Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai to step down

Sony’s chief executive Kazuo Hirai is stepping down and handing the reins over to finance chief Kenichiro Yoshida.

Mr Yoshida, Sony’s chief financial officer, is to take over control of the Japanese electronics giant from 1 April.

Mr Hirai will remain at Sony as chairman.

Mr Yoshida and Mr Hirai have been instrumental in turning Sony around to focus on smartphone image sensors.

Under their efforts, the Japanese electronic giant sold off its struggling PC business and launched the successful PlayStation 4 video game console, which has sold more than 60 million units to date.

Sony said its profits quadrupled in the three months to December.

The Japanese electronics giant reported a record profit of 351 billion yen ($3.2bn, £2.5bn) for the quarter, compared with 92.4 billion yen in the same period the year before.

“As the company approaches a crucial juncture, when we will embark on a new mid-range plan, I consider this to be the ideal time to pass the baton of leadership to new management, for the future of Sony and also for myself to embark on a new chapter in my life,” said Mr Hirai in a statement.

Mr Yoshida said he wanted to build on the management foundation created under Mr Hirai’s leadership to “improve Sony’s competitiveness as a global company”.

Source: BBC

Vodafone eyes European expansion with Liberty Global deal

Vodafone Group, the UK-based telecoms giant, has said it is in talks to buy some European assets owned by US cable company Liberty Global.

The firm said the discussions were at an “early stage” and there was “no certainty” the deal would go through.

The talks concern assets in markets where the firms overlap, including Germany, Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Vodafone emphasised that the talks were not about a merger with Liberty, which owns Virgin Media.

Vodafone, founded in the 1980s, operates in more than 30 countries and boasts more than 400 million customers globally.

The company has historically focused on cellular mobile phone services, but has more recently been expanding its fibre infrastructure, which supports faster internet and data downloading.

Liberty Global is an international television and broadband company that operates in more than 30 countries under names that include Virgin Media, and Telenet.

The company, run by billionaire John Malone, operates in 12 countries in Europe and also has a joint venture with Vodafone in the Netherlands.

The share prices in both companies increased after Vodafone’s announcement.

‘No certainty’

The telecoms industry has been going through a period of deal-making as phone companies attempt to offer their customers packages of television, broadband, mobile and traditional phone services.

Vodafone issued its statement on the talks after a media report that the two companies were discussing swapping some assets.

The two companies had similar discussions in 2015 that ended without a deal.

“Vodafone confirms that it is in early stage discussions with Liberty Global regarding the potential acquisition of certain overlapping continental European assets owned by Liberty Global,” it said.

“There is no certainty that any transaction will be agreed, nor as to the terms, timing or form of any transaction. Vodafone is not in discussion with Liberty Global regarding a combination of both companies.”

Source: BBC

US jobs and wages rise in January

The US labour market barrelled forward in January, as employers added more jobs than expected and wage growth was its strongest in more than eight years.

US payrolls expanded by 200,000 last month, driven by hiring in construction, food services and health care, the US Labor Department said.

The average hourly wage for private sector workers crept up 2.9% compared to January 2017.

The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1%.

Economists have puzzled over lacklustre wage growth, which has lagged in prior months despite the decline in the unemployment rate.

Without higher wages, economists have warned that economic growth will be difficult to sustain, since consumer spending plays a large role in the US economy.

The Labor Department report, released on Friday, showed average hourly earnings for private sector workers rose 9 cents in January, to $26.74. For the year, the increase was 75 cents.

The wage uptick coincided with mandatory minimum pay increases in 18 states. Major employers such as Walmart have also said they planned to boost earnings or provide bonuses.

Those factors may have helped lift last month’s numbers, but they make it harder to say if the increases will continue, said Lindsey Piezga, chief economist for fixed income at Stifel, based in Chicago.

“While that is encouraging, what we really need to see is sustained wage growth, not one-off, month-to-month volatility,” she said.

Other data in the report was a reminder that monthly gains can be fleeting.

For example, the unemployment rate among black workers jumped in January to 7.7%, rising after falling to a record low of 6.8% in December.

President Donald Trump had trumpeted that decline as evidence of economic improvement.

Slowing momentum?

The US is now in its ninth year of expansion and has been adding jobs steadily since 2010.

The increases in January occurred across most industries, a sign of solid growth.

The pace of hiring is slowing, however.

Over the last three months, payrolls increased by an average of 192,000 jobs, compared to over 200,000 in the same period the prior year.

“I don’t think we should be too excited about this,” said Ms Piezga.

“The momentum of the US economy is waning. We’re still talking about positive growth, positive job creation, but at a slower pace.”

Economists have said some slowdown in job creation is to be expected as new workers become harder to find.

Despite a relatively high number of job openings, participation in the labour force has remained stuck below 63%, several percentage points lower than it was before the financial crisis.

US stock indexes slid after the report.

Analysts said part of the decline was due to investor reaction to the wage increase, which is likely to keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates – and could make policymakers move more aggressively.

The Fed is one of several central banks that are turning from policies that were designed to boost economic activity in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

source: BBC

Dow sees sharpest drop since June 2016

The blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its steepest decline since June 2016 on Friday, amid wider losses in US markets.

The fall came after a string of disappointing earnings reports from giants such as Apple.

Strong wage growth in the latest payrolls data also spooked investors raising the possibility of higher interest rates than expected.

The Dow fell more than 665 points or 2.5% to 25,520.96.

The S&P 500 tumbled 59.8 points, falling 2.12% to 2,762.13, while the Nasdaq closed 144.91 points lower at 7,240.9, down 1.96%.

The losses touched every sector, with the steepest declines in energy and technology stocks.

Chevron and Exxon, which both reported quarterly earnings to investors on Friday, were the two biggest losers on the Dow, falling more than 5%.

Apple, which reported after the close of trading on Thursday, was number four, retreating 4.3%.

Stocks were also rattled as the yield on the 10-year Treasury note hit a four-year high after Friday’s payrolls report.

The gain in bond yields, which come as central banks globally ease stimulus programmes and raise rates, have touched off fears that stocks could become a less attractive investment, while signalling higher borrowing costs that could crimp consumer activity.

Analysts said markets may also be responding to outstanding political and policy issues, such as trade tensions with partners such as China and how tax cuts will shift corporate financial strategies.

“There are still a number of question marks on the side of fiscal policy,” said Lindsey Piezga, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income.

‘Real investing activity’

For the week, the Dow fell 4%, while the Nasdaq and S&P 500 each slipped by more than 3%.

Analysts cautioned against reading too much into the market declines, which follow a massive rally in 2017 that was fuelled by a strengthening global economy and high expectations for US corporate tax cuts.

The three major stocks indexes also closed January up more than 5%.

The Dow, which tracks about 30 major companies, in particular is not a good gauge, said Brian Barnier, head of analytics at Valuebridge Advisers.

“It’s very important to separate trading activity from real investing activity,” said Mr Barnier, who also teaches at the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York.

Assuming they have well-designed portfolios, “mom and pops sitting at home… should not be concerned, given the massive run up in the market,” he added.

source: BBC

Sprawling Maya network discovered under Guatemala jungle

Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Maya ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough.

Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications.

The landscape, near already-known Maya cities, is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested.

The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.

Archaeologists believe the cutting-edge technology will change the way the world will see the Maya civilisation.

“I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology,” said Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University.

Mr Houston told the BBC that after decades of work in the archaeological field, he found the magnitude of the recent survey “breathtaking”. He added, “I know it sounds hyperbolic but when I saw the [Lidar] imagery, it did bring tears to my eyes.”

Results from the research using Lidar technology, which is short for “light detection and ranging”, suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilisation more akin to sophisticated cultures like ancient Greece or China.

“Everything is turned on its head,” Ithaca College archaeologist Thomas Garrison told the BBC.

He believes the scale and population density has been “grossly underestimated and could in fact be three or four times greater than previously thought”.

How does Lidar work?

Described as “magic” by some archaeologists, Lidar unveils archaeological finds almost invisible to the naked eye, especially in the tropics.

  • It is a sophisticated remote sensing technology that uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the earth
  • Millions of laser pulses every four seconds are beamed at the ground from a plane or helicopter
  • The wavelengths are measured as they bounce back, which is not unlike how bats use sonar to hunt
  • The highly accurate measurements are then used to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the ground surface topography

Revolutionary treasure map

The group of scholars who worked on this project used Lidar to digitally remove the dense tree canopy to create a 3D map of what is really under the surface of the now-uninhabited Guatemalan rainforest.

Lidar is revolutionising archaeology the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionised astronomy,” Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist, told National Geographic. “We’ll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we’re seeing.”

Archaeologists excavating a Maya site called El Zotz in northern Guatemala, painstakingly mapped the landscape for years. But the Lidar survey revealed kilometres of fortification wall that the team had never noticed before.

“Maybe, eventually, we would have gotten to this hilltop where this fortress is, but I was within about 150 feet of it in 2010 and didn’t see anything,” Mr Garrison told Live Science.

While Lidar imagery has saved archaeologists years of on-the-ground searching, the BBC was told that it also presents a problem.

“The tricky thing about Lidar is that it gives us an image of 3,000 years of Mayan civilisation in the area, compressed,” explained Mr Garrison, who is part of a consortium of archaeologists involved in the recent survey.

“It’s a great problem to have though, because it gives us new challenges as we learn more about the Maya.”

In recent years Lidar technology has also been used to reveal previously hidden cities near the iconic ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Hidden insights

Maya civilisation, at its peak some 1,500 years ago, covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, with an estimated population of around five million.

“With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there,” said Mr Estrada-Belli, “including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Most of the 60,000 newly identified structures are thought to be stone platforms that would have supported the average pole-and-thatch Maya home.

The archaeologists were struck by the “incredible defensive features”, which included walls, fortresses and moats.

They showed that the Maya invested more resources into defending themselves than previously thought, Mr Garrison said.

One of the hidden finds is a seven-storey pyramid so covered in vegetation that it practically melts into the jungle.

Another discovery that surprised archaeologists was the complex network of causeways linking all the Maya cities in the area. The raised highways, allowing easy passage even during rainy seasons, were wide enough to suggest they were heavily trafficked and used for trade.

“The idea of seeing a continuous landscape, but understanding everything is connected across many square miles is amazing,” said Mr Houston.

“We can expect many further surprises,” he added.

The Lidar survey was the first part of a three-year project led by a Guatemalan organisation that promotes cultural heritage preservation. It will eventually map more than 5,000 sq miles (14,000 sq km) of Guatemala’s lowlands.

source: BBC, National Geoprahic

Lady Gaga halts tour due to ‘severe pain’

Lady Gaga has cancelled the last 10 dates of the European leg of her world tour due to “severe pain”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the pop star apologised to fans and said she was “devastated”, but needed to put “myself and my well-being” first.

The Grammy award-winning singer has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which can cause pain all over the body.

Shows in London and Manchester are among those affected.

In the statement, it said the “tough decision” had been made on Friday night with “strong support from her medical team”.

“I’m so devastated I don’t know how to describe it,” Lady Gaga, 31, wrote. “All I know is that if I don’t do this, I am not standing by the words or meaning of my music.”

The announcement comes after she started the UK leg of her tour at Birmingham Arena.

The European leg of her Joanne World Tour had already been rescheduled due to her condition and followed a decision to pull out of a performance at Rock In Rio in Brazil in September, after she was hospitalised with “severe physical pain.”

The Born This Way singer was due to perform in Zurich, Cologne, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin in the coming weeks.

At the end of last year, the star announced a two-year residency in Las Vegas, starting late in 2018.

But many are disappointed.

Alice Outten had bought tickets for a London show as a birthday treat.

“I have train tickets and hotels booked in London,” the 23-year-old, from Llandudno, said.

“I love Lady Gaga – she has been my idol for over 10 years, but this is just such a disappointment when I’ve been saving and saving to afford this trip and I was so excited.”

Robert Miller, from Derby, has also been left out of pocket.

“My husband originally bought me tickets for us both to go for my birthday for the date in London last year costing £150 each,” he said.

“We’d booked hotels and travel for then and couldn’t cancel. It’s happened again and we’ve been left with yet another costly trip to London for nothing.”

Source: BBC

Russia condemns US nuclear bomb plans

Moscow has condemned US military proposals to develop new, smaller atomic bombs mainly to deter any Russian use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s foreign minister called the move “confrontational”, and expressed “deep disappointment”.

The proposals stem from concerns that Russia may see current US nuclear weapons as too big to be used.

This could mean, according to the US military, that those weapons are no longer an effective deterrent.

Russia’s counterblast

The Russian foreign ministry accuses the US of warmongering in its statement, issued less than 24 hours after the US proposals were published.

The latest thinking was revealed in a Pentagon policy statement known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Russia says it will take “necessary measures” to ensure Russian security.

“From first reading, the confrontational and anti-Russian character of this document leaps out at you,” the statement says.

A foretaste of Mr Lavrov’s anger came in a statement on Friday from the Russian senator and defence expert Frantz Klintsevich, who dubbed it “a very dangerous bet on breaking up the world strategic balance of forces” in favour of the US.

What is behind the US proposals?

They are not just about Russia.

The US military is worried about the nuclear arsenal becoming obsolete and potential threats from countries such as China, North Korea and Iran.

But a major US concern is over Russian perceptions. The document argues that smaller nuclear weapons – with a yield of less than 20 kilotons – would challenge any assumption that US weapons are too massive to serve as a credible deterrent.

Such bombs would have the same explosive power as the one dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of World War Two, killing more than 70,000 people.

“Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” the document says.

The proposed “tactical” nuclear weapons would not increase America’s arsenal, which is already considerable, but would repurpose existing warheads.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of challenging the spirit of non-proliferation agreements.

What is the US doing to its nuclear weapons?

  • Land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-delivered weapons – to be extensively modernised as begun under ex-President Obama
  • Proposed modification of some submarine-launched nuclear warheads to give a lower-yield or less powerful detonation
  • Return of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles.

source: bbcnews.com

Italy Macerata drive-by attack: Foreigners targeted, say police

At least six people have been wounded in a series of drive-by shootings in a town in central Italy, and one man has been arrested, police and media say.

Those targeted in Macerata were black immigrants, media said.

The suspect, named locally as Luca Traini, 28, had an Italian flag wrapped around his neck when he was detained.

He had taken part in regional elections for the anti-immigration Northern League last year and reportedly made a fascist salute when he was captured.

Italy votes in national elections on 4 March, with immigration one of the key issues.

Link to teenager’s killing?

Mr Traini, who is from the surrounding Le Marche region, did not resist when he was detained after fleeing from his car near the town’s war memorial. He is now being questioned. Police found a gun in his car.

The shooting had begun two hours earlier at about 11:00 local time (10:00 GMT), La Repubblica website reports.

The mayor had warned people to stay indoors during the incident, which saw shootings across a number of locations.

The victims are being treated in hospital. At least one of them is said to be in a serious condition.

Video of the moment the suspect was apprehended was published by local website, Il Resto del Carlino, showing a white bald man draped in an Italian tricolour being escorted away by police.

Italian police also tweeted a photo of the moment of capture, saying one of the wounded had required surgery.

Shots had been fired in the Via Spalato and Via dei Velini parts of town, two key areas in an investigation into the murder of an 18-year-old girl whose body was found dismembered and hidden in two suitcases last Wednesday.

A 29-year-old Nigerian male migrant has been detained over the killing of Pamela Mastropietro.

Several racist comments calling for revenge attacks were posted on the Facebook page of the victim’s mother in the run up to Saturday’s shootings, Ansa reports.

Local reports are linking the two incidents.

Right-wing politicians have been using Pamela Mastropietro’s killing to promote their anti-migrant message as part of their campaign for the general election.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has temporarily suspended campaigning over the shootings.

Opinion polls suggest a centre-right bloc, including the Northern League, Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy, will win the most seats but not a working majority.

With about 28% support in the opinion polls, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is the most popular single party. This suggests there could be tough coalition negotiations, or even another election, after 4 March.

source: bbcnews.com & ilrestodelcarlino.it

Trump-Russia: Republican memo accuses FBI of abusing power

The US Congress has released a memo accusing the FBI of abusing its power in its investigations into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The memo, written by Republicans, alleges the FBI used unsubstantiated evidence to spy on a Trump aide.

The FBI had warned against the memo’s release and said key facts had been omitted.

Democrats said it was aimed at derailing ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.

The memo has become a flashpoint in the bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats over investigations into whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.

What’s in the memo?

It centres on court-approved wiretapping of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who was put under electronic surveillance by the FBI.

But the memo accuses the FBI and the justice department of using an unsubstantiated and Democratic-funded report to obtain the October 2016 warrant that gave permission to spy on Mr Page.

Memo reaction – as it happened

It says that they did not tell the authorities their claim to the warrant was partially based on a dossier funded in part by the rival Hillary Clinton campaign.

It also says that the author of that dossier, a former British intelligence agent called Christopher Steele, told a senior justice department official that he was “desperate” that Donald Trump not win the vote.

The report says that all this represents “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses”.

The memo was top secret, but it was approved for release by the House Intelligence Committee on Monday and by Mr Trump on Friday.

Analysis: Bomb or dud?

By the BBC’s North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

The mystery is over, the memo is out, and the results are… pretty much what everyone expected.

Whether the Republican-generated document is as explosive as it had been made out to be depends on how one views the now-infamous Christopher Steele dossier and whether one believes the memo’s assertion that it was an “essential part” of the Carter Page Fisa warrant’s approval – or if there was other pertinent information the Republican memo-writers omitted.

The memo makes the case that the Fisa judge should have been told about information about Steele that could call his objectivity into question – including his expressed views about Donald Trump, his contacts with the press and the fact that his investigation was funded, in part, by Democratic Party interests.

Would such a disclosure have been enough to make the Page warrant request one of only a handful of the tens of thousands of Fisa applications that have been rejected by judges since the system was set up in 1978? And is the surveillance of Page – who had drawn the attention of US intelligence services as far back as 2013 – enough to call into question the entire Russia investigation, which had been initiated months before the warrant was approved?

The answers to those questions will determine whether the memo was a bomb or a dud.

presentational grey line

How have Republicans reacted?

Republicans who support the release of the memo say it exposes malpractice and political bias within the FBI and justice department.

Asked about the contents of the memo, Mr Trump said a lot of people should be “ashamed of themselves”.

Earlier on Friday the president accused top officials of politicising FBI and justice department investigations to damage his Republican party.

Devin Nunes, who commissioned the memo, has said it shows “serious violations” of public trust and he hopes it will trigger reforms.

Mr Page, the Trump aide who was the subject of the surveillance, said he would use the memo in upcoming legal action against the justice department.

What has the other reaction been?

Democrats say the memo is a “shameful effort to discredit” the FBI and inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said: “By not protecting intelligence sources and methods, [Trump] just sent his friend Putin a bouquet.”

Democrats have warned Mr Trump in a letter not to use the memo as a “pretext” to fire senior justice department officials or the special counsel appointed to investigate alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia.

They said this would provoke a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, FBI agents say they “have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract” from their work.

In an email to his staff, FBI Director Christopher Wray said: “Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure.

“I stand by our shared determination to do our work independently and by the book. I stand with you,” he said.

And former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in May, tweeted that the memo had “dishonest and misleading”.

source: bbcnews.om