Monday, August 11, 2008

Rise in Oil Prices Boosts Online Education and Shopping

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  1. Gas Prices Boost Online Courses

    The high cost of gas has convinced many students to take online classes to save money. 
    First, Ryan Gibbons bought a Hyundai so he would not have to drive his gas-guzzling Chevy Blazer to college classes here. When fuel prices kept rising, he cut expenses again, eliminating two campus visits a week by enrolling in an online version of one of his courses. 

    Like Mr. Gibbons, thousands of students nationwide, including many who were previously reluctant to study online, have suddenly decided to take one or more college classes over the Internet. "Gas prices have pushed people over the edge," said Georglyn Davidson, director of online learning at Bucks County Community College, where Mr. Gibbons studies, and where online enrollments are up 35 percent this summer over last year. 

    The vast majority of the nation's 15 million college students -- at least 79 percent -- live off campus, and with gas prices above $4 a gallon, many are seeking to cut commuting costs by studying online. Colleges from Massachusetts and Florida to Texas to Oregon have reported significant online enrollment increases for summer sessions, with student numbers in some cases 50 percent or 100 percent higher than last year.

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  2. Amazon Sales Surge, Economy No Obstacle Inc.'s (AMZN) second-quarter earnings more than doubled, thanks to a small gain on the sale of assets as well as the continuing popularity of its pre-paid shipping service. 

    "In a recession, this fundamental performance for a consumer discretionary company is impressive," Citigroup analyst Mark S. Mahaney said. 

    Despite the strong quarter, Amazon shares - which closed at $70.54 - were volatile in the after-hours session, trading between $68.01 and $77.43. The stock recently moved closer to the highs, trading at $76.34, up 8.2% from its 4 p.m. ET close. The stock, though, is still down nearly 18% year to date. 

    The company's rather cautious full-year guidance, following a blowout second quarter, may have caused some of the after-hours volatility. Many tech companies this quarter have reported strong results for the quarter ended in June, only to see their stocks slide because of cautious second-half outlooks. 

    For the quarter ended June 30, Amazon reported net income of $158 million, or 37 cents a share, above the average analyst estimate of 26 cents a share and the year-ago earnings of $78 million, or 19 cents a share. The latest quarter included a $53 million pretax gain on the sale of the European DVD rental assets. 

    Amazon sales, meanwhile, rose 41% to $4.06 billion, surpassing the average analyst estimate of $3.96 billion.

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