Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Amazon shares hit $1,000; China boosts Kenya infra; Online shopping and lowly-paid couriers
1 Amazon shares hit $1,000 (BBC) Shares in online retail giant Amazon have risen above the $1,000 mark for the first time. The shares touched $1,001.2 at one point on Tuesday before slipping back to $996.7. It originally listed its shares in May 1997 for just $18 each.
Amazon now has a market capitalisation of about $478bn, which is more than twice that of Wal-Mart. After starting as a bookseller, it has steadily expanded to become much broader-based retailer. According to consultancy Slice Intelligence, Amazon now accounts for about 43% of all online sales in the US.
Amazon is now the fourth-largest US company by market capitalisation, behind Apple, Google owner Alphabet, and Microsoft. Alphabet's class A shares were also close to hitting four figures on Tuesday, trading at $996, meaning the company is worth around $681bn.
2 China boosts Kenya infra (San Francisco Chronicle) Kenya's president has opened the country's largest infrastructure project since independence, a Chinese-backed railway costing nearly $3.3 billion that eventually will link a large part of East Africa to a major port on the Indian Ocean as China seeks to increase trade and influence.
The railway replaces part of the 660-mile (1,062-kilometer) line known as the "lunatic express," which was built by the British more than a century ago and linked Lake Victoria with the port city of Mombasa. Kenya Railways says the newly opened stretch will reduce passengers' travel time from the capital, Nairobi, to Mombasa from more than 10 hours to four.
The Chinese-funded, Chinese-constructed project has drawn criticism from some observers who call it overpriced; its cost represents about 5 percent of Kenya's GDP. Activists have blocked the railway's second phase with a court order because of concerns about the impact on wildlife as it cuts across Nairobi National Park. Passengers on Monday's journey saw dozens of elephants, zebras and other wildlife en route to the coast.
The newly opened railway is the first phase of a project to connect Kenya's landlocked neighbors Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan to Mombasa. Construction of this 301-mile section was scheduled to be completed in December, but observers said President Uhuru Kenyatta's government hastened its launch to boost his re-election bid in August.
China is Africa's top trade partner and the world's second largest economy. Last year, a largely Chinese-financed and Chinese-built railway opened between landlocked Ethiopia, one of the continent's fastest-growing economies, and a major port on the Gulf of Aden in Djibouti.
And China has more planned for Africa as part of its "Belt and Road" project, its largest foreign initiative to date with multibillion-dollar investments in ports, railways and other facilities. Kenyatta was one of many heads of state attending China's forum on the project earlier this month.
3 Online shopping and lowly-paid couriers (Robert Booth in The Guardian) Britain spends more online per head than any other country in the world, according to a study by the UK Cards Association. On average, each citizen spends £4,600 a year online, more than £1,000 more than Americans do. By 2025, British citizens will be placing orders for 2.7 billion parcels a year, more than double the 1.3bn being delivered this year, according to the online-retailers industry body, IMRG.
The apparent frictionlessness of online shopping is, however, an illusion. Across Britain, this hugely competitive industry is pushing tens of thousands of couriers to work uncertain hours for low pay, often under considerable pressure and with little or no employment protections, to get all these packets to our doors as quickly and cheaply as possible.
“Some consumers are aware we are earning so little, but there are plenty who really don’t care as long as it’s cheap,” says John, a self-employed courier for Hermes, the UK’s second-largest delivery company after Parcelforce.
John has calculated that he often takes home as little as £5.75 an hour, and rarely earns above the national minimum wage of £7.50. He is now delivering 80 parcels a day on average – up from about 55 last year – and has to lash sacks of parcels to the roof of his hatchback because the passenger seats are packed full.
For the past year, I have been investigating Britain’s fast-growing delivery industry, unearthing shocking stories of dismally low pay (less than £2 per hour, in one case) and severe job insecurity. Some couriers told me they have felt threatened with losing rounds if they are ever unavailable to work, even when their children have fallen seriously ill or a loved one has died.