Monday, January 4, 2016

US manufacturing, construction slip; GM invests $500m in Lyft; Saudi Arabia, Iran put Middle East on the boil

1 US manufacturing, construction slip (BBC) US manufacturing shrank by the greatest amount for six years in December. Slowing growth overseas, a stronger US dollar and low oil prices all weighed on factory production, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Production on the ISM index slipped from 48.6 in November to 48.2. Any number below 50 indicates factory activity is contracting.

The US data coincided with data showing a decline in Chinese manufacturing that spooked global markets on Monday. Separately, figures from the construction spending painted a similarly gloomy picture. Construction spending slipped for the first time in a year and a half, according to the Commerce Department, falling 0.4% in November. The drop is the biggest since June 2014.

Previous construction spending data from January 2005 to October 2015 was also revised by the government after a "processing error" was revealed. The corrected data indicates construction spending over that period was not as strong as initially reported. October 2015 spending grew by just 0.3%. Experts say the correction may cause analysts to revise down their construction spending estimates for 2016.

2 GM invests $500m in Lyft (The Guardian) General Motors and ride-hailing company Lyft are forming an unprecedented partnership that could help them beat their rivals to the self-driving future. Lyft said that GM invested $500m in the company as part of a $1bn round of fund-raising.

GM gets a seat on Lyft’s board and access to the three-year-old company’s software, which matches riders with drivers and automates payments. It also becomes a preferred vehicle provider, with the chance to get many more people behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac.

San Francisco-based Lyft gets the expertise of a 108-year-old automaker with decades of experience in making connected and autonomous vehicles. Detroit-based GM also has an enviable global reach; it sells almost 10m cars each year in more than 100 countries. Lyft operates in 190 US cities, and it recently formed partnerships with ride-sharing services in China and India.

Together, the companies plan to open a network of US hubs where Lyft drivers can rent GM vehicles. That could expand Lyft’s business by giving people who don’t own cars a way to drive and earn money through Lyft. It will also give GM a leg up on competitors like Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co, who are developing their own ride-sharing services.

In the longer term, GM and Lyft will work together to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles that city dwellers can summon using Lyft’s mobile app. Partnering with GM could give Lyft a boost over its arch-rival, Uber Technologies Inc, which is working on its own driverless cars.

Lyft co-Founder and president John Zimmer and GM president Dan Ammann say the two companies began serious discussions about three months ago. Following its latest round of fundraising, which also included a $100m investment from Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Co, privately-held Lyft set its value at $5.5bn. The company expects revenue of around $1bn this year. By comparison, GM is valued at $53bn and earned $153bn in revenue in 2014.

But neither company can afford to rest. Uber’s value could soon surpass GM’s, and newcomers like Apple and Google are also eager to disrupt the traditional auto industry. “We see the world of mobility changing more in the next five years than it has in the last 50,” Ammann said.

3 Saudi Arabia, Iran put Middle East on the boil again (Dawn) Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of using an attack on its embassy as a pretext to sever ties in a diplomatic crisis deepening their often violent struggle for influence across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday and fellow-Sunni Bahrain followed suit on Monday, two days after Iranian demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest at Riyadh's execution of a senior Shia cleric.

The United Arab Emirates also downgraded its ties with Iran, as the dispute between the region's top Sunni and Shia powers rippled across the region, driving up oil prices and threatening to widen the Middle East's sectarian divide.

After a furious response in Shia communities worldwide to the Sunni kingdom's execution of Shia Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of creating “terrorist cells” among the kingdom's Shia minority. Iran retorted that Riyadh had used the embassy incident and an similar attack on its consulate in the Iranian city of Mashhad as an “excuse” to stoke tensions.

Oil prices rose almost two per cent, overcoming economic weakness in Asia, as the two big petroleum exporters traded insults and tensions spilled into other crude producers such as Iraq. Stock markets across the Gulf dropped sharply, led by Qatar which fell more than 2.5 per cent, with geopolitical jitters outweighing any benefit from stronger oil.

The tensions threatened to derail efforts to end Syria's five-year-old civil war, where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab powers support rebel groups against Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad.
Saudi Arabia executed Nimr and three other Shias on terrorism charges on Saturday, alongside dozens of Sunni jihadists. Shia Iran hailed him as a “martyr” and warned Saudi Arabia's ruling Al Saud family of “divine revenge”.

The Yemeni government announced a curfew in the port city of Aden, a beach-head for Saudi and UAE forces waging war on the Shia Houthi group that controls much of the country. A ceasefire collapsed on Saturday.

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