UK growth revised down to 1.8%; Tesla’s ‘Gigafactory’ plan; When phone meets tablet, it’s Phabulous; Qantas to cut 5,000 jobs





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1 UK growth revised down to 1.8% (Angela Monaghan in The Guardian) Britain’s economy grew at a slightly slower rate than previously thought in 2013, but economists welcomed signs that growth was more balanced in the final three months of the year. Gross domestic product increased by 1.8% last year compared with an earlier estimate of 1.9% after growth in both the first and second quarters was revised down by 0.1 percentage points by the Office for National Statistics. However it was still the strongest annual rate of growth since 2007, when the economy grew by 3.4% before the financial crisis.

On a quarterly basis, the ONS confirmed the economy grew by 0.7% in the fourth quarter, unchanged from its first estimate published last month. Details showed a lesser dependence on consumer spending than previous quarters, which, combined with a rise in exports and business investment, was good news for UK policymakers seeking a move away from a economy reliant on debt-fuelled household spending.

Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said, “The critical question going forward is: can the economy build on the more broad-based growth seen in the fourth quarter of 2013?” Britain’s trade position improved in the fourth quarter with the trade deficit narrowing to £6.6bn from £8.2bn in the third quarter after exports rose 0.4% but imports fell 0.9%. Over 2013 as a whole export growth of 0.8% outpaced a 0.4% growth in imports.

2 Tesla’s ‘Gigafactory’ plan (David R Baker in San Francisco Chronicle) Electric car-maker Tesla Motors will spend $2 billion to build a massive factory capable of producing advanced batteries for 500,000 vehicles per year, the company has said. The “Gigafactory” will debut in roughly 3 years and employ 6,500 people. The facility is crucial to Tesla’s long-range goal of making affordable electric cars for the broader public. It could also help Tesla seize a sizable chunk of the growing market for batteries that can power entire buildings or backup the electrical grid.

“As we at Tesla reach for our goal of producing a mass market electric car in approximately three years, we have an opportunity to leverage our projected demand for lithium ion batteries to reduce their cost faster than previously thought possible,” the company said. When the Gigafactory reaches full production in 2020, the facility will build more lithium-ion batteries each year than all the world’s battery factories produced in 2013, the company said. And its economies of scale will drive down battery costs by 30 percent, according to Tesla’s estimates.

The company has built its reputation with pricey and luxurious plug-in vehicles, notably the Model S sedan, whose base price ranges from $71,070 to $94,570 depending on the size of the battery pack. But CEO Elon Musk has vowed to make a car affordable to the middle class by mid-decade. The Gigafactory would build batteries for that mass-market car, which the company refers to as the Gen III.

But the factory could also help Tesla branch out from the auto industry. The Palo Alto company already plans to supply battery packs for buildings through a partnership with one of Musk’s other companies, SolarCity.

3 When phone meets tablet, it’s Phabulous (Molly Wood in The New York Times) The tablet and the phone are fast becoming the same device, and I for one can’t wait. Bigger phones have been a big trend over the last couple of years, and despite a somewhat mocking moniker, the “phablet” (phone plus tablet) is here to stay. I predict that within a few years, seven- and eight-inch tablets, like the iPad mini, will begin to disappear, replaced by phones that are nearly equal in size.

Tablets were a revolution in consumer electronics, mainly because they made us realize how much more we could do with our portable touch screens. The first tablets, like the original iPad and the Google Nexus 10, were 10 inches, great for watching movies and TV shows. But despite rocketing sales growth at first, most people found that a laptop with a keyboard is still better for getting work done. And at 1.5 to 2 pounds, those early tablets were slightly big and heavy to hold for reading, or to carry around day to day.

Thus, the smaller tablet was born. Now, even those tablet sales have slowed. The research firm IDC predicts that tablet sales growth, though still expanding, will slow to the single digits by 2017, with sales of smaller tablets falling the fastest. It seems that many of us come to the conclusion I’ve reached of late: I don’t want a smaller tablet. I want a bigger phone.

Big phones may take some getting used to — they’re less pocketable and a little comical when used for actual talking — but they’re much more useful than small tablets for unifying your communications on one device. They’re always connected and more portable than a tablet, and the phone is already the device you’re using for texting, taking pictures and browsing the web. Why not a bigger screen for watching videos and reading email?

Our smartphones remain the center of our connected lives; bigger screens make them that much more useful and immersive, even if they may also require bigger pockets, purses and man purses. Embrace the phablet — and use Bluetooth for making calls. You’ll feel much less silly that way.

4 Qantas to cut 5,000 jobs (BBC) Struggling airline Qantas has announced plans to cut 5,000 jobs, after reporting a heavy financial loss. It is part of the Australian carrier’s plans to cut costs by $1.8bn over the next three years. The cuts were announced alongside an underlying pre-tax loss of A$252m for the six months to the end of December.

The airline, which also plans to cut its fleet by more than 50 aircraft, said it faced tough competition in both international and domestic operations. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said he will be discussing the job cuts with the unions on Friday. In addition to redundancies, the airline will also be making changes to its fleet. Mr Joyce said Qantas will defer eight remaining Airbus A380 aircraft on order.

Qantas has been trying to convince the Australian government that it deserves financial backing, and that rules limiting foreign ownership of the airline to 49% should be relaxed to encourage overseas investment. It claims it is at a disadvantage because domestic rival Virgin Australia is largely owned by three government-backed operators – Air New Zealand, Etihad and Singapore Airlines.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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