Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apple stumble brings Dow down; Climate issue has warm streets and a cold summit; Richard Branson and unlimited time off: Too good to be true

1 Apple stumble brings Dow down (San Francisco Chronicle) A stumble by Apple set off the worst rout in the stock market since July on Thursday. Apple dropped nearly 4 percent following its announcement late Wednesday that it had pulled a software update which prevented users from making phone calls. Other technology stocks also slumped.

By the close of trading, all 30 big companies in the Dow Jones industrial average and the 10 industries in the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost ground. Most investors said the drop wasn't a sign of worry because the forces behind the market's long rally remain in place. It was only a week ago that the S&P 500 touched a record high, and strong runs are usually followed by short breaks. The index has lost 2 percent this week but is still up 6 percent for the year.

Two economic reports out Thursday were little help. Claims for unemployment benefits crept up last week. But the less volatile four-week average fell. A separate report said businesses orders for equipment plunged last month, mainly a result of falling orders for commercial aircraft.

Apple, which closed at a record high of $103.30 on Sept. 2, sank $3.88 to $97.87 in heavy trading. It was the second-biggest drop in the S&P 500 index. In addition to the software glitch, some users of the new iPhone complained that the phone could be bent easily. The price of oil fell slightly on ample global supplies despite U.S. airstrikes against oil facilities controlled by the Islamic State group in Syria.

2 Climate issue has warm streets, cold summit (Khaleej Times) The United Nations Climate Summit 2014, held on September 23, can be considered as a study in two contrasts. On the one hand was the People’s Climate March - an enormous gathering of concerned citizens in New York which may have seen a combined total of some 400,000 people. The marchers delivered one message in many creative ways. That message was: we citizens can and will rid the planet of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

On the other hand was the Climate Summit.  This, said the UN, would serve as a public platform for leaders at the highest level. The gathering would “catalyse ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilise political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature”.

Did it succeed? No and yes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed up the Summit as “a great day, a historic day. Ban said that the Summit “delivered” because the many leaders attending “reaffirmed determination to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius by cutting emissions”.

Such announcements underline the contrast between the desire on the street and the cold comfort of summit announcements (now in their 22nd year). The UN tip-toed around the large global and regional corporations whose business practices have deepened environmental and socio-economic emergencies all over the world, and which are responsible for worsening the vulnerabilities of populations exposed to the risk of climate change. Instead of such expensive jamborees the UN should emulate the example of the marchers and encourage small, local and meaningful action.

3 Branson and unlimited time off: Too good to be true (The Guardian) When Richard Branson announces that Virgin employees can take as much holiday as they want, on the face of it, it appears attractive and generous but is in fact about as liberating for the employee as, say, hot-desking. It is just one more way of chaining the workers to their desks by intimating that if they go for a coffee someone will take their seat. Or their job.

Mr Branson scarcely troubled to disguise the flimsiness of his offer. The decision whether to take holiday, he said, would reflect an employee’s confidence that they were on top of their jobs, in complete control of all their projects, and that their absence would do no harm to the company – or their career. It is a souped-up version of turning off office emails, itself something all sensible employers should insist on, but which most employees fear would be seen as a possibly lethal breach of commitment.

The idea of untracked holiday is taken from Netflix, the company that has revolutionised video streaming. In a recent Harvard Business Review, Patty McCord, its human resources manager, gave the game away when she explained that it was the logical extension of the always-on work culture of a tech startup. No surprise that the policy is not available to Netflix employees in its call centres, any more than Mr Branson was proposing it for his air crews or train staff.

It is fashionable to argue that rights at work can be an unnecessary obstacle to efficiency, an impediment in an age of non-hierarchical company structures where creativity and initiative are valued more highly than suits, ties and punctuality. Rubbish.

Netflix draws the analogy that the company has no dress policy but no one turns up naked. Not having an official code doesn’t mean there isn’t one. By failing to spell it out, the management underlines the arbitrary nature of its power. Clear rules can protect the weak. Without mutual confidence, ultimately underwritten in law, there can be no mutual trust.

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