Mar 01

Exploding pension fund shortfalls are blowing billion-dollar holes in the balance sheets of some of the Chicago area’s biggest companies, forcing them to make huge contributions to retirement plans at a time when cash flow and credit are already under stress.

Boeing Co.’s shareholder equity is now $1.2 billion in the hole thanks to an $8.4-billion gap between its pension assets and the projected cost of its obligations for 2008. At the end of 2007, Boeing had a $4.7-billion pension surplus. If its investments don’t turn around, the Chicago-based aerospace giant will have to quadruple annual contributions to its plan to about $2 billion by 2011.

Stock market losses also pounded pension funds at Abbott Laboratories Inc., Caterpillar Inc. and Exelon Corp., with others sure to emerge as companies file their annual financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission in coming weeks.

The pension gaps underscore a growing conundrum. Unfunded pension liabilities have to be subtracted from shareholder equity, weakening balance sheets at a time when it’s already tough to borrow money. Barring a reprieve from Congress, companies may be forced to make more layoffs or curb capital investments to divert cash to shore up pensions.

“There are companies out there faced with paying their pension plan or staying in business,” says Mark Ugoretz, president and CEO of the ERISA Industry Committee, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group. ERISA refers to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which sets standards to ensure pension plans are sufficiently funded.

The Chicago companies are symptomatic of nationwide woes. Last year, the 100 largest corporate pension funds in the U.S. saw their net assets decline by 21%, while liabilities increased 1.2%. Applying those averages to any of the region’s top funds puts almost all of them into the red by at least $1 billion.

PRESSURE MOUNTS

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Jan 14

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) — Motorola Inc., the second-biggest U.S. seller of mobile phones, is cutting 4,000 more jobs as the economic slump erodes consumer spending.

About 3,000 of the job cuts will come from its mobile devices unit, Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola said today in a statement. The reduction follows 3,000 job cuts disclosed in October as declines in the handset business leached profitability.

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Dec 20


FedEx and other pinched companies have cut their contributions to 401(k)’s, which could force some people to work longer. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Companies eager to conserve cash are trimming their contributions to their workers’ 401(k) retirement plans, putting a new strain on America’s tattered safety net at the very moment when many workers are watching their accounts plummet along with the stock market.

When the FedEx Corporation slimmed down its pension plan last year, it softened the blow by offering workers enriched 401(k) contributions to make up for the pension benefits some would lose. But last week, with Americans sending fewer parcels and FedEx’s revenue growth at a standstill, the company said it would suspend all of its contributions for at least a year.

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Dec 06

Ratings agency downgrades Motorola on worries about the impact of the global financial crisis on mobile phones

Motorola fell into junk territory yesterday after Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded the telecoms company.

The ratings agency cut Motorola’s rating by two notches to BB+ from BBB, putting the company one notch below investment grade.

S&P blamed problems in Motorola’s mobile phone business, saying that the ratings action reflected “continual operational challenges … which are not likely to be reversed over the intermediate term”.

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May 03

Tech savy proponents might think it’s great, meanwhile skeptics and naysayers still deny its existence, but microphones and internal listening devices are being installed in hi-tech hardware, and have been for several years.

Motorola released a fact sheet concerning their next generation HD cable boxes and broadband devices and admitted that:

This innovative plug-and-play technology enables broadband operators to offer consumers a way to control their digital services by voice commands with no complicated set-up or the need for training. Consumers can “talk” to their TV through a remote which incorporates a microphone. By just spoken commands, they can navigate digital programming, the IPG and on-demand services using phrases like “scan sports” or “find movies with Julia Roberts”. From a consumer’s perspective, the solution only requires a small receiver which attaches to the cable set-top to receive signals from the enhanced remote. The technology, which recognizes over 100,000 phrases and deciphers multiple languages, has been field tested in an alpha deployment on the Motorola DCT2000 digital set-top platform.”

The next generation equipment is being fused by Motorola into their ‘AgileTv‘ program, which will allow customers to use voice commands to search and choose programs, listen to music, order movies, etc etc. The program is called ‘PromptU’ and promises to allow seamless voice recognition in order to remove tedious typing and scanning by customers to find what they want. The PromptU spoken search is described as:

“Phones can support more content than ever, and subscribers want it all: ringtones, games, wallpapers, songs and videos. There are hundreds of thousands of titles, and the selection grows daily. Yet subscribers don’t buy as much as they could, because looking for content with text searches, or endless scrolling and clicking, is frustrating. Too many searches are abandoned or not even attempted. Promptu Spoken Search™ changes everything. With Promptu finding content as easy as asking for it. For example, requesting “Tiger Woods,” “Coldplay,” “Spiderman,” or any other favorite from a mobile handset returns on-target search results instantly, from across all types of content. So subscribers find everything they want, and discover all kinds of related titles to buy in the process.”

Last year Microsoft also acquired its own listening technology in the Tellme Networks which will allow consumers to choose and interact with multimedia via voice recognition software over their own systems. Of course what they won’t tell you is how these voice recognition commands will be interpreted, which of course will be done by internal audio devices called microphones – implemented into the hardware via remotes, boxes, or even ones as small as mobiles and pdas.

Bill Gates has been championing this next generation, interactive technology, and in his Strategic Account Summit speech last year, he glowed over the introduction and acceptance of this new technology by customers. Apparently, the industry is ecstatic that the privacy concerns aren’t presenting any kind of hurdle for consumers who are only intent on getting things that are bigger, faster, and in higher resolution. As long as it blinks and lets them veg out, all the better.

Web 2.0 should actually be called World 2.0 and will incorporate technology into every aspect of our lives, even more so than it is now. The next generation of cable boxes, internet, IPTV, VOIP, iphones, PDAs, and mobiles are all being absorbed into the control grid; and the cameras, microphones and other spy technology is just being pitched to the public as a product feature, rather than the all-invasive big brother hardware that it is. Private companies don’t mind it because it allows more focused marketing strategies, ie more profits for the bottom line; and of course governments love it because it allows them to circumvent privacy rights by integrating with companies in order to use this technology grid to spy on its own people.

But to simplify it all, yes, microphones exist in our cable boxes and computers, and will continue to be used, whether we accept it or not. The corporations are listening, the governments are listening; are you?

05-02-2008
Ethan Allen

Source: Rogue Government

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