A powerful 7.1 magnitude aftershock has rocked a large portion of eastern Japan, less than four weeks after an even stronger quake left thousands of people dead and caused a nuclear power disaster, but, this quake seems to have done limited damage.
The earthquake struck at 11:32 on Thursday evening and was centered under the Pacific Ocean off Japan's eastern coast in the same general area as last month's earthquake.
A warning of tsunami waves up to one meter in height was quickly issued, but withdrawn just over an hour later. The quake does not appear to have generated any high waves.
Last month's magnitude 9.0 quake and the tsunami it generated killed more than 12,000 people and left more than 14,000 missing. More than 100,000 people are still living in evacuation shelters.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior government ministers rushed to an emergency cabinet meeting after Thursday's quake.
A major concern was further damage to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and other nuclear power stations in the area.
Speaking two hours after the earthquake, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said there had been no rise in radiation at monitoring posts near the three nuclear plants closest to the epicenter.
Fukuyama says two of three external power connections to Onagawa nuclear plant are down, but the plant is fine with the remaining connection. Onagawa's reactors were not operating when the quake occured.
The earthquake last month crippled the Fukushima plant, leading to leaks of radioactive steam and water. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company continues to struggle to prevent a meltdown of the nuclear fuel in the reactors. After Thursday's quake, TEPCO officials said there were no signs of new damage to the Fukushima plant.
NHK television reported a few light injuries stemming from the quake. The government says damage to the power grid had blacked out large parts of northern Japan.
The quake was felt far down the coast, and Tokyo, 300 kilometers from the epicenter, experienced strong shaking that lasted for at least a minute.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Anti-Zombie Fortress is the nickname given to an abandoned coal mine in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, mainly due to its unique structural design that can be seen as highly impervious to zombie raids. While the mine shaft has become a popular destination in Japan for haiyakos (廃虚) or “urban excursion of abandoned buildings” since the mid-2000s, photographs of the tower became a subject of “anti-zombie” parodies and online discussions via social news hubsite Reddit in early April 2011.
On April 1, 2011, Reddit user “Mitsjol” submitted a picture of the Shime coal mine to /r/pics, titled “This would make an awesome anti-zombie fortress.” In similar vein to other conceptual jokes like Rocket Propelled Chainsaw and Chinese Gundam, other Reddit users quickly responded with a series of photoshopped images, pointing out structural flaws and sharing their own “anti-zombie” designs, as well as creating replicas of the shaft tower in Minecraft.
Background: The Tower
Better known as the Winding Tower of the Shime coal mine in Japan, this 47.65 meter (156.3 ft) tall structure was built from 1941 to 1943, remained in operation over 21 years before it was closed down in 1961. According to various travel blog posts on Shime coal mine, the structure remains easily accessible by public transportation and well-preserved in shape to this day
But wait... A Challanger Appears!!!
Earlier this week we learned that Saab can not pay its supplier bills until its Russian sugar daddy, Vladimir Antonov, gets Swedish government approval to buy into the company that owns it. Now, suppliers are speaking out, telling Automotive News [sub] that the brand and its owner, Spyker Cars, owes “tens of millions” of Swedish crowns (10m crowns equals about $1.6m). A representative of the Swedish suppliers association explains
There is a perception in the media that there are discussions on extended credit times and such. But it is not about that, it is about the fact that Saab must pay its bills. If they cannot sort out their financial situation, things look very bleak.
With a “desperate” hunt for investment underway, Saab’s only hope appears to be Antonov, who says he has $71.5m to invest, an amount that should cover the $4.7m+ supplier debts. Meanwhile, work at Trolhattan has been stopped for at least the rest of the week. But even if Antonov gets Swedish government approval to invest, another, equally dire problem appears to be materializing: a dispute over the use of the name “Saab.”
The Saab brand is currently owned by Spyker Cars, a dutch-registered company. But Spyker Cars recently sold its Spyker sportscar business to an Antonov-owned firm an announced its intention to rename itself. The assumption has been that Spyker Cars would rename itself with some variation of the Saab name, but according to Thelocal.se, that assumption faces a serious obstacle.
Spyker has since indicated it wants to change its name to something that more reflects its new focus, but Swedish defence contractor Saab AB remained cool to the idea of Spyker using ‘Saab’ in its new name.
Instead, Spyker plans to vote to change its name to Swedish Automobile at its upcoming annual meeting, scheduled for May 19th.
But, as Saabsunited.com points out,
it is unknown if they are fully free to use the name SAAB, or if they have to always ask Saab technology AB if they want to use it differently.
With no money and no name, Saab is finished. If, on the other hand, Saab Technology AB has no claim to the Saab name, other options are opened. A Wall Street Journal commentary by Alessandro Pasetti suggests another possible outcome: a Chrysler-style takeover by the bottom feeders at Fiat. Pasetti sets up the challenge by explaining the hopelesness of Saab’s situation
Under a very bullish scenario, we estimate that even at steady normalized long-term 10% growth of sales—a rate never consistently achieved by any auto maker on the planet—combined with a break-even earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2011 and mid-teens operating margin expansion afterwards, the group will not be able to service its debt obligations by 2016. That’s precisely when the majority of its debt comes due, according to Saab’s financials.
More realistically, any viable business plan, in the light of the cyclical nature of the auto business, should hinge on a cash injection.
The upshot? Even if the name issue works out and Antonov invests, Saab will need more money. The solution?
As remote an option as it may seem, Fiat could strike a deal, structured along the lines of its Chrysler involvement. It could renegotiate the company’s European Investment Bank loan, putting in relatively little money but providing plenty of know-how for a 20% to 30% stake and leadership in the business.
The Italian auto maker is widely expected to increase its stake in Chrysler to 30% and take a majority stake in Detroit’s third largest auto maker in the next twelve months pre-IPO. Admittedly, Saab would be no game changer for Fiat, but it could become a short-term loss leader to help promote both Chrysler and Alfa Romeo, which is attempting a U.S. comeback. Saab offers a decent distribution network in the U.S., with sales of around €160 million (about 19% of total sales), so cross-levering Chrysler/Alfa and Saab’s distribution networks would make sense.
Meanwhile, trimming European exposure (78% of sales at €639 million), would help cut the highly uncompetitive cost base at the Swedish car maker. Its fixed and variable costs structure put it at a disadvantage not only to European mass auto makers, but also premium manufacturers like Daimler AG’s Mercedes and BMW in Germany.
The model pipeline is weak, but Saab brings fleet customers, which constitute a key part of its customer base. Logistically, moreover, Saab is attractive and, perhaps equally importantly, it offers a back door to China, where Fiat has historically struggled to make a breakthrough. On March 25, Saab announced a partnership deal with China Automobile Trading Co. Ltd. Russia is also on Saab’s radar.
Interesting… but not exactly comforting. Fiat’s got plenty of challenges without taking on another charity case. Fiat certainly seems like a likely candidate to “rescue” Saab, based on its experience getting a bailed-out Chrysler for no money down, but whether such a scenario would mean an end to Saab’s problems is hardly a sure thing.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Yesterday, Spyker CEO Muller said everything is peachy. Saab “is not on the verge of collapse,” Muller said to a rapt audience of reporters, while, as Reuters snidely remarked, “Saab was presenting new vehicles already shown at the Geneva auto show.” Muller promised that “a small glitch does not change the fact that cars are being made,” and that Saab would have the widest and newest range in its history next year. This year? No problem at all. Just that output would be more weighted towards the second half of the year. Which in itself would be a miracle, and outpacing the competition, because in Europe, auto sales are more weighted towards the first half of the year. This was yesterday. Now is today.
Today, the production lines at Saab ground to a halt again. No parts. Nobody was quick-witted enough to blame Japan. “Saab halted production anew on Tuesday due to parts shortages after failing to pay suppliers,” says Reuters. A day after the glowing presentation, Victor Muller told Reuters that Saab expects to have more production line interruptions: “This is an ongoing thing. It will take some time to get everyone back in line properly. We will get it under control.”
Meanwhile Saab spokeswoman Gunilla Gustavs told the wire service that they “are working intensively to make sure the flow gets going again. We are having discussions with suppliers and doing our best to come to mutual agreements.”
Saab’s part suppliers are less optimistic.
“They cannot pay their bills,” Svenake Berglie, chief executive of the FKG suppliers’ sector organisation, told Reuters. FKG said four or five of the biggest suppliers stopped deliveries because of unpaid invoices.
Everybody is now waiting for Russian sugar daddy Vladimir Antonov to come out of exile.
Maybe, we aren’t the only ones who had received threats for previous reporting. Reuters writes very cautiously: “Antonov, who owns banks in Lithuania and Latvia, used to have a 29.9 percent stake in Spyker but had to sell it, at GM’s insistence, before Spyker could buy Saab. Media reported at the time that Antonov had links to organized crime.”
No need to hold back. Meanwhile, even Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti writes: ”Antonov was a key shareholder in Spyker, but he was forced out shortly before the Saab sale deal as GM reportedly suspected the Russian businessman of links to organized crime.” If RIA-Novosti says so, who are we to argue with them.
Antonov has applied to the Swedish Debt Office to take a below 30 percent stake in Saab. The BBC called the Debt Office and was told that “a formal request to clear Mr Antonov is currently under consideration, although it will take weeks rather than days before a decision is made.”
Meanwhile, even over at the Saabsunited cheering section, the mood turns from ebullient to guarded. Good advice is being dispensed: “Saab cannot afford big mistakes, hardly small. How should it proceed? With sincerity, honesty and humility.“
Or not, as the saying went here in years behind.