The WSJ reports that 2 yrs after Google (GOOG) began a big push in China, Baidu.com (BIDU) continues to dominate the country's search mkt, thanks in significant part to a controversial and legally risky offering: searches for free, unlicensed music downloads. Now, Google is preparing a counterstrike. The co is in the late planning stages of a joint venture with a Chinese online music co that would permit it to provide free, licensed, music downloads in China. The service, which is likely to offer access to tunes from three global music co’s as well as dozens of smaller players, could start in the next several wks barring any last-minute hiccups.
“Heard on the Street” column discusses Lennar (LEN), saying that the co has found a way to salvage something from the huge losses it incurred by overpaying for land during the housing boom. Late last yr, the co sold a big swath of land for $525m to a partnership that it formed with Morgan Stanley. At first glance, the deal seemed terrible for Lennar, which had the land valued on its books at about $1.3bn. But the deal's structure allowed Lennar to recognize a big loss that it applied against taxes paid the previous 2 yrs. The result: Lennar is expecting a tax refund of more than $800m. As an added bonus, b/c of the way Lennar and Morgan Stanley structured their partnership, Lennar still effectively owns 20% of the land. It also has a 50% voting interest in the partnership, meaning it will have a say in how the land is developed. That means Lennar gets the tax loss, but still holds an interest in the land on its books. "That's the holy grail," said Robert Willens, of Robert Willens LLC. "The accounting is saying that they're not really selling it, whereas the taxes are more formal in the way they look at it."
“Inside Track” section reports that the purchase of $2m of E*Trade (ETFC) shares by co insiders reflects their confidence in the online broker's potential to turn itself around. Ten E*Trade insiders, including its chmn and its acting CEO, bought 474K shares of the co last wk. The purchases show that the insiders "have confidence in the turnaround plan we laid out and the future of the franchise," E*Trade spokeswoman Pam Erickson said.
Barron’s Online discusses Macrovision (MVSN), whose shares are down almost 37% since Dec. 6, the day before the co announced it would acquire Gemstar-TV Guide for $2.8bn, twice the mkt cap of Macrovision itself at the time. Clearly, some investors wonder whether the deal, which will saddle Macrovision with lots of debt, is a case of a co biting off more than it can chew in a bold effort to reinvent itself. But the deal, which is expected to be voted on by shareholders in April, is better financially than some suspect. And it may yet help Macrovision become an important player in the coming age of digital downloads and Internet streaming video. "The combined business will become one of the largest technology intellectual property plays in the public mkts," wrote Jefferies analyst Ross MacMillan in a recent note.
The Financial Times reports that Temasek, the sovereign wealth fund, and Germany’s Tui are in talks to merge their shipping operations in a deal that could see the Singaporean group take a stake of more than 20% in the travel group.
According to The Inquirer Uber Geek Linux Torvalds said that Apple's (AAPL) latest version of its OS-X operating system Leopard was 'crap' and in many places much worse than Microsoft's Vista.