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| LONDON/NEW YORK
LONDON/NEW YORK U.S. activist shareholder Third Point LLC has targeted Nestle (NESN.S) by taking a $3.5 billion stake in the food maker and urging Europe’s most valuable company to boost returns as demand for its products weakens.
Nestle shares jumped as much as 4.8 percent on Monday, touching a record high after Third Point disclosed its position late on Sunday in a letter to the hedge fund’s investors.
In the letter, Third Point said it was urging the Swiss group to improve margins, buy back shares and get rid of non-core businesses, including its $27 billion stake in L’Oreal (OREP.PA).
Third Point’s 40 million shares – or 1.3 percent of the total – make it Nestle’s eighth-largest shareholder, according to Thomson Reuters data. The $10 billion added to Nestle’s market value on Monday showed that shareholders hoped the investment would spark change at a company which has a reputation for being slow-moving and insular.
“Nestle has arguably been lackadaisical and complacent and underperformed its potential,” Bernstein analysts said. “It might now be stirred into action by an external force.”
New York-based Third Point is an $18 billion hedge fund run by American billionaire Daniel Loeb. Loeb runs a multi-strategy portfolio though he is known as an aggressive, bare-knuckled shareholder activist who has taken on major companies such as Yahoo Inc YHOO.O and Japan’s Sony Corp (6758.T).
Loeb and Nestle CEO Mark Schneider met in Switzerland earlier this month to discuss Third Point’s ideas, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Senior managers at Third Point, which started buying Nestle shares at the end of the first quarter, plan to meet again with Nestle leaders in the next few weeks, said the person, who wished to remain anonymous.
Third Point’s investment comes as Nestle and its packaged goods rivals grapple with slowing emerging markets, pressure on prices and consumers shifting from traditional brands toward healthier, fresher fare.
Nestle has missed its long-term sales target for four straight years, but so far has eschewed radical moves like Danone’s (DANO.PA) $12.5 billion purchase of WhiteWave or Reckitt Benckiser’s (RB.L) $16.6 billion Mead Johnson deal.
The company has instead pushed slowly into healthcare, with a series of small investments and acquisitions that blur the boundaries of food and medicine.
Nestle, which is based on the shores of Lake Geneva and makes Nescafe coffee, Maggi noodles and Gerber baby food, said it was committed to its strategy under new Chief Executive Schneider, who joined from German healthcare group Fresenius (FREG.DE).
“As always, we keep an open dialogue with all of our shareholders and we remain committed to executing our strategy and creating long-term shareholder value,” a Nestle spokesman said. “Beyond that, we have no specific comment.”
One top-40 investor said Nestle has done a good job adapting over the years to a changing industry, selling its stake in eyecare company Alcon and buying pet food business Ralston Purina and Wyeth Nutrition.
“The new CEO has been brought in with a mandate for change,” the investor said, pointing out that Schneider is Nestle’s first external CEO hire in nearly a century. “We would prefer to let Schneider make his own decisions and judge him on the outcome than try to dictate what should happen.”
The move by Third Point cranks up pressure on Schneider, who arrived in January just before the sector was rocked by Kraft Heinz’s (KHC.O) abortive $143 billion approach for Unilever (ULVR.L).
He has already been looking at ways to reignite growth. He has already scrapped the company’s long-standing sales target and said it might sell its U.S. confectionery business, which includes brands such as Baby Ruth and Butterfinger.
Nestle had a market value of $263 billion on Friday, making it the biggest traded company in Europe.
The consumer goods sector, home to usually reliable sales and dividends, has seen its share of investor activism in the past with mixed results. Before Nestle, the latest big bet was the $3.5 billion stake in Procter & Gamble (PG.N) disclosed by Trian Partners in February.
U.S. activist hedge funds have slowly cast their nets wider as corporate America becomes saturated with dissident shareholders seeking rapid changes to boost share prices.
“We feel strongly that in order to succeed, Dr. Schneider will need to articulate a decisive and bold action plan that addresses the staid culture and tendency toward incrementalism that has typified the company’s prior leadership and resulted in its long-term underperformance,” Third Point said in the letter.
It argued that Nestle should sell its 23 percent stake in French cosmetics firm L’Oreal. Nestle shares closed 4.3 percent higher and L’Oreal shares rose 3.9 percent.
The letter also said Nestle should set a formal profit margin target of 18 to 20 percent by 2020 to help improve productivity. Nestle’s current margin is 15.3 percent, below Unilever’s 16.4 percent but higher than Danone’s 13.8 percent.
Third Point also recommended Nestle more than double its debt load, as well as sell the L’Oreal stake, in order to generate the capital to buy back stock.
Vontobel analyst Jean-Philippe Bertschy said Third Point’s suggestions echoed proposals long made by other shareholders.
“Previous management was not too open to listen to critics,” he said. “Now with Mr. Schneider, one of his top priorities was to improve shareholder communication and investor relations. I think he’s listening carefully to what investors are saying.”
Nestle’s previous CEO, Paul Bulcke, is now its chairman.
Nestle will report half-year results on July 27 and host an investor meeting on Sept. 26. Its next annual meeting is April 12, 2018.
(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop and Maiya Keidan in London, Michael Erman in New York and Parikshit Mishra in Bengaluru)
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Tagged: , construction , hoarding
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(NewsUSA) – Ten years after the U.S. financial crisis of 2007, a survey from the Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement found that middle-income boomers feel less than secure about their financial future, with almost 100 percent surveyed saying the economy has not fully recovered, and 65 percent believing they have not personally benefitted at all from any recovery.
Prior to the economic crash, many baby boomers had a clear vision of their retirement, but now say in all likelihood they will not be as financially independent as they once thought. Fortunately, resources from organizations such as Bankers Life can help middle-income boomers better plan for retirement with useful tips and how-to’s, because no one should have to choose between having to pay for long-term care and buying groceries.
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An international team of researchers, working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley, fabricated an atomically thin material and measured its exotic and durable properties that make it a promising candidate for a budding branch of electronics known as “spintronics.”
The material — known as 1T’-WTe2 — bridges two flourishing fields of research: that of so-called 2-D materials, which include monolayer materials such as graphene that behave in different ways than their thicker forms; and topological materials, in which electrons can zip around in predictable ways with next to no resistance and regardless of defects that would ordinarily impede their movement.
At the edges of this material, the spin of electrons — a particle property that functions a bit like a compass needle pointing either north or south — and their momentum are closely tied and predictable.
This latest experimental evidence could elevate the material’s use as a test subject for next-gen applications, such as a new breed of electronic devices that manipulate its spin property to carry and store data more efficiently than present-day devices. These traits are fundamental to spintronics.
The material is called a topological insulator because its interior surface does not conduct electricity, and its electrical conductivity (the flow of electrons) is restricted to its edges.
“This material should be very useful for spintronics studies,” said Sung-Kwan Mo, a physicist and staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) who co-led the study, published in Nature Physics.
“The flow of electrons is completely linked with the direction of their spins, and is limited only to the edges of the material,” Mo said. “The electrons will travel in one direction, and with one type of spin, which is a useful quality for spintronics devices.” Such devices could conceivably carry data more fluidly, with lesser power demands and heat buildup than is typical for present-day electronic devices.
“We’re excited about the fact that we have found another family of materials where we can both explore the physics of 2-D topological insulators and do experiments that may lead to future applications,” said Zhi-Xun Shen, a professor in Physical Sciences at Stanford University and the Advisor for Science and Technology at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory who also co-led the research effort. “This general class of materials is known to be robust and to hold up well under various experimental conditions, and these qualities should allow the field to develop faster,” he added.
The material was fabricated and studied at the ALS, an X-ray research facility known as a synchrotron. Shujie Tang, a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab and Stanford University, and a co-lead author in the study, was instrumental in growing 3-atom-thick crystalline samples of the material in a highly purified, vacuum-sealed compartment at the ALS, using a process known as molecular beam epitaxy.
The high-purity samples were then studied at the ALS using a technique known as ARPES (or angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy), which provides a powerful probe of materials’ electron properties.
“After we refined the growth recipe, we measured it with ARPES. We immediately recognized the characteristic electronic structure of a 2-D topological insulator,” Tang said, based on theory and predictions. “We were the first ones to perform this type of measurement on this material.”
But because the conducting part of this material, at its outermost edge, measured only a few nanometers thin — thousands of times thinner than the X-ray beam’s focus — it was difficult to positively identify all of the material’s electronic properties.
So collaborators at UC Berkeley performed additional measurements at the atomic scale using a technique known as STM, or scanning tunneling microscopy. “STM measured its edge state directly, so that was a really key contribution,” Tang said.
The research effort, which began in 2015, involved more than two dozen researchers in a variety of disciplines. The research team also benefited from computational work at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).
Two-dimensional materials have unique electronic properties that are considered key to adapting them for spintronics applications, and there is a very active worldwide R&D effort focused on tailoring these materials for specific uses by selectively stacking different types.
“Researchers are trying to sandwich them on top of each other to tweak the material as they wish — like Lego blocks,” Mo said. “Now that we have experimental proof of this material’s properties, we want to stack it up with other materials to see how these properties change.”
A typical problem in creating such designer materials from atomically thin layers is that materials typically have nanoscale defects that can be difficult to eliminate and that can affect their performance. But because 1T’-WTe2 is a topological insulator, its electronic properties are by nature resilient.
“At the nanoscale it may not be a perfect crystal,” Mo said, “but the beauty of topological materials is that even when you have less than perfect crystals, the edge states survive. The imperfections don’t break the key properties.”
Going forward, researchers aim to develop larger samples of the material and to discover how to selectively tune and accentuate specific properties. Besides its topological properties, its “sister materials,” which have similar properties and were also studied by the research team, are known to be light-sensitive and have useful properties for solar cells and for optoelectronics, which control light for use in electronic devices.
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Biodiversity losses from deep-sea mining are unavoidable and possibly irrevocable, an international team of 15 marine scientists, resource economists and legal scholars argue in a letter published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The experts say the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is responsible under the UN Law of the Sea for regulating undersea mining in areas outside national jurisdictions, must recognize this risk. They say it must also communicate the risk clearly to its member states and the public to inform discussions about whether deep-seabed mining should proceed, and if so, what standards and safeguards need to be put into place to minimize biodiversity loss.
“There is tremendous uncertainty about ecological responses to deep-sea mining,” said Cindy L. Van Dover, Harvey W. Smith Professor of Biological Oceanography at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Responsible mining needs to rely on environmental management actions that will protect deep-sea biodiversity and not on actions that are unproven or unreasonable.”
“The extraction of non-renewable resources always includes tradeoffs,” said Linwood Pendleton, International Chair in Marine Ecosystem Services at the European Institute of Marine Studies and an adjunct professor at Duke’s Nicholas School. “A serious trade-off for deep-sea mining will be an unavoidable loss of biodiversity, including many species that have yet to be discovered.”
Faced with this inevitable outcome, it’s more important than ever that we understand deep-sea ecosystems and have a good idea of what we stand to lose before mining alters the seafloor forever, said Pendleton, who also serves as a senior scholar in the Oceans and Coastal Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Time is of the essence, the experts stress.
“Undersea deposits of metals and rare earth elements are not yet being mined, but there has been an increase in the number of applications for mining contracts,” said Elva Escobar of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology. “In 2001, there were just six deep-sea mineral exploration contracts; by the end of 2017, there will be a total of 27 projects.”
These projects include 18 contracts for polymetallic nodules, six for polymetallic sulfides and four for ferromanganese crusts, Escobar said. Of these, 17 would take place in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean between Hawai’i and Central America.
Industry estimates that billions of tons of manganese, copper, nickel and cobalt lie on or beneath the seafloor. These metals are used in electrical generators and motors, metal alloys, batteries, paints, and many other products.
Some mining proponents have argued that companies could offset the inevitable damage their activities will cause by restoring coastal ecosystems or creating new artificial offshore reefs. “But this is like saving apple orchards to protect oranges,” Van Dover said.
“The argument that you can compensate for the loss of biological diversity in the deep sea with gains in diversity elsewhere is so ambiguous as to be scientifically meaningless,” said Craig Smith, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
Deep-sea ecosystems and species can take decades or even centuries to recover from a disturbance, if they recover at all, Van Dover noted.
The scale of some proposed mining operations — the largest of which will cover more than 83,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Maine — and the depths at which some mining is to be conducted (three miles or more below the sea surface) will make reclamation of the affected sites so cost-prohibitive as to be unrealistic, the authors argue. And the approaches needed to perform restorative action are still largely untested.
Deep-sea scientists and legal experts from the United States, Mexico, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland and Australia co-wrote the peer-reviewed correspondence with Van Dover, Pendleton, Escobar and Smith.
Being able to both walk and take flight is typical in nature — many birds, insects, and other animals can do both. If we could program robots with similar versatility, it would open up many possibilities: Imagine machines that could fly into construction areas or disaster zones that aren’t near roads and then squeeze through tight spaces on the ground to transport objects or rescue people.
The problem is that robots that are good at one mode of transportation are usually bad at another. Airborne drones are fast and agile, but generally have too limited of a battery life to travel for long distances. Ground vehicles, on the other hand, are more energy efficient, but slower and less mobile.
Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are aiming to develop robots that can both maneuver around on land and take to the skies. In a new paper, the team presented a system of eight quadcopter drones that can fly and drive through a city-like setting with parking spots, no-fly zones, and landing pads.
The ability to both fly and drive is useful in environments with a lot of barriers, since you can fly over ground obstacles and drive under overhead obstacles, says PhD student Brandon Araki, lead author on the paper. Normal drones can’t maneuver on the ground at all. A drone with wheels is much more mobile while having only a slight reduction in flying time.
Araki and CSAIL Director Daniela Rus developed the system, along with MIT undergraduate students John Strang, Sarah Pohorecky, and Celine Qiu, and Tobias Naegeli of ETH Zurich’s Advanced Interactive Technologies Lab. The team presented their system at IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Singapore earlier this month.
How it works
The project builds on Araki’s previous work developing a flying monkey robot that crawls, grasps, and flies. While the monkey robot could hop over obstacles and crawl about, there was still no way for it to travel autonomously.
To address this, the team developed various path-planning algorithms aimed at ensuring that the drones don’t collide. To make them capable of driving, the team put two small motors with wheels on the bottom of each drone. In simulations, the robots could fly for 90 meters or drive for 252 meters, before their batteries ran out.
Adding the driving component to the drone slightly reduced its battery life, meaning that the maximum distance it could fly decreased 14 percent to about 300 feet. But since driving is still much more efficient than flying, the gain in efficiency from driving more than offsets the relatively small loss in efficiency in flying due to the extra weight.
This work provides an algorithmic solution for large-scale, mixed-mode transportation and shows its applicability to real-world problems, says Jingjin Yu, a computer science professor at Rutgers University who was not involved in the research.
The team also tested the system using everyday materials such as pieces of fabric for roads and cardboard boxes for buildings. They tested eight robots navigating from a starting point to an ending point on a collision-free path, and all were successful.
Rus says that systems like theirs suggest that another approach to creating safe and effective flying cars is not to simply put wings on cars, but to build on years of research in adding driving capabilities to drones.
As we begin to develop planning and control algorithms for flying cars, we are encouraged by the possibility of creating robots with these capabilities at small scale, Rus says. While there are obviously still big challenges to scaling up to vehicles that could actually transport humans, we are inspired by the potential of a future in which flying cars could offer us fast, traffic-free transportation.
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It’s been a while since I’ve shot with my fisheye lens so I knocked off the dust it’s accumulated and went to shoot at a construction site close to my home. I’ve been planning on getting over to this site for a while and today was a good day for it with the exception that I was still wearing my comfy Addidas sandals worn in the previous shot. Note to self: don’t wear comfy Addidas sandals to a dusty construction site because your sandals and feet will be covered with dust, not just covered in dust but damn near drowning in it.
© Calvin James 2012
Tagged: , CAT 420E , Construction , Yellow , Heavy Equipment , Machinery HDR Effects , Nik , Color Efex Pro 4 , Nikon , D3S , Nikkor , 16mm f/2.8 , Fisheye
Deep below the ocean’s surface are hydrothermal vent fields, or submarine hot springs that can reach temperatures of up to 400 °C. These fields are surrounded by a unique set of animals, including vent crabs and eyeless vent shrimp, that survive off of the chemicals emitted from the hydrothermal vents. Recently, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) researchers and collaborators have computed the dispersal of larvae from these hydrothermal vent ecosystems to understand and safeguard the animals found there. The results have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“We are trying to understand how these western Pacific vent fields are connected,” Prof. Satoshi Mitarai, first author and principal investigator of OIST’s Marine Biophysics Unit said. “And we want to know how the creatures are migrating from one site to another, as well as how they are evolving.”
Another goal of this research is to protect the native vent species from deep-sea mining, a process that retrieves metals from the ocean floor that could negatively affect the animals living near these hydrothermal vents.
“Deep ocean mining would destroy these habitats,” Mitarai said.
In order to understand and protect these animals, the researchers quantified larval dispersal because the larval stage is the only time these creatures can freely move through the ocean via the currents. To do this, they calculated the average depth at which the larvae would travel, which is 1000 meters, and the average time at which vent animals would stay in the larval stage at this depth, which is 83 days. Then, they deployed 10 deep-ocean profiling floats every other month for two years, with the help of the Japan Coast Guard, in the Hatoma Knoll, off the coast of Ishigaki Island in southern Okinawa. They programmed the floats to stay at 1,000 m and drift along with the ocean’s current. The floats surfaced every 30 days to transmit their location.
“This is the first time we could see how deep ocean circulation processes potentially transport materials from hydrothermal vents,” Mitarai said.
In addition, the scientists used cutting-edge ocean models to quantify larval dispersal on a larger scale with simulated ‘model’ floats. By combining the data from the ocean models and from the deep-ocean profiling floats experiments, the researchers are able to “estimate what is possible and what is not possible for larval dispersal,” Mitarai said.
The data can help to predict where larvae will travel over the course of the larval stage and even show that larvae could be transported over long distances to far off vent fields. The ability to see where larvae is potentially going is important for understanding gene flows — movement from one population to another — in these vent species.
“We have provided concrete background information that population geneticists can use to set up their hypotheses to understand gene flows,” Mitarai said.
It is also important for estimating the evolutionary processes of these creatures and for protection against deep-sea mining. “This information can help marine ecologists to design optimum plans to protect these areas from deep ocean mining,” Mitarai said.
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