A New Era For Japan?

A New Era For Japan? - at www.moneyweek.com - the best of the international financial media

*** M&S vs Burberry: why the latter wins

*** Bernie Ebbers gets 25 years

*** Kasparov challenges Putin...why Mr Market loves consistency...good news for Japanese bulls...and more

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--------------------- - Marks & Spencer investors liked what they heard from chief executive Stuart Rose yesterday. In its trading statement, the group said that full-price sales of general merchandise fell "just" 2.4% for the 14 weeks to July, while total food sales rose 5%.

- The result? M&S shares traded 2% up at 365p, to close as a top blue chip gainer. But it's not time to crack open the champagne just yet. Like-for-like sales fell by 5.4% over the same period, while clothing sales slumped by 9.2%. In fact, the signs of any M&S recovery are certainly few and far between...

- So with M&S in the black...and the general retail sector trading some 1.5% up...the blue chip index was lifted by a 28-point rise. The index closed at 5,245, while the FTSE 250 inched 0.04% up, to trade at 7,541. Despite the day's gains, only some 2.5bn shares changed hands on Wednesday.

- Also in the retail sector, clothing group Burberry said that its total revenue for the first quarter rose by 10% - beating all analyst expectations. So how has Burberry managed to outmanoeuvre the likes of M&S?

- It seems that there's a clear solution for retailers:either become a slightly overpriced upmarket label such as Burberry...or evolve into an upstart discount retailer like Primark, who also recently reported good sales growth. While these two groups have so far dodged the consumer slowdown, it's the middle market players like M&S who are taking the strain. Burberry traded 6% up yesterday, while GUS, which owns 66% of Burberry, added 2.3%.

- On the downside, tobacco giant BAT slashed 530 UK jobs after concluding that a number of its plants here are simply not viable anymore. It will instead transfer the jobs to Poland, Romania and Switzerland where, unlike the UK, the manufacturing meltdown has not hit. The jobs will be axed over two years. BAT's shares fell 1.3%.

- And across the pond, former Worldcom boss Bernie Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in jail for his role in the collapse of the firm. The group's disintegration in 2002 the biggest bankruptcy in America's corporate history cost some 20,000 employees their jobs, while shareholders lost $180bn.

- And the sentence certainly more than matched the crime: despite Ebbers' heart condition, his sentence is the toughest handed down yet in the string of corporate court cases in the US at the moment.

-------------------- At Least Your Money is Safe- Over the past century, the markets have had to deal with a number of history-changing events. Like the First and Second World Wars; like the battle between Iran and Iraq in the late 1970s; or the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Yet throughout all these events, the reaction of the markets remained consistent: they fell, and then bounced back higher than before, says Dr Steve Sjuggerud in Investment.

Kasparov's New Chess Game- Infamous chess player Gary Kasparov is making new enemies... away from the chess board, says Kevin Kerr in The Daily Reckoning. This time he's trying to outmanoeuvre Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he says is dismantling Russian democracy, and he blames the West for letting this happen. But just how right is he?

Japan's New Era- Things are changing in Japan, we note in the latest issue of MoneyWeek. It seems that following a near- decade of stasis, followed by some 7 years of contraction, the country's firms are once again looking to buy overseas. The number of foreign deals are already up around 30% so far this year...a "powerful sign" that the country's economic outlook is busy changing.