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SKRILL SUPPORTED BY MICROSOFT 4AFRIKA TO LAUNCH E-COMMERCE PORTAL WITH MNOS AND BRING AFRICA’S ECONOMIES ONLINE

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E-commerce portal brings thousands of online merchants to the African digital consumer, via an affordable and transparent online payment system

Microsoft 4Afrika and Skrill announced their marketing alliance to launch a new e-commerce portal.  By integrating with mobile network operators (MNOs), the portal enables Africans to use their mobile wallets to buy from global internet brands, access free educational content and use Microsoft software.

This new form of partnership between mobile payment systems, network operators and merchants is the first of its kind in Africa and was announced at the 17th annual AfricaCom conference. The portal will be fully live by December 2014.

Nilesh Pandya, SVP of emerging markets at Skrill, commented: “Africa is urbanising faster than any other continent, with cities enjoying strong levels of wireless and data coverage.  It has the world’s most youthful populations and we know that it is the younger generations that are often first to embrace technology. Disposable incomes are rapidly increasing, making discretionary spend on e-commerce an immediate reality.   These conditions deliver the perfect storm for a massive surge in consumer demand for digital payments.

“However, a high percentage of Africans remain unbanked and so have no means of paying for global online brands. Even banked Africans often find that global online merchants are reluctant to serve these markets for credit and debit card transactions due to perceived fraud risks.”

Skrill enables users to make payments instantly, cost effectively and securely. Using mobile wallets, users can buy products and services from Skrill’s extensive global network of merchants, including video on demand business iROKOtv, music download and streaming business Spinlet and a range of social gaming providers.

By logging into the portal, consumers are also given access to special product offers and discounts on goods and services exclusively available through this purchase route and their mobile provider.

E-commerce transactions do not incur any additional cost for the consumer and specific fees charged to merchants, relating to this market have been determined by Skrill to reflect the opportunity for growth, tempered with the challenges inherent in a new market.  By partnering with merchants, Skrill can ensure that their products and services are available in some of the fastest growing markets in the world.

Via the portal, Microsoft will be providing free access to One Drive, as well as Outlook email addresses so that users can register accounts with the relevant merchants. Microsoft OneDrive will enable consumers to download and store up to 15G free of charge.  Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative is providing free access to educational content, from basic numeracy games to courses on app development through its virtual academy.  Entrepreneurs in Africa will now have the tools required to build online businesses that Skrill will enable them to monetise.

Frank McCosker, general manager, affordable access and smart financing, 4Afrika at Microsoft, added: “As part of 4Afrika’s drive towards affordable access, this portal seeks to bring Africa’s offline economies online, enabling the continent to take part in the global digital revolution, which in turn, will drive innovation, inclusion, skills and trade.

“Africa continues to be a breeding ground for major innovations that extend to the world stage. With monetisation being a priority, the offline economy cannot be ignored.”

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output 1

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy firms began to prepare for restarting oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.

Brent crude futures were down $1.16, or 1.8%, to $62.77 per barrel, by 1150 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.42, or 2.4%, to $59.10 a barrel.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to analysts.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

However, firms in the region on Friday were expected to prepare for production restarts as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“The market was ripe for a correction and signs of the power and overall energy situation starting to normalise in Texas provided the necessary trigger,” said Vandana Hari, energy analyst at Vanda Insights.

Oil fell despite a surprise fall in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

While the thawing relations could raise the prospect of reversing sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration, analysts did not expect Iranian oil sanctions to be lifted anytime soon.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon said.

(Additional reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Jason Neely)

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Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies

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Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies 2

By Douglas Busvine and Christoph Steitz

BERLIN (Reuters) – The semiconductor crunch that has battered the auto sector leaves carmakers with a stark choice: pay up, stock up or risk getting stuck on the sidelines as chipmakers focus on more lucrative business elsewhere.

Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors have cut output as the chip market was swept clean by makers of consumer electronics such as smartphones – the chip industry’s preferred customers because they buy more advanced, higher-margin chips.

The semiconductor shortage – over $800 worth of silicon is packed into a modern electric vehicle – has exposed the disconnect between an auto industry spoilt by decades of just-in-time deliveries and an electronics industry supply chain it can no longer bend to its will.

“The car sector has been used to the fact that the whole supply chain is centred around cars,” said McKinsey partner Ondrej Burkacky. “What has been overlooked is that semiconductor makers actually do have an alternative.”

Automakers are responding to the shortage by lobbying governments to subsidize the construction of more chip-making capacity.

In Germany, Volkswagen has pointed the finger at suppliers, saying it gave them timely warning last April – when much global car production was idled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that it expected demand to recover strongly in the second half of the year.

That complaint by the world’s No.2 volume carmaker cuts little ice with chipmakers, who say the auto industry is both quick to cancel orders in a slump and to demand investment in new production in a recovery.

“Last year we had to furlough staff and bear the cost of carrying idle capacity,” said a source at one European semiconductor maker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If the carmakers are asking us to invest in new capacity, can they please tell us who will pay for that idle capacity in the next downturn?”

LOW-TECH CUSTOMER

The auto industry spends around $40 billion a year on chips – about a tenth of the global market. By comparison, Apple spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling reckons.

Moreover, the chips used in cars tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries – hardly the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.

“The suppliers are saying: ‘If we continue to produce this stuff there is nowhere else for it to go. Sony isn’t going to use it for a Playstation 5 or Apple for its next iPhone’,” said Asif Anwar at Strategy Analytics.

Chipmakers were surprised by the panicked reaction of the German car industry, which persuaded Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to write a letter in January to his counterpart in Taiwan to ask its semiconductor makers to supply more chips.

No extra supplies were forthcoming, with one German industry source joking that the Americans stood a better chance of getting more chips from Taiwan because they could at least park an aircraft carrier off the coast – referring to the ability of the United States to project power in Asia.

Closer to home, a source at another European chipmaker expressed disbelief at the poor understanding at one carmaker of how it operates.

“We got a call from one auto maker that was desperate for supply. They said: Why don’t you run a night shift to increase production?” this person said.

“What they didn’t understand is that we have been running a night shift since the beginning.”

NO QUICK FIX

While Infineon, the leading supplier of chips to the global auto industry, and Robert Bosch, the top ‘Tier 1’ parts supplier, both plan to commission new chip plants this year, there is little chance of supply shortages easing soon.

Specialist chipmakers like Infineon outsource some production of automotive chips to contract manufacturers led by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), but the Asian foundries are currently prioritising high-end electronics makers as they come up against capacity constraints.

Over the longer term, the relationship between chip makers and the car industry will become closer as electric vehicles are more widely adopted and features such as assisted and autonomous driving develop, requiring more advanced chips.

But, in the short term, there is no quick fix for the lack of chip supply: IHS Markit estimates that the time it takes to deliver a microcontroller has doubled to 26 weeks and shortages will only bottom out in March.

That puts the production of 1 million light vehicles at risk in the first quarter, says IHS Markit. European chip industry executives and analysts agree that supply will not catch up with demand until later in the year.

Chip shortages are having a “snowball effect” as auto makers idle some capacity to prioritize building profitable models, said Anwar at Strategy Analytics, who forecasts a drop in car production in Europe and North America of 5%-10% in 2021.

The head of Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery, forecasts capacity constraints will affect carmakers until mid-year.

“Up to the end of the second quarter, the industry will have to manage at the lean inventory level,” Chery told a recent Goldman Sachs conference.

(Douglas Busvine from Berlin and Christoph Steitz from Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Gillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets

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Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets 3

By Tommy Wilkes

LONDON (Reuters) – The Australian dollar rose to near a three-year high and the British pound scaled $1.40 for the first time since 2018 on optimism about economic rebounds in the two countries and after the U.S. dollar was knocked by disappointing jobs data.

The U.S. currency had been rising in recent days as a jump in Treasury yields on the back of the so-called reflation trade drew investors. But an unexpected increase in U.S. weekly jobless claims soured the economic outlook and sent the dollar lower overnight.

On Friday it traded down 0.3% against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 90.309.

The Aussie rose 0.8% to $0.784, its highest since March 2018. The currency, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, has been helped by a recent rally in commodity prices.

The New Zealand dollar also gained, and was not far off a more than two-year high, while the Canadian dollar rose too.

Sterling rose to $1.4009 on Friday, an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination programme.

Given the size of Britain’s vital services sector, analysts say the faster it can reopen the economy, the better for the currency. Sterling was also helped by better-than-expected purchasing managers index flash survey data for February.

The U.S. dollar has been weighed down by a string of soft labour data, even as other indicators have shown resilience, and as President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief efforts take shape, including a proposed $1.9 trillion spending package.

Despite the recent rise in U.S. yields, many analysts think they won’t climb too much higher, limiting the benefit for the dollar.

“Our view remains that the Fed will hold the line and remain very cautious about tapering asset purchases. We think it will keep communicating that tightening is very far off, which should dampen pro-dollar sentiment,” said UBS Global Wealth Management strategist Gaétan Peroux and analyst Tilmann Kolb.

ING analysts said “the rise in rates will be self-regulating, meaning the dollar need not correct too much higher”.

They see the greenback index trading down to the 90.10 to 91.05 range.

U.S. dollar

Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets 4

The euro rose 0.4% to $1.2134. The single currency showed little reaction to purchasing manager index data, which showed a slowdown in business activity in February. However, factories had their busiest month in three years, buoying sentiment.

The dollar bought 105.39 yen, down 0.3% and a continued retreat from the five-month high of 106.225 reached Wednesday.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)

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