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Japan Airlines bankruptcy filing expected Tuesday

Japan Airlines bankruptcy filing expected Tuesday

TOKYO – Japan Airlines is set to file for bankruptcy Tuesday, ending months-long speculation about its fate and writing Japanese corporate history as one of its biggest-ever failures.

The country’s flagship carrier, called JAL for short, will likely convene a special board meeting in the afternoon before filing for protection from creditors under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law — Japan’s version of Chapter 11, according to Kyodo News agency. The filing will be followed by a restructuring plan crafted by a government-backed corporate turnaround body.

President Haruka Nishimatsu is expected to resign. Leadership of the company will be handed over to Kazuo Inamori, a buddhist monk and founder of electronic components behemoth Kyocera Corp. and Japan’s No. 2 mobile carrier KDDI Corp.

The government will also offer assurances that it backs the company’s rehabilitation and intends to keep JAL flying.

“The government wants to continue to support JAL to ensure its continued stable and safe operations,” said transport minister Seiji Maehara hours before the expected filing.

The day’s events culminate a process that began in October when JAL — saddled with debts of 1.5 trillion yen ($16.5 billion) — first turned to the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp. for help. Under a prepackaged restructuring strategy, it will embark on a massive overhaul to shed the fat and inefficiency that hobbled Asia’s biggest airline.

“As an airline product, it’s always had a high reputation,” said Peter Harbison, executive chairman of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a Sydney-based aviation market research firm. “But from a cost base, it’s generally been something of an industry joke.”

The plan calls for about 15,600 job cuts, or a third of JAL’s work force, by March 2013 and will require the airline to halve the number of its subsidiaries which span everything from hotels to credit cards, according to Kyodo. The Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp. will invest about 300 billion yen ($3.3 billion) in the carrier, and JAL’s main lenders have been asked to waive about 350 billion yen in liabilities.

What may take longer to emerge is the winner of a fierce tug-of-war between Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for a slice of JAL’s business. Despite its woes, the airline’s access to Asia is a mouthwatering prize for foreign airlines.

Investors Tuesday braced for a seemingly inevitable removal of the airline’s shares from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The issue, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the last week, tumbled another 20 percent Tuesday to 4 yen. The company is now essentially worthless, with a market capitalization of about 10.9 billion yen ($120 million) — less than the price of one Boeing 787 jet.

It’s a humbling outcome for Japan’s once-proud flagship carrier which was founded in 1951 and spent its early years owned by the state. Along with Japan’s economy, it expanded quickly in the decades after World War II and was privatized in 1987.

But it soon became the victim of its own ambitions.

When Japan’s property and stock bubble of the 1980s burst, risky investments in foreign resorts and hotels undermined its bottom line. JAL also shouldered growing pension and payroll costs, as well as a big network of unprofitable domestic routes it was politically obligated to maintain.

More recently, JAL’s passenger traffic has slowed amid the global economic downturn, swine flu fears, competition from Japanese rival All Nippon Airways Co. and a spate of safety lapses that tarnished its image. It lost 131.2 billion yen ($1.4 billion) in the six months through September.

Its four government bailouts since 2001 only exacerbated JAL’s problems, officials now say. Maehara last week blamed previous administrations, controlled by the opposition Liberal Democrats, for propping up an ailing JAL for years without reforming the company.

Passengers seemed to agree as much.

“I guess they did not work in earnest and so fell into this situation,” said Isao Sasaki, 72, who waited in line Tuesday at a JAL check-in counter at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. “Weren’t they spoiled as they always had protection from the government?”

Delta Air Lines — the world’s biggest airline operator — and rival American Airlines are courting JAL with massive financial offers as the U.S. carriers seek to expand their Asian networks.

Delta and its SkyTeam partners have offered $1 billion, including $500 million in cash to lure JAL away from American’s oneworld alliance. American Airlines and its partners say they are ready to inject $1.4 billion cash into the Japanese airline, up from a previous $1.1 billion offer.

As of March, JAL’s fleet consisted of 279 aircraft, mainly from Boeing Co. It served 220 airports in 35 countries and territories, including 59 domestic airports.

It carried 11.7 million international passengers last fiscal year and 41.2 million travelers domestically. International traffic was down 12.4 percent from the previous year, while the domestic passenger count fell 1.8 percent.

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ANALYSIS – Clinton takes bigger role in China ties


ANALYSIS – Clinton takes bigger role in China ties

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hired envoys to tackle most tough foreign policy issues, but one priority she kept is China as Washington seeks Beijing’s help on challenges from North Korea to Iran.

Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner co-host two days of “strategic and economic” talks with top Chinese officials this week — meetings traditionally handled by the Treasury under the former Bush administration.

Sidelined recently by an elbow injury, Clinton also wants to reassert herself as a key player amid reports she is playing a lesser role in crafting foreign policy for President Barack Obama, her rival in last year’s Democratic presidential race.

Officials say Clinton — whose first foreign trip was to China — wants improved relations with Beijing to be a signature issue, with plans to broaden the previous focus from largely economic ties to a more “comprehensive” relationship.

“Over the past few years, the dialogue tended to shift significantly towards the economic and financial side,” said Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley.

“I think it (Clinton’s new role) reflects a return to a really broad range of issues, rather than a fairly narrow set that might have been the focus of the agenda over the past couple of years.”

The goal of the talks on Monday and Tuesday in Washington is to set a framework for the Obama administration’s agenda with the Chinese government — which is sending nearly all of its key officials for sessions.

“When you look at the U.S.-China relationship, it is kind of overweight on economics and light on security and foreign policy cooperation,” said Drew Thompson, director of China Studies at the Nixon Center.

Aside from stabilizing the shaky global economy, another focus of this week’s talks will be climate change and clean energy, an area Clinton earmarked as a diplomatic priority with Beijing and where some experts expect the most movement.

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A HD ­multimedia player in a tiny package — that’s what the WD TV promises.

Compact design

The WDTV is essentially a tiny ­dedicated multimedia player that supports a bewildering array of HD video content in addition to the usual list of music and picture file formats.

Just to give you a taste — for video, the WD TV supports MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, Xvid, H.264, WMV and, most importantly, the new MKV (Matroska) file format.

Unlike most multimedia players, however, the WD TV doesn’t itself come integrated with a hard disk — instead the device comes with two USB ports, into which you can plug in any external hard disk drive or flash drive.

Apart from the standard ­composite RCA AV outputs, the WD TV offers HDMI output, capable of displaying 1080p video.

That rounds off quite an extensive feature set, and on paper at least, the WD TV sounds like the perfect little multimedia player for anyone looking to view HD content on a HDTV.

In use

Setting up the WD TV couldn’t be simpler, especially if you have an HDMI cable — hook up the power, connect the HDMI cable and then turn on the device.

The menu system is reminiscent of the PlayStation3 interface, as you get a bunch of vertical and ­horizontal scrolling icons which are quite self explanatory.

In use

Setting up the WD TV couldn’t be simpler, especially if you have an HDMI cable — hook up the power, connect the HDMI cable and then turn on the device.

The menu system is reminiscent of the PlayStation3 interface, as you get a bunch of vertical and ­horizontal scrolling icons which are quite self explanatory.

If you have a USB storage device, just copy the files into it and then connect it to the WD TV which will then scan the files on it and update itself accordingly.

The WD TV supports thumbnails and you should be able to see a list of thumbnails when you go into the video or audio category.

The supplied remote control is a pretty standard affair, with all the usual playback and navigation buttons.

The only issue I had right off the bat is that the infrared coverage is rather limited on the remote.

You really have to point the remote quite directly at the WD TV for it to work and even then the time between pressing the button and the WD TV responding is relatively long.

As far as video playback is concerned, the WD TV worked flawlessly for MPEG, DivX, Xvid and QuickTime files, and we had no issues with those.

Supported file formats: MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF, MKA, JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG, MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV
Interface: HDMI, Composite AV, USB 2.0 Dimensions: 12.5 x 10 x 4.0cm (W X H X D)
Price: RM419

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