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Bigger iPhone Brings Record Profits For Apple

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Rabu, 28 Januari 2015 | 11.46

A new range of larger iPhones helped Apple to achieve record profits of $18bn (£11.8bn) in the final three months of 2014, the technology giant has announced.

The company sold 74.5 million smartphones between October and December, buoyed by the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, which is equipped with a 5.5-inch screen.

Experts had expected total revenues of $53.6bn (£35bn) for the quarter - but according to Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, this was closer to $74.6bn (£49bn).

According to technology analysts, it took Apple a long time to come to grips with the fact that the public wanted larger screens - causing their market share to plummet.

Gartner's Van Baker said: "They finally closed the gap on a feature they were missing, which their competition had capitalised on."

Some investors are concerned about how Apple will perform financially in the coming year, with iPad sales down 22% in the last quarter, and warnings that growth in the smartphone sector is beginning to slow.

The iPhone accounts for two-thirds of Apple's revenue.

Although the California-based firm is planning to launch a smartwatch in March, it remains unclear whether the device will be a big hit with customers.

Other companies have been disappointed with demand for similar offerings, amid concerns that the battery life is insufficient for a whole day's use.

Apple is currently the world's most valuable company, with a market capitalisation of $651bn (£428bn).


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Protesters To Rally Against Fracking Proposals

By Mike McCarthy, North of England Correspondent

Demonstrators from around the UK are expected to gather in Lancashire today, ahead of a controversial decision on the future of fracking in the county.

It is the first time that Cuadrilla, an exploration company, has applied to develop new fracking sites since being blamed for creating earth tremors in Blackpool three years ago.

The firm suspended test drilling and abandoned its site near the seaside resort following the quakes in 2011.

The Preese Hall site remains the only place in the UK where modern fracking techniques have been used so far.

The new areas sit on the same massive reserve of shale gas which experts say could help revolutionise Britain's energy market.

But groups opposed to fracking say it would industrialise the countryside and pollute the environment.

Cuadrilla has applied to Lancashire County Council for permission to frack two sites in a rural area between Preston and Blackpool.

Officers at the authority have recommended that councillors vote against the proposals because of concerns over noise and road safety.

If the councillors accept the recommendations, it will be seen as a major blow to the efforts to kick-start Britain's shale gas industry.

Anti-fracking campaigner Tina Rothery said: "Like many people in the anti-fracking movement, we have completely put our own lives on hold for four years just to get this done – because how do you walk away from this?

"Every door I would look to walk out of would have my granddaughter's face on it. I can't walk away and go 'It's OK – they'll take care of it' because it's too big."

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of drilling a mile or more into the earth before water, chemicals and sand are injected under high pressure into rock, releasing the shale gas trapped inside.

In recent years, it has become one of the most divisive issues in the UK, leading to violent scenes between police and protesters at proposed sites in Manchester, Lancashire and Sussex.

Supporters such as Blackpool businessman Tony Raynor claim his interest in fracking was prompted by the local earth tremors several years ago.

"Like most people, I was ambivalent to shale gas, but the tremors made me want to find out more. Now I'm in favour," he said.

"There are fewer jobs here now than there were in 2004 and we all worry about the brain drain (from the area) and our children finding opportunities in this region. We need economic activity happening in Blackpool."

The anti-fracking movement has built up considerably over recent years. Its supporters say pollution in the US has shown the process is environmentally unsustainable.

However, supporters argue that it has considerably reduced America's dependence on imported energy supplies and helped to bolster the economy.

Cuadrilla has asked that the local authority allows more time to consider its proposals for minimising the environmental impact at fracking sites. If Lancashire councillors do reject Cuadrilla's plans, the company is expected to appeal.


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BA Owner IAG Tables Fresh Bid For Aer Lingus

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Senin, 26 Januari 2015 | 11.46

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor, in Davos

The parent company of British Airways (BA) has approached Aer Lingus about a fresh takeover bid for the Irish carrier.

Sky News can exclusively reveal that International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) submitted a revised proposal to the board of Aer Lingus within the last couple of days.

Sources said that the board of IAG had authorised an improved all-cash offer earlier this week worth at least €2.50 a share, which would value the Dublin-based airline at more than €1.3bn (£971m).

Directors of Aer Lingus discussed the proposal on Friday with their investment banking advisers from Goldman Sachs, according to insiders.

The disclosure of the approach by Sky News is likely to trigger stock exchange statements by both companies on Monday.

The fresh overture could be sufficient to persuade Aer Lingus to enter into formal takeover discussions with IAG, although it was unclear this weekend whether there were significant conditions attached to the proposal.

It was also unclear whether IAG might be prepared to raise its offer for a third time if the current proposal is rejected.

IAG's chief executive, Willie Walsh, is a former Aer Lingus pilot who went on to run the airline before taking the helm at BA in 2005.

He has made two previous approaches for the Dublin-based carrier, pitched at €2.30 and €2.40 a share, in the past six weeks.

Both were rebuffed by Aer Lingus on the basis that there were undisclosed conditions attached and that they "fundamentally undervalue[d] Aer Lingus and its attractive prospects".

Mr Walsh's attempt to acquire Aer Lingus is designed to cement its grip on take-off and landing rights at London's Heathrow Airport, while enabling him to improve the Irish carrier's profitability by combining some operations with those of IAG.

Already the largest carrier at Heathrow, a merger of the two companies would create a group with close to half of the available slots there.

A Government commission on aviation capacity led by Sir Howard Davies is due to recommend after the General Election whether Heathrow or Gatwick should be allowed to construct a new runway.

Even if Aer Lingus's board is minded to open talks with IAG, Mr Walsh will need to persuade the Irish Government and Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary of the bid's merits.

Ryanair owns a 29.8% stake in Aer Lingus and has fought a long-running battle with regulators over both that shareholding and a string of its own bids for its rival dating back to 2006.

Ryanair has been reported to be willing to consider an offer of between €2.50 and €2.70 a share, although the airline insisted on Saturday that this was inaccurate.

The Irish Government holds a 25.1% stake in the airline, and reports have suggested that it could insist that IAG retains Aer Lingus's Heathrow slots solely for flights to and from Ireland as a condition for approving a deal.

Analysts have argued that such a pre-condition would make Aer Lingus less attractive to Mr Walsh, who in addition to his IAG role is also chairman of Dublin's state debt management agency.

IAG was created in 2009 from the merger of BA and Iberia, which has been radically restructured by Mr Walsh against initially intense opposition from Spanish labour groups.

Since then, it has also acquired Vueling, another Spanish carrier, struck an alliance with American Airlines and considered several other big takeovers.

IAG shares closed on Friday up 2.1% at 536p, valuing it at almost £11bn, while Aer Lingus shares closed up 0.4% at €2.35, giving it a market capitalisation of €1.25bn.

Aer Lingus is preparing for a transition in its leadership regardless of Mr Walsh's efforts to acquire it.

The airline's chief executive, Christoph Mueller, is leaving in May to run Malaysia Airlines, which is being nationalised following the disasters last year involving flights MH370 and MH17.

IAG, which is being advised by Deutsche Bank, and Aer Lingus both declined to comment.


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Post Office To Expand 'Challenger' Money Arm

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

The Post Office will this week publicly target becoming one of Britain's leading financial services providers by the end of the decade, amid ministerial support for its vast network to play a greater role in banking provision.

Sky News has learnt that the state-owned entity will announce on Monday that it is to amalgamate its range of financial products under a new umbrella brand, Post Office Money.

The move is designed to promote the Post Office as a leading 'challenger' brand in financial services at a time when the big five high street banks are reducing the number of branches they operate.

On Tuesday, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will meet major lenders to thrash out details of additional efforts to allow bank customers to make more use of the Post Office's 11,500 outlets.

The Post Office currently offers products including insurance, mortgages, savings accounts and foreign exchange, some of which are provided through a partnership with Bank of Ireland.

Further products, including a new range of current accounts, are expected to follow.

Speaking to Sky News, Nick Kennett, director of financial services at Post Office Money, said:

"Consumers want a choice about how they manage their money; at Post Office Money our customers have access to an unrivalled network as well as online and phone, combined with multi-award winning products.

"We have been listening to our customers and know that people are facing some big financial decisions, and through the new Post Office Money we want to become their first choice when thinking about a mortgage, credit card or a safe haven for their savings."

The Post Office network has around three million customers within its banking and insurance business and nine million people use its foreign currency exchange services, while 2,500 of its branches open on Sundays.

Mr Kennett acknowledged that the target of doubling the size of the Post Office Money business by 2020 was ambitious but said its principles of fairness and accessibility were major advantages at a time of widespread consumer mistrust of major banks.

The details of Government-led efforts to strengthen the Post Office's role in the provision of banking services are expected to become clear after Tuesday's meeting.

Mr Cable has been angered by the decision of lenders including Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) not to renew a commitment not to close branches when they are the last one remaining in a local community.

The banks argue that rapid technological changes, with customers now performing billions of transactions remotely each year, have rendered such a pledge obsolete.

Mr Cable told Sky News earlier this month: "There are a lot of people who are not connected who also need to do basic banking functions, and we mustn't be in a position where large numbers of villages and other small communities are effectively being cut off from banking.

"If the banks cannot perform that service we need an adequate substitute, and they've got a responsibility to help provide it."

He added that the banks should "think about… how to address any additional financial and operational burdens on the Post Office", implying that they could face a substantial bill for any new programme.


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Three Dials O2 To Become Biggest Mobile Firm

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Sabtu, 24 Januari 2015 | 11.46

A cash deal of more than £10bn could lead to the creation of the UK's largest mobile phone operator, with Three taking over O2.

Three's parent, Hutchison Whampoa - owned by the richest man in Asia, Li Ka-Shing - said it was in "exclusive negotiations" with Telefonica to buy the UK's second-largest mobile firm for £10.25bn.

Hutchison confirmed in its statement that it had offered £9.25bn, with a deferred further payment of up to £1bn after completion of the deal but it said any agreement would be subject to due diligence and regulatory approvals.

Any tie-up would be likely to interest industry authorities as it would reduce the number of players in the UK mobile phone market to three - hitting competition - despite the possibility of both brands remaining.

The telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, could demand that Three and O2 hand over some spectrum capacity to rivals.

A combined player would create a company with a current market share of around 40% - with 31 million customers between them.

Three, which is currently the smallest of the UK's mobile operators in terms of market share behind Vodafone, has been setting lower price tariffs in a bid to attract new customers and grow its stable.

EE - which is the current market leader with 32% - is on the verge of being snapped up by former O2-owner BT in a deal worth £12.5bn.

BT is bidding to become a so-called "quad play" provider by bundling home phone, mobile, TV and broadband services together in a single package.

Its proposed deal with EE sparked a frenzy of speculation about whether other players in those markets would look to follow suit through either acquisitions or partnerships.

Telefonica's willingness to part with O2 was seen as acceptance that it did not want to enter the quad play arena in what is a declining mobile phone market.

It is widely believed to be looking at emerging markets to achieve growth.


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Li Ka-shing: Phone King Is Business 'Superman'

Li Ka-shing has a fortune currently estimated by financial information firm Forbes at about $35bn (£23bn).

His sprawling ports-to-retail global conglomerate operates in more than 50 countries. Here's a look at the life of Asia's richest man:

:: Humble Upbringing

Born in 1928 in Chiu Chow, a coastal city in the southeastern part of China. At the age of 12 he was forced to quit school and fled to Hong Kong with his family to avoid war.

Before he was 15, Li's father died and the teenager faced the prospect of providing for his family. He found a job in a plastics firm where he worked for 16 hours a day. But by the 1950s he had pursued a venture making and exporting plastic flowers to the US and started his own company, Cheung Kong Industries. 

:: Lifestyle

In spite of his wealth, Li has cultivated a reputation for leading a no-frills lifestyle, and is known to wear simple black dress shoes and an inexpensive Seiko wristwatch.

However, his house is in one of Hong Kong's most expensive precincts, Deep Water Bay in Hong Kong Island.

The 86-year-old is said to remain physically fit by rising before 6am every day and playing golf for an hour and a half. He also uses a treadmill for 15 minutes at noon.

:: Wealth

The 86-year-old self-made entrepreneur is Hong Kong's richest person, and has been so for more than 15 years. His sprawling ports-to-retail global conglomerate operates in more than 50 countries.

Because of his wealth, he is regarded as a celebrity and national hero, and even has a wax statue at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong (the only non-artist to have one in Hong Kong).

:: Business

Li is often referred to as "Superman" in Hong Kong because of his business prowess.

From manufacturing plastics in the 1950s, Mr Li led and developed his company into a leading real estate investment company in Hong Kong that was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972.

It acquired Hutchison Whampoa and Hongkong Electric Holdings Limited in 1979 and 1985 respectively.

Mr Li is the Chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, the flagship of the Cheung Kong Group which has business operations in over 50 countries around the world and employs over 280,000 staff.

:: Entrepreneur

He has donated more than $1.41bn to date to charity and other various philanthropic causes and has received an Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University among other education establishments.

In 1980 Mr Li established the Li Ka-shing Foundation, with the aims of nurturing a new culture of giving, supporting education reform and advancing medical research and services. A year later he founded Shantou University, the only privately-funded public university in China.

:: Like Father...

Mr Li has two sons. The elder, Victor, is deputy chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd and holds several other business roles, while the younger son Richard is chairman of PCCW, one of Asia's leading information and technology and telecommunications companies.


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ECB Triggers €1.1trn Quantitative Easing

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Jumat, 23 Januari 2015 | 11.46

The European Central Bank (ECB) has confirmed a €1.1trn stimulus scheme aimed at halting the eurozone's slide towards economic stagnation.

The monetary policy measure, announced at a news conference by ECB president Mario Draghi, was bolder than investors had expected - with European stock markets rising and the euro falling in value as the core details emerged.

Its current stimulus would be extended from March to include so-called quantitative easing, the Bank confirmed.

The ECB said it intended to spend a combined €60bn (£46bn) a month on sovereign and corporate bonds until September 2016, with individual central banks in the 19-member eurozone sharing some of the risks of the money-printing exercise.

The flood of money should bring borrowing costs down, boost bank lending and weaken the euro further to bolster its  competitiveness.

The aim of the QE programme is to prevent the euro area spiralling into deflation - an entrenched period of falling prices which puts consumers and businesses off spending.

Inflation is already running at -0.2% and Mr Draghi told reporters the outlook required a "forceful" policy response.

The ECB said countries under a bailout programme, such as Greece, would be included in the QE programme but with some additional criteria.

A political crisis in Greece risks plunging the euro area into further chaos, as a snap general election this Sunday could bring an anti-bailout party to power - a development which would potentially lead to the country's exit from the single currency.

The QE programme was announced two-and-a-half years after Mr Draghi pledged to "do whatever it takes" to save the euro amid fierce opposition to QE from Germany over fears it will stop national governments fixing their finances.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said any ECB decision could not replace government action on tackling debt.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos she said: "It should not obscure the fact that the real growth impulses must come from conditions set by the politicians.

"What's important for me is that (politicians) move even more decisively to address the issues, rather than thinking that the buying of time through other measures means we can forget about structural reforms."

The ECB did not need German permission for QE.

It said bonds would be bought on the secondary market in proportion to the ECB's capital key, meaning the largest economies from Germany down will see more of their debt purchased by the ECB than smaller peers.

The bonds will mature over periods of between two and 30 years.

The prospect of dramatic ECB action had already prompted the Swiss central bank to abandon its cap on the franc while
Denmark, whose currency is pegged to the euro, was forced to cut interest rates in anticipation of the flood of money.

The euro dropped 1.4 cents against the dollar following the QE announcement while bond yields in Italy and Spain hit historic lows, reducing the cost of servicing their debts.


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The ECB's Biggest Bazooka - But There's A Catch

There was a tense wait in the last few moments before Mario Draghi arrived in the press room today. After all, the European Central Bank president is rarely late.

As the minutes ticked on, the journalists sitting there looked around nervously and muttered to themselves. Might this have something to do with the momentousness of what he was expected to announce today?

It has been no secret for some months that the ECB was on the brink of unveiling its quantitative easing policy.

But the bigger question was whether the president had managed to secure the buy-in of the Germans. Might there have been a big impasse at the governing council meeting?

Might the Germans have unexpectedly launched an attack on QE? After all the anticipation, might the programme have been smaller than expected?

They needn't have worried. Now the ECB has brought out the biggest bazooka it has yet wielded.

It will spend well over a trillion of newly created euros buying (mostly) the government debt of its members. To be precise, €60bn (£45bn) a month.

Moreover, all countries bonds will be bought - including those with negative yields (eg. Germany) and those facing bail-out programmes (eg. Greece) - though the latter ones will have to behave (eg. the prospective new government of Greece).

All told, it is a bigger, more powerful programme than even some of the more optimistic investors had been expecting from the ECB. As ever, there is a catch.

For the majority of the bonds bought under QE - four-fifths - the risk of default will still be borne by the country issuing them. In other words, if the ECB buys Greek government debt and Greece defaults it can't rely on its neighbours taking the full hit.

The significance of this clause - the extent to which it undermines the rest of the programme - remains to be seen.

My hunch is that the sheer size of ECB QE (apologies for the acronyms, which are rather too common in central banking) will be enough to allay any concerns for the moment. Markets seem to agree: the euro dropped to the lowest level since 2003; stock markets around Europe leapt.

It doesn't take an expert to realise why.

The ECB has held off from money creation exercises of this sort for five years - five years in which the Bank of England, Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan have printed trillions of dollars worth of money.

During that period, the single currency area has faced stagnation and, now deflation. Investors hope that Mr Draghi may now have turned this around.

However, there are still many questions about the wisdom of QE. Some worry that it simply boosts asset prices.

Others fear that it will, ultimately, lead to hyperinflation. And there are many hawks within the Eurozone who fear that it will simply encourage troublesome countries like Greece and Spain to borrow more and face another (partly shared) default in the future.

But those concerns are for another day. Today, one should try to take in the momentousness of what has happened.

Mario Draghi has pressed the button on what many thought would never happen: a Europe-wide money creation scheme.

Oh, and the reason he was late? Well, in his own words: "Don't read too much into this small delay. It was the elevators. They're not working."


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UK Jobless Rate Eases As Bank Vote Split Ends

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Kamis, 22 Januari 2015 | 11.46

Official figures show the unemployment rate has tumbled to 5.8% - its lowest level for more than six years.

The data, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), highlighted a decline of 58,000 in the number classed as unemployed in the three months to November - leaving the total at 1.91 million.

There was also confirmation that pay was rising much faster than inflation for a third consecutive month, following the five-year squeeze on living standards in the wake of the world financial crisis.

The pay improvements have been at the heart of debate inside the Bank of England over the timing of a potential interest rate rise but it emerged that worries about low inflation had overcome calls for an increase.

Minutes of the Bank's last interest rate-setting meeting showed that policymakers Martin Weale and Ian McCafferty, who had voted for a rise of 0.25% to 0.75% since last summer, added their voices to concerns about below-target inflation becoming entrenched.

It meant there was unity on the monetary policy committee in January, which voted 9-0 to keep the rate on hold at its record low of 0.5%, and further bolstered market expectations that a rate increase was unlikely this year.

CPI inflation was measured at 0.5% in December and the Bank minutes suggested that it could stand at 0% in March.

Bank governor Mark Carney has previously said he sees the crash in world oil prices - largely responsible for easing price growth - as a net positive for the UK economy.

The Bank had said it was looking to see pay growth outstrip inflation before considering a rate increase but it did not foresee the extent of the oil price decline - having previously forecast inflation in March at 1%.

The ONS said average earnings increased by 1.7% in the year to November, up by 0.3% on the previous month.

Jobs and wage growth has also been at the heart of political debate in the run-up to the General Election.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The drop in unemployment is welcome news.

"Behind the statistics are stories of people finding self-respect and purpose in life."

Labour maintained the Government had presided over a cost of living crisis.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "Today's fall in overall unemployment is welcome, but wages remain sluggish and working people are £1,600 a year worse off since 2010.

"The Tory cost-of-living crisis and the Tory low-wage economy has left millions of people who do the right thing, work and contribute struggling to make ends meet and pay the bills."

The head of economics at the union organisation TUC, Nicola Smith, said: "After years of falling living standards, today's real earnings growth suggests that we may finally be starting to make up some of the lost ground.

"But at this rate of progress it will still be at least another parliament before wages are even back to where they were before the crisis."


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Ex-Centrica Chair Snubs Cameron Oil Pay Plea

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor, in Davos

One of Britain's most respected businessmen has rejected a call from David Cameron for companies to increase workers' wages on the back of the slump in oil prices.

Speaking to Sky News, Sir Roger Carr said the Prime Minister's request last week made little economic sense and was unlikely to be adopted.

Mr Cameron had called on companies to act to increase employees' pay in the wake of official figures showing that corporate profitability was at its highest since the late 1990s.

"Obviously I want to see that companies' success is passed through in terms of people seeing wage increases," he said.

"It has to be done in a way that is affordable, in a way that companies can continue to grow.

"The falling oil price is going to benefit a lot of businesses and a lot of countries. We want to see those benefits passed on in all the ways that they can be."

But Sir Roger, who chairs BAE Systems, the defence contractor, and who until last year was chairman of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, poured cold water on Mr Cameron's aspiration.

"What happens when the price of oil goes up? You can't have pay linked to commodity fluctuations," Sir Roger said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

"You have to have pay levels which are fairly structured which acknowledges the value that is created at all levels of a company."

Sir Roger's remarks were echoed anonymously by a string of other British business leaders, one of whom accused the Prime Minister of "pandering to the looming election with crazy economic ideas".

The halving of the oil price since last summer has created a huge headache for oil and other natural resources groups but has been described as "a net positive for the economy of the UK" by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England.

The General Election campaign will in part be framed around a fierce debate about the cost of living.

Politicians from all sides have exerted enormous pressure on the major energy retailers to cut prices following the fall in the price of wholesale gas.

Some have responded, but only with relatively modest price cuts for consumers.


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