Companies in Brief
Apple: The iPhone 4 Gets a Bad Review in France
UFC-Que Choisir, a leading consumer group in France, has joined Consumer Reports in deciding not to recommend the iPhone 4 because of problems with the device's antenna. Que Choisir reported on its website on July 27 that the antenna issue outweighs the iPhone's virtues. France is one of the most important markets for Apple (AAPL), which began selling the new handset outside the U.S. at the end of June. France Telecom is the world's second-largest iPhone carrier after AT&T.
Wal-Mart Stores: The Retailer Is Mulling a Russian Foray
Wal-Mart (WMT) has hired an executive from BP's (BP) Russian oil joint venture to help lead a Moscow office in preparation for possible expansion into the country. Avril Conroy formerly worked in TNK-BP's marketing division. Wal-Mart has no stores in Russia but has hired 30 employees there since 2008. Foreign retailers have been slow to set up shop in the country, with megastores mostly limited to big cities. France's Auchan Group operates about 40 superstores, but compatriot Carrefour announced in October that it was pulling out after less than a year in the country.
IBM: The EU Is Launching a Probe of Big Blue
IBM (IBM) is being investigated by the European Union over claims it abused its dominant position in the market for mainframe computers. The inquiry will look into allegations that IBM improperly linked sales of its hardware to its software for mainframe computers and that it discriminated against competing sellers of services. IBM says Microsoft (MSFT) and its allies are the source of the complaints. The probe signals that Joaquín Almunia, who took on the job of EU Competition Commissioner in February, may share his predecessor's penchant for going after big technology companies. Under Neelie Kroes, the agency extracted billions in penalties from Intel (INTC) and Microsoft.
Continental: Dispensing with Humans at the Gate
Continental Airlines (CAL) is testing subway-style boarding gates at its hometown hub in Houston. The gates allow travelers to board planes without the aid of an agent. Barriers on the machines open to let passengers onto the jet bridge after they scan their boarding pass. Continental installed two of the devices at one gate in June. The system could save the airline money—and prevent passengers from jumping the line when their seat hasn't been called.
Reliance Industries: The Indian Energy Producer Is on a Tear
India's biggest company by market value reported its fastest pace of profit growth in more than two years. One reason: a doubling in natural gas production. For the three months ended June 30, net income rose 32.2 percent, to $1.03 billion. The bigger profits should further Chairman Mukesh Ambani's goal of stepping up acquisitions now that he and his brother have scrapped a no-compete agreement.
Merck: Dealing with the Aftermath of Vioxx
Merck (MRK) has paid claims to the families of 3,468 users of its Vioxx painkiller who died of heart attacks or strokes, a claims administrator told a judge on July 27. The payments were made out of a $4.85 billion settlement fund Merck set up in 2007. U.S. Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans, who has overseen Vioxx suits since February 2005, called it "a remarkable achievement." He noted that the parties had "finished the large portion of this litigation."