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Bayer Q4 profit edges lower as crop chems, consumer care weigh

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German drugmaker Bayer’s adjusted core earnings slipped 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter, as it tries to overcome weak demand for crop protection products in Brazil and a drop in sales of consumer care products.

Bayer’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came in at 1.78 billion euros ($2.18 billion) for the quarter, slightly lower than the average forecast by analysts of 1.8 billion euros.

It said 2018 adjusted EBITDA would be at the prior-year level, held back by a burden of about 300 million euros from a warning letter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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China’s ByteDance, owner of TikTok, saw revenue surge 111% in 2020

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A billboard advertising Chinese video app TikTok at Wangfujing street on August 20, 2020, in Beijing.

VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, saw its revenue for 2020 more than double, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC.

Revenue for last year totaled $34.3 billion, up 111% year-on-year, senior management at the company told employees in a company-wide meeting. Gross profit rose 93% to $19 billion, the person who attended the meeting said.

ByteDance had 1.9 billion monthly active users by the end of 2020 across all of its platforms — which include its widely popular short video app TikTok, the Chinese version Douyin, and news aggregation app Toutiao, among others.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the numbers.

The rapid growth underscores the excitement around ByteDance, a private company, and why its valuation has reportedly been pegged north of $100 billion.

The company also hired former Xiaomi executive Shou Zi Chew to be its new chief financial officer earlier this year, signaling it could be gearing up for an initial public offering.

ByteDance’s 2020 operating loss was $2.1 billion versus a $684 million operating profit the year before, said the person, who wished to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak publicly. The loss was mainly due to the cost of share-based compensation for shareholders, the source said.

The Chinese internet company has managed to find success internationally with TikTok, the short video app popular for dancing and lip syncing. Advertising is a key part of ByteDance’s revenue on its platforms, but it has started pushing into new areas such as gaming and is pitting itself against some of China’s other tech giants like Tencent.

It’s been a rocky year for the company, however.

ByteDance was dubbed a national security threat by former President Donald Trump‘s administration last August and ordered to divest its TikTok business in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reported this year that a deal to sell TiKTok has been shelved indefinitely.

In China, ByteDance has been caught up on a broader regulatory crackdown on the country’s technology sector. Douyin, the Chinese version of TiKTok, along with 104 other apps, were called out by China’s Cyberspace Administration of China for the illegal collection of personal data and asked to rectify the issues.

The company will also undergo a key management change this year. Zhang Yiming, the co-founder of ByteDance, will step down from his role as CEO by the end of the year and move into a key strategy role. Another co-founder, Liang Rubo, who is currently head of human resources, will take over as CEO.

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North Korea’s food situation is ‘tense,’ Kim Jong Un says

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North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un addresses the first short course for chief secretaries of the city and county Party committees in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released March 7, 2021 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

KCNA | via Reuters

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly acknowledged that the food situation in the secretive country is troubling amid reports of food shortages and inflated prices for basic goods.

North Korea’s authoritarian leader said the food situation is now getting “tense” after the country’s agricultural sector “failed to fulfill its grain production plan” due to typhoon damage last year, state media in Pyongyang reported.

Addressing a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim said “having a good crop is a militant task our party and state must fulfill as a top priority issue to provide the people with a stable life and successfully step up socialist construction,” the Pyongyang Times reported.

The comments at the plenary meeting, which began on Tuesday and continues through the week, mark a rare admission of problems by the Communist regime that has traditionally not publicly admitted to any issues within the country.

There is no independent media in North Korea with state media used as a mouthpiece for the regime. Media outlets instead extol the virtues and wisdom of Kim Jong Un, the “Supreme Leader,” and the Kim dynasty. Any comments made by Kim are diligently recorded and reported.

Kim’s comments come amid reports of soaring prices for foods and basic goods in North Korea with the crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and typhoon in 2020. NK News (an independent North Korea news service that’s not based in the country) has reported the price spike, with a source in the country reporting examples of shampoo selling for $200 per bottle and a kilogram of bananas for $45.

North Korea has few allies globally and has relied on China (its largest trading partner) for much of its imports, but the shutdown of its border with China during the pandemic has led to food and fuel shortages. North Korea’s agricultural sector has always been vulnerable to typhoon season in the region and has been hit by regular flooding in recent years.

Leading the Workers’ Party plenary meeting this week, Kim alluded to economic difficulties but insisted the situation was improving.

Kim said that “the conditions and environment for the revolutionary struggle have become worse upon entering this year but the country’s economy has shown improvement as a whole,” the state-run Pyongyang Times reported.

Putting items on the central committee’s agenda, Kim said “directing all efforts to farming this year” and coping with the “protracted nature” of the pandemic, analyzing the “current international situation” and “the issue of stabilizing and improving the people’s living standards” and the party’s childcare policy were all top priorities, state media said.

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Baidu pushes to put driverless taxis on China roads with BAIC tie-up

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An Apollo Robotaxi runs at Shougang Park as Baidu launches China’s first driverless taxi service in the city on May 2, 2021 in Beijing, China.

He Luqi | Qianlong.com | Visual China Group | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Baidu has partnered with state-owned automaker BAIC Group to build 1,000 driverless cars over the next three years and eventually commercialize a robotaxi service across China.

The Apollo Moon cars will be manufactured under BAIC’s ARCFOX electric vehicle brand while Baidu will provide the autonomous driving systems and software.

The companies said each vehicle can be manufactured at 480,000 yuan ($74,729) each, versus the average of a 1 million yuan for an autonomous car, thanks to the maturation in technology and mass production capabilities.

Apollo Moon has a projected operating cycle of over five years. It’s unclear when production will begin, when they will be rolled out and whether Baidu, which will operate the robotaxi fleet, will charge passengers to use the service.

Analysts see Baidu’s foray into autonomous cars over the past few year as a future growth driver for the company as it looks to diversify its revenue away from advertising. The Chinese internet giant has developed a self-driving software and hardware system called Apollo which it looks to sell to other automakers.

But robotaxis could offer another revenue stream if they are commercialized successfully.

Baidu has been testing robotaxis in a number of major cities across China including Shanghai. In Beijing, Baidu has started charging passengers for rides in its driverless cars around Shougang Park, one of the sites for the Winter Olympics in 2022.

With the BAIC partnership, Baidu will be hoping to take robotaxis beyond just the testing phase and to a mass-market rollout of a service.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

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