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PRODUCTIVITY IN BUSINESS

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PRODUCTIVITY IN BUSINESS

By EsaTihilä, CEO at Basware

 Business productivity is a fundamental challenge and World Productivity Day on 20th June should provide an opportunity for more organisations to talk openly about it. It’s something that economists, CEOs and line of business managers alike are looking to address on a daily basis.

 Despite the last recession being firmly in the rear-view mirror, productivity in many prominent countries is way down. In the US, national productivity levels are likely to fall for the first time in 30 years with the GDP per hour set to drop by 0.2 per cent, while the UK’s productivity gap, in comparison to other nations, is the largest it’s ever been with a difference of 18 per cent. The outlook for emerging markets and the rest of the world isn’t much better.

 To tackle this issue, the UK government implemented its UK Productivity Plan in 2015, which promotes the adoption of digital technologies and aims to cut through £10 billion of red tape. With these measures in place, the government is hoping to match the productivity level of the US, which would boost UK GDP by 31 per cent. One year on from its introduction, the UK Productivity Plan has yet to have an impact on the UK economy though.

 There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to improving global productivity, but there are measures that governments and companies can put in place themselves to help fuel their output and efficiency.

 Automation

One way to maximise productivity is through technology that automates admin-intensive tasks. Giving staff the tools to work faster and smarter is an obvious way to improve productivity. Finding tasks that can be effectively done with minimal human interaction frees up time for employees to focus on other business-critical work where their expertise is more essential. This not only increases the capacity of the workforce but also increases the value of employee’s output.

 Digitisation

Digitisation has been an undeniably powerful force within the workplace. It speeds up processes that rely on moving paper (internally or through the post) and breaks down corporate silos by enabling and encouraging greater collaboration. When employees are part of this more collaborative, fast moving environment, they can achieve a lot more. Fast-moving, shared information means better decisions are made more quickly and tasks are completed more seamlessly. This applies internally, but also externally with partners, buyers and suppliers.

 For example, many companies are turning to electronic invoicing and process automation to boost productivity. E-invoicing accelerates payment cycle times, increases predictability and gets cash flowing faster across a supply chain. It is an example of how a previously time consuming task like chasing invoices can be successfully automated. Through invoicing automation, the process of moving money is sped up, as is the workload capacity of employees in the financial team. With e-invoicing, businesses have peace of mind that they will be paid on time which, in turn, allows employees to get on with their jobs.

 Output

Many discussions around productivity focus on output, particularly industrial. The productivity of non-production processes are essential as well, as they improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary costs. This can have a knock-on effect on output as well though.

 A manufacturing company that can process invoices and collect payments more quickly has a stronger cashflow position. This position can enable it to invest in processes, tools or materials that will increase its overall output. Not only will this contribute to national productivity figures, but it also creates a revenue generating opportunity for these organisations.

 Additionally, e-invoicing also significantly speeds up the movement of cash, which, in turn, helps smooth out complications and problems in the economy. Free-flowing capital helps promote trade, especially amongst smaller businesses, for whom cash flow is a key determining factor of financial stability. Making SMBs more effective in how they deal with their finances also fuels company growth and supports the wider economy.

 Despite government support, boosting productivity still starts at home for many businesses. As a rule of thumb, productivity is only going to improve if employees have the right tools to be more effective in their roles. World Productivity Day presents companies with a great opportunity to evaluate their current practices and identify shortfalls that they can remedy if they want to boost their productivity.

Business

Euro zone business activity shrank in January as lockdowns hit services

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Euro zone business activity shrank in January as lockdowns hit services 1

By Jonathan Cable

LONDON (Reuters) – Economic activity in the euro zone shrank markedly in January as lockdown restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic hit the bloc’s dominant service industry hard, a survey showed.

With hospitality and entertainment venues forced to remain closed across much of the continent the survey highlighted a sharp contraction in the services industry but also showed manufacturing remained strong as factories largely remained open.

IHS Markit’s flash composite PMI, seen as a good guide to economic health, fell further below the 50 mark separating growth from contraction to 47.5 in January from December’s 49.1. A Reuters poll had predicted a fall to 47.6.

“A double-dip recession for the euro zone economy is looking increasingly inevitable as tighter COVID-19 restrictions took a further toll on businesses in January,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“Some encouragement comes from the downturn being less severe than in the spring of last year, reflecting the ongoing relative resilience of manufacturing, rising demand for exported goods and the lockdown measures having been less stringent on average than last year.”

The bloc’s economy was expected to grow 0.6% this quarter, a Reuters poll showed earlier this week, and will return to its pre-COVID-19 level within two years on hopes the rollout of vaccines will allow a return to some form of normality. [ECILT/EU]

A PMI covering the bloc’s dominant service industry dropped to 45.0 from 46.4, exceeding expectations in a Reuters poll that had predicted a steeper fall to 44.5 and still a long way from historic lows at the start of the pandemic.

With activity still in decline and restrictions likely to be in place for some time yet, services firms were forced to chop their charges. The output price index fell to 46.9 from 48.4, its lowest reading since June.

That will be disappointing for policymakers at the European Central Bank – who on Thursday left policy unchanged – as uncomfortably low inflation has been a thorn in the ECB’s side for years.

Factory activity remained strong and the manufacturing PMI held well above breakeven at 54.7, albeit weaker than December’s 55.2. The Reuters poll had predicted a drop to 54.5.

An index measuring output which feeds into the composite PMI fell to 54.5 from 56.3.

But despite strong demand factories again cut headcount, as they have every month since May 2019. The employment index fell to 48.9 from 49.2.

As immunisation programmes are being ramped up after a slow start in Europe optimism about the coming year remained strong. The composite future output index dipped to 63.6 from December’s near three-year high of 64.5.

“The roll out of vaccines has meanwhile helped sustain a strong degree of confidence about prospects for the year ahead, though the recent rise in virus case numbers has caused some pull-back in optimism,” Williamson said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Cable; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Volkswagen’s profit halves, but deliveries recovering

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Volkswagen's profit halves, but deliveries recovering 2

BERLIN (Reuters) – Volkswagen reported a nearly 50% drop in its 2020 adjusted operating profit on Friday but said car deliveries had recovered strongly in the fourth quarter, lifting its shares.

The world’s largest carmaker said full-year operating profit, excluding costs related to its diesel emissions scandal, came in at 10 billion euros ($12.2 billion), compared with 19.3 billion in 2019.

Net cash flow at its automotive division was around 6 billion euros and car deliveries picked up towards the end of the year, the German group said in a statement.

“The deliveries to customers of the Volkswagen Group continued to recover strongly in the fourth quarter and even exceeded the deliveries of the third quarter 2020,” it said.

Volkswagen’s shares, which had been down as much as 2%, turned positive and were up 1.5% at 164.32 euros by 1158 GMT.

Sales at the automaker rose 1.7% in December, at a time when new car registrations in Europe dropped nearly 4%, data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association showed.

Like its rivals, Volkswagen is facing several challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as a global shortage of chips needed for production.

It also sees tough competition in developing electrified and self-driving cars. The merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot-owner PSA to create the world’s fourth-biggest automaker Stellantis adds to the pressure.

Volkswagen said on Thursday it missed EU targets on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its passenger car fleet last year and faces a fine of more than 100 million euros.

The group is expected to release detailed 2020 figures on March 16.

($1 = 0.8215 euros)

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)

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Global chip shortage hits China’s bitcoin mining sector

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Global chip shortage hits China's bitcoin mining sector 3

By Samuel Shen and Alun John

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – A global chip shortage is choking the production of machines used to “mine” bitcoin, a sector dominated by China, sending prices of the computer equipment soaring as a surge in the cryptocurrency drives demand.

The scramble is pricing out smaller miners and accelerating an industry consolidation that could see deep-pocketed players, many outside China, profit from the bitcoin bull run.

Bitcoin mining is closely watched by traders and users of the world’s largest cryptocurrency, as the amount of bitcoin they make and sell into the market affects its supply and price.

Trading around $32,000 on Friday, bitcoin is down 20% from the record highs it struck two weeks ago but still up some 700% from its March low of $3,850.

“There are not enough chips to support the production of mining rigs,” said Alex Ao, vice president of Innosilicon, a chip designer and major provider of mining equipment.

Bitcoin miners use increasingly powerful, specially-designed computer equipment, or rigs, to verify bitcoin transactions in a process which produces newly minted bitcoins.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and Samsung Electronics Co, the main producers of specially designed chips used in mining rigs, would also prioritise supplies to sectors such as consumer electronics, whose chip demand is seen as more stable, Ao said.

The global chip shortage is disrupting production across a global array of products, including automobiles, laptops and mobile phones. [L1N2JP2MY]

Mining’s profitability depends on bitcoin’s price, the cost of the electricity used to power the rig, the rig’s efficiency, and how much computing power is needed to mine a bitcoin.

Demand for rigs has boomed as bitcoin prices soared, said Gordon Chen, co-founder of cryptocurrency asset manager and miner GMR.

“When gold prices jump, you need more shovels. When milk prices rise, you want more cows.”

CONSOLIDATION

Lei Tong, managing director of financial services at Babel Finance, which lends to miners, said that “almost all major miners are scouring the market for rigs, and they are willing to pay high prices for second-hand machines.”

“Purchase volumes from North America have been huge, squeezing supply in China,” he said, adding that many miners are placing orders for products that can only be delivered in August and September.

Most of the products of Bitmain, one of the biggest rig makers in China, are sold out, according the company’s website.

A sales manager at Jiangsu Haifanxin Technology, a rig merchant, said prices on the second-hand market have jumped 50% to 60% over the past year, while prices of new equipment more than doubled. High-end, second-hand mining machines were quoted around $5,000.

“It’s natural if you look at how much bitcoin has risen,” said the manager, who identified himself on by his surname Li.

The cryptocurrency surge is affecting who is able to mine.

The increasing cost of investment is eliminating smaller players, said Raymond Yuan, founder of Atlas Mining, which owns one of China’s biggest mining business.

“Institutional investors benefit from both large scale and proficiency in management whereas retail investors who couldn’t keep up will be weeded out,” said Yuan, whose company has invested over $500 million in cryptocurrency mining and plans to keep investing heavily.

Many of the larger players growing their mining operations are based outside of China, often in North America and the Middle East, said Wayne Zhao, chief operating officer of crypto research company TokenInsight.

“China used to have low electricity costs as one core advantage, but as the bitcoin price rises now, that has gone,” he said.

Zhao said that while previously bitcoin mining in China used to account for as much as 80% of the world’s total, it now accounted for around 50%.

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Alun John; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and William Mallard)

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