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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS
High Food Prices Hit China, But Veggie Farmers Harvest The Cash, Consumers Get A Price Break; After the Revolution; BlackBerry "Playbook"; In Focus: Addis Ababa; Ethiopia commodity exchange
Aired April 15, 2011 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MAX FOSTER, HOST: Up and up, inflation bites the world's biggest economies.
Ireland reform program is on track, says, the EU, but one ratings agency disagrees.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) wants you to know how much your colleagues earn, we look at a new discreet way of finding out.
I'm Max Foster in for Richard Quest. This is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.
Hello to you.
Across the globe rising prices are strengthening the case for higher interest rates. In the U.S. the benchmark consumer price index jumped 2.7 percent in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) compared to the previous year. That is the biggest rise since December 2009. The U.S. Labor Department says higher fuel prices are mainly to blame in Europe inflation also rose 2.7 percent for the same period. Just like in the U.S. the European Central Bank says the increase is down to rising fuel costs.
In China, inflation rose 5.4 percent in March, compared to March 2010. That is a 32-month high. Soaring food prices were the big factor there, up 11 percent for the period. CNN's Eunice Yoon looks at how those food prices spikes have sparked some unexpected career changes.
EUNICE YOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On the outskirts of Beijing workers are tending to tomatoes at Wang Liufeng greenhouse. The former electronics manager switched to farming two years ago, in what turned out to be a money making move.
"The food prices have gone up in the markets," she says. "Which means profits here for us."
Prices for all sorts of food have been going up, pushing inflation in China to its highest level in two years. In 2011 the government has vowed to combat rising prices, to keep food affordable for its people and prevent any social unrest.
"Price have definitely gone up," this shopper said, "Things are more expensive across the board, the past year."
But while most complain about their ever increasing grocery bill, others are taking advantage sparking a trend worldwide, including China.
(On camera): The prices of vegetables in China are rising in the double digits. The higher prices are encouraging more people to invest in farming.
(Voice over): Here in a country where rural incomes have lagged behind more people are looking to work the land. The government is offering financial incentives, helping Wang open 10 greenhouses throughout the year.
"We are making more now," she says. "And with government subsidies I have done better than in my previous line of work."
(On camera): But inflation has also raised the cost of farming. The higher prices of fuel, labor and other materials have been eating into farmers profits.
TAO WANG, CHINA ECONOMIST, UBS: If you look at the data, actually, there has been bad weather. And because there is a production decline, that is why-and there has also been problems in transport. Transport costs have increased. There is not a, you know, clear winner.
YOON: Yet with so many greenhouses Wang feels like an unexpected winner in this global food crisis. Eunice Yoon, CNN, Wang Luiyang (ph).
FOSTER: Well, U.S. companies have come up with a way of handling rising commodity prices without passing the cost on to the consumer. Maggie Lake looks at the incredible shrinking product and why in this case, less definitely isn't more.
MAGGIE LAKE, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Call it the case of Honey, they shrunk the packaging. Many consumer products firms grappling with rising commodity and energy costs are pulling off a deft disappearing act. Instead of raising prices they are cutting packaging size and giving consumers less.
Tod Marks of "Consumer Reports" has been investigating packaging trends for years.
TOD MARKS, "CONSUMER REPORTS": We see all kinds of packaging tricks.
LAKE: In many cases, he says, these are price hikes, plain and simple.
MARKS: That is what a lot of companies are hoping for. People generally know prices of products they buy all the time. But they don't know the sizes. And it is easier to hide a price increase, or mask a price increase.
LAKE: A price increase would set off alarm bells in these economically challenging times. A cut in products, says Marks, can go undetected.
Case in point, a 64 ounce container of Tropicana Orange Juice was downsized to 59 ounces last spring, same price, less product. Tropicana says people preferred a smaller container to a price hike. A standard size of Kraft 2 percent milk American cheese slices used to come 24 slices to a pack. In 2009 it downsized to 22 slices. And a large role of Scotts toilet tissue now has 9 percent less product.
MARKS: Look at Scott, it is a legacy product. Scotts-what's Scott's claim to fame with their toilet paper, 1,000 sheets.
LAKE (On camera): It says that on both.
MARKS: 1,000 sheets. Now, they're not going to make it, we've cut down to 950 sheets. They had to do something without kind of hurting that legacy. So what they did is they made the sheets smaller.
LAKE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that tiny.
MARKS: But they also told us it was new stronger, material here.
LAKE: Some companies are changing the shape. You see a lot of people saying easy-grip bottle, green new bottling, but in that package redo it often means smaller, too.
MARKS: Sure it does. And it is an interesting phenomenon. Going back to Tropicana, not to pick on them, but it is a great example. When they went from 96 ounces in their big pourable container to 89 at the time they said, well, you know what, we did shrink it because we've gone to a new package that is more ergonomic. Our customers told us that they didn't like the way the juice dripped off the lip.
Sometimes there is justification. Sometimes there may not be. Again, it is hard to say, what is really going on here.
LAKE (voice over): But Marks says consumers can come out ahead, if they shop smart.
MARKS: You can buy more store brands, the supermarket's private label products. On average they cost roughly 30 percent less at your supermarket. And oftentimes they are the last ones to shrink the product.
LAKE: In the age of the incredibly shrinking package, it pays for consumers to think outside the box. Maggie Lake, CNN, New York.
FOSTER: Let's take a look at how traders on Wall Street are reacting to those inflation readings then. Alison Kosik joins us now live from New York.
Alison, was it the main talking point?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: It really was. And actually the way investors are seeing it. They are encouraged by the inflation report. You know, the March CPI is the most closely tracked measure of inflation. It rose by 5.1 percent and that was actually in line with what analysts had expected.
And investors are focusing less on that year over year inflation number. Because as investors see it the number out today is good news since rising oil and gas prices have a lot of investors and government officials worried that inflation will begin to hurt the recovery. And of course, when you strip out food and those oil prices, the so-called core CPI was up just a 0.01 of a percent, meaning prices are stable.
So that is what investors really are looking for. And also that should give the Fed the cover it really needs to stay on course for QE2, despite all those calls from some officials to end quantitative easing because of all those rising oil prices and rising global food prices, Max.
FOSTER: That is the big economic theme today then. But also on the corporate side, earnings season, it seems like it is actually starting off pretty negatively. Is that your reading?
KOSIK: Yes, that is my reading. You know traders at this point, Max, really want to see what kind of trend is really going emerge from this earnings season. And as you said, you know, the few big companies that we have heard from have been somewhat unimpressive. Google, for one; shares right now are down almost 8 percent after its profit missed expectations. But you know, despite that big stock drop, one trader we spoke with says that report is likely just a blip on the radar and nothing to be too concerned about.
You know the bigger worry here is Bank of America. Bank of America shares, right now are down 1.5 percent. B of A's profits missed forecasts and the report comes one day after it was included in that big list of U.S. banks that are going to be facing penalties from regulators for their foreclosure practices. So that is really where the focus is on today, as far as the negative side is on the financials, Max.
FOSTER: OK, thank you so much, Alison, for that.
Now after the break, is Ireland heading for the junkyard? A downgrade takes its credit rating even closer to junk status and it is not the only country feeling the heat, either.
FOSTER: Well, just as the bitter economic medicine looks like it is working in Ireland, the country gets a painful blow, where it hurts, in its credit rating. The IMF and the European-and European institutions say Ireland is on track with its program to mend the economy. They say it is doing a good job of cutting its deficit and restoring the health of its banking system. The economy is set to start growing again this year. And the budget deficit will come down to 10. 5 percent of GDP. It is still high, but shrinking. Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan says the institutions gave Ireland's efforts a thumbs up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL NOONAN, FINANCE MINISTER, IRELAND: It was a review of the first quarter. And the question there was, is Ireland online? Is Ireland meeting its obligations? Is Ireland meeting the conditions of the memorandum of the understanding. So there was agreement by the agencies. That were fully in line with the program at the end of the first quarter.
FOSTER: Well, despite that favorable report the credit rating agency Moody's gave a Ireland a big thumbs down today. They cut the credit rating to Baa3. Now, that is a level just above junk, really not good. Moody's says it is concerned about Ireland's finance, weak growth and higher borrowing costs as well. According to Moody's Ireland joins the global club you don't want to be part of, the just above junk club. It includes Iceland, Tunisia, Romania and Brazil. Greece is worse off though. It sovereign debt is not graded junk, implying a real risk of default actually.
Now, Ireland got a bleak reminder of where the crisis started as well. An auction of distressed property, the homes that were at the heart of the boom, which turned to bust. The sale has just finished. On the line from Dublin is Gary Murphy of Allsop's Auctioneers. He conducted the auction.
Gary, good or bad?
GARY MURPHY, ALSOP'S AUCTIONEERS: Well, for us, very good. We had 82 lots under the hammer. We sold 81 of them. So, in terms of an auction sale it was a great success.
FOSTER: What about the prices?
MURPHY: Prices were actually very strong. We started out with modest reserve prices, which were disclosed as being lower than a maximum figure. So that encouraged people to come to the auction sale and to make preparations to bid. And that actually had the effect of increasing competition so the prices that we achieved in the end were considerably higher than the reserves, in the main.
FOSTER: OK and can we judge from this? I mean has sort of got to be an expression of the bottom of the market, hasn't it? If you've got distressed homes at auction, is the free market in proper flow? So, would you say this represents as low as they will go?
MURPHY: It is difficult to say, but I think, I think it could be-it could be very much as seen as a turning point in the market, for Ireland. One can't guarantee that they will-prices won't fall any further. But I guess that is the risk that buyers take. But I think if you could have seen the extent of the bidding in the auction room today, you would have confidence that the market had-had turned a corner. We had about, I'm told, 2,200 people through the auction room. And the capacity of the room is 850 and the hotel wouldn't let anymore in at that point, once the capacity had been reached. So there was a really strong flow of bidders throughout the day and the auction took exactly five hours to conduct. So, you know, there are people out in the market who want to come and buy property. There is a serious demand for property, at the right price.
FOSTER: And was there a particular bargain of property that was a real steal, you can tell us about.
MURPHY: Well, I don't-
MURPHY: The thing is we are selling properties today, at market value. Now the market value may be considerably lower than it once was.
FOSTER: Give us the lowest then, what was the real fog in the shocker?
MURPHY: Well, no real shockers, because everybody was bidding at, you know, fairly full strength. You know, some were selling on reserve. I mean, one that was-one particular lot that I guess had attracted quite a bit of interest was a three-bed penthouse flat in the Central Dublin, which I'm told, in the height of the market would have been worth somewhere in the region of 900 to, uh, 1 million.
FOSTER: What did that go for?
MURPHY: That-that sold for just under 345,000 euro. I was trying to remember.
FOSTER: Yes, though, so that is a big fall and a bargain, probably for someone, but you are thinking it is not going to go any lower than that for now?
MURPHY: Well, I would hope not, you know? I mean, I think we have seen the floor. I mean, I don't profess to be an expert in values in Ireland. What I do know is that, you know, it has been very, very difficult to price property in Ireland over the last couple of years. Because there has been no transactional evidence.
FOSTER: And we know that the banks are in a terrible state. How are they financing these purchases, your bidders?
MURPHY: Well, I think most of the people who are buying are people who have cash and that I think is going to actually define the market going forward into the future. The lack of finance is going to basically limit, I think, demand to cash buyers. And really that is how prices went bad in the first place, because there was such a high level of availability of finance. And that fueled the price rises.
FOSTER: OK, Gary Murphy, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Allsop's in Dublin, there. Thank you for that.
Now Portugal remains solvent tonight, thankfully at a heavy cost though. The country paid back the $6 billion it owes investors on time. But the cost of insuring its debts soared and so did borrowing costs. If Portugal went to the market tomorrow it would have to pay interest of closet to 9 percent on a 10-year bond. The EU bailout is on the way and it can't come too soon to Portugal which faces more gigantic bills, is due to pay back another multibillion-dollar chunk of debt in June. That is the one that everyone is particularly worried about. Greece is making spending cuts worth another $37 billion, meanwhile, it is part of a new round of austerity measures announced today. The money will be saved by cutting public sector wages, defense, and health care spending. Greece is also going to sell a number of estate assets, including stakes in telecom companies, to raise more cash.
European investors didn't like the look of any of it. Jim has been looking at that.
JIM BOULDEN, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Max, it is interesting. Really no matter what we hear from these governments and what we hear from the IMF let's look at the bond markets, because that tells us how the markets and investors are reacting to all this information.
You see here, Greece, the bonds actually hit a life-time high above 14 percent at one point down just a little bit. But we are talking about 13.8 percent for a 10-year. Portuguese bonds also set a new high. Just talking about Ireland, we saw the yields there rising. Remember a few weeks ago we said Portugal couldn't survive above 7 percent. And, of course, they are asking for that bailout. But you see here, Portuguese 10-year, 8.9 percent.
Let's look to see how the stock markets-actually a pretty decent day, not a fantastic day. But you see the stocks here are the main, big four, all ending in positive territory. However, we saw some defensive and pharmaceutical stocks higher. Though in Greece and Portugal stocks were down. Mixed bag. Irish stocks, rose a little bit.
The euro, of course, tells us a lot during the crisis in Ireland last year we saw the euro down about $1.18, look, still doing pretty well, $1.44. It is off the high that it saw earlier in the week, which was a 15- month high. Because it interest rates are rising, of course, in Europe. We did see it doing quite well against the dollar, coming down a little bit in the last couple of days. But look at this, of course, as I said, really bad off when we saw the crisis in Ireland. And it has been rising, because of this anticipation, not only because we saw that interest rate rise already but that it would be rising some more and just tapering off, just ever, a little bit here on Friday, Max.
FOSTER: OK, Jim. Thank you very much, indeed.
Up next, want to know how much your colleagues earn, but are too afraid to ask. Will look at an online tool that might help you find out.
FOSTER: If you have ever had a sneaking suspicion that your colleagues are earning more than you, a new web site might help satisfy your curiosity. Salariesshare.me, is an anonymous service that lets you share how much you earn with your co-workers. You create a page and send the link to your colleagues. Once enough people have responded you find out how much everyone is earning. What you won't find out is which salary matches which colleague.
If you do find out that everyone else is earning double your salary, there will obviously be some hard feelings in the office. Paula Caligiuri is a professor of human resource management at New Jersey's Rutgers University. She joins us now from Chicago.
Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Now, we've got different perspectives on this.
PAULA CALIGIURI, PROFESSOR, HUMAN RESOURCE MGMT., RUTGERS UNIV.: That's right.
FOSTER: Because I know in America people talk about their salaries a bit more than they do in the U.K. They certainly would never say how much they earn, here. But it is going to cause problems wherever you are, isn't it?
CALIGIURI: Oh, Max, I think that is a universal taboo. You just wouldn't want to necessarily ask your colleagues directly how much they make. I think that one is pretty universal.
FOSTER: What is the fear amongst workers? It is-you know, we've got our suspicions, but encapsulate to us why people don't want to tell people how much they earn.
CALIGIURI: Well, I think it comes-it gets wrapped up in a variety of things. Some of it is self-image, some of it is ego. Certainly it is nice to know if you are the highest paid person in the group. It might help inflate your ego a bit. But nobody likes to know that they are the lowest paid person. It becomes very personal.
FOSTER: Yes, but at the same time it would be useful, wouldn't it, for a group of workers to share what they earn, because it works in the management interests, doesn't it that people are shy about what they earn. It allows managers to keep salaries lower, doesn't it?
CALIGIURI: It is important that you know what you are worth. Certainly, you want to know what you are worth relative to the position you are in, your experience level, your geography, the size of your organization. All of those are very, very important. But there is a lot of great sites that exits where you can find out that information, to make sure you are not being paid too low. And those sites are like, Glass Door.com, Payscale.com. Wonderful sites for that.
This site is a little bit different. You are asking, you are really asking a targeted group of people. And they might not be necessarily accurate with their information.
FOSTER: Do you think people will use it?
CALIGIURI: Hard to predict. My concern with the site would be around accuracy. So, if you ask-if you set up four friends that you believe have comparable jobs, comparable positions. How are they defining salary? So salary should be relatively that fixed amount of income that you earn on a regular interval. But some people may include their bonuses, their overtime, some type of merit reward. So, I would be a little concerned about the accuracy of the data. Whether people want to use it or not, I'm not quite sure.
FOSTER: It could help pay discrimination, though, couldn't it? For people who suspect that they are being paid less, just because of the type of person they are.
CALIGIURI: Again, I think it depends on who you are asking. And the accuracy of those data. I suppose if you and some friends were together, you worked in a very comparable position, doing very comparable things with the same organization, and you all came together and said, yes, we're going to do this. Going to report it accurately. And then you receive some information perhaps that might help better understand where you are relative to others. But being able to identify discrimination as a result of the site, I'm not so sure.
FOSTER: OK, Caligiuri, thank you very much indeed, for joining us from Chicago. Thank you very much. We'll see how it works. See how popular it gets. You never know.
The regime crumbled, meanwhile, now will the economy survive? Egypt's new government needs help to survive a deficit crisis. We'll hear from its finance minister, next.
FOSTER: Welcome back. I'm Max Foster. It is time to check the headlines for you this hour.
FOSTER: Just over two months on from the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the- well, Egypt is looking to the international community now for help in rebuilding its very trouble economy. The U.S. and French finance ministers yesterday unveiled a joint action plan to help Arab nations after political upheavals. The World Bank and the IMF are among the financial institution s, on board. They will be assessing ways they can help countries, like Egypt, create jobs and push through political reforms.
The country's finance minister has been in Washington lobbying for extra help from the United States. Egypt wants the U.S. to drop more than 3.5 billion of debt. Samir Radwan took his case to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday.
Now Samir Radwan took time out from his charm offensive to speak to me earlier. I asked him why Egypt needs this huge amount of support.
SAMIR RADWAN, EGYPTIAN FINANCE MINISTER: Well, you know, Egypt has been undergoing a very radical and important transformation. And that has resulted in an increasing expectation by the people after the 25th of January. So, as a result there are demands. Some of these demands are perfectly legitimate. They are asking for an increase in incomes. And a better access to opportunity in the country.
And, therefore, as far as the budget -- the state budget is concerned, this has been translated into a pressure on the -- on the fiscal space. The budget deficit has increased from 7.9 percent of GDP to 8.5 percent of GDP.
FOSTER: You basically can't afford to keep --
RADWAN: So we are --
FOSTER: -- up with your current commitments, can you?
So what -- what's the shortfall?
RADWAN: Well, the shortfall is about $2 billion between now and the end of the year, of the fiscal year. That's the end of June. And about $10 billion next year, 2011, 2012.
So that's -- that's basically the shortfall we are looking to -- to cover.
FOSTER: Yes. And you've spoken to the Americans, I know. But you've spoken to other countries, as well, about helping you out, giving you some sort of financial support.
What have --
FOSTER: -- what have you heard back?
Are you going to get any help?
RADWAN: Yes, certainly. I -- I must admit, the -- the feelings expressed all around here are fantastic -- fantastic support for Egypt, a realization that Egypt is a very important hub, not only for Egypt itself, but for the region as a whole. We have spoken with the American administration about debt relief and debt swap and they are looking into it. We have -- I addressed the G-7. They kindly invited me yesterday. I explained the situation and they have agreed to have a collective stand to support Egypt. With IMF and World Bank, we are negotiating certain facilities to help us by the -- over this gap.
FOSTER: These things are never straightforward, though, are they?
Often, there are strings attached to any sort of loans or financial support that you get.
Are you getting idea -- any sort of idea what the Americans will expect you to do, for example, in order to receive this money?
RADWAN: We have done a lot. I think everybody realizes that many of the textbook demands called conditions have already been done and surpassed in Egypt. We have a democratic process on -- on time. The judicial process is also proceeding extremely, extremely well. That's not to say there is no -- nothing else to do, but we are open to reform, we are open to suggestions.
But there is nothing like conditionality whatsoever. Nobody has spoken about it.
FOSTER: There you are, the Egyptian finance minister on a real charm offensive. They need lots of money in that country right now.
We'll have more in just a moment, including an update of the markets for you on this Friday.
FOSTER: Well, if you are one of the millions of people who just can't seem to put your BlackBerry down, BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, hopes you'll talk its brand new tablet, which is the PlayBook. The company has high hopes for the device.
But can it complete in an already crowded tablet marketplace?
Felicia Taylor attended the launch of the PlayBook in New York.
FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is the PlayBook. Now, I'm kind of an amateur when it comes to these things, so when it comes to like the software and all that kind of stuff, I need some help.
We have Ryan, who's going to help show us what is really some of the niftier things that you could do with the PlayBook.
RYAN BIDAN, RESEARCH IN MOTION: Absolutely. So as you said, this is the BlackBerry PlayBook. It is our first seven inch tablet. So it's pretty important --
TAYLOR: Which is one of the features that -- that -- a selling point, because it's a little smaller.
BIDAN: Well, that's it exactly. We wanted to create a device that was more mobile, something you're comfortable carrying around, using with one hand --
TAYLOR: It fits in my handbag better.
BIDAN: It fits in your handbag, exactly. Exactly. That's exactly what we were going for, something that was more mobile than some of the larger tablets that were on the market. And because it is a multi-tasking operating system, that means it can run multiple applications at the same time. If I want to move to another app, I just swipe up from the frame on the bottom, push this app out of the way and then I can switch back and forth to something else.
So, for example, watching a high def video.
TAYLOR: Which is one of the -- also one of the highlights is the resolution of the videos. That's supposed to be great.
BIDAN: Exactly. So it's --
TAYLOR: Whoa. Look at that. That's remarkable.
As you well know, the tablet space is very crowded. There's a lot of competition, but it's a booming marketplace and RIM is hoping that this new PlayBook product will be the one thing, that it will keep them relevant in the marketplace.
JIM BALSILLIE, CO-CEO, RESEARCH IN MOTION: It's for the enterprise user, but also for the fun of their life, without compromising the enterprise capabilities. So, that's where we focused it. We believe we've nailed it. The CIOs I talk to are just saying, just -- yes, just give me the product, hurry up and get me the product.
TAYLOR: Gartner has come out with a new research study that basically says Apple's got the market lock. I mean they're going to continue to have 45 percent of the share. Android may have about 38 percent. And then you guys are going to be bringing up the rear with 10 percent.
How are you going to change that forecast?
BALSILLIE: You're talking for tablets?
BALSILLIE: Well, that's an interesting thing to forecast, because there's a lot of issues. It's such a hyper turbulent market. It's early, early, early. It's like year old. There's been false starts with some of them. And we've got, basically, a future proof architecture and we have 250,000 servers around the world and 570 carriers.
So, you know, there's a lot of assumptions in saying this is what it's going to be, 38.625 percent in four or five years. We have a compelling product. We have an installed base. And it -- I don't know if you saw this core flood bot that came up, the great security issue that came up today. It hijacked a couple million computers in the U.S. and all that.
So the whole security, the whole cyber threat element, the threat matrix is far greater than people realize. And BlackBerry has never been penetrated.
BALSILLIE: The devices.
TAYLOR: I mean that's one of the great things about BlackBerry --
BALSILLIE: Well --
TAYLOR: -- is you've got the most secure system.
BALSILLIE: And -- and the threats are going up. This product is core to our future, because BlackBerry -- I mean we've gone, you know, roughly 300,000 percent internalized. We've launched BlackBerry and just before -- and now, you know, we need to make sure that we have a platform that can take us forward for the next 10 or 20 years, as people want these things to be media platforms and computing platforms.
And so this, you know, affecting this transition was a lot of work. It was hard to do. And we've done it. So, yes, the success of this product and the success of this platform, it is our future.
FOSTER: It is the future.
Now, if you're having trouble working out which resort to stay in for a vacation -- it's a common problem, of course. A Web site says it has a solution for you, though -- rent an entire country, in fact.
Believe it or not, Airbnb has put an entire nation up to rent for holiday makers. But there is one condition -- the country in question is Liechtenstein. I've been there, though. It's very nice, indeed. You'd be forgiven for not knowing where it is, though. It's not a common tourist hot spot, it's a small principality in between Switzerland and Austria, a population of just over 35,000.
To put that in context, that's around 100 times smaller than the population of Los Angeles.
So how much does it cost to rent the entire country?
Well, Airbnb is putting it up for $70,000 a night. For that, they're offering accommodations for up to 900 people. They even promise a symbolic key to the state presented to you in an official ceremony when you check in.
CNN has confirmed this with the government of Liechtenstein and it doesn't end there.
Now, the site also offers 10 entire villages in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, including Alpbach in Austria for $65,000 a night. Very nice, indeed. Compare that to the cost of a night to stay in the world's most expensive hotel. That is $52,000 -- a bargain. Very nice, as well, though. One of, I think, I've just been told, one of the most expensive -- expensive nevertheless.
Now, we've already seen one high profile prank in general election in the Associated Press this week. Renting out Liechtenstein sounds even more ridiculous, it has to be said.
So is it for real?
The Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, joins us now from San Francisco.
I guess it is real, otherwise you wouldn't be here.
BRAIN CHESKY, CEO, AIRBNB: How are you?
It is real. It absolutely is real. It provides housing for up to 1,000 people. And Airbnb is community marketplace where you can book all these different types of spaces. And we started off by people being able to provide homes. And one day, somebody wanted to rent out a tree house and then a private island.
And this really surprised us, when people -- when someone was interested in actually renting out a country, the country of Liechtenstein.
FOSTER: How did the -- the crown prince come in touch with you?
Why did he suggest this to you?
How did that happen?
CHESKY: So we actually were in contact with (AUDIO GAP) that coordinates housing for thousands -- for up to a thousand people for corporate events. And we heard what they were doing. We reached out and we were able to facilitate this. They've never rented it before, but we think that like with a -- you know, we -- we really can able -- are able to streamline this process for them.
FOSTER: There are people who live in Liechtenstein, though, so I guess you have to sort of put up with them when you've got the whole country.
CHESKY: Yes. The -- I mean the great thing, though, is that you get the available accommodations that are already there, whether it's the lodges, the bed and breakfasts, the vacation rentals, some of the small boutique hotels. And it's really (AUDIO GAP) really amazing. I mean with this, you get -- you get greeted by parliament. You actually can even rename the streets. You can print out your own temporary currency. You can take over the sports stadiums. You can have a wine tasting in the prince's private estate.
So this is basically an experience that you're never going to forget, you know --
FOSTER: Why, though --
CHESKY: -- so Airbnb, we really feel like it provides unique spaces and experiences.
FOSTER: Why are they doing it?
Are they struggling financially?
I think they're pretty well off, aren't they, the people of Liechtenstein?
CHESKY: Yes. I think it's them -- it's part of Airbnb's mission, which is that if you have extra space, you can provide it to people around the world. And I think they believe in the mission that -- that really Airbnb is part of --
FOSTER: All right --
CHESKY: -- which is that when you have space, you can connect people around the world together.
FOSTER: And I presume you're dealing with extremely wealthy people who, you know, who want something that they've never been able to get before and it's like a particularly unusual holiday, right?
CHESKY: Yes, this is extremely unusual. You can use it for corporate events, weddings, events, conferences. And this is -- contrast this to renting out a hotel, having a banquet at a hotel and then trying to block out 1,000 rooms in a hotel. This, you actually get a country -- an experience you're never going to federal government.
Brian Chesky, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
Good luck with that, anyway.
Now this time in two weeks, Prince William will be married to Kate, of course. He'll be a married man. Last night, we showed you the work that's going into his suit ahead of the royal wedding.
Tonight, we can show you what his brother will be wearing. And it's an exclusive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR NANA TWUMASI-ANKRAH, BRITISH ARMY: Here we have two uniforms, two House of Curry (ph) uniforms. One is the topcoat. And one is for the state ceremony, a tunic of blues and royals. And this uniform will be worn by Prince Harry on the day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: Prince Harry, who is William's younger brother, will also be the best man at the wedding, the man who is next in line to the throne after William joined the British Army in 2005. And people are interested in this outfit because there's some suggestion that William will wear the same.
We couldn't film that one, because it's in the palace. It is one of three uniforms he could possibly wear.
Now, the royals aren't the only weddings we're interested in, of course. Planning the big day is a huge event even for mere civilians, like you and I.
We want to hear your stories for a segment we're calling "For Richer, For Poorer." Send us the pictures from your day and show us how you would spend your money.
What was the -- the little touch that made everything that -- a little bit more special?
And what was the thing you wished you'd saved your cash on?
And another A-list couple are coming up in just a few minutes. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" hosts Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. They'll talk about their mission to combat human trafficking and more. That's at 8:00 p.m. in London, 9:00 p.m. in Central Europe, only here on CNN.
That's it for QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, though, for this week.
I'm Max Foster in London.
Stick around, because "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is coming up next.
Have a -- have a great weekend.
ROBYN CURNOW, HOST: You're watching MARKETPLACE AFRICA.
And I'm Robyn Curnow here in Jetty Street in downtown Johannesburg.
And, as you can see, hundreds of expatriate Ethiopians have set up shop here on the pavement. And the reason we are in Little Ethiopia is because this week, we want to take you to Addis Ababa, where a combination of factors have created a rather unique publishing business model.
CURNOW (voice-over): In downtown Addis Ababa, surrounded by well- thumbed copies of old news -- covers of soft news and the crisp print of today's news, sits Garum Tisfi (ph), a newspaper landlord. He rents out newspapers to people too poor to buy them.
GARUM TISFI: They can't have (INAUDIBLE).
CURNOW: He tells us 30 to 40 readers will read a single paper.
Sitting under a pedestrian bridge sheltered from the sun for 20 to 30 minutes, Ethiopians can rent a read from Tisfi for a fraction of the price of buying a paper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I will come -- I come in this room (INAUDIBLE).
CURNOW: He says if 20 readers read this single paper at the rate of 50 cents, I will make 10 birr. That's about 60 U.S. cents. Tisfi says he has regular customers who come each day to scan for the latest news or look for jobs. "Most of the readers focus on vacancies rather than news," he says.
This university graduate rents three to five publications a day, desperately looking for work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I rent a newspaper daily for the matter of searching for a company. And I am so tired and bored. I spent a lot of money to rent and to buy these newspapers.
CURNOW: Unemployment is high in Ethiopia. People jostle in front of notice boards advertising vacancies. Others rely on informal markets, hawking their trades on the streets like the shoe shine boys or the newspaper landlords, who realize that newsprint and knowledge are valuable commodities.
To set up shop, all you need is a shady street side location and startup capital for a stash of newspapers and magazines. And at the end of the day, they can all be resold.
"After a newspaper passes its deadline, we can sell it to shops who use it as packaging for items that they sell."
He says it's a good business. He supports his three siblings. But the road side newspaper rental I need puts pressure on the profits of private newspaper owners, like Dawit Kebede. He says they print 15,000 copies of his "Awramba Times," a weekly Amharic newspaper, which is one of Ethiopia's last remaining independent publications.
DAWIT KEBEDE, MANAGING EDITOR, "AWRAMBA TIMES": Well, the way you have it is good. But if you're asking me for the publisher, well it's nothing. If you calculate it in terms of income, the publisher gets nothing from -- from such (INAUDIBLE).
CURNOW: For every newspaper not sold but rented instead, further challenge for those few trying to survive the tough Ethiopian media environment, which is dominated by state-owned publications.
For Tisfi, though, the biggest threat to his small enterprise is not political propaganda, but petty thieves. "There are some readers who run away with our papers, so we keep a close eye on them."
Most readers, though, rent a newspaper, crouch down and quickly scan the headlines before their rental time is up.
CURNOW: OK, let's take a look at some more numbers. Now, Ethiopia has the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa, 83 million, according to the World Bank. But there's a very low circulation of newspapers. Dawit Kebede, who you saw in my piece earlier, says there are just 24 newspapers. Two of them are dailies and they're state-run.
Now, coming up after the break, we speak to the head of the Ethiopian commodities exchange. She tells us about innovation and changing the way people trade.
CURNOW: Welcome back to MARKETPLACE AFRICA.
You've just seen some pictures of the Merkato in Addis Ababa. It's one of Africa's largest markets. It's open air, haphazard and sells just about anything. But three years ago, a different sort of market was created in the Ethiopian capital -- more organized and high tech. And it changed the way buyers and sellers operated.
For our Face Time I've this week, we speak to Eleni Gabre-Madhin.
She is the woman behind one of Africa's few commodity exchanges.
DR. ELENI GABRE-MADHIN, CEO, ETHIOPIAN COMMODITIES EXCHANGE: ECP is just a way to get buyers and sellers together and assure that the seller gets paid and the buyer gets the product that they bought. And to do that, we have a way of standardizing the product, you know, using grades and standards. We have a warehouse PC so we know where the commodity is. We put the commodity into a warehouse. And then when it's sold, we immediately put out marketplaces so everybody knows, you know, what the price of the -- of the day is or the transaction. And then we have a clearinghouse, which is a way to transfer payment from the buyers to the sellers.
So it's really trying to create a reliable, transparent, efficient market.
If you looked at a map of exchanges across the world, there would be a big blank over most -- most of Africa. But that's changing. There's a lot of interest in -- in putting together exchanges in -- in a number of countries all over the continent. I think what we've done has sort of shown that it's possible even in a country with a very weak infrastructure, weak financial institutions. We still could put together a trading system that works.
But I think that when we put together the commodity exchange, which is, at the end of the day, a market institution with all of its parts, I think what we did is something more, which is really bring together skills but also the sense that something can be done, that what was unthinkable, that we could transmit data in two seconds all around the country, to farmers across the country, that we could clear payments -- clear and settle payments in one day of trade -- all of these things that would have, you know, been unimaginable, you know, five or six years ago, have happened.
And -- and I think that is probably the most compelling thing about what we've done, is it's not so much the actual trading, but the fact that we dared to try to do something that was unthinkable and put together the best minds we could find.
But beyond the minds, really, this idea that there was heart behind it, that people really cared about getting this done, that they wanted to show that Ethiopia could do this.
It's probably a little early to see if people are farming differently, but I certainly think that people might be trading differently because of the exchange. For one thing, we see this incredible response to market information, whereas, you know, previously, in the absence of information, farmers would come to the local markets, you know, 10 kilometers away from -- from their farm and they'd sort of come blind, hoping to get a good price but not really sure what -- what's out there.
And now they're coming informed. So they've -- they've heard per grade, you know, per quality, what the different prices are. You know that a higher quality would fetch, you know, 10 birr more or 20 birr more than the lower quality. So they have been -- you know, so they come to this rural market thinking at the national level. They're not thinking local, they're thinking national and possibly global, because we're also giving them New York prices for coffee, India prices for sesame.
So there's this sense that they're connected to something bigger than just that little local market and the one or two merchants that they used to interact with.
So I think that consciousness is -- is an amazing thing to see. We put out a system called interactive voice response, IVR, where if there's a call-in, a toll-free number that anybody can call and get prices updated, you know, as they are traded. And we get 20,000 calls a day.
So that's -- it's exciting to see how people are becoming more sophisticated in their bargaining, how farmers can actually plan when to sell better. And I suspect that their planting decisions, what they decide to produce, will be directly, you know, linked to what they -- what they see in the market.
This year, we're trading coffee, sesame seeds and pea beans, which, together, are about 60 percent of the export earnings of the country. So that's a big impact. If we can get 60 percent of export earnings done more efficiently and more value add and more money back into the pockets of farmers because of, you know, better commercial decisions that they can make because they're better informed, then that's a very good thing.
So, yes, I think that the potential to, you know, be plugged right into that growth by having an exchange is -- is clearly there.
CURNOW: What's interesting is that she said she called on the help of a lot of Ethiopians from the Diaspora.
Now, here's what's trending this week.
CURNOW (voice-over): Global brewer, SAB Miller, is investing $15 million in South Sudan to boost production at its two year old Juba brewery by more than 40 percent. The investment is seen as a vote of confidence for South Sudan following January's historic referendum in favor of independence. The company says it's optimistic about the region's prospects for economic growth.
Meanwhile, SAB Miller competitor in Kenya, Coca-Cola, will invest $62 million there over the next three years. Kenya is East Africa's biggest economy and Coca-Cola is the market leader there in fizzy drinks. But the latest investment will be used to increase the company's juice products and to modernize equipment. Coca-Cola has committed to invest $12 billion in Africa by 2020.
CURNOW: Just remember, you can watch all of our interviews and stories online. Our Web site is CNN.com/marketplaceafrica. Links to our Twitter and Facebook pages are on there, as well.
But until next week, for me, Robyn Curnow, here in Jetty Street, Johannesburg, good-bye.