10/30/2010 (3:09 am)

AT&T sets iPhone record - but Verizon is lurking

Filed under: marketing |

The iPhone 4 helped drive AT&T’s wireless division to soaring growth in the past quarter, but Verizon may ultimately be the big winner.

AT&T activated 5.2 million iPhones in the third quarter, the company announced Thursday. That set a record for iPhone activations and represented a stunning 62% growth over the previous sequential quarter — which, at the time, was also a record high.

That helped AT&T add a net 2.6 million new wireless customers during the quarter, half of whom were new iPhone customers. Those numbers are especially impressive in a year when finding new subscribers has been more difficult for carriers than it was in the past. By comparison, Verizon added 1 million new subscribers, the carrier said Friday.

AT&T’s third-quarter wireless revenues soared 11%, to $15.2 billion. Meanwhile Verizon’s rose just 6%, to $16.3 billion.

But AT&T’s momentum could soon come to a screeching halt. It has been widely speculated that AT&T is about to lose its exclusive hold on the iPhone at the end of the year, and that Verizon will start selling the smartphone beginning in early 2011.

That could swing the balance of power in the mobile sector. When Verizon gets the iPhone, as many as 6 million of AT&T’s iPhone subscribers could defect, according to a forecast by Drake Johnstone, a Davenport & Co. analyst. AT&T has been plagued with network problems in major cities like New York and San Francisco, and Verizon is debuting its 4G network with broadband-like speeds at the end of the year.

Until 2007, Verizon had been consistently adding more new customers than AT&T each quarter. That stopped when AT&T got exclusive rights to sell the iPhone three years ago. Johnstone expects the pendulum to swing back.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless are the nation’s two largest mobile carriers, by far, and competition between the companies is fierce. Their networks are in a virtual dead heat: Verizon is just barely on top with 93.2 million wireless customers, compared to AT&T’s 92.8 million subscribers.

But Verizon is doing that without the benefit of the nation’s most popular and talked-about smartphone.

That’s not to say Verizon doesn’t have a strong lineup — just this quarter, the carrier launched three new hot-selling Android phones, including the Motorola Droid X, the Motorola Droid 2, and the Samsung Fascinate.

To boost its lineup, AT&T launched the BlackBerry Torch last quarter, as well as several new Android phones. It will also beat Verizon to the punch by selling three Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) Windows Phone 7 phones during the current quarter.

But those phones aren’t proven commodities like Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone. The Torch received only mixed reviews, and AT&T’s Android phones aren’t on par with most of Verizon’s offerings. Windows Phone 7 has generated a significant amount of buzz, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Still, it’s too soon to write requiems for AT&T. A growing number of smartphones are becoming competitive with Apple’s groundbreaking device.

"While we believe that AT&T could lose millions of customers to Verizon if Verizon begins selling the iPhone in 2011, AT&T should cope with the loss of iPhone exclusivity better in 2011 than a few years ago," Johnstone said. "It will be able to market a wide array of attractive smart phones, including the iPhone."

Meanwhile, AT&T made a big move last quarter to lock in much of its iPhone customer base through 2012. In July, AT&T gave customers whose contract was set to expire at any time in 2010 a chance to upgrade to the iPhone 4 at no extra cost.

Every good thing comes at a price. AT&T’s wireless expenses grew to $11.7 billion in the quarter, up 15% over the same period last year, thanks to the heavy subsidy that the wireless company pays to offer the iPhone 4.

Verizon had $11.3 billion of wireless expenses in the quarter, but that was up just 3% from the same time last year. That’ll be sure to rise when the iPhone comes along.

After falling 1% on Thursday, following its earnings announcement, shares of AT&T (T, Fortune 500) were flat on Friday. Verizon’s (VZ, Fortune 500) shares were down 1% Friday. 


10/24/2010 (9:18 am)

Housing starts jump to 5-month high

Filed under: marketing |

New home construction surged to a five-month high in September, but permits for future building fell to their lowest level in more than a year, the government said Tuesday.

Housing starts, or the number of new homes being built, rose 0.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 in September, up from a revised 608,000 in August, the Commerce Department said.

Economists were expecting a rate of 579,000 housing starts, according to a consensus estimate from Briefing.com.

It was the largest number of new homes being built in five months, and marked a 4.1% increase over last September.

"This is an encouraging sign that builders are continuing to build at a very slow pace, but nevertheless the increases are slow as they wait for consumers to get more confident," said David Crowe, chief economist with the National Association of Home Builders.

Insecurity about the economy and jobs is the main fear holding consumers back from big purchases like homes, Crowe said.

A back-up of foreclosed homes on the market is also limiting new construction, said Kevin Brungardt, chief executive of RoundPoint Financial Group, and a former vice president of Fannie Mae.

"A large inventory of foreclosed properties, high unemployment, slow sector growth and continued house price uncertainty continue to limit housing demand," he said.

Recent investigations into the foreclosure practices of many banks and mortgage servicers had raised some concerns that a nationwide freeze on foreclosures could derail the struggling housing market.

New homes by sector: New construction of single-family homes, the key sector of the housing market, rose 4.4% over the month to an annual rate of 452,000, a four-month high.

But the annual rate for new construction of multi-family homes — buildings with 5 or more units — fell 6.8% to 150,000.

Building plans: Permits for future construction rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000 last month, down 5.6% from August. Economists were expecting 565,000 permits in September.

The last time building permits fell below 550,000 was in May 2009.

Year-over-year, permits were down 10.9%. 


10/17/2010 (2:36 am)

San Antonio stocks dragged down by sagging Dow

Filed under: marketing, technology |

The majority of San Antonio stocks lost value as the Dow Jones Industrial Average continued its descent on Friday.

Only five local stocks registered an increase on Oct. 15 over the prior day’s trading. Meanwhile, 10 stocks were down; two posted no change in the value of their stocks.

Pioneer Drilling was the day’s winner. The value of the company’s stock improved 2.15 percent over the prior day’s trading to close at $6.64.

Pioneer is a land-contract drilling company.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 32 points, or 0.29 percent on Friday, to close at 11,062.

Friday’s closing tally:

Abraxas Petroleum Corp.’s (NASDAQ: AXAS) — $2.94, up 1.73 percent.

Alamo Group Inc.’s (NYSE: ALG) — $24.83, down 0.32 percent.

• Biglari Holdings Inc.’s (NYSE: BH) — $365.25, up 1.61 percent

CC Media Holdings’ (Pink Sheets: CCMO) — $7.10, unchanged.

Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc.’s (NYSE: CFR) — $53.14, down 0.47 percent.

GlobalSCAPE Inc.’s (AMEX: GSB) — $2.48, down 1.59 percent.

Harte-Hanks Inc.’s (NYSE: HHS) — $12.82, up 0.94 percent.

Kinetic Concepts Inc.’s (NYSE: KCI) — $37.88, up 0.16 percent.

• NuStar Energy LP’s (NYSE: NS) — $63.35, down 0.41 percent.

NuStar GP Holdings LLC’s (NYSE: NSH) — $33.52, down 0.03 percent.

Pioneer Drilling Co.’s (AMEX: PDC) — $6.64, up 2.15 percent.

• Rackspace Hosting’s (NYSE: RAX) — $23.59, down 0.88 percent.

Rush Enterprises’ (NASDAQ: RUSHA) — Class A stock closed at $15.99, down 0.74 percent.

• Rush Enterprises’ (NASDAQ: RUSHB) — Class B stock closed at $14.50, unchanged.

Tesoro Corp.’s (NYSE: TSO) — $14.10, down 1.05 percent.

U.S. Global Investors’ (NASDAQ: GROW) — $8.12, down 1.1 percent.

Valero Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: VLO) — $18.10, down 0.33 percent.


10/15/2010 (2:44 pm)

3D Systems buys Italian manufacturer Provel

Filed under: money |

3D Systems Corp. has purchased Provel, an Italian company that sells prototyping and manufacturing services.

Rock Hill-based 3D Systems paid $7.9 million for the company, which markets its services to automotive and durable-goods manufacturers. 3D Systems is obligated to pay an additional $4 million to the company in one year.

3D Systems also issued 85,612 of its common shares to Provel as part of the deal. The company’s stock was trading at $17.50 per share Tuesday morning. Its shares have traded between $8.14 and $17.96 during the last year.

3D Systems (NASDAQ:TDSC) produces machines that make three-dimensional prototypes and working parts for a range of industries, from plastics to auto racing.

Last week, the company announced it had acquired Bits From Bytes Ltd., a British manufacturer of three-dimensional printers for educational, hobbyist and professional applications.

Bits From Bytes makes and sells printers that range in price from $1,300 to $3,900.


10/12/2010 (1:12 am)

Suntech opens solar manufacturing facility in Goodyear

Filed under: marketing, money |

Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. opened its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Goodyear on Friday, bringing solar panel assembly to the Valley.

The Wuxi, China-based Suntech (NYSE: STP), one of the largest solar module manufacturers in the world, began producing panels that were greeted by about 200 people at the company’s factory to celebrate the launch.

Shi Zhengrong, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, said his firm has come a long way since it first began manufacturing panels in 2002, and it looks forward to developing more of a market in the U.S.

“Imagine what we will be able to do in the next eight years as we continue to drive down the cost of solar,” he said.

About 30 local workers along with a contingent of Chinese workers in the country temporarily to help the factory with its startup, were on the floor as the first panels began to roll off the line.

Suntech’s facility is the first module manufacturer in the Phoenix area and the first to open since the state passed a renewable energy manufacturing tax credit in 2009, known as Senate Bill 1403. The rebate was designed to help land solar manufacturers with plans to credit them for bringing in high-wage manufacturing jobs.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who attended the opening, said the tax credit program and a focus on renewables by the newly formed Arizona Commerce Authority are keys to revitalizing the state’s economy.

“The goal was to bring renewable energy to Arizona, and it is working,” she said.

Goodyear Mayor Jim Cavanaugh also credited the state law for the facility, adding the company was a good fit for the city, which is developing a more global environment.

“If it weren’t for 1403, we wouldn’t be here and Suntech wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he had a long relationship with Suntech and Shi, and that Suntech’s founder had said he would bring manufacturing to the U.S. when there was enough demand to merit it.

“Solar has a market,” Resch said. “It’s growing by 100 percent per year, and this year we have the fastest-growing market in the world.”

Suntech’s operations are capable of producing between 200 and 250 panels a day that will be destined for large solar power plants initially. The company has one production line and has the capacity to open a second line.

Officials with the company said they expect to hire another 30 people to further ramp up production sometime after the new year begins.


10/07/2010 (5:45 pm)

Dish vs. Fox dispute to block sports fans

Filed under: marketing, online |

Dish Network subscribers could have trouble seeing their favorite college football team this weekend after Fox Networks blocked 19 regional sports networks in a rate increase dispute.

"Fox is demanding a new contract with an unprecedented rate increase of more than 50%," said Dish, in a press release Friday.

A source at Fox, who asked not to be named, referred to the 50% increase as "gross overstatement" on the part of Dish.

Dish (DISH, Fortune 500) accused Fox of trying to "intimidate Dish Network and its customers into paying the rate increase. Fox has flatly refused Dish Network’s request to allow customers to continue to watch these Fox channels during the negotiations."

Fox Networks released a statement saying that Dish "decided to no longer carry Fox Networks cable programming" as of midnight, Sept. 30.

"The proposal we’ve offered Dish is fair and in line with the tremendous value we provide," said the Fox statement no fax payday loans. "We regret the inconvenience to our viewers, but Dish has asserted its subscribers do not value our channels and has made a decision to go forward without them."

Dish spokesman Marc Lumpkin said the move could impact sports viewers around the country. Fans might get blocked from watching some college football games, if they’re being broadcast on regional channels, said Lumpkin.

He also said that fans of some Major League Baseball teams still in the playoff chase, such as the Atlanta Braves, might not be able to see the games during the final weekend of the regular season.

News Corp (NWS, Fortune 500). is the parent company of Fox. 


10/03/2010 (6:42 am)

Inside the Amway Center

Filed under: legal |

A photographic look at the new Amway Center in downtown Orlando.