013 at 1:02 PM
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Apple value slips to second place

NEW YORK, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Shares of U.S. technology innovator Apple dropped Friday, pushing the value of the firm from first to second place behind Exxon Mobil, stock data shows.

For a brief stint Apple was the king of the hill. After eclipsing Exxon Mobil in 2011, the company's fortunes continued to rise, with share values peaking at $705.07 in September. At that point Apple was far and away the world's most valuable company.

But investors have concerns that Apple cannot keep creating break-through products forever, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The company's revenues are still setting records, but the appeal behind Apple stock also relies on its reputation as a trend setter.

Apple shares on Friday closed at $440, which put the value of the company at $414 billion. Exxon Mobil on Friday was worth $417 billion.

What is that expression: Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness? Although Apple has produced a series of wildly popular break-though products in recent years -- the iPod, iPhone and the iPad -- companies with more diversified product lines and lower price entry points are also doing well.

Samsung's most recent corporate report, released last week, showed profits up 76 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. Among its offerings are cheaper smartphones that are doing well in emerging markets.

On Wednesday, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the company would stay focused on trend-setting.

"We only want to make the best products. We're focused on making products that enrich lives," he said.

ECB data suggest banks in recovery

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- European banks may be in better shape than assumed, given the number of banks repaying European Central Bank loans early, bank data suggest.

The ECB launched a low-interest, three-year loan program from which banks borrowed $652 billion with interest matching the bank's 0.75 percent benchmark rate. In February 2012, another $707 billion in low-interest loans was dispersed, The New York Times reported Saturday.

ECB, however, said 278 banks would pay back loans early, returning $183 billion out of the original $652 billion.

The return rate suggests banks are finding capital on their own. Some are also paying the loans back early because they suggest the bank is in trouble and paying back the loan is the quickest way to erase the stigma, the Times said.

Google sparks hope in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Kan., Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Google's use of Kansas City, Kan., as a high-speed Internet test case has already proven itself, a Kansas City, Mo., official said.

"This is exactly what we hoped would happen. More home-sprung businesses. More competition. In that way, Google's project is a success already," said Richard Usher, the assistant city manager for Kansas City, Mo., referring to Google's experiment of offering ultra-high speed Internet to a decidedly middle-American city.

Google needed to start somewhere with the new system and chose Kansas City. The area, not particularly known as a high-tech mecca, has already begun a subtle metamorphosis, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

Within three months offering Internet with speeds 100 times faster than most people have ever seen, start up companies are finding their way to an area already dubbed the Silicon Prairie.

Internet entrepreneurs have moved to Kansas City from Colorado from the West and South Carolina from the East. A community forums on high tech business options – the type of meeting that might be canceled for lack of interest in the past -- recently attracted 260 people -- standing room only, the newspaper said.

"What Google is providing is a catalyst. This infrastructure is enormously important to create a ripple effect of entrepreneurial activity," said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation.

The experiment is a kind of "build it and they will come" approach to economic development. If you have the only watering hole for miles, the wildlife will invariably show up. If you have the only city in the world with Google's fiber broadband, entrepreneurs with big ideas will find a way to your door.

That's the theory, at any rate.

Illinois downgrade costly, says treasurer

CHICAGO, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said the state's Standard & Poor's credit downgrade would cost taxpayers $95 million more in borrowing costs.

"It's absolutely bad news for taxpayers," Rutherford said.

The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that Illinois currently has the lowest credit rating of all 50 states. S&P dropped its rating to "A" to "A-minus," which matches California, except for the point that California's rating is listed as positive and Illinois's is listed as negative, meaning it will be soon be subject to another review with the expectation that it will drop.

Illinois plans to issue $500 million in bonds next week. Rutherford said a top rating of AAA would save taxpayers $95 million, although that number is subject to change that relies on how strong a demand the bond sale attracts.

The other two major credit rating firms, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, have Illinois rated at 50th and 49th, respectively, out of the 50 states.

Among the state's fiscal dilemmas is a $96.8 billion shortfall with five state pension systems, the Tribune said.

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