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18/10/2010

Now entering Jackson family business: Austin Brown

LOS ANGELES – Over a decade ago, when Michael Jackson was working on what would become his final album, a young producer named Rodney Jerkins set up shop in the dance room of the singer's Neverland Ranch. A youngster approached Jerkins with a bold swagger.

"I'm going to work with you. We're going to work together on my album," Austin "Auggie" Brown told Jerkins, who flashed back to his own introduction to Jackson as a teenager.

"I'm looking at this 13-year-old kid and I'm seeing all this ambition and it reminded me of myself the first time I met his uncle," Jerkins recalls. "I believe that when you speak things into existence, it happens. ... I said, 'I'll be ready when you're ready.'"

Brown — the son of Jackson's older sister Maureen, known as Rebbie — is now 24, and has been working at Jerkins' Los Angeles studio for months to create his debut album, "85." He's a serious and passionate student of music and dance, with handsome, distinctively angular facial features that recall his uncle in the "Thriller" period. Surrounded by musicians in his formative years, "I was a sponge," he said.

"My brother-in-law Rex, who taught me how to produce, he would show me how to play like a Janet song or something. And then I'd go to her and be like 'Watch this!'" he said. "I wanted to learn and to learn the songs. Play the songs, and then get the reaction from playing it and show people. I wanted to figure out the music, not just be around the music."

Perhaps the only surprise is that Brown didn't enter the family business sooner.

"It was really important to me to develop," Brown said in an interview alongside Jerkins, with his mother looking on quietly. "First and foremost, music is a privilege. It's not an entitlement for me. So I wanted to get better and get to the point where I felt like I was ready. And I did it on my own. I wanted to write with my own people, meet people for myself. Really go through the grind that everyone has to go through."

To be sure, Brown first hit a stage when he was 3 at one of his mother's concerts in Japan. It was family connections that led him to talented dance coaches in Las Vegas and to Jerkins, and family connections that prompted interest from People mgazine, Access Hollywood and MTV even before the release of his first song. But Brown makes it clear that he wants to succeed based on his own talent.

"My last name is Brown. And you know, I can't help where I come from, but I love where I come from," he said.

Brown says his album will blend classic soul and 1980s pop sounds with contemporary dance beats. He cites as influences Billy Idol, George Michael, Prince and his uncle — particularly when it comes to the key ingredient in songcraft.

"My uncle, he was a stickler on that. He always told me, 'The melody. Be true to the melody. Melody is key,'" Brown said. "So that's really what we tried to do with '85.'"

Jerkins, who completed a number of additional songs with Jackson before the singer's death last year, says the rich tones of Brown's voice have been prompting more flashbacks.

"I haven't really told him this, but there have been moments where I listen to a part and it's like 'Whoa!' I get goosebumps because it just really puts me in that mindset of MJ," Jerkins said. "And that's amazing to me. Because it takes you there for a second."

Brown has released his first song, "Target Practice," for free via his website and expects to release his debut album, "85," next year on his label, The Royal Factory.

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Online:

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15/10/2010

GE revenue falls short of Street view

BOSTON (Reuters) – General Electric Co (GE.N) reported a sharper-than-expected drop in revenue on slack demand for heavy equipment, casting doubts about the pace of the U.S. recovery from the worst economy since the Great Depression.

The largest U.S. conglomerate's 5.1 percent decline in sales overshadowed better-than-expected profit and sent GE shares down 3 percent in premarket trading on Friday as some investors took it as another sign that the economic recovery is faltering.

Revenue came to $35.89 billion, below the $37.54 billion analysts had expected, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The shortfall reflected faltering demand for energy equipment, jet engines and railroad locomotives.

"I'm a little concerned about the broader manufacturing sector, that this may be a bit of a harbinger," said Peter Sorrentino, portfolio manager at Huntington Asset Advisors in Cincinnati.

Investors will get a more detailed look into the sector's future next week when manufacturing heavyweights United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) and Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) report their results.

There have been a number of signs in recent weeks that the U.S. recovery is slowing. A Business Council survey released on Thursday showed that just one in three U.S. CEOs believe their industries will improve over the next six months.

RIDING THE 'NEW NORMAL'

The revenue miss largely reflects the weak economy, investors said. GE's overall order backlog held steady at $172 billion.

"In the new normal world, you can't expect to see much in backlog growth," Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory Corp in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "It would have been positive to see it growing. It didn't, and I'm thinking foreign exchange may have had something to do with that. Next quarter they'll probably get a tailwind in their backlog.

Chief Executive Jeff Immelt reported rising orders for both equipment and services -- an indicator of future sales, the first time both have increased in two years.

"A renewed GE should grow earnings and dividends in 2011 and beyond," Immelt said in a statement.

In July, GE said it would raise its quarterly dividend by 20 percent to 12 cents per share, starting a process of restoring a payout that it slashed from 31 cents per share during the downturn.

Profit from continuing operations -- which factors out GE's pruning of its finance arm -- came to $3.16 billion, or 29 cents a share, up 29 percent from $2.45 billion, or 22 cents a share, a year earlier. On that basis, GE beat Wall Street's earnings forecast by 2 cents per share.

Net income, including $1.1 billion in losses related to GE Capital portfolio restructuring, fell 18 percent.

The results marked GE's second consecutive quarter of earnings growth after a nine-quarter streak of declines.

The company said the decline in revenue in part reflected its efforts to trim back the capital business, which emerged as its Achilles' heel during the credit crisis and recession. The finance unit's revenue fell 3 percent in the quarter, while sales its GE's energy infrastructure unit fell 14 percent.

As of Thursday's close, GE shares have risen about 14 percent for the year, outpacing the 6 percent rise of the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI), of which it is a component.

(Reporting by Scott Malone, additional reporting by Nick Zieminski and Ryan Vlastelica in New York, Atul Prakash, Harpreet Bhal, Simon Falush and Dominic Lau in London; Editing by Derek Caney)