Outlook gains 60m users
Microsoft Corp said its free Outlook.com Web-based e-mail service has gained 60 million active users in its first six months, with a third of those switching from Google Inc’s Gmail. Microsoft had expected it to take a year to reach that level of usage and it took Gmail two years to get there, Dharmesh Mehta, a senior director for Outlook.com, said in an interview. A third of active users are Gmail customers now using Outlook.com as their primary free e-mail account, he said. While free e-mail is not a huge money-maker — Mehta said Outlook.com carries about 60 percent fewer advertisements than Microsoft’s previous Hotmail product — the Redmond, Washington-based company considers it critical to gaining and retaining consumers.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Danone sales rise 4.9%
Danone, the owner of Evian bottled water and Activia yogurt, rose the most in almost three years in Paris trading after fourth-quarter sales beat estimates and the company announced plans to cut 900 jobs in Europe. Like-for-like sales increased 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter, exceeding analyst estimates of a 3.7 percent gain. The performance helped ease concern over weakening demand for dairy products in southern Europe as consumers shift to cheaper private-label alternatives. Danone, which gets more than half its sales from dairy products, said it would cut management and administrative positions across Europe as part of a plan to reduce costs by 200 million euros (US$267 million) over two years. The update “might indicate that we may be close to a turning point,” Societe Generale analyst Warren Ackerman said in a note to clients. A 0.4 percent increase in dairy products sold was the main reason that sales beat estimates in the quarter, he said.
InterContinental profit surges
InterContinental Hotels Group, the world’s biggest hotelier, posted an 11 percent rise in profit last year, underpinned by a strong US business and expansion in developing markets. The hotelier, home to the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and InterContinental brands, yesterday reported an operating profit of US$614 million for last year, ahead of a US$605 million company supplied consensus estimate. Annual revenue rose 5 percent to US$1.84 billion, while the dividend rose 16 percent to US$0.64. Growth in global revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key hotel industry measure, grew 5.2 percent last year, with its core US market 6.3 percent ahead and China up 5.4 percent.
Aquino rally boosts index
The world’s biggest equity bull market is propelling valuations to all-time highs as international investors pile into the country’s stocks in an endorsement of President Benigno Aquino III’s economic policies. The Stock Exchange Index climbed 13 percent this year through yesterday, bringing gains since October 2008 to 285 percent, at least 124 percentage points more than every other bull market in emerging and developed nations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The index turned into Asia’s most expensive from the second-cheapest four years ago, as rallies in Ayala Land Inc and Bank of the Philippine Islands lifted the gauge to 19 times estimated profits. Aquino’s efforts to boost spending on government projects and tackle corruption are convincing foreign investors to look past the nation’s speculative-grade credit rating and focus on the third-fastest growth in Asia after China and Thailand.