Archives for September 2017

Is Your Office Job Killing You?

When you think about health crises in America, things like obesity, heart disease, and drug abuse come to mind, but what if your 9-to-5 job is the biggest threat you face?

When you study today’s business environment where more and more people are spending large percentages of their days sitting at desks, it becomes clear that office jobs may be the silent killer of millions of Americans. The question is: Is it too late to do something about it?

Here’s How Your Job is Impacting Your Health

You go to work in order to make a living. You make a living so that you can keep your family safe, comfortable, happy, and healthy. But what if your job is actually prematurely killing you? There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests office jobs, and the habits that come with them, are having a negative impact on the health of millions of Americans across all industries and sectors.

In order to better understand this health crisis, let’s take a look at some of the biggest factors in play and how they can be corrected.

1. Sitting is the New Smoking

Perhaps you’ve heard the claims that say sitting is the new smoking, but what does that actually mean? How harmful is an excessively sedentary lifestyle? If you study the numbers and analyze research reports, the data shows that excessive sitting leads to a host of health problems.

According to Dr. James Levine, director of the May Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

That’s a bold statement, but there’s ample evidence to back it up. Credible research studies have found that sitting for long periods of time on a daily basis leads to an increased risk of colon, endometrial, and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and even breast cancer.

The easiest solution is to break up long periods of sitting. This can be done in a number of ways, with standing desks being one of the more popular solutions. More exercise, especially during lunch breaks and after work, is obviously necessary as well.

2. Stress and Anxiety

By one estimate, workplace stress contributes to $ 190 billion in annual healthcare expenses, as well as 120,000 deaths. If that’s true, employment-related anxiety kills more Americans than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and the flu each year. In other words, it’s an epidemic.

The problem with stress and anxiety is that these issues rarely get discussed out loud. There’s a certain stigma about mental health in the workplace and employees are indirectly encouraged to stay quiet.

Unfortunately, the only way to curb the volume of stress in the workplace is to raise awareness about it. Businesses need to raise awareness about this problem and encourage people to speak up so that solutions can be initiated.

3. Poor Air Quality

Air quality is something most people don’t spend any time thinking about. If you do contemplate it, it generally has to do with outdoor air pollution or the air quality within your home. You probably aren’t considering the air quality in your office, even though it’s a major problem.

“Poisonous indoor air is almost completely ignored by the press, the public and those who bankroll scientific research–it gets about 100 times less research funding than outdoor air, even though the average American spends about 90 percent of the time inside,” explains Douglas Main of Newsweek.

For starters, businesses need to do a better job of measuring indoor air quality so that they’re aware of the presence of potentially harmful particles. Then, businesses need to make a commitment to eliminating these toxins and encouraging healthier habits.

4. Terrible Diets

Poor dietary habits are another major problem. Not only are more people working through lunch and eating meals at their desks, but there’s been a rise in the popularity of fast food and takeout over the years.

The result is a malnourished and unhealthy workforce that’s also less productive due to their low quality diets. The best piece of advice is to take advantage of your lunch break by getting out of the office and eating something fresh and healthy.

“Look at your lunch break as recess — a time to release the ants in your pants, get your blood flowing and just enjoy a change of scene,” HuffPost Food and Health Editor Kate Bratskeir suggests. “Any chance to break the pattern of a sedentary life should be taken, and doing so can keep weight from creeping on.”

Prioritizing Better Health

There’s a huge push for healthy living in virtually every area of personal life in America. You’ll find doctors and groups lobbying for healthier habits and encouraging better lifestyles, but why is it that our poor work habits get ignored?

If we really want to fix America’s health crisis and encourage healthy living, it’s time that we start focusing on these issues. There is no perfect solution, but progress must be made.

Tech

Uniti Group: I Just Bought Shares Of This 16% Yielder

I take a lot of pride in the fact that my portfolio has never experienced a dividend cut. I came close once with KMI, but I managed to sell the position before the cut was announced. I spend a lot of my time during the due diligence process focusing on dividend-related metrics with a specific focus on sustainability and dividend growth prospects. Well, I just put that perfect record at risk with a purchase of Uniti Group (UNIT) shares at $ 15.01, or a very hefty 15.98% yield.

This ~16% yield is nearly double my previously high yield, which was Omega Healthcare Inc (OHI) at just a tad bit more than 8%. Typically, when I see yields in the double digits, I get nervous. Yields that high mean the asset is distressed. When looking at stocks like UNIT investors are receiving a very high potential reward for exposing themselves to a very high perceived risk. I’m not a huge fan of making these risky bets. But, I’ve spent a lot of time reading articles and commentary about UNIT published over the last couple of weeks focused on the company’s enormous ~40% fall since the start of August. I’ve read enough bullish commentary to get me interested in the stock, especially from contributors here at Seeking Alpha that I’ve come to respect over the years.

Honestly, I think this company’s recent drama has been exhausted by the Seeking Alpha community and I don’t have anything new to add to the conversation other than the fact that I am now long the stock. I like to keep followers up to date on my recent portfolio maneuvers though, so I wanted to write this piece. However, instead of re-hash the pros and cons of UNIT ownership here, I will link you to some of my favorite articles recently published regarding UNIT.

My absolute favorite REIT contributor here at Seeking Alpha is Brad Thomas. Mr. Thomas has led me to highly profitable investment decisions on several occasions. I respect his opinion in the REIT space above all others. In late August/early September, he published two bullish pieces on UNIT (when shares were trading at levels much higher than they are today). One of them remains behind SA’s Marketplace paywall, but another is free to the public. Here’s a link to Mr. Thomas’s most recent UNIT piece which includes an informative interview with UNIT’s CEO Kenny Gunderson and a reiteration of Mr. Thomas’ “BUY” rating on shares post Q2 results.

Another UNIT piece that really caught my eye was Dividend Sensei’s recent article explaining why he’s adding to his UNIT stake, making it his largest individual position. I really like Dividend Sensei’s work here at SA. He puts together a very in-depth analysis that is also easy to understand. I admit that I am much more risk-averse than he seems to be. He trades with margin and oftentimes seeks much higher yields than I do. I would never allow a company like UNIT to become my largest holding. Actually, I don’t imagine a future where UNIT ever makes up more than 1% of my overall portfolio (right now, it’s weighting is ~0.375%). Even so, I oftentimes find is opinions to be more than reasonable and while our portfolio management strategies aren’t the same (which is to be expected because no two people are in the same situation when it comes to personal finance and long-term financial goals), I still respect his opinion immensely.

I’ll talk more about this piece in a bit, but Ian Bezek’s recent article on the matter was valuable to me as well, especially in terms of trying to put this company’s potential risks into perspective against what seems to be an overly bullish consensus amongst SA contributors and readers, mainly, I think, because of UNIT’s incredibly high yield. Ian is long UNIT, although as of his latest piece, he hadn’t added to his position on more recent weakness. I think Ian has a keen eye for value and the fact that he too was long, played a role in my decision-making.

Alpha Gen Capital wrote a particularly bullish piece, hinting at the fact that UNIT could be one of the year’s best opportunities due to recent overreactions in the share price movement. This piece really breaks down the issues that UNIT is facing with WIN, some of the potential fallouts of legal/bankruptcy scenarios. All of this is very confusing and remains highly speculative, though my main takeaway is that it appears likely that, regardless of a WIN bankruptcy, UNIT will still be in a position of strength due to the Master Lease arrangement it has with WIN. Lease re-negotiation still appears to be a possible scenario here, which would change the landscape that UNIT operates in the present, but for the time being, I’m willing to trust in the payments from the Master Lease deal and rely on the strength of UNIT’s infrastructure, which should remain in demand moving forward.

And most recently, Beyond Saving and Dane Bowler have written pieces regarding the breaking news that broke this week surrounding more legal/head fund issues regarding WIN bonds defaulting. The comment streams following all of these pieces have been enlightening. There are bulls and bears on either side of the aisle, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that another one of my favorite SA REIT contributors, Bill Stoller, recently went long UNIT as well. As far as I know, Mr. Stroller hasn’t published an article focused on UNIT, but I’ve seen him make enough solid calls in the past to give weight to his recent purchase in my own decision-making process.

So, there you have it. This is a unique situation for me, investing in a speculative income play like this. I may not like to take big risks like this, but I have always said that I like to buy things when they’re cheap. At this point, I admit that UNIT could just as easily turn out to be a value trap as it could a tremendous value. Looking at the value of the company’s assets and its cash flow potential, I see validity in calls that have price targets in the $ 35-40 range. That would imply massive upside at today’s prices. Due to issues that UNIT faces with its over-reliance on distressed Windstream (WIN), I don’t foresee UNIT selling anywhere near the fair value of its parts anytime soon though, so their estimates really amount to a hill of beans.

There are so many rumors and potentially headwinds swirling around this stock that I think it’s nearly impossible to predict its future share price movements. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a short squeeze that sends the stock rocketing up to $ 20 or more tomorrow. I also wouldn’t be surprised to continued pressure on shares, sending them down into the single digits. I won’t attempt to signal any sort of direction of these shares; simply put, I acknowledge that I am speculating here.

This is why I bought a relatively small, ¼ position. I bought these shares because of the combined upside potential of the shares in a turnaround as well as the very high ~16% dividend yield. Right now, it appears that UNIT’s dividend is covered by AFFO, which management expects to come in somewhere in the $ 2.50 range in 2017. This is a good thing. However, as discussed at length in this article by Ian Bezek, a dividend cut may still be in the cards because without one, it will be very difficult for UNIT to raise cash.

UNIT needs to raise cash over time to continue to diversify itself away from WIN. Right now, WIN makes up ~70% of the company’s business. Management has stated plans to get this ratio down to ~50% in the short-term; however, this transformation will require additional acquisitions and I think it’s ludicrous to think that UNIT management will be able to find investments with cap rates that exceed its current dividend yield.

Because of this scenario, one could argue that a dividend cut for UNIT would actually be a good thing for the long-term. It might enable it to continue to diversify away from WIN exposure and grow its asset base. Michael Boyd wrote an article focused on this possibility today. This general point was that a distribution cut for UNIT is the right move for management to make. Once again, in the comment section, there are members on both sides of the fence of this issue. There are many question marks when it comes to UNIT in the present, but the one thing that is clear is that the company’s 16% has surely caught the eye on SA’s dividend and income community.

My portfolio’s rule regarding dividend cuts is cut and dry. A cut equals a sell, without exception. Well, being that an investment in UNIT breaks just about half of my stock screening rules anyway, I will be in wait and see mode if UNIT should slash its dividend. This is a small enough position for me that in the event of sudden weakness, it won’t do significant damage to my portfolio’s overall returns. On the flip side of this coin, UNIT’s yield is high enough to move the needle a bit in terms of my annual income expectations. Due to its extremely high yield, this ¼ position in UNIT is currently scheduled to generate the same amount of income as a typical full position with a “normal” yield for my portfolio would over a year in just a couple of quarters (my portfolio’s overall yield is just a tad above 2%).

Investing in distressed assets has led to riches for investors throughout the history. It has also lead to ruins. I’m not saying that I’m smart enough to pick and choose the winners, but I have seen enough bullish opinions from well-respected analysts/contributors to inspire me to make a small bet on UNIT. I don’t think these shares are for the faint of heart. There are so many rumors flying around regarding WIN that attempting to trade in and out of UNIT on a daily basis seems to be a fool’s errand as well. I plan on stashing the small position of UNIT shares that I bought at $ 15 away and accepting the income that they generate for my portfolio, whatever that may be. I bought one day before UNIT went ex-dividend, meaning that I’ve already captured one $ 0.60 payment. I don’t know how many more investors can expect at this level, but if management is able to maintain the dividend, I expect to do quite well here.

Although I realize that I may end up having to stay in this name for awhile depending on what happens moving forward, I don’t think this is a buy and forget type of stock. It’s both a speculative income play as well as a turnaround play. If it turns around, I think it will turn around quickly. I will continue to monitor the business and management’s attempt at diversifying its customer base. If management cuts the dividend I’m sure the share price will suffer and at that point I’ll be in it for the long-haul, hoping for a Kinder Morgan-like recovery post dividend cut. If the market receives better than expected news out of WIN and UNIT bounces drastically, I will be happy to sell my shares, taking my profits large short-term profits (these shares are held in a tax-advantaged account so that I don’t pay taxes on that hefty dividend).

Disclosure: I am/we are long UNIT, OHI.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Tech

Amazon Is Hoping One of These New Shows Will Be Its Answer to ‘Game of Thrones’

Amazon is looking at the science fiction genre for its next big hit in video streaming.

The retail giant is developing three new shows that will be adaptations of popular works of science-fiction including Ringworld, Snow Crash, and Lazarus, according to a report Thursday evening by Variety.

It’s part of Amazon’s quest to become a powerhouse online film and television studio and find a possible cult-hit like HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s Walking Dead.

Author Larry Niven’s Ringworld, which debuted in 1970, is a space odyssey set in the future in which a bored man who is 200 years-old ventures out to the mysterious Ringworld that’s three million times bigger than Earth. Amazon will co-produce Ringworld with MGM Studios, the report said.

The Snow Crash show will be based on writer Neal Stephenson’s popular 1992 novel set in the not-too-distant future in which corporations like a giant pizza franchise reign supreme and virtual reality, unlike today, is mainstream. Paramount Television is co-producing the show with Amazon.

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The Lazarus show will be based on the comic book series of the same name, published by Image Comics. The series is set in a dystopian future in which 16 rival families rule the world and operate like feudal societies. The comic book’s author Greg Rucka, will also be the show’s author and executive producer. Rucka also worked on the comic book show Jessica Jones, which is available on Amazon Prime’s video streaming rival Netflix.

Fortune contacted Amazon for more information about when the shows will debut and will update this story if it responds.

In September, Amazon’s in-house studio chief Roy Price said in an interview that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants the company to create “big shows to move the needle” like the fantasy series Game of Thrones. If Amazon can create cult-hits, it can lure more people to subscribe to its Amazon Prime instant video service.

Tech

3 Reasons To Buy Gilead

The Power Factors System is the backbone of my research service, The Data Driven Investor. It’s essentially a quantitative ranking system that selects stocks based on three powerful and time-proven return drivers: financial quality, valuation, and momentum.

Multiple academic studies have proven that companies exhibiting strong numbers in these three areas tend to beat the market in the long term, and my own backtesting work confirms that the Power Factors Systems can generate impressive performance over time.

The specific details behind the system are not particularly important, the main idea is using a combination of indicators and ratios to select companies with strong metrics in these main areas. Among others, the Power Factors System includes the following metrics:

  • Financial quality: the system looks for companies with superior profitability on sales, considering ratios such as gross profit margin and free cash flow margin. In addition, financial quality includes metrics based on return on capital, such as return on investment and return on assets.
  • Valuation: this covers classical valuation ratios like price to earnings, and price to free cash flow, among several other metrics based on similar concepts.
  • Momentum: the system picks companies that are outperforming expectations, and it also looks for stocks that are doing better than the broad market. In a nutshell, we want companies that are delivering performance numbers above Wall Street forecasts, and we also want the stock price to be reflecting such outperformance.

An equally-weighted portfolio comprised of the 50 best-ranking companies in the system produced an impressive annual return of 26.39% since 1999. By comparison, the S&P 500 produced a far more modest return of 3.77% per year over the same period.

In other words, a $ 100,000 position in the S&P 500 back in 1999 would currently be worth nearly $ 199,100, while the same amount of money invested in the Power Factors portfolio would be worth an exponentially larger sum of $ 7.8 million.

Data and chart are from Portfolio123, and the full list of companies in the system is available to subscribers in The Data Driven Investor.

The ranking system is based on a stock universe that excludes over-the-counter stocks in order to guarantee a minimum size and liquidity levels. Nevertheless, most stocks in the system are relatively smaller than those in the S&P 500, and in many cases far more volatile.

Interestingly, Gilead (GILD) is a noteworthy exception. The company has a market capitalization value of more than $ 109.6 billion, and it ranks remarkably well across the three dimensions in the Power Factors System. These particularities make of Gilead a particularly intriguing name among the stocks selected by the quantitative model.

Case Study: Gilead

Gilead is a leading player in the biotech space. The company is focused on life-threatening infectious diseases, with a big presence in treatments for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Gilead has made a series of acquisitions to expand its portfolio in cardiovascular diseases and Cancer over the past several years. More recently, the company made a big move with the acquisition of Kite Pharma (KITE) for $ 11.9 billion in cash. This deal could provide a big boost to Gilead in cell therapy and oncology treatments.

The business is under pressure due to lower sales and increasing competition in Hepatitis C (HVC) products.

On the other hand, Gilead has a promising pipeline of new developments across different areas, and this should drive increased revenue growth over the years ahead.

Importantly, the company has an impressive track record of financial performance over the long term, and profitability levels are considerably above-average. The following table compares key financial metrics for Gilead vs. other big biotech companies, such as Amgen (OTC:AMGM), Celgene (CELG), and Biogen (IBB).

5 Year Sales Growth.

Return on Assets (ROA)

Return on Investment (ROI)

Operating Margin

Net Margin

Gilead

29.4%

21.1%

31%

57.8%

42.9%

Amgem

8.1%

10.4%

13%

44.7%

35.5%

Celgene

18.3%

9.1%

11.7%

27.6%

21.3%

Biogen

17.8%

15%

21%

38.7%

28.1%

The numbers are quite clear, Gilead ranks above the competition across all of the five indicators: sales growth over the past five years, return on assets, return on investment, operating margin, and net margin.

Financial performance over the years ahead will depend on variables such as demand for Gilead’s new products, and this is always a source of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the company’s track-record and current performance are a positive reflection on its management team and its ability to deliver attractive returns for shareholders.

In terms of valuation, Gilead stock is fairly conveniently priced, if not downright undervalued. The stock trades at a price to earnings ratio around 9.15 times earnings over the past year. This is a huge discount versus the average company in the S&P 500, which trades at a price to earnings ratio around 21.5.

Looking at valuation ratios in comparison to industry peers, Gilead also looks quite cheap in terms of price to earnings, forward price to earnings, price to free cash flow, and price to sales.

P/E

Forward P/E

P/FCF

P/S

Gilead

9.1

11.2

10.1

3.85

Amgem

16.9

14.5

18.7

5.9

Celgene

44.7

16.1

26.8

9.2

Biogen

29.8

13.7

18.21

5.7

Offering a similar perspective, the following chart shows how Gilead’s valuation has evolved over the past several years, and current entry price looks quite compelling by historical standards in terms of price to earnings, price to free cash flow, and enterprise value to EBITDA.

ChartGILD PE Ratio (ttm) data by YCharts

The bottom line is that Gilead stock is substantially cheap, be it in comparison to the broad market, when compared to industry peers, or by the company’s own historical standards.

Momentum is favoring the bulls. Both revenue and earnings came in above Wall Street expectations last quarter, and analysts are adjusting their earnings forecasts to the upside. The average earnings estimate for Gilead in 2017 was $ 8.35 per share 90 days ago, and it has steadily increased towards $ 8.78 currently.

Stock prices don’t just reflect fundamentals, expectations about those fundamentals are tremendously important. When expectations are on the rise, this generally means that stock prices are rising too. On the back of increasing earnings forecasts, Gilead stock has substantially outperformed the S&P 500 index over the past several months.

ChartGILD data by YCharts

Past performance does not guarantee future returns. However, profitability metrics, valuation, and momentum are all positive forces for investors in Gilead on a forward-looking basis.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GILD.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Tech

Why We Need To Design Work To Feel Like An Experience And Not Like A Transaction

Do you or your employees show up at work expecting an experience or a transaction? You probably don’t think about it that way, but subconsciously it can have a big effect on your overall job satisfaction and performance. A transaction is simple: you pay either time or money in exchange for something else, like a new pair or shoes or a loaf of bread. With an experience, you offer something up but don’t get anything physical in return–what you purchase is something to do and feel, like skydiving, eating a great meal, or camping.

Psychologist Tom Gilovich, who I interviewed for my latest book on employee experience, did a study on how satisfaction changes over time when you spend money on a physical item versus an experience. He found that if you spend money on a tangible item, over time your satisfaction goes down. However, if you spend that money on an experience, over time your satisfaction goes up.

But how does this apply to the workplace? We can also view relationships like transactions or experiences. Often times, we fall into the trap of making everything transactional: I’ll do something for you if you give me something else. At work, that can translate to showing up and getting your work done just to secure a paycheck. It tends to be less authentic, personal, and sincere, with employees not really putting the effort in to build relationships because they are only there for the money. According to Dr. Gilovich’s study, this leads to job satisfaction going down over time. That makes sense–if work is a transaction, there isn’t a true connection between the employee and the organization and its culture, so that sense of belonging, purpose, and satisfaction isn’t there. This happens a lot with new employees at an organization who start with a high level of satisfaction that wanes over time. Employees likely end up with the same feeling they would get if they bought something from an anonymous user on eBay: happy with what they got from the transaction but not filled with a lasting relationship or happiness. Over time, it can lead to resentment towards the company and a lower quality of work produced.

On the flip side, viewing work as an experience tends to lead to high levels of satisfaction and much more engaged employees. If employees view their time with an organization as an experience, they will put more effort into their work and relationships. After all, if you purchase a trip around the world, you’ll want to show up to get the most out of it. Experiences grow and change over time and leave employees with changed feelings, growth opportunities, and new emotions over time. That leads to increased satisfaction over time as the employee grows in the organization and become more connected to the company. With an experience, both sides have to put in effort, and the results can last much longer. Experiences tend to stick around longer than transactions and can lead to more personal growth and development. While items purchased can break and go out of style, experiences tend to stick with us and can lead to more engagement, just like the feeling you get looking back at an experience like a trip or time with friends.

Consider how you view your time at work–is it a transaction where you show up for a paycheck, or is it an experience where you grow and learn? What can your organization do to foster an experiential attitude that facilitates growth instead of turning work into a transactional daily grind? Changing the attitude of the company and the employees can have a big impact.

Tech

Rocket Internet start-ups narrow losses in first half

BERLIN (Reuters) – German e-commerce investor Rocket Internet (RKET.DE) reported that its leading start-ups narrowed their losses in the first half of 2017, while revenue growth picked up slightly to 29 percent.

Aggregate revenue rose 29 percent to 1.24 billion euros ($ 1.45 billion) in the first half, while the adjusted loss before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization was 161 million euros, down from 204 million a year ago.

Rocket said meal kit delivery company HelloFresh, which has been considering an initial public offering, saw net revenue rise 49 percent to 435 million euros, while its loss rose slightly to 47 million euros.

Rocket said in a separate statement it agreed to sell a 13 percent stake in Delivery Hero (DHER.DE) to global entertainment group Naspers for 660 million euros in cash, cutting its stake to 13 percent.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Ludwig Burger

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

Electronics industry drives 2016 industrial robot sales: IFR

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Global sales of industrial robots rose by 16 percent in 2016, driven by the electronics industry, and are expected to rise faster in 2017, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said on Wednesday.

The world market was worth $ 13.1 billion, an increase of 18 percent, or an estimated $ 40 billion including software, peripherals and systems engineering.

Electronics accounted for almost as many shipments as the automotive industry, which has driven industrial robot sales since the 1970s, as robots become smaller, cheaper and more precise while demand soars for batteries, chips and displays.

Sales to the electrical and electronics industry jumped 41 percent to 91,300 units, while sales to the automotive industry rose 6 percent to 103,300 units, or 35 percent of total sales of 294,312 units.

The IFR said it expected global robot installations to increase by at least 18 percent this year, and at least 15 percent annually between 2018 and 2020.

Future drivers of demand would be the industrial internet that links real-life factories with virtual reality, collaborative robots that can work alongside humans, and machine learning and artificial intelligence, it said.

Tom Riley, manager of Robotech strategies at AXA Investment Managers, with more than 2 billion euros ($ 2.35 billion) under management, said the increasing intelligence of systems that control robotics provides fruitful ground for investment.

“The expanding range of applications of robotics and automation technology continues to support a robust growth rate,” he told Reuters.

China, the world’s biggest robot market with about 30 percent of the global sales, saw shipments rise 27 percent.

“China and Korea are already dominated by consumer electronics in terms of units,” Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the Frankfurt-based IFR, told a news conference.

South Korea, the second-biggest market, saw a rise of 8 percent. With 2,145 robots for every 10,000 employees in manufacturing industries, so-called robot density has almost doubled from 2009 and is the highest in the world.

“Huge projects aimed at manufacturing batteries for hybrid and electro cars might be the reason for this high increase in robot density,” the IFR said.

Samsung SDI, LG Chem and SK Innovation are among those racing to mass-produce long-distance car batteries as countries around the world led by China push a shift to electric mobility.

Japanese robot sales rebounded last year to rise 10 percent.

Japan continues to dominate among industrial robot makers, with only Swiss ABB and Germany’s Kuka in the league of Fanuc, Yaskawa, Kawasaki or Nachi.

In the United States, robot installations rose 14 percent.

The IFR said U.S. growth continued to be driven by a desire to keep manufacturing at home or bring it back from overseas through increased automation and competitiveness.

In Germany, home to major carmakers Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), BMW and Daimler, robot shipments more or less stagnated.

($ 1 = 0.8507 euros)

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Adrian Croft

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

Ford And Lyft Partner to Bring Self-Driving Cars to Public Roads

Ford Motor (f) has struck a partnership with Lyft to develop and test self-driving vehicles on the ride-hailing company’s growing network of passengers.

Ford, which announced the partnership in a blog post early Wednesday, said that the goal is to put self-driving vehicles onto Lyft’s ride-hailing network. Just don’t expect to see self-driving Ford vehicles shuttling around Lyft customers anytime soon.

The initial aim is to combine the strengths of each company. For Ford, that’s large-scale manufacturing and development of autonomous vehicles technology, which its partner Argo AI is currently working on. Lyft, meanwhile, has a vast network of customers across the United States that has given the startup greater insight in how people move within cities. Both companies have fleet management and Big Data experience, according to Ford’s blog post written by Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President of autonomous vehicles and electrification.

Ford, which is now being led by CEO Jim Hackett, hopes to learn how to create self-driving cars that can easily connect with a platform like Lyft’s so they can be quickly dispatched to pick up customers. The automaker also wants to use Lyft’s data (and its own) to determine which cities would be worth launching a self-driving vehicle service and what kind of infrastructure would be needed to properly service and maintain a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

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Lyft is taking a more collaborative approach to self-driving cars, unlike rival Uber. Earlier this year, Lyft launched an open platform designed to give automakers and tech companies working on self-driving cars access to its ride-sharing network of nearly 1 million rides per day.

And even before the open platform began, Lyft has been locking in partnerships. The company landed its first major partnership in January 2016 with GM, which like Ford also wants to eventually deploy self-driving cars with Lyft’s network.

Lyft has made at least three other partnerships in 2017, including startups Drive.ai and nuTonomy, and Waymo, the Google self-driving car project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet (googl).

Tech

UK inventor James Dyson aims for electric car launch by 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – James Dyson, the billionaire British inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, said on Tuesday his company was working on developing an electric car to be launched by 2020.

Dyson said he was spending 2 billion pounds ($ 2.7 billion) to exploit his namesake company’s expertise in solid-state battery technology and electric motors to be found in his innovative vacuum cleaners and other products like bladeless fans and air purifiers.

“Battery technology is very important to Dyson, electric motors are very important to Dyson, environmental control is very important to us,” Dyson, aged 71, said at his company’s flagship shop on London’s Oxford Street.

“I have been developing these technologies consistently because I could see that one day we could do a car.”

Dyson said a 400-strong team of engineers had already spent 2-1/2 years working on the hitherto secret car project in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. However, the car itself still has to be designed and the choice of battery to be finalised.

The company was backing solid-state rather than the lithium ion technology used in existing electric vehicles because it was safer, the batteries would not overheat, were quicker to charge and potentially more powerful, he said.

Dyson said his ambition to go it alone was driven by the car industry’s dismissal of an idea he had of applying his cyclonic technology that revolutionised vacuum cleaners to handle diesel emissions in car exhaust systems in the 1990s.

“We are not a johnny-come-lately onto the scene of electric cars,” he said. “It has been my ambition since 1998 when I was rejected by the industry, which has happily gone on making polluting diesel engines, and governments have gone on allowing it.”

There had already been clues that Dyson was working on a car.

His company has been hiring executives from Aston Martin and last year the government said in a report it was helping to fund development work on an electric vehicle at the firm, although the entry was quickly changed.

Dyson said he was coming clean now because it was becoming harder to talk to subcontractors, government and potential new employees.

FAR EAST MARKET

But the car does not yet have a design nor a chassis, he said, and the company had not yet decided where it will be made, beyond ruling out working with the big car companies.

”Wherever we make the battery, we’ll make the car, that’s logical,“ he said. ”So we want to be near our suppliers, we want to be in a place that welcomes us and is friendly to us, and where it is logistically most sensible.

“And we see a very large market for this car in the Far East.”

Dyson gave no details of the concept for the vehicle, beyond saying it would not be like anything else already on the market.

“There’s no point in doing one that looks like everyone else‘s,” he said, adding that it would not be a sports car and it would not be “a very cheap” car.

Dyson, who was a prominent backer of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, has been able to fund the project through the profits of his holding company.

The Weybourne Group reported a 55 percent rise in pretax profit to 473 million pounds in 2016 on revenue of 2.53 billion pounds, according to accounts filed earlier this month.

On Tuesday Dyson told his workforce, which includes more than 1,000 engineers, that the company finally had the opportunity to bring all its technologies together into a single product.

“Competition for new technology in the automotive industry is fierce and we must do everything we can to keep the specifics of our vehicle confidential,” he said in an email.

Writing by Paul Sandle and Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison, Greg Mahlich

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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'Star Trek: Discovery' Is Worth the Price of CBS All Access—Maybe

Last night, CBS finally took the wraps off its oft-delayed new show, Star Trek: Discovery. The two-part debut (“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”) gave fans the first new TV Trek since Star Trek: Enterprise ceased subspace transmission in 2005. And they were ready for it—last night’s premiere set a single-day record for new signups for CBS’ All Access streaming service. Those who ponied up for an account got both parts of the debut; those who didn’t only got the first episode, which aired on broadcast like something from the 1990s.

Is it worth the money? Was it worth the wait? WIRED writers Adam Rogers and Brendan Nystedt, two life-long Trek fans, boldly agreed to discuss the newest venture. Shields up! Red alert! Spoilers ahead!

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Adam Rogers: All right, Brendan. My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts. How are we feeling? On the one hand, I am glad to have some Star Trek to watch, and while I got all aflutter watching a Klingon armada get #disruptive on the United Federation of Planets, some part of my brain was definitely spinning on the story problems and possible solutions I wrote about last week. Like, it spent two hours on the kind of character deployment and story set-up that Deep Space Nine could’ve knocked out in a single cold open. And this definitely wasn’t explore-strange-new-worlds-seek-out-new-life Trek. This was dark Starfleet at war, with a captain who meets her Kobayashi Maru and a promising officer who ends up sentenced to life in the stockade for mutiny.

Hey, relatedly, there is no piece of culture I can embrace wholly where Michelle Yeoh dies an ignominious death. I didn’t like it in Sunshine and I don’t like it here. She was in Heroic Trio, for pete’s sake. She coulda taken that Klingon.

Brendan Nystedt: I saw it coming from a lightyear away but still, ouch. What I didn’t see coming was that they’d also kill the Klingon cult leader, T’Kuvma.

Overall, even with my quibbles over the first two episodes, I’m still holding off judging it entirely. I think the two-parter backstory was an intriguing way to open this new show but it also worries me that the CBS All Access “first taste is free” thing means we don’t have a sense of what the bulk of the story will involve because the network is putting a lot of window dressing in the episodes people can watch for free. Maybe fans who didn’t like the introduction would learn to love where it pivots to next.

Was the opening dark? Yeah, it was. I appreciated that Michael Burnham wanted to get out there and check out the OUO (object of unknown origin) and that they bring up the balance between exploration and war. I think that darkness is something this time period can exploit more since we’re firmly in the “cowboy diplomacy” days of Kirk.

Even with my Star Trek brain fully engaged (heh), I was surprised that the drama worked on me. When Burnham disables the captain with a perfectly-executed Vulcan Nerve Pinch, I was stunned. When that Klingon ship took out the USS Europa while de-cloaking, I recoiled. As much as I was scrutinizing the uniforms and the Klingon makeup, the show worked for me on a basic level.

Rogers: Yes, yes. Me too.

But be honest. If the set up for this show was that it is set 100 years after Voyager rather than a decade before TOS, would it be any different? In what sense is this a prequel? The Klingons do not look like Klingons we have seen. The instrumentation on the ships is new. The uniforms are new. The pew-pew of the phasers and photon torpedoes are new. The Federation starships don’t look anything like the ships of the era—were no Constitution-class starships deployed at that point? Why don’t the Bussard collectors have the light-up pinwheel spinny effect? Why don’t the warp nacelles have to be as far from the crewed parts of the ships? What are these Star Wars communications holograms doing here?

Flip side, I loved seeing the rethought handheld phasers and communicators; they really are elegant. And I liked the bridge noises being the TOS bridge noises. But other than knowing Sarek is Spock’s dad, what’s prequel-y about this?

This isn’t necessarily a complaint. I like the story so far. I just feel about it the same way I did about the reboot movies’ alternate timeline. As a fan, I don’t need it. I dunno; maybe it’s all a set up for the last shot of the season being a TOS-authentic Constitution-class Enterprise heading off on Captain Pike’s five-year mission.

Nystedt: The look of the show is something I’m still reconciling, but Trek has been here before. Whether it’s the retcons of Star Trek: Enterprise or especially the 1979 Motion Picture, designs and tech change a bit to suit the time. I’ve never believed that the movie Enterprise was the same Enterprise as the TV show, and yet it’s known to be a “refit.” Unless it’s the ship of Theseus, the movie Enterprise just can’t logically be the same as the one from the show!

I digress … I’m also unsure why they decided to make this a prequel, especially if it’s going to try to do its own thing. I’d understand if it were for the sake of fanservice but as of yet there have been a limited number of references to the universe. I’m hoping they’ll at least hint at conforming to a style closer to what we know from TOS, but I’d be OK if that were a reinterpretation, too.

The Klingons were another sticking point: I was cool with showing this rogue gang of Kahless-worshippers but when the rest of the house leadership Skypes in to T’Kuvma’s sarcophagus ship I was disappointed. Enterprise tried to give the makeup and characterization changes of past Klingons some kind of sense, but I felt like even that explanation couldn’t remotely cover for why all these Klingons looked different. At least they were completely subtitled—that I really dug.

Rogers: I liked hearing all that Klingon, too—and then seeing the universal translator kick in when T’Kuvma called the Shenzhou. Cool starship names all around, actually. I loved the references to a USS Yeager.

Speaking of, though, you make a good point that we don’t even really know what the story of this show will be. We haven’t yet discovered the Discovery, presumably the ship we’ll spend the bulk of the season on. And despite my gripes, I’m psyched for it. I don’t know if a lot of people will spring for this show, but I’m glad it exists, and I’m looking forward to the season. Glad there’s more Star Trek in my life.

Can I tell you a separate story? I know that the first ep did great in the ratings, 9.6 million people. And CBS is staying that it got a big pulse of new subscribers to All Access, but not giving out numbers. So OK. Last night I watched the first ep on my DVR and then went to subscribe to All Access to watch the second.

First I tried to do that via Apple TV, but apparently my Apple TV is so old that it doesn’t really know how to do two-factor authentication. You have to get a verification code from your phone and then type it in along with your password, apparently, but timed with the deftness of a longtime gamer, which I am not. I gave up.

I went to the app on my iPad, which seemed ready to let me sign up, until it decided that my zip code was invalid. Several times. (Narrator: It was not invalid.) Finally I logged all the way out and then logged in with Google, which somehow convinced the app my zip code was real. At which point I learned that payment was going via my Apple account, which makes me wonder why I’m paying CBS instead of just Apple. This all took about 45 minutes to figure out, by the way.

This is not an onboarding process anyone should be proud of, is my point.

Nystedt: That’s a huge bummer! I had signed up for my All Access account earlier in the day through the website, but that wasn’t ideal either. Like, I’m happy to give my money over to Trek, but I wish it were more streamlined. One disappointment for me is that even though Discovery is a launch title for the service, the rest of the Star Trek offerings are a mix of HD and non-HD. Voyager and DS9 haven’t been restored (and they might not ever be) but only about a half of The Next Generation and none of the original show appear in their HD incarnations.

And so, even though we get a new show, Trek continues to get dissed. It’s a treasure of global popular culture but it just doesn’t get the respect it deserves, whether it’s from CBS or Paramount. I’d go so far as to say that MGM is giving Stargate better treatment with its upcoming streaming service, offering up just that show’s back catalog (and movies!) for a flat rate plus the promise of new content to come.

And when you have to look to Stargate to find a decent single-franchise online service, you know it’s gonna be a long road… But, I got faith of the hearrrttttt!!!

Rogers: No Sto’vo’Kor for you, pal. Eesh. Anyway, no matter what these streaming services show or don’t show, they can’t take the sky from me.

Nystedt: Awww man I was looking forward to seeing my ancestors in the afterlife. One thing I enjoyed seeing yesterday was how fandom reacted to the show. Definitely check Twitter for #OnFleet—some excellent, funny commentary there, particularly from nerds of color and women fans.

So, next Sunday, we finally get to see the titular ship. Somehow, Burnham gets out of her life sentence, and I guess we’ll get more Saru, too. I’m on the Discovery train, are you feeling optimistic?

Rogers: I’m with Ambassador Spock. There are always possibilities.

Nystedt: LLAP and tune in next week.

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