MS to Share Passport

In a surprising move, Microsoft said it plans to open up its Passport authentication service to other enterprises and network operators, such as competitor AOL Time Warner (AOL).

Microsoft (MSFT) said the aim was to create a so-called Internet trust network that enables users to access any participating website or service, much the same way as ATM cards allow users to get cash from any teller machine using the same PIN number.

Internet authentication services like Microsoft’s Passport store personal information, such as credit card numbers and addresses. That information is automatically shared with participating Passport websites as users visit those online businesses to exchange information or complete sales and purchases.

Possible XBox shortage: As Microsoft ramps up production of its upcoming XBox video game console this week, game publishers and some analysts have started to question whether the company can make its target for the number of units available for the November launch.

Microsoft (MSFT) said it would ship 600,000 to 800,000 consoles when it launches the new system on Nov. 8 in the United States and between 1 million and 1.5 million by year-end. But the software giant will not know how many of its forthcoming XBox consoles it will have available on the much-heralded launch day until production at a plant in Mexico hits full capacity, a spokesman said.

“We won’t know real, day-one quantities until we’re at peak production,” said James Bernard, a Microsoft spokesman. “We’re really being cautious about our day-one quantities.”

The XBox is still on track for its Nov. 8 launch, Bernard said, adding that the company told retailers last week that the console was about to begin production.

Greenspan speaks: U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said last week’s devastating attacks will damage the economy in the short-term by making Americans fearful of the future but won’t dampen bright long-term prospects. “The shock of September 11, by markedly raising the degree of uncertainty about the future, has the potential to result, for a time, in pronounced disengagement from future commitments,” Greenspan said. “This pull-back from economic commitments will slow the economic pace. But the foundations of our free society remain sound, and I am confident that we will recover and prosper as we have in the past.”

Vodafone to take control: Vodafone Group said it would pay up to 1.8 billion pounds ($2.64 billion) cash in an agreed offer to take control of its key Japanese venture, Japan Telecom.

Vodafone (VOD) said its purchase would raise its stake in Japan’s third biggest telecoms group, by between 10 and 21.7 percent to up to 66.7 percent. The deal will be slightly diluted to earnings per share before goodwill and exceptions in 2003, but be neutral in 2004. “We view a strong presence in the Japanese market as an essential part of our global strategy and expect the Vodafone Group worldwide to benefit considerably from J-Phone’s expertise in advanced wireless data services,” said Vodafone’s Chief Executive Chris Gent. “I am confident that we can now … substantially boost J-phone’s competitive position in Japan’s wireless market.”

New biotech venture fund: Eli Lilly said it was forming a venture capital fund to invest in early-stage biotechnology companies, earmarking an initial pool of $75 million.

The new unit, to be called Lilly BioVentures, would allow Lilly to tap into some of the most cutting-edge health technologies being developed, the firm said.

Eli Lilly (LLY) said it would make initial investments of $5 million in companies developing technologies aimed at accelerating drug discovery and development and emerging or novel technologies in biotechnology.

Priceline sellers back out: said Cheung Kong Holdings (CHEUY) and Hutchison Whampoa (HUWHY) withdrew their request for a registration that would have entitled them to sell shares.

However,’s (PCLN) board approved a request by the two companies to increase their ownership in the online travel firm to 37.5 percent from about 27 percent.

The company blamed a sharp fall-off in travel bookings and an increase in cancellations in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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