business news in context, analysis with attitude

...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

• The New York Times reports this morning that the US Justice Department has announced that it has identified the five members of a gang - four Russians and a Ukrainian - who "stole and sold 160 million credit card numbers from more than a dozen companies, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses."

Among the companies hit by the hackers: Hannaford, JC Penney, Carrefour, and JetBlue.

The story continues: "The attackers had a sophisticated division of labor, according to the indictment. One hosted an anonymous Web server. Others broke into the targeted sites. Still another went inside and fetched the items of interest. The tactic is a signature of Russian organized crime syndicates ... The defendants were identified as Vladimir Drinkman, Aleksandr Kalinin, Roman Kotov and Dmitriy Smilianets of Russia and Mikhail Rytikov of Ukraine. Mr. Smilianets and Mr. Drinkman were arrested in the Netherlands last year. Mr. Smilianets has already been extradited to the United States, where he is expected to make his first court appearance next week. The other three are at large."

• Nielsen is out with its "Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions," reporting that "Global consumer confidence increased one point to an index of 94 in the second quarter, according to consumer confidence findings from Nielsen. The increase is part of a slow, but steady upward movement in consumer sentiment reported in the first half of the year."

In the US, the resurvey says, " a robust rebound in the housing and equity markets helped elevate confidence to a score of 96, an increase of three index points in the second quarter."

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Smithfield Foods is saying that the investigation into its acquisition by Chinese meat producer Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. has been extended by 45 days, as the Committee on Foreign Investment - which must clear the propose $4.7 billion deal before it can be consummated - moves into the second phase of its review.

• The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that companies such as Kimberly-Clark, Georgia Pacific and Procter & Gamble are all engaging in a time-honored method of cutting costs - "desheeting," or "reducing the number of sheets of toilet paper or tissues in each package while holding retail prices constant."

The story goes on to say that "the continued reliance on desheeting and other volume-shrinking tactics underscores the still-frugal outlook of consumers four years after the recession ended. It also reflects the difficulty companies that make basics like toilet paper have raising prices in the face of competition from store brands and other cheaper alternatives."

One current trend is toward reducing the number of sheets while simultaneously making the products bulkier and softer, which has the effect of ameliorating any negative consumer reaction.

Desheeting I can live with. Thank goodness they're not short-sheeting.

• The Los Angeles Times reports that "Dunkin’ Donuts has signed agreements to open 45 new stand-alone Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Orange County and Los Angeles starting in 2015. The stores, to be launched by four franchise groups, would be the brand’s only locations in Southern California not at a military base. That stop, which opened last year, is at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego."

The company also says it may look to start opening stores in "non-traditional" locations, such as colleges and universities, casinos, supermarkets, airports and travel centers.
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