June 21, 2021

Your Money Adviser: Checking the Data Collected on Your Work and Pay

But you may not know that there are many other companies that also collect consumer information — including your employment history and income.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re entitled to a free annual report from many of them, too. That option may be of particular interest if you are planning to apply for a loan, a credit card or a new job, or for government assistance. Or you may simply be curious to know what personal data might be given to prospective employers or lenders.

A major provider of such data is Equifax Workforce Solutions, a subsidiary of the credit bureau Equifax that verifies job and income information for employers, lenders and government agencies through a service called The Work Number. (The federal government has hired the company to verify incomes of those seeking subsidized health insurance or government coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Under the contract, it must develop a plan to indicate the accuracy of data and to reduce the risk of fraud.)

Equifax Workforce Solutions, also known as the TALX Corporation, obtains its data directly from its employer clients, which it says number 2,900, including 70 percent of the Fortune 500. It’s a separate business from the credit bureau, and data from the two aren’t commingled, said Dann Adams, the unit’s president, in a telephone interview.

The verification service was created to help employers manage requests to confirm salary and employment information, like when their workers applied for mortgages, Mr. Adams said. Employers hire Equifax to save time and monitor compliance with privacy laws.

Client companies provide employment, payroll and sometimes benefits data to Equifax, which then makes it available, for a fee, to banks, employers and others that it confirms are authorized to receive it. (That includes collection agencies, although Equifax says it releases only employment information like your job title and date of hire to them — not pay details.)

You may be wondering: Do I have a say in any of this?

Equifax says it provides information only to those with a legitimate reason under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and requires anyone seeking income or salary numbers to obtain your explicit consent before releasing it. “The employee has to give permission,” Mr. Adams said.

Data that identifies workers is owned by the employer, not by Equifax, and isn’t distributed to other data collectors, Mr. Adams said, though the company does sell employment trend reports, based on its analysis of anonymous data used with its clients’ approval.

The Federal Trade Commission reached a $350,000 settlement with TALX in 2009 over complaints that it failed to provide necessary disclosures to users of its consumer data and to the companies that provide the information. In an e-mail, the company said that it was complying with the credit reporting act “and has reported evidence of compliance annually to the F.T.C. as required by the settlement.”

Still, it makes sense to check the accuracy of the data Equifax may have on you, since demand for income verification is growing. Mr. Adams said the increase was partly a result of recent legislation requiring credit card companies to verify a consumer’s ability to pay before issuing a card.

In addition, the major credit bureaus (Experian and TransUnion, along with Equifax) have faced criticism from consumer advocates over the accuracy of their data. A recent study by the trade commission found that roughly 5 percent of consumers had errors in their credit reports that could result in higher interest rates on loans.

Agencies providing employment and salary data “haven’t had that level of scrutiny, so we don’t know what the level of accuracy is,” said Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. “I would be surprised if it’s better.”

Kevin Kuhn, compliance director at Equifax Workforce Solutions, said its employment data was accurate because it was provided and owned by the employer; Equifax acts as “steward” of the information but doesn’t change it, he said.

Unlike with credit reports, there isn’t a single site where you can request your free annual employment and salary report; you must apply directly to each specialty company. (Among the others that provide job and income verification services are AccuSource and InVerify. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau maintains a list of companies that collect personal financial data of various kinds, but it is not comprehensive.)

If your employer uses The Work Number, you can probably obtain your report at theworknumber.com. Otherwise, the site offers a toll-free number (866-604-6570) or a form to send by mail; you’ll need to provide your Social Security number as well as proof of identity, like a copy of your driver’s license and a utility bill.

The report will include all employment records the company has on file for you, and will show what companies have sought verifications in the last 24 months. If you’ve never worked for a company that uses The Work Number, however, the report probably will be blank.

Here are some other questions that may arise as you apply:

■ How long will it take to get a report?

According to the form on The Work Number, your request will be processed in 15 days and the results will be mailed to you.

■ What should I do if I find a discrepancy?

The Work Number’s Web site says you can call the service at 800-367-2884, and it will contact your employer to investigate.

■ What if I feel the company isn’t adequately handling my inquiry?

You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

E-mail: ann.carrns@gmail.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/your-money/exploring-companies-that-collect-more-than-the-standard-credit-data.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Across China, Skyscrapers Brush the Heavens

China is home to 60 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings now under construction. But the skyward aspirations of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, have inspired incredulity tinged with hostility.

Broad Group, a manufacturer based here in Changsha, has been planning to erect the world’s tallest building here this winter, and in record time. The 202-story “Sky City” is supposed to be assembled in only four months from factory-built modules of steel and concrete early next year on the city’s outskirts. The digging of foundations began on July 20.

But the project’s scale and speed have set off a burst of national introspection in recent days about whether Chinese municipal leaders and developers have gone too far in their increasingly manic reach for the skies.

“The vanity of some local government officials has determined the skylines of cities,” an editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said on Aug. 12.

On Tuesday, the tycoon behind the project said in a telephone interview that he had ordered a pause in work at the site while waiting for further approvals from regulators in Beijing.

“It’s because of all the concern in the media and on the Internet, the government is a little wary and has slowed down the process,” said Zhang Yue, the chairman of the Broad Group.

But he vowed to finish the building, saying that he expected a delay of no more than two to three months, with completion of the building in June or July next year instead of the original plan of finishing it in April. Workers have already dug a large hole in the ground for the foundations and have just laid a four-lane road to the site to bring in large earth-moving equipment.

“No matter how high the obstacles, I will for certain overcome them to make sure this project is completed,” Mr. Zhang said. He declined to identify who in Beijing had delayed his project, but said that he had not been asked to make any tweaks to the design.

David Scott, a prominent structural engineer in London who has worked on many extremely tall buildings, said that regulatory delays were a periodic problem for such projects all over the world, but could usually be overcome.

Local officials here say that while they have transferred the land for Sky City to Broad Group and have been installing electricity and water lines for the project, final approval for the project is still “in progress” from building safety experts in Beijing.

The blueprints for Sky City call for a stack of long, skinny rectangles that taper to a narrow top, like a very tall and angular wedding cake. It bears a blocky resemblance to the 110-story Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly the Sears Tower, which was the world’s tallest building until 1998 but is now being left in the shade by numerous rivals.

Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chongqing, each similar in population to metropolitan New York, are now finishing one building apiece that will top the Willis Tower. Wuhan, the size of greater Houston, is erecting two buildings taller than the Willis Tower and Tianjin, the size of metropolitan Chicago, is constructing three, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Chicago nonprofit that tracks skyscraper bragging rights.

Ambitious local officials, together with state-owned companies and state-owned banks, stand behind most of these projects, raising fears that taxpayers may eventually pick up the bill if projects prove uneconomical.

“If you let the market decide, I don’t think a lot of these tall buildings would proceed,” said Chau Kwong Wing, a professor of real estate and construction at Hong Kong University. Despite public concerns, there is no sign so far that any of the many very tall buildings under construction in China has been blocked by regulators in Beijing, he and Mr. Zhang both noted.

Hilda Wang contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/business/global/across-china-skyscrapers-brush-the-heavens.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Mobile Deal in Myanmar Elicits Anger Over Religion

Hours after the announcement, a monk who is one of the leaders of a radical nationalist Buddhist movement called for a boycott of one of the two companies because it is based in Qatar, a Muslim country.

“Did the government have such little choice?” the monk, Ashin Wimala, a leader of the 969 movement, said in a telephone interview after the government announced the winners late Thursday. “Why did they award this to a Muslim company?”

The company, Ooredoo, won a 15-year concession to build and operate mobile phone networks virtually from scratch, as did Telenor Mobile Communications of Norway.

The networks are crucially needed in Myanmar, where less than 10 percent of people have a mobile phone. That is a startlingly low number at a time when mobile phones are ubiquitous even in the poorest corners of the world. In neighboring Laos, a country with similar levels of grinding poverty, mobile phone penetration is 87 percent.

But in a country that is 90 percent Buddhist and where anti-Muslim sermons and hate speech appear to have fueled rampaging lynch mobs, the award to Ooredoo drew fury.

On the Facebook page where the government announcement was posted, critical comments quickly accumulated. “Why? Why? Why Muslim company omg,” said one. “Say no to Ooredoo,” said another.

The government stood by its selection of the company, which operates in more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. “We selected them for a license on the basis of their services: they have a good telecom service in Singapore,” U Ye Htut, a government spokesman, said by telephone.

In recent months, the leaders of the 969 movement have called for a boycott of shops owned by Muslims and products that they say are linked to companies owned by Muslims. The movement says the country’s Buddhist character is under threat and has proposed banning marriages between Muslims and Buddhists.

Over the last year, Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.

On Sunday, the movement appeared to receive the blessing of President Thein Sein when he issued a statement calling Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the movement, “a son of Lord Buddha.”

How powerful the movement’s objections will prove remains to be seen. The telecommunication licenses are a potent symbol of Myanmar’s transition from decades of isolation under military rule to newfound freedoms for the country’s 55 million people.

The government pushed ahead with the announcement, even though members of Parliament voted Wednesday to delay awarding the contracts until a telecommunications bill currently being debated becomes law. Mr. Thein Sein wants voters to feel tangible results from the country’s economic liberalization and democratization before general elections scheduled for 2015.

Three years ago, when Myanmar was still under military rule, mobile phones were the preserve of the rich. The conditions of the license calls for a swift rollout: coverage must reach a quarter of the population within a year. Within five years, half of the population must have access to cellular data services and three-quarters must be able to make voice calls.

Both Ooredoo and Telenor have deep pockets, analysts say, a critical factor in Myanmar where the huge scale of the investment will require billions of dollars.

The chairman of Ooredoo, Sheik Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, issued a statement on Thursday saying that Myanmar would “undoubtedly become a key market” for the company.

Eric Pfanner and Wai Moe contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/world/asia/mobile-deal-in-myanmar-elicits-anger-over-religion.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

G.M.O. Label on Kraft Mac & Cheese Box Raises Alarm

The labels, posted on the product’s own Facebook page and picked up by a food blogger, set off a buzz among consumers overseas and in the United States around the same time last week that modified wheat was found in a field in Oregon.

The problem, it seems, is that Kraft does not use genetically engineered wheat, which is not commercially available, according to a spokeswoman. So the label’s origins perplexed Kraft officials.

“We have no authorized distributor there,” said the spokeswoman, Lynne Galia, referring to Britain.

“Anyone implying that G.E. wheat is in Kraft Mac Cheese or any of our products is wrong,” Ms. Galia added, noting that Kraft buys wheat from Canada and the United States.

“G.M.O. Declaration,” the label states, referring to genetically modified organisms. “Made from genetically modified wheat. (May contains G.M.O.)”

While the United States does not require the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered ingredients, food manufacturers in the European Union must do so, and many big companies reformulate their products using conventional crops to avoid the requirement.

Flo Wrightson Cross, a student in north London, was the person who first posted the photo to Facebook, after discovering the G.M.O. label at a Tesco store in Ponders End where she bought the food.

She posted it, she said, because it also carried a warning about the possible health effects of the yellow dyes used.

“I like Macaroni Cheese and I follow it on Facebook,” Ms. Wrightson Cross said in a telephone interview. “I saw a lot of people talking about these additives and saying they wished they could see what labels with the warning looked like. So I took a picture and posted it.”

She said that a lot of people reposted the photo, but that she was surprised by some of the comments. “Many of them talked about the warning on the additives, but there were also a lot talking about the G.M.O. statement on the label,” she said. “I realized then that was also a big issue.”

For its part, Tesco was as baffled by the label as Kraft, indicating that a distributor, Innovative Bites, had slapped on the warning. Innovative Bites did not respond to calls or e-mails.

A Tesco spokeswoman said that the warning on about genetically modified wheat was “only precautionary; it doesn’t say the product does contain such wheat.” But the label is ambiguous as to the product’s contents: it says it is “made from” and “may contain” the wheat.

She said Tesco intended to get in touch with Kraft about the issue.

Ms. Wrightson Cross’s post was picked up by a food blogger who has tangled with Kraft over the use of yellow dyes, who fueled a broader circle of suspicion. Vani Hari, who writes the popular foodbabe.com blog and was first to note the language on the label in a post last week, questioned Kraft’s explanation.

“Kraft having no knowledge about the export seems odd to me,” she said. “Also, if Kraft says they are not using G.M.O. wheat, has anyone tested their wheat? Or would they clarify which G.M.O.’s they are in fact using?”

Ms. Wrightson Cross said she was confused by the hubbub her photo created. “I bought quite a few boxes of Macaroni Cheese in the last couple of months or so — about 20, I’d say,” she said. “I know that it has these effects on people because I’ve followed the things written about the additives, but I eat it in moderation and I haven’t stopped buying it.

“I like it,” she added.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/business/gmo-label-on-kraft-mac-cheese-box-raises-alarm.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: SoftBank Chief Is Defiant as Dish Challenges His Bid for Sprint

Masayoshi Son, the chief of SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications company.Yuya Shino/ReutersMasayoshi Son, the chief of SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications company.

Earlier this month, Charles W. Ergen’s Dish Network made a bold bid to pre-empt Softbank’s $20 billion bid for Sprint Nextel with its own offer.

But SoftBank‘s outspoken chief executive, Masayoshi Son, said on Tuesday that his proposal would prevail — unmodified.

It is the first time that the Japanese telecommunications mogul has spoken out since Dish surprised many with a $25.5 billion offer for Sprint, the country’s third-biggest cellphone service provider.

Dish has said that its cash-and-stock bid for all of Sprint, valued at $7 a share, would create a new wireless titan whose phone, data and video services would rival those from Verizon Wireless and ATT.

For now, Mr. Son insists that his proposal, a two-step process that would leave 30 percent of Sprint publicly traded, is straightforward and can be closed by mid-July. (The first part of the process, in which SoftBank invested $3.1 billion in the American company to keep it afloat, has already been competed.)

“Charlie’s proposal does not provide any new cash into the company, and it provides heavy burden of debt,” Mr. Son said in a telephone interview. “I believe our deal will go through.”

Mr. Son insisted that he was not surprised by the arrival of Mr. Ergen, who has publicly amassed a cash hoard that many assumed would finance some sort of acquisition. Though Dish had already made a play for Clearwire, Mr. Son said he guessed that the satellite-TV company had even bigger ambitions.

“My guess was right,” he said.

He repeatedly attacked Dish’s bid as unworkable and his rival’s numbers as misleading. By his own reckoning, factoring in both cost savings and potential costs like delays, SoftBank’s offer was worth $7.65 a share, while Dish’s was valued at $6.31.

Chief among Mr. Son’s criticisms was the amount of debt that the interloping offer would pile on to Sprint, which he estimated at $50 billion. In a long presentation to SoftBank’s shareholders, Mr. Son argued that his proposal would increase Sprint’s debt by three times, while Dish’s would do so by nearly six times.

“It would be prohibitively high debt,” he said.

Dish has proudly trumpeted the amount of wireless spectrum the combined company would control, but Mr. Son said that the holdings would be wastefully excessive and expensive to maintain. And it would still require spending what he estimated was $6 billion to upgrade Sprint’s network.

And Mr. Son contended that Mr. Ergen, a wily deal maker whose net worth Forbes estimates is more than $10 billion, is an amateur when it comes to the mobile industry. By contrast, he pointed repeatedly to SoftBank’s rise over the last seven years to become one of Japan’s three biggest wireless companies.

Still, much of SoftBank’s hopes are tied to Sprint’s bid to buy the remainder of Clearwire, an offer that has drawn significant shareholder opposition.

Mr. Son dismissed concerns about the proposal’s fate, saying that Sprint has not signaled any desire or need to raise its offer of $2.97 a share. The company can’t raise its bid without the blessing of its benefactor, SoftBank.

In the worst-case scenario, Sprint will raise its ownership in Clearwire to about 65 percent from 50 percent through agreements to buy out partners in the company, including Intel and Brighthouse.

Speaking of dissident investors who think Sprint’s offer is too low, Mr. Son said, “They can stay as shareholders for however long they want. We are happy with just 65 percent.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/softbank-chief-is-defiant-as-dish-challenges-his-bid-for-sprint/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: NPR Series on Race Aims to Build a Wider Audience

Matt Thompson, editor of the NPR team covering race, ethnicity and culture.Doby Photography/NPR Matt Thompson, editor of the NPR team covering race, ethnicity and culture.

NPR’s race, ethnicity and culture reporting initiative will make its broadcast debut this week with a four-part series called “Changing Races” for the morning and evening news programs.

The digital part of the initiative, a blog called Code Switch, started a week ago. NPR — using a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to hire a team of six reporters, editors and bloggers — is ramping up its reporting on the topic as part of its efforts to appeal to a broader swath of listeners.

Gary E. Knell, in a telephone interview, said that since becoming NPR’s chief executive in December 2011 he has been working on diversifying the public radio audience beyond its traditional loyal base. That loyalty “is a great thing but it can also lead to complacency,” he said, noting that a recent survey found that 25 percent of the public “had never heard of NPR.”

The race, ethnicity and culture reporting, Mr. Knell said, is part of NPR’s strategy to “do better about mirroring America” by bringing in more voices and engaging minority communities more deliberately.

By giving the coverage a dedicated home on the NPR site and establishing it as its own reporting desk, “it gives permanence to the issues,” Mr. Knell said. “We want this emphasis on growing audiences and widening our presence to make a statement.”

The “Changing Races” series will explore the effects of the country’s shift to a multicultural society, looking at cities where demographics have changed, and, for example, the rise of Korean hip-hop, among other topics, said Matt Thompson, the team’s editor. Future reporting, he said, will augment NPR’s existing coverage of the issues, “in a way that’s more nuanced, deeper and more comprehensive than we’ve ever been able to do before.”

Audiences for NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” the nation’s most-listened-to radio news programs, have fluctuated in recent years, dropping around 5 percent from spring 2011 to spring 2012, according to Arbitron ratings figures, and rebounding last fall. Fall 2012 ratings put “Morning Edition” with a cumulative weekday audience of 13.4 million and “All Things Considered” at 12.5 million.

NPR’s diversification efforts have also included a marketing campaign to reach younger listeners and the use of more reports from NPR member stations, as a way of “making sure we’re covering more of America,” Mr. Knell said.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/npr-series-on-race-aims-to-build-a-wider-audience/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: Contest Seeks to Honor Anti-Advertising Ads

“Shoot the first anti-advertising ad” is the pitch for a contest sponsored by Adblock Plus, the popular software that whites out Web site advertisements. The winning 30- to 90-second video submission, Adblock Plus says, will receive a prize of class time or video equipment worth $5,000 from a film institute in the Philippines.

The contest, at thecreativechallenge.org, is accepting applications until the end of May and is part of a recent conversion of Adblock Plus into a profit-making company with the aim of making online advertising more useful and pleasant, rather than stamping it out entirely.

While many of its estimated 45 million weekly users may treasure the program for its ability to make advertising seem to disappear from the Internet, the people behind Adblock say they recognize that ads keep many publications going.

“I am not against ads in general,” said Till Faida, a managing director of the project, “but I am just annoyed by the current state of ads. I have worked in online marketing — I just thought ads could be so much better.”

While still receiving donations from users, the project now also negotiates deals with large Web sites that run unobtrusive ads to be “white-listed” and thus not automatically blocked by the program. (A recent deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed, granted such status to the social news site Reddit.)

The contest, Mr. Faida said, represented an attempt to build out the community of Adblock Plus users. “We are getting more and more designers involved,” he said, stressing that contributions to the project should come from more than just computer programmers.

Considering his own nuanced view of online advertising, Mr. Faida in a telephone interview said that the contest perhaps should not have so clearly been pitched as “anti-advertising.”

“Maybe we should have had a native speaker reading behind us,” said Mr. Faida, who lives in Cologne, Germany.

A version of this article appeared in print on 04/08/2013, on page B4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Contest Seeks to Honor Anti-Advertising Ads.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/contest-seeks-to-honor-anti-advertising-ads/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Penalty for Chinese Editor Critical of Korea Stance

The editor, Deng Yuwen, told the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo that the Foreign Ministry had called the Communist Party’s Central Party School in Beijing to complain about his article in the British paper, The Financial Times. It argued that China’s strategic alliance with North Korea was “outdated” and that the wayward ally was no longer useful as a buffer against United States influence.

Mr. Deng also wrote in the article, published on Feb. 27, that the government in Pyongyang could use nuclear weapons against China.

Because of Mr. Deng’s stature — he is deputy editor of Study Times, a weekly journal of the Central Party School, which trains rising officials — the article garnered attention in Washington and Europe. Some took it as a sign that perhaps the new Chinese government led by President Xi Jinping was fed up with North Korea after its third nuclear test in February and that it would modify its support.

Chosun Ilbo quoted Mr. Deng as saying in a telephone interview: “I was relieved of the position because of that article, and I’m suspended indefinitely. Although I’m still being paid by the company, I don’t know when I will be given another position.”

Mr. Deng declined to comment on Monday afternoon.

So far, Chinese government policy makers have shown little sign of paying heed to Mr. Deng’s advice on Pyongyang.

China backed a new round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations in the wake of the third nuclear test. But as is often the case with sanctions, the question became how seriously China would enforce them.

Official Chinese statements routinely say sanctions are not the solution to the North Korean problem.

Three senior United States officials have come to Beijing in the past two weeks to request enforcement of the United Nations sanctions and to ask that China stop doing business with the North Korean Trade Bank.

The American officials left Beijing without announcing any specific agreement with China on enforcement.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, who met with Mr. Xi, said after two days of talks in March, “The U.S. views the provocative actions of North Korea as very serious, and we will continue to pursue methods available to change the policy perspective in Pyongyang.” He added, “We share a common objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and we will continue to discuss it.”

Shortly after Mr. Lew’s visit, the United States under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, and the State Department coordinator for sanctions policy, Daniel Fried, went to Beijing to discuss sanctions enforcement in more detail. They left without any announcements.

Mr. Deng’s article in The Financial Times did not deal with sanctions, but it offered a harsh critique of the Chinese government’s policy of support for North Korea and, in particular, its new leader, Kim Jong-un.

“It is entirely possible that a nuclear-armed North Korea could try to twist China’s arm if Beijing were to fail to meet its demand or if the U.S. were to signal good will toward it,” Mr. Deng wrote.

North Korea, he argued, did not view its relationship with China through the same lens of “friendship sealed in blood” that came from Chinese soldiers’ fighting and dying in the Korean War against the United States. “North Korea does not feel like this at all toward its neighbor,” he wrote.

And in a response to the Chinese policy of urging North Korea to overhaul its economy, Mr. Deng wrote: “Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. Why should China maintain relations with a regime and a country that will face failure sooner or later?”

While working at Study Times, Mr. Deng also developed a reputation as a combative commentator for other news publications less bound to official orthodoxy. He wrote an article last year on the failures of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who both recently retired, saying that during their decade in power they squandered chances to make much-needed changes.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/world/asia/chinese-suspend-editor-who-questioned-north-korea-alliance.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ Topples at Domestic Box Office

The movie, a PG-13 adaptation of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairy tale directed by Bryan Singer, took in about $28 million, enough for No. 1 but roughly half of what would have been considered a success. First place does not always mean as much at a time when studios spend so heavily on so-called tentpole films designed to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Warner Brothers and a financing partner spent about $190 million to make “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Global marketing costs added another $80 million or so to the price tag. Jeff Goldstein, Warner Brothers’ executive vice president for domestic distribution, defended the movie’s performance in a telephone interview on Sunday.

“Our audience in the United States was a little bit more narrow than we wanted, but the Canadian numbers are really strong, and the overseas reaction has exceeded our expectations,” he said. “The story on this movie is far from being written — we need more time.”

The problem: Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which goes after a nearly identical audience, rolls out around the world next weekend and is attracting very strong advance interest, according to box office analysts.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” took in $13.7 million over the weekend from release in 10 Asian countries, a result the studio called “stellar.” Warner Brothers hopes that “Jack the Giant Slayer” could ultimately take in $225 million or more from foreign theaters — possibly enough for the movie to break even. (About 50 percent of global ticket sales go to theater owners.)

Regardless, “Jack the Giant Slayer” extends a grim streak for Warner. The studio won best picture at the Oscars for “Argo” — no small feat — but has now sustained four box office failures in a row, starting with “Gangster Squad” and continuing with the fantasy “Beautiful Creatures” and “Bullet to the Head.”

Mr. Goldstein noted that American moviegoers had not been responding to much of anything of late. For the weekend ticket sales totaled about $110 million, a 35 percent decline from the same three days last year, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box office data. Ticket sales so far this year total $1.55 billion, an 8 percent decline compared with the same period in 2012; attendance has declined 9 percent.

“Identity Thief” (Universal Pictures), one of the few movies to break out in recent months, was second for the weekend. It took in about $9.7 million, for a four-week total of $107.4 million.

“21 Over,” a new R-rated teenage comedy from Relativity Media, was third, selling an estimated $9 million in tickets; it cost $13 million to make. “The Last Exorcism: Part II” (CBS Films) was fourth, with about $8 million in ticket sales. Fifth place went to “Snitch” (Lionsgate), which had $7.7 million in sales, for a two-week total of $24.4 million.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” received mixed reviews but a B-plus score from ticket buyers in exit polls. The film gestated at Warner’s New Line division and was partly paid for by Legendary Entertainment; at one point it looked like a solid bet. It had a marquee director in Mr. Singer, best known for his work with the “X-Men” franchise, and thematic similarities to “Alice in Wonderland,” which took in more than $1 billion worldwide for Disney in 2010.

So what made this beanstalk wilt so terribly?

Start with a glut of bedtime-story adaptations following the success of “Alice,” longtime film producers and box office analysts said. When lightning strikes in Hollywood it prompts an immediate imitation reflex among studios. But the results are rarely good, and this instance has been no different.

Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” did the best, with about $400 million in global ticket sales. But the disappointments have been many: “Beastly,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Mirror Mirror,” “Hansel Gretel: Witch Hunters.” “The problem is that the audience is really savvy today and judges each film as its own entity,” said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for Hollywood.com.

Warner also got tangled in the elaborate computer-generated effects needed to make “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Digital Domain, a visual effects company hired by the studio to work on the movie, started to sputter financially while the film was unfinished. Warner was also having a hard time striking the right tone — too scary could turn off families, too tame might alienate Mr. Singer’s fanboy base. The studio changed the title from “Jack the Giant Killer” last summer after deciding that “Slayer” would be a better draw for young men and would go over better with parents.

The initial plan was to release the movie last June. But with the visual effects still not up to snuff, Warner bumped the movie to early March, a tricky time for attracting the broad audience that big-budget pictures need to earn back their investments. Disney succeeded with “Alice” in 2010 yet failed badly with “John Carter” last year.

But “Oz the Great and Powerful” was already camped out in mid-March, when spring break starts.

As studios increasingly churn out behemoth movies designed to play globally, release windows have narrowed. Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, cited a crowded Christmas as one reason his studio’s “Rise of the Guardians” fizzled; it took in more than $303 million worldwide but still required an $87 million write-down because of high costs.

“Increased competition makes the need for quality release dates critically important,” Mr. Katzenberg said last week.

Uninspired advertising was the next problem that “Jack the Giant Slayer” encountered, according to multiple people who worked on the movie.

A big push for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and the Oscar campaign for “Argo” strained Warner’s resources; the studio also continued to have a hard time deciding what audience to go after.

The bickering eventually spilled onto Twitter, with Mr. Singer apologizing for terrible “airbrushed images” that “do the film no justice.”

Mr. Goldstein dismissed the notion that advertising was a problem. “Sue Kroll’s group did a fabulous job,” he said, referring to Warner’s marketing chief. “It’s always a tremendous challenge when you try to hit a broad spectrum.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/arts/jack-the-giant-slayer-topples-at-domestic-box-office.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Mylan Buys Drug Maker of Generic Injectables

The drug maker Mylan announced on Wednesday that it was acquiring Agila Specialties Private, an Indian manufacturer of generic injectable drugs, for $1.6 billion in cash.

The move would double Mylan’s presence in the injectable-drug market, a fast-growing segment of the generic drug industry that has been troubled by major quality and supply problems in recent years.

Mylan’s chief executive, Heather Bresch, said in a telephone interview that the acquisition, expected to be completed in the fourth quarter, would help expand the company’s presence in emerging overseas markets and establish it as a major player in the injectables market. Mylan expects the injectables market to grow by 13 percent a year through 2017.

Despite this growth, however, most major manufacturers of injectable drugs have suffered from serious supply and quality problems in recent years, leading to recalls and a nationwide shortage of critical products like chemotherapy drugs.

Ms. Bresch said Mylan’s recognizable brand — it is one of the world’s largest makers of generic drugs — would set it apart from its competitors.

“Our ability to bring real quality leadership in this space is our real opportunity,” she said.

In the past, the injectable business was so competitive that companies drove prices too low, said Rajiv Malik, Mylan’s president. But now that several large manufacturers — including Hospira, Sandoz and Teva — have invested millions of dollars in upgrading their plants, that picture has changed.

“I think they won’t be chasing the floor anymore anytime soon,” he said.

Mylan is acquiring Agila from the Indian pharmaceutical company Strides Arcolab.

Agila, which is based in Bangalore, sells more than 300 products worldwide, including 61 drugs in the United States. It has nine manufacturing facilities in India, Poland and Brazil, and Mylan says the company has a strong presence in emerging markets like Brazil.

Mylan, based near Pittsburgh, Pa., said it had received a commitment letter from Morgan Stanley for a $1 billion senior unsecured bridge term loan, which would be used in combination with the company’s existing cash and other lines of credit to pay for the acquisition.

Morgan Stanley is serving as financial adviser to Mylan, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher Flom is the legal adviser, assisted by Slaughter and May and Platinum Partners.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/mylan-to-acquire-injectable-drug-maker-for-1-6-billion/?partner=rss&emc=rss