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Amazon’s holiday-quarter forecast disappoints as labor, supply issues mount

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October 29, 2021

By Jeffrey Dastin and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) -Amazon.com Inc on Thursday reported a slump in profit that it expects will continue through the holiday quarter, as higher pay to attract workers and other operational disruptions diminish the company’s windfall from online shopping.

Shares fell 4% in after-hours trade.

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After a year of blockbuster results, the world’s largest online retailer is facing a tougher outlook. In a tight labor market, it has boosted average U.S. warehouse pay to $18 per hour and marketed ever bigger signing bonuses to attract blue-collar staff it needs to keep its high-turnover operation humming.

The company meanwhile is contending with global supply chain challenges. It has doubled its container processing ability, expanded its delivery partner program and has ramped up its warehouse investments – all at a noteworthy cost.

The company said it expects operating profit for the current quarter to be between $0 and $3.0 billion, short of $6.9 billion Amazon posted the year prior. In the just-ended third quarter, net income fell by about 50% to $3.16 billion, a first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Andy Jassy, who became CEO in July, in a statement said Amazon was confronting higher shipping costs, increased wages and worker shortages. These labor challenges, plus lost productivity and cost inflation, added $2 billion to Amazon’s expenses in the quarter, an amount that’s expected to double in the holiday period.

Amazon is “doing whatever it takes to minimize the impact on customers and selling partners this holiday season,” he said. “It’ll be expensive for us in the short term, but it’s the right prioritization for our customers and partners.”

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The retailer has strived to prevent a repeat of the 2013 season when delays left some without presents on Christmas Day.

Amazon’s struggle to staff its warehouses spells challenges for rivals this holiday season. Retailers already have faced difficulty stocking their shelves with popular toys, gadgets and sneakers.

Supply chain woes are also costing Apple Inc – $6 billion in sales during the company’s fiscal fourth quarter according to results released on Thursday. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that the impact will be even worse during the holiday sales quarter.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said Amazon’s supply chain challenge surprised him because he believed the company had plenty of products on its shelves to swap for those stuck on container ships.

“I thought they would be fine because of selection,” he said. “Apparently that’s not true.”

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LABOR SHORTAGE

Some analysts like Nicholas Hyett of Hargreaves Lansdown gave Amazon a pass. They say the company’s track record of high spending to deliver for customers has paid off in the long run.

“Amazon has never been overly focused on the bottom line,” Hyett said.

Still, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said on a call with analysts that some costs were here to say. While the price tag for steel needed for warehouse construction had gone up, and while the company would look to procure such items more cheaply in the future, he said Amazon’s base wage increases might be permanent.

He told reporters that Amazon had faced inconsistent staffing levels and that workers, not physical space, had become its primary capacity constraint in the third quarter. It wants to hire 150,000 more workers to meet U.S. seasonal demand this holiday.

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This constraint has had a ripple effect.

“Inventory placement is frequently redirected to fulfillment centers that have labor to receive this product, which results in less optimal placement, which leads to longer and more expensive transportation routes,” he said.

Staff are pushing for more, too. Around 2,000 workers in New York City petitioned this week for a vote on whether to make their warehouse the company’s first unionized facility in the United States.

Olsavsky said Amazon had no announcement on whether to charge more for its loyalty club Prime subscriptions but added that the company always looks at that option.

To juice revenue, the company began encouraging customers to shop holiday deals as early as Oct. 4 this year. Consumers have begun returning to pre-pandemic shopping levels, spending more on travel and services, Olsavsky said.

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The company forecast fourth-quarter sales to be between $130 billion and $140 billion. Analysts were expecting $142.05 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. It missed expectations for third-quarter sales as well, witnessing its slowest growth since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Amazon’s cloud computing division was a bright spot. Olsavsky said revenue growth re-accelerated for that business, and the company beat analysts’ expectations with net sales of $16.1 billion in the quarter. Amazon Web Services has seen sales rise with demand for gaming and remote work during the pandemic.

Amazon’s total net sales rose to $110.8 billion in the third quarter; analysts had predicted $111.6 billion.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru and Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, California; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool)

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Arnault-backed group launches second SPAC listing

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December 7, 2021

By Emma-Victoria Farr

LONDON (Reuters) – France’s richest man Bernard Arnault and former UniCredit head Jean Pierre Mustier will publicly list a second blank cheque vehicle in Amsterdam, raising 200 million euros ($226 million), the bookrunners on the deal said.

Earlier this year, the duo raised half a billion euros from their special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Pegasus Acquisition Company Europe B.V., which is searching for takeover targets in the financial sector.

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On Tuesday, the same group of backers announced they would list a second vehicle with a similar focus, Pegasus Entrepreneurial Acquisition Company Europe, in Amsterdam.

SPACs are listed on a stock exchange by a group of entrepreneurs, who use the money raised to target a private company – allowing the target to get a stock market listing without the arduous process of launching a public listing.

Mustier is working with former Bank of America banker Diego De Giorgi and entrepreneur and investor Pierre Cuilleret in launching the 200 million euro listing.

Several SPACs have listed in Amsterdam, potentially boosting the Dutch financial capital’s credentials as a hub for fast-growing companies. London has only hosted one major SPAC in 2021, after updating its rules to make them easier.

Pegasus is backed by institutional sponsors Tikehau Capital and Financière Agache and by sponsors De Giorgi, Cuilleret and Mustier. Citi, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas are the bookrunners on the deal.

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($1 = 0.8860 euros)

(Reporting by Emma-Victoria Farr; editing by John O’Donnell and Louise Heavens)

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Bulls back in charge as Omicron worries wane

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December 7, 2021

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Waning Omicron COVID-19 variant worries and a timely booster shot of Chinese stimulus lifted world stock markets and oil on Tuesday and left traders offloading safe-haven currencies and bonds again.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index was on track for its first back-to-back run of plus 1% gains since February while Asia saw record bounces from some of China’s biggest firms such as Alibaba and Baidu. [.SS][.EU]

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The risk-on mood also helped the dollar climb against safe haven currencies such as the Japanese yen,, which had lost 0.6% overnight, as the confidence-sensitive Australian dollar also found buyers. [FRX/]

Safe-harbour government bonds went the other way with yields – which move inverse to bond prices – up 2.5% on Germany’s benchmark 10-year Bund after falling to a three-month low on Monday. [GVD/EUR]

Reports in South Africa said Omicron cases there had only shown mild symptoms and the top U.S. infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, told CNN “it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity” so far.

“Good news relating to the severity of Omicron should be taken with a pinch of salt. Faster transmission could offset the benefits of milder symptoms,” researchers at ING said in a note. “More broadly, it is still early days, even if markets are starting to display Omicron fatigue.”

The gains also came after China’s central bank on Monday injected its second shot of stimulus since July by cutting the amount of cash that banks must hold in reserve.

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There was still uncertainty about its property sector as Evergrande teetered on the brink of default again but data showing much stronger import growth was “a positive sign on the strength of domestic demand”, RBC analyst Adam Cole said.

Elsewhere, Australia’s S&P/ASX200 rose 0.95%, while Japan’s Nikkei advanced 2.1% as risk-on sentiment pushed markets higher.

MSCI’s main Asia ex-Japan benchmark has lost about 5% so far this year, with Hong Kong markets figuring among the big losers, while Indian and Taiwan stocks outperformed.

Shares in embattled developer Evergrande edged up 1.7% after hitting a record low on Monday as markets waited to see if the real estate giant has paid $82.5 million with a 30-day grace period coming to an end.

Elsewhere, markets were supported by gains on Wall Street, where economically sensitive stocks outperformed.

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“While epidemiologists have rightly warned against premature conclusions on Omicron, markets arguably surmised that last week’s brutal sell-off ought to have been milder,” Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, said in a note.

“After all, early assessments of Omicron cases have been declared mild, spurring half-full relief.”

Also supporting the dollar in FX markets was the expectation the Federal Reserve will accelerate the tapering of its bond-buying programme when it meets next week in response to a tightening labour market.

Oil prices jumped another 2% to $74.60 a barrel, adding to a near 5% rebound the day before as concerns about the impact of Omicron on global fuel demand eased. [O/R]

Copper prices also ticked higher while gold was steady at $1,778.5 per ounce on expectations U.S. consumer price data due later this week will show inflation quickening.

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(Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Exclusive: EU antitrust regulator seeks input on Microsoft’s $16 billion Nuance deal

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December 7, 2021

By Paresh Dave

(Reuters) – EU’s antitrust regulator is taking a deeper look into Microsoft Corp’s $16 billion deal for transcription technology company Nuance Communications Inc, asking customers and competitors to draw up a list of concerns, according to a questionnaire from last month seen by Reuters.

The previously unreported outreach is the most extensive by an antitrust authority since the companies announced the acquisition in April, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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Microsoft declined to comment, and Nuance did not respond to a request for comment.

After minimal review, the U.S. Department of Justice in June and the Australian Competition Commission in October said they would not contest the deal. The companies filed for approval from the European Commission’s competition bureau last month, and the regulator has until Dec. 21 to clear the deal or open a bigger investigation.

The companies had expected to close the deal by the end of this year, but said last month the timeline could slip to early next year.

The questionnaire asks whether Microsoft and Nuance are competitors and whether a tie-up could affect clients and rivals, including whether Microsoft could favor Nuance over competing services.

Nuance primarily sells transcription technology that is popular among doctors and call centers that want to automate note-talking. Analysts view the deal as bolstering Microsoft’s presence in the healthcare market, and bringing it new voice and medical data to train artificial intelligence offerings in health, speech and biometric security.

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Like other big tech companies, Microsoft for years has grown its business through acquisitions, such as in advertising and video gaming. But in the last decade, Microsoft has avoided the target that recently has dogged its competitors Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc, all of which are facing antitrust lawsuits and investigations on numerous issues.

Steven Weber, a University of California Berkeley professor studying the intersection of technology and health care, said possible concerns about the pending deal could include Microsoft forcing its Office suite on Nuance customers by bundling them together.

Nuance has said it serves 77% of U.S. hospitals.

A key to its success has been has ensuring in deals with customers that it could use their data to advance its voice recognition systems, according to former chief executive Paul Ricci and another former employee.

For instance, a Nuance contract with Augusta University Medical Center, obtained by Reuters this year through a public records request, reads, “Customer shall provide Nuance access to voice and text data…and grants Nuance a perpetual, royalty-free license to copy, use and analyze such data for speech recognition research.”

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Big cloud vendors such as Amazon and Microsoft typically do not have unfettered access to customers’ data for research and development. But the opportunity to acquire those relationships and data explains Microsoft’s interest in Nuance, the former employees said.

Other providers of health transcription technologies include 3M Co and Philips.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Li and David Gregorio)

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