August 2008 Archives

August 6, 2008

Space Exploration company raised $20 million

As reported in Venturebeat:

Space Exploration Technology Corp., the company created by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk and better-known as SpaceX, has raised $20 million from The Founders Fund.

This is the first time SpaceX has raised outside funding, according to the Wall Street Journal; Musk previously invested $100 million of his own money. The news follows right behind the Hawthorne, Calif. company’s third attempted launch. The launch ended in failure last weekend, when the first-stage engine didn’t separate as required. The Falcon 1 (pictured left) carried three satellites — one for the U.S. Department of Defense, two for NASA — as well as the remains of 208 people who paid to have their remains shot into space, including astronaut Gordon Cooper and actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek.

But Musk says a fourth launch is “almost ready” to go, and that the new funding is just a “precautionary measure.” Musk already has a connection with The Founders Fund, which was established by his PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek and Ken Howery. The Journal reports that SpaceX also held unsuccessful talks with aerospace company Northrop Grumman about a possible investment.

SpaceX has big goals — to make space travel, including missions to other planets, more reliable and affordable by a factor of 10. With three failed launches, it clearly has a way to go on when it comes to reliability, but apparently it’s not unusual to see these kinds of problems during the early stages of a rocket’s developent. SpaceX already has plans for 11 missions.

Filed under Aerospace and Aviation, Venture Capital by

August 13, 2008

Mitsubishi offers $3 billion for Union Bank of California

Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group has offered to purchase the 35 percent stake in San Francisco based UnionBanCal- parent of Union Bank of California, that’s held by the public. As reported in the San Francisco Business Times:

Japan’s largest bank my market cap sees the Union Bank branch network as a nice launch pad for its own banking ambitions in America. “We view this transaction as a first step of our growth strategies in the United States, and we will achieve greater management flexibility and aim to further strengthen our presence,” MUFG said.

MUFG unsolicited offer calls for the Japanese bank to pay $63 per share, or $2.7 billion, for the UnionBanCal shares in public hands. That was up from a previously undisclosed offer of $58 per share that the San Francisco bank’s board rejected in June as too low. The proposed transaction values the entire bank at $8.8 billion. Investors anticipate that the purchase price may be nudged higher, pushing the bank’s shares up 13 percent Aug. 12 to $65.50 at the close of New York Stock Exchange trading.

UnionBanCal operates 330 branches in California, Oregon and Washington state. Union Bank in recent years has adopted a strategy of courting business owners and affluent customers rather than trying to go head-to-head against California’s two-largest banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The numbers don’t work for Union Bank to engage in that costly battle, given the larger banks’ ubiquitous branches and ATMs.

Filed under Banking and Financial Services, Japan, Mergers and Acquisitions by

August 14, 2008

Chevron will sell 2,000 Texaco stations in Brazil

San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. will sell 2,000 Texaco gas stations and some related businesses in Brazil for about $730 million. As reported in San Francisco Business Times:

Chevron agreed to sell the businesses to Ultrapar Participações S.A., based in São Paulo. The deal requires separating out Chevron’s lubricant and oil exploration businesses, which aren’t included in the deal. The separation will take until early 2009, according to Ultrapar. Pedro Wongtschowski is CEO of Ultrapar. The company will pay the price, which is subject to a working capital adjustment, out of its cash reserves.

Ultrapar is licensing the Texaco brand name for up to five years, during which time it will phase in the use of its own Ipiranga brand name. In this deal it will also get some equity in terminal operations. Texaco is the No. 4 fuel brand in Brazil by sales volume, with sales of about 120,000 barrels per day.

Filed under Brazil, Energy Industry, Mergers and Acquisitions by

August 15, 2008

California gets most Internet fraud complaints

As reported in Legal Newsline:

Californians are the most frequent victims of Internet crime and
complaints according to a new Federal Trade Commission report that
stems from data provided by the attorney general’s office.

California
collected 8,622 individual complaints on Internet-related fraud in
2007, according to a story first reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
The amount of complaints far exceeds all other states, including
runner-up New York that had slightly more than half the number of
complaints as California.

According to data from the California
attorney general’s office, complaints were filed over a diverse number
of reasons including identity theft, spam, disputes with service
providers and e-mail scams designed to discover personal information.

In
2007, the FTC report said nearly a quarter of a million complaints were
lodged nationwide, the Center for Democracy and Technology said.

Most
states have neglected to bring significant cases as a result of these
complaints, the press release states, with most of the cases brought by
attorneys general focused on sexual enticement of minors and child
pornography.

“These numbers are startling, but they may even
understate the problem,” said Reece Rushing, director of regulatory and
information policy at the Center for American Progress. “Consumers are
often unaware, and thus may not report, when they are victimized by
online threats such as spyware or phishing. We must take action against
these threats to protect consumers and preserve confidence in Internet
commerce.”

Filed under Legal and Criminal Issues by

August 23, 2008

New York Times covers Central Valley housing meltdown

The New York Times has published a long report covering the housing bust in Merced, California entitled: In the Central Valley, the Ruins of the Housing Bust. They noted that while their is plenty of blame to go around, the situation is pretty desperate:

….hardly anyone in Merced planned very far ahead. Not the city, which enthusiastically approved the creation of dozens of new neighborhoods without pausing to wonder if it could absorb the growth.

Certainly not the developers. They built 4,397 new homes in those neighborhoods, some costing half a million dollars, without asking who in a city of only 80,000 could afford to buy them all.

Obviously not the speculators turned landlords, who thought that they could get San Francisco rents in a working-class agricultural city ranked by the American Lung Association as having some of the worst air in the nation.

And, sadly, not the local folk who moved up and took on more debt than they could afford. They believed — because who was telling them differently? — that the good times would be endless.

“Owning a home is the American dream,” says Jamie Schrole, a Merced real estate agent. “Everybody was just trying to live out their dream.” The belief that this dream could be achieved with no risk, no worry and no money down was at the center of the American romance with real estate in the early years of this decade, and not just in Merced.

How long will the economy have to pay the price for that illusion? The experience of Merced, which rose higher and fell faster than nearly anywhere else, suggests that recovery from the national real estate debacle will be painful and protracted.

In the three years since housing peaked here, the median sales price has fallen by 50 percent. There are thousands of foreclosures on the market. The asking prices on those properties are so low that competitive bidding, a hallmark of the boom, is back.

But almost no homeowner can afford to sell. If you cannot go as low as “the foreclosure price” — the cost of a comparable bank-owned house — real estate agents say you might as well not even bother listing your home. And so most people do not: three out of four existing-home sales in Merced County are now foreclosures, the highest percentage in the state…

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

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