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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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Volkswagen exploring IPO of luxury carmaker Porsche -sources

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December 7, 2021

BERLIN/HAMBURG (Reuters) -Volkswagen is still exploring a possible initial public offering of its luxury brand Porsche AG as a way to fund its costly shift towards software and electric vehicles, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

Speculation about a Porsche listing, which could be a record-breaking IPO, has surfaced over the year, but no decision has been made due to a complex stakeholder set-up, the sources said, adding it was unclear whether a listing would happen.

Reports about a possible listing of the unit have included estimates of a standalone Porsche AG valuation of between 45 billion and 90 billion euros ($101 billion).

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Earlier, Handelsblatt reported that the Porsche and Piech families, who control Volkswagen’s largest shareholder Porsche SE, are considering selling part of their VW stake to fund a substantial stake purchase in a possible Porsche IPO.

The families, who own 31.4% of Volkswagen shares and have 53.3% of voting rights via Porsche SE, could sell enough shares to raise roughly 15 billion euros, the German newspaper said.

They would remain the largest shareholder in Volkswagen, Handelsblatt added, ahead of the state of Lower Saxony, which holds a 11.8% equity stake and 20% of voting rights.

Porsche SE called the report “pure speculation”, without giving further comment. Volkswagen declined to comment.

Volkswagen preference shares, which have fallen significantly in recent weeks due to a leadership tussle, closed up 8.6% at the top of Germany’s benchmark DAX index.

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Porsche SE shares closed 8.5% higher.

People familiar with the matter told Reuters in May that the families were prepared to take a direct stake in Porsche https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/porsche-piech-families-weigh-direct-stake-possible-porsche-ipo-sources-2021-05-31 AG should the luxury carmaker be separately listed.

Such a move would loosen the grip of the families on Europe’s largest carmaker Volkswagen, in favour of direct ownership of the sports car brand founded by their ancestor Ferdinand Porsche, which dates back to 1931.

Asked about a potential listing of Porsche in October, Chief Executive Herbert Diess said that Volkswagen was constantly reviewing its portfolio, but gave no further comment.

Diess will probably stay on as VW CEO although he will cede some responsibilities after a clash with labour leaders, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

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($1 = 0.8894 euros)

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Ilona Wissenbach, Jan Schwartz, Pamela Barbaglia and Christoph Steitz; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Alexander Smith)

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American Airlines taps president Isom as next CEO

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December 7, 2021

By Rajesh Kumar Singh and Abhijith Ganapavaram

(Reuters) – American Airlines Group Inc CEO Doug Parker will hand over the reins of the No. 1 U.S. airline to president Robert Isom on March 31, the company said on Tuesday, sending its shares up 2% in morning trade.

Parker will continue as chairman, while Isom will join the carrier’s board after he takes over as CEO.

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Isom, a longtime airline industry executive, took over as president in 2016 and has overseen operations, planning, marketing and pricing.

The leadership change comes as the industry recovers from the lows hit during the pandemic but faces operational challenges due to the threat posed by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Isom faces the challenge of repairing American’s balance sheet as the pandemic has left it with the largest debt stock in the U.S. airline industry. He will also have to work on improving relations with the company’s labor unions.

In an interview, Isom said American would focus on returning to profitability as soon as possible and delivering a reliable service. He also aims to pay down a lot of debt.

“We’re going to be really focused on making sure that we have an appropriate level of leverage,” Isom told Reuters.

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Returning to profitability, however, is contingent upon a full recovery in travel demand. Isom said while the airline’s domestic business remained strong, new travel restrictions following the Omicron variant’s discovery had dampened demand in some international markets.

“If there’s anything, it just delays recovery,” he said.

Isom, 58, has been playing a key role in developing American’s strategy before and through the pandemic.

Analysts at Jefferies said he would bring broad experience to the job and the leadership change was unlikely to result in a deviation from the strategy, focused on fleet renewal and alliances, under Parker.

“Given Mr. Isom’s lengthy history with Mr. Parker, this transition was likely in place for a significant period of time,” they wrote in a note.

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A ‘THOUGHTFUL AND WELL-PLANNED’ SUCCESSION

In a letter to employees, Parker said the transition was the result of a “thoughtful and well-planned multi-year process”, dating back to Isom’s elevation to president in 2016.

Parker, 60, said the transition would have happened sooner if it was not for the pandemic, which brought the airline industry to its knees.

“While we still have work to do, the recovery from the pandemic is underway and now is the right time to make the transition,” he said.

Parker, one of the longest-serving chief executives in the airline industry, is known for overseeing consolidation in the industry as well as leading it through crises.

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He took the reins at America West Airlines just 10 days before the 9/11 attacks. When America West merged with US Airways in 2005, Parker continued as CEO of the combined company.

He was named chairman and CEO of American Airlines in 2013 after its merger with US Airways.

He was also instrumental in negotiating a COVID-19 relief package for the industry, which carriers say has saved thousands of jobs, prevented bankruptcy and put it in a position to support the economy’s recovery from the pandemic.

Under Parker, American expanded overseas and took on low-cost carriers at home, sparking a fare war. He formed strategic partnerships with Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp to compete in markets where other carriers had an advantage.

The alliance with JetBlue, however, has invited lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department and six states.

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In June, Southwest Airlines Co named company veteran Robert Jordan as CEO in place of Gary Kelly, who will step down next year.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru Editing by Arun Koyyur, Jason Neely and Mark Potter)

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U.S. bank executives worried about sustained high inflation

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on

December 7, 2021

By Matt Scuffham

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. bank executives on Tuesday raised concerns about the impact of a sustained period of higher inflation, adding to pressure on the Federal Reserve to accelerate plans to wind down the pace of its asset purchases.

Senior bankers are increasingly concerned that higher inflation could impact borrowers’ ability to pay back loans, slow U.S. economic growth and destabilize stock markets.

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Wells Fargo Chief Executive Charlie Scharf said at a conference that the U.S. central bank may need to move quicker to address inflation concerns. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said he anticipated a period of higher inflation.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said his bank was running internal health checks to ensure its portfolios could withstand a return to 1970s-style inflation.

“We’ve been doing that for three or four quarters now figuring that we’d be at this place where inflation is real and out there,” Moynihan said at the Goldman Sachs Financial Services Conference.

Annual U.S. inflation increased from 1.4% to 13.3% from 1960 to 1979, while the country’s economic growth stagnated.

That had a marked impact on people’s lives, with the value of savings and the purchasing power of fixed incomes like pensions being undermined.

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U.S. inflation is running at more than twice the Fed’s flexible 2% annual target.

The International Monetary Fund last week warned of intensifying inflationary pressures, especially in the United States, and said U.S. central bankers should focus more on inflation risks.

“There’s a case to be made that they (the Federal Reserve) should be moving faster than they’ve been moving,” Scharf said.

“Inflation is very, very real,” he said. “Prices are significantly higher for inputs across most industries. Labor shortages and wage increases are extremely real. Whether that continues for several years is not all that relevant, but it certainly will have an impact over the next year or so.”

PANDEMIC’S SHADOW

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The U.S. central bank needs to be ready to respond to the possibility that inflation may not recede in the second half of next year as most forecasters currently expect, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week.

“My guess is now that there will be a quicker path to appropriate actions,” Scharf said.

Goldman Sachs’ Solomon anticipates inflation will be higher for a period but doesn’t expect a repeat of the cost rises of the 1970s, he said in an interview with CNBC.

“There’s a reasonable chance that we’re going to have inflation above trend for a period of time, but that doesn’t mean it has to be like the 1970s,” he said. “You’ve got to be cautious and manage your risk appropriately.”

Solomon acknowledged “uncertainty” in global financial markets due to factors including the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and question marks over the pace at which the Fed and other central banks will reduce asset purchases.

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The Fed has begun reducing its $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities on a pace that would put it on track to complete the wind-down in mid-2022. There is growing pressure on the central bank to accelerate the end of the bond-buying program, which was unveiled in 2020 to stem the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“We’re still not completely out of the pandemic. There’s uncertainty that comes from that and that uncertainty is going to affect economic activity,” Solomon said.

“On top of that, we have shifts going on in fiscal and monetary policy to try to balance that. There’s no question that this has been an unprecedented period, so it’s very hard to predict how we’re going to come out of this.”

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham, Editing by Louise Heavens, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Paul Simao)

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