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2004 FALL ISSUE - 67
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Oil -- Who's Buying and Who's Selling Oil and What Price - Libya
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- Feature Story /
Yahoo Settles Browser Trademark Case with Geico
----- But Google has not settle the suit by Geico over the use of brand names to trigger ads in searches
SAN FRANCISCO &emdash; Yahoo Inc. settled a closely watched trademark infringement lawsuit with auto insurer Geico, even as rival Google Inc. prepared to take the case to trial this month.
----- Geico, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., sued the two Internet companies in federal court in May for allowing other insurance companies to buy ads that appear when people type "Geico" into search engines.
----- The confidential settlement reached Friday between Geico and the Overture Services division of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo leaves Google as the sole defendant in what could be the first case to decide whether advertisers can lure Web surfers to their sites by buying "sponsored search" ads related to their competitors' brand names.
----- The Geico case and several related lawsuits brought by other trademark holders threaten a sizable chunk of the multibillion-dollar market for keyword ads delivered alongside search engine results &emdash; the primary source of revenue for Google.
----- "It's a huge battle over an enormous revenue generator for Google and Yahoo," said James D. Nguyen, an intellectual property lawyer who has been following but is not involved in the cases.
----- Google and Yahoo get paid every time someone clicks on a sponsored link. Many of the links are generated by searches using generic terms, such as "car insurance." But many advertisers also buy ads based on brand-name keywords. So, for example, several competing carmakers could attract Web surfers searching Google for "Ford Focus."
----- Geico argued that its brand name shouldn't be used to drive traffic to its competitors' websites. Judge Leonie Brinkema, in an Alexandria, Va., federal court, ruled last summer that Geico's claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of trademarks had enough merit to go to trial.
----- Brinkema approved last week's settlement, but the agreement was sealed from the public. The two companies confirmed the settlement but declined to comment Wednesday.
----- Because the settlement's terms were not disclosed, observers said it was difficult to tell how Overture's submission might affect Google's chances of winning. The Mountain View, Calif., company's trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 13. Brinkema mostly sided against the search engines in early stages of the court proceedings.
----- "This settlement with Overture signals something to Google &emdash; there is something that can be done to make Geico happy," said intellectual property lawyer Bruce Sunstein. "It puts the pressure on Google to settle."
----- But Nguyen and other observers said Google seemed ready to defend its turf in court.
----- Pasadena-based Overture lets trademark holders challenge ads related to their brand names and removes ones it thinks infringes trademarks. Google did too &emdash; until April, when it dropped all restrictions on keyword bidding in the United States and Canada. Analysts said the move signaled Google's desire to have a court rule on whether its business practices could stand.
----- "Overture's policy has been a little bit more forgiving and favorable to trademark owners, so it's not that surprising that they settled when Google did not," said intellectual property lawyer Sheldon H. Klein. But he added, "Overture correctly surmised that this judge may not be all that sympathetic to the search engines."
----- Yahoo shares rose 38 cents to $38 on Wednesday, while Google fell $2.02 to $179.96. Both trade on Nasdaq.

Center Page /

Oil -- Who's Buying and Who's Selling in Libya
Fuzhou, China / November 28, 2004 Fear of a sudden, steep price drop has companies wary of committing cash to exploration that could take several years to start paying off. Some of the funds are going to investors.whiteThe key numbers for Big Oil these days aren't $45 or $55. They're 1986 and 1998.
-----Although producers are reaping massive revenues because of soaring prices crude eclipsed $55 a barrel last month and gasoline is well above $2 a gallon in California the industry remains wary of spending on exploration and production.
-----The worry is that oil prices will drop sharply and perhaps even collapse as they did in 1986 and again in 1998. And no producer wants to be stuck with a string of expensive new drilling sites that can't turn a profit.
-----"Companies are cautious," said Charles Williamson, chairman of El Segundo-based Unocal Corp. "We're not investing based on $45 oil, because our projects are in three-, five-, 10-year cycles and we don't know what the oil prices will be then."
-----Instead of betting all of their extra cash on drilling, oil companies are using much of it to reward investors and bolster their balance sheets. They are hiking dividends, buying back shares, paying down debt and beefing up pension plans.
-----ChevronTexaco Corp., for example, raised its quarterly dividend 10% in the third quarter and bought back $750 million of its stock. Those moves came as profit that quarter jumped 62% from a year earlier at the San Ramon, Calif.-based company. Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. raised its quarterly share repurchase program to $2.5 billion from $1.5 billion.
-----Stephen Chazen, chief financial officer of Occidental Petroleum Corp., recently told analysts that the Los Angeles-based company hoped "over the next year to find high-quality projects with good returns." But if it doesn't, he said, "we will return the money to shareholders."
-----Investors are happy, but the industry's moves aren't making a big dent in one of the key problems behind lofty oil prices: tight supplies. The world's limited supply of oil is struggling to keep pace with rising demand in the United States, Asia and other regions. And with spare capacity so slim, fears of production snags because of terrorism, political upheaval and bad weather have repeatedly pushed prices up. So has heavy speculation by traders.
-----Yet even if companies immediately started spending more heavily on finding and producing oil, it probably wouldn't have an effect in the short term. That's because major new oil projects many of them in difficult terrain don't produce their first barrel of oil for years, sometimes even decades.
-----"If we're developing a deep-water project, say, off the coast of West Africa, it may have another four or five years before it's producing oil," said David Pursell, a principal at Pickering Energy Partners, an investment bank in Houston.
-----The world's six largest oil companies this year are expected to reach a record cash flow of $151 billion, a 40% jump from last year, according to John S. Herold Inc., an industry consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn. But their capital spending will rise only 19.6% to $75.4 billion, Herold estimates. And much of that gain won't involve new exploration and production; it will reflect higher operating costs for existing projects and the companies' investments in foreign oil alliances.
-----ConocoPhillips of Houston, for instance, recently announced an investment in Russian oil giant Lukoil valued at more than $2 billion. At Unocal, its 2005 capital budget "will look roughly like it does this year," about $2 billion, Williamson said. "Obviously, we've got to drill more wells; you can't just stay still," he said. "But this industry is acutely aware of having financial discipline."
-----It's an awareness born of disaster. As prices soared in the 1970s, oil companies went on a spending binge. Exploration projects boomed, and the companies diversified into such far-flung areas as retailing and beef processing.
-----Then came the price collapse of the mid-1980s, with oil plunging as low as $10 a barrel. Profits evaporated, exploration spending dried up, energy stock prices tumbled, and several of the big oil companies merged to survive.
-----The scenario repeated itself in the late 1990s, when oil climbed back above $30 a barrel and then two years later plummeted to $10 a barrel. Ever since, "capital discipline" has been the watchword for oil executives.
-----"They have memories of being chastised by investors for destroying value," said Herold Chairman Arthur Smith.
-----Oil executives remain in a tough spot today even though oil prices have climbed 52% this year. Crude for January delivery closed Wednesday at $49.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange; commodities markets were closed Friday for the Thanksgiving weekend.
-----They have to find more oil because their existing sites are being depleted. But prosperous new fields are getting hard to find, or are off-limits because they are environmentally protected or run by national oil companies. Meanwhile, there is pressure from investors for companies to keep posting high earnings quarter after quarter which requires a close watch on spending and to return a big chunk of their extra wealth to stockholders.
-----Paul Roberts, author of the book "The End of Oil," said he would prefer to see oil companies boost spending on alternative fuels in the face of dwindling supplies of conventional crude oil. Even so, Roberts said, he understood the companies' dilemma.
-----"I would hate to be in their position, because they don't think there's any clear picture of how to invest" their latest windfall, Roberts said. "They've seen these cycles before."
-----Refiners, too, are spending cautiously on new equipment because they expect prices to drop from current levels. Strict environmental laws have curbed new construction there hasn't been a new U.S. refinery built from scratch in two decades though several refiners are expanding or modernizing current sites to produce more gasoline, heating oil and other fuels.
-----Exxon Mobil, for instance, is seeking approval to enlarge its giant Baytown, Texas, refinery to increase output by 3% to 575,000 barrels a day. ChevronTexaco this month said it was considering plans to increase the capacity of its Pascagoula, Miss., refinery by 25% to about 79,000 barrels a day.
-----Total U.S. refining capacity "should rise annually only by 0.6% during the 2005-07 pe- riod, significantly less than the 0.9% yearly increase witnessed in 1998-2004," analyst Jacques Rousseau of Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. said in a recent note to clients.
-----To be sure, the industry isn't running in place. It is spending more than $60 billion a year scouring the world for more oil, and that's keeping providers of drilling rigs and other oil field services busy.
-----"We forecast continued growth in the worldwide rig count to 2,595 rigs in 2005, up 8% from 2004," analyst Mark Urness of Merrill Lynch & Co. said in a recent report.
-----Still, that's less than half the peak number of rigs operating in the early 1980s, and spending for oil services also is expected to keep rising only gradually despite the surge in crude prices.
-----"We have the same problems the operators have," said Dennis Smith, director of corporate development at Nabors Industries Ltd., a leading oil services concern. Oil exploration and production companies "are very sensitive" to the past boom-and-bust cycles, "and they're being more measured" about spending, he said.
-----The oil companies' search for petroleum spans the globe. Unocal is operating in the Gulf of Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh. Occidental whose oil spending is expected to rise 13% next year to about $1.8 billion has sites in Ecuador, Colombia, Qatar and Yemen.
-----ChevronTexaco this year has announced discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico, Australia, Venezuela, Nigeria and the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola. The company also is boosting its total capital budget next year by 15% to about $8.5 billion. But that's still well below the $12-billion level it reached in 2001.
-----Each year's spending is "guided by long-term corporate strategies and business plans, and not by short-term market conditions" such as this year's soaring oil prices, said ChevronTexaco spokesman Stan Luckoski.
-----Analysts said there were some potential oil sources that the major companies would pursue regardless of their outlook for future market prices, simply because those fields have such rich long-term prospects.
-----One is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19-million-acre region in northeast Alaska. The oil industry, environmentalists and politicians have fought for years over whether drilling should be allowed there.
-----Now, with Republicans having added to their majority in Congress, the Bush administration is expected to push again to open the refuge to drilling. If it prevails, "the oil companies will be standing in line to get leases," Smith of Herold said.
-----The government estimates that there are 6 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil beneath the refuge's tundra, though opponents argue that only about 3.2 billion can be recovered economically.
-----Another potential source is Libya, which has about 36 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, more than Mexico and Nigeria and about 3% of the world's total, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
-----This year, President Bush eased sanctions that have kept U.S. oil producers out of the North African country for 18 years. Occidental and ChevronTexaco are among the companies exploring ways to resume operations there, and another meeting of U.S. oil firms and Libyan officials is scheduled in Tripoli in early December.
-----"Whether oil is $25 or $30 or $40, Libya is an extremely attractive spot, so I think it's pretty independent of price," Occidental's Chazen said in an interview.
-----Overall, though, the oil companies will maintain their guarded stance toward spending on new production unless they become convinced that today's prices are here to stay, Pursell of Pickering Energy Partners said.
-----"They're making long-term bets here," he said. "But if we're having this discussion next year, and oil is still $50 or $55 a barrel, you will see them drill for more oil. You can buy back stock or raise the dividend only so much."



ByLines: Editors Note

Gower Studios Is Sold
One of Hollywood's most storied film lots has been sold.
-----The former Columbia Pictures headquarters, most recently known as Sunset-Gower Studios, was acquired by Menlo Park, Calif., private equity firm GI Partners. It landed the 17-acre property, which includes the Nickelodeon Theater, from Pick-Vanoff Co. at a price real estate industry sources put at $110 million.
-----The lot has one of the richest histories in the entertainment industry, dating to a tiny studio that movie tycoon Harry Cohn bought on Sunset Boulevard between Gower Street and Beachwood Drive in 1920. After it became home to Columbia Pictures in 1924, some of Columbia's most noteworthy films &emdash; among them "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "From Here to Eternity" and "Funny Girl" &emdash; were shot there. Some celebrated television shows were made on the lot too, including the 1960s hits "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Bewitched."
-----Movies and TV programs will continue to be filmed on the 13 soundstages, GI Partners said Wednesday. Projects underway include episodes of the television shows "Six Feet Under," "American Dreams" and "Eve."
-----Andrew Tainiter, a partner in the equity firm, said it typically invested in businesses "with a high degree of recurring revenue."
-----"Sunset-Gower has been one of the premier independent studios for a long time," Tainiter said.
-----He wouldn't disclose what the studio's revenue stream has been. It makes money renting soundstages, office space and equipment and providing support services such as catering.
-----Although Tainiter now has an office on the lot, veteran General Manager Steve Auer will run day-to-day operations of the studio, Tainiter said. Cosmetic improvements will be made to the lot, and more stage and office space may be developed, Tainiter said, though he declined to say how much would be spent.
-----In 1976, the Columbia glory days were over when Pick-Vanoff bought the property for $6.2 million.
-----Saul Pick and Nick Vanoff got what the industry considered a white elephant that had been so thoroughly looted that it was missing office doors, carpeting and toilet seats. Many of the soundstages had been converted to indoor tennis courts.
-----Pick and Vanoff renovated the studio, and by 1981 the renamed Sunset-Gower Studios had become a bustling lot, with ABC renting a third of its stages.
-----In 1983, Pick and Vanoff also purchased the landmark Aquarius Theater, which had been the Moulin Rouge nightclub and the Earl Carroll Theatre. They converted it into a state-of-the art television theater that for nine years was the home of "Star Search" and today is the Nickelodeon Theater.
-----Pick was a German immigrant who survived a Nazi concentration camp and went on to build a real estate empire in Los Angeles before he died in 2002. He built the Cinerama Dome in 1963 and the two bank buildings on the southwest corner of Sunset and Vine Street. And he turned the former KHJ-TV studio on North Vine Street into a thriving independent television facility that was bought by ABC in 1970.
-----In 1963, he also built the first high-rise hotel on the Sunset Strip; it's now called the Hyatt West Hollywood but may best be known as the Continental Hyatt House.
-----Vanoff was a former dancer and successful television producer born in Greece, whose shows included "The Hollywood Palace," the second "Sonny & Cher Show" and "Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall." He died in 1991, a year after winning a Tony Award for best musical for his production of "City of Angels."
-----Pick's son, Mark, took over management of the studio that year. Sunset-Gower wasn't on the market, Mark Pick said, but GI Partners "was remarkably persistent. The more I said 'no,' the more dogged they were."
-----Pick said he would miss life on the lot and such memorable moments as the rehearsal for the 1993 Academy Awards where a boa constrictor to be used in the performance of a song from "Aladdin" escaped from its handler and disappeared, sending the rehearsal into chaos. The snake reappeared weeks later hungry but unharmed.
-----Pick may use profits from the sale to buy another studio, he said.
-----Sunset-Gower was the third studio to be sold this year. The historic Culver Studios in Culver City where Cecile B. DeMille filmed silent movies was purchased for $80 million in April by a group of El Segundo and New York investors. Last month, a Los Angeles investment banking firm reportedly paid close to $100 million for Manhattan Beach Studios, a 5-year-old studio in Manhattan Beach.
-----"Even with television and film production improving in L.A. County, only private investors are seeking out these investments," said commercial real estate broker Carl Muhlstein of Cushman & Wakefield. "You would think the majors who rent them would want to bid on them."
-----Film and television producers aren't putting money into hard assets, he said, preferring to simply rent their facilities and charge the expenses to individual productions.
-----GI Partners manages a $526-million investment fund backed by the California Public Employees' Retirement System pension fund and CB Richard Ellis, a Los Angeles-based real estate services company. Most of its properties are telecommunications facilities, such as the Brea Data Center in Brea and Carrier Center in downtown Los Angeles


News Highlights For Week

Economy Adds Fewer Jobs Than Expected - Nov. 28, 2004
The nation's hiring engine faltered yet again in November, with the Labor Department reporting Friday that the economy added a net 112,000 jobs during the month. That was much fewer than the 200,000 that economists were expecting and only about two-thirds of what needs to be created each month to keep up with the growth in population.
----- The unemployment rate fell to 5.4% from 5.5% the previous month.
----- Employment has seesawed for more than a year now, with periods of strong growth followed by weak ones.
----- November's numbers looked particularly weak in contrast to October's totals, which even after being revised downward Friday were an impressive 303,000.
----- "Just when I thought it was safe to say the job market had finally firmed up, we discovered once again we were wrong," said economist Joel Naroff. "There's a new psychology in the corporate sector. If they need to hire 10 people, they try to get by with five."


Mild Weather, Higher Supply Knock Oil Prices
-----Oil prices fell sharply last week as unseasonably warm weather in the Northeast and the return of Gulf of Mexico production crimped by Hurricane Ivan allowed U.S. refiners to build heating-fuel inventories.
-----Crude for January delivery tumbled $6.90, or 14%, to $42.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange last week. Prices have plunged 24% from the Oct. 25 peak of $55.67 a barrel, which was the highest level in the 21 years the contract has traded.
-----U.S. stockpiles of distillates, including heating oil and diesel fuel, rose 20% last week, the biggest jump in almost five months, the Energy Department said. The rise in stockpiles should signal a further decline in gasoline prices this week, analysts said.
-----The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet in Cairo on Friday to discuss production quotas and target prices.
-----Plunging oil prices and the declining value of the dollar may push OPEC to take steps that could cause oil prices to rise, some analysts said.


Ousted CalPERS Chief May Return
-----Sean Harrigan, who was ousted last week as president of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, may soon be back on the board of the $177-billion pension fund.
-----Harrigan lost his seat when the state Personnel Board voted 3 to 2 to replace him as its representative to the CalPERS board. His term expires Dec. 31.
----- However, according to sources close to the talks, Harrigan and his backers in the labor and corporate governance movements have asked Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) to appoint the deposed CalPERS president to a board seat controlled by the two legislative leaders.
----- Sources familiar with the discussions said Nuñez made no commitment other than to encourage Harrigan to line up support from top national and regional labor leaders.


Southeast Asian Nations, China Sign Trade Pact
-----China inked a deal with 10 Southeast Asian countries to create the world's largest free trade area, bolstering its influence in a region long dominated by the United States.
----- The leaders attending the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Laos also announced plans to hold the first East Asian Summit next year in Malaysia. The Asia-only gathering would include China, Japan and South Korea.
-----The moves are likely to boost China's political and economic interests in an area where its relations have been strained by territorial disputes and lingering war animosities.
----- That could reduce U.S. clout among Southeast Asian nations that are key military allies and large markets for U.S. farm goods, machinery and Hollywood films.
-----The free trade pact would lead to the elimination of tariffs by China and ASEAN on thousands of products by 2015.


Early Holiday Sales Show Weakness
-----U.S. retailers logged wimpy sales in November, which might prompt them to tempt consumers with bigger-than-planned discounts this month.

Sales at stores open for at least a year, a key industry indicator, rose 1.7% from a year earlier, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The year-over-year rate in November 2003 was 3.7%.
----- Of the 71 retail chains surveyed this year, 45% reported sales declines.
-----"The breadth of the weakness was certainly evident," said Michael Niemira, the council's chief economist.
-----Instead of shopping steadily through the month in a way that builds momentum, he said, people bought in surges spurred by sales, and that made for little "follow-through" spending. What's more, he said, bricks-and-mortar stores may have lost revenues as more Americans shopped on the Internet.
----- As a result, Niemira trimmed his forecast for the holiday season, saying he expected same-store sales to rise 2.5% to 3% in November and December combined, not the 3% to 4% he had predicted earlier.


Anthem-WellPoint Merger Is Completed
-----After several false starts and months of controversy, Anthem Inc. completed its acquisition of WellPoint Health Networks Inc., creating the largest health insurer in the nation, with more than 28 million members.
-----The company will operate out of Anthem's Indianapolis headquarters but will adopt a streamlined version of its Thousand Oaks-based target's name: WellPoint Inc.
-----Since the deal was announced in October 2003, Anthem's stock has risen 31%, while WellPoint's has soared 49%.
-----Analysts said they expected the bulked-up insurer to grab employee health benefit accounts at big corporations operating in multiple states.
-----The combined WellPoint covers more than a third more people than its next largest competitor, Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group Inc.


Satellite TV Pioneer to Leave DirecTV
-----Eddy W. Hartenstein, widely regarded as the father of modern-day satellite television, will retire as vice chairman of News Corp.'s DirecTV Group Inc. at year-end, the company said.
-----Sources said that Hartenstein had grown frustrated with his diminishing role at the company he launched in 1990 and built into the nation's leading satellite TV provider. Since News Corp. took control last December, the sources said, Hartenstein has increasingly been cut out of the loop.
-----Hartenstein's resignation caught many employees at the El Segundo-based company by surprise. The executive is just 54 &emdash; young enough, industry sources speculated, to start a second career at another technology-based company.
-----Hartenstein said he planned to take some time off before contemplating his next move.
----- Hartenstein's "expertise and counsel have been critical to our progress during the last year," Chase Carey, chief executive of DirecTV, said in a statement.


U.S. to Lift Ban on Mexican Avocados
-----The U.S. plans to lift a 90-year-old ban on importing Hass avocados from Mexico into California, over the strenuous objections of the state's growers, who say an infestation of bugs from south of the border could damage their orchards.
-----The arrival of the Mexican-grown fruit in California, scheduled to begin in 2007, could reduce prices for consumers. But it could also slash state growers' sales by as much as 20%, according to federal estimates.
-----Under the new rules, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would allow Mexico to ship avocados to all 50 states year-round.
-----Previous regulations limited Mexican avocados to 31 Northern and Midwestern states far from the nation's avocado-growing regions. What's more, imports were confined to between Oct. 15 and April 15, when the population of insects that could damage the U.S. crop thins out.


Intel Boosts Revenue Forecast for 4th Quarter
-----Chip maker Intel Corp. raised its quarterly sales forecast for the first time in more than a year, citing strong demand for its microprocessors that run most of the world's personal and corporate computers.
-----The upbeat fourth-quarter forecast from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, a barometer of the tech sector's health, came on the same day that technology market researcher IDC said it expected chip sales to rise 26% in 2004 but fall 2% in 2005 because of overproduction. Sales should grow in 2006, IDC said.
-----Intel Chief Financial Officer Andy Bryant told analysts that revenue for the three months ending Dec. 31 was likely to be $9.3 billion to $9.5 billion, up from the previous estimate of $8.6 billion to $9.2 billion.


Edison Uncovers More Unreported Injuries
-----Southern California Edison Co., which has admitted using faulty workplace safety data to win performance-based bonuses from the state, said the blame fell mostly on Edison's failure to keep track of cuts, bruises and other minor injuries among its 12,000 employees.
-----Edison &emdash; the main unit of Rosemead-based Edison International &emdash; said it also uncovered "several hundred" more serious on-the-job injuries between 1999 and 2004 that went unreported.
-----Those injuries also are supposed to be logged for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. They came on top of 3,466 such injuries that Edison did report to Cal/OSHA during that time, Edison said.
-----Even so, Edison asserted that the additional injuries would not have deprived Edison of wining the performance bonuses from the California Public Utilities Commission, and that there was no concerted effort by the electric utility to cheat the state.



-----It just goes to show you, says TVI - the week is gone, "NOTHING IN THIS WORLD IS PERMANENT" . . . so follow the money - - and take some advice from a dinner-time chat with "Stonehead".f



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