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News You Need to Know

McCain's Daring Choice

The Republican convention in St. Paul got off to a bumpy start on Sept. 1 as Hurricane Gustav sideswiped New Orleans and forced GOP organizers to reshuffle their schedule. But two days earlier, Senator John McCain generated a tempest of his own with his surprise Vice-Presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. While the risky choice delighted conservatives who have been leery of McCain, rapid-fire revelations about Palin's record in office and a family contretemps posed a distraction. As of press time on Sept. 3, the convention was back on track, with a minimalist valedictory from President George W. Bush and a sharp focus on the central message: that McCain offers the seasoned leadership the nation needs. Will addresses by Palin and McCain win over voters anxious about the economy?

Gustav's Glancing Blow

Much feared Hurricane Gustav didn't live up to its billing when it hit the Gulf Coast over the Labor Day weekend. Risk Management Solutions estimated it caused insured losses of $4 billion to $10 billion, vs. $41 billion for Katrina in 2005. Although Gustav forced a precautionary shutdown of gulf oil installations, the price of crude continued its steep two-month slide, hitting $108 a barrel on Sept. 3 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NMX). Oil's swoon had some OPEC ministers agitating for a production cut at their Sept. 9 meeting in Vienna.

Alcatel's New Duo

They're being hailed as a dream team, and it will take one to repair this company. On Sept. 1 limping telecom-gear maker Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) named Ben Verwaayen as its new CEO and Philippe Camus chairman. Verwaayen, a Dutch native, is a longtime telecom vet whose previous gig was a successful turnaround of BT. Camus is a French business savant with nonpareil political skills. Alcatel-Lucent has suffered six consecutive quarters of losses and a 50%-plus slump in its market cap since the French and American companies merged in 2006.

See "Can New Bosses Fix Alcatel-Lucent?"

Will Chrome Shine?

Google (GOOG) just challenged Microsoft (MSFT) to go head to head. On Sept. 2 the search phenom released an early version of a Web browser that takes aim not just at the browser market Microsoft leads but at the software giant's entire business model. Google's browser, dubbed Chrome, is intended to speed online applications, from e-mail to games, that are increasingly used as alternatives to Microsoft's Office and other PC software. Chrome, whose software code will be free for other companies to use, also will provide a foundation for creating richer Web services.

Coke: Sweet on China

Coca-Cola's (KO) second-biggest acquisition ever will take place in China. On Sept. 3 the company said it will pay $2.4 billion for China Huiyuan Juice Group, a takeover that would make Coke the largest seller of juice in the country and build its exposure to local consumers. That helps explain the steep premium for a company with $364 million in sales in 2007. The deal must pass Chinese regulatory muster, a process that could take months.

See "Coke's Juicy China Deal"

Absorbing Dresdner

Germany, often criticized for having too many banks, will soon have one fewer. Frankfurt-based Commerzbank (CRZBY) said on Aug. 31 that it will buy money-losing rival Dresdner Bank, owned by Munich insurer Allianz (AZ), for $14.4 billion. Commerzbank plans to retire the Dresdner name while trimming staff and branches. The deal should make Commerzbank more profitable if managers can meld the two without too much friction.

See "The Problem Commerzbank-Dresdner Can't Solve"

A Savior for Lehman?

The Koreans are back in the running. State-owned Korea Development Bank on Sept. 2 confirmed it is negotiating with Lehman Brothers (LEH) for a stake in the battered Wall Street bank. But the road is still strewn with obstacles. First there's the matter of price. Then there's the fact that KDB chief Min Euoo Sung was hired to get the bank ready for privatization, and Seoul wants any financing of a Lehman deal to come from private-sector partners, not taxpayer money. Also, on Sept. 3 news reports said that other banks, including HSBC (HBC) and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, were pondering investments in Lehman.

See "Lehman: Skeptics Doubt a Korean Rescue"

Japan's Fukuda Quits

He was unpopular almost from the start, but few expected him to bow out so soon. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda resigned on Sept. 1 after less than a year in office. The favorite to take over: Liberal Democratic Party veteran Taro Aso, 67, currently the party's secretary-general. Unlikely to veer far from Fukuda on policy matters, Aso, a manga comic fan and former Olympic clay pigeon shooter, is at least more colorful.

See "Japan: New Leader, Little Change"

A Winner in Iraq

Quick: What's the first company to clinch a commercial oil contract in Iraq since the 2003 invasion? Nope, it's not ExxonMobil (XOM) or another Western major. Instead, China National Petroleum Corp. landed the deal, which the Iraqi Cabinet approved on Sept. 3. State-owned CNPC will receive $3 billion to develop the Al-Ahdab field in central Iraq. CNCP was awarded rights to the field back in 1997, but the contract was suspended after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power. (China Daily)

Rescuing Alitalia

The Italian airline made an emergency landing into bankruptcy on Aug. 29, part of a plan to fly free once again. The move clears the way for a group of Italian investors to buy Alitalia's potentially profitable assets for around $1.5 billion. At least half that sum will have to come from other sources. Air France-KLM (AKH), Lufthansa (DLAKY), and British Airways (BAIRY) all may take a look but will face a battle with Italian unions if they seek job cuts. The unions killed a deal with Air France-KLM earlier this year.

Spielberg's Indian Ally

Steven Spielberg's long-awaited creation of his own studio will be announced soon, BusinessWeek reported on Sept 1. The Hollywood heavyweight will recreate DreamWorks (VIA) with funding from India's Reliance Communications, which would contribute $500 million and own 50%, with Spielberg and top lieutenant Stacey Snider owning the rest. Reliance would also arrange up to $750 million in debt to finance six films a year. Spielberg is expected to find a new distributor after an acrimonious three years with Paramount.

See "Spielberg Nears a Deal with Reliance"

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