Tuesday, August 16, 2016

BHP Billiton hit by commodity rout; Ford's self-driving car by 2021; UAE vacancies drop 22%

1 BHP Billiton hit by commodity rout (Sean Farrell & Graham Ruddick in The Guardian) BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest miner, has reported a record loss of $6.4bn (£4.9bn) following a fatal dam disaster in Brazil, a slump in the price of commodities, and a bet on fracking in the US.

Miners are struggling due to a sharp fall in commodity prices, sparked by concerns that a slowdown in the Chinese economy could leave a surplus of raw materials. Andrew Mackenzie, chief executive of the company, said the last 12 months have been challenging and that commodity prices are likely to remain volatile, even if long-term demand remained robust.

The miner swung to the net loss in the year to the end of June after making a profit of $1.9bn a year earlier. It is the company’s first annual loss and the first time it has not increased its dividend since Australia’s BHP and the Anglo-Dutch company Billiton merged in 2001.

The loss was driven by $7.7bn of writedowns and charges including $4.9bn for the reduced value of its US shale operations and $2.2bn for the collapse of the Samarco dam, which killed 19 people, polluted a river valley and devastated communities in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state in November.

The commodity rout forced BHP Billiton to scrap its policy of not cutting dividends by slashing the half-year payout in February. It cut the annual dividend by 76% to 30 cents a share, in line with a new policy of linking payments to profits.

2 Ford’s self-driving car by 2021 (San Francisco Chronicle) Ford Motor Co. intends to have a fully driverless vehicle — no steering wheel, no pedals — on the road within five years. The car will initially be used for commercial ride-hailing or ride-sharing services, with sales to consumers coming later.

"This is a transformational moment in our industry and it is a transformational moment for our company," said CEO Mark Fields, as he announced the plan at Ford's Silicon Valley campus. Ford's approach to the autonomous car breaks from many other companies, like Mercedes-Benz and Tesla Motors, which plan to gradually add self-driving capability to traditional cars.

Just last month, BMW AG, Intel Corp. and the automotive camera maker Mobileye announced a plan to put an autonomous vehicle with a steering wheel on the road by 2021. Instead, Ford is taking the same approach as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, which supports moving directly to self-driving cars once the technology is perfected.

"We abandoned the stepping-stone approach of driver-assist technologies and decided we were going to take the full leap," said Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer. Nair says Ford will continue developing systems that assist the driver, like automatic emergency braking or lane departure warning.

3 UAE vacancies drop 22% (Cleofe Maceda in Gulf News) The employment market in the UAE looks more subdued, with the number of job opportunities listed online dropping significantly for the first time this year.

The latest Monster Employment Index (MEI), a monthly gauge of vacancies posted by employers across various career platforms and websites in the Middle East, showed that job opportunities in the country dropped by 22 per cent last month compared to the same period in 2015. The decline is the first negative growth recorded in the UAE since the beginning of the year.

The highest decline in hiring was noted in the hospitality industry, down by 38 per cent.  Opportunities remained scarce in the oil and gas sector, where job postings plunged by 33 per cent. Jobseekers can’t expect much recruitment going on in the banking, financial services and insurance industry, either, with listings within this sector dropping by 22 per cent.

But while the labour market still looks generally lethargic, some companies are still open to hire new staff. There are still a number of healthcare projects that are in the pipeline and once they are completed, they are expected to generate more jobs.

The employment markets in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, however, seemed to have improved, with Bahrain registering an 11 per cent increase in recruitment, while Kuwait and Oman each recorded a 10 per cent increase.

In Saudi Arabia, online hiring dropped by 15 per cent, while in Qatar, the decline reached 25 per cent. Egypt recorded the highest decline among the Middle East countries monitored at -34 per cent.

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