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Sony hikes net profit forecasts as weak yen boosts gaming

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Sony hikes net profit forecasts as weak yen boosts gaming

Sony upgraded its annual net profit forecasts on Thursday, saying it expects strong results in its key gaming sector as the weak yen inflates profits on products sold abroad.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment giant said net profit in the April-December period jumped five percent year-on-year to 809 billion yen ($6.3 billion).

This was partly thanks to strong sales in the game, music and imaging-and-sensors sectors in the third quarter, an important holiday shopping period, the company said.

In the 2022-23 financial year, Sony Group now expects a net profit of 870 billion yen, up from the previous estimate of 840 billion yen.

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Its operating profit forecast is now 1.18 trillion yen, up from 1.16 trillion, with income in the gaming division “expected to be higher than the November forecast mainly due to the positive impact of foreign exchange rates”, the company said.

The Japanese currency has gained ground against the greenback in recent months but the dollar still buys around 128 yen, compared with around 114 yen a year ago.

Sony sold 12.8 million PlayStation 5 units in the first nine months of the current financial year, with 7.1 million of those shifted in October-December.

This year’s figure is already more than the 11.5 million sold in 2021-22, when supply chain problems slowed production of the next-generation console.

“Based on this performance, the company has set its full-year sales forecast for the current fiscal year at 19 million (PS5) units, and will work to sell as many units as possible to meet strong demand by optimising its operations,” chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki told reporters.

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“I believe user engagement is on the road to recovery thanks to the popularity of the PS5, and hit titles” like “God of War Ragnarok”, he said.

Executive reshuffle

Game sales will have an important bearing on Sony’s annual results, Hideki Yasuda of Toyo Securities told AFP.

“Sony is expected to aim for higher hardware sales in the coming fiscal year. What is key is whether software sales will also increase to keep up with higher hardware sales,” Yasuda said.

The PS5 has some major titles in the pipeline, including the “highly anticipated” game “Final Fantasy XVI”, he noted.

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Sony’s gaming rival Microsoft has sparked an industry battle with its acquisition of “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard — a huge $69 billion purchase that has yet to be finalised while it is examined by antitrust authorities.

A year ago, weeks after Microsoft unveiled its acquisition plan, Sony said it would buy US game studio Bungie, creator of hits like “Halo” and “Destiny”.

Sony also announced a reshuffle at the top of the company on Thursday, with chief financial officer Totoki to also become president and chief operating officer.

Current company president and chief executive officer Kenichiro Yoshida will become board chairman and remain CEO.

The yen’s fall was helped by the contrast between the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes and the Bank of Japan’s longstanding monetary easing programme.

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“Sony has a wide range of businesses, so the impact of foreign exchange changes are unevenly felt in various areas,” Yasuda said.

The company said sales in its pictures division were expected to be lower than previously forecast, partly because of “the impact of foreign exchange rates” which make it more expensive to produce films abroad. 

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UK job vacancies fall 15pc year-on-year in January

UK job vacancies fall 15pc year-on-year in January

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UK job vacancies fall 15pc year-on-year in January

British employers advertised the fewest jobs in nearly three years last month, with numbers down 15 per cent from a year ago, figures from recruitment data company Adzuna showed on Monday, adding to signs that the labour market is cooling.

Last week Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey welcomed what he described as “full employment” – with the official UK jobless rate at 3.8 per cent – despite the economy entering a shallow recession in the second half of last year.

However, the central bank wants to see wage growth slow from rates of more than 6pc in order to put downward pressure on inflation, which remains double its target.

Falling job vacancies offer a potential sign that employers are finding it easier to recruit than in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of vacancies peaked at more than 1.3 million.

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Adzuna said 867,436 jobs were advertised in Britain in January, based on its analysis of more than 1,000 online sources. This was the lowest number since April 2021 and down from more than 1 million a year earlier.

“January 2024 has proven to be one of the most difficult starts to the year for job hunters in recent years with companies continuing to put hiring plans on ice,” Adzuna co-founder Andrew Hunter said.

The number of job seekers per advertised vacancy rose to 1.81 from 1.48 a year earlier.

However, Hunter said, preliminary data for February suggested the number of vacancies was stabilising.

Previous vacancy data from the Office for National Statistics showed an 18pc annual fall in job vacancies for the three months to the end of January.

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Adzuna said the average starting salary – which employers only published for just under half of positions advertised – was 38,168 pounds ($48,450), 3.0pc more than a year earlier. 

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WTO ministers gather in UAE for talks amid geopolitical tensions

WTO ministers gather in UAE for talks amid geopolitical tensions

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WTO ministers gather in UAE for talks amid geopolitical tensions

 The world’s trade ministers gathered in the UAE on Monday for a high-level WTO meeting with no clear prospects for breakthroughs, amid geopolitical tensions and disagreements.

The World Trade Organisation’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13), scheduled to run until Thursday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the first in two years.

The WTO is hoping for progress, particularly on fishing, agriculture and electronic commerce.

But big deals are unlikely as the body’s rules require full consensus among all 164 member states — a tall order in the current climate.

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“I don’t have hopes that a very substantive agreement will be announced,” said Marcelo Olarreaga, Professor of Economics at the University of Geneva.

“My impression is that the negotiators are dealing with tactical positions – how to make it look like it is the other (side) who is blocking negotiations,” he told AFP.

Even WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she expects the meeting to be challenging due to the “economic and political headwinds” – from the war in Ukraine, attacks in the Red Sea, inflation, rising food prices and economic difficulties in Europe and China.

Her team is working around the clock to draft agreements for the talks, she told journalists this month, noting that “negotiating positions are still quite tough”, notably on agriculture.

‘Miracle’

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During the WTO’s last ministerial meeting, held at its Geneva headquarters in June 2022, trade ministers nailed down a historic deal banning fisheries subsidies harmful to marine life and agreed to a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.

They also committed themselves to re-establishing a dispute settlement system which Washington had brought to a grinding halt in 2019 after years of blocking the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court.

“Replicating the success, the miracle, of MC12 in 2022 will be extremely challenging,” European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this month.

“Negotiations on the big-ticket items” – such as fisheries, agriculture and the e-commerce moratorium – will “remain open until the final phase of the conference”, he added.

“Negotiations on dispute settlement reform and potentially some parts of the outcome document will also be challenging.”

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However, the WTO faces pressure to eke out progress on reform in Abu Dhabi ahead of the possible re-election of Donald Trump as US president.

During his four years in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of the trade body and disrupted its ability to settle disputes.

“There will be the US elections in November…so this is the last chance,” a diplomatic source in Geneva told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Postponing anything until after MC13 is not a good strategy.”

Earlier this month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underlined Washington’s “commitment to reforming the WTO and creating a more durable multilateral trading system”.

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But Olarreaga of the University of Geneva said the other members of the WTO “cannot expect huge concessions” from the administration of US President Joe Biden in an election year.

‘Fragmentation’

While there is doubt over progress at the WTO on major issues such as agriculture, there is hope for small advances on other fronts, particularly aid for developing countries.

On Monday, two new countries, the Comoros and East Timor, are expected to be accepted as WTO members.

More than 120 countries and regions, including China and the European Union, but not the United States, issued a ministerial declaration early Monday, marking the finalisation of an agreement aimed at facilitating international investments in development.

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They also issued a submission requesting the official integration of the deal into the WTO, but some diplomats fear opposition from India, which rejects any agreement that does not include all member states.

But amid the difficulty of obtaining full consensus, more and more plurilateral agreements — deals with a narrower number of signatories — are being reached, applying only to the participating countries.

Adding to the challenges for those gathering in the UAE, is the ongoing war in Gaza and related attacks by Yemeni rebels on ships in the Red Sea, a campaign that has disrupted global maritime trade.

“The current situation is characterised by geopolitical tensions,” said a European diplomat who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity.

“High expectations from developing nations following the financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as economic tensions due to inflation… (add to the) risk of fragmentation of the global economy,” the diplomat said. 

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Gas in oil-rich Saudi Arabia: Another 15tr cubic feet of reserves proven at Jafurah field

Gas in oil-rich Saudi Arabia: Another 15tr cubic feet of reserves proven at Jafurah field

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Gas in oil-rich Saudi Arabia: Another 15tr cubic feet of reserves proven at Jafurah field

An additional 15 trillion standard cubic feet of gas have been proven at Saudi state oil company Aramco’s Jafurah gas field, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Sunday.

Reserves at Jafurah have reached 229 trillion cubic feet of gas and 75 billion barrels of condensates, Prince Abdulaziz said in a statement on state news agency SPA.

Saudi Arabia is working on developing its unconventional gas reserves, which require advanced extraction methods such as those used in the shale gas industry.

Jafurah is the kingdom’s largest unconventional non-oil associated gas field and it is potentially the biggest shale gas development outside of the United States.

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In 2020, the Jafurah field was estimated to require investments of $110 billion.

Saudi Aramco expects output to reach 420 million cubic feet per day of ethane by 2030, it said on its website. The Jafurah field would produce some 630,000 barrels per day of gas liquids and condensates by 2030, it said.

The news comes as Qatar announced further raising gas production despite a steep drop in global gas prices, pushing ahead with plans to extract more of the resource amidst fierce competition with rivals such as the United States.

Read more: Qatar gas production increase is coming amid collapsing LNG prices

QatarEnergy chief Saad al-Kaabi shared the details of a new expansion of its liquefied natural gas production that will add a further 16 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) to existing expansion plans, bringing total capacity to 142 mtpa.

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The Qatari announcement comes as US gas prices trade near an all-time low if adjusted to inflation after a decade of meteoric rises in output which made the US one of the top oil and gas exporters.

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