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May 2018

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As competition in the Chinese smartphone market intensifies, the iPhone maker finds it harder than before to grow its sales in the country

Tech giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) continues to face trouble in retaining its growth story. By the looks of it, the situation isn’t getting any better for the iPhone maker. For the quarter ended June 30, 2016, the $589 billion company posted a 33% year-on-year decline in revenue from Greater China, including the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. This is quite alarming for investors, given that after its primary market, the US, China was supposed to serve as the next high-growth smartphone market for Apple. However, that is no longer the case.

Apple is no longer delighting the Chinese consumer. While it was seen as a “status symbol” for consumers in China when it launched 13 years ago, that is no longer the case. Majority of consumers in the country have smartphones made by local competitors such as Huawei and Xiaomi, which offer equally good alternatives at cheaper prices.

The iPhone maker promoted its smartphone, for years, as a highly innovative device. Over the years, rivals caught up with the features, and Apple failed to keep innovating. Now, the company is set to launch the next-generation iPhone this fall. While rumors suggest the device would have two front cameras, that is hardly a surprise anymore, given that Huawei’s P9 and Xiaomi’s Redmi Pro both of wich have already been launched have dual-lens.

Based on the fact that up till the second quarter of fiscal year 2016 China remained Apple’s fastest-growing market, the company needs to act fast to make amends. It has also had its iTunes service banned in China, and has also faced a lawsuit in which a Chinese company accused it of misusing the iPhone trademark.

According to research group Canalys, the top three smartphone brands in China include Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei. Market research firm Counterpoint Technology said that Oppo bagged the top rank with a 22% market share for the second quarter. According to Canalys, Apple ranked fifth in this race, with a 9% share, with Samsung ranking sixth. The firm also said that the Chinese smartphone market grew 3% over the quarter.

IDC analyst Bryan Ma believes Chinese consumers are very indecisive, and they get tired of technology much sooner than the average consumer. Another problem that has worried Apple investors is that leaked iPhone 7 images show that it does not differ incrementally from the iPhone 6S.

It appears that Apple’s woes in Chinas are only about to worsen. The Country Caller will continue to update you on the relevant developments.

The Country Caller takes a look at why Evercore’s analyst James West is highly bullish on the stock

Volatility continues in the crude oil market, as prices continue with up and down movements. During market hours trading on Friday as of 12:49 PM, the US benchmark for crude oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was up as much as 3.01% at $44.46 per barrel, while the global benchmark for crude oil, Brent Crude, was up 3.12% at $46.87 per barrel.

While it may still seem a little too early to say that has crude oil prices have sidelined, some analysts place some bullish bets on oil service-providing companies. When prices of crude fell, the oil services are the first to come under the limelight, as demand for their services fall. Similarly, during a period of recovery, there are chances of these to be the first ones to gains.

James West from Evercore ISI believes Halliburton Company (NYSE:HAL) to be the “North American Winner” among stocks of companies that provide oil field services. TheCountryCaller looks at some of the reasons provided for such a bullish sentiment.

To start with, the sell-side firm places the bets on a crude recovery. While not specifying a proper time, it highlights that when a recovery comes into effect, the North American market would be the quickest and strongest to respond. Halliburton, unlike some of its other peers, is more levered to North American market and hence a recovery would allow the company to significantly outperform peers in terms of revenue growth and margins.

After Baker Hughes Incorporated (NYSE:BHI) and Halliburton merger failed to materialize, Baker Hughes decided to exit some of its international market in a move to reduce costs. The sell-side firm believes that this will give a chance to Halliburton and Schlumberger Limited. (NYSE:SLB) to tap those customers and reiterate international dominance.

In the end, Evercore seems to be impressed with Halliburton’s goal of achieving efficiency and aggressive positioning. The expectation for the stock is above $60, while the EPS expectation is above $4. The stock was up 1.56% at $43.70 during trading on Friday.

After JPMorgan and Bank of America, Wells Fargo is also considering to make payments through ClearXchange

Payment processes have become the hottest working areas for banks in financial technology. Banks have started to realize the importance of real-time payments and Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) now joins other banks to enable customers to make immediate payments through ClearXchange.  

ClearXchange is a network owned by several other major banks such as Bank of America and JPMorgan. It was launched in 2011 but at that time, the customers had to wait two to three days in order for payment to be processed completely. The network’s immediate processing capability got live this year. Wells Fargo has turned down several fintech start-ups, which signifies that the firm does not believe in alternative ventures for payments systems.

John Shrewberry, Chief Financial Officer at Wells Fargo stated at the Morgan Stanley financial conference on Tuesday, “I think it’s going to be sticky, and I think it will take costs out of our business. It will take cash out, take cheques out. Certainly, at the margin and then maybe more permanently over time.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co offers Chase QuickPay, which is a peer-to-peer transfer platform introduced last year. However, due to constant requests from customers, JPMorgan also joined the league of ClearXchange. Peers, such as the US Bank, Capital One, PNC Financial Services and BB&T are also looking towards integration with ClearXchange, as it provides immediate transfers.

Big banks, especially retail, are understanding the catch with Silicon Valley start-ups. They can set up systems on their own rather than investing in them. Currently, potential competitors are Square Cash and Venmo, owned by PayPal. On contrary, many tech analysts believe that the banking industry is slow in adopting such latest technologies and should fund new start-ups.

For instance, mobile apps designed by Silicon Valley start-ups are quite popular amongst the millennials, who use payments aps for bill sharing in restaurants, utility and rent. Several of these users avoid big traditional banks and use the niche operators to operate their day-to-day cash spending. Social networking websites and mobile manufacturers are also involved in the digital payment system, as each identify a great opportunity to tap into this niche market. Google, Apple and Samsung, on the other hand, have launched their own digital payment system.

New parents will now get twenty weeks paid leave, including adopting parents as well

Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR), it seems, is following its competitor Facebook’s suit, as now the social media giant too is also offering leaves for all new parents. Additionally, adopting parents too will be given the same privilege.

Basically, the social media site will offer two weeks of paid leaves, and the policy will kick in from May 1.

In an interview with Fortune, the company stated that the reason for making such a move is real simple, as it wishes to not only set an example, but to also give new parents enough time to bond with their offspring.

The company went on to state that since its operations are closely watched, it only made sense to make such a move in order to encourage other companies to take similar steps.

The company wants to make sure everyone is treated equally and that the fathers do not feel left out, which would in turn affect productivity; therefore, granting the same paid leave options to both the parents.

On the other hand, the company is also planning to increase its female number of employees to no less 35% by the end of this year. The aforementioned policy will, without a doubt, help the company in this regard. Even though the company leads its competitors as it has more women in its employment, it still needs to focus on giving women more opportunities in the tech department, but more specifically in the executive suite; not that it isn’t already on the right track.

Amazon Web Services announces its fifth renewable energy project in the US and second one in Ohio that will be operational by Dec 2017

Like other corporate giants, Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has been continuously spending on renewable energy projects to fulfill its own energy requirements, lower carbon footprint, and lower operating costs. The company is already involved in four renewable energy projects through its cloud services arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and it announced another wind energy project.

AWS published a press release Tuesday revealing its Amazon Wind Farm US Central 2, a 189 MW wind energy project in Hardin County, OH. The wind farm is expected to project 530,000 MWh of energy per year from December 2017.

The tech titan has joined hands with EverPower Wind Holdings, a US wind energy leader based in Pittsburgh, PA for the construction and operation of the new wind farm, which is its fifth renewable energy project in the country and second in the State of Ohio. The energy produced will be delivered to the electric grid powering AWS’s data centers in Ohio and North Virginia.

Upon the completion of this project, all of the five projects of the cloud services division will produce about 2.2 million MWh of energy per year, equivalent to powering about 2,000,000 American homes.

“We remain committed to achieving our long-term goal of powering the AWS Cloud with 100% renewable energy,” said AWS Vice President of Infrastructure, Peter DeSantis, in a statement.

In 2014, the company’s most profitable segment announced its long-term plan to achieve 100% renewable energy consumption for its entire infrastructure footprint worldwide. Over the last 18-24 months, AWS has been on course to surpass its 2016 objective of 40% renewable consumption. Now it expects to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2017.

Moreover, AWS is also improving its equipment and facilities to bump up energy efficiency and advocate for state and federal policies developed to create a favorable green energy environment. The new project joins Amazon Wind Farm US Central which is a 100 MW wind project in Paulding County, OH, where production is scheduled to start in May 2017.

Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge project in Indiana and Amazon Solar Farm US East project in Virginia are already operational. Amazon Wind Farm US East in North Carolina is still under construction and should start generating energy by the end of this year.

Samsung is expected to introduce significant upgrades in its next Gear smartwatch device

The Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Gear S3 might represent one of the best smartwatch devices available in the market. However, the Korean-based tech giant knows that rival smartwatch manufacturers are always innovating and ready to take each other’s market share, which is why the next Gear smartwatch will be very critical to Samsung’s market position.

Recently, the tech giant has confirmed that it has started mass production of its Exynos 7 Dual 7270 processing chipsets. Rumors are strongly indicating Samsung to incorporate its new processing chips in its next-generation smartwatch device. Interestingly, the Exynos 7 Dual 7270 processing chipsets comes equipped with a host of important upgrades that could potentially allow the Gear S4 smartwatch to get the better of its rivals.  

The new Exynos 7 Dual 7270 processing chipset is designed to be faster and more energy efficient compared to the processor powering of the current Gear S3. Hence, the next-generation Gear smartwatch will not only be faster than its predecessor but the upcoming device will also offer a longer-lasting battery performance compared to the Gear S3.

Also, the incorporation of this new Exynos 7 processing chipset will mean a slimmer design for the upcoming Gear S4, as the processor incorporates a significantly smaller 4G LTE modem. The bulky design of the current Gear S3 is not a deal breaker but its no-secret that a slimmer smartwatch has its own charm compared to a bulkier one. Hence, it is extremely likely that the next Gear smartwatch will represent a slimmer design compared to its predecessors.

Comment below and let us know if you’re looking forward to the launch of Samsung’s next-generation smartwatch device. Stay tuned for more news regarding the tech giant’s upcoming smart projects

Virtual reality is all the rage these days but Microsoft’s augmented reality computer HoleLens also packs in a serious punch

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has put all its eggs in Oculus’s basket for the Rift virtual reality headset, but its own augmented reality headset HoloLens is also a formidable piece of equipment with a variety of industrial and consumer applications. Full specs of the augmented reality hardware were posted recently by Microsoft-centered blog Windows Central, so let us take a peek under the hood of the $3,000 HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens will sport the Intel Atom x5 chipset and will be running the latest 32-bit Windows 10 on it. Intel’s Z8100 Atom processor registers a clock speed of 1.04 GHz and it is 64-bit capable as well with four logical processors. Microsoft’s Holographic processing unit HoloLens Graphics will of course be powering the graphical interface of the hardware, with 114MB of dedicated memory and 980MB of shared memory, so there should be no shortage of video RAM when it comes to the graphical-intensive applications.

HoloLens will also feature 2GB of RAM with 64GB of system storage of which approximately 54GB will be available for the user, and the rest will be occupied by the system for processing and cache. Apart from all that, the augmented reality headset also features a camera with 2.4MP for photos and 1.4MP for 30 fps videos. The battery on the device, however, is at least one specification which has left something close to a sour taste in the mouth of reviewers, with the 16,500 mWh reading only dubbed good enough to be able to keep the device running for a couple of hours.

As the reader might have noticed already, none of the specifications are off-the-charts huge or even rank in the flagship range for any augmented reality headsets if there exists such a category. 2GB of RAM should not prove to be much of a roadblock to any games or graphics intensive tasks that you might be performing on your HoloLens, and it could be dubbed sufficient for an entry-level iteration of the device. As for the battery, we can forgive Microsoft on that front simply on the basis that the scale of production is just not big enough yet and improvement will surely make its way to the device in the near future.

AT&T subscribers will now be able to send text messages via Amazon Echo; speaker taking advantage of its voice-recognition capabilities

Owners of the Amazon.com, Inc. (NASADQ:AMZN) Bluetooth speaker, Echo, will be pleased to know that another new skill has been integrated to the device. Supported by its virtual assistant Alexa, it seems that Echo-owners can now use their smart-speakers to send messages if they are subscribed to AT&T.

Since Amazon remains adamant to make small additions and improvisations to its popular speaker, there is a chance that pretty soon the company will bring in support for other carriers as well. For now, it seems that AT&T is its first wireless carrier to have signed up with its Echo speaker.

Echo—rolled out in 2014—has led Alexa’s popularity to increase drastically over the past two years, creating a whole new trend of smart-home controllers and voice recognition technologies to maintain smart-homes. The addition of the latest skills reinforces Amazon’s vision of ensuring that its Echo speaker and its lineup remain users’ first preferences in markets. Considering that Google recently launched Google Home speaker, it is evident that its debut appears to be a slight threat to Echo’s market share.

Now, set to begin selling the Echo devices at its retail outlets and on its websites, it is apparent that Amazon hopes to ramp up on more users by targeting AT&T’s 133 million customers. The service will commence from November 18.

The newly added skills enable users to dictate text messages with Alexa’s help, making the virtual assistant an even more greater asset. We believe that the retail giant’s decision to introduce the Alexa Skills Kit last year has played an essential part in popularizing the speaker and virtual assistant.

Now with almost 3,200 skills, Alexa can perform a range of diverse tasks, all the way from controlling users’ smart-home lights to giving them weather and traffic updates. While these are some of the most basic capabilities integrated into Alexa’s settings, the Echo’s support for third-party services has been a great way for Amazon to reach out to larger markets.

The current trend suggests that Facebook will likely beat the all-time high price in today’s session

Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is scheduled to release its third quarter earnings (3QFY16) on November 2. Its stock has performed remarkably well in the past and has posted positive earnings repeatedly. The past trend suggests that it may beat the all-time high price once again, in today’s session.

The California based company has grown exponentially since 2013, at the time of its first IPO. This year’s performance has been in line with past trends, except in January, when Facebook stock was at year’s all-time low at $94—a time when the entire industry was faced with depressed stock prices. The stock closed in at $133.28 yesterday, which is close to its 52-week high price. The stock has already crossed this price in the pre-market hours, today.

The financial position of the $382 billion worth social giant has been very strong; operations of the company have served its liquidity requirements sufficiently. It has been able to generate significant liquidity through its operations for the past quarters.

The Street expects Facebook to post earnings per share (EPS) of $0.98, which marks 71% increase year-over-year (YoY). For the past eight quarters, the company has surpassed Street estimates, and is likely to do so this time around as well. Revenue is expected to be reported at $6.92 billion, up by 53% from same period last year.

The Street views the stock with a bullish perspective. Brokerages, such as Goldman Sachs, Credit Agricole, and Citigroup, have issued a buy rating. However, only one of the 51 sell-side firms, Societe Generale, has awarded it a sell rating. The estimated price target (PT) stands at $150.71, which has an upside of 13.08% over yesterday’s close.

The Country Caller has a bullish view of the stock. Street analysts and ever-growing market price of Facebook stock may hit the consensus PT and reach an all-time high.

All this wait might actually pay off

While Microsoft continues to elude us in giving an update on the fate of the PC version of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the game has apparently found its way on the Windows 10 Store today. The listing was taken down shortly after, but not quick enough for internet sleuths, who managed to save every bit of information present on the page.   

Before venturing any further, note that the product page does not speak for the finalized version. It will not be surprising to see Microsoft switch a few things around with the official launch.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is simply more than an overhauled re-release. The Coalition started from the very ground; picking up and improving every aspect of the game and working its way to the top. The environments have been cleaned up and patched with better textures; the lighting has been vastly improved, and characters now stand proud with their bettered models, amongst other things.   

The game features full support for “stunning” 4K resolution and an uncapped refresh rate. Unfortunately, for those running older versions of Windows, the game will require Windows 10 to run. This is just another move from Microsoft to push Windows 10 in its new focus on PC gaming. That being said, the mandatory requirement of the latest operating system was evident, since we already knew the game to be featuring full DirectX 12 support.  

In terms of content, the remastered version is going to introduce five new campaign missions that were not part of the original game. Heading into the multiplayer component, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is going to run its online matches on dedicated servers. Players don’t have to fear about playing on servers with locked frame-rates, as promised by The Coalition. Additionally, players can look forward to a total of 19 multiplayer maps, including the original DLC maps released for Xbox 360.

There are new achievements to unlock, a new difficulty level to tame, and a whole new way to enjoy the remastered version of the original game. Finally, the product listing stated that Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is going to weigh in at a behemoth 53 GB on PC. Interested parties may want to start cleaning up their hard drives.  

A release date is still pending from Microsoft. It was back in July when we first heard about the PC version. We expect the publisher to officially confirm the leak, as well as the release date, in the coming weeks.