The Electric Pickup Truck War Is Here

Source: Bloomberg

The electrification of the pickup truck, America's most beloved automobile, could finally jolt EVs fully into the U.S. mainstream. It also promises a huge payday for the companies that can make them affordable. The players in this potentially lucrative market aren't just the traditional, deep-pocketed automakers, mind you: there's a batch of well-funded startups going head-to-head in the coming fight

Lidl and food courier Just Eat sales surged by lockdown living

( via – – Thur, 14th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Restaurant and pub closures fuel trading boom over Christmas period

Lockdown living has driven a surge in demand at Lidl and the food courier Just Eat, with both companies posting strong sales for the final weeks of 2020.

With restaurants and cafes closed to diners, the boom in home eating led Just Eat to report a 57% spike in orders across Europe during the final three months of last year, compared with a year earlier.

The leap in trade reported by the continent’s biggest food delivery service was a further acceleration in growth from the 46% jump in the third quarter.

In the UK, delivery orders surged by almost 400% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the same period of 2019, as many consumers were once again asked by the government to stay indoors.

Just Eat Takeaway, based in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest online food delivery firms, said it had put “tremendous effort” into improving its British business, including a doubling of its UK sales force.

In 2021, we will continue to invest in price leadership, improving our service levels and expanding our offering to restaurants and consumers,” said Jitse Groen, the chief executive.

Lidl also reported a record Christmas, as customers celebrated with panettone and pink prosecco.

Sales at the chain rose by 17.9% in the four weeks to 27 December, compared with the same period a year earlier. The increase was larger than those at the UK’s four biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – and Aldi.

British supermarkets notched up their biggest month on record in December, with consumers spending £11.7bn on take-home groceries, according to analysts at the research group Kantar, as coronavirus restrictions led to the closure of many restaurants, pubs and cafes during the key trading period.

Lidl said shoppers bought more goods – with basket size increasing by almost 25% year on year – and British households switched £34.7m of spend to Lidl from other supermarkets.

Customers’ taste for premium food and drink over the Christmas period boosted their spend, and sales of Lidl’s Deluxe range climbed by 22%.

Lidl shoppers bought more than 1m bottles of pink prosecco during the festive period, as well as 2.7m panettones. An average of 17,000 Deluxe mince pies an hour were sold during December.

Christian Härtnagel, chief executive of Lidl GB, said its record sales and basket size growth demonstrated the strength of the chain’s appeal.

And the store’s first branded Christmas jumper, featuring the logo as part of a festive design, appears to have topped the charts, with one sold every minute in the month to 27 December.

“Despite this Christmas being a difficult time for many across the country, we are pleased to have been able to help our customers enjoy themselves by offering high-quality food at the lowest prices on the market,” he said.

Ocado warns customers of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks

( via – – Mon, 11th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Online supermarket Ocado has become the first big retailer to warn of shortages of some products.

It told customers in an email that there may be “an increase of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks”.

Staff sickness and self-isolation means some food producers are cutting the number of product lines they offer.

While customers might not get their exact product choice, plenty of food should be available, Ocado said.

“Staff absences across the supply chain may lead to an increase in product substitutions for a small number of customers as some suppliers consolidate their offering to maintain output,” a spokesperson said.

The news comes after a rush of online food orders for supermarkets, as shoppers try to stay at home after the new lockdown started.

Within a couple of hours of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech to the nation on Monday, shoppers reported problems with Sainsbury's and Tesco, while Ocado customers were placed in a virtual queue.

Ocado told its customers that from Friday “changes to the UK supply chain have affected some of our suppliers and may result in an increase of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks.”

It added: “We apologise for any inconvenience caused and we are working hard to mitigate any impact.”

Food suppliers are grappling with staffing problems, hospitality clients who have closed their doors and delays at the border with the EU.

Wholesalers the BBC spoke to this week said they faced throwing away thousands of pounds worth of food because of cancelled orders following new restrictions.

The UK meat industry has called for the early vaccination of its workers to keep food supplies running smoothly during the coronavirus crisis.

It warned earlier this week that absences during the pandemic, coupled with disruption at ports, could hit food supply chains.

An early vaccination call for supermarket staff was also made by the boss of Sainsbury's on Thursday.

The government said the food industry remains “well-prepared” to make sure people have the food they need.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said coronavirus and disruption at ports due to new systems brought in after the Brexit transition period were “a severe challenge to the industry and to the smooth running of the nation's food supply chain”.

Government urged to use pharmacies to give vaccine

( via – – Wed, 30th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

The pharmacy industry is urging the government to use its high street network to accelerate the delivery of the newly approved vaccine.

The head of a leading pharmaceutical chain told the BBC roll out could be doubled if the government used the same supply chain as seasonal flu jabs.

There are over 11,000 local pharmacies around the UK.

The Department of Health told the BBC it was having “very positive discussions” with pharmacists.

A large number of pharmacies have the staff and expertise available to deliver the new vaccine.

So far, the industry has told the BBC the government has not considered them in its initial front line plans, nor counted them towards its delivery target of one million a week.

‘Overcoming hurdles'

Simon Dukes, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents NHS pharmacies, said his members were ready to help.

The approval of a second vaccine, and one that has less complex handling characteristics when compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is a positive step.'

“The rollout of the vaccination programme will not be without its challenges, but community pharmacists and their teams are used to overcoming hurdles to provide the best care to their patients, so we believe their skills should be used by the NHS to help administer the tens of millions of vaccinations that will be needed to help England escape from the grip of the pandemic.”

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has insisted that two million a week is needed to get ahead of the spread.

There are other advantages to using local pharmacies. Many vulnerable people already visit their pharmacies on a regular basis and trust the staff there. As one pharmacy chief told the BBC: “People will trust their local chemist more than someone in a military uniform.”

‘Haven't thought of us'

The new vaccine is considered a very different proposition to the Pfizer vaccine – which has to be stored at -70C, comes in batches of 975 doses and must be delivered within a few days of delivery.

The more transport and storage friendly AZ/Oxford vaccine has turned “a medical challenge into a logistics challenge which we can help with” according to the head of a leading chain.

“The government knows we are here, but so far haven't thought of us as a primary point of delivery in the way they do the traditional annual flu jab”.

The Department of Health said it had been talking to pharmacists about how they could support the Covid vaccine delivery plan.

It added: “They have been fantastic through this pandemic.”

By Simon Jack

What will happen to mobile roaming charges after Brexit?

( via – – Mon, 28th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Travellers heading for European Union countries should check their mobile phone provider's roaming charges, government minister Michael Gove has said.

That's because the UK's trade deal with the EU does not rule out additional costs when heading abroad in future.

Can I use my mobile in the EU?

Since 2017, UK consumers have, within reason, been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.

The same is true for consumers from other EU countries visiting the UK.

There are fair use limits, which mean you can use your mobile phone while travelling in another EU country, but you could not, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.

Before the rules changed, using a mobile phone in Europe was expensive, with cases of people returning from trips to find bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds waiting for them.

Will roaming charges return?

After leaving the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK entered a transition period during which virtually all EU rules and regulations – including on mobile phone roaming – still apply.

The transition will end on 31 December 2020.

The UK's trade deal with the EU does not say that the ban on additional roaming charges will continue.

It says that both sides will encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.

That means that mobile operators will be able to implement roaming charges after the end of the transition period if they want to.

The government's guidance says: “Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get from 1 January 2021.”

It has already passed legislation that would provide some safeguards for consumers:

  • A £45-a-month limit on the amount that customers could be charged for using mobile data abroad before having to opt into further use
  • Requirements for customers to be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowance
  • Operators would have to take “reasonable steps” to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which would happen if a phone in Northern Ireland locked onto the mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland.

What are mobile companies planning?

Of course, just because the operators might be allowed to reintroduce roaming charges, it does not necessarily mean that they would do so.

The problem is that without the EU rules in place, the charges would depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.

While they may have such deals in place to prevent charges increasing straight away at the start of 2021, there is no guarantee that they would be able to maintain them indefinitely.

There are three factors that mean there is a reasonable chance of UK operators being able to continue to offer inclusive roaming:

  • Bilateral deals – so a UK operator would make an agreement with a French operator, for example, to allow inclusive roaming for UK customers visiting France and for French customers visiting the UK
  • Each EU country has more than one operator, so UK operators will have a choice of companies to deal with
  • Some of the UK operators are parts of groups that also operate in EU countries.

The four main operators in the UK declined to comment on the specifics of the commercial deals they have done with other operators, but said they did not plan to reintroduce roaming charges.

Three said it “already offers roaming at no extra cost for its customers in over 70 destinations including the US, Australia and New Zealand. We will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations.”

Vodafone said it had no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.

EE said: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don't have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”

And O2 said: “We're committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe.”

By Anthony Reuben

Laptops, desktop sales see ‘renaissance;’ backlog won’t ease until 2022

( via — Thu, 24th Dec 2020) London, UK —

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – The world stocked up on laptop and desktop computers in 2020 at a level not seen since the iPhone debuted in 2007, and manufacturers still are months away from fulfilling outstanding orders, hardware industry executives and analysts said.

“The whole supply chain has been strained like never before,” said Gregg Prendergast, Pan-America president at hardware maker Acer Inc.

Annual global shipments of PCs, the industry’s collective term for laptops and desktops, topped out at about 300 million in 2008 and recently were sinking toward 250 million. Few expected a resurgence.

But some analysts now expect 2020 will close at about 300 million shipments, up roughly 15% from a year ago. Tablets are experiencing even faster growth.

By the end of 2021, installed PCs and tablets will reach 1.77 billion, up from 1.64 billion in 2019, according to research company Canalys. The virus pressed families into expanding from one PC for the house to one for each student, video gamer or homebound worker.

To meet the sudden demand, the world’s handful of big PC vendors added suppliers, sped up shipping and teased better models launching next year. It has not been enough.

Prendergast said Acer has been absorbing the cost to fly laptops directly to its education customers, ditching boats and trains to cut a month off shipping. Yet with assembly lines behind, some customers must wait four months to get shipments.

Components including screens and processors are hard to get even with many factories long past virus shutdowns, analysts said. They added 2021 sales forecasts would be higher if not for the supply issues.

Ishan Dutt, a Canalys analyst, recalled a customer telling a vendor in April that any device with a keyboard would suffice as long as shipments arrived in a week. That urgent need has subsided, but people now want to upgrade, maintaining pressure on the industry, Dutt said.

Additional government stimulus money for schools and businesses in several countries may add to the crunch until 2022, said Ryan Reith, vice president at analyst firm IDC.

Some computers coming to market in the next few months address new needs. They feature better cameras and speakers for video conferencing, analysts said. More models will have a cellular chip, aiding users who can access 4G or 5G mobile signals but not traditional Wi-Fi.

Sam Burd, president at PC maker Dell Technologies Inc, this month said the industry “renaissance” would soon bring devices with artificial intelligence software to simplify tasks like logging on and switching off cameras.

Dell’s online orders from consumers surged 62% in the third quarter compared with last year. Over Black Friday, teams that would normally ring bells at Dell’s Texas headquarters to celebrate big sales gathered like many other people in 2020 – over Zoom from PCs at home.

Reporting by Paresh Dave



This 700 MPH Hyperloop Concept Could Become The Fastest Way To Travel

Source: BI

Countries in Europe and Asia are filled with high-speed bullet trains, bringing passengers from Paris to London or Tokyo to Kyoto within 2.5 hours. But hyperloops could bring passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 45 minutes. Elon Musk introduced the concept of the hyperloop in 2013, but the US still doesn't have one. So what's the holdup? It all comes down to technology, money, and construction. Virgin Hyperloop is on its way to developing the first hyperloop, testing a 107-mph run in November using maglev technology.


Alphabet’s Google won EU antitrust approval on Thursday for its $2.1 billion bid for Fitbit

( via — Thurs, 17th Dec 2020) London, UK —

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Alphabet’s Google won EU antitrust approval on Thursday for its $2.1 billion bid for Fitbit after agreeing restrictions on how it will use customers’ health related data.

The deal had triggered criticism from privacy advocates on both sides of the Atlantic, consumer organisations and Google rivals about the company’s market power and the use of people’s health data in targeted advertising.

Fitbit, once the leader in the wearable devices market, has lost market share to Apple, Xiaomi, Samsung and Huawei in recent years.

The European Commission said it had agreed concessions with Google, valid for 10 years with the possibility of another 10-year extension, addressing competition concerns, confirming a Reuters story in October.

Google will store Fitbit user data separately from Google data used for advertising, and will not use data from Fitbit and other wearable devices for Google Ads. Users can decide whether to store their health data in their Google or Fitbit account.

The tech giant will maintain access to users’ health and fitness data to software applications through Fitbit Web API software, without charging for access and subject to user consent.

It will continue to provide a free API software license for core functionalities to Android device makers, allowing their gadgets to function with Android smartphones.

Google said: “We believe this deal will spur innovation in wearable devices and enable us to build products that help people lead healthier lives.”

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee


Bitcoin surpasses $20,000 to hit new high

( via– Wed, 16th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

The volatile cryptocurrency has risen by 170% over the year though sceptics dismiss speculation about a continued rally.

Bitcoin has hit a new all-time high at above $20,000 as the volatile cryptocurrency saw its latest surge in valuation.

It jumped 4.5% to as much as $20,440, news agency Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Bitcoin has gained more than 170% this year against a backdrop of wider market turmoil amid the coronavirus crisis.
The FCA argues that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have no intrinsic value

It has been buoyed by demand from large investors keen on its potential for quick gains as well as expectations about it gaining more widespread traction as a payment method.

The rise of Bitcoin has coincided with a drop in gold – a traditional safe haven in times of volatility – in recent months.

But it has been a bumpy ride for investors, with the cryptocurrency passing $19,000 in November before dropping sharply.

A previously rally in 2017 saw it surpass $20,000, according to one valuation, before dropping by 80%.

Bitcoin is the most valuable and popular of a range of digital currencies and some have suggested it could pass $100,000 next year.

But others dismiss such predictions as outlandish.

Carney: Cryptocurrencies must be regulated

Different figures are given for the cryptocurrency's all-time high – depending on the exchanges that value it in dollar terms.

A $20,089 valuation reached in December 2017 is among those cited while others say today's rise was the first time it has breached the $20,000 mark.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey recently said he was “very nervous” about people using Bitcoin to make payments.

He has also warned that people who invest in the cryptocurrency should be prepared to “lose all their money”.

In October, the Financial Conduct Authority said crypto derivatives – financial products based on the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – were to be banned from sale to retail consumers from next January.

It said consumers were at risk of “sudden and unexpected losses” from the investments – effectively bets on cryptocurrency prices – and that the ban would save them about £53m a year.

The FCA says cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value.

But its supporters point out that Bitcoin is accepted by companies including Starbucks and Microsoft as a form of payment.



UK government restarts talks over £20bn nuclear power station

( via – – Mon, 14th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Move comes alongside energy white paper, which aims to cut UK’s carbon emissions

The latest round of negotiations over the £20bn nuclear reactor will focus on whether EDF can prove that it has learned lessons from the Hinkley Point nuclear project, and that a successor plant would offer the public value for money.

The government said it was considering a new deal to help the French state-owned energy company finance Sizewell, which may include taking a direct stake in the project and making taxpayers liable for any cost overruns.

A statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it would consider a greater role in the project provided there was “clear value for money for consumers and taxpayers”.

The decision to restart formal negotiations comes after a hiatus in talks that have been dogged by concerns over cost, and the involvement of China General Nuclear Power (CGN), which holds a 20% stake in the project.

CGN is reportedly considering backing out of the project, which would leave a financing gap for EDF if the UK government is unwilling to help pay for the construction costs. The government is also planning to back a new generation of small modular nuclear reactors, or “mini nukes”, which can be built at a lower cost.

The decision to reignite Britain’s new nuclear ambitions was announced alongside industry-wide plans to cut carbon emissions from the energy system while keeping a lid on energy bills and helping to create 220,000 new jobs in the next 10 years.

Alok Sharma, the business and energy secretary, said the plans will transform the government’s “climate ambition into climate action” through a “decisive and permanent shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels”.

The white paper builds on the prime minister’s 10-point climate plan which set out plans to invest in offshore wind farms, spend £1bn to develop carbon capture technology, ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030, and provide £1.3bn for a nationwide roll-out of electric vehicle charge points.

The energy white paper also includes the following proposals:

  • Cut energy bills: trials for a new switching service to automatically move homes onto better deals, as well as £6.7bn over the next six years to support socially vulnerable and fuel poor homes.
  • Replace fossil fuel boilers: an aim for all newly installed heating systems to be low carbon by the mid-2030s.
  • UK carbon trading: a new UK emissions trading scheme to replace the EU’s carbon market from January 2021 which will put a tighter limit on emissions.
  • North Sea transition: plans to support the people and communities most affected by the move away from oil and gas production.

Sharma added: “At every step of the way, we will place affordability and fairness at the heart of our reforms – unleashing a wave of competition so consumers get the best deals possible on their bills, while protecting the vulnerable and fuel poor with additional financial support.”


Flight of the New Concordes laying the groundwork for a new supersonic era

Source: Bloomberg

The Concorde took its last flight in 2003, making commercial supersonic travel a thing of the past. In recent years, however, a number of companies have been laying the groundwork for a new supersonic era.

UK National Lottery age limit for playing will rise to 18 from next year

( via – – Tue, 8th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Rise in minimum age part of gambling review aiming to update ‘analogue law in a digital age’

The age limit for playing the National Lottery will rise to 18 from next year, the government has said, on the day ministers launched a review of gambling laws that could result in curbs on advertising and a cap on online casino stakes.

Culture minister Oliver Dowden said the 2005 Gambling Act – written before the arrival of the smartphone – was an “analogue law in a digital age”, as he kicked off a lengthy process that could unwind much of the Blair-era legislation.

The only concrete measure announced by the government was an increase in the age at which people can play the National Lottery, which will rise from 16 to 18 in October 2021. The change reflects concern that the weekly draw’s expansion into areas such as online play could make it a gateway to problem gambling.

But the government also launched a long-awaited review of gambling laws with a 16-week call for evidence.

As the Guardian reported last week, ministers will consider banning the sponsorship of sport by betting firms and limiting online casino stakes, as well as mandating strict affordability checks to ensure that punters do not lose beyond their means.

There could also be a testing regime for new products, meaning some gambling games could be barred from release if they are deemed too dangerous for potential addicts.

Ministers will also consider giving the regulator, the Gambling Commission, new funding and powers to tackle the unregulated parallel market, as well as to impose harsher punishments on legitimate gambling operators that fail to protect vulnerable people.

“Whilst millions gamble responsibly, the Gambling Act is an analogue law in a digital age,” said Dowden. “From an era of having a flutter in a high-street bookmaker, casino, racecourse or seaside pier, the industry has evolved at breakneck speed. This comprehensive review will ensure we are tackling problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people. It will also help those who enjoy placing a bet to do so safely.”

Gambling lobby group the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) said the review “provides an important opportunity to drive further changes on safer gambling introduced by the industry in the past year”.

The industry has recently taken voluntary steps to demonstrate its commitment to protecting vulnerable gamblers, including a “whistle to whistle” ban on adverts while live matches are broadcast.

Firms agreed the measure with the government review looming, more than a decade after unfettered gambling advertising was permitted by Labour.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs a cross-party group examining gambling-related harm, said the review was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform the online gambling industry, which has grown exponentially over the past decade.

“It has evolved from the traditional betting I grew up with to a global corporate entity which extracts vast profit from people in this country. Our regulatory system has not evolved with it and the excesses of the industry are clear for all to see.”

By Rob Davies

Ikea to stop printing its traditional catalogue after 70 years

( via – – Mon, 7th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Furniture giant Ikea has announced it will stop printing its traditional catalogue, one of the world's biggest annual publications, after 70 years.

The company said “fewer people” were reading the printed catalogue as customers moved to digital alternatives to shop and look for inspirations.

The publication reached a peak in 2016 when around 200 million copies were distributed in more than 50 markets.

The last edition to be printed is the 2021 version with 40 million copies.

The catalogue's first edition was put together by Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad himself in 1951. It featured the MK wing chair, had 285,000 copies and was distributed in southern Sweden, where the company was created.

In a statement, Ikea said the catalogue had become an “iconic and beloved publication” and an “important success factor for Ikea to reach and inspire” customers.

“Turning the page with our beloved catalogue is emotional but rational,” said Konrad Gruss, managing director at Inter Ikea Systems, a division of brand owner Inter Ikea Group.

“For both customers and co-workers, the Ikea Catalogue is a publication that brings a lot of emotions, memories and joy. For 70 years it has been one of our most unique and iconic products.”

The company has already increased digital investments, Mr Gruss said, as media consumption and customer behaviours change. Ikea said online sales had increased by 45% worldwide last year.

However, the company – which has 445 stores – announced in October it planned to open dozens of new stores, including in the UK.

In 2012, the catalogue sparked controversy when images of women were missing in a version distributed in Saudi Arabia. The company then attributed the gaffe to the fact its Saudi operation was run by a franchisee.

The company is working on a smaller print publication about inspiration for home furnishing to be available in stores next year, Reuters news agency reports.


Source: Alux

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UK service sector businesses more optimistic about 2021 after vaccine news, surveys show

( via — Mon, 3rd Dec 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British businesses in the service sector grew more optimistic about 2021 following news of COVID-19 vaccines, despite the first fall in activity since June as a four-week partial lockdown across England took its toll.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK services Purchasing Managers’ (PMI) dropped to 47.6 in November from 51.4 in October, the first time since June that it fell below the 50 level that divides growth from contraction.

But this was a much smaller decline than during the first lockdown in April, when the PMI hit a record-low of 13.4, and less of a slowdown than an earlier ‘flash’ November reading of 45.8.

The composite PMI, which includes manufacturers who enjoyed stronger growth, dropped to 49.0 from 52.1.

News of effective COVID-19 vaccines also boosted business optimism in the services PMI, which rose to its strongest since February’s five-year high.

Samuel Tombs, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the downturn could still prove significant, as a separate survey from Britain’s Office for National Statistics pointed to a hefty 3% monthly drop in revenue in early November.

“We still look for around a month-to-month drop in GDP of about 5% in November, followed by an incomplete rebound of around 4% in December,” he said.

Britain’s economy suffered a record 25% fall in output in March and April. The Bank of England forecast this month that output would fall just 2% in the final three months of 2020.

Thursday’s PMI survey showed job losses continued for a ninth consecutive month, the longest run since 2010.

Unemployment is forecast to rise further during the months it will take to roll out the vaccine to millions of Britons.

While some sectors such as retail – which is not covered by the PMI – and hospitality have been hard hit by the second lockdown, others have found it easier to adapt, IHS Markit said.

A Bank of England (BoE) survey showed optimism for 2021. Businesses expected sales in the second quarter of 2021 would be only 2% below pre-pandemic levels, less severe than an 8% shortfall forecast a month earlier.

The services PMI survey took place from Nov. 12-26, while the BoE survey was conducted from Nov. 6-20, meaning most responses came after news of the initial COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough from Pfizer and BioNTech on Nov. 9.

Businesses that traded with the European Union also told the BoE they were more prepared for new post-Brexit customs requirements from Jan. 1. – though almost a third said they were still only partly or not at all prepared with just weeks to go.

Reporting by David Milliken

How Peloton Became A $4 Billion Fitness Start-Up

Source: CNBC

Peloton is a bonafide fitness phenomenon — it has a million impassioned users to whom its bikes and original streaming workouts are a way of life, making it much more than a company that sells exercise equipment, though it does that too. In fact, Peloton has sold over 400,000 bikes so far and started delivering its first treadmills in late 2018, the company tells CNBC Make It. Peloton changing the way America works out.

Amazon staff in the UK set to see Christmas boost in wages

( via– Fri, 27th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

It comes after a year where many people have relied on the company, which runs a global retail operation and a streaming service.

Amazon staff in the UK are set to see a Christmas boost in their pay packet, after the firm announced $500m (£374m) in global bonuses.

The company, which is run by the world's richest man Jeff Bezos, will hand out £300 to full-time workers who are employed from 1 to 31 December, while part-time staff will get £150.

It comes after a year where many people have relied on the company – which runs a global retail operation and streaming service – to send gifts, buy essential items or while away the hours on box sets and films.

In a blog post, the firm's senior vice president of worldwide operations, Dave Clark, said this holiday season would be “unique”, and that he was “grateful to our teams who continue to play a vital role serving their communities”.

He added: “This brings our total spent on special bonuses and incentives for our teams globally to over $2.5bn (£1.84bn) in 2020, including a $500m (£374m) thank you bonus earlier this year.

“Our teams are doing amazing work serving customers' essential needs, while also helping to bring some much-needed holiday cheer for socially distanced families around the world. I've never been more grateful for, or proud of, our teams.”

Despite paying two rounds of bonuses this year, the firm has had to answer questions about its safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic after US politicians scrutinised Amazon's working practices.

Amazon joins major US retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot in spreading the wealth, after sales during coronavirus lockdowns surged.

Bezos also grew his personal wealth exponentially in 2020 and is estimated to be worth almost $186bn (£136bn) – almost $60bn (£44bn) ahead of the next richest person in the world, Elon Musk.

Virtual reality embraced by traders and bankers to invigorate working from home

( via — Tue, 24th Dec 2020) London, UK —

By Elizabeth Howcroft, Saikat Chatterjee

LONDON (Reuters) – Once the preserve of gamers, virtual reality (VR) has been seized on by the financial sector as a way of enlivening home working for lonely traders or isolated executives and replicating real-world sales, networking or training events.

With 90% of employees at some of the world’s biggest financial firms now working at home due to a resurgence in coronavirus infections, more and more companies are experimenting with VR.

Some practices could stick beyond the pandemic, particularly as home working becomes more widespread.

At investment manager Fidelity International, executives experimented with a VR auditorium, taking questions from colleagues and even walking up and down the aisles.

“Working from home has massively accelerated the interest in virtual/online spaces,” said Stuart Warner, head of technology at Fidelity International which manages $3.3 trillion in assets.

Having internally explored VR and augmented reality (AR) technology, which unlike VR is not fully immersive and involves computer-generated elements being visible through a smartphone screen for example, Fidelity now aims to trial VR with its sales teams’ interactions with clients.

“It brings it to life a bit,” Warner said.

For London-based Ed Greig, chief disruptor at Deloitte Digital, VR has sparked conversations with potential clients and colleagues in far-flung cities in office get-togethers.

“The other day, I was finishing a VR meeting with somebody and as I was walking out of their office I bumped into a person who was coming in for another meeting and that interaction for a couple of minutes turned into a proper business conversation later,” Greig said.

VR can be useful not just for scheduled meetings but also for helping ease feelings of isolation and giving some workers the office buzz they crave and thrive in.

Swiss bank UBS has experimented with issuing its London-based traders with Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses, which it says allows staff to recreate the trading floor experience at home.


VR headsets allow users to see and interact with others in the same digital room, and movements, such as turning one’s head, correspond with how the person’s avatar moves in the space.

Recreating the feeling of human interaction is what has provided impetus for the VR push.

Executives say they are combating so-called Zoom fatigue – exhaustion brought on by a daily barrage of video conferences, meetings and messaging via tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, which have replaced face-to-face interaction.

The hope is that virtual reality spaces will resuscitate team spirit, especially when bringing in new employees.

Marc Bena, who leads the digital audit business unit at PricewaterhouseCoopers UK, said:

“In a virtual environment you can hear multiple people talking at the same time, which is different in a zoom meeting… when you wear these headsets you are transported into a giant room with a whiteboard and office furniture and you join your other colleagues in brainstorming ideas.”

“You can look around you and interact as if you were in a office. That recreates the sensation of being together.”

After a virtual session he and colleagues had virtual drinks in another zone and could move from table to table.

“You could recreate exactly the same environment as if you were in the cocktail parties with your avatar. The only downside to this is that it can get pretty intense after a couple of hours,” he said.

A PwC study in June found participants in a virtual reality workshop were three times more confident about what they had learned than those learning via traditional classrooms or even via e-learning courses.

The cost to train 13,000 executives in a classroom at the firm is eight times more expensive than via a virtual reality course for the same number of people, the study found.

PwC and American Express use VRtuoso, a virtual reality presentation platform, that utilizes headsets made by Pico Interactive for training and boosting sales.

So far, most of VR’s real-world business applications are in medicine and retail, including training department stores salespeople how to deal with difficult customers.

Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, a U.S. based-market consultant, says more widespread adoption is inevitable.

“I think VR technology adoption is going to continue to grow over time,” she said.


The immersive work experience carries a hefty price tag – Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 headsets cost $3,500 apiece.

But the financial industry is gearing up to spend. Fidelity says tech spending is up “100%-200%” this year versus 2019 and it will keep that level of spending for the next year or two.

David Ripert, chapter president of the UK branch of the global VR/AR Association said that growth in demand for VR was a “silver lining” of the pandemic, as people used the technology to recreate cancelled physical events and conferences.

“Using VR for these networking events is really cool because you get that sense of belonging and connection that you don’t get necessarily through flat 2D video,” he said.

Advances in immersive technology could save banks as much as $1.5 trillion by 2030 with nearly $500 billion coming from virtual reality applications alone, PwC estimates, through the use of VR training or business meetings.

Deloitte estimates that 19% of British firms have invested in VR and augmented reality in 2019 and a further 31% will invest in such technologies by 2021.

Citibank first built an experimental simulated trading environment some years ago when it looked at Microsoft’s HoloLens. At a bond conference in Munich last year, Finnish bank Nordea gave investors a virtual tour of its Copenhagen trading floor through VR headsets.

But while there is momentum in the sector, to be fully effective VR technology must overcome constraints such as limited display size, processing power, and battery life.

This is where a host of start-ups are trying to get in the market by offering cheaper, simpler ways to smooth remote work. Platforms such as Sococo and Gather provide virtual versions of physical spaces online, in which employees can move about and interact without headsets.

“The casual socialisation aspect of work is hard to get when you’re doing everything over Google Meet or Zoom,” said Phillip Wang, who founded Gather with his university friends.

Gather has hosted everything from weddings and parties to meetings and conferences, with 30,000 people coming to the virtual spaces every day from more than 100 countries.

While startups are scaling up quickly, established leaders are launching new innovations.

Zoom Video Communications said it expects VR and AR to become a bigger part of online communication in the future.

This could include new enhancements to alter a person’s appearance to make it more work-appropriate, hiding gym clothes for instance, and translating real-life details into the virtual space, such as the ability to shake hands.

Microsoft said it has seen increased opportunities for VR usage this year. Google declined to comment.

“I think the pandemic has changed people’s perception on what’s possible and what’s feasible,” said Fidelity’s Warner.

Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft and Saikat Chatterjee