Thursday, September 3, 2015

ECB cuts growth outlook; South Africa business confidence at 16-year low; Smartphone functions on car dashboards

1 ECB cuts growth outlook (BBC) The European Central Bank has cut its inflation and growth forecasts for 2015 and the next two years. It expects inflation in the eurozone to remain "very low" for some years as threats to economic growth increase. ECB president Mario Draghi said Europe's economic recovery would continue, "albeit at a somewhat weaker pace than expected".

The euro fell sharply as Mr Draghi also hinted that the bank could expand its stimulus programme if necessary. He was speaking after the ECB kept its main interest rate on hold at 0.05%. The ECB is now forecasting economic growth in the eurozone of 1.4% in 2015, down from 1.5%, and 1.7% in 2016, compared with its previous projection of 1.9%.

However, Mr Draghi said that risks to the outlook for economic growth and inflation had worsened since mid-August, when the latest projections were calculated. He also admitted that inflation could turn negative in the coming months. The bank expected inflation to be 0.1% for 2015, rising to 1.5% in 2016 and 1.7% in 2017, dampened by lower energy prices.

The ECB made no change to its bond-buying programme, but Mr Draghi said it could be extended beyond its planned conclusion in September 2016 if necessary.

2 South Africa business confidence at 16-year low (Johannesburg Times) South Africa's rand fell 1 percent against the dollar on Thursday, the weakest performance in a basket of 25 emerging market currencies, after a local survey showed business confidence fell to a new 16-year low.

The rand touched a session trough of 13.5735 to the dollar, its softest in more than a week. Business confidence in Africa's most advanced economy fell 4 index points in August, weighed down by subdued domestic economic performance and global financial market turmoil led by slowing growth in China.

The Business Confidence Index fell to 84.3 in August, retracting to an even lower level than in June after increasing 87.9 in July, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) said. "The present slow growth of 1.2 percent year-on-year for the 2nd quarter of 2015 concerns SACCI. An uncertain local economic policy climate perpetuates the underperforming economy and dwindling local business confidence," SACCI said.

Africa's most advanced economy shrunk by 1.3 percent in the second quarter for the first time in more than a year, raising the risk that labour disputes and slowing Chinese demand for commodities could push it towards recession.

Slower growth in China, a key importer of local commodities, has had an impact on commodity prices, adding pressure on the local mining sector. Almost 12,000 mining jobs were on the line in South Africa as mining companies cut costs.

3 Smartphone functions on car dashboards (San Francisco Chronicle) With the 2016 model year, Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto will turn cars as affordable as a base model Chevy Spark into rolling robotic assistants that give directions to nearby restaurants or play the latest hits with commands as simple as "Play Ellie Goulding."

Both CarPlay and Android Auto should give drivers more time to keep their eyes on the road compared with the automakers' own voice systems, which can require multiple steps and looking at on-screen menus. Still, as with any system that requires driver input, there are concerns about distraction.

Neither system has been tested yet by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Consumers increasingly want to use their smartphone while driving — without running afoul of the law. For the last few years, drivers of most new cars have been able to speak to their phones and have audio stream through a car's speakers using the nearly ubiquitous Bluetooth wireless standard. However, doing so can require fiddling with the phone, like holding down the home button first.

Both CarPlay and Android Auto allow voice commands to be turned on with a touch of a steering wheel button. Phones need to be plugged into the USB port, where the phone is kept charging and powering the in-car entertainment. You can access maps, voicemail, phone contacts and music apps using a touch screen embedded in the dashboard — no need to grab your phone.

One wrinkle is that Apple reserves voice commands for its proprietary apps — phone, maps, texts and Apple Music. The less restrictive Android Auto will allow you to use apps like Spotify as long as you specifically tell it to "play Aerosmith on Spotify," or set Spotify as the default music app. A Spotify subscription also costs $10 a month.

The systems themselves can cost users a lot more. The 2016 Honda Accord EX with manual transmission is the lowest trim on which Honda is offering CarPlay and Android Auto support. At $25,480, the EX is $1,315 pricier than the Sport trim, and includes things like a moon roof, keyless remote and a better touch-screen display. Volkswagen's entry level 2016 Jetta 1.4T at $17,680 offers CarPlay and Android Auto as part of a $995 technology upgrade that includes a larger touch screen and rearview camera.

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