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Do you own a iPhone or is it a Hiphone, an Ephone or a Ciphone?

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On Saturday Apple officially launched the iPhone 4 in China. They also opened up two new flagship stores in Shanghai and Beijing.

China is the world’s largest mobile market with more than 800 million subscribers so it would seem to make sense that Apple sell their products there.

Why has is taken them so long to launch the iPhone 4 in China though? After all, the iPhone 4 was originally launched in the US back in June and in countries such as Australia, Netherlands and Singapore in July.

The handsets themselves are manufactured in China so it’s not as though they haven’t had any experience of doing business in the country.

There are various reasons why companies have phased product roll outs in different countries. The sheer scale of a “global launch” for a company like Apple would be extremely challenging. Having sufficient inventory in stock on global launch day would not only be a logistical nightmare but would probably be physically impossible.

An additional challenge for Apple is that they need to agree matters with their strategic communication service providers in each territory (in other words, the mobile phone operator they will be partnering with in each particular country). This also takes time.

Anyway, from now onwards we’ll be seeing the iPhone 4 in China but anyone that has been to China recently though could be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone 4 has already been in the country for a while.

A significant issue for Apple is the increase in the number of iPhone clone companies.

As well as clone companies that produce illegal fake copies of the phone there are also businesses that produce reasonable quality phones which are very similar to the iPhone. They are designed so that they try not to break any patent protection that Apple has set up. I’m sure though that Apple’s patent lawyers are monitoring these products very closely!

A quick search on the internet for example shows websites selling products such as the HiPhone, the Ephone and the Ciphone. With prices starting at less than $100 there will be a significant number of people opting for these items.

Oh, and in case you were wondering the photo above is of the Hiphone.

Is this your shopping list: bread, milk, eggs and Viagra?

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Monday could be a big day for a lot of people.

Tesco, one of the leading UK supermarkets, will commence selling the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

Viagra has been a huge success for Pfizer. It’s one of their blockbuster drugs and millions of the little blue tablets have been sold over the last 10 years.

One of the drawbacks though for a lot of men that want the drug is where to get hold of it from. In the UK you generally need either a doctors prescription or to risk buying it from potentially suspect internet sites.

Tesco are one of the most successful supermarket chains in the world. In strategic Ansoff’s Matrix terminology they have done very well with market development (4,811 stores in 14 countries with an amazing 2,482 stores in the UK alone) together with product development (an estimated 40,000 product lines ranging from pizza to petrol to perfume).

Tesco are about to add another product line to their offerings and from next Monday shoppers will be able to pick up Viagra from over 300 Tesco stores.

As finance people we know all about the challenge of getting pricing decisions right.

Tesco are not the first mainstream chain of stores to stock Viagra. Last year, the high street chemist Boots became the first store in the UK to sell Viagra without a prescription. You can currently buy 4 of the blue pills from Boots for £55.

A price skimming or premium pricing strategy for Tesco wouldn’t really work as the Viagra market is a mature market. Tesco has instead undertaken a classic penetration pricing strategy whereby they price the product at an attractive price with the aim of growing its market share.

From Monday, you will be able to buy 8 of the blue pills at Tesco for £52.

Whilst the per tablet charge at Tesco is a lot lower than what can be found at Boots, £52 is still a significant amount of money. There’s a recession on and times are hard for a lot of people. Only time will tell whether Tesco made the correct pricing decision.

Forget the great Polish and Russian vodkas, the best vodka in the world is officially English. Now, go and open a packet of crisps to celebrate.

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At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition the best Vodka in the world award was won by a small distillery based in rural England in Herefordshire. Chase Vodka beat off 115 other entries to win.

This is a superb achievement by them.

I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the vodka. It’s certainly very nice and I have to say I think their award was thoroughly deserved. I hasten to add though that I haven’t tasted the other 115 vodkas so can’t really give an unbiased view!

Chase vodka has got a rather unusual background. It was founded by local potato farmer William Chase. Now William certainly knows a thing or two about potatos. He was the person that founded the upmarket potato crisp company Tyrrells.

Tyrrell’s crisps were only launched 8 years ago in 2002. In classic strategy terminology they were very much promoted on the differentiated manner as being of a better class of crisp, being hand crafted and a top quality product. His passion for potatos paid off and in 2008 he sold 75% of the crisp brand for a rather tasty £40 million.

Not content with sailing the world on his personal yacht or buying a private island to retire to he built on his core competencies and developed his love of potatos into another upmarket brand but this time to be enjoyed by adults only.

Again, using strategy speak the chase vodka business is nicely vertically integrated with the potatos being grown on the farm as well as the distillery and the bottling process being in the same location.

It’s not cheap – retailing at £32.95 it is over 3 times as expensive as the supermarket own brands but it’s hand crafted by a small team of workers and each bottle is reportedly made out of 250 top quality potatos. Comparing this with the mass market vodkas made out of left over grain then you can see why the pricing is different.

Using Ansoff’s matrix terminology they have also undertaken rather nice product development and launched a limited edition Marmalade Vodka.

Now, for me a lovely breakfast is a fresh pot of tea with some nice toast and marmalade. Should I be rethinking things though so that I opt for Marmalade Vodka instead?

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” but will there be such a thing as a free drink or cheap drink in the future?

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Binge drinking in the UK is a major problem. City centres at the weekend can be full of people that are literally trying to drink as much as possible in as short a period of time. Violence and health issues often ensue.

As well as the disturbances to local residents there are also the costs both health-wise to the drinkers and financially to police forces, hospitals and society at large arising as a result of this binge drinking.

As a potential solution to this problem, the government is currently investigating whether to ban free or cheap drink promotions. One of the ideas being discussed is whether to make it illegal to sell alcohol below cost price. In other words to prevent businesses offering “loss leaders” on drinks so as to encourage higher spending at a later date.

If you’re an accountant, and assuming you’re not reading this in the middle of an actual binge drinking session yourself, this raises an interesting discussion on what exactly is meant by “below cost” and in particular the term “cost”.

The major alcoholic drinks manufacturers produce a range of drinks. Diageo for example produce drinks as varied as Smirnoff vodka, Johnnie Walker whisky and the famous Irish stout Guinness.

Identifying the cost of each particular drink would be challenging exercise. Whilst they no doubt have sophisticated management accounts which allocate overheads and indirect costs in certain ways, there would be a clear debate as to which was the “correct” allocation of these costs.

Apportioning overheads such as head office costs, R&D and marketing to individual products would result in a certain amount of flexibility in terms of identifying the cost figure to use for “below cost” purposes.

One solution to this inherent problem of identifying the cost of individual products has been proposed and that is setting the minimum cost of the drinks as equivalent to the duty and VAT that needs to be paid on the particular drinks.

So, the next time you’re out having a quiet drink with some non finance friends feel free to start a discussion about how much each of your drinks cost to make. You can then explain about the various possible methods of allocating indirect costs. Then again, talking about management accounting cost allocation whilst out with your friends may result in your  non finance friends starting a binge drinking session themselves…

If you’re going to buy shares in Skype then watch out as the Sky could be the limit.

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The internet telephone company Skype is planning on raising $100 million via an IPO (Initial Public Offering) on New York’s NASDAQ later this year.

Skype is probably the best known “internet telephone company” and users can make free Skype-to-Skype calls. Paid for calls to mobiles or landlines can also be made.

$100 million however is a significant figure and the filing documents submitted on Monday show that in 4 of the last 5 years the company lost money. In addition, the proportion of Skype’s customers that use the paid for services is also relatively small (8 million out of total registered Skype accounts of 560 million) so arguably there’s a real risk that it may be a significant time before the company is well into profit making territory.

The IPO submission documents must also show any identified risks and there is an interesting one present with Skype.

If you look at page 30 of the IPO submission document it was revealed that BSkyB, the owner of Sky TV in the UK, is in a long running dispute with Skype over the use of various trademarks. There is a view that Sky and Skype could be confusing for certain individuals especially given that BSkyB are promoting their telephone services alongside their Sky TV services.

It’s a case of watch this space to see what happens next.

Of course, free phone calls are one thing but if Skype ever started showing free television programmes then that’s when things would get really exciting.

Forget the sunshine, the beaches and the fantastic food – if you live in Australia sell your house and move to America…

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Asset valuation is a tricky business.  It is, however, a skill that accountants are often commissioned to use.  It’s also a useful one to have when making personal decisions, such as whether to buy a home or not.

Some people would argue that a major driver of the current economic slump in many countries is the collapse of house prices.

In a number of countries, house price bubbles were enormous.  There are lots of motivations for buying a home; principally as a place to live, a store of value for the future; certainty come retirement (when the mortgage is paid off so housing costs drop only to be maintenance).

Another motive has been speculation.  In my opinion, speculation in house prices is a bad thing, since it drives up house prices.  This means that new houses are not affordable for the young.  The more that house prices go up, the greater the transfer of wealth from the economically active young to the less economically active old.

Unsustainably high house prices cause uncertainty in an economy and when a crash eventually happens, it can cause people to be locked into homes with loans greater than the value of the asset (negative equity).  As well as a source of human misery, negative equity reduces labour mobility, which is bad for the economy as whole.

The Economist newspaper tracks house prices in different countries, using a method based on rental yields.  The assumption here is that rental markets react more readily to underlying supply and demand conditions.  If one had $500,000 to invest, would one use it to buy a house which could then be rented out, or buy other investments such as bonds?  If the rental yield (rent / initial value x 100) is less than the yield on bonds, then the house price is overvalued.  It’s a simple enough methodology that can give some revealing results.

A couple of years ago, this analysis suggested that UK property prices were 35% overvalued.  A crash followed.  There have been property crashes and recession in many countries where speculation is a big motive to buy property.  The alarming thing is that a recent analysis (Economist 10 July, page 75) revealed that properties are under and overvalued in certain countries:

UK: 33.8% overvalued (following a hard-to-explain recovery in house prices)
USA: 6.5% undervalued
Spain: 50.4% overvalued
Australia: 61.1% overvalued
Germany: 14.5% undervalued
Ireland: 15.7% overvalued.

This may be poor news indeed for the economy of countries with very overvalued property.  With these sorts of valuations, mortgages may become unaffordable the moment that interest rates rise to above the rock bottom levels we have at the moment.  This could release very big downward forces in the economy and dampen out any economic recovery.

On the plus side, the USA looks to have reacted quickly, albeit brutally, to the changed economic circumstances and it might be a good time to sell your home in Australia (cash out your investment while it’s arguably overvalued) and buy somewhere in America.  If you can get a visa.  Oh, and a mortgage!

How much do condoms cost to buy? Well, I guess anywhere from £1 to £2.5bn…

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Reckitt Benckiser, the Anglo – Dutch consumer products group, has agreed to buy the maker of Durex condoms for £2.5bn.

Last week the board of SSL recommended that the shareholders accept the offer from Reckitt which was at an effective 33% premium on the share price.

In addition to Durex condoms SSL also make Scholl shoes but £2.5bn is a lot of money and a 33% premium is pretty good in today’s environment. Should the shareholders therefore grab this opportunity with both hands?

Students of business strategy will be aware that there are both pros and cons of acquisitions. The general view amongst analysts in this situation though appears to be that it represents a good fit for the Reckitt business.

Firstly, Reckitt will strengthen their health and personal care division which is currently their fastest growing area. Health and personal care is considered by many to be a key area for businesses going forward (this is a nice link to PESTEL within the syllabus).

Secondly, SSL has a larger presence in a number of emerging markets. In particular SSL are in a strong position in China, a country where Reckitt are relatively weak compared to their competitors.

Cost savings from synergies of course can never be ignored. If the deal goes ahead there could be reported savings of £100m a year in terms of removing duplicate jobs, combining distribution channels, etc.

Marketing synergies are also important. Reckitt for example produce the headache tablet Nurofen.

Is this the real Willy Wonka? After all he bought enough chocolate on Friday to make over 5 billion bars of chocolate.

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Anthony Ward, a British financier who set up hedge fund Armajaro Holdings, bought a huge chunk of chocolate on Friday.

To be precise, he spent over £650 million buying 241,000 tonnes of cocoa beans.

This was the highest single purchase of cocoa for nearly 15 years and happened as cocoa bean prices rose to their highest level for 23 years. On news of the purchase cocoa futures for July delivery jumped by 1.5%.

The trade took place on Liffe (the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange), a market which trades contracts in commodities such as sugar, coffee and cocoa.

As well as the sheer size of the transaction the strange thing about it was that Mr. Ward’s company has actually taken delivery of the cocoa. This is very unusual as the vast majority of cocoa transactions normally involve traders exchanging option or futures contracts without actually taking possession of the beans.

So why has he purchased so much chocolate?

He’s a very astute and wealthy businessman who reportedly lives in a £10 million house in Mayfair, London.

The speculation is that he is stockpiling huge volumes of cocoa in order to be in a strong negotiating position. Harvests in the cocoa heartlands of Ghana and Ivory Coast have recently been weak and there is an increase in demand for chocolate in the Chinese and Indian markets.

It looks like chocolate prices are on the rise so what better excuse for me to stock up on some chocolate before the price rises. Somehow though I don’t think my stockpile will be anywhere near Mr. Wards…

What will make Ernst & Young different from the rest of the Big 4? Will it be an Executive Decision or…

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According to reports this week, Ernst & Young will be the first of the Big 4 to appoint non-executive directors to its global advisory council.

This is a major move for the accountancy profession.

The profession has been under increasing regulatory pressure for a while now and the decision to appoint non-execs is reportedly in response to the new audit firm governance code that was published earlier this year.

The revised Ernst & Young advisory council structure will in broad terms mean that Ernst & Young will have a board structure which is similar to the multi-national companies that are their clients. Their remit will include monitoring strategy and risk.

Their global advisory council currently includes 36 senior partners. These partners will soon be joined by 4 non-executive directors drawn from the business and regulatory world.

The names of these non-execs will be disclosed later this year and although I’m not a betting man I’d probably have a wager that their CVs will not include the names of Deloitte, KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers.

You know you’ve had too much to drink when your eyesight goes blurry, you slur your words and you spend half a billion dollars…

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Steven Perkins, a 34 year old commodity broker, attended a company golfing weekend, had a bit too much to drink over the weekend and then took the Monday off of work.

This in itself didn’t justify being fined £72,000 earlier this week by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and being identified as “an extreme risk to the market when drunk”.

It was what he did on the Monday evening that caused all the excitement.

After the golfing weekend, Mr. Perkins felt the need to carry on drinking and started drinking again on the Monday lunchtime. Late that night in a drunken stupor he bought 7 million barrels of oil using $520 million dollars belonging to his then employers PVM Oil Futures.

Because the purchases took place in the middle of the night other traders around the world thought that there was something major happening in the oil market and as a result the price of oil shot up by $1.50 a barrel in less than 30 minutes. Through the alcoholic haze Mr. Perkins gradually increased his bidding price each time to push the price up until at one stage he was responsible for nearly 70% of the global market volume.

He tried to gradually sell down his position in the morning but no doubt with a very dry mouth eventually admitted everything to his employer.

His drunken night time purchases resulted in PVM losing £6million, him being fined £72,000 and banned from the industry for five years. Plus of course, an almighty hangover.