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Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept. 23, 2013


Some of Monday’s top business stories:

Wall Street Journal

Blackberry makes risky bet on services, by Ryan Knutson, Clint Boulton and Will Connors

Netflix makes some history with showing at Emmys, by Amol Sharma and Alexandra Cheney


At 77 he prepares burgers earning in week his former hourly wage, by Carol Hymowitz

China manufacturing gauge increases to six-month high, by Scott Lanman


Apple sells 9 million 5s, 5c iPhones in first three days, by Jennifer Saba

Walmart U.S. to hire more temporary holiday workers, by Jessica Wohl


How a shutdown could affect the economy, by Jeanne Sahadi

China’s $8 billion plan to rival Hollywood, by Alanna Petroff

Bloomberg Businessweek

Do Amazon’s lockers help retailers? Depends on what they sell, by Justin Bachman

Today in business journalism

Blackberry still trying to stay relevant

Behind the scenes of WSJ. Money

Albuquerque daily revamps online biz section

Indianapolis Star expanding Sunday biz coverage

Ex-WSJ ME Thomson received $2.6 million in pay

News Corp. has not liked Mossberg and Swisher contract from beginning

This date in business journalism history

2009: Salt Lake dailies miss story on SEC subpoena of Overstock.com

2012: Say hello to new biz news site Quartz



Blackberry still trying to stay relevant


Blackberry is struggling to stay relevant as it loses ground to Apple and other smartphones, especially in the business market where it once held a near monopoly. Covering a businesses reinvention is always interesting, especially as the technology company struggles to keep customers. Often once customers make the switch, they don’t want to come back.

The Wall Street Journal wrote this story:

BlackBerry Ltd. begins life this week as a company focused on selling smartphone services to businesses, a risky, last-ditch bet that it can hang on to rapidly eroding ground in the market it pioneered.

The plan appears to be to position the company as the go-to provider of systems to manage smartphone use for employers like the government and banks, where the need to ensure security is at a premium.

That approach plays to the company’s strengths in markets where it has suffered the least damage, but BlackBerry’s position in the business market has eroded greatly amid gains by devices like Apple Inc.’s iPhone. It also faces tough competition from startups and established rivals like Microsoft Corp.

Executives responsible for buying smartphones and the software to manage them say BlackBerry faces long odds.

Tracey Rothenberger, chief operating officer of Ricoh Americas Corp., Malvern, Pa., said that fewer than 500 of the 9,000 smartphones he manages for the printer and copier maker are BlackBerrys. The remainder are made by Apple or powered by Google Inc.’s Android software. “For me, it’s kind of ‘game over’ for them,” he said.

The move comes as Blackberry is succumbing to market pressure about its earnings and ability to continue to make money. The Guardian had this story on Saturday:

With the fall of Nokia looming over him, this weekend will be an uncomfortable one for Thorsten Heins, chief executive of BlackBerry. While the Finnish firm sold its mobile phone business to Microsoft for €5.4bn (£4.5bn) this month, questions are swirling as to how long BlackBerry – which signalled its distress in August by putting itself up for sale – can survive, and in what form.

Things are so bad that on Friday night, market rumours forced Heins to announce the top-line quarterly results a week early. And they are grim: an operating loss of up to $995m (£620m), including $960m of inventory writedowns on its new Z10 handsets released in January, a net loss of more than $250m, revenues half what analysts expected at $1.6bn, and phone shipments of 3.7m – which Apple will comfortably exceed with its new iPhones this weekend alone.

For a company that once dismissed the iPhone for having no keyboard (a key selling point for BlackBerry phones), it’s a humiliation. The low shipment figure exposes Heins’s claim in April that the new Q10 phone – the first keyboard-equipped model using its new BB10 software – would sell “tens of millions”. It might have sold a million.

Now the question is turning to how long BlackBerry has to go. On Friday, the company said it will cut 4,500 jobs, roughly 40% of its 11,000 total worldwide, adding to 7,000 jobs cut in the two previous financial years. It will reduce its future phone portfolio from six to four.

Announcing quarterly results early and layoffs is rough. What’s even worse is all the speculation around potential bidders for the company and no one actually pulling the trigger to make an offer. The latest was a New York Times story saying that Blackberry’s founder was considering an offer, but none came during the weekend:

Mike Lazaridis, the co-founder of BlackBerry who stepped down as co-chief executive in 2012, has reached out to private equity firms about a possible bid for the troubled company.

Mr. Lazaridis has separately approached the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group about making an offer, according to people familiar with the matter. These people cautioned, however, that the talks were preliminary and might not lead to any bids.

The potential of any effort to take BlackBerry private was muddied further on Friday, as shares in the company tanked after the company announced quarterly revenue far below analyst expectations. BlackBerry shares listed in the United States plunged 17.1 percent to $8.73.

The Journal had a separate story about the company’s layoffs, which talked about the how hard the last several years have been on employees who don’t know if they’ll have a job or not:

BlackBerry’s spectacular fall has taken a heavy toll on current and former employees of the smartphone maker, which once controlled more than half of the U.S. smartphone market. That has dropped below 3%, according to IDC. BlackBerry employed 12,700 people as recently as March, and the latest cuts—about 4,500 employees—will weigh heavily on this town of about 100,000 people 68 miles west of Toronto.

BlackBerry executives began to realize how badly their new line of phones was selling this summer. Smaller rounds of layoffs had already started, but it became clear that more drastic cuts were needed, people familiar with the matter said.

With a push from board members, the company in August set up a committee to explore the company’s strategic alternatives, including a possible sale. The hope, people familiar with the matter said, was to sell quickly, before BlackBerry’s dismal financial results were announced.

Employees said that during that same period there was confusion about the future of various projects and mixed messages from managers. Some employees said they were still working on new phones but held out little hope about the company’s prospects. At the same time that the company announced the layoffs, it said it would write down nearly $1 billion in unsold phones.

It seems like every week there’s a new story about Blackberry’s next move to save the company. What isn’t apparent is how they’re going to do it. At least it’s keeping the technology reporters supplied with good stories.

Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept. 20, 2013


Some of Friday’s top business stories:

Wall Street Journal

Pricing glitch affects rollout of online health exchanges, by Christopher Weaver, Timothy W. Martin and Jennifer Corbett Dooren

Nielsen to add data for mobile TV viewing, by Amol Sharma and Suzanne Vranica


House passes $39 billion food-stamp cut crimping lifeline, by Derek Wallbank and Laura Tillman

Apple’s new iPhone poised for record debut as sales begin, by Adam Satariano


Scandals cost JPMorgan $1 billion in fines, by David Henry and Emily Flitter

Global shares hold at five-year high after Fed stimulus boost, by Marc Jones


India shocks markets with rate hike, by Sophia Yan

What I look for in a new hire, by Cathy Carroll

Bloomberg Businessweek

Joy Covey, Amazon’s first CFO, steered an emerging giant’s torrid growth, by Brad Stone

Today in business journalism

Nashville Biz Journal unveils redesign

The revenue behind All Things D

WSJ confirms Mossberg leaving paper

All Things D to split from WSJ; Mossberg to stop writing for paper

Reuters Next: An example of corporate dysfunction and neglect

Health exchanges hit some snags

This date in business journalism history

2007: Fox Business Network announces primetime show

2011: WSJ launches news product for Facebook


Health exchanges hit some snags


As we get closer to the Oct. 1 deadline for the launch of health exchanges, a key part of President Obama’s health care reform law, there seem to be several issues that still need to be worked out.

One of the stories in today’s Wall Street Journal coverage was about a computer glitch making it difficult to determine pricing:

Less than two weeks before the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the federal health overhaul, the government’s software can’t reliably determine how much people need to pay for coverage, according to insurance executives and people familiar with the program.

Government officials and insurers were scrambling to iron out the pricing quirks quickly, according to the people, to avoid alienating the initial wave of consumers.

A failure by consumers to sign up online in the hotly anticipated early days of the “exchanges” is worrisome to insurers, which are counting on enrollees for growth, and to the Obama administration, which made the exchanges a centerpiece of its sweeping health-care legislation.

If not resolved by the Oct. 1 launch date, the problems could affect consumers in 36 states where the federal government is running all or part of the exchanges. About 32 million uninsured people live in those states, but only a fraction of them are expected to sign up in the next year.

The remaining 14 states are running separate marketplaces with their own software. One of those states, Oregon, has already announced that it would delay some features to fix software bugs, though consumers will be able to enroll offline.

Enroll offline? I can’t imagine that’s going to go over well with the younger uninsured people many companies are looking to attract to the exchanges. But at least the federal government isn’t the only one experiencing problems with the software.

USA Today reported that exchanges are here to stay, especially as some large employers such as Walgreens begin to use them:

These private exchanges, which have only existed for about a year, are run by outside benefits companies and typically offer more insurance choices than those offered by employers. Employers contribute a set amount and employees choose which plan best suits their needs.

The Walgreen exchange, announced Wednesday with benefits company Aon Hewitt, is similar to the state exchanges required under the Affordable Care Act. In those exchanges or marketplaces, uninsured Americans will buy health insurance plans on their own that are often subsidized by the federal government. In this case, Walgreen provides the financial assistance.

In five years, more than a quarter of the estimated 170 million people now covered by insurance through their employers will be getting their benefits this way, according to research from consulting firm Accenture. At that time, enrollment in these private exchanges is expected to top that of the new state exchanges. That’s despite the fact most Americans are unaware of private insurance exchanges, Accenture says.

But it’s still unclear whether the contributions from employers, including Walgreen, will keep pace with the cost of health care, warns Ron Pollack, executive director of non-profit health care group Families USA. If companies keep paying “the same nominal dollar amount to its workers, that amount will cover a smaller percentage of premium dollars as premiums increase,” he says.

Reuters reported that Home Depot also planned to move part-time workers to the exchanges in an attempt to give them more options for coverage:

Home Depot Inc is shifting medical coverage for part-time workers to new public marketplace exchanges ahead of new benefits requirements under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, a spokesman said on Thursday.

The world’s largest home improvement retail chain announced its move shortly after a similar announcement from Trader Joe’s Co, a popular privately held grocery chain.

Home Depot’s change would affect roughly 20,000 part-time workers who previously had chosen the limited liability medical plan the company offered, spokesman Stephen Holmes said.

After December 31, companies can no longer offer those plans under the health law, also known as Obamacare.

“We’re going to shift them over to the public exchanges, where there are more options,” Holmes said.

The public exchanges being set up under the law will allow individuals to buy government-subsidized healthcare based on income. Enrollment begins on October 1.

A separate Wall Street Journal story said that larger insurers are skipping being a part of exchanges betting that many of those who sign up may have chronic illnesses:

When the consumer marketplaces for insurance go live Oct. 1, don’t expect to see much of familiar names like Cigna Corp. or Aetna Inc.

Instead, the insurance companies that are likely to draw attention on the exchanges—which are expected to enroll an estimated 7 million Americans in the first year—are lesser-known, and in many cases will be offering comparatively lower rates.

The biggest health insurers are eschewing many of the exchanges out of concern that many of the individuals who will purchase coverage need it because they have chronic illnesses or other medical conditions that are expensive to treat.

Too many sick patients could mean that the collective inflow of premiums insurers reap from the exchanges won’t cover their total costs. And it remains unclear how many young, healthy people will sign up.

Some large insurers, like Cigna, don’t sell insurance to individuals in most states, limiting their ability to launch plans on the exchanges since they don’t have a provider network in place.

As if finding insurance wasn’t confusing enough, now consumers will have to navigate unfamiliar companies, concerns about price quotes, and determine if public or private exchanges will offer the best deals. The clock is ticking to get this right and much of the Obama administrations’ reputation depends on it. What is certain is that insurers will see an increase in demand, consumers and likely profits, making this an important area for business reporters to watch in the coming year, especially given all the moving parts and angles to the story.

Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept. 19, 2013


Some of Thursday’s top business stories:

Wall Street Journal

Blackberry to slash workforce by up to 40%, by Will Connors

Google may stop using ‘cookies’ to track web users, by Elizabeth Dwoskin


Bernanke resets policy by doing nothing as markets soar, by Caroline Salas Gage and Craig Torres

Morgan Stanley CEO says he invests in muni bonds, biotech, by Michael J. Moore


Singapore Air and Tata to form full-service Indian carrier, by Devidutta Tripathy

JPMorgan keeps top spot in investment bank lead table – poll, by Clare Hutchison


Colorado floods: Costly and often uninsured, by Chris Isidore

Are we still heading toward 5% mortgages?, by Les Christie

Bloomberg Businessweek

Apple chiefs discuss strategy, market share – and the new iPhones, by Sam Grobart

Today in business journalism

Long Island Business publisher leaving

Finalist names for business book of the year

Building a business news startup

The Fed surprises everyone

Why is Reuters Next being dumped? Money

Entrepreneur.com names Fell its managing editor

Justin Smith’s mission at Bloomberg

Wall Street Journal names two international bureau chiefs

This date in business journalism history

2007: Business 2.0 closure due to Time Inc. neglect

2012: WSJ China online edition starts luxury section



The Fed surprises everyone


The Federal Reserve Board surprised everyone Wednesday by saying it would actually continue its unprecedented stimulus efforts despite the expectations of everyone. And investors cheered the news, sending the stock market to record highs.

The New York Times had this story, excerpted below:

All summer, Federal Reserve officials said flattering things about the economy’s performance: how strong it looked, how well it was recovering, how eager they were to step back and watch it walk on its own.

But, in a reversal that stunned economists and investors on Wall Street, the Fed said on Wednesday that it would postpone any retreat from its monetary stimulus campaign for at least another month and quite possibly until next year. The Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, emphasized that economic conditions were improving. But he said that the Fed still feared a turn for the worse.

And the Fed undermined its own efforts when it declared in June that it intended to begin a retreat by the end of the year, causing investors to immediately begin to demand higher interest rates on mortgage loans and other financial products, a trend that the Fed said Wednesday was threatening to slow the economy.

Investors cheered the Fed’s hesitation. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock-index rose 1.22 percent, to close at a record high, in nominal terms. Interest rates also fell; the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury reversed some of its recent rise.

Some analysts, however, warned that the unexpected announcement was likely to worsen confusion about the Fed’s plans, increasing the volatility of the markets in the coming months as investors sort through the Fed’s mixed messages about how much longer it plans to continue its bond-buying campaign. The delay also means that the decision to retreat may ultimately be made by the next Fed chairman, after Mr. Bernanke steps down at the end of January. President Obama has said that he plans to nominate a replacement as soon as next week. Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairman, is the leading candidate.

The Wall Street Journal story added this context about the program and how long it’s been in place:

The bond-buying program, also known as quantitative easing, or QE, was relaunched last year and is meant to stimulate economic growth and hiring by holding down interest rates and encouraging households and businesses to spend and invest. This round of purchases, together with earlier efforts along the same lines, has swelled the Fed’s holdings of securities to nearly $4 trillion.

Mr. Bernanke began signaling in May that, because the job market was gradually improving and because the Fed anticipated faster growth by year-end, the central bank might pull back on the bond-buying program.

After two days of deliberations, however, Fed officials decided Wednesday the economy hadn’t lived up to their expectations for growth. In fact, they lowered their growth estimates for this year and next—and expressed worry that a jump in long-term interest rates over the past several months could squeeze an already weak upturn.

The Financial Times added the details of the purchasing programs and said that interest rates will likely stay low for years to come:

The Fed will continue to purchase mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40bn a month and Treasury securities at a pace of $45bn a month. It made no change to its 6.5 per cent unemployment rate threshold for a rise in interest rates. The vote for the decision was 9-1 in favour.

One factor may have been a downgrade to the FOMC’s growth forecasts for this year and next. The Fed now expects growth of 2.2 per cent in 2013 compared with a June forecast of 2.5 per cent; and 2014 growth of 3 per cent compared with a June forecast of 3.3 per cent.

In a strong signal that the Fed intends to keep rates low for a long time into the economic recovery, the FOMC estimated that interest rates would be 1 per cent at the end of 2015 and 2 per cent at the end of 2016.

The interest rate forecast for 2016 is low even though the Fed expects the economy to be close to full employment by then. It predicted an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent at the end of 2016 compared with a long-run equilibrium of 5.5 per cent.

The markets obviously liked the news, and I’m sure real estate agents and mortgage brokers were thrilled with the thought of low interest rates for the foreseeable future. It’s interesting that Bernanke is potentially punting the decision to the next Federal Reserve head. All eyes are now on Obama to make a choice.

Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept. 18, 2013


Some of Wednesday’s top business headlines

New York Times

Reaping profit after assisting on health law, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Wall Street Journal

FedEx earnings: Profit up 6.5% on higher margins, ground-shipping strength, by Nathalie Tadena

Starbucks declares guns unwelcome, but doesn’t ban them, by Julie Jargon


Bernanke saves companies $700 billion as Verizon leads sales, by Lisa Abramowicz

Yellen as labor favorite seen pressing Fed emphasis on stimulus, by Caroline Salas Gage and Steve Matthews

Bloomberg Businessweek

Boehner gets it over with, agrees to tie overall budget to Obamacare funding, by Joshua Green

Why Microsoft keeps on buying investors’ faith, by Ashlee Vance


U.S. CEOs less optimistic about economy – survey, by Bijoy Koyitty

Britain’s productivity gap with G7 peers widest in 20 years, by Christina Fincher


IOS 7 is here: A whole new iPhone experience, by Adrian Covert

Home care workers win minimum wage protection, by Emily Jane Fox

Today in business journalism

Biz journal founder receives entrepreneurship award

Reuters Next cancelled, Roberts leaving company

WSJ names senior finance reporter in Europe

WSJ beefs up its Europe finance team

WSJ’s “Heard on the Street” names Europe editors

Markets calm before Federal Reserve

This date in business journalism history

2006: Times: H-P tried to plant bug on journalist’s computer

2011: Bloomberg Radio available on iPhone and iPod



Markets calm before Federal Reserve


In the biggest non-story of the month is that the stock markets aren’t moving. Normally this would warrant no coverage at all expect for the fact that it’s before the Federal Reserve Board is expected to announce the end of its stimulus actions.

The Wall Street Journal had this story:

If investors are concerned about the imminent end to the Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus, the markets haven’t noticed.

Despite widespread expectations that the Fed will announce a trimming of a bond-buying program aimed at pushing down interest rates and propping up the economic recovery, fund managers have been in a buying mood lately.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday advanced for the 11th time in 14 trading sessions, and U.S. Treasury prices rose for the fifth straight day.

Many investors expect the Fed to decide to cut its $85 billion monthly purchases of bonds by about $10 billion to $15 billion. Markets were roiled in May and June after Fed chief Ben Bernanke said the U.S. central bank would consider reducing purchases in a process dubbed “tapering.”

Some investors dismiss the prospect of much turbulence this time. They say players in stock, bond and commodity markets have had time to prepare for potential Fed action, assuming the Fed acts largely within market expectations, and that a selloff in bonds since Mr. Bernanke’s comments means there is less potential for a large price decline now.

The bond market, however, showed some signs of paying attention, according to a Bloomberg story:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke sent bond yields a percentage point higher just by talking about adding stimulus at a slower pace. The rout serves as a warning to monetary policy makers that their exit from record accommodation won’t be easy to control.

The jump in yields has pushed up the cost of mortgages for millions of Americans, curbed demand for homes and prompted thousands of job cuts at Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., all at a time when the Fed’s policies are aimed at creating jobs and supporting housing.

Bernanke has stressed that any reduction in the amount of money the central bank pumps into the financial system each month doesn’t mean policy is getting any more restrictive. That message hasn’t been heeded by bond investors, demonstrating how hard it will be for the Fed to control long-term interest rates as it moves toward tightening, according to Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey CityNew Jersey.

“Getting out of ultra-low interest-rate policy was never going to be easy, and this is a perfect illustration of why,” Crandall said. “It is possible that this will make it even harder because the market will be even more primed to view inflection points as messy and destructive, and therefore a reason to sell early.”

Fed policy makers meeting today and tomorrow will probably lower the monthly pace of bond purchases by $10 billion, to $75 billion, according to the median response of 34 economists in a Bloomberg News survey on Sept. 6. That’s down from expectations of a $20 billion reduction in a July survey.

Reuters added this commentary about analysts’ expectations around what the Fed might do and how the markets might react:

For the Fed, consensus has congealed around a reduction of $10-$15 billion a month with all purchases ending by the middle of next year. Yet even that cautious timetable would be contingent on the economy performing as well as expected.

With such an outcome largely priced in, it could lead Treasuries and the dollar to rally modestly. A slower tapering would tend to benefit bonds and stocks but hurt the dollar.

The bigger reaction would likely come if the Fed pulled back more aggressively, as that would lead market to price in an earlier start to rate rises as well.

That would be especially painful for emerging market countries that rely on foreign capital to fund current account deficits, with India and Indonesia among the most vulnerable.

Still, dealers warned against a hasty reaction as there were so many moving parts in play.

As well as the tapering, the Fed may chose to alter its threshold for tightening, perhaps by lowering the trigger level on unemployment from the current 6.5 percent.

It will also publish its first economic forecasts for 2016 and the stronger the picture the harder it will be to convince markets that any future rise in interest rates will only be slow and measured.

Indeed, the Fed has already had trouble convincing the market that it intends to keep rates near zero out to 2015 no matter how much the economy improves.

After all the ups and downs this year as the markets tried to determine when the Federal Reserve would act, investors seem to have priced in the potential move already. So as this story goes, it’s really a non-story, but the media is required to write something, no matter if the markets are reacting or not.

Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept.17, 2013


Some of Tuesday’s top business stories

New York Times

For Twitter, key to revenue is no longer ad simplicity, by Vindu Goel

JPMorgan Chase is said to admit fault in settlement of trade loss, by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

Wall Street Journal

Outerwall cuts guidance as Redbox rentals disappoint, by Ben Fritz

Forecast envisions a weak holiday season, by Suzanne Kapner


Aging Boomers befuddle marketers eyeing $15 trillion prize, by Matthew Boyle

Less Tapering becomes tightening credit, no matter what Fed says, by Caroline Salas Gage


Coty results beat estimates in first quarter after going public, by Siddharth Cavale and Jessica Wohl

Citigroup must pay couple $3.1 million for not overseeing broker: panel, by Suzanne Barlyn

Bloomberg Businessweek

How to turn a tidy profit on a miserable Carnival cruise, by Kyle Stock

Wharton puts first-year MBA courses online for free, by Louis Lavelle

Today in business journalism

The business of media

How long should I keep my notes?

San Antonio Biz Journal names new publisher

Boston Globe biz reporter McKim joins New England journalism center

Gina Chon joins Financial Times

This date in business journalism history

2007: New business magazine launches in Canada

2010: Redesigned Forbes to hit newsstands next week


Talking Biz News Today

Talking Biz News Today — Sept. 16, 2013


Some of Monday’s top business stories:

New York Times

Summers pulls name from consideration for Fed chief, by Annie Lowrey and Binyamin Appelbaum

Looking to Twitter to reignite tech I.P.O.’s, by Michael J. de la Merced and David Gelles

Wall Street Journal

Drugs for inherited cancers get fresh push, by Joseph Walker

Retailer REI ends era of many happy returns, by Kirsten Grind 


U.S. stocks rise on Summer’s exit, Syria weapons deal, by Adam Haigh and Wes Goodman

Industrial production in U.S. rises by most in six months, by Michelle Jamrisko


Arrested prelate tells magistrates of secret accounts in Vatican, by Philip Pullella

Bombardier’s all-new CSeries makes inaugural flight, by Solarina Ho


Chrysler to file for IPO this month, by Virginia Harrison and Chris Isidore 

Your guide to a government shutdown, by Jeanne Sahadi


We’re still 8.3 million jobs from full recovery, by Nin-Hai Tseng

Today in business journalism

How design helps Forbes.com increase traffic

Kiplinger Letter celebrating 90th anniversary

Institutional investor is the new softball king

What Forbes’ ad strategy might mean in the long run

Summers withdraws from Fed race

This date in business journalism history

2007: New WSJ magazine to be called Pursuits

2010: Kneale set to exit CNBC