Monthly Archives: July 2017

Threat of Tariff Clouding Hopes for Solar Industry

A view of solar panels being installed at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The solar energy industry has been growing steadily for the past several years. Both consumers and US businesses are embracing in a big way solar energy. The installation of solar panels reached a new record last year. The domestic solar industry now employs more than a quarter million people, and growing, according to The Solar Foundation.

Much of this growth has been spurred on by inexpensive photovoltaic cells and panels made in China and other countries in Asia and the Far East. These low-cost panels have helped bring down the costs of using solar by approximately 70 percent since 2010, creating the affordability that has made solar increasingly attractive over the past few years.

This growth is threatened however, by the prospect that President Trump may impose a tax on imported solar photovoltaic cells. If Trump indeed imposes a trade tax on China and other Asian manufacturers of solar cells, it would be in response to a complaint made by Suniva, a Georgia-based company that manufactures solar panels. The company would like to see Trump place a tariff which would effectively double the price of imported panels, insuring that Suniva and other US producers can compete in the marketplace. About 95 percent of all cells and panels sold in the US last year were imported, mostly from China, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Trump administration has not announced its intentions in this matter. However, it is well-known that the president has complained many times about the “unfair” importing of steel from abroad, vowing to help protect domestic steelmakers and other US manufacturers by implementing tariffs on imports.

Without a clear view of the future, several US energy customers are putting some solar projects on hold for now, while manufacturers are waiting to see what other markets might develop. Some investors are getting out of the industry altogether. The second quarter saw deals drop to $1.4 billion this year, down from $3.2 billion in 2017’s Q1 and from $1.7 billion in Q1 of 2016.

Ed Fenster, chairman of the San Francisco-based Sunrun said Trump’s implementation of a tariff to punish foreign manufacturers and boost US competitiveness will backfire, harming most the American blue-color workers he campaigned to help.

“A solar-panel tax imperils what our country needs most: well-paying jobs that can’t be exported or automated,” Fenster said.

Microsoft’s Cloud Business Boosts Fourth Quarter Earnings

Microsoft has reported a significant increase in profits last quarter a s a result of its expanding cloud business. In fact, Microsoft shares have doubled, reaching 19% this year alone with a 1% increase in after-hours trading last week as well.

Microsoft’s profits reached $6.5 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $3.1 billion last year, according to Forbes. Some items listed earnings of up to 98 cents per share, and revenue increased to $23.31 billion, or 13%.

CEO Satya Nadella said: “Innovation across our cloud platforms drove strong results this quarter. Customers are looking to Microsoft and our thriving partner ecosystem to accelerate their own digital transformations and to unlock new opportunity in this era of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.”

Microsoft’s new cloud platform Azure revealed a 97% revenue increase, leading the company’s overall cloud business to $7.4 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter. Other cloud products and services increased in revenue as well, reaching as much as 15% higher than last year.

Insurers Grapple with Economic Costs of Cyber Attacks

Lloyd’s of London partnered with risk-modeling firm Cyence to publish a report examining the potential economic losses which would be incurred from a major hack of a cloud service provider or a cyber-attack on computer operating systems which are used by business across the planet.

The report estimated that a major, global cyber-attack could result in an average of $53 billion in economic damage. That figure is on par with the cost of mega-disasters of the recent past, like Superstorm Sandy of 2012 and other unprecedented natural disasters.

“Because cyber is virtual, it is such a difficult task to understand how it will accumulate in a big event,” Lloyd’s of London chief executive Inga Beale stated.

The economic costs of an attack on a cloud provider could make the $8 billion in damages of the “WannaCry” ransom attack look like peanuts. That attack, which occurred this past May, spread to 100 countries.

The economic costs typically include interruptions in business plus the cost of fixing computers damaged in the attacks.

The report from Lloyds comes on the heels of a US government warning to industrial companies to be aware of a hacking campaign which could target the nuclear and other energy sectors.

In June a virus labeled “NotPetya” spread from infected computers in Ukraine to businesses all over the world. It worked by encrypting data on infected computers, thus causing them to be unusable. The attack interfered with activity at ports, factories and law firms. “NotPetya cost the world $850 million in economic losses.

Small Business “Pays it Forward”. All of It.

Business is all about pleasing customers and making money, and small-town cookie shop RoRo’s Cookies is doing just that. This business, owned by Mom Rose Gebran, comes with a special twist though: all proceeds go to charity.

7KTBV reports:

American Express Cuts Costs for Small Businesses

American Express has moved to expand its reach by reducing small business fees by as much as 1%. The company hopes the change will double the number of small businesses that accept the card over the next two years.

Until now, Amex payments have been known to be a more costly service than those of other cards, resulting in many shops and other small retailers placing higher credit card surcharges on the customers, or simply not accepting Amex cards at all. The Reserve Bank states that the average merchant pays Amex service fees of 1.58% for each transaction. MasterCard, Visa and Diner’s Club all have fees that range from 0.78-0.8%. Small businesses can be greatly affected by this discrepancy, especially because larger stores are charged less for accepting American Express cards.

“We want to make it a lot easier for merchants to accept American Express,” said Katrina Konstas, head of the small merchant’s business at Amex. “For some businesses, it will be a reduction of whole percentage point.”

As part of their recent efforts, Amex has signed a deal with the Commonwealth Bank that, to a certain extent, will enable small businesses to process Amex payments at the same cost as other credit cards.

Claire Roberts of CBA explained: “Consumers want flexibility in the way they pay for goods and services and by adding American Express we are now providing small businesses with card payment options at the same rate.”

Turkish and Emirates Air Exempt from US Laptop Exclusion

Passengers traveling on two major middle eastern airlines, Turkish Airways and Emirates Airlines, will be allowed to bring laptops into cabins during their flights to the United States, according to David Lapan, a spokesman for Homeland Security in Washington, DC.

A third airline is also exempt from the new US restrictions, Abu Dhabi’s-Etihad Airlines.

The reasons for the lenient approach to these carriers is still unclear, leaving some wondering what these companies do differently to ensure that terrorists do not smuggle explosives on to airplanes through electronic devices. In Turkey, the use of CT scanners to examine electronics just before boarding has recently been instituted, helping heighten the level of security on flights to the USA.

Both airlines informed the US Department of Homeland Security that, “they are ready to comply with the enhanced security measures.”

“Protecting the American people and raising the global baseline on aviation security remains the top priority,” Lapan said. “We will continue to closely observe operations in these airports to ensure these enhanced measures are implemented effectively and to the required levels.”

Dubai International Airport is now the world’s busiest for international traffic, mostly due to the great expansion of Emirates Airlines, whose hub is in Dubai.

Emirates said in a statement that it has been able to “implement heightened security measures and protocols” to the standard that meets the requirements of the United States. What those measures are, exactly, was not discussed, but it followed a similar permission granted to Etihad earlier in the week.

“We would like to express our gratitude to the U.S. and local authorities for their support and thank our customers for their understanding and patience during the last few months when the ban was in place,” Emirates said.

Turkish Airlines sent Twitter messages to their passengers heading to the US that they should, “fasten your seatbelts and enjoy your own electronic devices.”

The airline said that over the past 102 days the ban on laptops in cabins originating in the Middle East to the US they had taken away more than 81,000 electronic devices, storing them in special protected baggage.

The ban on laptops in airplane cabins on flights to the US still applies to seven international airports in the Middle East: Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Cairo; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; and Doha, Qatar.