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August 29, 2014
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Bouygues sees 2014 sales hit by tough French market

Reuters The logo of Bouygues Telecom company is seen on the facade of a building in Paris August 28, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

By Natalie Huet

PARIS (Reuters) – French construction-to-telecoms group Bouygues lowered its 2014 sales forecast after a weaker than expected performance in the first half, hit by a price war in telecoms and a slump in public sector orders.

Bouygues, which posted a 61 percent drop in first-half operating profit excluding exceptional items, said on Thursday it now expected sales to be 1 to 2 percent lower this year, compared to a previous forecast of roughly stable revenue.

It blamed tough conditions in France, where a stagnant economy and austerity measures have weighed on public sector construction orders and prompted telecom rivals to slash prices in a battle to retain business.

However, the company confirmed its goal for slightly positive free cash flow this year at Bouygues Telecom, where it is losing mobile subscribers but striving to lure in new ones with cheap Internet, TV and home phone bundles.

Thanks to that strategy and an ongoing cost savings programme that includes 1,500 job cuts, Bouygues sees the unit returning to “significant” core profit growth from 2016.

Bouygues also said it was studying options to restructure the refined products operations of its road-building business Colas , with job cuts likely there too.

The owner of France’s third-largest telecom operator and TF1 , the country’s biggest private broadcaster, Bouygues has been slashing costs to cope with a bitter telecoms price war sparked by the 2012 launch of Iliad’s low-cost Free Mobile service.

The cut-throat competition has eroded profit margins and fuelled talk of consolidation among the country’s four mobile players, with Bouygues Telecom a potential takeover target since it lost a bidding war for bigger rival SFR in April.

Chief Executive Martin Bouygues played down market talk of further mergers and acquisitions in French telecoms, saying there had been no new developments in recent weeks.

Bouygues Telecom has been working to strengthen its future as a standalone player. It is cutting 17 percent of its staff while rolling out its very high speed 4G network and slashing prices in fixed broadband, which brought in 400,000 and 102,000 new customers respectively over the quarter.

However, Bouygues Telecom’s aggressive pricing strategy in fixed broadband did not bring in enough new clients over the period to offset the rise in related marketing costs and the switch of existing customers to its lower tariffs.

The unit’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 29 percent to 332 million euros ($438 million), as sales dropped 5 percent to 2.2 billion.

CONSTRUCTION WOES

In its construction and road-building business, which accounts for around two thirds of revenue, Bouygues said it had seen orders fall 2 percent in France, though this was offset by a 9 percent rise abroad.

Like rival builders Vinci and Eiffage , Bouygues said French public-sector orders, especially at Colas, had dried up around municipal elections in March and the slowdown was “a point to watch” for the remainder of the year.

Chief Financial Officer Philippe Marien did not specify how many jobs would be cut at Colas, but said the division needed to cut staff at its Dunkerque site, which employs around 250 people.

Bouygues also saw bookings of new homes drop 23 percent in the first half. Martin Bouygues urged the government – freshly reshuffled and due to unveil a housing stimulus plan in the coming days – to bring confidence to buyers and investors tired of constant shifts in regulations and tax rules.

Bouygues’ operating profit fell 61 percent to 134 million euros in the first half – excluding a 308-million gain from the sale of a controlling stake in sports channel Eurosport – as sales edged up 1 percent to 15.18 billion. That compared with average estimates of 178 million and 15.07 billion respectively in a company-supplied poll of eight analysts.

Bouygues shares were down 0.5 percent at 1155 GMT, after falling as much as 2.8 percent in morning trade.

(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Pravin Char and Tom Pfeiffer)

August 29, 2014
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Forcing Service Providers To Compete By Services Not Ads


Service Providers in South Africa can no longer hide beneath glossy front pages and amazing ads as Click n Compare provides forces true competition in services by providing easy to use in-depth service comparisons for prospective customers.

VENTURES AFRICA – South African Start-up, Click n Compare is a new service based comparison site that is empowering consumer choice through a user-friendly and free-to-use platform to compare services across Mobile, Broadband, Insurance, Financial Services, and Travel.

Aimed at helping prospective service consumers make informed choices between competitors, the company is successfully forcing service providers across categories to compete fairly as they can no longer hide behind smoke and mirrors to validate their package and policy prices.

In a statement sent to Ventures Africa, Click n Compare said it is empowering consumer choice through independence and transparency, “it is the answer to helping consumers make informed decisions while saving time and money” CEO Ryan Marx adds.

Boasting impressive figures of 200,000 new subscribers in its 8 months of existence, the start-up lays bare the service providers’ packages and policies so consumers can independently compare their options. the company said it emphasises the needs of the consumer by providing and comparing affordable time-saving quotes and services.

“I couldn’t be happier with the website’s huge traction across LSMs followed by our solid stream of 400 to 500 daily insurance leads” Click n Compare’s CEO Ryan Marx enthused. “I firmly believe that by providing consumers with honest and transparent comparisons of services everyone uses, we are able to revolutionise the way consumers apply for these types of products.

“We bring the power of choice back to the consumer while helping them save time and money. Our service also twists the arm of South African providers to be more competitive and therefore give consumers better value. We are unlike any comparison company in SA because we service all consumer needs in one space”, he added.

Although majorly an online platform, Click n Compare also has a well-trained and experienced call centre which it says personalises and adds to the consumer experience the company carefully creates. it further helps to make sure there is makes sure consumers have more ways to get information when making a decision. The company’s call centre specialises in Broadband, Life and Funeral Insurance, Binary Options and Home Loans.

 

 


August 29, 2014
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Welcome to the circular economy—where objects never die

This post originally appeared at Ensia.

“Don’t let fashion go to waste,” says HM, the global clothing retailer that booked $20 billion in revenue last year. So I brought a bag of old T-shirts, sweaters and khaki pants to an HM store in Washington, DC, where it took them, no questions asked, and gave me a coupon for 15% off my next purchase. HM takes back clothes in all of its 3,100 stores in 53 countries.

Next, I pulled an ancient iPod and an iPhone 4S with a cracked screen from a desk drawer. On the website of a company called Gazelle, I answered a few questions and learned that the company would pay me $37 for the pair. (Without the cracked screen, the iPhone would have been valued at $135.) I printed out a free shipping label, and they were on their way. Not to landfills, but to a new life.

Meanwhile, not far from my home, a garage owned by the Washington Metrorail system is about to undergo a makeover. Existing lighting fixtures will be replaced by LEDs that are expected to reduce energy usage by 68%. The LEDs will be manufactured, owned and monitored by Philips, which will take them back when they need to be repaired or replaced.

Welcome to the emerging world of the circular economy. Faced with rising prices for energy and raw materials, along with pressures from environmentalists and regulators who have passed “extended producer responsibility laws” in Europe and some US states, forward-thinking companies are finding ways to take back, reuse, refurbish or recycle all kinds of things that would otherwise be thrown away. In contrast to the traditional “take-make-dispose” linear economy, which depletes resources, a circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. Inspired by nature, a circular economy aspires not merely to limit waste but to eliminate the very idea of waste: Everything, at the end of its life, should be made into something else, just as in the natural world, one species’ waste is another’s food.

Refined and rebranded

This isn’t entirely new, of course. Recycling has been around for centuries—iron pots, for example, were melted down to make armaments during the American Revolution—and, when done right, it delivers significant environmental benefits by reducing demand for raw materials, energy and water. (It takes around 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt like those I brought to HM.) In the 1990s and 2000s, pioneering environmental thinkers such as Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, Janine Benyus and William McDonough laid the intellectual groundwork for the circular economy by developing such concepts as natural capitalism, biomimicry and cradle-to-cradle design. But they were slightly ahead of their time, as pioneers often are.

Now their ideas have been refined and rebranded by influential business thinkers as the circular economy—and they are getting the attention of big companies. The timing is no accident: Prices for oil and energy have more than quintupled since 1998, metals prices have tripled and food prices have risen 75%, according to Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century, a new book by Stefan Heck and Matt Rogers. “What we are seeing are two concurrent trends,” explains Heck, a former McKinsey consultant. “First, the cost of extracting resources is going up dramatically. That’s driven by the fact that we went after the cheap and easy stuff first.” (Think about the costs of drilling for oil in the Arctic or extracting it from Canada’s tar sands.) More important, Heck says, is the fact that an estimated 2.5 billion people in China, India and other developing countries will be moving out of poverty and into cities by 2030. They’re going to want apartments, cars, air conditioning and electronics, creating massive demand for energy and raw materials.

No wonder companies see the circular model as a business opportunity. The transition to a circular economy could generate savings of more than $1 trillion in materials alone by 2025, according to an analysis by the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, McKinsey Company and the World Economic Forum, which are collaborating to promote circular thinking. The foundation’s partners include Philips, Cisco, Unilever, Renault and Kingfisher, Europe’s largest home improvement retailer, all of which are testing circular models.

“Companies are getting much more interested in how they can recover products at the end of life,” says foundation former CEO Jamie Butterworth.

Usership, not ownership

Philips has gone further than most. The company began incorporating circular-economy thinking into its activities two years ago, the company’s CEO, Frans van Houten, recently told the McKinsey Quarterly. The thinking is being applied to the company’s lighting and health care businesses.

“We keep the ownership of the products, and we redesign them in such a way so that they have more value at the end of life.”—Henk de BruinLED streetlights in Singapore and Buenos Aires, like the new fixtures in Washington, DC, Metro garages, will be owned by Philips, saving government customers the capital outlays. The governments will pay monthly fees based on usage. In Amsterdam, an office building being designed for the accounting firm Deloitte will showcase a smart lighting system equipped with sensors that will deliver information to building managers about which offices are occupied and which need to be heated and cooled. The system is owned and managed by Philips, which will upgrade the technology as needed, while Deloitte pays for lighting as a service.

Stockholm-based HM has been taking back clothes worldwide since 2013. The fast-fashion retailer contracts with a Swiss-based company called I:Co (which stands for I Collect) that collects the used clothes, sorts them by hand and then either sells them for reuse in poor countries or recycles them into a variety of products, including automobile seats, insulation and stuffed toys.

The economics work well, according HM sustainability manager Henrik Lampa—enough revenues are generated at the end of the life to pay for the collection and sorting and fund research into recycling innovation. However, “there’s a big need for technology development,” Lampa says. Chemical as opposed to mechanical recycling could enable used cotton to be turned into new clothes without degradation in quality.

“Ideally, we want to make new commercial fibers out of this,” says Lampa. “Then we will have new materials that do not have the price volatility of agricultural commodities.”

Rapid upgrade

The circular model makes particular sense for technology products that go through rapid upgrade cycles. By buying back and refurbishing mobile phones from customers who no longer want them, Sprint has saved “over a billion dollars” that it would otherwise have spent buying new devices from manufacturers like Apple, Samsung and LG, says Darren Beck, director of environmental initiatives. About 90% of the phones collected by Sprint are returned to the market as replacements for lost or damaged phones or as “certified pre-owned phones” that are sold to new customers. For its part,Verizon recently introduced a free application that gives customers an instant quote for their used device, which can then be returned for cash at a Verizon store. All told, the US consumer electronics industry took back or recycled 620 million pounds of electronics in 2013, twice as many as 2010, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

The number would be higher, Beck said, if device makers could be persuaded to design phones so that they can be disassembled or recycled more easily. Some manufacturers—HP and Herman Miller are among the leaders—have embraced the idea of designing goods with their end of life in mind by, for example, using screws instead of glue to hold things together and choosing pure materials over composites.

While market forces are the primary driver of circular practices, government regulation has played a role, too. More than two dozen US states have passed laws mandating recycling of electronic waste, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. States with stronger laws report that their efforts generate 5 lbs. or more of recycling per person, while those with weak or no laws bring in much less, the group says.

Barbara Kyle, the coalition’s national coordinator, says that without government intervention, electronics with little or no value, like TVs with cathode ray tubes or accessories made of cheap plastics, are unlikely to be recycled. “It’s negative cash flow to take back CRTs,” Kyle says.

In US states without regulation, electronics recycling is harder than it needs to be. While Best Buy, the nation’s biggest electronics retailer, has a comprehensive take-back policy, neither Walmart nor Amazon makes it easy for consumers to return electronics they no longer want.

Intrigued

How consumers feel about all this is unclear. Young consumers appear to be intrigued by circular models. Millennials are buying fewer cars and driving less, and the marketplace is responding with companies like Zipcar that facilitate car-sharing. Rent the Runway enables women to rent designer dresses and accessories, reducing the demand for new clothes.

“A lot of venture capital money is going into start-up companies that enable greater asset productivity,” says author Stefan Heck. Yet those same young consumers buy single-serve coffee machines from Keurig, Nestlé and Starbucks, and fast fashion from companies like HM and Zara—generating more waste, not less.

So are we moving closer to the circular economy—or further away? Accurate data is hard to come by, but the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates indicate that recycling rates grew rapidly from 1980 through 2000, and only gradually since then. Disposal of waste to landfill declined from 89% of the amount generated in 1980 to 54%—about 135 million tons—in 2012.

Clearly there’s lots of work ahead for advocates of the circular economy. But the vision they are pursuing is a bold one: In a truly circular economy, where waste becomes nutrients and energy is renewable, economic growth would be decoupled from environmental restraints. Companies could sell more stuff without generating pollution. Consumers could buy more stuff, without guilt. What’s not to like?

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

August 29, 2014
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Smartphone Era: Jan Dhan Yojana will throw up opportunities for app …

Rajiv Gandhi wanted to usher in the Computer Age in India. Narendra Modi’s will be the Smartphone Era. Steve Jobs may never have thought of this, but the smartphone is central to two of the PM’s flagship projects: Digital India and financial inclusion.

It’s the device best suited to connect over a billion Indians, enabling them to ride on broadband and access government services. It will also enable mega-schemes such as the Jan Dhan Yojana aimed at providing bank accounts to all to take shape. From financial transactions to health services to digitised documents and records, all will be available at the touch of a key, a swipe of a finger, anytime, anywhere.

This will throw up opportunities for Indian app developers, handset-makers and the entire manufacturing ecosystem. The million-dollar question is whether they will seize the opportunity or watch it go by.

Will Indian software programmers be able to develop content and apps that the government needs to deliver digital services? Will Indian handsetmakers cater to the demand for lowcost smartphones? Or will they allow Chinese companies like Xiaomi to dominate? Will India be able to capture the supply opportunity and become the smartphone factory not just for itself but for the world?

Earlier this week, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad declared that the government wants to ensure a smartphone in the hands of every Indian by 2019. To be sure, the ordinary feature phone that still dominates the Indian handset market can be used to perform many tasks and access some services. Basic mobile banking services, which will form an integral part of the financial inclusion programme, will be available on these handsets.

But if — and this is a big if — the government, either on its own or in collaboration with private players, can accelerate the rollout of broadband in the country, the availability of high-speed internet coupled with the delivery of essential digital services will create a huge demand for lowcost smartphones.

Low-cost is the operative term. Till a few years ago, smartphones were the playthings of the rich. Today, they are much more common, particularly in the bigger cities. They now account for over 10% of the total handset market. But as companies like Samsung have found, the Indian consumer remains extremely price-sensitive. For the consumption of these devices to grow, prices have to drop.

Abeginning has been made in this direction. Earlier this week, Intex Technologies launched a Rs 1,999 smartphone on the Firefox operating software. A few days earlier, Spice launched a Rs 2,299 handset with the same operating system. Xiaomi has priced its Redmi 1S low-cost device at Rs 5,999. Micromax smartphones, too, are available at similar price points.

These inexpensive handsets will help the smartphone category to grow. Whether the market share game will be won by an Indian or a foreign player will depend on who offers a superior value proposition to the consumer. But as things stand today, none of these devices is manufactured in India. Intex, Spice, Micromax and others are all importing their devices, mostly from China.

Modi has made the revival of domestic manufacturing another top priority of his government. The Digital India programme has set a target of net zero imports in electronics by 2020. These things are easier said than done. As China forged ahead to become the factory of the world, successive Indian governments spoke a lot about the need, but did little, to create large-scale manufacturing hubs.

The current administration has talked about creating clusters for electronic manufacturing. But it is not yet clear why they will succeed when others failed.

Nevertheless, smartphones can be agood starting point for the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme. If the government can incentivise and create enabling conditions for the entire smartphone value chain, it can ensure cheap availability of devices and also address concerns of those dealing with security implications of the Indian market being flooded by Chinese handsets. Exports from India to other emerging economies will also get a significant boost.

Finally, the success of the government’s plan of delivering online services depends on the ability of software programmers to develop relevant applications and content in multiple languages. This provides a significant opportunity for developers in India. The experience and skills they pick up in executing these projects will help them in commercial endeavours everywhere.