TIME Companies

Halliburton to Pay $1.1 Billion Over Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Flags flying at a Halliburton facility in Williston, North Dakota on Aug. 20, 2013.
Flags flying at a Halliburton facility in Williston, North Dakota on Aug. 20, 2013. Karen Blieber—AFP/Getty Images

The deal will pay off damage claims from property holders and commercial fisheries affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Halliburton has reached a $1.1 billion settlement deal with plaintiffs claiming damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, the Houston-based energy company announced on Tuesday.

The company will pay $1.1 billion into a trust in three installments, which will be used to pay off damage claims from property holders and commercial fisheries along the gulf coast.

The deal removes a measure of uncertainty that has lingered over the company’s legal reserves over the past four years. Halliburton has set aside a $1.3 billion litigation fund for costs related to the spill. While the settlement resolves claims from individual plaintiffs, Halliburton still faces lawsuits from several coastal states.

Halliburton has traded blame with British Petroleum (BP) over the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which unleashed nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf over several weeks in 2010, one of the largest offshore oil spills in U.S. history.

BP, the owner of the well, blamed Halliburton for faulty construction work while Halliburton said BP’s faulty management was responsible. Both companies, along with the owner of the rig, Transocean Ltd., have paid out billions in settlement deals.

TIME apps

German Court Bans Uber

A violation of the ban could result in a fine as high as $328,000 per ride

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A court in Frankfurt has imposed a nationwide ban on Uber’s ride-sharing service, ruling that the company lacked the necessary permits to pick up passengers.

The court ruled the company could no longer pick up passengers through its UberPop service, a cheaper alternative to Uber’s black car service, and it could pay upwards of $327,840 in fines for a single trip, BBC reports. Uber vowed to continue serving customers, arguing that the ban could not go into effect while the ruling was under appeal.

“You cannot put the brakes on progress,” the company said in a statement. “Uber will continue its operations and will offer UberPop ridesharing services via its app throughout Germany.”

Uber, which connects drivers and riders through a mobile app, has faced stiff opposition from regulators and entrenched taxi businesses in both the United States and abroad.

[BBC]

TIME China

Survey: Foreign Companies in China Feel ‘Targeted’

China Monopoly Crackdown Autos
A woman walks past Mercedes-Benz's showroom in Beijing on Aug. 18, 2014 Andy Wong—AP

"Many areas of regulation are overly focused on foreign multinationals"

(BEIJING) — Foreign companies in China feel increasingly targeted for unfair enforcement of anti-monopoly and other laws and might cut investment if conditions fail to improve, a U.S. business group said Tuesday.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China’s report adds to mounting complaints about a flurry of investigations of global automakers, technology suppliers and other companies. It is a reversal forcompanies that welcomed plans unveiled by the ruling Communist Party in late 2013 to open the state-dominated economy to more private competition and adds to pressures at a time of slowing growth and rising competition from local rivals.

Almost half of companies that responded to a survey last week believe they are targeted for “selective and subjective enforcement” of anti-monopoly, food safety and other rules, the chamber said in a report. It said China faces a growing risk it “will permanently lose its luster as a desirable investment destination.”

“Many areas of regulation are overly focused on foreign multinationals,” said the chamber’s chairman, Greg Gilligan.

Out of 164 people who responded to the survey, 60 percent said they felt “less welcome” in China, up sharply from a survey in late 2013 in which 41 percent of 365 respondents expressed the same sentiment.

The ruling party under President Xi Jinping has promised to make China’s economy more productive by opening more industries to private and foreign competition. But at the same time Beijing is trying to create “national champions” in fields from autos to telecoms to aerospace. Business groups say that has led regulators to use a 6-year-old anti-monopoly law and other regulations to shield domestic companies from competition.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China also expressed concern last month about the anti-monopoly investigations. It said it received reports companies were pressured by regulators to accept penalties without a full hearing and avoid involving their governments.

Trade officials from the United States, the European Union and Japan say they are watching the investigations but have yet to announce whether they consider them a violation of China’s free-trade commitments.

Industries targeted by regulators include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, high technology and autos, according to Les Ross, the American chamber’s vice chairman. He expressed concern regulators might be “taking down” foreign companies to narrow the gap with Chinese competitors.

Beijing has announced fines totaling $202 million against 12 Japanese auto components suppliers on charges of price-fixing as part of a sweeping investigation of the industry. Officials say Mercedes Benz, Audi and Chrysler also will face punishment. In separate probes, Microsoft and chip maker Qualcomm also are under scrutiny.

Foreign business groups welcomed the anti-monopoly law in 2008 as a step toward clarifying operating conditions. Since then, they have said it is enforced more actively against foreign companies than against local rivals.

Regulators deny they favor domestic companies. They point to actions such as fines last year against two Chinese liquor producers for price-fixing.

“We believe the fairness of the law enforcement will be better reflected as the number of cases increases,” said the director of the anti-monopoly bureau of the Cabinet’s planning agency, Xu Kunlin, in comments Tuesday in the China Daily, an English-language newspaper aimed at foreign readers.

Foreign companies used to have a “sense of cooperation” with regulators but believe that has changed over the past two years, said Kim Woodard, a former vice chairman of the American chamber.

“Now, what’s happening is you have aggressive enforcement actions against selected companies,” said Woodard. “That starts to look like another barrier to market access.”

That period coincides with the time since Xi became Communist Party leader in 2012. But Woodard, Gilligan and Ross said it was unclear how much of the change was driven by ruling party leaders and how much by other forces such as factions that might oppose reform plans.

Beijing also is reducing purchases of goods from foreign-owned companies, said Ross.

The government procurement agency announced in May it would not buy computer equipment that runs Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. It gave no explanation, but state media said Beijing wants to develop its own operating system to compete with Windows and with Google Inc.’s Android.

Uncertainty over regulatory conditions adds to challenges for foreign companies at a time when China’sgrowth is slowing and they face competition from ambitious local rivals. Growth of 7.5 percent in the three months ended in June was barely half of 2007’s rate of 14.2 percent.

China is one of the world’s top investment destinations. The government says it receives in excess of $100 billion a year, thought economists say a large share of that is money brought home by Chinesecompanies.

But fewer companies report substantial revenue growth and those reporting slight decreases are “more prevalent,” the chamber’s report said.

“Companies are increasingly cautious about future investments,” it said.

TIME Innovation

Google Reveals Drone Delivery Plans

The company just started conducting tests after two years of work

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Google has begun testing a small number of drones as it explores a possible delivery service powered by the unmanned aerial vehicles, the company revealed Thursday.

Google has been working on Project Wing for two years but only began testing the drones in the Australian outback this month, the Washington Post reports. In trials, the small aircraft have flown between 130 and 195 ft. (well above houses and trees) and delivered items such as a water bottle and a first-aid kit. Google says it conducted more than 30 successful flights, including one that traveled more than half a mile.

While the Federal Aviation Administration is still developing guidelines and regulations for commercial drones, several companies besides Google, including Amazon, Facebook and Disney, have opened up about possible applications for drones, including delivery capabilities and high-speed Internet services. According to Google, it will be years before the company will develop a fully functional delivery service with drones traveling along preprogrammed routes.

“When you can get something near-instantly, it changes how you think about it,” the company said in a statement. “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them — who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?”

[WP]

TIME Companies

Here’s Why Abercrombie & Fitch Is Ditching Its Logos

The retailer's earnings are falling as logos become less fashionable in North America

Abercrombie & Fitch was “the brand of the moment” a decade and a half ago. Sales of its preppy clothes had jumped into the billions, teens had ranked it as the sixth coolest brand, and its newly launched surfer-lifestyle line, Hollister Co., was an instant sensation. But now, with stores like H&M and Zara turning white tees into fashionable pieces, Abercrombie wants to win back its base.

The retailer reported its 10th straight decline in quarterly sales on Thursday, with net sales decreasing by 6% to $891 million, according to an earnings conference call. Shares dropped as much as 8.5% after the announcement.

CEO Mike Jeffries said in the announcement that while Abercrombie’s clothes have made “great progress” in evolving their fashion component, the company is now rolling up its sleeves to reduce its use of logos.

“In the spring season we are looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing,” Jeffries said on the call.

Higher pricing at Abercrombie stores have kept customers back, according to the Chicago Tribune, as stores like Forever 21 are selling jeans for less than $10 while similar items at Abercrombie can go for $75. Jeffries said that Abercrombie has been cutting costs, which is allowing it to achieve lower prices, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The shedding of logos on most Abercrombie clothing is the company’s latest rebranding effort as it regains its footing from a over decade of bad publicity. Abercrombie settled for $50 million in 2004 after being sued for discrimination against racial minorities. Last year, quotes made by Jeffries during a 2006 interview resurfaced; he had said the brand targeted “cool, good-looking people,” a statement that generated heavy, even viral backlash. (And earlier this year, researchers suggested that its crowded, cologne-filled stores may actually cause anxiety.)

What’s next for Abercrombie? While the company has said it plans to close 60 stores this year after leases expire, Jeffries is hoping that Abercrombie’s back-to-school clothing line and logo-free options will allow it to escape the climate of declining popularity and earnings that is also being faced by rivals like American Eagle and Aéropostale.

“We are confident that the evolution of our assortment will drive further improvements going forward,” Jeffries said in the announcement. “We remain highly focused on returning to top-line growth and driving long-term value for our shareholders.”

TIME Companies

Apple Wins Patent for Its Glass Cube Store Design

Apple Wins Patent on Glass Cube Store Design
A general view of the glass cube facade of the Fifth Avenue Apple store in front of the Plaza Hotel on February 9, 2012 in New York City. Ben Hider—Getty Images

The 14-year patent will protect the building's "ornamental design"

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved Apple’s application this week to patent its iconic glass cube design at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan.

Filed in 2012, the 14-year patent sanctions the “ornamental design” of the 32-foot cube, which underwent a $6.7 million remodeling in 2011 to achieve a cleaner look with 15 glass panels instead of 90, according to Apple Insider. Apple had applied in 2010 to trademark the “distinctive design of the building” but that has not yet been approved.

The glass staircases inside Apple Stores were also patented last year, according to documents published by the USPTO. Apple previously won a patent in 2012 for the glass cylinder design of its flagship store in Shanghai.

The cube was designed by several people including former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, according to the patent application. Jobs had reportedly paid for the construction of the glass cube himself and owned the structure.

TIME Companies

Apple Confirms Sept. 9 Event, Likely to Debut iPhone 6

"We wish we could say more"

+ READ ARTICLE

Apple has confirmed that it is holding a press event on Sept. 9, most likely to unveil new products. The company is widely expected to debut a new version of the iPhone, and the company will reportedly offer at least one model with a larger 5.5-inch screen.

Reports also indicate that Apple may show off the long-awaited iWatch, a wearable device that would likely run on iOS.

The event will take place in the company’s hometown of Cupertino, California at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Here’s a look at the invite:


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TIME Companies

IFTTT Has Big Plans For the Internet of Things

It just pulled in $30 million in venture funding

A tech startup focused on helping users make sense of all their separate online accounts has just pulled in $30 million in venture funding, the New York Times reports.

IFTTT (an acronym for “If This, Then That”) allows people to automatically link the actions of different types of online services. Users can be alerted via text when they are tagged in a photo on Facebook, for instance, or have each photo they add to Instagram automatically be uploaded to their Dropbox account. IFTTT connects all of those services, as well as Twitter, Gmail and more than 100 others.

The simple-but-useful concept has gained the company its largest-ever funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Norwest Venture Partners. With the additional cash, the company is looking to expand its service to the physical world by tapping into Internet-connected devices and the so-called Internet of Things. Future IFTTT software could be used to program lights or air conditioners to turn off in a home at a certain time of day, for example — indeed, some IFTTT users are already using Yo-based recipes to do just that.

The company is likely to face competition from giants like Google, which is expanding into the connected home through acquisitions like smoke alarm manufacturer Nest, and Apple, which is bringing its iOS platform to automobiles and is rumored to be working on “Smart Home” products as well.

[NYT]

TIME cities

Explosion at BP Refinery, No Injuries Reported

Officials at the BP plant did not immediately provide details about the explosion

(WHITING, Ind.) — An explosion at a BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, has rattled nearby homes. No injuries have been reported and no evacuation has been ordered.

A Whiting Fire Department spokesman said the explosion late Wednesday could be heard clearly several blocks from the plant. However, when fire commanders called plant officials to see if assistance was needed, they were told only to stand by.

Plant officials say the plant’s fire department was handling the incident. Officials at the BP plant, just east of Chicago, did not immediately provide details about the explosion.

The Chicago Sun-Times said Wednesday was the anniversary of a 1955 explosion in Whiting that killed two people.

TIME Companies

Apple Fails Again to Ban Sales of Samsung Phones

Apple Samsung Patent
A Samsung and Apple smartphone are displayed in London on Aug. 6, 2014 Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

The latest in the Apple-Samsung patent war

A U.S. judge on Wednesday rejected Apple’s bid to permanently ban sales of some Samsung phones that had recently been found to infringe Apple patents.

What Apple pitched as a “narrowly tailed ban” on some older Samsung models was denied by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif., who had rejected Apple’s previous request to ban some U.S. Samsung sales in August of 2012, according to Bloomberg.

In its bid, Apple specifically identified certain features on nine of Samsung’s patent-infringing smartphones in order to give the South Korean firm a “sunset period” to alter those features, according to court documents.

But Apple’s latest court denial is perhaps its last as both parties have toned down their multiyear patent war. In late July, Apple dropped its appeal of the 2012 case while also announcing that its quarterly profits and smartphone sales had jumped up from the previous year’s, a suggestion that its iPhone sales went largely unaffected by any Samsung patent infringements. Most recently, both Apple and Samsung agreed earlier this month to drop patent disputes against each other outside the U.S.

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