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Amazon’s holiday-quarter forecast disappoints as labor, supply issues mount

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Amazon.com Inc on Thursday reported a slump in profit that it expects will continue through the holiday quarter, as higher pay to attract workers and other operational disruptions diminish the company’s windfall from online shopping.

Shares fell 4% in after-hours trade.

After a year of blockbuster results, the world’s largest online retailer is facing a tougher outlook. In a tight labor market, it has boosted average U.S. warehouse pay to $18 per hour and marketed ever bigger signing bonuses to attract blue-collar staff it needs to keep its high-turnover operation humming.

The company meanwhile is contending with global supply chain challenges. It has doubled its container processing ability, expanded its delivery partner program and has ramped up its warehouse investments – all at a noteworthy cost.

The company said it expects operating profit for the current quarter to be between $0 and $3.0 billion, short of $6.9 billion Amazon posted the year prior. In the just-ended third quarter, net income fell by about 50% to $3.16 billion, a first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Andy Jassy, who became CEO in July, in a statement said Amazon was confronting higher shipping costs, increased wages and worker shortages. These labor challenges, plus lost productivity and cost inflation, added $2 billion to Amazon’s expenses in the quarter, an amount that’s expected to double in the holiday period.

Amazon is “doing whatever it takes to minimize the impact on customers and selling partners this holiday season,” he said. “It’ll be expensive for us in the short term, but it’s the right prioritization for our customers and partners.”

The retailer has strived to prevent a repeat of the 2013 season when delays left some without presents on Christmas Day.

Amazon’s struggle to staff its warehouses spells challenges for rivals this holiday season. Retailers already have faced difficulty stocking their shelves with popular toys, gadgets and sneakers.

Supply chain woes are also costing Apple Inc – $6 billion in sales during the company’s fiscal fourth quarter according to results released on Thursday. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that the impact will be even worse during the holiday sales quarter.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said Amazon’s supply chain challenge surprised him because he believed the company had plenty of products on its shelves to swap for those stuck on container ships.

“I thought they would be fine because of selection,” he said. “Apparently that’s not true.”

LABOR SHORTAGE

Some analysts like Nicholas Hyett of Hargreaves Lansdown gave Amazon a pass. They say the company’s track record of high spending to deliver for customers has paid off in the long run.

“Amazon has never been overly focused on the bottom line,” Hyett said.

Still, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said on a call with analysts that some costs were here to say. While the price tag for steel needed for warehouse construction had gone up, and while the company would look to procure such items more cheaply in the future, he said Amazon’s base wage increases might be permanent.

He told reporters that Amazon had faced inconsistent staffing levels and that workers, not physical space, had become its primary capacity constraint in the third quarter. It wants to hire 150,000 more workers to meet U.S. seasonal demand this holiday.

This constraint has had a ripple effect.

“Inventory placement is frequently redirected to fulfillment centers that have labor to receive this product, which results in less optimal placement, which leads to longer and more expensive transportation routes,” he said.

Staff are pushing for more, too. Around 2,000 workers in New York City petitioned this week for a vote on whether to make their warehouse the company’s first unionized facility in the United States.

Olsavsky said Amazon had no announcement on whether to charge more for its loyalty club Prime subscriptions but added that the company always looks at that option.

To juice revenue, the company began encouraging customers to shop holiday deals as early as Oct. 4 this year. Consumers have begun returning to pre-pandemic shopping levels, spending more on travel and services, Olsavsky said.

The company forecast fourth-quarter sales to be between $130 billion and $140 billion. Analysts were expecting $142.05 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. It missed expectations for third-quarter sales as well, witnessing its slowest growth since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Amazon’s cloud computing division was a bright spot. Olsavsky said revenue growth re-accelerated for that business, and the company beat analysts’ expectations with net sales of $16.1 billion in the quarter. Amazon Web Services has seen sales rise with demand for gaming and remote work during the pandemic.

Amazon’s total net sales rose to $110.8 billion in the third quarter; analysts had predicted $111.6 billion.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru and Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, California; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool)

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CN trains rolling again after B.C. tracks repaired amid mounting backlogs – CBC.ca

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Amid growing backlogs, Canadian National Railway Co. says trains are moving again in southern British Columbia after the third atmospheric river in two weeks descended on the region.

CN says service resumed Sunday after crews worked around the clock on the Vancouver-Kamloops corridor, which was first cut by mudslides and washouts amid torrential rain in mid-November.

The country’s largest railroad operator restored limited activity along the vital supply link late last month before opting to close the line again a week ago as more downpours triggered further flooding, landslides and debris.

“CN crews will continue to monitor both the rail infrastructure as well as the terrain over the coming days and weeks,” CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said in an email.

An aerial view of the Port of Vancouver taken Nov. 21. After service was suspended due to weather-related track damage, freight is now moving by rail again in and out of the city’s port. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The restored connection will allow freight to flow to and from the Port of Vancouver and begin to clear the massive backlogs of incoming shipping containers and outgoing grain.

The repaired lines will also allow Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, which shares tracks with CN through part of the Fraser Valley, to boost its shipments.

End of year is a critical time for shipment of grain — canola in particular — with the bulk of Canadian grain transported via rail to B.C. ports.

Some can be diverted to Prince Rupert, B.C., the United States or Thunder Bay, Ont., but the window for the latter is nearly closed as winter ice looms, while rail cargo generally is hard to divert en masse.

“Regardless of when the traffic on the mainlines resume handling normal levels of traffic, the reverberations back through the grain supply chain in Western Canada (and all commodities) will be measured in months,” Steve Pratte, policy manager at the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said in an email.

Grain strain

The backlog of Prairie grain may lose much of its value if trains can’t ship it to port before spring, when prices typically drop amid heightened global supply, according to the Western Grain Elevator Association.

Contract extension penalties and demurrage fees — issued by a shipping line when freight exceeds the time allotted at a terminal — also present a threat for farmers and grain elevators trying to clear out brimming barns and silos.

The number of grain cars unloaded at West Coast ports dropped by 83 per cent year over year in the third week of November, according to the federal grain monitoring program’s latest update.

As of Nov. 28, there were 24 grain vessels at berth or at anchor around the Port of Vancouver waiting for deliveries of up to 1.4 million tonnes of grain — mainly wheat, canola and barley — the update states.

“These shipments are critical to ensure that Canadian farms get the cash flow required to cover the operating costs accumulated through the season, and it is a race against winter every year to try to get as much grain to port before winter conditions settle in,” Geoff Backman, markets manager at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, said in a statement.

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SEC probing Tesla after whistleblower alleges company hid solar panel fire risk – CBC.ca

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The U.S. securities regulator has opened an investigation into Tesla Inc. over a whistleblower complaint that the company failed to properly notify its shareholders and the public of fire risks associated with solar panel system defects over several years, according to a letter from the agency.

The probe raises regulatory pressure on the world’s most valuable automaker, which already faces a federal safety probe into accidents involving its driver assistant systems. Concerns about fires from Tesla solar systems have been published previously, but this is the first report of investigation by the securities regulator.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosed the Tesla probe in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Steven Henkes, a former Tesla field quality manager, who filed a whistleblower complaint on the solar systems in 2019 and asked the agency for information about the report.

“We have confirmed with Division of Enforcement staff that the investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing,” the SEC said in a Sept. 24 response to Henkes, declining his request to provide its records. The SEC official said the letter should not be taken as an indication by the agency that violations of law had occurred.

Reuters was able to confirm the response.

Safety violations

Henkes, a former Toyota Motor quality division manager, was fired from Tesla in August 2020, and he sued Tesla, claiming the dismissal was in retaliation for raising safety concerns. Tesla did not respond to Reuters’ emailed questions, while the SEC declined to comment.

In the SEC complaint, Henkes said Tesla and SolarCity, which it acquired in 2016, did not disclose its “liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire etc to shareholders” prior and after the acquisition.

Tesla also failed to notify its customers that defective electrical connectors could lead to fires, according to the complaint.

Tesla told consumers that it needed to conduct maintenance on the solar panel system to avoid a failure that could shut down the system. It did not warn of fire risks, offer temporary shutdown to mitigate risk, or report the problems to regulators, Henkes said.

The whistleblower alleges that more than 60,000 residential customers were sold solar panels that were defective and dangerous. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

More than 60,000 residential customers in the U.S. and 500 government and commercial accounts were affected by the issue, according to his lawsuit filed in November last year against Tesla Energy over wrongful termination.

It is not clear how many of those remain after Tesla’s remediation program.

Safety calls ignored, whistleblower alleges

Henkes, a longtime quality manager at Toyota’s North American quality division, moved to SolarCity as a quality engineer in 2016, months before Tesla acquired SolarCity. After the acquisition, his duties changed and he became aware of the widespread problem, he told Reuters.

Henkes, in the SEC complaint, said he told Tesla management that Tesla needs to shut down the fire-prone solar systems, report to safety regulators and notify consumers. When his calls were ignored, he proceeded to file complaints with regulators.

“The top lawyer cautioned any communication of this issue to the public as a detriment to the Tesla reputation. For me this is criminal,” he said in the SEC complaint.

Litigation and concerns over faulty connectors and Tesla solar system issues stretch back several years. Walmart in a 2019 lawsuit against Tesla said the latter’s roof solar system led to seven store fires. Tesla denied the allegations and the two settled.

Business Insider reported Tesla’s program to replace defective solar panel parts in 2019.

Several residential customers or their insurers have sued Tesla and parts supplier Amphenol over fires related to their solar systems, according to documents provided by legal transparency group PlainSite.

Henkes also filed a complaint with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which CNBC reported this year was investigating the case. CPSC and Amphenol didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir to be manufactured in Canada – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Merck Canada announced on Monday that it is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture the investigational COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir at a facility in Whitby, Ont., for distribution to global markets.

The Canadian location will produce doses of molnupiravir, developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for distribution in Canada, the U.K., the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending approvals in those respective regions. The drug is awaiting approval by Health Canada.

The facility was chosen because of its capacity, capability, and the speed with which it is able to produce the drug, Merck Canada’s new president Marwan Akar said during a press conference.

Thermo Fisher’s existing Whitby manufacturing site is one of three locations in the world that will produce molnupiravir.

“We are marking a very key milestone, and rebuilding Canada’s biomanufacturing capability,” Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne said during the news conference.

“We’ll be producing COVID medications for Canadians and indeed for the world…so to me this is a very big step in how we intend to reveal our biomanufacturing sector in Canada.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Canada came under criticism for its inability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines domestically, leaving Ottawa reliant on U.S. and European manufacturers to produce and provide doses.

Minister Champagne said the latest announcement is part of the government’s efforts to ensure Canada is better prepared and that “we redesign the supply chain so whatever may come next, we would be ready.”

The new manufacturing deal will also help Ontario’s economic recovery with a $19 million capital investment supporting more than 50 high-paying jobs in the region, according to Victor Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

Last week, the federal government signed a deal with Merck to purchase 500,000 molnupiravir pills, with an option for another half million, pending approval. Request for approval of the drug was submitted in August.

Antiviral drug treatments are considered another tool in the fight against COVID-19, experts say, after personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccines.

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