Blockbuster to close 129 stores

DVD rental firm Blockbuster is to close 129 more stores after it went into administration earlier this month.

It had already given 31 stores notice of closure. The chain has 528 stores and employs 4,190 staff.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm running Blockbusters, said 760 staff are now facing redundancy, but the closures are not taking place immediately.

The administrators have previously said Blockbuster UK would keep trading while it tries to find a buyer.

Joint administrator Lee Manning said: “Having reviewed the portfolio with management, the store closure plan is an inevitable consequence of having to restructure the company to a profitable core which is capable of being sold.

“We would like to thank the company’s employees for their support and professionalism during this difficult time. We are also grateful to the customers for their continued support.”

The administrators said that “a dedicated employee helpline” had been set up, as well as an “employee assistance programme to help those staff facing redundancy find other jobs”.

Expansion planned

The first Blockbuster store in the UK opened in south London in 1989, and the firm has sought to expand its services in recent years, including with a trade-in facility for pre-owned titles.

But the firm’s profits have been hit by the growth of online rental services an, recently, the popularity of streaming films over the internet.

More than 100 Blockbuster UK outlets have closed in the past few years.

Blockbuster in the US went bankrupt in 2011 but was rescued by US pay-TV provider Dish Network in a $ 320m (£200m) deal, which saved hundreds of US stores from closing. The UK arm is also owned by Dish Network and run separately.

Before Blockbuster was bought by Dish Network, there were media reports of ambitious expansion plans, including selling electrical goods such as televisions, mobile phones, and iPods.

But business experts said Blockbuster’s problems were all too similar to those hitting other retailers – a failure to adapt quickly enough to a changing business environment and consumer habits.

Blockbuster’s administration came after music chain HMV and camera-seller Jessops both went into administration earlier this month.

BBC News – Business

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REPEAT: BMO Celebrates Grand Opening of Silverado Branch in Fast Growing Area of Calgary-Open Seven Days a Week

CALGARY, ALBERTA–(Marketwire – Jan 19, 2013) – BMO Bank of Montreal invites customers and members of the community to celebrate the grand opening of its new full-service banking branch, Calgary”s Silverado neighborhood located at 19369 Sheriff King St. SW, south of Spruce Meadows Trail in Calgary. The celebration will be held tomorrow, on Saturday, January 19, 2013.

The branch, which offers customers extended banking hours seven days a week, is designed to provide a great banking experience through a variety of financial services and conveniences, including:

  • A Coin Counter – a simple-to-use kiosk which counts your loose change;

  • Two ATMs – including a drive-thru ATM;

  • Services provided in seven different languages;

  • Access to commercial account and deposit services – including a 24 hour depository for small business after-hours use; and

  • Barrier-free access.

The branch is located in the fast-growing southern area of Calgary. According to BMO Economics, growth in Calgary is expected to remain strong with 120,000 new jobs to be created in Calgary and Edmonton by 2016.

“At our new branch, the extended banking hours make it easier for customers to come in and speak with our team about all of their financial needs,” noted Lisa Griffin, Branch Manager, BMO Bank of Montreal. “With the RRSP contribution deadline coming up quickly, we encourage customers and members of the community to drop by to learn about ways to plan for your retirement and make your RRSP contribution; making your finances a priority in 2013.”

Ms. Griffin added that BMO offers BMO MoneyLogic™, an online personal financial management tool that enables customers to set and track spending limits and savings goals.

There will also be an opportunity to pick up great giveaways and enter to win a $ 1000. BMO GIC contribution. In addition, anyone who uses our coin counter and deposits the proceeds into a new savings account will receive a matching deposit up to $ 25, with the offer good until February 17, 2013. 

Hours of operation for BMO”s Silverado branch are:

  • Monday to Wednesday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.;

  • Thursday and Friday 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.;

  • Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and

  • Sunday 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m.

Grand Opening Details:

Who:Rick Fraser, MLA, Calgary South East
 Peter Demong, Alderman, City of Calgary
 Helen Bodnor, Regional Director, Ronmor Holdings Inc.
 Robert Hayes, Senior Vice President, Alberta Division, BMO Bank of Montreal
 Michelle Mobarrez, Personal Banking Area Manager, BMO Bank of Montreal
 Lisa Griffin, Branch Manager, BMO Bank of Montreal
What:Grand Opening Celebration -
Complimentary gourmet brunch, beverages and live entertainment
Official ribbon and cake cutting ceremonies and photo opportunities
Great giveaways and a raffle draw for a $ 1000 GIC
Family-fun activities, including face painting and BMO the Bear
When:Saturday, January 19, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Formal speeches and ribbon-cutting ceremony to commence at noon
Where:BMO Bank of Montreal – 19369 Sheriff King St. SW, Unit 120, Calgary (South of Spruce Meadows Trail)

About BMO Financial Group

Established in 1817 as Bank of Montreal, BMO Financial Group is a highly diversified North American financial services organization. With total assets of $ 525 billion as at October 31, 2012, and more than 46,000 employees, BMO Financial Group provides a broad range of retail banking, wealth management and investment banking products and solutions.

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance

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Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.

The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.

Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.

Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.

"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.

Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.

Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.

Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.

Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.

The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.

"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.

"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."

Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.

Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.

The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.

The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.

Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.

The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.

"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.

"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Fiery Orioles manager Earl Weaver dead at 82

BALTIMORE (AP) — Loved in Baltimore long after he ended his Hall of Fame career, Earl Weaver remained an Oriole to the end.

The notoriously peppery Hall of Fame manager died at age 82 on a Caribbean cruise associated with the Orioles, his marketing agent said Saturday.

The Duke of Earl, as he was affectionately known in Baltimore, took the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons but won only one title, in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.

Dick Gordon said Weaver's wife told him that Weaver went back to his cabin after dinner and began choking between 10:30 and 11 Friday night. Gordon said a cause of death has not been determined.

"It's a sad day. Earl was a terrific manager," Vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "The simplicity and clarity of his leadership and his passion for baseball was unmatched. He's a treasure for the Orioles. He leaves a terrific legacy of winning baseball with the Orioles and we're so grateful for his contribution. He has a legacy that will live on,"

Weaver will forever remain a part of Camden Yards. A statue of him was dedicated last summer in the stadium's flag court, along with the rest of the team's Hall of Fame members.

"Earl Weaver stands alone as the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles organization and one of the greatest in the history of baseball," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said. "This is a sad day for everyone who knew him and for all Orioles fans. Earl made his passion for the Orioles known both on and off the field. On behalf of the Orioles, I extend my condolences to his wife, Marianna, and to his family."

Weaver was a salty-tongued manager who preferred to wait for a three-run homer rather than manufacture a run with a stolen base or a bunt. While some baseball purists argued that strategy, no one could dispute the results.

"Earl was well known for being one of the game's most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to his wife, Marianne, their family and all Orioles fans."

Weaver had a reputation as a winner, but umpires knew him as a hothead. Weaver would often turn his hat backward and yell directly into an umpire's face to argue a call or a rule, and after the inevitable ejection he would more often than not kick dirt on home plate or on the umpire's shoes.

"He was an intense competitor and smart as a whip when it comes to figuring out ways to beat you," said Davey Johnson, who played under Weaver in the minor leagues and with the Orioles from 1965 to 1972.

He was ejected 91 times, including once in both games of a doubleheader.

Asked once if his reputation might have harmed his chances to gain entry into the Hall of Fame, Weaver admitted, "It probably hurt me."

Not for long. He entered the hall in 1996.

"When you discuss our game's motivational masters, Earl is a part of that conversation," Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "He was a proven leader in the dugout and loved being a Hall of Famer. Though small in stature, he was a giant as a manager."

His ejections were overshadowed by his five 100-win seasons, six AL East titles and four pennants. Weaver was inducted 10 years after he managed his final game with Baltimore at the end of an ill-advised comeback.

In 1985, the Orioles' owner at the time, Edward B. Williams, coaxed Weaver away from golf to take over a struggling squad. Weaver donned his uniform No. 4, which had already been retired by the team, and tried to breathe some life into the listless Orioles.

Baltimore went 53-52 over the last half of the 1985 season, but finished seventh in 1986 with a 73-89 record. It was Weaver's only losing season as a major-league manager, and he retired for good after that.

"If I hadn't come back," Weaver said after his final game, "I would be home thinking what it would have been like to manage again. I found out it's work."

Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record. He won Manager of the Year three times.

"I had a successful career, not necessarily a Hall of Fame career, but a successful one," he said.

Weaver came to the Orioles as a first base coach in 1968, took over as manager on July 11 and went on to become the winningest manager in the history of the franchise.

"Earl was such a big part of Orioles baseball and personally he was a very important part of my life and career and a great friend to our family," Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken said. "His passion for the game and the fire with which he managed will always be remembered by baseball fans everywhere and certainly by all of us who had the great opportunity to play for him. Earl will be missed but he can't and won't be forgotten."

He knew almost everything about the game. He was also a great judge of human character, and that's one of the main reasons why he was loved by a vast majority of his players even though he often rode them mercilessly from spring training into October.

"His bark was worse than his bite, but you had to know him and kind of grow up with him, and then you loved him like a father," Johnson said. "He was a used-car salesman in the minor leagues during the offseason, so he learned a lot of ways to sell you on just about anything."

Pat Dobson, who pitched two seasons under Weaver, said, "Certainly, the years I played for him were the two most enjoyable years I've had."

During games Weaver smoked cigarettes in the tunnel leading to the dugout and he never kicked the habit. He suffered a mild heart attack in August 1998, and the Orioles' manager at the time, Ray Miller, wondered aloud how his mentor was holding up.

"I wouldn't want to talk to him if he hasn't had a cigarette in 10 days," Miller joked. "They've probably got him tied to a chair."

Weaver was a brilliant manager, but he never made it to the majors as a player. He finally quit after spending 13 years as a second baseman in the St. Louis organization.

"He talked about how he could drive in 100 runs a year, score 100 runs and never make an error," Johnson said. "He said he never got to the big leagues because the Cardinals had too many good players in front of him."

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Why Africa backs French in Mali

French-led Mali offensive

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French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

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French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

French-led Mali offensive

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  • French intervention in Mali could be turning point in relationship with Africa, writes Lansana Gberie

  • France's meddling to bolster puppet regimes in the past has outraged Africans, he argues

  • He says few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as 'neo-colonial mission creep'

  • Lansana: 'Africa's weakness has been exposed by the might of a foreign power'

Editor's note: Dr. Lansana Gberie is a specialist on African peace and security issues. He is the author of "A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone." He is from Sierra Leone and lives in New York.

(CNN) -- Operation Serval, France's swift military intervention to roll back advances made by Jihadist elements who had hijacked a separatist movement in northern Mali, could be a turning point in the ex-colonialist's relationship with Africa.

It is not, after all, every day that you hear a senior official of the African Union (AU) refer to a former European colonial power in Africa as "a brotherly nation," as Ambroise Niyonsaba, the African Union's special representative in Ivory Coast, described France on 14 January, while hailing the European nation's military strikes in Mali.

France's persistent meddling to bolster puppet regimes or unseat inconvenient ones was often the cause of much outrage among African leaders and intellectuals. But by robustly taking on the Islamist forces that for many months now have imposed a regime of terror in northern Mali, France is doing exactly what African governments would like to have done.

Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie

This is because the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are a far greater threat to many African states than they ever would be to France or Europe.

See also: What's behind Mali instability?

Moreover, the main underlying issues that led to this situation -- the separatist rebellion by Mali's Tuareg, under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who seized the northern half of the country and declared it independent of Mali shortly after a most ill-timed military coup on 22 March 2012 -- is anathema to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Successful separatism by an ethnic minority, it is believed, would only encourage the emergence of more separatist movements in a continent where many of the countries were cobbled together from disparate groups by Europeans not so long ago.

But the foreign Islamists who had been allies to the Tuaregs at the start of their rebellion had effectively sidelined the MNLA by July last year, and have since been exercising tomcatting powers over the peasants in the area, to whom the puritanical brand of Islam being promoted by the Islamists is alien.

ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria -- formerly France's chief hegemonic foe in West Africa -- in August last year submitted a note verbale with a "strategic concept" to the U.N. Security Council, detailing plans for an intervention force to defeat the Islamists in Mali and reunify the country.

ECOWAS wanted the U.N. to bankroll the operation, which would include the deployment a 3,245-strong force -- to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors -- at a cost of $410 million a year. The note stated that the objective of the Islamists in northern Mali was to "create a safe haven" in that country from which to coordinate "continental terrorist networks, including AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]."

Despite compelling evidence of the threat the Islamists pose to international peace and security, the U.N. has not been able to agree on funding what essentially would be a military offensive. U.N. Security Council resolution 2085, passed on 20 December last year, only agreed to a voluntary contribution and the setting up of a trust fund, and requested the secretary-general "develop and refine options within 30 days" in this regard. The deadline should be 20 January.

See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter

It is partly because of this U.N. inaction that few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as another neo-colonial mission creep.

If the Islamists had been allowed to capture the very strategic town of Sevaré, as they seemed intent on doing, they would have captured the only airstrip in Mali (apart from the airport in Bamako) capable of handling heavy cargo planes, and they would have been poised to attack the more populated south of the country.

Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.
Lansana Gberie

Those Africans who would be critical of the French are probably stunned to embarrassment: Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.

Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali

Africans, however, can perhaps take consolation in the fact that the current situation in Mali was partially created by the NATO action in Libya in 2010, which France spearheaded. A large number of the well-armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists had fought in the forces of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and then left to join the MNLA in northern Mali after Gadhafi fell.

They brought with them advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya; and two new Jihadist terrorist groups active in northern Mali right now, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, were formed out of these forces.

Many African states had an ambivalent attitude towards Gadhafi, but few rejoiced when he was ousted and killed in the most squalid condition.

A number of African countries, Nigeria included, have started to deploy troops in Mali alongside the French, and ECOWAS has stated the objective as the complete liberation of the north from the Islamists.

The Islamists are clearly not a pushover; though they number between 2,000 and 3,000 they are battle-hardened and fanatically driven, and will likely hold on for some time to come.

The question now is: what happens after, as is almost certain, France begins to wind down its forces, leaving the African troops in Mali?

Nigeria, which almost single-handedly funded previous ECOWAS interventions (in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian troops), has been reluctant to fund such expensive missions since it became democratic.

See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'

Its civilian regimes have to be more accountable to their citizens than the military regimes of the 1990s, and Nigeria has pressing domestic challenges. Foreign military intervention is no longer popular in the country, though the links between the northern Mali Islamists and the destructive Boko Haram could be used as a strategic justification for intervention in Mali.

The funding issue, however, will become more and more urgent in the coming weeks and months, and the U.N. must find a sustainable solution beyond a call for voluntary contributions by member states.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lansana Gberie.

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Lance Armstrong biopic in the works from Paramount, J.J. Abrams

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Paramount Pictures and “Star Trek” producer J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot company have purchased the film rights to a forthcoming book about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction.

Armstrong, whose name and celebrity status helped build a multimillion dollar cancer foundation, admitted on Thursday that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win a record seven consecutive Tour de France championships after denying doping allegations for years.

The forthcoming book, “Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong” by New York Times reporter Juliet Macur, traces his recovery from cancer, inspirational return to cycling, and his fall to disgraced ex-champion.

The book is set for a June publication by HarperCollins.

Neither Paramount nor Bad Robot would comment on the deal, which was first reported on the Deadline Hollywood entertainment site.

Abrams, the producer and director of the forthcoming science-fiction thriller film “Star Trek into Darkness,” co-founded Bad Robot with producer Bryan Burk.

Paramount will distribute the big-budget “Star Trek,” which is scheduled for release in May. Paramount has distributed other Abrams-produced films, including 2011′s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” starring Tom Cruise.

Paramount Pictures is a subsidiary of Viacom Inc and HarperCollins is owned by News Corp.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Movies News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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UK retail sales fall in December

UK retail sales fell at a seasonally-adjusted 0.1% in December from the month before, official figures suggest.

Compared with a year earlier, the quantity of goods sold rose a worse-than-expected 0.3%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This was the slowest annual growth rate for a December since 1998 – except for December 2010, when sales were hit by heavy snow, the ONS said.

Clothing and food sales did notably badly, but online retailers did well.

The ONS said that while sales continued to be higher than a year ago – a trend that began in August – this growth had lost its momentum.

In the bigger picture, sales have stagnated since mid-2007. The December 2012 figure was only 2.4% higher than the volume of sales recorded in December 2007.

Kate Davies, Office for National Statistics: “The year-on-year growth was the slowest since December 1998″

The value of goods sold in December was 0.1% lower than November, and 0.7% higher than a year ago, indicating that the price rises faced by shoppers came to a halt at the end of the year – although this could also reflect consumers trading down for cheaper versions of the goods they want.

Shopping from home

The figures came as a surprise to some analysts, who had been expecting stronger growth.

Many High Street retailers had reported a last-minute surge in shoppers the last weekend before Christmas, and bumper Boxing Day sales, following what had otherwise been a fairly quiet run-up to Christmas, not helped by the rain.

The ONS data confirmed that online retailers continued to increase their share of business. About 10.6% of sales were carried out online during the month, up from 9.4% a year earlier.

That share was down just 0.1 percentage points from November – a much smaller fall than usually occurs as this time of the year, when more shoppers typically head for the High Street for their Christmas purchases and for the Boxing Day sales.

The data tallies with figures from research firm Experian that suggested the number of visits to retail websites rose 86% on Christmas Eve, 71% on Christmas Day and 17% on Boxing Day compared with a year earlier, as many chains began their online sales before Christmas.

Total online sales were up 15.5% from a year earlier, led by a 36% increase by websites of department stores such as John Lewis.

“This was a very online Christmas,” Rahul Sharma, retail analyst at Neev Capital, told the BBC.

Economist Jeremy Cook: “Peoples’ pockets are still being pressured by price rises”

“People want to be able to compare prices online. They like the ability to shop online, maybe picking up in the store, and the retailers who can adapt to that the best are the ones who are really going to win.”

‘More to come’

Weak sales, and the migration of business to online competitors, have felled a number of big High Street names in recent weeks.

Electricals chain Comet and camera retailer Jessops have ceased trading, while music vendor HMV and video rentals firm Blockbuster face uncertain futures, having gone into administration.

“For all that we’ve had very strong trading statements from the likes of Dixons, Argos and John Lewis, there is a soft underbelly of the likes of HMV, Jessops, etc,” said Mr Sharma. “I suspect there’s more of those.”

With more people shopping online, it seems fewer felt the need to use their car. The volume of petrol and diesel sold in December fell 6.6% from a year ago, despite ticking up 1.8% compared with November.

Stripping out the effect of these lower car fuel sales from the data, total sales rose a more respectable 1.1% from a year ago.

Continue reading the main story

Other sectors to suffer included predominately food stores, where sales volumes fell 1% from the year before, and textiles, clothing and footwear stores, where sales were down 3.5%.

Weak pound

The weak sales data “will scotch any hopes of a consumer-led recovery, and are another strong hint that the economy is contracting again,” said currency trader Chris Redfern at Moneycorp.

He said it would add to fears that the UK may be on the verge a triple-dip recession, following a strong rebound in activity over the summer.

Next week, the ONS is widely expected to confirm that the UK economy shrank in the last three months of 2012.

If the economy also shrinks during the current quarter, it would mean the country had experienced its third recession in a row without recovering to its peak level of activity recorded in 2007.

The poor sales figures also strengthen the case for more money creation by the Bank of England, as well as a possible change in its inflation target to allow for higher price rises – changes that would likely weaken the pound further.

The pound has already been falling sharply in recent days, reaching a nine-month low against the euro, on fears over the state of the UK economy and a possible bust-up with the EU.

“The markets had been primed on Friday for a gutsy speech from the Prime Minister about Britain’s relationship with Europe,” said Mr Redfern. “Its cancellation has left them searching in vain for other good news.”

BBC News – Business

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Wall Street edges lower after disappointing Intel results

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged lower on Friday from a five-year high for the S&P 500 as a weak outlook from tech heavyweight Intel offset a better-than-expected quarterly profit at Morgan Stanley.

But the S&P 500 was still on track to end higher for a third consecutive week.

Shares of Intel Corp slumped nearly 7 percent to $21.11 a day after it forecast quarterly revenue below analysts' estimates and announced plans for increased capital spending amid slow demand for personal computers.

"Intel earnings weren't that bad, although their revenue was weak. It sparks fears about not only the company but about the whole PC sector, and that's pressuring the market today," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

The Intel results were offset somewhat by Morgan Stanley , which reported a fourth-quarter profit after a year-earlier loss, helped by higher revenue at the bank's institutional securities business. Its stock jumped 7.4 percent to $22.29.

Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings rose an estimated 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. Expectations for the quarter have dropped considerably since October, when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 15.17 points, or 0.11 percent, at 13,580.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 3.51 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,477.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 13.98 points, or 0.45 percent, at 3,122.03.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose to its highest since late 2007, and that could prompt investors to lock in recent gains, analysts said.

Despite the day's decline, market sentiment was still positive on speculation that chances were better of avoiding a debt ceiling fight in Washington. House Republicans signaled on Thursday they might support a short-term extension of U.S. borrowing authority next month.

"The debt ceiling issue is sort of out of the news. The market has definitely become complacent. And we all know that the issue will be dealt with, we just need to find out when. If December is any guide, they are going to leave it up to the last minute so the market is definitely more complacent than it should be for now," Ghriskey said.

Reflecting the complacency, the CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, fell 4.1 percent at just above 13. The VIX usually moves inversely to the S&P 500 as it is used as a hedge tool against further market decline.

Economic data from China provided some support to the market, though the focus remained on U.S. corporate earnings. The country's economy grew at a modestly faster-than-expected 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the latest sign the world's second-biggest economy was pulling out of a post-global financial crisis slowdown which saw it grow in 2012 at its weakest pace since 1999.

General Electric reported a better-than-expected rise in earnings, spurred by robust demand in China and oil-producing countries. Shares were up 2.9 percent to $21.92.

Despite the gains by Morgan Stanley, financial stocks sagged as Capital One Financial reported disappointing profit. Capital One slumped 7.7 percent to $56.87, while the KBW bank index <.bkx> slipped 0.9 percent.

Research In Motion climbed 6.6 percent to $15.91 after Jefferies Group boosted the BlackBerry maker's rating and price target.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)

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Hamilton: Armstrong must tell everything he knows

Tyler Hamilton recognized what he saw during Lance Armstrong's televised confession to doping.

"He's broken. He's broken," Hamilton said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "I've never seen him even remotely like that. It doesn't please me to see that."

Hamilton rode for Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team during his first three Tour de France titles. Hamilton's public confessions to doping — first in a candid-but-halting "60 Minutes" interview in 2011, then later in a tell-all book that came out last summer — provided key evidence in the case against Armstrong.

On Thursday, Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey aired, and the cyclist admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to fuel all seven of his Tour de France victories.

Hamilton, who said he felt a huge sense of relief after telling the truth, applauded Armstrong's decision to come clean, calling it a "big first step," but only a beginning.

"It's what he does moving forward," Hamilton said in a phone interview. "He's saying some of the right things now but the proof is in the pudding. If he just goes and hides away, people are not going to be happy. But if he does the right thing, speaks to Travis Tygart and WADA and tells everything he knows, that's going to make a big difference."

Both Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman have said Armstrong will need to offer more than a televised confession to make amends and possibly have his lifetime sports ban reduced.

While admitting to doping in his interview, Armstrong contradicted a key point of Hamilton's: That Armstrong told him he tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with International Cycling Union officials to cover it up — in exchange for a donation.

"That story wasn't true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was no secret meeting with the lab director," Armstrong told Winfrey.

Asked about that, Hamilton told the AP: "I stand by what I said. It's all out there. I don't know if it's a legal thing, or why he said that. It doesn't really bother me that much."

Hamilton was also among numerous riders who described the immense pressure Armstrong put on them to take part in the doping. Armstrong told Winfrey nobody was forced to dope.

"Nobody took a syringe and forced it into my arm. I made that decision on my own," Hamilton said. "But you did feel the pressure. When it was all set up for my first blood-doping experience in 2000, when I flew to Spain on Lance's private jet, I don't know what would've happened to me if I'd said, 'I'll stick with EPO but no blood doping.' I assume they would've been angry about it. For me, it was a no-brainer."

Armstrong said he had reached out to some of the people he felt he owed apologies. Hamilton has not heard from him, however, and didn't sound like he was waiting by the phone.

Hamilton called the entire episode a "huge life lesson" and said Armstrong can help the sport if he's willing to do more, especially if it involves providing information about doctors, managers and other higher-ups in cycling.

"There are still a lot of bad apples in this sport," Hamilton said. "Lance Armstrong did not act alone. There are plenty of people out there who still think they got away with it. I don't think he wants to rat anybody out. But he didn't do this by himself and he didn't learn this by himself."

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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'

Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them

Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.

It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.

The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.

As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.

Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.

Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.

This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.

If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.

The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.

Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.

Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.

We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.

Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.

Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.

Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.

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Housing starts climb to highest rate since June 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Groundbreaking to build new homes accelerated in December to its fastest pace in over four years, supporting the view that housing is poised to provide a substantial boost to the U.S. economy.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday that starts at building sites for homes surged 12.1 percent last month to a 954,000-unit annual rate.

Data for U.S. housing starts can be volatile and is sometimes subject to large revisions. The government revised downward its estimate for November housing starts to a 851,000-unit rate from the originally reported 861,000.

Some of the strength in December’s reading for starts came from a 20.3 percent surge in multi-family unit construction. That component is especially volatile.

Wednesday’s report nonetheless builds on a trend in growth that has led many analysts to expect residential construction boosted the economy last year for the first time since 2005.

December’s pace of groundbreaking was the fastest since June 2008.

This year, home building is expected to provide stronger support to economic growth, which would partially counter the drag expected from tighter fiscal policy as Washington works to shrink the federal budget deficit.

Permits for future home construction edged higher to a 903,000-unit rate, the quickest since July 2008.

The housing market has regained some footing after a historic collapse that helped push the economy into its worst recession since the Great Depression.

Last month, groundbreaking for single-family homes, the largest segment of the market, climbed 8.1 percent last month to a 616,000-unit pace.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)

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In the Garden: Camellias Ready for a Cold Snap

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Economy, eBay profit lift Wall Street to five-year high

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street rose on Thursday, with the S&P 500 hitting a five-year intraday high, on improved housing and jobs data as well as better-than-expected results from online marketplace eBay .

The data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week, while groundbreaking for homes rose to the fastest pace in four years last month.

Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits. Job market improvement helps boost consumer spending while a recovery in housing means more purchases of appliances, furniture and other household goods as well as a source of employment.

"The unemployment claims were nice, the housing starts were nice, so that is positive for us. There are some good positive vibes out there," said Harry Clark, chief executive of Clark Capital Management Group in Philadelphia.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 69.83 points, or 0.52 percent, to 13,581.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> added 7.31 points, or 0.50 percent, to 1,479.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> rose 17.74 points, or 0.57 percent, to 3,135.29.

PulteGroup Inc shares gained 2.4 percent to $19.81 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 1.9 percent to $35.56. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> climbed 1.5 percent.

EBay's shares rose 3 percent to $54.51 a day after it reported holiday quarter results that just beat Wall Street expectations. It gave a 2013 forecast that was within analysts' estimates.

The S&P is on track for its third consecutive advance, which pushed the index above an intraday peak set in September to its highest since December 2007.

But gains were tempered by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 3.4 percent to $11.38 and Citigroup off 2.8 percent to $41.29 after they posted their results.

Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits, while its new chief executive cautioned the bank needed more time to deal with its problems.

The S&P financial sector index <.spsy> slipped 0.06 percent as the only one of the 10 major S&P sectors to decline.

S&P 500 corporate earnings for the fourth quarter are expected to rise 2.3 percent, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.

With investors anticipating the current earnings season to be lackluster, their focus will be on the corporate earnings outlook for the months ahead, analysts said.

Shares of Boeing extended recent declines after the United States and other countries grounded the company's new 787 Dreamliner after a second incident involving battery failure. Boeing slipped 0.8 percent to $73.77 and is down 1.7 percent for the week so far.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Hawaii hometown backs Te'o after girlfriend hoax

LAIE, Hawaii (AP) — People in the small Hawaii hometown of Manti Te'o are offering support for the Notre Dame linebacker, after the story of his girlfriend and her death from leukemia were revealed as a hoax.

No one answered the door Wednesday evening and no one appeared to be inside the modest, single-story wood home of Te'o's parents, Brian and Ottilia Te'o, in the small coastal town of Laie on Oahu's northern shore where Manti Te'o, an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist, was born.

But members of the mostly Mormon community said they were dumbfounded, and didn't believe he would have knowingly perpetrated such a story. The town of about 6,000 people, roughly an hour's drive from Honolulu, is home to a small satellite campus of Hawaii's Brigham Young University,

Lokelani Kaiahua said Te'o's parents were her classmates, and she knew them to have strong family values they instilled in their children.

"I just don't see something like that being made up from him or having any part of that because they're not those kind of people," she said while sitting and talking with friends a few doors down from the Te'o family home. "Everybody's kind of like 'what is going on?'"

According to media accounts that surrounded Te'o this season, his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in September. But on Wednesday, the website posted a lengthy story saying there was no evidence that she ever existed.

Notre Dame officials then confirmed the hoax but were insistent that Te'o was only the victim.

Te'o is a hero and role model to many children in Laie and nearby small towns like Haaula, Kaaawa and Kahuku along the two-lane highway snaking through Oahu's northeastern coast.

Students at Haaula often wear Notre Dame jerseys with his number "5'' on them, and Te'o has returned to the area to talk to students about the importance of staying in school, said school administrator Makala Paakaula, 38.

"He always keeps giving back to his community," Paakaula said.

Te'o should be lauded for uniting Notre Dame during his senior year when he could have left for the NFL, she said.

"It's amazing how he brought together the whole school to become one ohana, one family, where they all belonged, where they all had a purpose," Paakaula said.

Many people expressed anger toward whoever was behind the entire affair.

"If he got hoaxed, that's not his fault — shame on them," Paakaula said, "because he has a very trusting, open heart."

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Did Scientology ad cross line?

The Church of Scientology is also at fault for thinking the advertorial would survive The Atlantic readers' scrutiny, Ian Schafer says.


  • The Atlantic published and pulled a sponsored Scientology "story"

  • Ian Schafer: On several levels, the ad was a mistake

  • He says the content was heavy-handed and comments were being moderated

  • Schafer: Experimenting to raise revenue makes sense, but standards should be clear

Editor's note: Ian Schafer is the founder and CEO of a digital advertising agency, Deep Focus, and the alter ego of @invisibleobama. You can read his rants on his blog at

(CNN) -- "The Atlantic is America's leading destination for brave thinking and bold ideas that matter. The Atlantic engages its print, online, and live audiences with breakthrough insights into the worlds of politics, business, the arts, and culture. With exceptional talent deployed against the world's most important and intriguing topics, The Atlantic is the source of opinion, commentary, and analysis for America's most influential individuals who wish to be challenged, informed, and entertained." -- The Atlantic 2013 media kit for advertisers

On Monday, The Atlantic published -- and then pulled -- a story titled "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year." This "story" went on to feature the growth of Scientology in 2012.

Ian Schafer

Ian Schafer

Any regular reader of The Atlantic's content would immediately do a double-take upon seeing that kind of headline, much less the heavy-handed text below it, shamelessly plugging how well Scientology's "ecclesiastical leader" Miscavige has done in "leading a renaissance for the religion."

This "story" is one of several "advertorials" (a portmanteau of "advertising" and "editorials") that The Atlantic has published online, clearly designated as "Sponsor Content." In other words, "stories" like these aren't real stories. They are ads with a lot of words, which advertisers have paid publications to run on their behalf for decades. You may have seen them in magazines and newspapers as "special advertising sections."

The hope is that because you are already reading the publication, hey, maybe you'll read what the advertiser has to say, too -- instead of the "traditional" ad that they may have otherwise placed on the page that you probably won't remember, or worse, will ignore.

There's nothing wrong with this tactic, ethically, when clearly labeled as "sponsored" or "advertising." But many took umbrage with The Atlantic in this particular case; so many, that The Atlantic responded by pulling the story from its site -- which was the right thing to do -- and by apologizing.

At face value, The Atlantic did the right thing for its business model, which depends upon advertising sales. It sold what they call a "native" ad to a paying advertiser, clearly labeled it as such, without the intention of misleading readers into thinking this was a piece of journalism.

But it still failed on several levels.

The Atlantic defines its readers as "America's most influential individuals who wish to be challenged, informed, and entertained." By that very definition, it is selling "advertorials" to people who are the least likely to take them seriously, especially when heavy-handed. There is a fine line between advertorial and outright advertising copywriting, and this piece crossed it. The Church of Scientology is just as much at fault for thinking this piece would survive The Atlantic readers' intellectual scrutiny. But this isn't even the real issue.

Bad advertising is all around us. And readers' intellectual scrutiny would surely have let the advertorial piece slide without complaints (though snark would be inevitable), as they have in the past, or yes, even possibly ignored it. But here's where The Atlantic crossed another line -- it seemed clear it was moderating the comments beneath the advertorial.

As The Washington Post reported, The Atlantic marketing team was carefully pruning the comments, ensuring that they were predominantly positive, even though many readers were leaving negative comments. So while The Atlantic was publishing clearly labeled advertiser-written content, it was also un-publishing content created by its readers -- the very folks it exists to serve.

It's understandable that The Atlantic would inevitably touch a third rail with any "new" ad format. But what it calls "native advertising" is actually "advertorial." It's not new at all. Touching the third rail in this case is unacceptable.

So what should The Atlantic have done in this situation before it became a situation? For starters, it should have worked more closely with the Church of Scientology to help create a piece of content that wasn't so clearly written as an ad. If the Church of Scientology was not willing to compromise its advertising to be better content, then The Atlantic should not have accepted the advertising. But this is a quality-control issue.

The real failure here was that comments should never have been enabled beneath this sponsored content unless the advertiser was prepared to let them be there, regardless of sentiment.

It's not like Scientology has avoided controversy in the past. The sheer, obvious reason for this advertorial in the first place was to dispel beliefs that Scientology wasn't a recognized religion (hence "ecclesiastical").

Whether The Atlantic felt it was acting in its advertiser's best interest, or the advertiser specifically asked for this to happen, letting it happen at all was a huge mistake, and a betrayal of an implicit contract that should exist between a publication of The Atlantic's stature and its readership.

No matter how laughably "sales-y" a piece of sponsored content might be, the censoring of readership should be the true "third rail," never to be touched.

Going forward, The Atlantic (and any other publication that chooses to run sponsored content) should adopt and clearly communicate an explicit ethics statement regarding advertorials and their corresponding comments. This statement should guide the decisions it makes when working with advertisers, and serve as a filter for the sponsored content it chooses to publish, and what it recommends advertisers submit. It should also prevent readers from being silenced if given a platform at all.

As an advertising professional, I sincerely hope this doesn't spook The Atlantic or any other publication from experimenting with ways to make money. But as a reader, I hope it leads to better ads that reward me for paying attention, rather than muzzle my voice should I choose to interact with the content.

After all, what more could a publication or advertiser ask for than for content to be so interesting that someone actually would want to comment on (or better, share) it?

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said native advertising accounts for 59% of the Atlantic's ad revenue. Digital advertising, of which native advertising is a part, accounts for 59% of The Atlantic's overall revenue, according to the company.)

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ian Schafer.

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Singer Elton John a father for second time

LONDON (Reuters) – British pop star Elton John announced on Wednesday he had become a father for the second time after the birth via a surrogate mother of Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John.

The “Rocket Man” and “Candle in the Wind” singer and his partner David Furnish confirmed the news in a short statement on John‘s official website, which also provided a link to an article in Hello! magazine.

“Both of us have longed to have children, but the reality that we now have two sons is almost unbelievable,” said the couple, who entered a civil partnership in 2005.

“The birth of our second son completes our family in a most precious and perfect way,” they told Hello!.

John, 65, and Furnish, 50, are already parents to Zachary, who is two. Elijah was born in Los Angeles on January 11.

“I know when he goes to school there’s going to be an awful lot of pressure, and I know he’s going to have people saying, ‘You don’t have a mummy,’” John said of his decision to have another baby.

“It’s going to happen. We talked about it before we had him. I want someone to be at his side and back him up. We shall see.”

(This story has been corrected to change magazine to Hello! from People in paragraph two)

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Blockbuster enters administration

DVD rental firm Blockbuster has become the latest UK High Street firm to go into administration after struggling against internet competitors.

The chain has 528 stores and employs 4,190 staff.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm which will now take over running the firm, said Blockbuster UK would keep trading while it tries to find a buyer.

Music chain HMV and camera-seller Jessops both went into administration earlier this month.

It is not yet known what will happen to HMV’s branches and 4,350 staff. Unusually, all of Jessops’ 187 branches closed within days of administrators being appointed.

January retail administrations

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Blockbuster UK



Electricals chain Comet collapsed before Christmas.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

It is shocking that the [Blockbuster] board and executive management failed to make bold choices”

End Quote Prof Ajay Bhalla Cass Business School

“We are working closely with suppliers and employees to ensure the business has the best possible platform to secure a sale, preserve jobs and generate as much value as possible for all creditors,” said Lee Manning, from Deloitte’s Restructuring Services practice.

“The core of the business is still profitable and we will continue to trade as normal in both retail and rental whilst we seek a buyer for all or parts of the business as a going concern.

“During this time gift cards and credit acquired through Blockbuster’s trade-in scheme will be honoured towards the purchase of goods.”

Store closures

The first Blockbuster store in the UK opened in south London in 1989, and the firm has sought to expand its services in recent years, including with a trade-in facility for pre-owned titles.

The firm launched an online DVD rental operation in 2002, and the company’s website,, claims to send out more discs per customer than other online DVD rental services in the UK.

However, this online rental market became increasingly crowded with rival services, and now the popularity of streaming films over the internet is growing fast.

Blockbuster UK has closed more than 100 outlets in the past few years.

Blockbuster went bankrupt in the US in 2011, but was rescued by US pay-TV provider Dish Network in a $ 320m (£200m) deal, which saved hundreds of stores from closing. The UK arm is also owned by Dish Network but run separately.

Before Blockbuster was bought by Dish Network, there were media reports of ambitious expansion plans, including selling electrical goods such as televisions, mobile phones, and iPods.

But business experts said Blockbuster’s problems were all too similar to those hitting other retailers – failure to adapt quickly enough to a changing business environment and consumer habits.

‘Altered landscape’

Professor Ajay Bhalla, of Cass Business School, said: “The company, like HMV, failed to transform its business model early enough. When it did, it found a fundamentally altered competitive landscape where the platform model had destroyed the traditional retail one.

“Firms like Blockbuster failed to face up to the enormity of the change and altered their business model on the fringes (eg selling second-hand products), rather than coming up with an innovative offering. It is shocking that the board and executive management failed to make bold choices.”

Dr Steve Musson, a lecturer at the University of Reading and an expert in the economics of UK cities, added: “The retail businesses that we have seen going into administration since Christmas have a lot in common – they have large numbers of stores and have struggled to adapt to changing retail habits.

“Rents for retail businesses are usually payable quarterly, with many landlords most recently asking for payment at the end of December, which is why we often see retail failures coming in clusters.”

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Peace Country REA Members Vote to Sell to ATCO Electric

EDMONTON, ALBERTA–(Marketwire – Jan 16, 2013) – Members of the Peace Country Rural Electrification Association (REA) have voted 78 per cent in favour of selling their electric distribution system to ATCO Electric. The sale vote is the result of an ATCO Electric purchase proposal requested by the Peace Country REA Board of Directors and membership.

The Peace Country REA is an amalgamation of 10 REAs in northwest Alberta, making it the third largest REA in the province.  Members of the Peace Country REA will receive $ 20,742 for each electric site they own.

“ATCO Electric appreciates the confidence shown by the Peace Country REA membership by entrusting us with their system, which we have had the privilege of operating for the past 60 years,” said Bobbi Lambright, President, ATCO Electric Operations Division. “All ATCO Electric customers will benefit from having a single company own, operate and maintain the electric distribution system in this large area of Alberta.”

ATCO Electric has a long history of working with the REA”s Board of Directors to build, operate and maintain the REA”s electric distribution system. The membership”s decision to sell the system to ATCO Electric means that the company will continue to deliver these services to the membership.

“We will immediately begin working on obtaining all the necessary approvals,” said Ron Kiers, Manager, Northwest Region, ATCO Electric. “The first step is to meet with the Peace Country REA Board of Directors to finalize the sale agreement and to discuss the details of the transfer.”

The sale requires the approval of the Rural Utilities Division and the Alberta Utilities Commission. Once approved, members will receive their share of ATCO Electric”s purchase price and begin paying the ATCO Electric farm rate. The change will mean that 90 per cent of the Peace Country REA membership will pay lower monthly wires charges. All members will also pay lower up-front costs for the construction of new farm services.

A rural electrification association is a not-for-profit cooperative that owns an electrical distribution system and supplies electric energy to members in a rural region of Alberta.

ATCO Electric provides safe, reliable delivery of electricity to nearly 213,000 customers in 245 communities across Alberta and is part of the ATCO Group of Companies. ATCO Group, with more than 8,800 employees and assets of approximately $ 14 billion, delivers service excellence and innovative business solutions worldwide with leading companies engaged in structures & logistics (manufacturing, logistics and noise abatement), utilities (pipelines, natural gas and electricity transmission and distribution), energy (power generation, natural gas gathering, processing, storage and liquids extraction) and technologies (business systems solutions). More information can be found at

Forward-Looking Information:

Certain statements contained in this news release may constitute forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are often, but not always, identified by the use of words such as “anticipate”, “plan”, “expect”, “may”, “will”, “intend”, “should”, and similar expressions. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause actual results or events to differ materially from those anticipated in such forward-looking statements. The Corporation believes that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, but no assurance can be given that these expectations will prove to be correct and such forward-looking statements should not be unduly relied upon.

The Corporation”s actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of regulatory decisions, competitive factors in the industries in which the Corporation operates, prevailing economic conditions, and other factors, many of which are beyond the control of the Corporation.

The forward-looking statements contained in this news release represent the Corporation”s expectations as of the date hereof, and are subject to change after such date. The Corporation disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required under applicable securities regulations.                

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Wall Street flat as Apple gains, Boeing weighs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday as concerns about global economic growth and a drop in Boeing shares offset strong bank results and gains in technology stocks.

Goldman Sachs shares hit their highest level since June 2011 as earnings nearly tripled on increased revenue from dealmaking and lower compensation expenses, while JPMorgan Chase said fourth-quarter net income jumped 53 percent and earnings for 2012 set a record.

JPMorgan shares edged up 0.2 percent at $46.43 and Goldman was up 2.5 percent to $139.01. The KBW bank index <.bkx> gained 0.3 percent.

But with only 37 companies in the S&P 500 having reported earnings so far this season, investors are exercising caution until signs of growth can emerge.

A slow economic recovery in developed nations is holding back the global economy, the World Bank said on Tuesday, as it sharply scaled back its forecast for world growth in 2013 to 2.4 percent from an earlier forecast of 3.0 percent.

"Domestically, we are pretty well positioned," said Marc Helman, Vice President, Institutional Services at HFP Capital Markets in New York.

"But globally it's more of a mixed bag and that is where we have some of our concerns, so you are going to continue to see people wait on the sidelines until they get a little more clarity through the earnings season."

Shares of Dow component Boeing fell 3.1 percent to $74.59, the biggest drag on the Dow, on safety concerns for its new Dreamliner passenger jets. Japan's two leading airlines grounded their fleets of 787s after an emergency landing, adding to safety concerns triggered by a series of recent incidents.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> shed 19.70 points, or 0.15 percent, to 13,515.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> edged up 0.32 points, or 0.02 percent, to 1,472.66. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 7.26 points, or 0.23 percent, to 3,118.04.

The Nasdaq moved higher on gains in Apple shares, which were up 3.2 percent at $501.66 after losses in three straight sessions. Morgan Stanley stamped the tech giant as a "best idea," citing overblown concerns about iPhone shipments.

Talks to take Dell Inc private were at an advanced stage, with at least four major banks lined up to provide financing, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Shares fell 4 percent to $12.65 after jumping more than 21 percent over the past two sessions.

U.S. consumer prices were flat in December, pointing to muted inflation pressures that should give the Federal Reserve room to prop up the economy by staying on its ultra-easy monetary policy path.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Eagles get their man, hire Oregon's Chip Kelly

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles have hired Chip Kelly after he originally chose to stay at Oregon.

The 49-year-old Kelly becomes the 21st coach in team history and replaces Andy Reid, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 4-12 season.

Kelly, who was 46-7 in four years at Oregon, interviewed with the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills after leading the fast-flying Ducks to a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. But he opted to remain at Oregon before changing his mind.

The Eagles are known to have interviewed 11 candidates, including two meetings with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Philadelphia has won just 12 games the two seasons, after winning the NFC East in 2010.

"Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles," owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. "He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh energetic approach to our team."

Kelly was thought to be Philadelphia's first choice in a long, exhaustive process that took many twists. The enigmatic Kelly reportedly was close to signing with the Browns after a long interview on Jan. 4. He met with the Eagles for nine hours the next day and the roller coaster ended when he decided to remain at Eugene, Ore.

At the time, it was the second straight year Kelly had entertained overtures from NFL teams only to reject them. He turned down Tampa Bay's job deep into negotiations last season.

The Eagles interviewed two other high-profile college coaches — Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly. Both of them elected to stay with their schools and Philadelphia issued a statement saying it would continue its search as planned.

"There is no question we spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking at who we thought were the best collegiate candidates for our head coaching job. We did so knowing that there was a remote chance that these coaches would leave their current posts," the team stated on Saturday. "We understood that going into the process, but we wanted to leave no stone unturned while trying to find the best coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. We have no regrets about the effort we made in that direction and we will continue to proceed as planned in our search."

Bradley was thought to be the leading contender, though former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and former Ravens coach Brian Billick were in the mix.

That all changed when Kelly had a change of heart.

Known as an offensive innovator, the visor-wearing Kelly built Oregon into a national powerhouse. The Ducks went to four straight BCS bowl games — including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago — and have won three Pac-12 championships.

Kelly originally went to Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for now.

Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17.

It's unknown whether the possibility of NCAA sanctions based on Oregon's use of recruiting services factored into Kelly's reversal. Kelly indicated in Arizona that he isn't running from anything.

"We've cooperated fully with them," he said. "If they want to talk to us again, we'll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation."

Following the bowl, Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over "quickly." Turns out, it was anything but.

"It's more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn't fit," Kelly said after the Ducks defeated the Wildcats, 35-17. "I've been in one interview in my life for the National Football League, and that was a year ago. I don't really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that's what this deal is all about for me. It's not going to affect us in terms of we're not on the road (recruiting). I'll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are.

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be."

Kelly, who never said if he was leaning one way or another following the bowl, doesn't have any pro coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by some NFL teams, including New England and Washington.

"I said I'll always listen, and that's what I'll do," he said at the time. "I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It's an honor for someone to say they'd want to talk to me about maybe moving on to go coach in the National Football League. But it's because of what those guys do. I'll listen, and we'll see."

Oregon's players gave Kelly a Gatorade bath as the final seconds ticked off the clock vs. Kansas State, and afterward a few of the Ducks seemed resigned to their coach moving on.

"We'll have to see," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "Whatever he decides to do, we're all behind him. He's an unbelievable coach. He's not only a football coach, but he's someone that you can look to and learn a lot of life lessons from. Whatever happens, happens. But we're all behind him.

"We'll see where it takes us."

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