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U.S. blocks health insurer Aetna’s $34 billion Humana acquisition

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U.S. blocks health insurer Aetna’s $34 billion Humana acquisition

A U.S. judge blocked on Monday health insurer Aetna Inc’s proposed $34 billion acquisition of smaller peer Humana Inc, raising the stakes for rival Anthem Inc as it battles to clear a $54 billion deal to buy Cigna Corp.

The ruling is the latest sign of antitrust authorities having grown more assertive under U.S. President Barack Obama, whose term ended last week. His successor, Donald Trump, and a Republican party-controlled legislature are seeking to undo much of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, that reshaped the U.S. healthcare industry, including insurance practices.

The U.S. Justice Department had filed a lawsuit last July to block Aetna’s acquisition of Humana and Anthem’s acquisition of Cigna, arguing that the two deals would lead to higher prices. Anthem and Cigna are now also waiting for a judge to rule on whether their merger can proceed.

Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the proposed deal would “substantially lessen competition” in the sale of Medicare Advantage plans in 364 counties in 21 states that the Justice Department identified in their complaint, and in individual insurance markets on the Obamacare exchange in three Florida counties. Aetna said it was considering an appeal.

Bates dismissed Aetna’s argument that there was plenty of choice for consumers because Medicare Advantage, which is managed by insurance companies, competes with traditional Medicare for the elderly and disabled, which is managed by the government.

“In that (Medicare Advantage) market, which is the primary focus of this case, the merger is presumptively unlawful – a conclusion that is strongly supported by direct evidence of head-to-head competition as well. The companies’ rebuttal arguments are not persuasive,” Bates wrote in a 158-page decision.

Aetna’s share price was down 2.3 percent, falling to $119. Humana’s shares were flat at midday, trading about $200.

“We’re reviewing the opinion now and giving serious consideration to an appeal after putting forward a compelling case,” Aetna spokesman T.J. Crawford said.

Humana is the second-largest Medicare Advantage insurer while Aetna is the fourth, and the two compete in more than 600 counties, the government said in its complaint.

Obama’s healthcare reform created online exchanges where consumers can shop for individual health insurance and get subsidies.

Doctors and hospitals had urged the Justice Department to try to block the deal, and some large employers also opposed the combination.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington, D.C.; Additional reporting by Caroline Humer and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)

 
Published at Mon, 23 Jan 2017 18:51:36 +0000

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Wall Street Week Ahead: Optimism among S&P 500 CEOs as Trump takes power

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By Noel Randewich
| SAN FRANCISCO

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is only hours old, but already a small parade of S&P 500 companies’ chiefs have voiced optimism that his promised tax cuts, stimulus spending and deregulation will boost corporate profits.

In the days ahead of Friday’s inauguration, senior executives from Morgan Stanley (MS.N), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and other major U.S. corporations said the Trump White House has already sparked a brighter outlook for business.

“There is certainly more reason to be optimistic as we enter 2017 than there was at the beginning of 2016,” Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said on Tuesday after his bank said profit doubled in the fourth quarter. He pointed to factors including a surge in consumer confidence after the Nov. 8 election and lower taxes promised by Trump.

Just under way, fourth-quarter earnings reporting season is providing a glimpse of what major large companies expect under Trump, and their take is largely positive so far.

Over a dozen S&P 500 companies reporting results in the last week have signaled optimism about potential tax cuts, infrastructure spending, employee benefit costs and reduced regulation.

With corporate earnings already on the mend after a slump in oil prices and a strong dollar last year, S&P 500 companies are expected on average to grow their earnings by 6.3 percent in the December quarter and 13.6 percent in the March quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Since the November election, the S&P 500 has rallied 6 percent to record highs, in part due to expectations Trump will pass policies that stimulate the economy. Banks have led gains, with investors betting Trump will roll back regulations passed by President Barack Obama following the 2008 financial crisis, which many investors say went too far.

After United Continental Holdings (UAL.N) on Tuesday posted lower December-quarter profits, airline President Scott Kirby told analysts on a call, “It feels like we are on a really good path. It felt to me like there was an inflection point after the election for business demand.”

An also upbeat Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian told analysts this month that he was excited about potential infrastructure spending promised by Trump, as well as a chance to make his case about unfair competition from Middle Eastern airlines heavily subsidized by governments.

Vince Delie, Chief Executive of F.N.B. (FNB.N), which own First National Bank, said on a quarterly conference call on Thursday that he was saw more confidence among commercial customers and a potential pickup in lending.

“There are at least conversations occurring about larger capex opportunities within our customer base, which didn’t happen before,” Delie said.

Not everyone is over the moon, however. Kansas City Southern’s CEO (KSU.N) bemoaned an uncertain environment on Friday after the cross-border railroad reported lower quarterly profits, hurt by a slump in Mexico’s peso since Trump’s election.

“Obviously the political and economic uncertainty is probably first and foremost on most of our minds, and the irony of us reporting earnings on the Inauguration Day of the 45th President is not entirely lost on us,” Chief Executive Patrick Ottensmeyer told analysts.

Indeed, some business leaders and lobbyists in Washington who were initially enthusiastic about Trump’s victory have begun to exhibit some hesitance over his agenda amid confusing messages on healthcare, taxes and trade.

 

 

SURGING CONFIDENCE

Still, while Trump’s views on immigration and a range of other issues are at odd with many Americans, most small businesses and consumers do see a brighter future as he launches his presidency.

An index of small business confidence in December hit a 12-year high, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

The U.S. consumer confidence index in December hit its highest level since August 2001, a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Following strong stock gains in November and December, many on Wall Street are concerned that Trump may fail to deliver on all of his promises. A Republican-controlled Congress might balk at infrastructure spending or tax reductions that significantly widen the federal budget deficit.

Other investors worry that Trump could follow through on campaign-trail threats to tear up global trade deals and crack down on illegal immigrants from Mexico who provide low-wage labor in agriculture, restaurants and other industries.

“Folks are potentially underestimating the degree to which Trump is serious about real reform on trade an immigration,” warned Jon Adams, senior investment strategist at BMO Global Asset Management. “Investors, in general, are hopeful Trump will take a more pragmatic approach on those issues.”

Over the past two months, Trump has publicly targeted and threatened a range of multinationals, including Ford Motor (F.N), General Motors (GM.N), Boeing Co (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N). That may have left CEOs wary of publicly disagreeing with his policies.

“You don’t want to step on a mine. So the best course of action is to be somewhat optimistic, positive but also somewhat noncommittal so you’re not trapped one way or another,” said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth in New York.

Trump’s frequent use of Twitter to single out companies for criticism or praise has created volatile spikes in trading of their shares, which is good for online brokers including Charles Schwab (SCHW.N) and TD Ameritrade (AMTD.O).

“Each time, it’s a new market event and a potential trading opportunity for our clients. Like everyone else, we’re watching it with interest,” TD Ameritrade Director of Finance Jeff Goeser said on a conference call on Wednesday after the company reported an increase in quarterly profits.

 

(Reporting by Noel Randewich, additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch in New York; editing by Dan Burns and Nick Zieminski)
Published at Sat, 21 Jan 2017 00:28:51 +0000

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Apple files $1 billion lawsuit against chip supplier Qualcomm

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The new iPhone 7 smartphone goes on sale inside an Apple Inc. store in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Apple files $1 billion lawsuit against chip supplier Qualcomm

 

By Diane Bartz and Stephen Nellis

Apple Inc filed a $1 billion lawsuit against supplier Qualcomm Inc on Friday, days after the U.S. government accused the chip maker of resorting to anticompetitive tactics to maintain a monopoly over key semiconductors in mobile phones.

Qualcomm is a major supplier to both Apple and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd for “modem” chips that connect phones to wireless networks. The two companies together accounted for 40 percent of Qualcomm’s $23.5 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Apple accused Qualcomm of overcharging for chips and refusing to pay some $1 billion in promised rebates. Apple said in its complaint that Qualcomm withheld the rebates because of Apple’s discussions with South Korea’s antitrust regulator, the Korea Fair Trade Commission.

“If that were not enough, Qualcomm then attempted to extort Apple into changing its responses and providing false information to the KFTC in exchange for Qualcomm’s release of those payments to Apple. Apple refused,” Apple said in its lawsuit.

In a statement, Qualcomm General Counsel Don Rosenberg called Apple’s claims “baseless.”

“Apple has been actively encouraging regulatory attacks on Qualcomm’s business in various jurisdictions around the world, as reflected in the recent KFTC decision and FTC complaint, by misrepresenting facts and withholding information,” Rosenberg said in the statement.

“We welcome the opportunity to have these meritless claims heard in court where we will be entitled to full discovery of Apple’s practices and a robust examination of the merits.”

Qualcomm’s stock closed 2.4 percent lower at $62.88 on the news.

Qualcomm has patents for chips which include standard essential patents, a term used to describe technology that is required to be licensed broadly and on “reasonable” terms.

In its lawsuit, Apple accused Qualcomm of refusing to license the technology to other manufacturers to prevent them from making the chips.

It also accused Qualcomm of selling chips while requiring Apple to pay a separate licensing fee for the same chips, in a “no license, no chip” policy.

In addition, Qualcomm pressured network carriers to not sell or support Apple devices made with Intel chipsets Apple said.

The KFTC fined Qualcomm $854 million in December for what it called unfair patent licensing practices.

In February 2015, Qualcomm paid a $975 million fine in China, while the European Union in December 2015 accused it of abusing its market power to thwart rivals.

 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm, saying the San Diego-based company used its dominant position as a supplier of certain phone chips to impose “onerous” supply and licensing terms on cellphone manufacturers. Qualcomm said it would contest the FTC complaint.

Qualcomm was the sole supplier of modem chips for Apple’s phones until the release of the iPhone 7 in September. Intel Corp supplied about half of the modem chips for the newest models, said Stacy Rasgon, a senior analyst at Bernstein Research. Intel’s shares closed up 1 percent at $36.94 after the Qualcomm suit was announced.

Apple made the move around the same time that Samsung, which had switched to using its own internal chips for its Galaxy S6 phones, returned to Qualcomm for the Galaxy S7.

Qualcomm “has been able to manage through (the Apple contract loss) pretty well because they got back Samsung at the same time,” Rasgon said.

Apple is known for seeking multiple suppliers to keep prices down, said Jim Morrison, vice president of technical intelligence for TechInsights, which tears down devices to analyze their parts.

 

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)

Published at Sat, 21 Jan 2017 03:57:43 +0000

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Why Stanley May Have a Hard Time Pushing Craftsman

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Why Stanley May Have a Hard Time Pushing Craftsman

The deal Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE: SWK) made for Craftsman tools with Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) is really a win-win for both sides, even if it does augur the end of the latter. In that it takes away yet another reason to shop at Sears — and Craftsman tools was arguably one of the strongest reasons to visit to the failing department store chain — it’s truly only a matter of time before the retailer collapses.

Yet there’s no guarantee Stanley will be successful, either. It does bring in a notably strong, respected name in tools that further bolsters a portfolio that includes not only its own name brands Stanley and Black & Decker, but also powerhouses like DeWalt, Porter-Cable, and Mac Tools. But given that Craftsman is a Sears house brand — and one that it will continue to sell — major third-party distribution outlets might not be so eager to add its name to their inventories.

For example, Home Depot (NYSE: HD) and Lowe’s, which do largely carry the various Stanley brands and others, might not be so quick to accept the Craftsman lineup as well as it will compete against their own store brands of Husky and Kobalt, respectively.

In reality, just a handful of companies make most tools that are then sold under their respective brands. For example, Snap-On used to make Lowe’s Kobalt brand, then Danaher did; but today, they’re made by Chinese tool manufacturer Chervon, which also owns Skil and Skilsaw, and is an OEM for Bosch power tools, too. Hong Kong-based Techtronic Industries makes branded power tools for Milwaukee, AEG, and Ryobi. Emerson makes wet/dry vacs for Home Depot’s Ridgid brand, but also Craftsman. And Stanley makes Home Depot’s Husky brand of hand tools.

It’s that last point, among others, that raises the question of whether Home Depot in particular would want another rival’s brands on its shelves. The deal Stanley structured to acquire the Craftsman brand certainly protects it from any financial woes Sears Holdings will encounter in the future, but if it cannot broadly introduce the brand into national retailers, this may not turn out to be the smart acquisition it seemed at first glance.

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Published at Fri, 20 Jan 2017 19:34:03 +0000

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Wall St. opens higher ahead of Trump inauguration

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U.S. stocks rose amid gains across sectors on Friday as investors counted down to Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States.

Trump, a New York businessman and former reality TV star, is scheduled to be sworn in around midday by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in Washington.

Investors will focus on Trump’s inaugural speech to get more insight into his economic policies.

“All eyes will be on the content and style of Trump’s inauguration speech,” Morgan Stanley strategists led by Hans Redeker wrote in a note. “The more ‘Presidential’ this speech comes across, the better the outcome for markets.”

Trump’s campaign promises of tax and regulatory reforms and higher infrastructure spending had driven Wall Street to multiple highs post-election. However, the Trump trade has been unraveling in recent weeks as investors wait to see how he will carry out his ambitious plans.

“I would expect an extremely calm day,” said Brad Lamensdorf, chief executive officer of Active Alts Inc.

“Usually these type of events are highly publicized so people are very distracted during the day and I wouldn’t expect a lot of volatility.”

The CBOE Volatility index .VIX, or Wall Street “fear gauge”, was down nearly 3 percent.

The dollar index .DXY edged up for the third straight session, while a 2 percent rise in oil prices pushed up energy stocks.

At 9:36 a.m. ET (1436 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 109.18 points, or 0.55 percent, at 19,841.58 and the S&P 500 .SPX was up 12.86 points, or 0.57 percent, at 2,276.55.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 33.45 points, or 0.6 percent, at 5,573.53.

Ten of the 11 major S&P indexes were higher, with technology .SPLRCT giving the biggest bump to the broader index. Industrials .SPRLCI, which have risen for the past two days, were flat.

A thrush of quarterly earnings reports from Dow components also kept investors busy. Procter & Gamble (PG.N) was the top stock on the S&P and the Dow, rising 2.7 percent after the consumer products maker reported quarterly sales and profit above expectations.

General Electric (GE.N) was off 1.4 percent after the industrial conglomerate reported a drop in quarterly revenue.

Merck (MRK.N) rose 3.3 percent to $62.35 after Bristol-Myers (BMY.N) said it would not seek accelerated U.S. approval for a combination of its two immunotherapy drugs as an initial treatment for lung cancer, giving Merck an advantage in the lucrative market. Bristol-Myers’ stock was down about 10 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,890 to 670. On the Nasdaq, 1,520 issues rose and 685 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 11 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 20 new highs and five new lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

 
Published at Fri, 20 Jan 2017 14:32:52 +0000

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Skyworks Touts Growth Beyond Apple Sales

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Skyworks Touts Growth Beyond Apple Sales

By Shoshanna Delventhal | January 19, 2017 — 10:53 PM EST

Skyworks Solutions Inc. (SWKS) announced its fiscal 2017 first-quarter earnings report on Thursday after market close. For the quarter ending Dec. 30, the chip supplier posted top- and bottom-line numbers that exceeded the Street’s estimates, sending its shares up an approximate 8% in after-hours trading.

In the recent period, Skyworks has attempted to wean its reliance off disproportionately large smartphone customers such as Apple Inc. (AAPL), whose business comprised 40% of Skyworks’ sales in the most recent period.

CEO Speaks to Analysts

In a conference call following the most recent earnings report, Skyworks’ Chief Executive Liam Griffin and members of the firm’s management team spoke with analysts to shed light on drivers of growth and the overall direction of the tech firm.

Particularly, Griffin highlighted Skyworks’ strength in meeting the demands of mobile connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT). Outside of Apple, Skyworks says it has inked deals with smaller vendors in the mobile space such as Huawei, Oppo, Meizu and Samsung Electronics. In the previous fiscal 2016 fourth quarter, Skyworks attributed better-than-expected earnings to upward demand in China for complex smartphones that require the firm’s chips. In the second half of 2016, Skyworks announced an expanded partnership with Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi.

When asked by Merrill Lynch’s Vivek Arya about the state of Skyworks’ sales outside of Apple, Griffin replied, “our growth and success outside of our largest customer has been outstanding.” Arya noted that last year, Skyworks saw its sales grow about 8% outside of Apple.

Looking to Asia

Griffin reiterated the importance of China’s Huawei as taking a No. 2 account in the last quarter, expecting the telco supplier to continue to be of significance for Skyworks. Management says a Korean customer will continue to grow into 2017, as Apple will set up “very well” for Skyworks as the firm “addresses complex architectures with compelling products.”

Aside from mobile, Skyworks hopes to continue to bolster its market portfolio with emerging tech solutions from infrastructure to connected cars and the IoT. The chipmaker expects double-digit year-over-year (YOY) growth in these target markets. (See also: How Skyworks Transitioned in 2016.)
Published at Fri, 20 Jan 2017 03:53:00 +0000

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Netflix blows past international subscriber estimates

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Netflix Inc’s (NFLX.O) international and U.S. subscriber additions blew past analysts’ estimates as the video streaming service released shows including the award-winning British drama “The Crown” and a revival of “Gilmore Girls”.

Netflix, whose shares rose 7.1 percent in extended trading, has been hugely successful in attracting more subscribers through the popularity of its original shows.

Netflix, whose original shows include “Narcos” and “Stranger Things”, said on Wednesday it signed up 5.12 million subscribers outside the United States in the quarter ended Dec. 31. (nflx.it/2jyes47)

Analysts on average had estimated 3.73 million additions, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

Faced with slowing growth in the United States, Netflix has launched in almost every country, but is now faced with the task of tweaking the service to suit different markets and cultures, even as competitors expand.

In the United States, Netflix added 1.93 million subscribers, compared with the average estimate of 1.44 million.

The company plans to spend $6 billion in original content in 2017, a $1 billion increase from last year.

Netflix — whose competitors include Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) streaming service and Hulu, besides cable channels such as HBO — plans to release over 1,000 hours of original programming this year, up from 600 hours last year.

The Los Gatos, California-based company said its revenue rose 35.9 percent to $2.48 billion in the December quarter. Analysts on average had expected $2.47 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company said it expects to add 1.50 million subscribers in the United States in the current quarter, below the FactSet estimate of 1.79 million.

In international markets, Netflix said it expects to add 3.70 million subscribers, above the average estimate of 3.05 million.

Up to Wednesday’s close of $133.26, Netflix’s stock had risen 33.5 percent since it reported third quarter results in October.

(Reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)
Published at Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:28:53 +0000

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Rolls-Royce to pay more than $800 mln to settle bribery charges -DoJ

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Rolls-Royce to pay more than $800 mln to settle bribery charges -DoJ

By Joel Schectman | WASHINGTON

Rolls-Royce Plc (RR.L) agreed to pay authorities more than $800 million to resolve charges of bribing officials in six countries in schemes that lasted more than a decade, the U.S. Justice Department and UK Serious Fraud Office said in statements on Tuesday.

The company admitted to paying officials at state-run energy companies in Kazakhstan, Thailand, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Angola and Iraq more than $35 million in order to win contracts, the Justice Department said.

In a statement, the company’s chief executive officer, Warren East, apologized “unreservedly” for the bribery schemes. The company had since overhauled its compliance rules and cut back on using intermediaries, the statement said.

Among the bribes, Rolls-Royce paid a Brazilian official $1.6 million through a middleman to win numerous oil equipment contracts from Petrobras (PETR4.SA), U.S. authorities said.

The case was the third resolution related to Petrobras in the United States following a nearly three-year investigation in Brazil dubbed “Operation Car Wash” into corruption at the oil company, which has led to dozens of arrests and political upheaval in the country.

Petrobras did not return a request for comment.

In Iraq, Rolls-Royce middlemen bribed Iraqi officials after they had expressed concerns about turbines the company had sold. The Rolls-Royce bagman paid the bribe to “persuade the officials to accept the turbines” and prevent the officials from “blacklisting” Rolls-Royce from future business in Iraq, U.S. authorities said.

The settlement included agreements with U.S., UK and Brazilian authorities whom the company agreed to pay $170 million, 497 million British pounds ($616 million) and $25.6 million respectively, the Justice Department said.

In setting the penalty, the Justice Department said it weighed the fact that Rolls-Royce did not come forward with the misconduct until media reports of the allegations began to surface. But U.S. authorities also showed Rolls-Royce leniency for later cooperating with authorities and fixing problems at the company.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Kristin Ridley in London; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

Published at Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:24:36 +0000

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Exploding Samsung Phones Caused by Battery

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Exploding Samsung Phones Caused by Battery

By Richard Saintvilus | January 17, 2017 — 5:10 AM EST

Consumer electronics giant Samsung (SSNLF) recently completed an investigation that determined its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones were catching fire because of a failed battery – not the hardware or software, according to Reuters.

The South Korean tech giant plans to launch its next phone iteration, presumably the Galaxy S8, some time in the first half of this year. In doing so, the conglomerate wants to put the exploding battery issue, which prompted one of the largest electronics recalls in history, behind it. To that end, Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has tons of convincing to do. Wary investors want assurances that the same thing won’t happen in the next phone. (See also: Verizon, AT&T Scramble After Samsung Recall.)

“They’ve got to make sure they come clean and they’ve got to reassure buyers as to why this won’t happen again,” said Bryan Ma, Singapore-based analyst for researcher IDC, according to Reuters. Samsung’s full findings from its investigation are expected to be released on Jan. 23, which is one day before it announces fourth quarter earnings results, noted Reuters.

Earlier this month, Samsung issued a fourth quarter forecast saying it expects operating profits to rise almost 50%, blowing past Wall Street estimates. In a regulatory filing, Samsung said it expects to earn 9.2 trillion won ($7.8 billion) in consolidated operating profit for the October through December 2016 quarter. Not only does this mark an increase of 50% year over year, up from up from the 6.14 trillion won a year earlier, it would also be Samsung’s highest profit figure in three years. (See also: Samsung Putting Galaxy Note 7 to Sleep on Dec. 19.)

Samsung said that profits from components business offset declines in its mobile unit caused by the aforementioned battery-related recall. The components business supplies memory chips and display panels to other companies, including rival Apple, Inc. (AAPL). This means that, unlike three years ago, the company’s profits are no longer being driven solely by the mobile phone division.

While Samsung’s results were drastically affected by the Note 7 fiasco, the company can’t afford to repeat the issue with the Galaxy S8. (See also: South Korean Prosecutor Could Arrest Samsung Boss.)
Published at Tue, 17 Jan 2017 10:10:00 +0000

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Ericsson, Cisco Team for Joint Customer VHA

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Ericsson, Cisco Team for Joint Customer VHA

By Shoshanna Delventhal | January 16, 2017 — 4:44 PM EST

Networking hardware vendor Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) has extended its partnership with Swedish global telecom gear provider Ericsson AB (ERIC) in efforts to virtualize Vodafone Hutchinson Australia’s (VHA) core and IP network.

Ericsson will lead the transformation program, with responsibility for both building the infrastructure and ensuring the delivery of an end-to-end operational system.

Virtualizing the Network

The two networking giants say the latest project, aimed at transforming and virtualizing VHA’s network, will help the Australian company better prepare for new emerging services and evolve its core network to increase the level of agility and programmability for network slicing. With cutting-edge tools and infrastructure, VHA hopes to become more innovative and pro-active in the way services are brought to market, improving customer engagement experience, while reducing opex​ and capex​ spending.

Partners’ First Cloud Infrastructure Deal

The new deal with VHA represents the first major collaboration between Ericsson and Cisco on Telecom Cloud infrastructure. Their partnership began in November 2015 and has generated over 60 new deals. It is projected to add an extra $1 billion in annual revenues to each firm by 2018. In providing customers joint offerings in areas such as routing, data center, hardware, cloud, mobility, management and control, the firms say more than 250 active customer engagements have now started to turn into won deals. In late 2016, the two firms announced a strengthened alliance to target new corporate and public sector clients outside of main telecom operators in order to diversify their top lines.

Rima Qureshi, chief of Ericsson’s North American business, has indicated the two firms are “investigating what we can do together with industry and society, IoT [Internet of Things], [and] smart cities” as well as public sector segments. Moving ahead, the firms will also continue to target traditional telecom companies, especially as Ericsson faces heightened competition from players such as Nokia and Huawei Technologies. (See also: Ericsson and Cisco Tighten Their Partnership.)

(Why?)
Published at Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:44:00 +0000

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Q&A: Sallie Krawcheck has a new game plan for women at work

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By Chris Taylor
| NEW YORK

For decades, Wall Street was the ultimate boys club of all boys clubs.

Then came Sallie Krawcheck. As the former CEO of Smith Barney, head of Merrill Lynch’s “thundering herd” and chief financial officer for Citigroup, Krawcheck kicked down those boardroom doors – and did it with a smile.

Now head of investment platform Ellevest and chair of Ellevate Network (www.ellevatenetwork.com/), Krawcheck is releasing the book “Own It: The Power of Women at Work” this week. She spoke with Reuters about how women are ideally positioned to thrive in a next-gen business world.

Q: Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” started so many discussions about women in the workplace, so how does this book contribute to the conversation?

A: I hope this is the next chapter. I wanted this book to be about how to succeed in the business world of tomorrow, since everything is changing so rapidly. There are certain characteristics that women tend to bring to the workplace, and the business world is going our way. So the last thing I want to do is to tell women to act like men.

Q: What are those characteristics that women often bring to the table?

A: Women tend to have a more long-term perspective. We are more risk-aware, we have a love of learning, we have more of a focus on meaning and purpose. Now think about how the business world is changing: It has moved away from command-and-control leadership styles, and toward more collaboration and communication.

Q: What is your best advice for women who are trying to thrive in male-dominated fields?

A: I would say that it is not necessarily a bad thing to work with a bunch of men. In fact it can be fantastic. The bigger question is whether it is a corporate culture where you can learn, where others will help you – and whether your voice will be heard.

Q: What do you think about the typical ‘Having It All’ question?

A: It drives me nuts. What the heck does that even mean? The answer is that I don’t have perfect work-life balance, and I never had it. When I was running Merrill Lynch, I was spending much more time at the office; when my children had health issues, I spent more time with my family. So I think it is the wrong question to ask.

No one can be perfect in every way. That is just too high a bar. Around my house, the joke is that I am a mediocre mother at best.

Q: You lived through the financial crisis with a front-row seat – how did the lack of diversity on Wall Street play into that?

A: The industry is obviously homogenous. Go to any trading floor, and you will see mostly well-educated, analytical, young and middle-aged Caucasian males. You and I both know if there was more diversity on trading floors, the financial crisis would not have been as bad.

With a more diverse leadership team you get more questioning, and more carefully thought-out decisions, rather than the false comfort of agreement.

Q: Why was it important for you to talk about your own career setbacks in the book?

A: Because women tend to take failure harder than men do. They get embarrassed, or try to run away from it.

But there is a certain freedom about being fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, like I was. Maybe getting fired used to be fatal, but it’s not anymore. In fact, going forward, people are going to be fired even more, because of how the business world is changing. So we need to normalize it.

Q: Why is having the ‘insurance’ of a strong network so critical?

A: If you ever want a new job, or a board seat, or have a career stumble, you see the real power of a network. I have had a number of business opportunities over the years, and not a single one ever came through an executive search firm. Make sure your network extends well beyond your own company, by the way. Otherwise, on the day you quit or are fired, you’re done.

 

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)
Published at Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:22:52 +0000

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Tech stocks soar as growth trumps Trump fears

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Trump meets with tech execs

Tech stocks soar as growth trumps Trump fears

  @lamonicabuzz

So much for fears of Donald Trump’s presidency hurting tech stocks.

While the Dow continues its flirtation with 20,000 (will it EVER get there?) the Nasdaq keeps hitting new record highs. And it’s being led by four prominent tech companies that collectively are known by the acronym of FANG.

Facebook. Amazon. Netflix. Google — whose parent company is now technically Alphabet, but its ticker symbol still starts with a G.

Facebook (FB, Tech30) is the hottest of these Fab Four stocks. Shares of the social network are already up nearly 12% in just the first two weeks of the year. Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) and Netflix(NFLX, Tech30) are each up more than 8%. Google’s (GOOGL, Tech30) shares have gained 5%.

What makes Facebook’s performance even more astonishing is that it has come despite criticism about fake news proliferating on Facebook, concerns about some of its metrics being wrong and speculation that CEO Mark Zuckerberg may seek public office.

But investors are looking past that and focusing on the fact that Facebook is expected to keep posting impressive levels of growth.

Analysts are predicting that Facebook will report a year-over-year revenue increase of 45% for the fourth quarter and 65% surge in earnings per share. Facebook will report its results on February 1.

Wall Street is bullish about the earnings prospects for the other FANG stocks too. Netflix, which will kick off tech earnings season when it reports its results Wednesday, is expected to post sales and earnings increases of more than 30% from a year ago.

Analysts are forecasting a 25% jump in sales for Amazon and more than 35% increase in profits. And Google is expected to report earnings growth of 11% and a revenue increase of nearly 20%.

It seems that these strong fundamentals are trumping Trump fears. Tech investors were worried in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton for several reasons.

Concerns about a crackdown on immigration, most notably on H1-B visas that allow many foreign workers to come to Silicon Valley, hurt the stocks of big tech companies.

Trump’s protectionist rhetoric wasn’t helping either since most large tech companies do big business overseas.

But sentiment has shifted in the past few weeks. Investors are focusing more on some of the potential positives of a Trump administration.

The meeting that Trump held with leaders of several big tech companies in New York last month seemed to help allay some of the concerns investors had about Trump.

Investors also seem to recognize that corporate tax reform, particularly changes that could allow companies to bring back cash being held overseas at lower rates, could be good for the tech sector.

Google said in its most recent earnings report in October that it had $50 billion in cash and investments, 60% of its overall cash hoard, outside of the U.S. Apple (AAPL, Tech30) and Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) hold an even bigger percentage of their cash overseas.

Eric Ervin, CEO of Reality Shares, an investment firm that runs several ETFs focused on dividends, said Monday that assuming Trump follows through on his tax reform promise, more tech companies may consider paying dividends.

Ervin highlighted Google, Amazon and Facebook as three that have enough cash to easily afford a dividend.

“It’s reasonable to assume most of those companies will want to put that cash to work,” he said.

Tech stocks are also rallying on the hopes of broader economic stimulus from Trump and the Republican Congress.

It stands to reason that if $1 trillion is spent on the nation’s roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure, that could boost overall economic growth. That would be good for tech companies too, especially if stimulus lifts consumer spending.

But are investors too optimistic?

Terri Spath, chief investment officer of Sierra Investment Management, wrote in a recent report to clients that she’s worried that the market rally is about to stall.

“Stimulative policy should turbocharge growth and boost corporate profits, but stocks are ahead of themselves,” she wrote.

“The anticipation of changes in tax and regulatory policy are ahead of the reality right now. We like the improved optimism in corporations and consumers,” she added. “We are just saying, proceed with caution. The sugar high is wearing off.”

CNNMoney (New York)First published January 16, 2017: 10:48 AM ET

Published at Mon, 16 Jan 2017 15:49:10 +0000

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Top U.S. bank executives optimistic heading into 2017

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A street sign for Wall Street is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Top U.S. bank executives optimistic heading into 2017


By David Henry and Dan Freed
| NEW YORK

Executives of big U.S. banks expressed optimism on Friday about the outlook for 2017 in their first public comments about quarterly earnings since the U.S. presidential election in November.

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp, the two largest U.S. banks, kicked off the corporate reporting season on a rosy note, each with healthy increases in fourth-quarter profit. Those improvements came on the back of trading revenue gains, higher interest rates, healthy loan growth and cost controls.

On the flip side, the earnings of Wells Fargo & Co, which also reported on Friday, were hurt by the fallout of a sales scandal and a loss related to accounting, both of which are particular to the San Francisco-based lender.

Results at regional lender PNC Financial Services Group Inc were better than expected, with Chief Financial Officer Rob Reilly predicting the bank will be able to increase revenue faster than expenses this year.

Shares of all four banks climbed Friday afternoon, with JPMorgan up 0.5 percent at $86.64, Bank of America up 0.4 percent at $23.01, Wells Fargo up 1.1 percent at $55.15 and PNC up 0.4 percent at $118.39.

On conference calls with reporters and analysts, top executives were sanguine about topics ranging from interest rates and loan growth, to regulation and the incoming administration of President-Elect Donald Trump.

 

OPTIMISTIC

“We are very optimistic about the future, optimistic about new policies which could spur growth,” Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said.

The bank’s finance chief, Paul Donofrio, predicted BofA will be able to produce an additional $600 million in the current quarter from higher interest rates, with further gains throughout the year.

He also cited customers’ “high credit quality” and positive trends in auto, home and middle-market loans, as being supportive of earnings.

In the fourth quarter, BofA benefited from an aggressive cost-cutting program Moynihan detailed last summer, as well as a pickup in trading revenue.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon was slightly more circumspect, but said he was comforted by the fact that Trump was selecting people with experience to join his team.

Dimon also cited several positive economic trends that suggest the global economy is headed in the right direction, which will help buoy bank earnings.

 

“The economy is getting a little bit better,” he said. “Interest rates help and looking forward, you probably have a better political, legal and regulatory environment.”

The bank is sticking by its loan growth forecast of 10 to 15 percent for 2017, though Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake said it might be toward the lower end of the range.

 

‘SOLID PERFORMANCE’

Despite Wells Fargo’s unique troubles, its chief financial officer, John Shrewsberry, also said the bank had a “solid underlying performance,” citing loan growth, good credit quality and higher interest rates.

The idea that banks will benefit from lighter regulation, rising interest rates and lower taxes under Trump has driven bank stocks up nearly 25 percent since the election.

Nearly all the executives commented on the enthusiasm evident in markets, but were hesitant to fully endorse it.

For instance, Dimon noted that it may take a full year for the new government in Washington to decide exactly how it will tackle complex issues like corporate tax reform.

And, he said, increased competition means lenders may just “compete away” any tax benefits they receive.

“We’ve all heard that the new administration in Washington supports tax reform, regulatory relief and other pro-growth policies,” said PNC Chief Executive Bill Demchak. “But, so far, a move in interest rates is the only thing that has actually happened.”

Other big banks, including Citigroup Inc, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, will report results next week.

 

(Reporting by David Henry and Dan Freed in New York; Additional reporting by Sweta Singh, Sruthi Shankar and Nikhil Subba in in Bengaluru; Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

 

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US insurers get inside cars, mouths, grocery carts in profit search

by stevepb from Pixabay

US insurers get inside cars, mouths, grocery carts in profit search

By Suzanne Barlyn
| NEW YORK

Twice a day, Scott Ozawa’s Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush tells his dental insurer if he brushed for a full two minutes. In return, the 41-year-old software engineer gets free brush heads and the employer which bought his insurance gets premium discounts.

The scheme, devised by Beam Technologies Inc, is just one of the latest uses of technology by insurers hungry for more real-time information on their customers that they say lets them assess risk more accurately and set rates accordingly.

In theory, everybody wins, as policyholders adopt better habits and insurance companies save money on claims.

However, there are concerns that insurers will eventually use the data they get to cherry-pick the best and most profitable customers, while hiking rates or even denying coverage to people who choose not to participate.

“It’s not expected today, but in the near future it will be used to penalize people,” said Mitchell Wein at Novarica Inc, who advises clients on insurance technology.

Insurers are still in the data collection stage, said Wein, but he predicts that in about five years, tracking tools will have a direct impact on pricing and coverage on a range of policies.

Insurers recognize the dangers but consumers have nothing to fear, according to Michael Barry, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded communications group.

“Insurance is such a heavily regulated industry that insurers must justify, in actuarial terms, the reason for any rate increase they’re seeking in almost any line of business,” he said.

Moreover, the insurance marketplace is competitive. “If any insurer raises rates to the point where a consumer is dissatisfied, the consumer can go elsewhere,” he added.

 

TECH LEAP

Beam’s technology follows auto insurers using devices in cars to find out how far and how safely policyholders drive – known as telematics – and life and health insurers giving customers wearable devices such as Fitbit and Apple Watch to keep track of their activity.

U.S. insurers and their customers have generally been slow to adopt new monitoring techniques, which have been common in auto insurance in South Africa, Italy, Brazil and Britain for years.

But the world’s biggest insurance market, with $1.3 trillion in premiums in 2015 – more than a quarter of the global total – is catching up.

Mayfield, Ohio-based Progressive Corp (PGR.N), an early leader in the area, said its telematics-based ‘Snapshot’ auto policy allows it to “attract, identify and reward good drivers while also retaining those customers longer.” Progressive has more than 2 million Snapshot policies in force, about a fifth of its total U.S. auto business.

About 30 percent of North American auto insurers now have telematics programs, according to a survey last year by insurance consultants Strategy Meets Action (SMA). That will rise to 70 percent by 2020, SMA said.

In health insurance, health insurer Anthem Inc (ANTM.N) has been working since 2013 with Fitbit Inc (FIT.N) and Garmin Ltd (GRMN.O) to offer premium discounts to eligible customers who wear the devices and transmit information to the insurer.

In life insurance, John Hancock Financial started offering a policy in 2015 that gives customers discounts on healthy groceries when shopping at certain retailers and rewards for hitting exercise targets as measured by a wearable device.

The program, designed in partnership with Vitality Group, includes a free Fitbit or an Apple Watch for as little as $25 if a customer hits their targets.

“We get to know you better than your doctor does,” said Brooks Tingle, head of insurance marketing for John Hancock, owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO).

 

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Insurers generally do not disclose data on premiums or profit on specific types of policies, so it is hard to tell what effect such approaches have had on their bottom lines, or whether riskier customers are being asked to pay more.

However, people in the industry agree that increased data from technology means insurers can target more desirable customers.

The benefit for insurers is “competitive advantage, pure and simple,” said Katie DeGraaf, a senior consultant at insurance advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, in a recent report. “Companies that have integrated granular telematics data into rating plans are better positioned to attract and retain the most profitable customers.”

Much of the pioneering work in the area has taken place in South Africa, which suffers chronic high crime and accident rates.

Johannesburg-based financial services firm Discovery Ltd (DSYJ.J), whose car insurance unit has been tracking customers’ driving and using the information in pricing since 2011, said it has seen a 10 percent drop in accident claims since then.

Discovery’s ratio of losses to premiums for drivers in the tracking scheme is more than a quarter lower than those not participating, the company said. Data has also upended a longstanding rule of thumb in the insurance industry that younger drivers are the riskiest.

“The whole beauty is that someone who might be seen to be a bad risk can turn out to be a good risk,” said Anton Ossip, CEO of Discovery Insure, the company’s auto insurer.

The new approach has “substantially improved the quality of new business and our ability to attract and select high-quality clients,” Discovery Insure said in its latest financial report.

Still, Ossip is concerned about consumers who do not want to use the telematics devices to relay data: “Generally, someone who chooses not to use it is a worse risk,” he said.

 

FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE

Insurers interviewed by Reuters said better data collection allows them to underwrite risk better, and customers tend to take better care of themselves when confronted with numbers.

They described participation in data-tracking programs as voluntary, and said they are transparent about what information they collect and confident about data security.

Some of that might be changing, however. Root Insurance Co, a Columbus, Ohio-based startup, immediately uses the information it gathers and only insures what it believes are good drivers.

Root’s smartphone app tracks car movements for two weeks before offering eligible customers a quote, according to CEO Alexander Timm. An algorithm assesses risk using factors such as tailgating, fast turns and texting.

Using data to segment risks in such a way is only set to spread.

“Pricing will change,” said Anand Rao, a principal at consultancy PwC who focuses on analytics and uses of artificial intelligence in business. “Not everyone will change their behavior, which will start translating into different pricing and different types of products.”

Some industry-watchers worry that approach will fundamentally change how the insurance business works. But for now, consumers do not seem too concerned.

“There are a lot of pieces of information that companies are tracking about you anyway,” said Ozawa, referring to Facebook Inc (FB.O) and other social media.

While Ozawa no longer works for the company that introduced him to Beam, he expects the impact will be long-lasting. The two-minute requirement has motivated his kids to do more than a simple “swish-swish” when they brush, he said.

 

(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Lauren LaCapra and Bill Rigby)
Published at Sun, 15 Jan 2017 12:00:00 +0000

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Wells Fargo is closing over 400 bank branches

 

Wells Fargo is closing over 400 bank branches

  @mattmegan5

The vast Wells Fargo branch network is shrinking.

Wells Fargo announced plans on Friday to shut down more than 400 bank branches by the end of 2018. That’s on top of the 84 locations it pulled the plug on in 2016.

The acceleration of branch closures at Wells Fargo is a reflection of Americans’ preference for online and mobile banking these days. Unlike Wells Fargo, its chief rivals Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) have been a lot more aggressive in shutting branches in recent years.

Wells Fargo (WFC) said the new branch closures haven’t been fueled by the bank’s fake account scandal.

However, Wall Street analysts do see a link. Not only does Wells Fargo face rising legal and compliance costs to clean up the mess, but its branches aren’t likely to be the profit engines they once were.

Wells Fargo has eliminated the unrealistic sales goals that led to the bad behavior and its account openings have declined dramatically in recent months.

UBS analyst Saul Martinez wrote in a report published Friday that he had long expected the “scandal was likely to be a catalyst for a more aggressive focus on expenses.”

wells fargo branch closures

 

No matter the cause, Wells Fargo isn’t signaling widespread layoffs of bankers, tellers and other branch employees. The bank said that many of the 200 closures it anticipates this year will be in close proximity to other locations it owns and many of the employees can be transferred to nearby branches.

In 2018, Wells Fargo plans to shut down “slightly” more than 200 branches. It’s part of a broader Wells Fargo plan to save about $2 billion a year by the end of next year.

Tim Sloan, who took over after long-time CEO John Stumpf abruptly stepped down last year, said the moves are in response to shifting consumer behavior.

“They still want to come into our branches,” Sloan said, “but they’re also accessing us online, on mobile, through ATMs and over the phone.”

In many ways, Wells Fargo has only just begun to catch up with the trend of big banks closing branches.

Even after accounting for this year’s closures, Wells Fargo still has more than 6,000 branches across 39 states. To put that into context, Wells Fargo has about 1,000 branches more than any other bank in America, according to research by CSLA.

Since 2012, Wells Fargo’s branch count has declined by just 2%. By comparison, CSLA recently estimated that Chase’s branch network has shrunk by 9% and Bank of America’s by 15%.

shrinking bank branches

 

That’s why some on Wall Street are pushing Wells Fargo to close even more branches.

Mike Mayo, a bank analyst at CSLA, told CNNMoney last fall that he believes Wells Fargo will need to ultimately close 1,000 branches.

Mayo even argued that Wells Fargo’s massive branch network may have helped fuel the scandal. He said the need to justify the costly branches “could have contributed to pressure on staff to sell more.”

Sloan explained on Friday that the pace of branch closures may fluctuate based on how customers respond. “We may increase, or we may decrease, who knows,” he said.

There’s reason to believe Wells Fargo has room for deeper cuts.

A UBS analysis found that more than 40% of Wells Fargo branches lie within a five-minute drive of another Wells Fargo branch. UBS said that’s among the highest “cannibalization” ratios of any of the big banks, even though Wells Fargo doesn’t have as big of an urban presence as other lenders.

UBS’s Martinez said homeownership and income metrics also suggest Wells Fargo’s “footprint does not have especially attractive demographics that would justify a more concentrated branch network.”

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Doxing

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Doxing

DEFINITION of ‘Doxing’

The means by which a person’s true identity is intentionally exposed online. Doxing is a method by which hackers obtain quasi-identifiers or personally identifiable information of individuals or businesses. The data obtained is then broadcast over the internet without the victim’s permission. Although doxing is normally attributed to cyber-hacking, journalists led by a cause or trying to make a broader point might also partake of this activity.

Doxing is also spelt ‘Doxxing’ and is short for document (docs) dropping.

BREAKING DOWN ‘Doxing’

As the popularity of social media forums gain traction and big data obtained from the forums by companies are shared across sectors and industries, cyber hackers can steal important information about an entity and sell it in underground marketplaces or distribute it online. The latter process is known as Doxing.

Doxing involves the purposeful act of seeking out a person’s identity and revealing it to the public without the individual’s consent. The practice is usually carried out for malicious intent, for fun, or in a vigilante effort to reveal the identity of an infamous person. Ashley Madison, an online dating site for people interested in extramarital affairs, was the target of a doxing act in 2015. The anonymous group responsible for hacking the users’ data questioned the morals of the online company and requested that the website be shut down. When this request was not honored by Ashley Madison, the hacking group made public over 30 million Ashley Madison users’ data including their email addresses, names, credit card details, mailing addresses, phone numbers and sexual preferences. Malicious spectators who got hold of the publicly available information went on a blackmailing spree to extort the victims of money in return for not sharing the information any further.

Michael Brutsch had his identity doxed in 2012 when a Gawker writer exposed him online. Brutsch was a popular Reddit user known for making inappropriate posts and comments on issues of child pornography and incest. The public revelation of his identity lost him his job but the public perception to his exposure was two-fold. While some applauded the bravery of the Gawker writer, others scrutinized the vigilante doxing act and found it meddling on anonymity.

A doxxer can acquire information about people from multiple sources. One source is through underground marketplaces. As data becomes an increasingly valuable commodity on digital platforms, cyber hackers and identity thieves are inventing new ways to access the data. The data stolen can then be sold through underground websites that operate with private and anonymized networks like Tor Network. A doxxer who buys the data from such marketplaces can then publicize the information on the internet. Data can also be obtained through legitimate sources online. If a doxxer can get quasi-identifiers such as postal code, race, sex, date of birth, etc. and effectively piece these identifiers together, she or he will be able to personally identify the individual bearing the identifiers. This could also be seen as a de-anonymizing technique whereby pieces of information from separate anonymized data sets are matched together to identify an entity.

Internet users have to be mindful of what sites they visit and ensure the sites have rigorous security checks in place before providing important data. Although online businesses strive to anonymize the profiles of their users using stringent security techniques, the ability of hackers and doxxers to de-anonymize data is proof that all online activities leave a trail.
Published at Sat, 14 Jan 2017 22:45:00 +0000

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‘Star Wars’ makers vow not to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher

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By Steve Gorman
| LOS ANGELES

The studio behind the “Star Wars” movie franchise said on Friday is has no plans to digitally recreate film performances of the late actress Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia, in upcoming installments of the blockbuster series.

Speculation had mounted since Fisher died unexpectedly last month, at age 60, that filmmakers might use new advances in computer graphics technology to resurrect digital images of the actress in forthcoming chapters of the “Star Wars” film epic.

Such technology was notably utilized in the newly released “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” in which a digital embodiment of British actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, returned for the role of the Grand Moff Tarkin that he first played in the original 1977 “Star Wars” adventure.

The Walt Disney Co-owned Lucasfilm, producers of the “Star Wars” franchise, posted a statement online putting to rest the notion that Fisher’s image would likewise be recreated.

“We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa,” the studio said.

“Carrie Fisher was, is and always will be part of the Lucasfilm family,” the statement added. “She was our princess, our general and more importantly, our friend. We are still hurting from her loss. We cherish her memory and legacy as Princess Leia, and will always strive to honor everything she gave to ‘Star Wars.'”

Fisher appeared in four of the “Star Wars” films, beginning with the original 1977 movie and its two sequels, playing the intrepid Princess Leia as a young actress.

She returned in Disney’s 2015 reboot of the franchise, the “The Force Awakens,” appearing as the more matronly General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance movement fighting the evil First Order.

She had already filmed her role for the upcoming untitled sequel to that film – “Episode VIII” – which is due for release in 2017, and had been expected to reappear in “Episode IX” out in 2019.

The statement by Lucasfilm on Friday left in question whether her character would be written out of that film or another actress would be hired to play the Leia role.

Fisher died following a heart attack she suffered during a flight to Los Angeles from London, where she had been shooting the third season of the British sitcom “Catastrophe.”

 

(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Mary Milliken)
Published at Sat, 14 Jan 2017 03:37:50 +0000

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The Current State of the Solar Energy Industry

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The Current State of the Solar Energy Industry

By Shoshanna Delventhal | January 13, 2017 — 6:28 PM EST

Over the recent decade, long-term investors have grown interested in solar energy stocks, as the alternative energy segment is projected to become the world’s largest source of energy by 2050.

As the global economy shifts away from fossil fuels and other polluting energy, solar has taken the lead ahead of a surge of new alternative industries such wind and hydrogen systems. While many may bundle solar companies under one umbrella, the solar segment itself is comprised of companies of different sizes, offering a large variety of products and services.

Different Kinds of Solar

Two competitive solar technologies on the market include photovoltaic (PV or light) and thermal (heat) solar power. In terms of pricing, some firms offer higher quality more-efficient rigid solar panels while others specialize in cheaper, less-efficient thin-film collectors. While some firms sell solar through distributed channels, other use centralized outlets such as large solar farms or fields for utility. Other firms on the supply chain come into play as well, such as the manufacturers of the batteries that store solar energy when the sun is down.

A Cheap Long-Term Pick?

A short-term decline in the industry was partially attributed to slowing Chinese demand driving solar panel prices down, along with other short-term shocks including the surprise election of Donald Trump, who has characterized climate change as a “hoax.”

In particular, First Solar Inc. (FSLR) a leader in both the production and installation of photovoltaic systems, saw its stock lose more than 50% of its value of the course of 2016. The Tempe, Ariz.-based firm has sacrificed its short-term profits in order to restructure its business and streamline the production of its more cost-efficient Series 6 module. (See also: Can First Solar Rebound After 2016’s Decline?)

Along with First Solar, SunPower (SPWR), Vivint Solar (VSLR) and Tesla’s (TSLA) SolarCity should interest investors seeking to gain exposure to the industry while the stocks are relatively cheap.
Published at Fri, 13 Jan 2017 23:28:00 +0000

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Sony Entertainment CEO Lynton to step down; to become Snap Inc chairman

File Photo: Michael Lynton, CEO Sony Entertainment and CEO and chairman Sony Pictures Entertainment, speaks during an investors' conference at the company's headquarters in Tokyo November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Published at Fri, 13 Jan 2017 23:33:12 +0000

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Morgan Stanley to pay $13 million for overbilling clients: SEC

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By Sarah N. Lynch
| WASHINGTON

Morgan Stanley will pay $13 million to settle civil charges, after it overbilled some of its wealth management clients because of coding and other billing system errors, U.S. regulators said Friday.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said the bank was also charged with violating custody rules designed to safeguard investor assets. The bank agreed to settle the case without admitting or denying the charges.

A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley’s wealth management unit said the company was pleased to have the matter resolved.

“All affected clients have been reimbursed and the firm has enhanced its policies and procedures, including discontinuing the use of certain legacy systems,” company spokeswoman Christine Jockle said in a statement.

The SEC said that the billing errors at Morgan Stanley affected more than 149,000 clients. Between 2002 and 2016, the bank received more than $16 million in excess fees as a result of the errors.

In addition, the SEC said that Morgan Stanley did not comply with custody rules, in which an independent accountant conducts an annual “surprise” exam to ensure asset managers are keeping their clients’ money safe.

For two consecutive years, the SEC said, Morgan Stanley did not provide the accountant with a complete or accurate list of client funds and it failed to preserve client contracts.

This was the second time in less than a month that Morgan Stanley has faced SEC fines.

 

On Dec. 20, another unit of the bank paid $7.5 million to settle charges that it violated customer protection rules when it used trades involving customer cash to lower its borrowing costs.

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Published at Fri, 13 Jan 2017 18:44:03 +0000

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