Signs of the Times: Russian luxury lags, Web scams up

Wed Apr 1, 2009 1:08am EDT
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(Reuters) - The global recession manifests itself in big and small ways, most gloomy, some quirky and often reflecting the inventive human spirit. Here is a look at some signs of the times.

* Times are grim for Moscow's once-exploding luxury goods markets, where profits are forecast to fall by a third in 2009. The signs on the luxury stores of British designers Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney were scratched off by hand less than 18 months after their grand openings; the stilettos, diaphanous gowns and Italian-made wool coats were stuffed at the back of adjoined stores and sold at a 70 percent discount before the shops closed for good in March. Emin Agalarov, commercial director of the Crocus Group, which owns a palm tree-lined shopping center selling diamonds and limousines, said, "I will not scare anyone with the figures, but trust me in the first half of 2009 we (retailers) will all suffer."

* Fraud on the Internet reported to U.S. authorities increased by 33 percent last year and is climbing fast this year as the recession deepens, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center reported. The most common complaint was non-delivery of goods, followed by auction fraud, credit card fraud and investment scams. "2009 is shaping up to be a very busy year in terms of cyber-crime," said the report's author, John Kane.

* Aston Martin, once carmaker to agent 007 James Bond, has cut 600 jobs in Britain this year as sales of its luxury models slip. It is talking with investors to raise capital. Chief Executive Ulrich Bez says he does not expect its controlling Kuwaiti investor to sell its stake, and hopes to reach a deal this year. "Aston Martin is not a typical car company like General Motors or Peugeot ... we are very sensitive or careful in looking for the right partner for the long term," he said.

* Getting into Harvard got tougher this year. A record number of students applied to the university's undergraduate program, many drawn by attractive financial aid offers that had a special appeal for families hit by the recession. Harvard said 29,112 students applied and just 7 percent were accepted, the lowest rate in the school's history. Harvard and some other elite schools are offering more in scholarships despite big hits to their endowments.

* Santa Claus has a new landlord, thanks to the recession. Finland said it would sell its 32 percent stake in Santa Park, a theme park located north of the Arctic Circle and reputed home to Father Christmas, to local investors. Finnish National broadcaster YLE said the new owners planned to slash sales and marketing costs at the Lapland-based park. No word yet on how that will affect those worldwide December 25 deliveries.

* Michelle Obama, wife of the U.S. president, broke ground on a vegetable garden in the grounds of the White House, reflecting what seed companies touted as a money-saving trend that could put food on the table and provide a useful activity for the newly unemployed. The National Gardening Association said 7 million more households planned to grow their own vegetables or fruit in 2009 than in 2008, a 19 percent increase.

* Financial fraudster Bernie Madoff will feature in a new baseball trading card series featuring 20 other swindlers and authors of "notorious pranks, dubious claims and outright frauds," a New York-based maker of trading cards said. Madoff, awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a Ponzi scheme that cost investors as much as $65 billion, will join the man for whom his crime was named, Charles Ponzi, in the card deck, the Topps Company said.

* Most cars on the U.S. NASCAR racing circuit are plastered with the logos of corporate sponsors. But a souped-up Chevy Impala owned by Kevin Buckler of TRG Motorsports has been competing with a blank white rectangle on its hood. It's not a pitch for snow or milk, it's an ad for an ad. Buckler is pitching for a sponsor, The New York Times reported.

(Compiled by Eric Walsh; Editing by David Storey; Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Jason Szep in Boston, Sophie Hardach, Mathilde Gardin and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, Tom Peter, Amie Ferris-Rotman and Maria Plis in Moscow, Tamara Walid in Dubai and Brett Young in Helsinki)

<p>A woman walks past a display of fake designer shirts peddled in front of the Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney stores in Moscow March 27, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Peter</p>