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Telecom Gambits, Oracle’s Tea Leaves
Foreign telecoms are jockeying for position as China cracks open its phone market. Oracle has a great quarter, but its cloudy future sends its share price sinking. And Jelly Belly is thriving in an industry that’s not.
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EWS AT A GLANCE

China’s sleeping telecom giant

Last month, China unveiled reforms that could pave the way for the opening of its telecommunications market, the world’s largest, to more foreign investment. But even though foreign telecoms are eager to increase their stakes in Chinese firms, and the Chinese telecoms welcome the new capital and technical and marketing expertise, Beijing is not expected to allow foreign firms more than small stakes in Chinese telecoms anytime soon. Still, with 8 million new Chinese mobile phone subscribers each month, foreign telecoms are jockeying for position for when the market does open up. No telecom can “afford to miss out on China in their global expansion roadmap,” said Duncan Clark at Beijing-based consultancy BDA. (Reuters)

Oracle reports strong growth, weak prospects

Oracle Corp. reported a better-than-expected 27 percent rise in quarterly profit, to $2.04 billion, and its $22.6 billion in fiscal 2008 revenue pushed it past IBM to become the world’s No. 2 software maker, after Microsoft. However, Oracle’s shares dropped in extended trading as its growth outlook for the current quarter came in at the low end of analysts’ forecasts. (Bloomberg) A bright note for Oracle was its 27 percent jump in new software-license sales, a key indicator of future revenue. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) “These strong results indicate that Oracle’s hard-charging sales culture and diversified product lineup are paying off, even in challenging economic times,” said analyst Andy Miedler at Edward Jones. (The New York Times, free registration)

Fortis bank seeks $12.5 billion

Belgian-Dutch bank Fortis said it will build up its capital with a series of actions worth $12.5 billion, including selling new shares, disposing of non-essential assets, and scrapping a $2 billion interim cash dividend. (MarketWatch) Fortis said it is taking these “exceptional measures” because it expects difficult times for the banking industry to continue. Its stock dropped sharply early today. Fortis was part of the group that bought ABN Amro last year, just as the subprime mortgage mess hit. “This will raise further questions about management’s judgment,” said Piers Hillier at WestLB Mellon Asset Management. (Bloomberg)

They want candy

Fairfield, Calif.-based Jelly Belly Candy Co. is rolling out 300,000 pounds of its namesake jelly beans a day, an unusually healthy output in the stagnant $29.1 billion candy industry. Candy analysts credit Jelly Belly’s 25 percent growth since 2006 to its wider availability and expansion abroad, while candy aficionados say the company just makes a better jelly bean. To maintain its growth, the company has to find a way to preserve its high-end image as it moves into low-end stores, and to pass on or eat the spike in sugar and corn syrup costs. Economic woes aren’t all bad for the company, though. Candy sales jump “anytime something major upsetting happens,” says Dallas candy store owner Tino Ramirez. (The New York Times, free registration)

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