Today's Business Press

China Beats the United States

China’s productivity might have shrunk a bit, what with having to close down all those factories to reduce Olympic smog, but it’s a only a minor blip. As the Financial Times reports, China will overtake the U.S. next year as the world’s largest producer of manufactured goods. That’s four years earlier than expected, and it comes on the back of the severely weakening economy. But U.S. companies shouldn’t be unduly worried, says John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who says that “it promises both political stability for the world’s largest country and continuing opportunities for the U.S. to export to, and invest in, the world’s fastest-growing economy.”

Back at the Olympics, NBC is beating back the Internet hordes with phenomenal TV viewing figures. “More viewers tuned in to watch the first two prime-time Olympics telecasts than any Summer Games in a decade,” writes the Wall Street Journal. It helps that NBC cast a protection order around its time-delayed TV footage, playing what the New York Times called “digital whack-a-mole” to “regulate leaks on the Web and shut down unauthorized video” of live coverage.

This current triumph over the burgeoning power of the Internet could be short-lived if a NYT story on Google’s ambitions is to be believed. The Times writes that content may yet be king for Google—even though the company spent years stressing that, unlike Yahoo, it had no designs to be a media company. With content-creation vehicles like Blogger, Orkut, and YouTube already under harness, Google’s launch of Knol, a Wikipedia-like reference tool that’s a vehicle for ads—and that just happens to perform very well in Google’s search listings—has media companies with an online advertising inventory worried.

That’s when they’re not worrying about Detroit. “In the first quarter alone, the auto industry spent $414 million less on advertising than in last year’s first quarter,” according to another NYT report. Then there’s the airlines. CNN Money reports that cash-strapped airlines are working overtime to lure advertisers onboard to target a “captive audience” with product placements on everything from tray tables to boarding passes to, yes, even airsick bags.

Staying in the air for the moment, American Airlines, British Airways, and Spanish carrier Iberia are to ask the U.S. government for permission to collaborate more closely on trans-Atlantic flights, says the WSJ. In the face of skyrocketing fuel costs, this move would grant the three antitrust immunity, allowing them to “cooperate internationally on pricing, scheduling and marketing in ways normally deemed collusive and illegal.” Don’t tell Richard Branson. The chairman of Virgin Atlantic already is hopping mad over American and British Airways’ planned merger. He has written to presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain warning that the merger “would damage transatlantic competition and mean customers lost out,” the BBC reports.

Even though the global retail outlook looks particularly cloudy—in the United Kingdom, big chains are losing out to Internet-savvy independents, while in the United States, new bankruptcy rules are hampering financially strapped retailers’ ability to reorganize—some major traders are looking to the sky for sanctuary. The NYT reports how chains like “Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl’s, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale.” It’s part of a growing trend as companies seek to bolster their green credentials “by cutting back on their use of electricity from coal.” But while big retail is fast becoming a renewable energy leader, this new innovation and implementation could be threatened by the failure so far of Congress to renew the federal tax credit for renewable energy.

Finally today: Apple CEO Steve Jobs is one happy man, now that iPhone users have downloaded more than 60 million “apps” from the iTunes store. While many of these mini-programs are free, Apple still has managed to make an average of $1 million a day in applications for a total of about $30 million in sales over the past month. But at least one app has not been well-received. When German developer Armin Heinrich produced the “I Am Rich” download (it cost $1,000 and displayed nothing more than a ruby image on the phone), he saw his creation as a parody of the iPhone craze. The eight people who bought it sight unseen were less impressed, and Heinrich has been “bombarded with e-mail and phone messages, ‘many of them insulting,’  ” the NYT writes.