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Business and Technology News


Brown signs cap and trade extension, Schwarzenegger blasts Trump

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 02:17:42 UT

Two California governors — one a Republican, the other a Democrat — joined together Tuesday to celebrate the extension of one of the state’s key global warming programs and slam the federal government for abandoning the climate fight. On the same spot in 2006, Schwarzenegger signed the landmark global warming law that authorized the cap-and-trade system and committed California to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. While only one Republican legislator sided with Schwarzenegger to pass that law, AB32, eight Republicans supported the new legislation, negotiated in months of closed-door talks involving Brown, legislative leaders, environmental advocates and business representatives. “It’s a message that we have a functional government here in California where Democrats and Republicans work together,” Schwarzenegger said at the signing ceremony. Schwarzenegger accused conservative Republicans, with whom he often sparred as governor, of “lying to the people” on global warming. [...] following President Trump’s move to withdraw the United States from the global climate agreement forged in Paris in late 2015, Schwarzenegger said the vote demonstrated that many Americans remain committed to fighting climate change. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District had been poised to slap firm limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the area’s five local refineries. California law calls for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Cap and trade sets a declining annual limit on California’s greenhouse gas emissions and forces businesses to buy a type of permit, called an allowance, for every metric ton of gases they emit. [...] in 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, California’s greenhouse gas emissions fell less than 1 percent. Since peaking in 2004, they have dropped about 10 percent.

Business News Roundup, July 26

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 00:47:33 UT

Takata, the Japanese auto parts maker hurt by air bag recalls, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and said it would sell its surviving operations to a Chinese-owned American rival, Key Safety Systems. The deal seals the fate of the company at the center of the farthest-reaching auto safety crisis in history. Carmakers have recalled nearly 70 million of the company’s air bags in the United States, in 42 million vehicles, as well as millions overseas. Takata said it will sell its factories and other assets to Key Safety Systems, which makes air bags and other auto safety equipment. A new corporate entity will take over Takata’s production operations, which encompass seat belts and other equipment as well as air bags. Takata owes billions of dollars to banks and automakers, which have been paying to replace tens of millions of potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators. Ratings service Nielsen announced Tuesday that it will begin to tabulate how many people get their live TV from Hulu and YouTube, an effort to provide a more accurate picture of how many people now watch broadcast networks by streaming them, rather than watching them on traditional TV. Hulu and YouTube have not revealed how many people have subscribed to their live TV services, introduced in the spring as a counter to cable TV. Media companies base the amount they charge advertisers on the number of people who are watching at a particular time, and want to insure that online viewers are also counted as more people shift to using online streaming services. Home prices reached a high in May for the sixth straight month, raising concern about another housing bubble roughly a decade after a previous one burst. Some analysts downplay the notion of a new bubble, and the unrelenting price increases may already be cooling sales. Other aspects of the last decade’s housing boom and bust, such as rapid sales increases and more home building, aren’t happening now. The Conference Board, a New York business research group, says its consumer confidence index in July rose to 121.1, up from a revised reading of 117.3 in June. Views on current conditions hit the highest level since July 2001, while expectations for the future rebounded after a slight dip in June. Michael Pearce, a U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said the strong confidence readings are a sign that recent weakness in retail sales will prove to be temporary. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic growth. President Trump said Tuesday that he’s considering either renominating Janet Yellen for a second term as Fed chief or replacing her with someone else, possibly Gary Cohn, who leads his National Economic Council. The home delivery meal-kit company said that co-founder Matthew Wadiak would step down as chief operating officer to become a senior adviser. Tim Smith, vice president of supply chain, has been named senior vice president and general manager of consumer products, a newly created role overseeing efforts to personalize and expand offerings for customers. Blue Apron said Pablo Cussatti, a senior vice president of operations, would also now report to Salzberg. Since its initial public offering in late June, Blue Apron has struggled to gain momentum.

Ship traffic, July 26

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 00:24:55 UT

Ship traffic, July 26 Ship traffic Cap Capricorn Horizon Enterprise Mol Modern Port Unknown SFO CSL Frontier Port Unknown South Korea Horizon Enterprise SFO Irenes Wave Polynesia Papeete, Tahiti SFO South Korea Source: S.F. Marine Exchange

Abuses hide in the silence of non-disparagement agreements

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:59:43 UT

In October, AngelList, a company that helps tech startups raise money and hire employees, held an office retreat. In particular, the tech startup world has been roiled by accounts of workplace sexual harassment, and non-disparagement clauses have played a significant role in keeping those accusations secret. Non-disparagement clauses have become so common that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal discrimination laws, and the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that protects workers’ rights, have been studying whether they are having a chilling effect on workers speaking up about wrongdoing or filing lawsuits, said Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego. Employees increasingly “have to give up their constitutional right to speak freely about their experiences if they want to be part of the workforce,” said Nancy E. Smith, a partner at the law firm Smith Mullin. At Binary Capital, a venture capital firm in San Francisco that collapsed last month under the weight of multiple sexual harassment allegations, new hires signed an employment contract that included the clause that “employee shall not disparage the company,” according to a contract quoted in a lawsuit filed against the firm last month. Ann Lai, a former employee, said in her lawsuit filed in San Mateo Superior Court in California that she had complained to her bosses about sexism, discrimination and inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and that Binary used the non-disparagement provision in her employment contract to threaten her. AngelList grappled with a harassment disclosure after the tech news site TechCrunch reported that AngelList was investigating whether a different partner had sexually harassed someone at a previous job. “I wonder how I may have disserviced other women working in tech, including my female colleagues, with my silence,” she said. “When we conduct investigations, individuals are removed from the workplace, given counseling if needed, and can’t contact complainants,” Graham Jenkin, AngelList’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. Jenkin disputed some of the details of the poolside incident, but would not provide clarification. Ruvolo, who was a freelance writer for AngelList and whose contract was not renewed this year, said she could not comment on the event that led to her agreement or on the terms of the deal. “Companies wave the agreements around and use them to force a settlement and make the problem go away,” said Karen Kessler, chief executive of the public relations firm Evergreen Partners.

Taco Bell gets a Lyft, and robots cause a fight

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:54:57 UT

Taco Bell has found a new marketing vehicle: Starting this week, some Lyft passengers in parts of Orange County will be able to request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. The companies will test the option, which will appear as “Taco Mode” for the next two weeks, with plans to expand the program nationally next year. On Monday, Zuckerberg was asked in a chat on Facebook about the Tesla chief’s calls for regulation before artificial intelligence becomes dangerously smart and poses an existential threat to humanity. See’s Candies says it’s opening nearly a dozen chocolate boutiques by the end of the year. Daily Briefing is compiled from San Francisco Chronicle staff and news services.

SoftBank said to consider an investment in Uber

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:54:15 UT

SoftBank said to consider an investment in Uber SoftBank, the Japanese technology and media giant, is weighing an investment in Uber at a time when the San Francisco ride-hailing company’s leadership is in flux, according to three people with knowledge of the talks. SoftBank’s investment interest in Uber is nascent and the two companies have held only preliminary meetings, said the people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. [...] if a deal were to be reached, it would add to a convoluted web of investments in the ride-hailing industry, where competitors have become strange bedfellows through investors who have placed bets on multiple companies. SoftBank holds a position in Ola, the dominant ride-hailing company in India, which is locked in a battle with Uber across the country. SoftBank has also invested in Didi Chuxing, which until last year was deadlocked with Uber for supremacy in China’s transportation market. On Sunday, SoftBank also invested in Grab, a Singaporean ride-hailing company, in a $2.5 billion round that Didi Chuxing also participated in. SoftBank’s interest in Uber indicates it may be hedging its bets amid intense competition in the ride-hailing industry. Many ride-hailing companies have been forced to raise billions of dollars in private capital to fund expansion of their operations, which often involves subsidizing trips for riders in new markets. Uber has been one of the companies that drove the cutthroat competition in the ride-hailing industry, by spending heavily and slashing costs for passengers. [...] that has begun to change in recent months as the company has dealt with turmoil in its executive suite. Last month, Travis Kalanick, an Uber founder and longtime chief executive, resigned after an investor coup pushed him out of his top position at the company. Kalanick was considered a key proponent of spending heavily to expand into new markets. The ride-hailing company is now in the midst of its search for its next leader. Uber has slowly begun to retrench on some of its more ambitious international expansion plans. Last year, the company sold its Chinese business to Didi for a stake in the Chinese company. Times writer.

Lyft’s gross bookings said to grow 25% in 2nd quarter

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:52:47 UT

Lyft’s business has been booming as its primary competitor, Uber Technologies, has faced an executive exodus and a string of scandals. Total revenue generated by Lyft drivers, or the company’s gross bookings, grew about 25 percent to more than $1 billion in the second quarter, from more than $800 million in the previous period, according to people familiar with the matter. Uber saw more than 500,000 people delete the ride-hailing app in late January and early February after the company was accused of attempting to subvert a driver strike. Lyft has generally avoided much public gloating about its competitor’s fumbles, while at the same time seizing on its competitors vulnerability. Lyft made a $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union just as Uber was under fire for its Trump ties. While losses for both companies remain significant, investors have continued to put billions into the ride-hailing companies. Lyft expected to lose about $130 million in the first quarter, according to financial documents prepared before the end of that period that have been reported by Bloomberg. Neither company’s second-quarter losses have become public, though Uber told its investors that its losses were declining.

Celgene to pay $280 million in cancer drug fraud suit

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:47:04 UT

A New Jersey pharmaceutical company has agreed to pay $280 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that it committed fraud by promoting a drug for leprosy and another therapy for unapproved cancer treatments, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday. The agreement settled claims made in Los Angeles federal court by a former sales manager, who said Celgene had submitted false claims to Medicare and health care programs in 28 states and the District of Columbia, which were all parties to the settlement. Thalomid, another name for thalidomide, a drug prescribed for morning sickness in the 1950s and 1960s that caused severe birth defects, was approved in 1998 for treating about a fraction of the few hundred leprosy cases diagnosed in the United States each year, according to court filings. While the two drugs were later approved for limited cancer treatments, the company promoted them widely to doctors for multiple kinds of cancer years in advance of approvals, the lawsuit said.

Three Square Market offers to microchip its employees

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:44:38 UT

At first blush, it sounds like the talk of a conspiracy theorist: a company implanting microchips under employees’ skin. On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. Once that is done, any task involving radio-frequency identification technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand. “Companies often claim that these chips are secure and encrypted,” said Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge.

Michael Kors buying Jimmy Choo in $1.2 billion deal

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:23:54 UT

On Tuesday, Michael Kors Holdings of New York said it had agreed to buy shoe company Jimmy Choo of London for about $1.2 billion, the latest push by a U.S. high-end fashion house to find new sources of growth and what its chief executive characterized as the first step in building a bigger international luxury group. Mall traffic in North America has declined sharply, while shoppers who have traditionally been loyal to the middle market have gravitated toward brands at extremes of the style and price spectrum. “Acquiring Jimmy Choo is the beginning of a strategy that we have for building a luxury group that really is focused on international fashion brands,” John Idol, the chairman and chief executive officer of Michael Kors Holdings, said. Michael Kors, known for fashion-forward designs and competitive prices, is heavily reliant on outlets and department stores, where deep discounting is common. Open-toe slip-on sandals sell for $425, while crystal-encrusted shoes with the brand’s signature sky-high stiletto heels go for nearly $3,000.

Dust isn't the only thing your Roomba is sucking up. It's also gathering maps of your house.

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:19:03 UT

The company behind the Roomba vacuum, iRobot, has grand plans for its robot cleaners. While two Roomba models are now mapping the interiors of homes to more efficiently hoover up dust and dirt, those intimate maps, the company hopes, could soon be sold as personalized, data-rich products to giant tech companies, seizing a bigger role in the burgeoning market for "smart" devices in the web-connected household.

Alphabet sales meet estimates as Google CEO joins board

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 00:35:05 UT

Alphabet Inc. reported second-quarter revenue that met analysts’ projections, falling short of the most-optimistic estimates, and said the cost of its Google ads declined. Sales, minus partner payouts, were $20.92 billion, in line with analysts’ consensus forecasts, but below some more bullish expectations. “The biggest contributor to growth was mobile search, and it’s clearly an area where we continue to grow from our underlying engineering strength,” Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said on a call with reporters. The company also announced Monday that Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of its Google unit, will join the Alphabet board. The Indian-born executive took the reins of Google in August 2015, when Page announced the Alphabet restructuring and became CEO of the parent company. Page placed him in charge of the Android mobile operating system, a key strategic asset, in 2013. Since Pichai, 44, became Google’s CEO, he has shuttled resources toward artificial intelligence research and cloud computing while maintaining steady growth of its main advertising business.

‘Pokémon Go’ never went away, and neither did its technical woes

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 00:23:56 UT

“Pokémon Go” was an international phenomenon last fall, sending players wandering streets and parks to capture little creatures displayed on their smartphones. About 60 million people still play “Pokémon Go” each month, according to data from mobile app research firm Apptopia, and 1 in 5 of those players opens the game on a daily basis. Ticket-holders were promised the chance to catch rare monsters and hang with other fans wearing Pikachu costumes and Magikarp helmets. When developer Niantic Inc.’s chief executive officer, John Hanke, took the stage, fans greeted him with boos. Behind the scenes, Niantic is also adding new advertising deals in partnership with retailers to sponsor locations. Fixing any such issues will be especially important with the upcoming co-operative raid battle system, which will involve up to 20 players grouping together to take down and capture big bad “legendary” monsters.

Business News Roundup, July 25

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 22:54:56 UT

Vino Volo, a boutique wine bar and shop found in airports across North America, has been acquired by Hojeij Branded Foods, an airport food and beverage operator based in Atlanta, the companies said Thursday. Vino Volo (derived from “wine flight” in Italian) has more than 40 locations at 32 airports and offers wines from around the world, tasting flights and bottles for purchase or shipping. “We are delighted to join forces with HBF,” says Vino Volo CEO Doug Tomlinson, who founded the Oakland company in 2004. With the retention of Vino Volo founder Tomlinson as president, Vino Volo will become a wholly owned subsidiary of HBF, run by Vino Volo’s current leadership team under the leadership of the HBF CEO. “Combining the forces of HBF and Vino Volo is a natural fit for both companies,” says HBF CEO Regynald G. Washington. WebMD, the online information source on health topics, announced Monday that it will be acquired by Internet Brands, a new media company controlled by global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. According to the company, stockholders of the New York health information provider would get $66.50 per each share in cash, a 20 percent premium over the Friday closing price of $55.19. The sale comes after WebMD announced in February that the management team was working with its legal and financial advisers to explore various strategies to stay competitive. The company was founded in the mid-1990s and quickly became a prominent name in the digital space as one of the leading information providers on medical symptoms, pharmacy, drugs and physicians. WebMD’s stock jumped around 20 percent on the New York Stock Exchange in the first hour of trading after the deal was announced, a sign that investors are as optimistic as the company’s management about future prospects after the acquisition. Demand for Hasbro Inc.’s Easy-Bake, Playskool and Super Soaker brands declined in the second quarter, pushing sales below analysts’ estimates. While the company’s franchise products — Transformers, Nerf and Monopoly, among others — remained strong, the results sent shares down the most in 21 months. The taxi app Grab has been given an additional $2 billion in financing, revealing the intense competition among car services in Asia that has forced companies like Uber to take a back seat to rivals with extremely deep pockets.

Some employers can again pay for faster H-1B visa consideration

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 22:54:42 UT

Federal immigration officials gave certain employers the ability to pay to expedite applications for H-1B work visas again on Monday, partially restoring a service employers and visa applicants had prized for giving them more certainty about the prospect of placing foreign workers in a job. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had suspended premium processing for all H-1B applications in March, just a few weeks before the application period for the next fiscal year began. The agency resumed the accelerated processing of H-1B petitions Monday for employers whose applications are not subject to the annual H-1B cap and pay an additional fee. Some cap-exempt institutions, such as hospitals and universities, felt the absence of premium processing this year, as they typically rely on the 15-day processing period to quickly hire doctors or academics. Decisions on the visas are ultimately made by lottery, however, and access to the expedited track does not impact an applicant’s probability of a winning lottery entry.