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Meta slashes hiring plans, girds for ‘fierce’ headwinds

The company is also leaving certain positions unfilled in response to attrition and ‘turning up the heat’ on performance management to weed out staff unable to meet more aggressive goals.
Facebook-owner Meta Platforms has cut plans to hire engineers by at least 30% this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees on Thursday, as he warned them to brace for a deep economic downturn.
“If I had to bet, I’d say that this might be one of the worst downturns that we’ve seen in recent history,” Zuckerberg told workers in a weekly employee Q&A session, audio of which was heard by Reuters.
Meta has reduced its target for hiring engineers in 2022 to around 6,000-7,000, down from an initial plan to hire about 10,000 new engineers, Zuckerberg said.
Meta confirmed hiring freezes in broad terms last month, but exact figures have not previously been reported.
In addition to reducing hiring, he said, the company was leaving certain positions unfilled in response to attrition and “turning up the heat” on performance management to weed out staff unable to meet more aggressive goals.
“Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,” Zuckerberg said.
“Part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is okay with me,” he said.
The social media and technology company is bracing for a leaner second half of the year, as it copes with macroeconomic pressures and data privacy hits to its ads business, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The company must “prioritise more ruthlessly” and “operate leaner, meaner, better executing teams”, chief product officer Chris Cox wrote in the memo, which appeared on the company’s internal discussion forum Workplace before the Q&A.
“I have to underscore that we are in serious times here and the headwinds are fierce. We need to execute flawlessly in an environment of slower growth, where teams should not expect vast influxes of new engineers and budgets,” Cox wrote.
The memo was “intended to build on what we’ve already said publicly in earnings about the challenges we face and the opportunities we have, where we’re putting more of our energy toward addressing,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
The guidance is the latest rough forecast to come from Meta executives, who ...

North Korea blames Covid outbreak on ‘alien things’ from South

Human rights groups led by defectors in South Korea have been sending balloons with what they say is Covid aid across the border from the western side of the peninsula. Although it is possible to contract Covid by touching some surfaces, the chances of it being sent by balloons traveling more than 200km is extremely low.
North Korea blamed its Covid-19 outbreak on “alien things” likely sent by balloon across its border with South Korea, saying a teenage soldier and a five-year-old girl in April were the first people in the country infected by coronavirus.
Kim Jong Un’s regime called on its officials “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders”, the official Korean Central News Agency said Friday.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry repudiated the claims from North Korea. It said in a briefing with the reporters the balloon launches took place in late April, after Pyongyang said the first infections appeared mid-month. The ministry added medical research shows there are no precedents for the type of transmission described by its neighbour.
“The government does not see the possibility of the coronavirus entering the North through leaflets sent by South Korea’s side,” deputy ministry spokesman Cha Deok-cheol said at the briefing, referring to the balloons that also contained messages critical of Kim’s government.
Human rights groups led by defectors in South Korea have been sending balloons with what they say is Covid aid across the border from the western side of the peninsula. Although it is possible to contract Covid by touching some surfaces, the chances of it being sent by balloons traveling more than 200km is extremely low. Kim Dong-hyun, a former president of Korean Society of Epidemiology in South Korea said North Korea’s claims sounded like “nonsense”.
The report in North Korea’s state media pinpointed the start of infections, saying cases emerged from the Ipho-ri area in the eastern county of Kumgang.
“While North Korea did not explicitly link the ‘alien things’ to the Covid relief sent by the defectors’ group, it certainly guides the citizens to think so,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea.North Korea, which shut borders at the start of the pandemic more than two years ago, reported in May that it had its first confirmed Covid case. Officials from the US, ...

Oil heads for worst run of losses this year on recession concern

West Texas Intermediate traded below $106 a barrel after tumbling on Thursday as commodities were pummelled. The US benchmark has shed more than 1% this week despite signs that the physical crude market remains tight.
Oil headed for a third weekly drop, its longest losing run this year, on concern that a potential recession will cut into energy demand.
Data this week showed weakness in US consumer spending, which is by far the biggest contributor to gross domestic product. That follows a pivot by the Federal Reserve to aggressively tighten policy to quell raging inflation.
Oil fell about 8% in June as investors fretted over a potential global slowdown, eroding a rally spurred by the war in Ukraine, interruptions to supplies and rising demand. The jump in prices alarmed President Joe Biden, who’s spearheading efforts to get producers in the Middle East to boost crude output.
“Oil may remain choppy,” said Zhou Mi, an analyst at Chaos Research Institute in Shanghai, which is affiliated with Chaos Ternary Futures Co. Deepening recession fears would hurt oil products and squeeze refining margins, although high run rates are offering support with fundamentals still tight, said Zhou.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies ratified an oil-production increase this week, completing the return of supplies halted during the pandemic. Biden will travel to the Middle East later this month to urge Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to increase supplies further.
In a sign that US demand remains robust for now a record number of drivers are expected to hit the road this weekend for Independence Day travel, buttressing gasoline consumption. Average retail pump prices have eased slightly in recent weeks after hitting a record above $5 a gallon in June.
Oil’s time spreads, which traders track for indications on the strength of underlying demand, continue to flash broadly positive signals. Brent’s prompt spread – the difference between its two nearest contracts – was $3.42 a barrel in backwardation, up from $2.73 a month ago.
Economic data from Asia, however, pointed to weakening conditions. Purchasing manager indexes from across the region eased in June, with South Korea and Thailand among those showing the biggest declines, according to S&P Global.
“For oil, it is clear that macro developments are still the key driver for price direction at the moment,” Warren Patterson, the Singapore-based head of commodities strategy at ING Groep NV, said in a note. “Fundamentally, the market is still ...

Welcome to SA: The country is back in business for global tourism

There is a chance you might be interested in some good news. In SA, ‘good news’ can be roughly defined as anything that does not have to do with Eskom, politics, hubbly-bubblies or red oryx. The real good news is that tourism is back.
South Africa is such an odd place. It always surprises in ways that you don’t expect. But one thing I have always loved is the feel of the country. You can be on your 25th load shedding of the day, and you look out on one of the hundreds of glorious vistas that bedeck our country, and somehow everything feels better again. At least, until you try to turn on a light.
Nobody needs to be told this, but South Africa is blessed with a huge variety of very different geographies, all of which have their own beautiful characteristics. I live in the Karoo, which many of my friends describe as the boring bit where you play word games when driving from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
As a resident, I look out on a Karoo sunset and a sense of deep, visceral contentment fills my deepest soul. I also know there is not just a single Karoo; there are at least six different types of Karoo, each of which have very different characteristics, including different vegetation and topography.
This beauty and the temperate weather and the widespread warmth of the people is such an obvious advantage that even South Africa’s politicians understand its utility as an income-earner and job-creator.
So it was with a sense of relief I noticed that Sun International’s business update suggests revenue for the year is likely to be about 92% of its 2019 income. The company said its revenue for the five months to 31 May 2022 increased by 34% to R4.28-billion from the same period in 2021. This must have been the easiest trade in history.
What a turnaround – and what a relief for the company, its employees and shareholders. And what a torrid time the company has been through, like its main comparators, Tsogo Sun and City Lodge.
In its interim period, City Lodge noted that in some months, its occupancy was down to 10%. The dread from wave after wave of Covid spoiling their turnaround chances must have been just awful.
How these groups have managed to hang on is really impressive.
Both Tsogo and Sun International have what they call “gaming” – what the more ...

Midyear global economic outlook: The future will look nothing like the past

The first half of 2022 is not a period we want to be repeated, but the second half of the year may prove even worse. Global regional economic divides, a higher inflation reality, and, worst-case, outright war are just some of the eventualities that could lie ahead.
The first half of the year is drawing to a nail-biting close both economically and in the financial markets, with economists and analysts characterising the transition to the second half as “a turning point”, “a new paradigm” and “a potential change in regime”.
What do they mean by that? For a start, it means that the issues that financial markets have been grappling with, which have caused the extreme volatility that prevailed during the first half, may become far bigger and cause more seismic changes than anticipated. If central banks increase interest rates too sharply, pushing the global economy into recession, that could prove to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Some of the seismic changes afoot that would change the fundamental make-up of the global economy as we know it include:
Deglobalisation and economic divides becoming deep-rooted
Deglobalisation has been the subject of much discussion over the past few years, stirred up by the US-China trade tensions that flared up under Donald Trump’s watch. BIS refers to this in their analysis of what they call “the new age of uncertainty”, saying that the war in Ukraine has reinforced a trend that had been on the rise before the pandemic, particularly when it comes to energy supply, “but also more broadly as demands for ‘friend-shoring’ are rising in the political arena”. Friend-shoring is defined as trade between countries that have similar values and institutions.
Friend-shoring is becoming particularly evident among emerging markets (EMs), with the recent BRICS conference highlighting that there’s momentum behind BRICS members standing together on the global stage and even trying to build a BRICS reserve currency akin to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, to wean them off their dependence on the dollar. It’s a concerning development for South Africa because, if the government does go all-in, the country could well find itself on the wrong side of history
At Blackrock’s midyear investment forum, all investment team attendees agreed that they saw signs of a new regime taking hold and pointed to how many emerging market countries were now trying to find a middle ground between the US and China.
“EM isn’t what it used to be, ...

South African company launches world-first crypto water token

A new model for financing water projects around the world has been developed by a local company.
As the people in Gqeberha know only too well, water is a scarce resource and growing even scarcer. They are not alone. Globally, more than two billion people — almost 30% of the world’s population — live in water scarce conditions and this number is expected to increase to 50% of the population by 2030.
Compounding the problem is a lack of funding for water infrastructure.
The global funding gap for water infrastructure could exceed $18-trillion by the end of 2030, as highlighted by a 2016-18 OECD report. This presents a major risk to business and society.
Water infrastructure finance
Now, a South African company with an established pedigree in providing global water solutions has developed a financing model for water infrastructure.
A key component of this model is a crypto token, called H2ON (Water Network) token, which will be listed on Bitmart, a global cryptocurrency exchange, on Monday.
It will be available on secondary markets by Thursday, which means that for the first time, ordinary people will be able to invest in water infrastructure.
The token has been available on decentralised cryptocurrency exchanges for the past few months.
“Our initial decentralised listing provided us with proof of great interest in the concept of a digital H2O Securities token. With an initial listing price of about $0.75 and a trading volume of $100,000, it increased to $5 within just a few hours and exceeded $11 less than 24 hours later,” says Julius Steyn, CEO and founder of H2O Holdings.
Steyn was the former CEO of Grahamtek Holdings, the Cape Town company that won a R5-billion tender to design, build and operate a desalination facility in Saudi Arabia in 2018.
The company also assisted the Saudi government with the development of a financial model for the water sector, which the government was privatising at the time. This model was subsequently accepted by the world’s capital markets.
H2ON token
The token, H2ON has already attracted investment, with $150-million worth coming from GEM Digital Limited, a digital asset investment firm based in the Bahamas that invests in utility tokens listed on over 30 centralised and decentralised exchanges around the world.
The token is simply a means to an end — in this case, raising capital to finance global water projects.
Once up and running, the sale of the water repays the initial project finance costs. Water is priced at an equitable ...

SA factory gate prices hit 14-year high of 14.7% in May

South Africa’s producer price index raced to 14.7% year-on-year in May from 13.1% in April, its highest level since September 2008 when it reached 16%. Amid surging fuel and food prices, the trajectory remains upward and producers will have to pass these costs on to consumers.
The data, released by Statistics South Africa on Thursday, showed that the month-on-month increase was 1.8%, driven mainly by coke, petroleum, chemical, rubber and plastic products, which rose 2.8% from April.
In the year to May, PPI was running at 14.7%, its highest level in almost 14 years. And the 2022 peak has almost certainly not been reached.
The annual PPI rate for food products in the year to May was 12.3%, with the producer price for oil and fats reaching 61.3% — a Zimbabwe kind of number.
The producer price for diesel was also in Zanu-PF territory at 54% in the year to May. This is a massive cost for industry: Eskom relies heavily on diesel; producers who use generators in the face of load shedding consume diesel; farmers are big users (think tractors); the mining sector uses plenty, and so on.
“Industry relies on diesel to move the economy forward and record-high prices will exert further pressure on PPI inflation over the coming months,” Jee-A van der Linde, an economist at Oxford Economics Africa, said in a note on the data.
“We forecast that PPI inflation will probably crest well above 17.0% y-o-y in Q3 2022.”
Consumer inflation is also at worrying levels, though at 6.5% it looks muted compared to PPI. CPI does not quite follow PPI the way it did in the past, but there is still spillover.
The potential second-round effects will not be lost on the South African Reserve Bank, which is widely expected to hike rates by another 50 basis points in July.
Such price pressures — which are partly a result of Russia’s brutal and ham-fisted invasion of Ukraine — are also triggering a collapse in consumer confidence.
The FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index sank to -25 in Q2 of 2022 from -13 in Q1. This was its second-lowest read in more than three decades.
Meanwhile, the profit margins of producers are getting squeezed against the backdrop of an unemployment rate of more than 34%.
Throw in fresh labour unrest, Stage 6 load shedding, perpetual policy inertia by a moribund ANC and brisk winter days, and the economic outlook for the next quarter is looking grim.
Among the developed economies ...

Qatar Airways sees green shoots in SA’s tough, money-guzzling aviation industry

The domestic aviation industry has taken down SA Express, Mango Airlines, Kulula and British Airways in recent months. Now Qatar Airways has plans to grow its exposure in the industry and the rest of Africa.
It is incredibly easy to take a dim view of South Africa’s aviation industry.
The collapse of airlines such as SA Express, Mango Airlines, Kulula and British Airways (in southern Africa) in recent months underscores a tough aviation industry in which losing money is easier than generating it.
The recovery of passenger volumes in South Africa post the hard lockdown — especially the arrival of international tourists — has been slow compared with other countries. South Africa was also slow to acquire and roll out Covid vaccines, which paved the way for other countries to quickly reopen borders, resume travel activities and drop cumbersome pandemic testing procedures.
And consumers continue to face a cost of living crisis so daunting that air travel will probably be the first thing people cut to save money, impacting on the fortunes of airlines in the process.
These market dynamics are enough to deter any aviation player from expanding their operations into South Africa or investing in the money-guzzling aviation industry. But Qatar Airways, one of the Middle East’s largest air carriers, isn’t put off.
Having recently posted a record $1.54-billion in profits despite the pandemic, Qatar Airways is looking to expand the number of destinations it flies to around the world (currently more than 140). Qatar Airways’ search is pointing towards Africa, and South Africa in particular.
In an interview with Business Maverick, Hendrik du Preez, Qatar Airways’ Doha-based vice president for Africa, said the airline group is still bullish about South Africa even though it is mindful of economic and aviation-specific challenges in the country.
“The South African market, from an Africa perspective, is the largest from a travel perspective. It is the single largest market. There is strong demand for travel in the country, especially for domestic travel. We want to grow our footprint in South Africa and be committed to the country,” said Du Preez.
Qatar Airways is no stranger to the South African aviation market, as it routinely flew in and out of the country. During the early days of the pandemic, when the global aviation industry came to a stop and many countries closed their borders, Qatar Airways operated repatriation flights, flying stranded passengers from airports around the world into South Africa.
It was ...

The shine dims on South Africa’s chrome as ruthless pirates muscle in on mining operations

By some estimates, South Africa — the world’s biggest producer of chrome ore — now loses about 10% of its production each year to illegal mining, amounting to 600,000 tonnes of stolen material.
Military helicopters descended on a mine in South Africa’s North West province earlier this year to disrupt a massive illegal mining operation.
Soldiers rappelled down ropes as police and security guards encircled the property. One miner, recording the raid on his cell phone, yelled, “things are looking bad here!” Another suspect fled the scene in his pickup truck, ramming through a gate before being captured in a shootout.
The miners had been excavating chrome ore, an essential mineral for manufacturing stainless steel.
Taking advantage of loopholes in South African law, they had posed as legitimate companies, operating with heavy machinery in broad daylight.
Investigators estimated that the syndicate was making off with R1-million of ore per day. Police confiscated 20 machines, including trucks, excavators and diesel tanks, as well as more than 2,000 tonnes of chrome.
This was not an isolated case, but part of an insidious and hugely lucrative illicit economy that has flourished in South Africa in recent years.
By some estimates, South Africa — the world’s biggest producer of chrome ore — now loses around 10% of its production each year to illegal mining, amounting to 600,000 tonnes of stolen material.
This chrome is exported in bulk, primarily to China, without generating tax revenue in South Africa. Its relentless extraction has devastated rural landscapes, in some cases practically swallowing entire villages, and is increasingly associated with reports of violent control.
For the most part, this harmful trade has gone unpoliced, although the raid in April showed that the authorities may be adopting a firmer stance against illegal chrome mining. Much of the damage, however, has already been done.
“The state relinquished control” of the industry, one analyst explained to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
“Now it’s the law of the jungle.”
An age of chrome
In a country notorious for its problems with illegal mining — from gold and diamonds to coal — it might seem inevitable that chrome ore is being targeted.
South Africa is home to around a third of the world’s chrome reserves, mostly occurring in the northeastern parts of the country. But South Africa’s illicit chrome trade only became possible due to a series of recent events in the chrome industry.
Chrome mining began in South Africa in the 1920s. During the apartheid ...

Bitcoin Set for Biggest Quarterly Drop in More Than a Decade

Bitcoin is on track for its worst quarter in more than a decade, as hawkish central banks and a string of high-profile crypto blowups hammer sentiment.
The 58% plunge in the biggest cryptocurrency is the largest since the third quarter of 2011, when Bitcoin was still in its infancy, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The decade in between those hallmarks featured several booms and busts, with the market value of all tokens swelling to a peak of $3 trillion last November as they gained more widespread adoption and ultra-low interest rates spurred risk taking. The current bear market, however, stands out for the amount of crypto leverage that’s been unwound — and for the regulatory scrutiny being heaped on an asset class many central banks now consider a threat to financial stability.
Read more: Crypto’s $2 Trillion Shakeout Portends Lehman Moment
That total market figure now stands at around $900 billion, pummeled by a quarter in which the burgeoning Terra crypto ecosystem collapsed close to zero, and a mounting liquidity crunch caused several prominent companies to border on insolvency. Even some of crypto’s best funded companies announced swaths of layoffs, while Bitcoin’s current trading levels have seen it floating back and forth over the $20,000 mark for a number of weeks.
Prices were tumbling again on Thursday, with the world’s largest token by market value sliding more than 6% to breach $19,000 for the second time in a fortnight. More volatile altcoins did worse, with Avalanche and Polygon each falling more than 10%.
While perhaps not directly correlated to falling prices, the mood around Bitcoin was worsened by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rejection of a bid to turn one of the world’s largest Bitcoin funds, Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust (GBTC), into an exchange-traded product late on Wednesday. Another knock came in the form of a report that Genesis Trading, a sister company to Grayscale, may be facing a loss in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars from its exposure to struggling crypto lenders.
The recent drumbeat of bad news signals a broad rebuke to crypto’s love of unbridled speculation and free-wheeling innovation, which has now cost investors dearly. Its obsession with leverage laid at the heart of that mindset, as lenders and hedge funds alike parlayed their customers’ assets into even riskier bets that quickly buckled as prices dropped.
Read more: Crypto Hedge Fund Three Arrows Set for Liquidation
Yet for all the gloom, some analysts ...

China’s World-Beating Stock Rally Is Forecast to Strengthen More

It’s official: Chinese equities are once again in vogue, after months of regulatory crackdowns, deleveraging and stringent virus curbs wiped trillions of dollars off benchmark gauges.
A Bloomberg survey of 19 fund managers and analysts predicts that benchmark stock indexes in China and Hong Kong will post gains of at least 4% by year-end to outperform their global peers. About 70% of those polled plan to maintain or bolster holdings of shares in the mainland and the financial hub in the next three months.
The optimism marks a stunning reversal from March when investors raced to trim exposure to Chinese assets on fears that the nation’s coronavirus lockdowns and the war in Ukraine would dampen economic growth. A recent easing of virus restrictions has propelled the CSI 300 Index to the brink of a bull market, and a loose policy stance has helped local equities defy the recent selloff in global stocks.
“Covid restrictions will gradually ease and under the backdrop of stability as the overarching priority, the government may provide a relatively loose monetary environment in the second half, with the liquidity benefiting stocks,” said Fang Rui, managing director at Shanghai WuSheng Investment Management Partnership. “We’re quite optimistic on valuation recovery also lifting the indexes higher.”
The survey of investors and analysts in China and Hong Kong sees the Shanghai Composite and CSI 300 gauges rising 4.4% and 4.6%, respectively, for rest of the year, with most of the gains taking place in the third quarter. They expect an 8% advance for the Hang Seng Index and anticipate further policy steps to boost growth.
The optimism is reflected in the recent bounce in Chinese shares, with the CSI 300 gauge rallying about 19% from an April low after Beijing lifted lockdowns in major cities — a performance that’s among the best in global markets.
Momentum is also turning more positive among US-listed Chinese stocks, with the Nasdaq Golden Dragon China Index poised for its first quarterly gain in more than a year. On Wednesday, investors added $333.1 million to the $8.5 billion iShares MSCI China ETF (MCHI), the largest one-day inflow since the fund’s inception in 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The authorities cut quarantine times for inbound travelers by half this week and policy makers have also signaled that regulatory crackdowns on tech giants will ease as they pivot toward supporting growth.
China Stocks Get Reopening Boost After Some Travel Rules Eased
That’s fueled a ...

Beer made from recycled toilet water wins admirers in Singapore

NEWBrew uses NEWater, Singapore’s brand of drinking water recycled from sewage, which first flowed from treatment plants in 2003 to improve the island’s water security. PUB says the new beer is part of an effort to educate Singaporeans on the importance of sustainable water use and recycling.
“NEWBrew” is no ordinary beer. The new Singapore blond ale is made with recycled sewage.
The alcoholic beverage is a collaboration between the country’s national water agency, PUB, and local craft brewery Brewerkz. First unveiled at a water conference in 2018, NEWBrew went on sale in supermarkets and at Brewerkz outlets in April.
“I seriously couldn’t tell this was made of toilet water,” said Chew Wei Lian, 58, who had purchased the beer from a supermarket to try after hearing about it. “I don’t mind having it if it was in the fridge. I mean, it tastes just like beer, and I like beer.”
NEWBrew uses NEWater, Singapore’s brand of drinking water recycled from sewage, which first flowed from treatment plants in 2003 to improve the island’s water security. PUB says the new beer is part of an effort to educate Singaporeans on the importance of sustainable water use and recycling.
The idea of processing sewage into drinking water, once largely resisted, has been gaining support in the past decade as the world’s supply of fresh water is increasingly under stress. The World Wildlife Fund estimates 2.7 billion people find water scarce for at least one month a year.
Advanced economies such as Israel and Singapore that have limited fresh water resources have already incorporated the technology into their supplies. Cities such as Los Angeles and London are examining plans to follow suit.
Singapore’s NEWater is made by disinfecting sewage with ultraviolet light and passing the liquid through advanced membranes to remove contaminant particles.
Key to expanding the technology is to persuade the public that, once the water has been processed, it’s just water.
“NEWater perfectly suits brewing because it tastes neutral,” said Mitch Gribov, Brewerkz’s head brewer. “The mineral profile of water plays a key role in chemical reactions during brewing.”
Breweries elsewhere have also made beer with recycled sewage. Stockholm-based Nya Carnegie Brewery partnered with brewing giant Carlsberg and IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute to launch a pilsner made with purified sewage, while Village Brewery in Canada teamed up with researchers from the University of Calgary and US water technology company Xylem to roll out their own version.
Not everyone is convinced. ...

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