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Fighting at iPhone Factory

FILE: Representative illustration of iPhone mobiles. Taken March 4, 2022

Violent protests have broken out around Foxconn's vast iPhone factory in central China, as workers clashed with security personnel over pay and living conditions at the plant.

Hundreds of workers can be seen marching on a road and confronted by riot police as well as people wearing hazmat suits In videos shared with AFP or circulated on social media.

Footage shared with AFP and captured by a factory worker showed one person lying inert on the ground next to a man in a blood-spattered jacket having his head bound in an apparent effort to staunch a wound.

Another clip shows dozens of hazmat-clad personnel wielding batons and chasing employees, one of whom is knocked to the ground before appearing to be kicked in the head.

Tech giant Foxconn on Wednesday confirmed the unrest.

The worker who shared the videos estimated that around 20 people were injured in the clashes, some of whom were taken to hospital. He requested anonymity to protect his safety.

The confrontations broke out after employees who signed an agreement with the factory to work at least 30 days in return for a one-time payment of 3,000 yuan ($420) suddenly saw the figure slashed to just 30 yuan, he told AFP.

Foxconn said workers had complained about pay and conditions at the plant but denied it had housed new recruits with Covid-positive staff at the Zhengzhou factory, the world's largest producer of iPhones.

Footage emerged this month of panicking workers fleeing the site on foot in the wake of allegations of poor conditions at the facility.

Multiple employees later recounted to AFP scenes of chaos and disorganization at the complex of workshops and dormitories.

"Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again," the firm said in a statement.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Foxconn, also known by its official name Hon Hai Precision Industry, is the world's biggest contract electronics manufacturer, assembling gadgets for many international brands.

Foxconn is China's biggest private sector employer, with more than a million people working across the country in about 30 factories and research institutes.

China is the last major economy wedded to a strategy of extinguishing Covid outbreaks as they emerge, imposing lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines despite the widespread disruption to businesses and international supply chains.

The policy has sparked sporadic protests throughout China, with residents taking to the streets in several major Chinese cities to vent their anger.


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ANC Calls Power Cuts "Disaster"

FILE: Maria Modiba cooks by a candlelight during one of the frequent power outages from South African utility Eskom, caused by its aging coal-fired plants, in Soweto, South Africa November 11, 2022

South Africa's governing ANC party has asked top officials to declare a national state of disaster to end severe electricity blackouts that have wreaked havoc on Africa's most industrialised nation, its secretary general said Tuesday.

Declaring a national disaster would unlock additional funds and resources to "better manage the crisis," Fikile Mbalula told a news conference after the party's new executive committee met over the weekend.

The years-long crisis of intermittent power cuts has worsened in recent months, with the electricity network operated by the debt-laden state energy firm Eskom failing to keep pace with demand as it struggles to maintain its ageing coal-powered infrastructure.

"We shouldn't be arrogant and deny the fact that we have... a crisis," Mbalula told a news conference.

"We are responding to this crisis, and the president and the team in government have been given a clear instruction by the ANC," he said.

He said the move would speed up the response of President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration, with a target of ending the blackouts by year-end.

The scheduled blackouts, which can last from two hours to over 12 hours a day, have sparked widespread anger and taken a heavy toll on industrial production and businesses.

Opposition parties have vowed to stage more protests against the government's response to the blackouts, after the most recent mass demonstrations last week drew several thousands of people into the streets.

South Africa's economic growth is expected to slow to just 0.3 percent this year because of the power shortages, after growth of 2.5 percent last year.

Nigeria Bonds Dive After Ratings Downgrade

FILE - A general view of a Central bank of Nigeria headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. Taken Nov. 11, 2011.

Nigeria's government bonds fell heavily on Monday after ratings agency Moody's downgraded the West African oil producer late on Friday to Caa1 from B3, saying the government's fiscal and debt position was expected to keep deteriorating.

Longer-dated bonds were down the most, with the dollar-denominated 2051 Eurobond falling more than 2.8 cents in the dollar to 68.758 cents according to Tradeweb data . Only the Eurobond maturing this year fell less than 1 cent.

"The review for downgrade focused on Nigeria's fiscal and external position and the capacity of the government to address the ongoing deterioration – other than by alleviating the burden of its debt through any form of default, including debt exchanges or buy-backs," Moody's said.

"Immediate default risk is low, assuming no sudden, unexpected events such as another shock or shift in policy direction," Moody's added.

As the bond prices tumbled, the premium or 'spread' investors demanded to hold Nigerian debt rather than ultra-safe U.S. Treasuries jumped 46 basis points to 777 basis points. Nigeria's bonds had outperformed other African and emerging market issuers over the last six months, according to JPMorgan.

"That is a significant move because there will be a lot of forced selling," Viktor Szabo, emerging market portfolio manager at Abrdn, told Reuters. "Pension funds don't like have names that are defaulting or even close to defaulting."

Moody's said it expects just the interest payments on Nigeria's debt to take up about half of the government's revenue in the medium term, up from 35% in 2022. It also sees the debt-to-GDP ratio rising to 45%, up from 34% last year and 19% in 2019.

The International Monetary Fund estimates the country spent 80% of revenues on servicing debt last year, a ratio that it reckons could rise to 100%.

Despite the numbers, Nigeria's finance minister Zainab Ahmed said the country's debt trajectory was sustainable in an interview with Bloomberg TV earlier in January and that the plan was to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to 60% in 2023.

Climate Abatement Shouldn't Stunt Economic Growth - COP28 Chief

FILE: A view shows a local oil refinery in Omsk, Russia. Many economies are dependent upon oil production and sales, and a "green economy" diminishes that revenue stream. Taken June 6, 2022

The fight against global warming should not be at the expense of economic growth, Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE oil chief who will lead this year's COP28 UN climate talks, said on Monday.

Sultan Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates' special envoy for climate change and CEO of oil giant ADNOC, said the energy transition needed to make the planet "wealthier and healthier".

"We need to hold back the global rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees (Celsius), without slowing economic growth," he told a graduation ceremony at the Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence.

"We need to drive an inclusive energy transition that leaves no one behind, especially in the Global South. We need to make our planet wealthier and healthier at the same time."

Al Jaber's appointment as president of COP28 in November and December has been criticized by activists who said it threatens the "legitimacy" of the global forum against climate change.

The minister of industry and advanced technology is a veteran of COP meetings and heads a leading renewable energy company. His appointment was welcomed by US climate envoy John Kerry.

The last UN climate talks, held in Egypt in November, ended with a landmark deal to create a "loss and damage" fund to cover the costs that developing countries face from climate-linked natural disasters and slower impacts like sea level rise.

But observers were left disappointed that little progress had been made on reducing planet-heating emissions from fossil fuels.

The UAE, one of the world's biggest oil producers, argues that crude remains indispensable to the global economy and is needed to finance the energy transition.

The Gulf monarchy is pushing the merits of carbon capture -- removing carbon dioxide as fuel is burned, or from the air.

It is also spending billions to develop enough renewable energy to cover half of its needs by 2050, and is targeting net-zero domestic carbon emissions by that year -- which does not include pollution from the oil it exports.

Earlier this month, the United Nations climate chief Simon Stiell told AFP that COP28 comes at a "pivotal moment" but that Al Jaber had expressed "an openness to make this a transformative COP".

The UAE'S hosting of COP is also an opportunity to ask "hard questions" about climate change and the hydrocarbons industry, he added.

S. Africa Power Cuts Hit the Dead

FILE: Friends and family members prepares to pray as they stand next to coffin carrying the body of Ahmed Kathrada, during the funeral service at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg, South Africa. Taken Wed. March 29, 2017

The power crisis that has struck South Africa can leave citizens and businesses deprived of electricity for hours at a time -- but few victims are more vulnerable than undertakers.

Mortuary directors are urging the bereaved to carry out fast-track funerals to avoid decay and ease pressure on morgue refrigerators.

"The industry is seeing a large number of putrefied bodies," the South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA) declared bluntly this past week.

Burial within four days "is cost-effective and prevents families from seeing their departed ones in a poor state of decomposition," it said.

That could require uncomfortable change in a country where most funerals take place one or two weeks after the death -- and mourners file past an open coffin, with the deceased on view, on the day of the funeral.

Undertakers ease dependence on the state power monopoly Eskom by using diesel generators to keep their morgues cold. But they are being hit with soaring energy bills.

"Smaller parlors are battling to make ends meet because now the majority of their funds are going towards dealing with" the outages, said Dududu Magano, spokesman for the National Funeral Directors' Association.

Scheduled blackouts, known as load shedding, have burdened South Africa for over a decade, as Eskom's creaking coal-fired plants struggle to meet demand.

But the outages have reached new extremes over the past year, with power sometimes switched off up to four times a day, for periods of up to four and a half hours.

Grace Matila, a Johannesburg undertaker of 10 years, blamed the outages for recently causing her refrigerator's compressor to fail.

"The constant on-and-off caused it to stop working, but luckily I had a back-up compressor. Can you imagine what would have happened if I didn't?" she told AFP, saying she would have to pass on the higher electricity costs to clients.

- 'Ripple effect' -

Industry regulations require funeral parlors and mortuaries to have back-up generators, but not all comply.

"Generators don't come cheap," said Mike Nqakula, who owns a funeral home in the small town of Uitenhage, around 1,000 kilometers south of Johannesburg, adding that many others in his town operate without them.

"I know a guy whose parlor had to shut down because the municipality discovered a decomposed body," the 61-year-old told AFP.

And undertakers' woes don't end with trying to preserve bodies.

The blackouts are also hindering attempts to obtain the administrative documents needed to carry out burials or cremations, since Home Affairs Ministry offices go offline when the power is shut off, said Magano.

The blackouts have caused a "ripple effect" across the sector, he added.

Telephone calls are hit-or-miss when phone batteries are dead and cannot be charged, or network signals are weak because cellphone towers are down.

As a result, people sometimes struggle to contact paramedics so that they can certify a person is dead, or to request body removal when a death occurs at home.










Musk Plans Tesla Belt-Tightening

FILE: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk walks next to a screen showing an image of Tesla Model 3 car during an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai. Taken Jan. 7, 2020

Elon Musk has a playbook for Tesla headed into what he believes will be a "serious" recession: cut costs on everything from parts to logistics, while keeping the pressure on competitors with discounted sticker prices.

In a conference call to discuss Tesla's fourth-quarter results, Musk and other executives outlined plans to reshape the electric vehicle (EV) maker's cost base, a move some analysts see as the first shot in a price war.

Tesla slashed prices by as much as 20% earlier this month, a move that broadened the range of its line-up that qualifies for tax credits of $7,500 per vehicle in the United States.

Tesla made an average profit of almost $9,100 per vehicle sold in the fourth quarter, down 6% from a quarter earlier but still far more than established competitors. Tesla's third-quarter profit per car sold was more than seven times higher than Toyota Motor Corp. for example.

The company's average cost per vehicle, including all categories of its spending, was almost $44,000 in the fourth quarter.

"Price really matters. I think there's just a vast number of people that want to buy a Tesla but can't afford it," Musk said.

But analysts have focused on how well Tesla can sustain a core measure of profitability, the gross margin on auto sales, excluding credits.

Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said Tesla expected to see that metric above 20% for 2023 with the average price of its vehicles above $47,000 even after discounts. By comparison, the average price of a new vehicle was just over $49,500 in the U.S. market in December, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Part of the plan is expanding production at Tesla's newest plants in Berlin and Austin, Texas and increasing the company’s in-house production of batteries, since scale yields savings, executives said.

But Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said the company would also be "attacking every other area of cost and unwinding cost increases created for multiple years of COVID-related instability."

That would mean running Tesla factories leaner with fewer materials in inventory, cutting shipping and logistics costs and negotiating lower prices for components, he said - putting Tesla's suppliers on notice.

Tesla is also cutting costs by redesigning elements of battery and electric motor systems, removing features that owners are not using, based on data collected from Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs on the road, the company said.

Bill Russo, founder of China-based consultancy Automobility, said Tesla had already made gains on cost competitiveness by driving simplified hardware designs for its electric vehicles, taking a page from consumer electronics manufacturers.

"You can offset some of the margin hit from pricing with massive scale and simpler electronic architecture," Russo said. "This is how they are trying to win the game."

Tesla made an average profit of almost $9,100 per vehicle sold in the fourth quarter, down 6% from a quarter earlier but still far more than established competitors. Tesla's third-quarter profit per car sold was more than seven times higher than Toyota Motor Corp. for example.

The company's average cost per vehicle, including all categories of its spending, was almost $44,000 in the fourth quarter.

"Price really matters. I think there's just a vast number of people that want to buy a Tesla but can't afford it," Musk said.

But analysts have focused on how well Tesla can sustain a core measure of profitability, the gross margin on auto sales, excluding credits.

Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said Tesla expected to see that metric above 20% for 2023 with the average price of its vehicles above $47,000 even after discounts. By comparison, the average price of a new vehicle was just over $49,500 in the U.S. market in December, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Meanwhile the cost of lithium in EV batteries – the single most expensive component – will be higher in 2023 than last year, Kirkhorn said, a pressure that will hit Tesla's rivals that are still losing money on EVs harder.

"My guess is if the recession is a serious one, and I think it probably will be but I hope it isn't, that would lead to meaningful decrease in almost all of our input costs," Musk said. "So we expect to see deflation in our input costs, which would likely then lead to, yes, better margin."

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