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Retail turmoil hits Times Square with tenants looking for exit #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 19, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380772?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Retail turmoil hits Times Square with tenants looking for exit

Jan 19. 2020
Pedestrians walk though Times Square in New York on Feb. 22, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle,

Pedestrians walk though Times Square in New York on Feb. 22, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle,
By Syndication Washington Post,  Bloomberg · Natalie Wong, Jordyn Holman · BUSINESS, RETAIL

Struggling retailers are souring on Times Square. Gap and Cover Girl are among merchants looking to leave stores in the district, where companies have historically been willing to swap high rent payments for daily exposure to hundreds of thousands of tourists and commuters.

But as shopping moves online and bricks-and-mortar spaces shrink, real estate brokers are on the hunt for new tenants to occupy a pair of adjacent flagship stores at 1530 and 1532 Broadway – one for Gap and one for its discount brand Old Navy.

There’s also space available at 30 Times Square, where beauty giant Coty Inc. opened its first-ever Cover Girl store a little more than a year ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Those come on top of a four-story flagship at 1551 Broadway that American Eagle Outfitters Inc. may depart.

“Some retail is just antiquated,” said Brett Herschenfeld, who oversees the retail unit of SL Green Realty Corp. It “hasn’t evolved with the times and they either fix it to the meet the consumer segment or they’re closing stores.”

While Times Square hasn’t been hit as hard as other neighborhoods by mushrooming vacancies, asking rents have slipped and some of the district’s largest merchants, including Toys “R” Us, have shuttered stores in recent years. Others are evaluating whether their outsized spaces are the best way to generate sales while giving shoppers the experiences they flock to the area for.

“The most successful approach to Times Square will be to think outside of the large box,” said Phil Granof, chief marketing officer of NewStore, operator of a mobile e-commerce platform that works with physical stores. “Breaking it down into smaller pieces, there might be more value there.”

San Francisco-based Gap Inc. has roughly 80,000 square feet at the two locations in Times Square, with leases that run through 2032, according to marketing materials seen by Bloomberg. Coty has about 10,000 square feet across five floors that is being marketed for sublease through 2021.

A representative for Coty declined to comment.

The buildings all come with massive digital billboards. But in an era when advertising has shifted to social media, companies are questioning the cost of pushing their wares in Times Square.

“The value that brands will pay for the exposure in Times Square on a permanent basis is under some pressure,” said Michael Hirschfeld, a retail broker at Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. “A lot of mass-market types of consumer brands are now reaching you directly on your phones or Instagram.”

Gap Inc., on the hunt for a permanent chief executive officer after Art Peck was fired in November, is closing stores as it struggles to revitalize a label that has fallen out of step with shoppers. Old Navy has been a bright spot for the company, but that brand has also faced challenges in recent quarters, including increased competition from other discount chains.

While Times Square may be losing its luster for some companies, there’s still plenty of interest in the area from current and prospective tenants – and that shows how powerful it remains for retailers, according to Steven Soutendijk, a broker at Cushman & Wakefield.

“It’s not just about marketing and branding anymore,” he said. “It’s about the footfall and the shoppers that are there.”

Gains from SCB Life sale pump up SCB profits #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 19, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380757?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Gains from SCB Life sale pump up SCB profits

Jan 18. 2020
Arthid Nanthawithaya

Arthid Nanthawithaya
By THE NATION

Siam Commercial Bank and its subsidiaries reported pre-provision operating profit (PPOP) of Bt95.6 billion last year, up 30 per cent year on year (YoY).

This strong PPOP growth over 2018 was primarily driven by the recognition of extraordinary gains from the sale of SCB Life. Nevertheless, the bank also set aside higher provisions in 2019, resulting in the annual net profit (based on unaudited consolidated financial statements) of Bt40.4 billion. The bank also announced a special dividend of Bt0.75 per share to be paid out in mid-February.

Net interest income grew at 3 per cent (YoY) to Bt99.4 billion. Despite falling interest rates in 2019 and a slight decline in the overall portfolio size, the bank was able to sustain this growth momentum by rebalancing its loan portfolio towards higher margin products.

Non-interest income surged 59 per cent (YoY) to Bt66.7 billion mainly due to large investment gains from sale of SCB Life recorded in late September. Excluding this one-off item, non-interest income would have returned to its growth trajectory of 2 per cent (YoY) with improved recurring income and a new income stream from the bancassurance partnership that commenced in the fourth quarter.

Operating expenses grew at 9 per cent (YoY) to Bt70.5 billion mainly because of one-time personnel expenses to comply with the new labour law and transformation-related expenses. With the strong top-line growth of 20 per cent (YoY), cost-to-income ratio declined to 42.5 per cent.

The Non-performing loan (NPL) ratio rose to 3.41 per cent at the end of December 2019 from below 3 per cent in the first half of 2019. This deterioration reflected a challenging business environment as economic headwinds intensified in the second half of 2019 coupled with the bank’s prudent loan classification policy.

Given the current trend on asset quality as well as economic uncertainty, the bank has set aside total loan loss provisions of Bt36.2 billion for 2019. At the end of December 2019, NPL coverage was maintained at 134 per cent.

The bank’s capital adequacy ratio remained strong at 18.1 per cent. Therefore, following the sale of SCB Life shares, the board has approved a special dividend payment of Bt0.75 per share. The final dividend for 2019 will be reviewed and approved at the annual general meeting in April.

Arthid Nanthawithaya, chairman of the executive committee and CEO, said: “Given the current economic uncertainties the bank has proceeded with caution, especially in the area of loan growth, by focusing on high quality segments. With the expectation of moderate loan growth for the banking sector, the bank will continue to rebalance its loan portfolio towards higher-margin businesses with an emphasis on digital lending and wealth management, as well as improving efficiency and expense management. In addition, the bank is leveraging new capabilities from the transformation effort and working closely with various partners and leading fintech companies to build new business models that will enhance the bank’s long-term competitiveness.”

Private-debt market offers rare 12% yields, but there’s a catch #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 18, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380750?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Private-debt market offers rare 12% yields, but there’s a catch

Jan 18. 2020
Scott Bluestein
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Lisa Lee · BUSINESS 

Scott Bluestein has a favorite type of debt investment: companies with no profits, no cash flow, and in some cases even no revenue.

While that may seem like a recipe for disaster for most fixed-income money managers, it’s perfectly normal in the world of venture debt. And few companies in the space have been more successful in recent years than Bluestein’s Hercules Capital Inc., the largest nonbank lender in the business.

The market for venture debt operates largely in the shadow of venture equity, the segment of startup financing famous for providing early funding for technology giants such as Facebook and Alibaba Group Holding. Winning wagers tend to not produce the sort of eye-popping payouts the equity side has become renowned for, but they’re also less risky, relatively speaking. Flying under the radar also has its benefits, according to Bluestein.

While investors have plowed hundreds of billions of dollars into direct-lending funds over the past few years amid a global hunt for yield, the $15 billion venture debt market has yet to see the same influx of cash. As a result it’s largely avoided the intense competition, record dry powder and pricing pressures seen in other corners of private credit. In fact, the Hercules chief executive expects core loan yields to keep pace with the long-term average of about 12% going forward.

“Venture debt has historically mystified the direct-lending market,” Bluestein said in an interview. “We have the opportunity to partner with and help finance some of the most exciting growth-stage technology and life-sciences companies in the world.”

Hercules’s current borrowers include rare-disease drug developer BridgeBio Pharma Inc. and fake-meat producer Impossible Foods Inc.

Lending to such companies requires a unique blend of credit, equity and industry expertise, according to Bluestein. The ability to assess why the companies are burning cash is critical.

“Venture lending is a pretty esoteric, specialized part of the market,” Bluestein said. “It requires significant domain expertise. It requires an achievement of scale from a performance perspective.”

Hercules originally provided BridgeBio a $35 million secured term loan in June 2018. The financing had grown to $75 million by the time BridgeBio went public a year later. Since then, its market capitalization has ballooned to $4.3 billion.

As for Impossible Foods, Hercules closed a $50 million commitment in the second quarter of 2018. A year later, the meat-substitute company reached a $2 billion valuation. In both deals, Hercules made equity investments alongside the loans. In others, it often receives equity kickers in the form of stock warrants.

Of course, the lender’s record isn’t spotless. Portfolio company Sungevity Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and the debt was subsequently converted into equity of the company that bought some of its assets. BIND Therapeutics Inc. went bust in 2016, though Hercules says it was able to fully recover its outstanding commitment.

Last year, the company’s main challenge was unrelated to its investments. Founder and then-CEO Manuel Henriquez was forced to step aside after being charged by federal prosecutors in March for participating in the college-admissions cheating conspiracy.

Wall Street was quick to cut its expectations for publicly-traded Hercules’s shares, worried that access to capital and origination growth may be hurt. The stock has since recovered, and the company said earlier this week it had surpassed more than $10 billion in committed debt capital since its inception in 2003. Assets under management stood at $2.3 billion as of Sept. 30.

Others are also growing in the space. Avenue Capital has sought to raise about $500 million for a venture debt fund, Reuters reported in November. Specialty lenders in the business also include TriplePoint and Horizon Technology Finance, while Silicon Valley Bank is seen as an industry pioneer.

Still, the strategy isn’t for everyone. Direct-lending giant Ares Capital Corp. exited the space in 2017, offloading its $125 million portfolio of venture loans to Hercules. CEO Kipp deVeer at the time attributed the exit to the overwhelming challenge of overseeing so many small and complicated financings.

Along with being relatively small, maturities on the loans tends to be short. That makes for a fast-churn, research-intensive business. The average tenor of a Hercules loans is 36 to 48 months, but the actual average duration is just a year-and-a-half, according to Bluestein.

“Our portfolio turns about every 18 months,” Bluestein said. “The treadmill is set at 10, and you can’t stop.”

While recent high-profile venture-capital stumbles such as WeWork may make investors wary of startup financing broadly, Bluestein welcomes the greater scrutiny and caution, acknowledging there have been a number of so-called unicorns where valuations reached extreme levels.

“It’s a positive. It puts more focus on fundamentals,” Bluestein said. “Anything that makes the market more realistic is good for business.”

Walmart reshuffles leadership as nervous investors await results #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 18, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380749?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Walmart reshuffles leadership as nervous investors await results

Jan 18. 2020
File Photo

File Photo
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Matt Townsend, Matthew Boyle 

Walmart’s new U.S. chief wasted no time putting his stamp on the unit, appointing his former top lieutenant as second in command and parting ways with the retailer’s head of merchandising.

Dacona Smith, a company veteran who most recently served as chief operating officer for Walmart’s Sam’s Club, will become COO under John Furner, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg News. Steve Bratspies, who ran the retailer’s merchandising unit for nearly five years, will leave the company and be replaced by long-time executive Scott McCall, the memo showed. The company also named its first ever chief product officer in Meng Chee, who joins from JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The world’s largest retailer typically makes leadership moves in January, in the weeks before its fiscal year ends. The rejig, which sent Walmart shares down nearly 1%, will focus more attention on the company as it prepares to report its fourth-quarter results on Feb. 18. All eyes are on Walmart after a slew of lackluster holiday results from retailers including Kohl’s Corp., Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. If Walmart follows suit, that will raise more concerns about the health of the American consumer.

Toshiba completes NuFlare takeover, snubs minority holders #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 18, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380728?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Toshiba completes NuFlare takeover, snubs minority holders

Jan 18. 2020
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Pavel Alpeyev, Yuki Furukawa

Toshiba Corp. said it completed a takeover of NuFlare Technology Inc. despite a higher competing offer, in a snub to minority shareholders.

The Japanese conglomerate acquired 5,450,695 shares of NuFlare, clearing the 14.27% minimum needed for its bid to succeed, Toshiba said in a statement on Friday. While the 11,900 yen per share price it paid is a 45% premium to where the stock traded before news of the deal broke in November, it’s less than the 12,900 yen Hoya Corp. was prepared to pay.

Toshiba was already NuFlare’s biggest shareholder with 52.4% when it initiated the buyout. Toshiba Machine Co., an independent company that retains the former parent’s name and the second-largest NuFlare stockholder, late on Wednesday said it will sell its 15.8% stake to Toshiba.

“Just because the stock went up, it doesn’t mean it was done right,” said Travis Lundy, a special-situations analyst who writes for Smartkarma. “A lot of Japanese companies trade inexpensively precisely because shareholders don’t expect to be treated fairly.”

Hoya offered to spend as much as 148 billion yen ($1.35 billion) for NuFlare, seeking a minimum of 66.7% of the chip-equipment manufacturer. At the time, Hoya said it hadn’t discussed the bid with NuFlare or Toshiba in advance for fear of the information leaking out and driving up the price. Toshiba Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Nobuaki Kurumatani has said that NuFlare wouldn’t be able to survive outside of the group and he has no plans to sell his stake. After Toshiba’s announcement, Hoya said it would not pursue its tender any further.

“We saw it as a 50-50 chance to begin with,” said Taishi Arashida, a spokesman for Hoya. Arashida said there is still room to discuss acquisition or some kind of a partnership with Toshiba.

NuFlare dominates the market for mask writers, which are used for imprinting patterns on glass squares slightly bigger than a CD case that act as a stencil for semiconductor designs. Hoya is one of only two companies in the world — the other being Japanese compatriot AGC Inc. — capable of making the blank masks used in next-generation extreme ultraviolet lithography, and it sees a lot of synergy between itself and the acquisition target.

Toshiba hasn’t explained how it arrived at the offer price and it’s not clear how NuFlare fits into the company’s business portfolio, since chip manufacturing hasn’t been core to its business after it spun off memory operations in 2018. NuFlare has said that it saw Toshiba’s bid as the best way to increase the company’s value and that the two of its 10 board directors who had connections to Toshiba group recused themselves from voting on the matter.

“The burden was on NuFlare management and its board to look at the competing bid,” Lundy said. “This conflict of interest between parent-subsidiary and minority shareholders won’t go away.”

Morgan Stanley adds exclamation point to banks’ winning week #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 17, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380694?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Morgan Stanley adds exclamation point to banks’ winning week

Jan 17. 2020
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Sridhar Natarajan 

Morgan Stanley fixed-income traders completed a clean sweep by Wall Street banks, surpassing analysts’ estimates and joining the rest of the industry in staging a roaring comeback.

Shares surged by the most in more than three years after Morgan Stanley joined rivals in reporting a massive surge in bond-trading revenue and boosted its profit target for the next two years. Fixed-income trading revenue more than doubled, helping lift annual profit to an all-time high. The firm also beat analysts’ estimates for merger advice and stock and debt underwriting.

The final three months of 2019 offered relief for banks stung by a years-long slump in the fixed-income market. Investors had been expecting a rebound from 2018’s especially terrible fourth quarter, and the big banks delivered. At Morgan Stanley, the figure advanced 126% to $1.27 billion. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted a 67% rebound.

“Typically in the fourth quarter you see a slowdown after Thanksgiving, and we didn’t see that,” Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Pruzan said in an interview. “We are entering 2020 with a pretty constructive market backdrop and a healthy pipeline.”

The bank said it aims to earn a 13% to 15% return on tangible common equity in the next two years, and 15% to 17% over the longer term. The firm had an 11.5% to 14.5% goal over the past two years.

Shares of the company, which jumped 29% last year, advanced 6.6% to $56.44 at 9:39 a.m. in New York, the biggest intraday gain since November 2016. The surge pushed Morgan Stanley’s market capitalization to $91.5 billion, above Goldman Sachs’s $91.1 billion.

Morgan Stanley, the world’s biggest stock-trading firm, said revenue from that business was $1.92 billion, slightly below analysts’ estimates.

“The equity number of flat year-over-year is a disappointment (this is their core franchise),” said Adam Crisafulli, an analyst at Vital Knowledge Media. “The huge 125% FICC growth will probably receive a lot of scrutiny about how sustainable that run rate is.”

Investment-banking revenue increased 11% to $1.58 billion on the strength of its underwriting business. Analysts had been expecting declines for the deal-advisory unit and gains for underwriting.

“Firm-wide revenues were over $10 billion for the fourth consecutive quarter, resulting in record full year revenues and net income,” Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said in a statement Thursday.

Wealth-management revenue surpassed expectations with an 11% gain to $4.58 billion. The firm leans on managing money for wealthy individuals and clients for more than half its revenue.

Under Gorman, Morgan Stanley made expanding in wealth management its top priority in the years following the financial crisis. Some analysts now say that business has matured, meaning the trigger for more gains for the firm hinges on trading and other capital-market activity.

Other Key Results:

– Fourth-quarter net income jumped 46% to $2.24 billion, or $1.30 a share. Excluding a tax benefit, profit was $1.20, beating the $1.02 estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

– Revenue for the year increased 3% to $41.4 billion.

– Client assets rose 17% from a year earlier to $2.7 trillion.

– Investment-management revenue almost doubled to $1.36 billion, driven by gains in one of the firm’s Asian private equity funds.

Trump hotel’s mix of GOP insiders and hangers-on helped give rise to impeachment episodes #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 17, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380683?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Trump hotel’s mix of GOP insiders and hangers-on helped give rise to impeachment episodes

Jan 17. 2020
A view of the Grand Lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington in June 2017. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson

A view of the Grand Lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington in June 2017. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson
By The Washington Post · David A. Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, Jonathan O’Connell

Trump hotel’s mix of GOP insiders and hangers-on helped give rise to impeachment episodes. WASHINGTON – They are key locations in the drama that led to President Donald Trump’s impeachment: the steakhouse table where Trump’s private lawyer set out a nameplate, “Rudolph W. Giuliani, Private Office.” The upstairs hideaway, where Giuliani’s team planned its outreach to Ukraine.

And the expensive bar, where Giuliani’s team met an odd figure: Robert Hyde, a big-talking ex-Marine who claimed to have the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under surveillance.

All three places are within 300 yards of each other, in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel.

For three years, President Trump’s hotel near the White House has been a loose, anybody-welcome hangout for Republicans: Candidates raise money in the ballrooms. Congressmen and lobbyists dine in the steakhouse. Hangers-on wait at the bar, taking selfies in “#americaslivingroom.”

That arrangement worked for Republicans, because it compressed a city’s worth of networking into one room. It worked for Trump, because he converted political allies into private customers.

But the hotel’s atmosphere of blurred lines – mixing the public interest with Trump’s private interests, and mixing the GOP’s leaders and its wannabe fringes – helped give rise to a scandal that threatens to overshadow Trump’s presidency.

Giuliani and his team didn’t just meet at the Trump hotel. They embodied its world.

“I spent two years going to Washington and I didn’t see the monuments,” said Lev Parnas, who was a central figure in Giuliani’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, former vice president Joe Biden. “All I saw was the Trump hotel.”

Trump opened his hotel before he won the presidency, having spent more than $200 million to renovate the government-owned Old Post Office building near the White House. After he won, Trump kept his ownership of the hotel, operated under a federal lease.

But its business model had to change sharply, according to hotel employees.

Democrats wouldn’t stay in the hotel rooms. Many major corporations and associations wouldn’t rent the ballrooms, worried about alienating liberal customers.

They shifted to focus on the part of the business that was thriving: the lobby, with its bar and BLT Prime steakhouse.

The place where pro-Trump Republicans see and be seen.

 

“There were many, many of them that were just there, who we just happened to run into,” said Seth Morrison, executive director of the Orange County, California, Lincoln Club. Morrison said his group stayed at the Trump hotel last year on its biannual Washington trip, and encountered a slew of candidates and conservative TV personalities in the lobby. “Eric Bolling was there for like three days in the lobby,” Morrison said of the conservative commentator.

Instead of being a hotel with a lobby, the Trump property became a lobby with a hotel attached.

It raised prices at the lobby bar: Candied bacon went from $14 to $22. The most expensive cocktail on the menu had been $21. Then they added one for $100, with caviar in it.

The hotel also spent big on upgrades to the lobby and restaurant: $264,000 for new lobby furniture. An additional $24,000 on carpets in the first-floor hallways. And $15,000 for a new ice-cream maker for dessert specials, according to hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post. At the same time, the hotel had to shut down its outdoor patio because of anti-Trump protesters.

Just as Republican business was reshaping the Trump hotel, the Trump hotel was changing the GOP – by bottling up its top leaders with any wannabe who sat at the bar.

“POTUS doesn’t know, or maybe doesn’t care, but that hotel is the root of many of his problems,” said one Republican who is close to Giuliani and Trump, and spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships with them.

Trump himself has come to the hotel at least 18 times, including for three of his own campaign fundraisers, where he is both the candidate and the caterer.

In addition, top GOP-aligned lobbyists such as Brian Ballard and Jeff Miller also work the room. And Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel convenes some of the party’s top operatives for a monthly “off-the-record dinner,” in a private room at the hotel. Over wine and steak – the price tag is about $3,000 per month and paid for by the RNC, officials say – party officials, lobbyists, White House aides, officials leading Republican super PACs and congressional political leaders meet to talk business.

“You’ve got top confidants of the president hanging out in the hotel lobby, and you can mingle with them for the price of a $20 glass of wine,” said Zach Everson, a journalist who chronicles the Trump hotel’s mixing of politics and business on the blog 1100 Pennsylvania. By Everson’s count, 25 people who have served in Trump’s Cabinet have visited the hotel, along with 30 of the 53 Republicans in the Senate.

No figure embodied that mixing better than Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has reinvented himself as a lawyer, fixer and off-the-books emissary for Trump.

“Rudy is probably the most senior person who’s readily accessible to the public for the price of a drink,” Everson said.

Giuliani claimed enormous private influence. But at the Trump hotel, he sat out in public, spending hours at his “private office,” a table in the lobby steakhouse’s bar. One former Trump hotel staffer said that Giuliani was so comfortable there that he sometimes left without paying – “like he was at home.” The restaurant often had to eat the bill, the former employee said – who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships in the hospitality business.

At that table, Giuliani met repeatedly with Parnas and Igor Fruman, a pair of Soviet-born Americans who were seeking influence in Republican politics – and helping Giuliani pressure Ukraine to provide dirt on Biden. On the day Parnas and Fruman were arrested, charged with campaign-finance violations unrelated to Ukraine, they had previously had lunch at the Trump hotel.

“It was like a breeding ground at the Trump hotel,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview Wednesday night. “You would see the same people every day, all the same congressmen that supported the president would be there, nobody else.”

When the group needed more privacy, Parnas told Maddow, they retreated to a private space: “our BLT office on the second floor.”

“At the Trump hotel?” Maddow asked.

“At the Trump hotel,” Parnas said.

Parnas also met with Trump in one of the hotel’s luxury suites, at a “roundtable” organized by the pro-Trump super PAC America First Actions, according to people familiar with the meeting. Parnas is now facing federal campaign-finance charges, and emerged as a key witness against Trump in the days before Trump’s impeachment trial begins.

If Giuliani was one of the most powerful Republicans in the lobby, then Hyde – the ex-Marine from Connecticut – was one of the least. But his story illustrates how the Trump hotel allows fringe characters to rise in influence, just by being in the right place.

Hyde is a Republican donor and long-shot congressional candidate who began hanging out at the hotel – along with other Trump properties – and posting photos of himself with GOP figures. He began to date Rabia Kazan, a onetime pro-Trump activist he met there.

“Trump is like a cult leader, and people go to the hotel to show their loyalty and love for him,” Kazan said. Their relationship ended after several weeks, Kazan said.

In the past year, Hyde was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital in Florida, and was hit with a restraining order in Washington for allegedly harassing a former business associate, according to court and police records.

Hyde sent Parnas texts saying that he had Marie Yovanovitch – then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a perceived obstacle to Giuliani’s plans – under surveillance in Kyiv. Hyde has since said he was joking.

Where did Parnas link up with somebody like that?

“At the Trump hotel,” Parnas told Maddow. “He was a regular at the bar.”

Toshiba says it built an algorithm that’s faster than a supercomputer #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 17, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380680?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Toshiba says it built an algorithm that’s faster than a supercomputer

Jan 17. 2020
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Pavel Alpeyev, Grace Huang, Shoko Oda

It’s a tantalizing prospect for traders whose success often hinges on microseconds: a desktop PC algorithm that crunches market data faster than today’s most advanced supercomputers.

Japan’s Toshiba Corp. says it has the technology to make such rapid-fire calculations a reality — not quite quantum computing, but perhaps the next best thing. The claim is being met with a mix of intrigue and skepticism at financial firms in Tokyo and around the world.

Toshiba’s “Simulated Bifurcation Algorithm” is designed to harness the principles behind quantum computers without requiring the use of such machines, which currently have limited applications and can cost millions of dollars to build and keep near absolute zero temperature. Toshiba says its technology, which may also have uses outside finance, runs on PCs made from off-the-shelf components.

“You can just plug it into a server and run it at room temperature,” Kosuke Tatsumura, a senior research scientist at Toshiba’s Computer & Network Systems Laboratory, said in an interview. The Tokyo-based conglomerate, while best known for its consumer electronics and nuclear reactors, has long conducted research into advanced technologies.

Toshiba has said it needs a partner to adopt the algorithm for real-world use, and financial firms have taken notice as they grapple for an edge in markets increasingly dominated by machines. Banks, brokerages and asset managers have all been experimenting with quantum computing, although viable applications are generally considered to be some time away.

Toshiba said its system is capable of calculating arbitrage opportunities for currencies in microseconds. The company has hired financial professionals to work on the project, and aims to complete a real-world trial by March 2021.

“Finance is the most familiar application,” Toshiba Chief Executive Officer Nobuaki Kurumatani said in an interview. “But there are so many uses. This is a technology with real potential.”

Toshiba’s algorithm seems to outperform rival approaches on mathematical benchmarks, but how it will perform on real-world problems is anyone’s guess. Access to the company’s backtesting in currency trading and portfolio optimization isn’t publicly available and adopting the technology to a new problem would likely require rebuilding the algorithm from scratch.

“There is a lot of talk about applications of quantum computing in finance, but it’s not very clear where it would be all that necessary,” said Takanobu Mizuta, a fund manager and senior researcher at Sparx Group Co. Optimizing a portfolio is not something that needs to be done in microseconds and calculations involved in high-frequency trading, where speed counts, are not very complicated, Mizuta said.

Toshiba may choose to use the algorithm for areas outside finance. Other applications could include things like plotting complex shipping and logistics routes and developing new drugs with molecular precision, according to the company.

The idea first arose in 2015, when senior research scientist Hayato Goto was exploring how the qualities of some complex systems can suddenly change with additional input, a phenomenon he describes as bifurcation. But it took him two years, he said, to realize the discovery could be used to craft algorithms that can efficiently sift through a huge number of possibilities — like a quantum computer without the onerous requirements to run one.

Goto partnered with Tatsumura, whose semiconductor expertise was crucial in making the calculations work on multiple processors in parallel.

“Because the two of us have completely different specialties, we were able to come up with something new,” Goto said.

Toshiba revealed its Simulated Bifurcation Algorithm in April, initially garnering little attention outside the scientific community. In October, the company announced that its model had identified potential arbitrage opportunities in currency trading in just 30 microseconds — fast enough, it claimed, to give it a 90% chance of making profitable trades. That triggered inquiries from financial institutions in Japan and abroad, Toshiba said.

Investment banks and brokerages have already begun eyeing quantum computing as an opportunity and a threat. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has been building an in-house research team and late last year joined forces with startup WC Ware to speed up the search for a “quantum advantage.” Japan’s Nomura Holdings Inc. has partnered with Tohoku University to explore applications in asset management using a machine made by Canada’s D-Wave Systems Inc.

“Right now, what you can do with it is still hypothetical,” said Kazuyuki Takeda, a general manager at Mizuho-DL Financial Technology Co., a research arm of one of Japan’s biggest financial groups. “It will take quite a bit of time before we have practical uses of quantum computing. At least 10 years or so.”

In the meantime, Toshiba is hoping it will succeed in commercializing its technology — whether in finance or elsewhere — in order to fill that gap.

“We give ourselves about a one-year lead for the stuff that we release publicly,” Goto said. “The more cutting-edge knowledge we have internally gives us confidence that we won’t be easily caught up with.”

Nissan punishes more managers after 10,000-hour Ghosn probe #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 17, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380679?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Nissan punishes more managers after 10,000-hour Ghosn probe

Jan 17. 2020
A company logo is seen through illuminations at the Nissan Motor Co. headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on Jan. 9, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Toru Hanai.

A company logo is seen through illuminations at the Nissan Motor Co. headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on Jan. 9, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Toru Hanai.
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Gearoid Reidy, Masatsugu Horie 

Nissan has revealed more details of an exhaustive probe into Carlos Ghosn, a week after its fugitive former leader accused the Japanese carmaker of being behind the plot to have him arrested.

The report on the investigation, submitted to the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Thursday, found that many others were involved in improprieties besides its former chairman, with those involved located both in Japan and overseas. Three people in senior roles were punished for their involvement, though their names, titles and specific steps to discipline them were not revealed.

Nissan was required to submit the report after adjusting its past earnings following the arrest of its former chief executive officer and chairman for financial crimes in November 2018. That triggered turmoil within the automaker’s management ranks and destabilized its relationship with alliance partner Renault. Ghosn fled trial in Japan at the end of December, hiding in a black box for musical equipment and making his way to Lebanon via private jets.

While the timing of the report has little to do with Ghosn’s escape, it underscores the extent to which Nissan has had to reform its practices in the year after his arrest. Many of the steps outlined in the 33-page document, such as abolishing a CEO reserve fund and the restatement of Ghosn’s income, had already been disclosed or reported.

The misconduct outlined in the report was not just limited to acts allegedly committed by Ghosn and executive Greg Kelly, but included excess salary paid to Ghosn’s successor, Hiroto Saikawa, who was ousted as CEO in September. The report found six others also received excess compensation via stock appreciation rights, though did not identify them. The amount involved totaled 57.7 million yen ($525,000), though Nissan expects most of that amount to be repaid by March.

“A wide variety of misconducts had been committed over a long period of time,” the report said, noting that “many people were involved and the misconducts were committed not only in Japan but also in foreign countries.” Nissan will decide the punishment for others in due course, it said.

The investigation involved more than 10,000 hours of analysis, including the collection of 9 million documents and interviews with more than 70 people within the company. Ghosn and Kelly were not among them, Nissan said, citing the fact that the automaker is a co-defendant of the two former executives in a forthcoming criminal trial.

The report attacked Ghosn’s “personality cult” and accused him of isolating departments within Nissan that would have been able to discover his misconduct, describing Ghosn as turning them into a “black box.”

The investigation was aided by law firm Latham & Watkins, a company Ghosn last week slammed at his explosive press conference in Beirut. He described the firm as one of the actors “destroying Japan’s reputation on the global stage,” and in a separate statement derided Nissan’s investigation as “fundamentally flawed, biased, and lacking in independence from its inception.”

“Although Nissan is presenting this improvement report to the stock exchange and promising to rebuild its business and be more transparent, the current movements of Nissan’s management look like the exact opposite,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co. in Tokyo. “That’s the biggest problem.”

Among the steps the carmaker will take to improve its corporate governance is abolishing a system of having former directors become advisers and consultants.

This means Saikawa, who was reportedly planning to stay on at Nissan in some capacity after leaving the board at a shareholders’ meeting planned for Feb. 18, is now likely to leave the company entirely. By abolishing the adviser role, Nissan’s new CEO, Makoto Uchida, may be able to act more independently.

Renault director Pierre Fleuriot, set to join Nissan’s board following a shareholders’ vote in February, will also become a member of Nissan’s audit committee, which decides executive pay, Nissan said in a separate statement Thursday.

Lego sets its sights on a growing market: Stressed-out adults #ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย

Published January 17, 2020 by SoClaimon

#ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

https://www.nationthailand.com/business/30380673?utm_source=category&utm_medium=internal_referral

Lego sets its sights on a growing market: Stressed-out adults

Jan 17. 2020
Cris McDonough, 57, of Connellsville, Pa. builds Legos during a BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke's Block Party, an event space. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Cris McDonough, 57, of Connellsville, Pa. builds Legos during a BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke’s Block Party, an event space. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.
By The Washington Post · Abha Bhattarai

Elisabeth Briggs finds calm in clicking small, interlocking bricks together and turning piles of multicolored plastic into something recognizable.

Sometimes she has a beer while playing with Lego bricks – at 37, she’s allowed – or watches TV. But she keeps the instructions close by, following them to the block.

For Briggs, this ritual has become a kind of guided meditation with a tangible reward at the end: a big city skyline, perhaps, or an iconic building she can display in her office. She picked up her first Lego building set, a 321-piece replica of the Eiffel Tower, for $35 after a trip to Paris, and now has nearly three dozen kits that mirror her travels, including Buckingham Palace, the Louvre and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It’s fun to zone out and follow someone else’s instructions,” said Briggs, a math teacher at Olympic College near Seattle. “It wasn’t until I got older – and had a job and more money – that I saw value in that.”

Lego, the world’s largest and most profitable toy maker, is zeroing in on a growing demographic: Stressed-out adults. The 87-year-old Danish company increasingly bills its brightly colored bricks as a way to drown out the noise of the day and perhaps achieve a measure of mindfulness. The company’s newest kits – which include the Central Perk cafe from the sitcom “Friends” and a vintage 1989 Batmobile – tap into Gen X nostalgia, while its Ideas and Forma lines are being targeted to adults who want to occupy their hands but keep their minds loosely engaged.

Susan Lewis, 61, left, Lori Griffith, 43, center, and CJ Paxinos, 43, all of Connellsville, Pa., build with Lego bricks during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke's Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Susan Lewis, 61, left, Lori Griffith, 43, center, and CJ Paxinos, 43, all of Connellsville, Pa., build with Lego bricks during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke’s Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Adults have become a coveted market for toy makers confronting increased competition and waning sales growth, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re more likely to drop $800 on a 7,541-piece Star Wars Millennium Falcon set or $400 for the Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle on Briggs’s wish list.

“Adults with high-pressured jobs are telling us they’re using Lego to disconnect from the mania of the day,” said Genevieve Capa Cruz, Lego’s audience marketing strategist. “They’re looking for a relaxing, calming experience – and they like instructions because that’s what helps them be in the zone.”

The company spent the past five years revamping instruction manuals to make kits foolproof for frazzled adults, she said. Last year, Lego introduced a line of koi fish and shark models with soothing movements to appeal to builders in search of a “joyful creative challenge.”

Lego’s appeal, of course, has long spanned generations. Adult Fans of Lego – known colloquially as AFOLs – have inspired dozens of Facebook and Reddit groups and at least one “blocumentary.” A new book aims to teach older users how to use the bricks as a form of stress relief, not to create complicated models but to simply revel in the process. And a competition show, LEGO Masters, which premieres next month on Fox, pits adult builders against each other. (Think “The Great British Bake Off,” for Lego.)

But the toy giant is increasingly looking beyond die-hard hobbyists to court the casual builder in search of modern-day tranquility. “Need an escape?,” asked a recent Lego ad on Instagram. “Building with Lego bricks reduces stress and improves your well-being. It’s zen, in the shape of a brick.”

Zach Stephens, 38, of Connellsville, Pa., looks through a pile of Legos during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke's Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Zach Stephens, 38, of Connellsville, Pa., looks through a pile of Legos during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke’s Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Mindfulness is a meditative practice rooted in ancient Buddhism and Hinduism that focuses on the present without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and even lower blood pressure. In recent years, mindfulness has become a mainstream buzzword, with corporations like Apple, Nike and HBO adding meditation rooms for employees, and apps like Headspace and Calm promising to help the masses find peace. And Lego is hardly alone in latching on to it as a selling point: Companies now offer “mindful knitting” workshops, while a growing roster of books promises mindfulness through coloring, crosswords and crafting.

Any repetitive activity – embroidering, sweeping, or yes, clicking together Lego bricks – can help strike the right balance between mental engagement and relaxation, says Carrie Barron, Director of Creativity for Resilience at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School. “To focus singularly on a task is a form of mindfulness.”

And, she added, Lego’s instruction booklets serve an important role, too: “We like to have structure and a clear path. The idea that ‘if you follow this, you’ll achieve that,’ is very appealing.”

– – –

Abbie Headon hadn’t touched a Lego for a good 20 years when the Danish toy giant called with an assignment: Write a book for stressed-out adults, like her, who hadn’t played with the blocks in decades. She bought a small bag of pieces and got to work.

“The point is to free your mind of other distractions and focus on play, even if you just have a handful of pieces,” said Headon, 44, who is based in England.

Her 160-page book, “Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play,” was released in the United States last month. Chapters like “Be a Child Again” and “Builds to Help You Sleep” implore adults to play in new ways: Build something with your eyes closed. Create a rainbow. Build the tallest tower you can. There are also practical considerations: A chapter on “the life-changing magic of tidying your Lego bricks” offers suggestions on sorting and storage.

“The fun isn’t just, I’m going to build this and it’s going to be perfect,” Headon said. “That’s one of the great things about Lego: There’s no risk. You can always just take it apart and start again.”

These days Headon keeps a cardboard box of Lego pieces on her desk. They’re therapeutic, she says, even if she’s not actively playing with them.

“I like to have something in my hand when I’m thinking, so I’ll grab a few Lego pieces and click them together and apart,” she said. “It’s very satisfying.”

The earliest Lego bricks, introduced in Denmark in the late 1940s, consisted mainly of rectangular pieces in a handful of colors. Over the next decade, it added doors and roofs, as well as trees, bushes, road signs and curved plates, according to the online database Brickset. By the time it started exporting to the United States in 1961, sets had become more elaborate, replicating airplanes, boats and fire stations.

But by the late 1990s, the company was on rocky ground. The simple plastic brick had fallen out of favor as children became enthralled with video games, computers and fads like the Tamagotchi digital pet. Lego posted its first-ever loss in 1998.

The following year Lego forged its first licensing deal, with the “Star Wars” franchise, a move that “basically saved the company,” says industry analyst Chris Byrne. Annual sales jumped nearly 30% that year, as Lego shifted its focus away from open-ended play and toward more branded kits. Similar licensing agreements with Disney, Marvel Super Heroes and Harry Potter followed. Last year Lego posted a $1.2 billion profit on $5.4 billion in sales.

Even so, Lego is facing many of the same head winds as its rivals. Sales growth has held steady at about 4% since 2018, a sharp drop from the 17% a year average seen the preceding decade. Competition is growing – not only from other toy makers, but also smartphones and apps that are devouring a bigger portion of children’s allowances. Plus, analysts say, today’s parents would rather spend on experiences than stuff. U.S. toy sales fell about 5.5% in the first nine months of this year, according to NPD Group.

Selling blocks – or puzzles or action figures – to adults has become one way for toy makers to counteract the slowdown. Competitors like Playmobil are taking note too, by rolling out programs that they say will help corporate employees “find new business solutions.”

Zach Stephens, 38, of Connellsville, Pa., looks through a pile of Legos during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke's Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

Zach Stephens, 38, of Connellsville, Pa., looks through a pile of Legos during an BYOB adults-only build event at Brooke’s Block Party. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Justin Merriman for The Washington Post.

“The rise of adult fans is driving the toy industry,” said Byrne, a New York-based consultant who bills himself as the Toy Guy. “Who do you think is buying the $499 Death Star or the $399 Hogwarts Castle? That’s all being made for adults who have their own money to spend.”

– – –

The submissions pour in by the dozens – and more often than not, they’re hankering for an earlier era.

Scroll through Lego Ideas, the crowdsourcing platform the company introduced in 2008, and you’ll see proposals for sets commemorating the 1964 musical “Mary Poppins” and “The Golden Girls,” the NBC sitcom that first hit airwaves in 1985. Lego fans vote on their favorites, and a panel green lights a handful of projects each year. Recent approvals include a “Ghostbusters” 30th anniversary set, a DeLorean Time Machine from the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” and a Beatles-inspired yellow submarine.

“There is so much nostalgia, especially among Gen X,” said Capa Cruz of Lego.

This generation of Americans, sandwiched between baby boomers and millennials, was the first to grow up with Lego, Byrne says. Now in their 40s and 50s, they are among a growing group of adults hoping to unplug from their phones and computers.

When Brooke Deason opened a block-building events space six years ago, she envisioned Lego-filled birthday parties, summer camps and youth leagues.

But she quickly found another group clamoring to play: parents.

She now hosts regular adults-only evenings where locals sip wine and put together “Doctor Who” sets and replicas of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. One group of dads has been working on a 1,366-piece Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer for two years.

“It’s like a blast to the past, straight to our childhoods,” said Deason, 40, who lives in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. “It took me by surprise, but it makes sense: Life is so structured. But with Lego, you can do anything.”

Deason has a few million Lego pieces, which she organizes by type and color. The Star Wars and architecture sets, she says, are the most popular among adults, who almost always look for the instruction manuals.

“The younger kids come in and it’s all about their imaginations – playing pretend, building zombie towns,” she said. “But at some point that gets lost. The adults seem to value the final finished project. That’s where they get their satisfaction.

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