Lifestyle

Winners & losers: Who's up, who's down

Bluefin tuna, Kanye West, RIM, Michigan, Tesla Motors, Europe, Facebook and more.

? Europe
Economy

Qu’est-ce que c’est? Europe shoved aside North America to regain its standing as the wealthiest region on the planet last year, according to the annual report on global assets by the Boston Consulting Group. It’s the first time since 2003 that the Old World has trumped the New, mainly because the global financial crisis took a disproportionate bite out of American financial institutions and their beleaguered clients. Overall global wealth fell to US$92.4 trillion in 2008, from US$104.7 trillion a year earlier. North America saw total assets slide by a staggering 21.8%. The United States still has a few things going for it: for instance, it remains by far the wealthiest single nation on Earth. But Europe’s good news isn’t slowing down. The region posted its largest trade surplus in five years in July on the back of a remarkable 4.1% rise in exports. According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, Switzerland now holds the title of most competitive economy, surpassing the U.S. And the number of job vacancies in London’s financial sector leapt by 18% in August—more evidence that the rebound from the recession is off to a much more powerful start across the pond than it is here.

? Bluefin tuna
Food

Stocks of bluefin tuna — prized in sushi kitchens for its fatty toro belly cut — are set for recovery. The European Commission announced its support of a two-year trading ban on the majestic creature and listed the Mediterranean source as an endangered species. Pacific bluefin tuna fishing will also be restricted next year. Devotees, however, will continue to pay top dollar for a fully-grown specimen. The record to date: US$180,000 for a single fish.

? RIM
Electronics

Half of all new BlackBerry Tour 9630 3G smartphones sold by U.S. wireless carrier Sprint are being returned, according to an analyst report, and tech support forums are lighting up with complaints. The problem: the trackball has to be rolled repeatedly for the cursor to move only a small way on the screen, a glitch that likely extends to the same devices sold by Verizon. It’s bad timing as Research In Motion fights mightily for market share with Apple’s iPhone, prettier and trackball-free.

? Tesla Motors
Automotive

Suddenly, Tesla is as steeped in gold as it is in green. The Roadstar electric sports car manufacturer received US$82.5 million in an unprompted sixth round of funding, during which investors, led by Ffjord Capital Partners, approached the company to secure its stake. Some of the money will go to building the new Model S electric sedan factory. In Frankfurt last week, CEO Elon Musk said he is looking to expand the company’s presence in Asia and Europe, and a right-hand drive for Britain is imminent.

? Kanye West
Entertainment

Kanye West’s recent interruption of country singer Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards wasn’t his first public misstep, but it has incited the most anger, and likely the most damage to his brand. Even U.S. President Barack Obama called him a “jackass.” The only person who stepped up to back West — whose personal empire includes not only albums, videos and concert tours, but also Nike Air Yeezy running shoes and a travel website — was fellow rapper Jay-Z, who euphemistically offered, “He’s just a super-passionate person.”

? Michigan
Economy

The hard-luck state of Michigan has been through a lot over the past couple of years, what with the plunging fortunes of the auto industry and soaring unemployment. But perhaps the most poignant symptom of the state’s misfortune revealed itself last week, with the closure of the Michigan State Fair. Officials announced that after 160 years, 2009 would likely would see the last fair — a victim of budget cuts, as the state can no longer afford its US$3-million annual subsidy.

? Facebook
Social media

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social networking company was “cash-flow positive” for the first time in its five-year-history as of the end of the last quarter, much sooner than expected. Earlier this year, the company thought that wouldn’t happen until sometime in 2010. “We are just getting started on our goal of connecting everyone,” he said. That’s right, everyone.

? Sergio Marchionne
Automotive

Sergio Marchionne’s salvage operation of the post-bankruptcy Chrysler has already turned up some nasty surprises, even beyond a product pipeline that’s running dry. The Canadian-Italian CEO of Fiat, which assumed 20% ownership and management control of the troubled U.S. automaker in June, admitted he hadn’t foreseen how little private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management had done since 2007 to get Chrysler in fighting shape.

? Ericsson
Technology

Despite Research In Motion’s strident attempts to derail Nortel Network’s sale of its wireless CDMA business and LTE assets, federal Industry Minister Tony Clement cleared Ericsson’s US$1.13-billion acquisition of the division, citing the Swedish firm’s commitment to Canadian R&D and an utter lack of national security concerns. RIM’s response? Not a peep. But the real battle may be brewing: the next-generation wireless patents it really covets remain with Nortel — but for how long?

? Kraft Foods
Food

Irene Rosenfeld gets points for audacity, but the CEO of Kraft Foods has been rebuffed in her attempt to take over Cadbury. The U.K.-based confectionery giant isn’t interested in Rosenfeld’s US$16.7-billion offer. Chairman Roger Carr wrote to Rosenfeld in early September to say the proposal was “unappealing,” and also called Kraft’s business model “low growth.” Rosenfeld is reportedly still in pursuit.

? Harry Winston
Diamonds

Harry Winston Diamond has scrapped a planned winter shutdown of its Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. As with other producers, the company scheduled temporary closures this year amid recession turmoil; consumers eschewed jewelry and other baubles, resulting in the lowest prices of rough diamonds witnessed since the mine’s opening. Prices subsequently recovered markedly, spurred by a “cautious but definite” resumption of interest by U.S. consumers.

? Tax cheats
Regulation

The clock is ticking down for any Americans who “forgot” to declare certain assets held in certain secret foreign bank accounts. Negligent tax filers have until Sept. 23 to turn themselves in to the Internal Revenue Service under an amnesty program. Anyone who does so will pay a fine but can avoid criminal prosecution. Swiss banking giant UBS must reveal names of foreign account holders under a court settlement reached last month, and the IRS intends to prosecute any tax evaders found to have undeclared assets abroad.

? Microsoft
Internet

Finally, a small victory in the computing giant’s endless campaign to gain some online credibility. Its Bing search engine, which debuted in May, grabbed 10.7% of the U.S. market in August, up from 9% in July, making it the fastest-growing search engine. Never mind that Google still had a 64.6% dominance of searches, and growing. Underdogs find hope where they can — and this is a category in dire need of underdogs.