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And in 'Other' Business News: Never Again Forget Which Pair of Underwear Is Yours


Plus, organized crime in Italy is not as profitable as originally thought.

Never Again Forget Which Pair of Underwear Is Yours

To entice shoppers amid lower consumer spending, Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) now offers female shoppers the option of adding personalized monograms to lingerie and other garments. For example, you could add "Wow!" and "You & Me" in sparkly text to Hanky Panky panties.

Department stores anticipate more would-be discount shoppers paying full price for apparel if they can make a piece their own. Stores hope personalized merchandise will set them apart from competitors. Burberry (LON:BRBY) will go the route of mass-customization, which gives shoppers a range of options.

According to Bloomberg, Robert Burke, who runs a namesake luxury consulting firm in New York, said, "There is a new kind of importance placed on self-expression and on items that are made just to be identified with an owner."

Organized Crime in Italy Not as Profitable as Originally Thought

Despite organized crime's strong presence in southern Italy, law officials grossly overestimated the revenue generated by these criminal networks. Transcrime research center released a paper stating that Mafia revenues amounted to approximately 0.7% of Italian GDP versus the 10.9% reported last year in a study by Milan's Bocconi University. The 0.7% figure means groups like Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Naples Camorra, and Calabria's 'Ndrangheta take in 10.5 billion euros per year, an amount comparable to the revenues of Italy's biggest businesses.

The organizations have made efforts to expand their market share in northern Italy, specifically in Milan's Lombardy region, which accounts for 20% of Italy's GDP. Throughout the country, the groups are gaining footholds in many businesses by offering extortionate loans, which businesses will accept because of the lack of available credit from Italy's struggling banks.

In what other business does the mafia operate? According to the Transcrime report, the organizations do not boast "brilliant businessmen," and they focus on the construction, mining, and catering sectors, which do not require sophisticated management skills.

Is the Google Street View Car Team Comprised of Jacka**es?

Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Street View Car Team may acquire the reputation of being heartless animal killers.

Images from their travels in Botswana show the car driving down a dirt road with a donkey visible on the side of the road. The images of the road after the car passes the donkey show the animal lying in the middle of the road, and it has caused some commotion. Did a hit-and-run occur?

Google denies that the team hit the beast of burden. Rather, people are viewing the images in the wrong order, the company insists. The tech company stated that "the donkey was lying in the path -- perhaps enjoying a dust bath -- before moving safely aside as our car drove past."

In all fairness to Google, it appears this is the case. When viewing the images, a car does pass in the opposite direction, suggesting Google told the truth about the sequence of events. Plus, the donkey does appear to move in the dirt as the car approaches it.

Legally Profiting From the Black Market

Growth of black markets and social unrest usually go hand-in-hand with economic deterioration. Southern Europe has been no exception with protests turning violent and with crime increasing. As citizens of these Mediterranean countries become more impoverished, increasing numbers of individuals may turn to working for the black market and to supporting political radicals.

Insurance companies and analysts expect kidnappings to increase as the demand for illicit income grows, especially in Greece. Maplecroft analyst Jamie Scudder says, "Greece, given its financial problems, proximity to eastern Europe and porous borders, may become susceptible to future kidnappings.

Kidnapping insurance became popular in the 1970s and 1980s when radicals, notably in Italy and Latin America, took executives hostage to raise funds. Since 2006, premiums collected by insurers have increased by 20% per year since 2006. Insurers collect $250 million to $300 million in premiums annually.

Currently, about 15 insurers sell kidnapping coverage, including Hiscox (LON:HSX), Catlin (LON:CGL), Travelers (NYSE:TRV), Chubb (NYSE:CB), and AIG's (NYSE:AIG) Chartis.

[Also read: Interview: A Capitalist in North Korea (Yes, They Do Exist...)]

$100,000 for a Sock?

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling will auction his bloody right sock from Game Two of the World Series. Chris Ivy, director of sports at Heritage Auction in Dallas, expects the sock to go for more than $100,000.

The sock had resided in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on loan since 2004. However, Schilling pledged the historic sock as bank collateral for the loans made to his bankrupt video game company, 38 Studios.

In case you want to get in on the auction, it will be held on February 23 at Fletcher-Sinclair mansion in New York City.

[Also read: Is Steven Cohen the Lance Armstrong of Wall Street?]

Twitter: @ChrisWitrak
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