Friday, June 23, 2017

WhatsApp rises as news media; Opec caught in oil bear market; Uber to run McDonald's UK deliveries

1 WhatsApp rises as news media (Leo Kelion on BBC) WhatsApp is becoming one of the prevailing ways people discover and discuss news, according to a study. But use of the messaging app appears to vary widely between countries.

In Malaysia, more than 50% of those surveyed said they used WhatsApp for news at least once a week. But in the US, the figure was only 3%, and in the UK it was 5%. The Digital News Report also indicates the Brexit debate has led to growing mistrust of the UK's media.

It said only 43% of respondents declared that the news could be trusted - down from 50% last year - with the BBC in particular criticised for having both a pro-EU bias and failing to expose the "distortions" of the leave campaign.

The research was carried out by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and covered 34 countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia, in addition to Taiwan and Hong Kong. It was sponsored by the BBC and Google among others.

The results indicate that Facebook remains the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries - Japan and South Korea - where, respectively, YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.

But it adds that use of Facebook for news had dipped in more than half of all the territories where a year-on-year comparison was possible. By contrast, sharing news stories and chatting about them appears to be on the rise within private instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular.

2 Opec caught in bear market (Gulf News) Oil’s back in a bear market and investors remain unmoved by last month’s agreement to prolong supply cuts, leaving Opec and its allies with few remaining tools to boost prices.

As Saudi Arabia, Russia and their allies reduce output, supply that’s beyond their control keeps rising. Libya and Nigeria — Opec members exempt from the curbs — and US shale producers are resurgent, undermining efforts to tame a global glut. Prices are back below where they were when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries first struck its historic deal last year.

Cutting even deeper — an idea rejected just a month ago — still looks unlikely. For now at least, the Saudi pledge to do “whatever it takes” to stabilise prices looks like not much at all.

Further curbs could be necessary, but reaching a consensus will be difficult, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said. A committee meeting in Vienna this week gave only cursory attention to the possibility of deepening the existing cuts, focusing instead on the problem of rising output in Libya and Nigeria.

Russia has indicated on several occasions that it’s opposed to any additional reductions, said one delegate. Nations that have made the production cuts already appear to be ceding ground as rival supplies grow.

Next year, new oil supplies from Opec rivals, chiefly the US, will be more than enough to meet demand growth, the International Energy Agency said. As a result, demand for the group’s crude will be about 200,000 barrels a day lower than this year, the agency said.

3 Uber to run UK McDonald’s delvieries (The Guardian) McDonald’s has launched its long-awaited ‘McDelivery’ trial in the UK after teaming up with Uber’s food delivery service, UberEats.

McDonald’s will offer the service from 22 outlets across the capital and another 10 restaurants in Leeds and Nottingham – although customers will have to live within a 1.5 mile radius of a restaurant. Customers can place orders through the UberEats app between 7am and 2am.

McDonald’s said it would be monitoring the trial closely to see whether it proved popular. Mathieu Proust, general manager of UberEats, said the trial would let people “get the food they want” quickly and reliably.

The launch comes after KFC launched home deliveries from 30 outlets in greater London via the Just Eat platform earlier this year. The McDonald’s move follows similar tie-ups with Uber in the US, while the chain already delivers in China and Singapore.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Smartphones may be cause for low inflation; Qatar Airways seeks 10% in American Airlines; Divorce rate falls as couples wait

1 Smartphones may be cause for low inflation (Khaleej Times) Americans' love of their smartphones and apps may be contributing to the sluggish pace of inflation that is worrying Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, a top bond manager at BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager, said.

Consumers are relying less and less on devices such as cameras, radios and televisions, and services such as taxis and stores, replacing them with programs in their iPhones and other high-end phones, according to Rick Rieder, BlackRock's chief investment officer of global fixed income.

Companies like, Netflix and Uber Technologies have enticed consumers with convenience and low prices through their phones. As a result, they have upended traditional retailers, entertainment outlets and transportation services, Rieder said in an article.

Some of the recent pullback in inflation also stemmed from lower energy prices resulting from global oversupply, analysts said. The recent softening of inflation has raised speculation on the timing on the US central bank's next rate increase. A few policymakers including Evans have said it may be worthwhile for the Fed to wait until year-end before considering another rate hike.

2 Qatar Airways seeks 10% in American Airlines (Gulf News) State-owned Qatar Airways is attempting to buy a 10 per cent stake in American Airlines, triggering US antitrust oversight of deals that size.

American said in a regulatory filing that the bid was unsolicited, but that the CEOs of both airlines have spoken. Qatar submitted a filing under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, which is subject to review by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

American and Qatar are already members of the Oneworld marketing alliance, which allows passengers to earn and redeem points on each other’s flights. An expanded partnership could make it easier for American passengers to get to smaller cities in India, and developing countries in Southeast Asia.

3 Divorce rate falls as couples wait (Johannesburg Times/The Telegraph) Analysis suggests the plummeting divorce rate is partly being driven by sensible couples who are now more likely to wait longer before they marry.

New figures from the UK Office of National Statistics show that in 2015 101,055 couples divorced, the lowest number since 1971. The number of opposite-sex couples divorcing fell by more than a third between 2003 and 2015 and by 9.1% between 2014 and 2015, the biggest drop in more than 40 years.

The report says: "Age at marriage is considered to be linked to the risk of divorce with those marrying in their teens and early 20s being at greater risk of divorce."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oil slips to 9-month low; Ford to move US unit to China; FB 'bots' start communicating sans humans

1 Oil slips to nine-month low (Straits Times) Oil tumbled to the lowest level in nine months, pulling energy stocks down, amid growing concerns that Opec-led output cuts are failing to ease a global supply glut.

Futures declined 2.2 per cent in New York, entering a bear market for the first time since August, as investors focus on rising production from countries that are not part of Opec's deal. Libya is pumping the most crude in four years, and the amount of oil stored in tankers reached a 2017 high earlier this month. US drillers have added oil rigs for 22 straight weeks.

West Texas Intermediate crude, the US benchmark, dropped 21 per cent from a close of $54.45 Feb. 23, entering a bear market, which kicks in when settlement prices fall at least 20 per cent from their peak.

Oil has stayed below $45 a barrel since last week as supplies in the US remain plentiful and the oil rig count rises to the highest since April 2015. WTI for July delivery, which expires Tuesday, fell 97 cents to settle at $43.23, the lowest since mid-September. Total volume traded was about 35 per cent above the 100-day average.

2 Ford to move US unit to China (BBC) Ford is to move US production of its new Ford Focus car to China in 2019, despite having faced pressure to keep manufacturing jobs in America. The carmaker said the decision would not lead to layoffs in the US.

But the move marks another change to its plans for producing the new Focus. The firm in January scrapped plans to move US production to a new $1.6bn plant in Mexico after criticism from Donald Trump. Currently, Ford makes its Focus cars in Michigan, Germany and in China.

But it has seen sales of the model fall in the US, while demand for larger vehicles remains. It was planning to move US production of the Focus to a new factory in Mexico. That decision drew fierce criticism from the US president, who has routinely blasted car makers and other companies for importing goods from other countries, including China and Mexico.

3 FB ‘bots’ start communicating sans humans (Khaleej Times) Adding to the fear that full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race, researchers from the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab (FAIR) have found that while they were busy trying to improve chatbots, the “dialog agents” were creating their own language.

Soon, the bots began to deviate from the scripted norms and started communicating in an entirely new language which they created without human input, The Verge reported. Using machine learning algorithms, the “dialog agents” were left to converse freely in an attempt to strengthen their conversational skills. The researchers also found these bots to be incredibly crafty negotiators.

“After learning to negotiate, the bots relied on machine learning and advanced strategies in an attempt to improve the outcome of these negotiations,” the report said. “Over time, the bots became quite skilled at it and even began feigning interest in one item in order to ‘sacrifice’ it at a later stage in the negotiation as a faux compromise,” it added.

Although this appears a huge leap for AI, several experts including Professor Stephen Hawking have raised fears that humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, could be superseded by AI. AI is now being used in applications from facial recognition software and cybersecurity to self-driving vehicles.

Monday, June 19, 2017

India, China top remittance recipients; Jaguar Land Rover to hire 5,000; First flying car in 2018

1 India, China get most remittances (Cleofe Maceda in Gulf News) Families and dependents in Asia remain the biggest beneficiaries of money sent home by expatriates working in the UAE and around the world, with India, China, Philippines and Pakistan emerging in the top five biggest recipients of remittances in 2016.

A new report from the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) showed that India took home the crown as the top-receiving country for earnings made by migrants, recording a total of $62.7 billion in wire transfers from abroad.

Chinese dependents and families received the second-highest amount of money sent home by expats at $61 billion, followed by Filipinos ($29.9 billion), Mexicans ($28.5 billion) and Pakistanis ($19.8 billion).

Exchange houses have reported that money flows from the UAE continued to increase in 2016 amid sluggish economic growth and weak oil prices, with the volume of outgoing cash transfers increasing by 10 per cent to 12 per cent last year compared to 2015.

2 Jaguar Land Rover to recruit 5,000 (Katie Allen in The Guardian) Jaguar Land Rover has unveiled plans to recruit 5,000 new engineers over the next year in a boost for British industry as the Brexit talks begin. The carmaker has just enjoyed a record year of sales bolstered by demand for luxury cars in China and North America, and needs thousands of new recruits, predominantly in the UK, to help develop new models, including electric cars.

JLR is UK’s biggest car manufacturer and has been held up by ministers as a poster child for British industry. It is also one of the UK’s largest exporters, with about 80% of its £24bn annual revenues generated from cars sold abroad.

Its expansion plans will bolster hopes that the UK’s export sector can help offset some of the domestic pressures on the economy in the years ahead as household budgets continue to be squeezed by weak pay growth and rising inflation on the back of the slide in sterling triggered by Brexit.

JLR, owned by India’s Tata group, said that more than 1,000 of the new 5,000 engineering recruits would be electronic and software engineers. Faced with chronic skills shortages in the sector, the carmaker believes it has come up with an innovative way to reach candidates from a wider pool, and is working with Gorillaz to recruit people via the virtual band’s app.

3 First flying car in 2018 (Khaleej Times) While several futuristic flying car projects are underway in different countries, a Dutch design may be the first one sold and soaring into the skies.

After years of testing, the PAL-V company aims to pip its competitors to the post. It is poised to start production on what they bill as a world first: a three-wheeled gyrocopter-type vehicle which can carry two people and will be certified for use on roads and in the skies.

"This kind of dream has been around for 100 years now. When the first airplane was invented, people already thought 'How can I make that driveable on the road?'," chief marketing officer Markus Hess said.

The PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) firm, based in Raamsdonksveer in the Netherlands, is aiming to deliver its first flying car to its first customer by the end of 2018. The lucky owner will need both a driving licence and a pilot's licence. But with the keys in hand, the owner will be able to drive to an airfield for the short take-off, and after landing elsewhere drive to the destination in a "door-to-door" experience.

It won't be cheap. The first edition, the PAL-V Liberty, costs $599,000. PAL-V was founded in 2007 by Robert Dingemanse and pilot John Bakker.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Japan's biggest bank plans to cut 10,000 jobs; Spotify has more than 140m users; Amazon to buy Whole Foods Market

1 Japan’s biggest bank plans to cut 10,000 jobs (Straits Times) Japan's biggest bank is set to undergo the most dramatic reduction in headcount since it was formed after the nation's banking crisis shook the industry almost 20 years ago.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group is considering eliminating about 10,000 positions - about 7 per cent of its workforce - over a decade as low interest rates and intensifying competition squeeze profit, people with knowledge of the matter said. That's more than double the 3,500 full-time roles that President Nobuyuki Hirano said last year MUFG would cut from its main banking unit through natural attrition and less hiring.

The move is a striking example of how Japanese banks are struggling with an increasingly challenging business environment as the central bank's negative-rate policy erodes margins and a shrinking population curtails credit demand. MUFG is seeking to reshape itself by closing branches and boosting technology investment - a strategy that peers at home and abroad are also pursuing as digital advancements transform the financial industry and provide an opportunity to save costs.

MUFG, established in 2005 from a merger, employs about 147,000 people worldwide. MUFG's main lending unit had 766 branches in Japan and 75 abroad as of March 2015, according to its website. The group projects net income will climb 2.5 per cent to 950 billion yen in the year ending March, the first increase in three years.

2 Spotify hits more than 140m users (BBC) Spotify now has more than 140 million active monthly users, but the music streaming firm is still deeply in the red. The Swedish firm had revenues of more than 2.9bn euros (£2.6bn) last year, up more than 50% compared with 2015.

However, operating losses rose at nearly the same pace to 349.4m euros (£305.7m). Spotify is considering going public and listing on the stock market, so its latest figures will be under scrutiny.

Spotify reported a net loss of 539.2m euros (£471.6m), more than double the figure for 2015. 
Nevertheless the number of people listening to music on the platform continues to rise rapidly. Paying subscribers to its premium service, which does not have advertising, rose by 20 million to 48 million.

Apple Music, a key competitor, now has 27 million subscribers, almost double the number 12 months ago. Unlike Spotify it does not offer a free tier. More than 30 million tracks are available on Spotify, which has signed deals committing it to to pay a minimum of 2bn euros in royalties to record companies over the next two years.

3 Amazon to buy Whole Foods Market (Sarah Butler & Zoe Wood in The Guardian) Amazon, the world’s most powerful online retailer, has taken a giant stride into traditional retailing, spending $13.7bn to take over organic food chain Whole Foods Market.

The all-cash deal could be game-changing for the traditional supermarket business. Amazon has long had ambitions to move into the grocery business and launched its food delivery service, Fresh, in the US 10 years ago. It introduced the service in the UK last year after signing a wholesale deal with British supermarket Morrisons.

Amazon is the fourth biggest business in the US and accounts for 43% of online sales there. Whole Foods, founded in 1980, has about 460 stores, including nine in the UK where it has operated since 2004.

“This deal is potentially terrifying for other grocers,” said Neil Saunders from retail analysis firm GlobalData. “Although Amazon has been a looming threat to the grocery industry, the shadow it has cast has been pale and distant. Today that changed: Amazon has moved squarely onto the turf of traditional supermarkets and poses a much more significant threat.” Until now, Amazon has had a limited impact on the grocery market. In the US, it still only accounts for less than 0.5% of grocery spending, according to GlobalData.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

US Fed hikes rates; Mini helicopters to challenge flying cars; Qatar pulls out troops from Africa

1 US Fed hikes rates (BBC) The US Federal Reserve has said it would raise its key interest rate by 0.25%, the second rise this year. The central bank voted to raise its key rate target to a range of 1% to 1.25%. That's the highest level since 2008, when policymakers cut rates to encourage borrowing and spending after the financial crisis.

The bank also said it would begin cutting its bond holdings and other securities this year. It cited continued US economic growth and job market strength as reasons for raising its benchmark interest rate. "Our decision ... reflects the progress the economy has made and is expected to make," said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

The rise was widely anticipated after a low unemployment rate, but other economic indicators, including inflation, have been weaker. The Fed's statement noted that price rises have slowed recently. Inflation is below the target of 2%. But then Fed Chair Janet Yellen thinks a large part of that is down to falls in specific prices.

2 Mini helicopters to challenge flying cars (Khaleej Times) As global automakers compete to bring the first flying car to market, Czech pilot Pavel Brezina is trying a different tack: instead of creating a car that flies, he has made a "GyroDrive" -- a mini helicopter you can drive.

The engineer and owner of Nirvana Systems, a company producing motors for small flying machines, insists his vehicle is the first in the world authorised to operate both on roads and in the air. "Everyone is trying to make a high-speed car that can fly, but this is a different thing," said the tall, bespectacled 51-year-old, who has 30 years' experience as a pilot under his belt.

His GyroDrive vehicle is based on a gyroplane -- a mini-helicopter -- that uses a copter-style rotor to move up and down, and an aeroplane-type "pusher propeller" to go forward. Brezina's company buys gyroplane kits from a German firm, and then assembles and equips them with a system allowing the pilot-driver to switch between a petrol engine propelling the rotors and an electric engine that drives the wheels.

The two-seat GyroDrive has a maximum driving speed of just 40 kmph (25 mph) and can take its crew of two on short drives to a petrol station or a hotel. It needs less than 100 metres (110 yars) to take off and reaches a top speed of 180 kmph in the air. Its flying range is 600 kilometres.
After landing, the pilot only has to fix the main rotor blades along the axis of the GyroDrive and pull out a built-in licence plate to transform it into a road vehicle. Prices start at $63,500.

3 Qatar pulls out troops from Africa (San Francisco Chronicle) Qatar said Wednesday it has pulled all of its troops from the border of Djibouti and Eritrea, east African nations that have a long-running territorial dispute which Doha had helped mediate.

Qatar offered no explanation for the move, though it comes amid a diplomatic dispute with other Arab nations that have cut diplomatic ties and now are trying to isolate Qatar from the rest of the world. While the dispute hasn't escalated to a military confrontation, Qatar's military is dwarfed by neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of its biggest opponents in the crisis.

The 450 Qatari troops controlled a mountainous border crossing between Eritrea and Djibouti, said Nasredin Ali, a spokesman for Eritrea's biggest armed group, known as the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization. Eritrean forces moved in after the troops departed, Ali said.

Doha mediated the conflict between the two countries in 2010. Gulf nations have stationed troops in both African countries, using that as a jumping-off point for the ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and severed ties with Doha last week. Qatar denies the allegations, but its ties to Iran and embrace of various Islamist groups have put the country under intense scrutiny.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Alibaba sales forecast tops estimates; Global coal demand falls for second year; Uber boss to stay away

1 Alibaba sales forecast tops estimates (Straits Times) Alibaba Group Holding forecast sales growth that topped every analysts' estimate, defying expectations that growth must slow by dint of a decelerating economy and its own sheer scale.

China's largest e-commerce company forecast 45 to 49 per cent revenue growth in the year ending March, sustaining a near-unbroken run of 40 per cent-plus annual rises and underscoring how investments into businesses beyond its bread-and-butter of online shopping are paying off.

Alibaba and Tencent Holdings - which dominate online shopping and social media, respectively - have ventured deeper into new areas from cloud computing services to streaming music and video as the country's economy slows. The online shopping giant founded by billionaire Jack Ma is capturing more digital advertising spending by incorporating social elements like video in its shopping sites.

Alibaba is spending billions of dollars on new businesses in part to counter Tencent's increasing dominance of online social media and entertainment through WeChat, a messaging and networking powerhouse.

Considered a barometer of Chinese consumer sentiment, Alibaba has also expanded abroad since buying control of Lazada Group SA to establish a foothold in South-east Asia, potentially setting up a clash with Inc. Its AliExpress site remains for now the main window through which it targets foreign shoppers.

2 Global coal demand fall for second year (Adam Vaughan in The Guardian) Global demand for coal has fallen for the second consecutive year, according to a BP study, helped by the US and China burning less of the dirtiest fossil fuel.

The UK was described as the “most extreme example” of the trend away from coal, which has resulted in use of the fuel returning to levels not seen since the start of the industrial revolution. The 1.7% fall in worldwide consumption in 2016 marks a striking reversal of fortune for coal, which was the largest source of energy demand growth until four years ago, BP said.

Presenting the 66th edition of BP’s annual statistical review of energy, the oil company’s chief economist, Spencer Dale, said: “It feels to me like we’re seeing a decisive break with coal, relative to the past. I think the big story here is coal getting squeezed.”

In the US, coal has been crowded out in power generation by cheaper, cleaner gas from the fracking boom and even US coal executives believe Donald Trump’s promise to bring back jobs in the industry cannot succeed. Coal consumption has now been declining for three years in China, as its economic boom and output has tailed off in energy-intensive sectors such as iron, steel and cement.

3 Uber boss to stay away (BBC) Uber boss Travis Kalanick plans to take time away from the company, and could return in a diminished role. The move comes after a review of management and practices at the firm, which is facing a number of scandals.

The review was sparked by a former employee's claims the company ignored her complaints about sexual harassment. Uber's board voted in favour of the recommendations from the review. Another board member resigned Wednesday after a sexist remark. Some of Mr Kalanick's responsibilities could be shifted to other executives.

In the email to staff, Mr Kalanick said the decision to take leave, which also comes after the sudden death of his mother in a boating accident, is part of an effort to create "Uber 2.0". Mr Kalanick's email did not say how long he would be away from the firm.