GE plans to exit U.S. retail lending


General Electric Co plans to spin off the U.S. consumer lending operations of its finance arm GE Capital, as the conglomerate moves to focus on its core industrial operations, a person familiar with the matter said.

GE Capital nearly sank the whole company during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, and the company has been trying to shrink the division’s portfolio ever since.

An initial public offering of the consumer lending division, which issues store credit cards for 55 million Americans, could come early next year, but its size has not yet been determined, according to the Wall Street Journal. (

“A spin-off of GE’s consumer business would be a significant positive for the company, as it would expedite its shift to industrial earnings solidly outgrowing GE Capital,” said William Blair & Co analyst Nicholas Heymann, in a note.

GE declined to comment.

A sale might help GE Capital escape some of the most burdensome new regulations after it was named a systemically important financial institution by the U.S. financial risk council in July.

The council reviews the status of these institutions – which are so large their demise could threaten the safety of the entire financial system – annually, taking into account “any material changes” to the business.

The consumer division earned $3.24 billion last year and had assets of $139 billion. GE Capital’s total assets at the end of 2012 were $539 billion.

Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt at a conference in May said the company aimed to trim GE Capital’s assets to $300 billion to $350 billion by the end of 2014 through “staged exits” of some non-core assets.

Bankers from JPMorgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs Group Inc are working on a possible public offering, while alternatives include smaller spin-offs or asset sales, the Wall Street Journal said. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan declined to comment.

William Blair analysts said the consumer division could potentially be valued at $35 billion, or about $3 to $4 per GE share.

(Reporting by Patricia Kranz and Jessica Toonkel in New York, Douwe Miedema in Washington, and Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Tim Dobbyn)

Salesforce Jumps, But H-P, Microsoft Slip

By Benjamin Pimentel

MarketWatch Pulse
SAN FRANCISCO –  Shares of jumped more than 9% Friday morning a day after the business software company blew past Wall Street estimates. Also on the rise were shares of Splunk Inc. , up 8%, after the data-analysis company raised its revenue outlook. But the tech sector was weighed down by declining shares of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp. , which were the worst performers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average which was off 23 points. IDC reported Thursday that PC sales are now also slowing in emerging markets. The Nasdaq Composite Index shed 0.1% to 3,617. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index was down 0.2%.

A Wearable Computer More Powerful than Glass, And Even More Awkward

A startup that makes 3-D glasses stands out, in part, by including Steve Mann on its team.

Steve Mann, a pioneer in the field of wearable computing, has been touting the benefits of head-mounted computers for decades. Now, the University of Toronto professor is also lending his weight and experience to a company hoping to loosen Google Glass’s grip on the nascent market with a different take on computer glasses that merges the real and the virtual.

The company, Meta, is building computerized headwear that can overlay interactive 3-D content onto the real world. While the device is bulky, Meta hopes it can eventually slim it down into a sleek, light pair of normal-looking glasses that could be used in all kinds of virtual activities, from gaming to product design. The company, which was founded by Meron Gribetz and Ben Sand, counts Mann as its chief scientist. One of Mann’s graduate students, Ray Lo, serves as chief technical officer. The company just completed a stint with Y Combinator, the successful startup accelerator based in Mountain View, California.

Meta’s clunky-looking initial product, called Space Glasses, is meant more as a tool for app developers than as a gadget you’d want to actually wear. It doesn’t have a built-in battery or central or graphics processors, so it needs to be physically tethered to a computer in order to work. It includes a see-through projectable LCD for each eye, an infrared depth camera, and a standard color camera, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. The second version of Space Glasses will be lighter and less bulky-looking, the team says, and will include a battery and central and graphics processors, as well as some changes to the software.

“I think it’s a really good time to enter into this world,” says Mann, who has been sporting his own custom glasses, and pushing the idea of head-worn computers, since the 1970s. As all kinds of wearable technology become cheaper and more widespread, “smart” glasses are leading the charge, helped by the promotion of Glass and a slew of other products from various companies. Market researcher IHS predicts that 124,000 pairs of smart glasses will ship this year, mostly to developers, up from 50,000 last year. IHS expects the figure to climb as high as 434,000 next year.

Space Glasses are not yet shipping widely, but a Kickstarter campaign seeking $100,000 to support the device’s creation brought in nearly double its goal. So far, more than 900 developers have paid hundreds of dollars apiece to get an early version of the glasses, which Meta recently began sending out, or preorder a sleeker-looking model, which is expected to go out to buyers in April (currently, both cost $667).

Space Glasses work by, essentially, building up a 3-D model of the world as you’re walking around, using an algorithm Meta built to track flat surfaces in real time; unlike some previous augmented-reality systems, it needs no special physical markers. The coördinates resulting from this tracking are relayed to the computer, which renders the digital information as a 3-D model of your immediate surroundings. This makes it possible, for example, to project a movie onto a chosen piece of paper, as the team showed me in person. Different people could approach the same 3-D object at different angles, or a 3-D model could follow you around.

“You don’t need to change anything about the world you’re in for us to track it, which is a huge breakthrough,” Sand says.

The team envisions Meta as a replacement for the standard computer and as something people can use together, whether they’re architects standing around a table to design a building or friends running around playing a shoot-‘em-up game. Eventually, Gribetz hopes, Meta can build its technology into something even less obvious than glasses, like an optic-nerve implant.

That’s a long way away, though. While the splashy demo video on Meta’s site promises a range of interactive activities—such as virtually sculpting and then 3-D printing a vase, or playing a game of virtual chess with a friend—it’s all courtesy of special effects meant to give an idea of what the wearer will see. (The team says, though, that most of these demos have been built already and will soon be available to developers, along with a software development kit.) In the few minutes I tried it out, I couldn’t do much more than swipe some letters on a virtual keyboard projected in front of me and poke haphazardly at a 3-D mushroom.

The coolest demo I saw involved an animated clip projected onto a sheet of paper Lo held—and moved—in front of me. Though movie watching is a passive activity, this does give an idea of how well Meta’s real-time surface tracking works.

Natan Linder, a graduate student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab, can imagine how a head-mounted computer like Meta might be useful to, say, prep you quickly for a conversation by showing you what an old friend has been up to lately, or show pilots information they need to see (a purpose for which head-mounted technology has been used in the past). He’s not convinced that such a device will be generally useful, though; he likens it to the Bluetooth earpieces some people wore constantly in years past, “only much worse.”

Still, he feels that Mann’s involvement lends cachet. “He basically started this whole thing,” he says. “If anybody can see it through and help them make it relevant, I think it would be him.”

Vodafone investors split on best use of Verizon windfall

By Sinead Cruise and Chris Vellacott

LONDON | Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:28pm EDT

(Reuters) – Top investors in Vodafone Group (VOD.L) are set to clash over what the company should do with perhaps as much as $130 billion in proceeds from the sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless, which is expected to be announced imminently.

Vodafone shareholders contacted by Reuters as talks continued between the British firm and Verizon Communications (VZ.N) were split between those wanting to see the cash returned as dividends and those wanting the firm to invest it.

Verizon is close to buying the 45 percent stake in the joint venture Verizon Wireless from Vodafone, according to sources.

While some investors relish the idea of a special dividend and buyback spree, others say Vodafone is selling its best asset and must reinvest much of the proceeds in the company’s future to avoid reliance on low-growth European markets.

Vodafone’s 12-month dividend yield stands at 5.5 percent compared with an average of 5.1 percent for its European and UK peer group, according to Thomson Reuters data.

A lucrative sale of its Verizon stake would free up cash to invest in new infrastructure or to acquire smaller players to diversify and offset a squeeze on revenues in the mobile phone market, where competition is strong and prices are declining.

“You only want a deal done if they are going to do something with it,” said a fund manager at one of Vodafone’s 10 largest shareholders, who declined to be named.

“The worst-case scenario is that Vodafone takes the money and just hands it all back to shareholders. Then you are left with a weird company that isn’t really doing anything.”


Vodafone has increasingly diversified from its “pure play” mobile strategy in the last 18 months, buying British fixed-line operator Cable & Wireless Worldwide for $1.6 billion last year and German cable operator Kabel Deutschland for $10 billion in June, its largest deal for six years.

It is also building a 1 billion euro fiber-optic network in Spain with France’s Orange (ORAN.PA). Analysts have said fixed-line assets in Spain such as ONO or Italian broadband specialist Fastweb, which is owned by Swisscom (SCMN.VX), could be next on its shopping list.

Investors said Vodafone needed to make quick progress on this strategic shift or run the risk of becoming commercially obsolete in a market where many peers are selling packages that combine cable or satellite television, fixed-line services, broadband Internet and mobile phone deals.

“The problem for Vodafone is that they have no infrastructure to be able to offer this quad play … Pure mobile phone operators are struggling; they have to keep cutting their prices to stay in line with players who can fall back on rising revenues from broadband,” the top 10 investor said.


Even some of the company’s debtholders, who typically call for conservative use of sale proceeds to pay down debt, suggest some acquisitions might be beneficial for the long-term financial stability of the firm.

Vodafone’s net debt is twice its 2013 earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data, in line with the industry median. Its debt is rated A- by ratings agencies Fitch and S&P.

“From a bondholder’s perspective, we’d always prefer actions that boost creditworthiness,” said Matt Eagan, co-manager of the $22 billion Loomis Sayles Bond Fund and a Vodafone bondholder.

“That would could come from debt reduction in the case of Vodafone. However, I’m not opposed to acquisitions to the extent they boost the firm’s business position. Consolidation in this industry has generally been positive from a credit standpoint.”

But a second of Vodafone’s 10 largest shareholders said he thought investors would want most of the proceeds from a stake sale returned to them as a condition of approving any proposal.

His sentiments echoed those of a third investor among Vodafone’s 30 largest shareholders, who said he feared the firm was already too far behind rivals who have the infrastructure in place to offer the combined packages, and the chances of overpaying for assets to catch up with them was too high.

Assuming Vodafone receives $116-132 billion of proceeds from the sale, analysts at Citi said on Friday it could distribute $40 billion in cash and Verizon common stock valued at around $26-34 billion to shareholders. That would equate to a cash distribution of 52 pence a share.

The analysts expect Vodafone to pay around $5 billion in tax, keep $15 billion to reduce debt and retain $30-38 billion in deferred proceeds.

That plan could prove unpopular among some investors.

“We would want as much cash back as possible. I appreciate they have to invest in the core of what will be left post the Verizon disposal, but I think a lot of people once they have their money back will look to exit the equity.”

“Look at this another way: people who dispose of assets tend to drive their share price up. People who acquire assets, tend to drive their share price down,” the investor said.

However, Vodafone should have enough money to appease both camps, a third fund manager at a top 10 shareholder said.

“Any (acquisition) by Vodafone is going to be in the low-single-digit billions, which in the context of $110 or $120 billion of proceeds, it’s a small proportion … you can give at least half of the cash back, have a bit of a war chest and strengthen your balance sheet,” the investor said.

(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Will Waterman)

Report: Microsoft, AmEx Seek Stakes in Foursquare

By Dunstan Prial


Microsoft (MSFT) and American Express (AXP) are competing for a stake in social media company Foursquare, according to a report Friday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg News said the two companies have chosen not to enter into a partnership while pursuing an investment in Foursquare, which allows users to alert others via social media of their whereabouts, usually a restaurant or a store.

New York-based Foursquare is currently talking to a number of potential investors and negotiations with Microsoft and American Express may not lead to a deal, the report said.

Foursquare, riding the social media craze, was recently valued by venture capitalists at a whopping $600 million. But some analysts have expressed skepticism of that figure.

The company reported just $2 million in sales in 2012.

But, according to the Bloomberg report, the company is starting to benefit from a new ad policy that allows advertisers to send ads to Foursquare users shortly after users post their locations. Foursquare’s chief revenue officer recently told Bloomberg those ads are raising three times the amount of money the company had predicted.

Both Microsoft and American Express view an investment in Foursquare as another way to monetize the growing power of social media. Spokesmen for the companies couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In digital age games makers still feel need to meet and greet

By Harro Ten Wolde and Christiaan Hetzner

COLOGNE, Germany | Mon Aug 26, 2013 12:20pm EDT

(Reuters) – Videogames maker Electronic Artsknows that in the Vatican there are more than just a few soccer fans thanks to customer feedback for its flagship sports title FIFA Soccer mined from connected gamers all over the world.

Game developers such as EA, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft and Sony are sitting on a treasure trove of client data that enables them to reach the right target group at the right time, yet every year in August they still flock to the Gamescom in Cologne to meet gamers in person.

Spanning an area the size of some 20 soccer pitches, Europe’s largest videogames trade fair opened its doors on Thursday. It has been growing steadily every year and the 2013 convention with 340,000 visitors not just surpassed its predecessors but far exceeded the expected 275,000.

“The brilliant part about this show is, it is the equivalent of real live Twitter,” said David Rutter, executive producer of EA’s FIFA soccer videogame.

“We have a coding room here in the venue. Fans who like our gamescome in and play. We ask what they like, what they don’t and we instantly can make the changes.”

Adding to Gamescom’s appeal this year was that visitors, willing to queue for half an hour or more, could try out two brand new consoles that will only be available from November – Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4.

The Cologne show is the first opportunity for gamers to actually play the games after they were unveiled two months ago at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

“We are experiencing a banner year for console gaming, the kind that we’ve not had for a while,” said Steve Bailey, games analyst at research firm IHS.

“This is when the value of E3 and Gamescom is at its peak, as a loudhailer platform not just for the dissemination of information, but of projecting a sense of eventfulness.”

The convention doesn’t just serve as a promotional stage to showcase new games to consumers but also attracts managers from major manufacturers looking to do business. Product placement in videogames is a billion dollar market – one that carmakers for example can’t afford to miss out on.

“We have a full schedule of appointments in Cologne, meeting both partners with whom we already are in close collaboration as well as new game developers interested in a creative exchange of ideas,” said Claudia Mueller, head of Entertainment Marketing at BMW, whose Z4 coupe features prominently in the online racing game “Auto Club Revolution”.

Located at the center of Europe along the continent’s main trade routes, Germany has a long history of trade shows including the Book Fair and IAA autoshow in Frankfurt as well as the IFA in Berlin, Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show.

Germany hosted 649 conventions in 2012, ranking it second to the United States, according to data from ICCA, a global association for the trade fair industry.

Business tourism in Germany generated 57.2 billion euros ($76.7 billion) in 2012, figures from the national tourist board DTZ show. In that year 2.6 million trips from European countries were made to shows and exhibitions in Germany, a 9.2 percent increase from the previous year.


Gartner technology analyst Brian Blau said Gamescom had been able to ward off a growing threat from tech companies like Apple, Google and SAP, who stage their own trade shows to ensure their message is not diluted by media coverage of their biggest competitors.

“These brands get 100 percent of your attention during these days. At a convention you have to share the stage with lots and lots of other brands,” Blau said.

“But what impressed me about Gamescom was the sheer size of the whole thing – it’s just a gigantic place – and the magnitude by which the games companies put on their shows,” he explained.

Publishers also use the spectacle surrounding Gamescom to beef up their social media presence with fresh content for their fan base. EA Sports has over 20 million followers of its FIFA Facebook page.

“With these events we generate a lot of traffic on our social networks,” EA’s Rutter said.

“We have a tremendous fan base. The people are hungry for content,” Activision Blizzard Publishing Chief Executive Eric Hirshberg said.

But nothing beats the personal contact with the customer.

“In the midst of the development process, when we have our noses pressed against the screens looking at the pixels, it is good to take a step back,” Hirshberg added.

“It is great walk around in the booth, watch real-live gamers play your stuff what is still in development and you can still make tweaks.”

To keep gamers interested the Cologne fair is looking at opportunities to include other media such as the movie industry and television, said the Gerald Boese, chief executive of Koelnmesse, the Cologne trade fair operator.

“There are so many cross-overs between the gaming sector, movies and television, that it would justify those sectors being present here.”

(Editing by David Evans)

Onyx deal expected to give Amgen a big boost

By Susan Kelly

Mon Aug 26, 2013 1:19pm EDT

(Reuters) – Investors reacted favorably on Monday to Amgen Inc’s $10.4 billion purchase of Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc, which gives the world’s largest biotech company full rights to a blood cancer drug with multibillion-dollar sales potential.

Amgen shares rose 9 percent in midday trade on news of the acquisition, the biggest biotech deal since Gilead Sciences Inc’s $11 billion purchase of Pharmasset in 2012.

The main prize in the acquisition is Onyx’s blood cancer drug Kyprolis.

Piper Jaffray analyst Ian Somaiya upgraded Amgen shares to “overweight” from “neutral” and raised his price target on the stock to $140 from $120, saying Kyprolis could generate sales of more than $3 billion by 2025.

Brean Capital analyst Gene Mack said Kyprolis and Oprozomib, another blood cancer drug in development at Onyx, could produce combined sales of more than $4 billion.

Kyprolis is used to treat multiple myeloma, the second most commonly diagnosed blood cancer. The disease attacks antibody-producing plasma cells, which are derived from a type of white blood cell. More than 20,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma this year, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Kyprolis competes with the Celgene Corp drug Revlimid. Celgene also has a new myeloma treatment, Pomalyst.

“Given our view of the overall myeloma market and the growth we see over the next 3-5 years, we are not surprised by the interest in Onyx since it is our view that both Onyx and Celgene will be the primary beneficiaries of that growth,” Mack said in a note to clients.

Kyprolis has been on the U.S. market for about a year and its sales have been climbing steadily, reaching $61 million in the second quarter. Onyx previously said plans were in place for a Kyprolis launch in Europe in the second half of 2014.

Onyx also sells Nexavar, a treatment for liver and kidney cancer.

Amgen has been looking for new ways to boost its product pipeline as sales of its flagship anemia drugs Aranesp and Epogen have been in decline for years because of usage restrictions and safety concerns.

On a conference call with analysts on Monday, Amgen executives said they plan to file the tender offer for Onyx this week, with the deal expected to close as early as the week of September 30.

Amgen Chief Executive Officer Bob Bradway, who took the helm of the Thousand Oaks, California-based company just over a year ago, has been able to keep investors happy with dividend increases and share repurchases. On the conference call, he said Amgen remained committed to raising its dividend over time after it completes the Onyx acquisition. He also said investors should not expect any significant share repurchases in 2014 or 2015.

In the acquisition, announced on Sunday, Amgen will pay $125 a share for Onyx, a 4.2 percent increase from the $120 a share it offered in June.

Shares of Amgen rose 9 percent to $115.05 in midday trading, while Onyx shares climbed 5.7 percent to $123.65.

(Reporting by Susan Kelly in Chicago; Editing by John Wallace)

PE firm to take Globecomm private for $340 million

Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:03am EDT

(Reuters) – Satellite communications providerGlobecomm Systems Inc agreed to be taken private by investment firm Wasserstein & Co for about $340 million.

Wasserstein’s offer of $14.15 per share in cash represents a 1.73 percent discount to Globecomm’s closing price on Friday.

Globecomm shares fell 3 percent to $13.95 on the Nasdaq on Monday morning, trading well below the offer price. The stock had risen 24 percent to Friday since the company said in January that it was exploring strategic alternatives.

The transaction is expected to be financed through cash provided by Wasserstein affiliates and other co-investors, and debt financing, Globecomm said in a statement.

Wasserstein & Co, founded by the late Bruce Wasserstein in 2001, has made deals worth $3 billion. It manages the New York magazine, which is solely owned by the Wasserstein family.

The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

Needham & Co was the financial adviser to Globecomm for the deal, while Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP was the legal counsel.

Jones Day is the legal adviser to Wasserstein, and U.S. Space LLC advised the investment firm.

(Reporting by Neha Alawadhi in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Telefonica wins Slim over with sweetened German deal

By Sara Webb and Clare Kane

AMSTERDAM/MADRID | Mon Aug 26, 2013 2:16pm EDT

(Reuters) – Telefonica has raised its bid for KPN’s German arm by 6 percent to 8.55 billion euros ($11.5 billion), winning over top KPN investorAmerica Movil and setting the stage for consolidation in Europe’s largest mobile market.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil, which owns almost 30 percent of KPN, said it backed Telefonica’s new offer for KPN’s E-Plus unit. Shares of America Movil rose 1 percent in morning trade.

Earlier this month, America Movil launched a bid for the shares of KPN it did not already own, a challenge to the Spanish telecoms group’s original deal to buy the E-Plus unit.

America Movil said on Monday it would press ahead with its plan to buy the rest of the Dutch firm. But its bid faces challenges from antitrust regulators, unions and a foundation with power to block a takeover of KPN.

Analysts also said some KPN shareholders, including hedge funds who have bought shares recently, could pressure America Movil to raise its offer.

The agreement moves Telefonica closer to its goal of stepping up its challenge in Germany to market leaders Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone.

It also offers a better deal for America Movil, Telefonica’s arch-rival in Latin America which on paper has racked up huge losses on its European investments since buying minority stakes in KPN and Telekom Austria.

The new offer hands KPN 5 billion euros in cash and also increases its stake in the future combined German business to 20.5 percent from 17.6 percent under the terms of the previous offer.

Investors are cautious about America Movil’s European expansion efforts. Its shares remain down more than 20 percent since it announced it would offer 7.2 billion euros for KPN.

Stefan Astheimer, vice president of strategy at investment manager Howe & Rusling in Rochester, New York, said Monday’s news was mixed for the Mexican company.

“On the one hand, they are losing the opportunity to gain direct entry to the German market which was an important part of their strategy,” said Astheimer, whose firm has a small equity and debt position in America Movil.

“On the other hand, the deal will inject cash into KPN and allow America Movil to focus on the Dutch and Belgian markets, while giving them a larger stake in Telefonica Germany, which should appreciate in value,” he added.

“I think it was prudent of America Movil to allow Telefonica to acquire E-Plus rather than getting bogged down in a potentially expensive or ugly conflict which would not reflect well on their efforts to allay the concerns of the KPN Foundation and others,” Astheimer added.

BPI analyst Pedro Oliveira said the deal showed Carlos Slim and Telefonica boss Cesar Alierta could overcome their differences. “Their business sense is becoming stronger than the rivalry between Telefonica and America Movil,” he said.

Telefonica still needs support from antitrust regulators for a deal that will reduce the number of players from four to three in Germany, a market with 112 million subscribers.

Many European telecoms firms are looking to consolidate to cope with saturated markets, recession-hit consumers, tough regulation and expensive network upgrades.

However, regulators are wary that reduced competition could lead to higher prices for consumers and mobile profit margins in Germany are already much higher than in Britain and France.

“Politicians seem to be more favorable to protecting telecoms companies … but this is an operation that will have a lot of scrutiny from the regulators,” BPI’s Oliveira said.


An independent foundation with power to block a takeover of KPN has expressed concern about America Movil’s bid to pay 2.4 euros for each share it does not own.

“There will be a tussle for control of KPN – the question is will shareholders allow America Movil to take control of KPN via the tender offer at such a low price?” said Bernstein Research analyst Robin Bienenstock.

America Movil executives will meet the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, along with KPN union representatives on Wednesday to discuss its plans for the Dutch telecoms group, sources told Reuters.

“The Minister wants to be informed given the importance of KPN for the Dutch economy,” said one of the sources.

KPN’s largest union Abvakabo FNV also has concerns.

“What are you investing in the cooperation with KPN and what will that mean for jobs in the Netherlands? That’s what I want to get an answer to,” said a union spokesman.

America Movil bought into KPN in June 2012 at roughly 8 euros per share. It paid a much lower price in February to raise its stake.

KPN’s shares closed up 3 percent at 2.33 euros, while Telefonica’s rose slightly to 10.78 euros, with shares in its German unit up 2.88 percent at 5.22 euros.


Telefonica has shed 10 billion euros of debt since June 2012 and plans more asset disposals, so it can afford the deal.

“The increased amount is not big enough to put pressure on the rating,” said Carlos Winzer, analyst at Moody’s, which rates Telefonica at Baa2, two notches above junk territory.

Under the revised terms, Telefonica will sign an option to buy back 2.9 percent of its German subsidiary after a year at a price of 510 million euros. The Spanish group sees the German deal generating up to 5.5 billion euros in cost savings.

Last month, experts told Reuters that Telefonica was likely to try to win over antitrust regulators by offering to give up some spectrum and by giving greater access to its networks to new “virtual” operators.

To make its bid more attractive in the Netherlands, America Movil said on Monday it would maintain KPN’s headquarters in that country and keep its stock market listing in Amsterdam, as well as its commercial brands.

Walter Samuels, a spokesman for the KPN Foundation, declined to comment on Monday’s announcements, other than saying: “We’re still following developments.”

($1 = 0.7461 euros)

(Additional reporting by Julien Toyer in Madrid, Elinor Comlay in Mexico City and Leila Abboud in Paris; Writing by Leila Abboud; Editing by Louise Heavens, Mark Potter, Simon Gardner, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)

Motorola Reveals First Google-Era Phone, the Moto X

The Moto X lowers the emphasis on manual control in favor of always-on sensors built to respond to speech, gestures, and context.

ogle-owned Motorola unveiled the Moto X, its new flagship smartphone, in New York City today. The Moto X deëmphasizes manual control, hardware buttons, and the touch screen in favor of always-on sensors built to respond to speech, gestures, and context. And customers will be able to customize many features of the device when they order it.

The phone’s “touchless control” interface is its biggest innovation. Without switching on the device, simply saying “Okay Google Now” followed by a command can make a phone place a call, get directions, perform a Google search, or more. The phone’s accelerometer can also tell whether you’re in a moving car and tailor its commands and notifications accordingly.

Since it could be a huge drain on battery life to have sensitive sensors running around the clock, Motorola added two additional tiny processors to the Snapdragon S4 Pro system-on-a-chip. One is for natural language processing, and the other is for “contextual computing” (in other words, managing all the phone’s other sensors). Both processors are built for extremely low-power use. Motorola designed the processors themselves; they are not built on the ARM architecture, and the company will not disclose who’s fabricating them. But it’s these chips that make all of the new button-free interfaces possible, while still allowing up to 24 hours of mixed usage and 13 hours of talk time.

The new chips also make other “contextual computing” possible without requiring the user to touch a button or screen. Turn the phone face up, and it displays the time and notifications. No buttons pressed, no power-draining backlight turned on: the LED display only lights up the pixels needed to show the time. Motorola calls this an “active display.” If you hold the phone up and twist your wrist, this activates the phone’s camera, reducing the time between pocket and portrait to two seconds. The Moto X comes with a 10-megapixel camera and 50 gigabytes of Google Drive storage, free for two years.

Observers have been waiting for the phone for two years, since Google announced it was buying Motorola Mobility. Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside calls the Moto X “the first phone designed from scratch” post-acquisition. On quarterly earnings calls, Google CEO Larry Page has promised revolutionary new devices that would solve the problems of durability and battery life that still plague smartphones once Motorola’s existing product pipeline cleared. Since then, Motorola’s “X Phone” has been rumored, teased, leaked, and marketed for months.

As expected, the Moto X has a 4.7-inch Gorilla Glass screen that runs nearly edge-to-edge across the phone’s face, and a plump, rounded back that accommodates its custom-shaped battery and fits in the hand more like a mouse than the flat slate popular in today’s smartphones.

Motorola is touting the phone’s customizable colors and features, and the fact that it will be available on every major carrier in the U.S. and many more worldwide by late August or early September. The phone is also being assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, which makes it possible for U.S. customers to get a customized device in four days.

At Thursday’s event, Motorola’s senior vice president Rick Osterloh presented this phone as the culmination of Motorola’s 40 years of work on mobile communications. Citing smartphone makers’ “lack of innovation” and “lack of imagination,” Osterloh said that the team assigned to develop the Moto X discovered that “smart phones weren’t very smart”—a direct echo of what Steve Jobs said before presenting the first iPhone.

In fact, relatively few features of the Moto X haven’t already been incorporated in Motorola’s Droid line of smartphones for Verizon, which deflates their impact. And because of the X’s long gestation, many of the wilder rumors about the phone turned out to be hot air. But it is still a milestone device and, if it’s successful, it could change the smartphone industry’s status quo.

Customization could be a big selling point of the Moto X in the United States. “Cars let you customize the interior or exterior,” said Osterloh, “but with phones, which are probably our most personal technology or object, you get to choose between black, white, and maybe silver.” The Moto X comes in 18 back and seven accent colors, as well as a white or black front.


Initially, however, this level of customization is only for customers in the U.S. on AT&T’s network. Most of the world gets to choose between textured white or textured black. Motorola says other carriers will be added to the Moto Maker customization program later in the year.

It’ll be possible to tailor a device at the AT&T store or online at Most of the backs are either a smooth or textured polycarbonate, but Motorola is also experimenting with wooden backs. Although this won’t be available at launch, Motorola showed off finishes in bamboo, teak, ebony, and rosewood at the New York event.

Because the devices are assembled in the U.S., Motorola can configure and ship them in any customization within four days. If you’re unhappy with your custom phone, within 14 days you can ask for a return, and Motorola will ship you a new device with a prepaid FedEx box to return the old one.

“Every selection on the Moto Maker website checks the part’s availability in real-time,” said John Renaldi, the director of Moto Maker. “Every one of our manufacturing lines can immediately switch to become a customized line,” depending on the distribution of orders.

Motorola’s goal, said Renaldi, was to export this on-the-fly customization ability to its factories all over the world. For now, Fort Worth’s proximity to Motorola’s design centers in Chicago and California make it Moto’s perfect pilot factory.

Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said that Motorola’s emphasis on customization speaks to the saturation of the current smartphone market, and was surprised that Motorola priced the Moto X at $199 on a two-year contract, given its goal of making “a phone for everybody” and the difficulty of competing with the iPhone and other top smartphones at that price.

The most lasting impact of the Moto X will be beneath the surface. Local, just-in-time assembly may shift how and where many electronics are manufactured and make customization more common. Phone makers are also looking to larger possibilities for speech, proximity, and motion sensing, and beefing up their processor designs accordingly. Whether the Moto X is Motorola’s iPhone moment or not, it shows where mobile computing is headed.