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Tech Daily: MSFT, INTC, AMZN, FB, AAPL, GOOGL

Sejuti Banerjea

Technology companies are back in favor after a rough spell with regulators. But as things cool down, their strong earnings potential and reasonable valuation make them attractive again. So, here’s a quick glimpse of the latest news coming out of them-

Microsoft-IDC Study on A.I. in Asia/Pac Retail

A Microsoft MSFT Asia and IDC study titled “Future Ready Business: Assessing Asia-Pacific's Retail Sector with AI” shows that 67% of retail organizations in the region have not yet started AI investments. Of those that have adopted AI, there has been a 16-19% improvement in customer engagement, business intelligence, profit margins, competitiveness and innovation. What’s more, adopters will see a 37-44% improvement in these areas by 2021, claims the report.

The primary fodder that will feed this improvement is of course data. And it is easily available from the $1.5 trillion ecommerce market and tech-savvy customers that “generate a trail of digital and omnichannel footprints that can be analyzed” says Raj Raguneethan, Regional Business Lead, Retail and Consumer Goods, Microsoft Asia.

Trakomatic for instance is using Microsoft’s facial recognition and other technology in its shopper engagement module that can track a user as they enter the store, determine their necessities, alert concerned staff in the store, thereby ensuring a pleasing and customized experience.

The study polled 218 business leaders and 94 workers from the retail sector out of 1,605 business leaders and 1,585 workers in total. The 15 Asia-Pacific markets were involved were Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Intel Into Experiential Retail

Intel INTC is collaborating with AREA15, a purpose-built experiential retail and entertainment complex in Las Vegas, set to open in April. The goal is to grow an ecosystem of retail partners who could have their creative people, technologists and others involved in designing new store concepts test their concepts and leading-edge technologies at the complex.

Intel would like to play a role in helping all retailers and brands bring “immersive, authentically engaging and inspiring experiences” to their customers. At the moment this is something that only a select few can afford. It certainly seems to be the right time to get in the game because Gen Z is expected to be the largest retail customer group starting this year.

If research from A.T. Kearney (quoted by CNBC) is to be believed, the physical store is not losing its appeal. In fact that’s where Gen Z seems to be heading (81% want to shop there, 73% like to discover there). So this is part of the renewed endeavor to build that experience.

Seattle Could Curb Amazon Donations

Amazon’s AMZN home town could be looking to prevent it (and other companies like it) from wielding increased political influence through donations. So they’re bringing legislation banning companies that have foreigners holding at least 5% of their shares, or a single foreigner holding 1%, from elections on the ground that they are subject to foreign influence.

Amazon reportedly has 9% foreign ownership and spent handsomely in the last elections. It has been trying to avoid paying more taxes, so people it backs may be sympathetic to those demands. This could be its reason for being an active participant.

The law appears to be on its side too with the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that although such companies may not contribute directly to campaigns they can spend unlimited amounts on ads and other means. This could be the point on which Amazon contests this.

Amazon Action Against Employees

The problem of employees leaking personal information isn’t being taken casually by Amazon. The company is immediately firing the concerned people, giving a public statement and helping law enforcement prosecute them. So says Amazon.

Indian Retailers to Take on Bezos

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), comprising the very small and medium retailers that Bezos intends to engage with in India’s capital city New Delhi, will be staging protests across 300 Indian cities during the time he stays in the country.

Their grievance is against both Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart for the deep discounts on their platforms and the flouting of India's foreign investment rules. Both retailers have denied wrong-doing but the facts are evident. It isn’t the medium sized businesses that are suffering because they can sell on these platforms (as long as they aren’t forced to bear the cost of discounting). It’s mainly the mom-and-pop segment that forms the commercial backbone of the country that’s getting hit.

The commerce ministry is reviewing complaints and evidence filed by CAIT.

Amazon Releasing Echo Auto in India

Amazon Echo Auto is launching in India. The company is already taking pre-orders for the device that is slated to start selling on Jan 15. The $70.34 device, specially designed for cars, uses their stereo systems to communicate and puts Alexa where she can start collecting important data.

Amazon is one of the leading online retailers in India but it does have significant competition from not only Walmart but also several others. Data collection is imperative to put its AI to work, so it can deliver a customized and differentiated service and stay ahead of the pack.

Facebook Taking Down Some Posts

Facebook FB is taking down posts supporting Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani of the U.S.-designated terror group Islamic Revolutionary Guards who was killed in the U.S. air strike. The Iranian government has protested this and suggested legal action against Instagram, one of the few social media platforms the country allows.  Facebook defended its actions by saying that it operates under U.S. laws, “including those related to the US government’s designation of the IRGC and its leadership.”

Separately, the company introduced additional transparency features with respect to political ads that it still refuses to ban from the platform as other technology companies have done. Starting sometime this quarter, the ads will rol out to all countries where they currently have the “paid for by” feature.

Now Facebook’s ad library will allow users to see an ad's audience size, search for a specific ad, control how an advertiser can reach them, and even choose to see less political and social campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.

Apple Robot to Facilitate Recycling of iPhones

Apple AAPL continues to move toward a sustainable future. Reuters reports that the company now has a robot that can take apart its iPhone so the minerals can be recycled. Although this isn’t expected to be a very big deal in the near future, it’s an important first step.

The robot called Daisy is adept at removing the iPhone battery with a blast of -80 Celsius (-176 Fahrenheit) degree air, loosening the screws thereafter and separating out the modules. She can dismantle 200 phones an hour. The components are then shipped to recyclers for extraction of minerals.

The iPhone is the first product to be broken apart but Apple intends to take the same route with its other products as well. It is also showing off Daisy to automakers who might be interested in the tech since they need a lot of metal for the new EVs and self-driving vehicles expected to transform the market,

Alphabet Chief Legal Officer David Drummond Departs

Chief Legal Officer David Drummond has been with Alphabet GOOGL from the start and helped its incorporation and he served as the top legal counsel for 18 years. So he enjoyed a really strong position at the company and there wouldn’t have been any question of his departure. But employee concern about his personal relationship with a subordinate (with whom he also had a son that he refused to support) was his undoing. He’s not receiving an exit package.

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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