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startups

Instacart expands tech hub



Sep 25, 2018 / 5:31 am | Story:
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DHX Media Ltd. says it has signed an agency agreement for Peanuts in China and Asia with CAA Global Brand Management Group LLP, a division of Global Brands Group, as it completed its strategic review.

The children’s entertainment company has also suspended its quarterly dividend, a move it says will free up $10 million a year to invest in its WildBrain business and pay down debt.

Under the strategic review, DHX says it assessed a wide range of options to improve shareholder value.

The five-year agreement with CAA-GBG will see the firm work to increase Peanuts’ presence in Asia by extending the brand’s reach across multiple licensing categories.

DHX says China and Asia are under-monetized territories for Peanuts and holding the potential for significant growth.

The completion of the strategic review came as DHX reported a loss attributable to shareholders of $14.1 million or 10 cents per share on $434.4 million in revenue for the financial year ended June 30. That compared with a loss of $3.6 million or three cents per share on $298.7 million in revenue for the previous year.

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Instacart says it will transform its Toronto office into a tech hub and expand it by 200 employees over the next several years.

The California-based company says the Canadian location will be the second one to focus on research and development, with the first in San Francisco.

The online grocery app company already has more than 80 employees at its current Toronto office.

Instacart’s chief business officer Nilam Ganenthiran says the new office will open sometime in 2019 and the company has already started hiring for the new positions.

Instacart is one of several grocery-delivery companies Canada’s grocers have partnered with to ramp up their e-commerce offerings after Amazon upped the pressure on the industry by acquiring Whole Foods Market.

Walmart Canada recently announced it partnered with Instacart for a one-hour grocery delivery pilot in Toronto and Winnipeg.


Sep 24, 2018 / 5:27 pm | Story:
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Aurora Cannabis Inc. capped a busy year by seeing its revenues more than triple to $19.1 million in the fourth quarter.

The Edmonton company says revenues for the three months ended June 30 were up from $5.9 million a year earlier.

The company said the gross margin on medical cannabis was 74 per cent, up from 58 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017. The increase was mainly due to higher average selling price per gram of dried cannabis and a higher proportion of cannabis oil sales.

The cash cost for dried cannabis sold was $1.87 per gram, down from $2.09 a year earlier. The cash cost to produce dried cannabis also decreased 11 per cent, to $1.70 per gram, from $1.91. The decrease was primarily due to efficiencies from automation and yield expertise.

The company sold 1,617 kilograms of dried cannabis and cannabis oils in the quarter, up from 755 kilograms a year earlier.

The number of active registered patients increased to 43,308, up from 16,400. Net income attributable to shareholders was nearly $80 million, up from a $4.82 million loss a year ago.

The increase was primarily attributable to the unrealized non-cash gain on derivatives and marketable securities, which was partially offset by increased finance costs, share-based payments, acquisition and project evaluation costs.

For the full year, revenues increased to $55.2 million from $18.1 million in 2017.

Net income attributable to shareholders was $71.9 million, up from a $13-million loss a year ago.

Aurora Cannabis has completed 11 strategic acquisitions in the past year, while another is in progress. The number of employees increased to 1,400 from 300 at the end of the last fiscal year.

The company says it intends to list its shares on a senior U.S. stock exchange.

“Listing our shares on a senior U.S. exchange reflects the level of corporate and business maturity and our high-paced execution,” stated CEO Terry Booth. “This listing provides access to a broader investor audience who gain the opportunity to participate in our continued success.”

Analyzing the performance of marijuana companies is tough because of accounting rules used in the agriculture industry that require companies to put a value on their pot plants before they are harvested, and approaches differ between producers on how to apply these guidelines.


Sep 24, 2018 / 1:00 pm | Story:
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In spite of Canada’s reputation as a hotbed of artificial intelligence, AI deployment has not yet been a “real success” for the country’s companies, a new report has found.

Canada ranked last out of 10 countries, with just 31 per cent of adopters of the technology claiming successful AI deployment, compared with 59 per cent in India and 58 per cent in Germany, according to the study by Forbes Insights.

Canadian companies also came last for full deployment throughout their firm, and encountered the most resistance from employees due to concerns about job security, the report states.

An ethics-first approach, classic Canadian caution in the marketplace and “humility among executives” help explain the low numbers, said Jodie Wallis, head of AI in Canada for Accenture, one of three companies that commissioned the study.

“In a lot of countries, the organizations are jumping to deploy without being thoughtful about how we’re going to deal with ethics,” Wallis said. “Canadian organizations tend to do the opposite: ‘Let’s think about all the ethics, and then we’ll deploy.’ “

Nearly three-quarters of Canadian firms have AI ethics committees, the highest proportion of all countries surveyed, according to the report, which was based on an online survey of more than 300 executives.

Some characteristic Canadian self-effacement may have tamped down the survey figures, Wallis added. “I think Canadian executives tend to be humble in their self-assessment.”

Canada has become a hot spot for big data analytics over the last few years, with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Adobe and General Motors announcing millions of dollars in investment in AI research hubs in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.

The labs, often working in conjunction with universities and still relatively new, function as test beds that focus on experimentation, with any exhaustive business model overhauls likely still a ways off, Wallis said.

“They’re working on algorithmic advancement that is kind of five years out, from a consumer standpoint. They’re not working on solutions that get deployed tomorrow,” she said of Facebook’s one-year-old lab in Montreal, which announced expansion plans this month.

Steve Holder, who heads analytics strategy at SAS Canada, stressed “the Canadian conservatism coming around” in the survey’s low success numbers around AI deployment.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got the right technology and the right use cases to make it successful in our organization, as opposed to adopting technology wildly.”

Ethical issues include consent, transparency, bias and job impact, Wallis said, citing telecoms as an example.

“Do I really want to go out and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been reading all of your data and I see that you would benefit from a new plan?’ How far do we go before we start to sound creepy or stalker-ish?”

The global study by Forbes Insights — conducted in July 2018 and commissioned by Accenture Applied Intelligence, SAS, and Intel Corp. — surveyed 305 company executives. The bulk of the firms employed more than 5,000 workers.


Sep 24, 2018 / 12:48 pm | Story:
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The Federal Reserve is set this week to raise interest rates for a third time this year to prevent the economy from growing too fast. But with President Donald Trump’s trade fights posing a risk to the U.S. economy, the Fed may soon be ready to slow its hikes.

Many analysts expect the economy to weaken next year, in part from the effects of the conflicts Trump has pursued with China, Canada, Europe and other trading partners. The tariffs and counter-tariffs that have been imposed on imports and exports is having the effect of raising prices for key goods and supplies and potentially slowing growth.

An economic slowdown would likely lead the Fed to throttle back on its rate increases to avoid stifling growth. In that scenario, it might raise rates only twice in 2019 and then retreat to the sidelines to see how the economy fares.

Compounding the effects of the tariffs and retaliatory tariffs resulting from Trump’s trade war, other factors could slow growth next year. The benefits of tax cuts that took effect this year, along with increased government spending, for example, are widely expected to fade.

Still, some analysts hold to a more optimistic scenario: That momentum already built up from the government’s economic stimulus will keep strengthening the job market and lowering unemployment — at 3.9 per cent, already near a 50-year low. A tight employment market, in this scenario, will accelerate wages and inflation and prod the Fed to keep tightening credit to ensure that the economy doesn’t overheat.

Any light the Fed might shed on those questions could come in the statement it will make after its latest policy meeting ends Wednesday, in updated economic and rate forecasts it will issue or in a news conference that Chairman Jerome Powell will hold afterward.

The modest rate increase that’s widely expected reflects the continued strength of the U.S. economy, now in its 10th year of expansion, the second-longest such stretch on record. Most analysts also expect the Fed to signal that it plans to raise rates a fourth and final time this year, presumably in December. The Fed’s rate increases typically lead to higher rates on some consumer and business loans.

Should neither Powell nor the Fed itself clarify expectations for the months ahead, it could be because the policymakers are sharply divided and are coalescing into two familiar opposing groups — “hawks” and “doves.”

Doves focus on the Fed’s mandate to maximize employment and worry less about inflation. Hawks tend to concern themselves more with the need to prevent high inflation. One Fed board member, Lael Brainard, a leading dove, earlier this month surprised some with a speech that emphasized her belief in the need for continued gradual rate hikes.

This week’s expected hike will be the Fed’s eighth since 2015, when it began tightening credit after having kept its benchmark rate at a record low for seven years beginning in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.

Even so, the Fed’s key short-term rate, a benchmark for many consumer and business loans, remains in a relatively low range of 1.75 per cent to 2 per cent. By its latest reckoning, the Fed estimates its “neutral rate” — the point where it’s thought to neither stimulate nor restrain growth — at around 2.9 per cent. Two more hikes this year and two in 2019 would lift the Fed’s benchmark rate to that level.

In her speech, Brainard suggested that the Fed might eventually see a need to exceed the neutral rate — an unexpected observation from an official who has never been seen as a hawk. But Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said Brainard’s suggestion doesn’t seem all that surprising given the economic circumstances.

“She realizes that the economy is in a different place,” Zandi said. “We have had massive tax cuts and massive increases in government spending that were not even on the radar screen in early 2017.”

The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, is expected to grow 3 per cent for 2018 as a whole. That would mark the strongest full-year gain in 13 years. For the first nine years of the economic expansion, annual GDP growth averaged only around 2.2 per cent.


Sep 24, 2018 / 9:02 am | Story:
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Canada’s main stock index edged lower in late-morning trading as the industrial, financial and telecom sectors traded lower.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 5.88 points at 16,218.25.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 145.21 points at 26,598.29. The S&P 500 index was down 14.96 points at 2,914.71, while the Nasdaq composite was down 38.23 points at 7,948.72.

The Canadian dollar traded lower at 77.34 cents US compared with an average of 77.42 cents US on Friday.

The November crude contract was up US$1.39 at US$72.17 per barrel and the November natural gas contract was up 5.5 cents at US$3.03 per mmBTU.

The December gold contract was up US$7.30 at US$1,208.60 an ounce and the December copper contract was down 0.70 of a cent at US$2.85 a pound.


Sep 24, 2018 / 8:14 am | Story:
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Statistics Canada says wholesale sales rose 1.5 per cent to $63.9 billion in July, more than offsetting a 0.9 per cent drop in June.

Economists had expected a increase of 0.5 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Statistics Canada says sales were up in four of the seven subsectors tracked.

The personal and household goods subsector rose 4.2 per cent to $9.2 billion in July, while sales in the food, beverage and tobacco subsector climbed 2.6 per cent to $12 billion.

Sales in the motor vehicle and parts subsector grew 2.4 per cent to $11.1 billion.

Overall wholesale sales increased 1.2 per cent in volume terms.


Sep 24, 2018 / 8:10 am | Story:
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Weight Watchers is trimming its name to just two letters: WW.

The company says it is renaming itself to focus more on overall wellness and not just dieting. Its app, for example, will offer tips and meditation and give out rewards for tracking meals and exercise.

WW has seen a rise in subscribers, helped by a 2015 investment by Oprah Winfrey. The media mogul has appeared on commercials for the company, promoting her weight loss. WW had 4.5 million subscribers at the end of June, a 28 per cent increase from the same period a year before.

The New York-based company says users will see changes to its app starting next week.


Sep 24, 2018 / 7:23 am | Story:
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Subscription radio company SiriusXM says it’s buying music streaming service Pandora Media Inc. in a stock deal valued at about $3.5 billion that’ll allow it to expand its service beyond cars and into homes and other mobile areas.

SiriusXM Holdings Inc. has more than 36 million subscribers in North America, while Pandora has more than 70 million monthly active users.

Pandora stockholders will receive 1.44 newly issued SiriusXM shares for each Pandora share they own. Pandora has a “go-shop” period in which it can solicit other offers from third parties.

Both companies’ boards have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in 2019’s first quarter. It still needs approval from Pandora shareholders.

Shares of Pandora, based in Oakland, California, jumped more than 8 per cent in Monday premarket trading. SiriusXM’s stock declined 4 per cent.


Sep 24, 2018 / 5:14 am | Story:
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Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp. has agreed to buy Randgold Resources for $7.9 billion in stock to create the world’s largest gold miner.

Investors will receive 6.128 new Barrick shares for each Randgold share they hold. Shareholders in Barrick will own about 66.6 per cent of the merged company, which will combine Randgold’s African mines with Barrick’s holdings in the Americas.

“The combination of Barrick and Randgold will create a new champion for value creation in the gold mining industry, bringing together the world’s largest collection of Tier One gold assets, with a proven management team,” John Thornton, Barrick’s executive chairman, said in a statement Monday.

“There are no premiums in the merger because we strongly believe in the opportunity to add significant value for our shareholders from the disciplined management of our combined asset base and a focus on truly profitable growth.”

The deal is subject to approval by the shareholders of both companies, regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

Two-thirds of the directors of the combined company will be nominated by Barrick while one-third will be nominated by Randgold.

Thornton will be executive chairman, while Randgold chief executive Mark Bristow will be president and chief executive.

Nicholas Hyett, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the deal marks a return to Africa for Barrick, which spun off its holdings there eight years ago.

Barrick’s more stable North American assets will reduce Randgold investors’ exposure to risky African markets.

Hyett said that’s also welcome since Randgold had been struggling to find new projects of scale.


Sep 24, 2018 / 5:11 am | Story:
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The parent company of grocery chain Sobeys Inc. says it has reached a deal to acquire food retailer Farm Boy in a bid to expand its reach in Ontario.

Empire Co. Ltd. says the acquisition, which values the Ontario-based chain of grocery stores at $800 million, includes 26 Farm Boy locations in the province.

Empire says the deal will allow it to speed up its growth in markets like Toronto and southwestern Ontario, with new sites and the conversion of some existing Sobeys locations.

Empire chief executive Michael Medline says the company is hoping to double the size of the Farm Boy business.

Under the deal, Farm Boy will be set up as a separate company and continue to be led by founder and co-CEO Jean-Louis Bellemare and Jeff York, who has been the other co-CEO since 2009. Farm Boy’s co-CEOs have also agreed to reinvest in the company return for a 12 per cent interest of the continuing Farm Boy business.

Empire says Farm Boy products will also be added to Sobeys’ Ocado-based e-commerce business, an online grocery platform which will launch in 2020 in the Greater Toronto Area.


Sep 21, 2018 / 11:56 am | Story:
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The $1,100 price tag on Apple’s latest iPhone turned heads when the company announced it last week. But for less than half as much, you can still get a good camera, a decent-sized screen and other popular features.

Just buy a two-year-old iPhone 7.

That phone was Apple’s first to come with water resistance and its first to lose the standard headphone jack. Its 4.7-inch screen is adequate and on par with other smartphones, even though its resolution falls short of high definition. And the phone still has a fingerprint sensor and a home button, both of which have vanished in the latest iPhones.

Or, if you want to pay more for wireless charging, there’s the iPhone 8. An edge-to-edge screen? You’ll need the upcoming budget iPhone XR or one of its more expensive siblings. And if you want a supersized display, that’s where the $1,100 iPhone XS Max comes in. That model and a smaller version start selling in the U.S. and several other countries on Friday.

If you’re shopping for a new phone, it pays to think hard about what you really want and what you’re willing to pay for it. Improvements over the previous generation tend to be incremental, but can add up over time — and so do the sums you’ll pay for them.

Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking of bargain-hunting in the iPhone history bin.

IPHONE 7 ($449)

The big jump in iPhone cameras came a generation earlier with the iPhone 6S, when Apple went from 8 megapixels to 12 megapixels in resolution. With the iPhone 7, the front camera goes from 5 megapixels to 7 megapixels, so selfies don’t feel as inferior. Headphones go into its Lightning port, which is used for both charging and data transfer. It’s a pain when you want to listen to music while recharging the phone. For that, you need $159 wireless earphones called AirPods. Apple no longer includes an adapter for standard headphones; one will set you back $9 if you need it.

IPHONE 7 PLUS ($569)

This larger version of the iPhone 7 has a second camera lens in the back, allowing for twice the magnification without any degradation in image quality. It also lets the camera gauge depth and blur backgrounds in portrait shots, something once limited to full-featured SLR cameras. The dual-lens camera alone is a good reason to go for a Plus, though the larger size isn’t a good fit for those with small hands or small pockets.

IPHONE 8 ($599)

New colour filters in the camera produce truer and richer colours, while a new flash technique tries to light the foreground and background more evenly. Differences are subtle, though. The year-old model, similar in size to the iPhone 7, restores a glass back found in the earliest iPhones. That’s done so you can charge it on a wireless-charging mat, which also solves the problem of listening to music while charging. But with more glass, it’s even more important to get a case and perhaps a service plan.

IPHONE 8 PLUS ($699)

Again, the Plus version has a larger screen and a second lens. For those shots with blurred backgrounds, a new feature lets you add filters to mimic studio and other lighting conditions.

IPHONE XS ($999)

As with the iPhone X it replaces, the new XS has a display that largely runs from edge to edge, getting rid of the surrounding bezel along with the home button. Many tasks now require swipes rather than presses. The fingerprint ID sensor is replaced with facial recognition to unlock the phone. The display has about the same surface area as the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, while the phone itself is only slightly larger than the regular iPhone 7 and 8. Improved display technology means vivid colours and better contrasts, including black that is black rather than simply dark. You also get a dual-lens camera and software improvements for regular shots.

IPHONE XS MAX ($1,099)

This is essentially the “Plus” version of the iPhone XS. The phone itself is about the size of the Plus, but with more room for the display. This phone won’t feel big for existing Plus users, but think twice if you have small hands or small pockets.

COMING SOON

Consider waiting a month for the iPhone XR. Its display lacks the vivid colours, contrast quality and resolution of the XS, but the price tag is nicer at $749. As with the XS models, you’ll get an edge-to-edge screen to minimize wasted space. There’s more display than the regular XS, but the phone itself is also larger — just not as large as the Max. The XR won’t have the dual-lens camera, though Apple says it can offer the blurred-background effect with software.

WHILE SUPPLIES LAST

Apple quietly discontinued the iPhone SE , which is essentially a three-year-old iPhone 6S, packed in a body that’s smaller but thicker than the iPhone 7 and 8. Though the trend in phones has been to go bigger, some people preferred the smaller size — and the $350 price tag. Apple no longer sells it, though you can get it from some wireless carriers and other retailers, at least for now.

ALL IN THE MEMORY

If you get an SE, 7 or 7 Plus, consider spending another $100 to quadruple the storage. Those phones come with a paltry 32 gigabytes, just half of what’s standard these days. If you don’t upgrade, you risk filling up your phone quickly with photos, video, songs and podcasts.

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