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North American companies notch another record year for robot orders

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North American companies notch another record year for robot orders

North American companies struggling to hire workers in the tightest labor market in decades brought on more robots last year than ever before, with many earmarked for new electric vehicle and battery factories under construction.

Demand for robots appears to have slackened near the end of the year, though, raising questions about how strong 2023 will be in the face of shifting household consumption patterns and the rising interest rates engineered by central bankers to bring high inflation under control.

Companies, overwhelmingly located in the United States but including some in Canada and Mexico, ordered just over 44,100 robots in 2022, an 11% increase over the previous year and a new record, according to data compiled by the Association for Advancing Automation, an industry group also known as A3. The value of those machines totaled $2.38 billion, an 18% increase over the prior year, according to the data.

The “labor shortage doesn’t seem to be letting up,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. Many companies, scrambling to find workers amid the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1969, see automation as a quick fix.

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Burnstein said there was a visible slowdown in orders at the end of the year, which raises a question about how 2023 will evolve. “The fourth quarter was really propped up by the strength in the auto industry,” he said. “We saw a falling-off in non-automotive” orders.

A shift away from pandemic-era consumer behavior likely played a role in the orders drop-off in some segments, he added. “You saw companies like Amazon put a pause on building new warehouses, which means they probably canceled or delayed purchases of new automation.”

Supply chain problems may also have distorted last year’s results. Burnstein said robot makers saw some customers place extra orders during the COVID-19 health crisis – just to ensure they would get part of what they needed.

AUTO SECTOR DRIVES DEMAND

More than half of last year’s orders came from automakers and their suppliers – a group that has long led the way in automation of U.S. factories.

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New plants for electric vehicles, batteries and battery recycling have been announced since the beginning of 2021 at a cost of $160 billion, according to Atlas Public Policy, a U.S.-based research group working with automakers and environmental groups.

Most robots ordered last year will be used for material handling – an expansive category that includes all types of movement and handling of goods inside factories and warehouses.

Closure Systems International Inc’s sprawling plant in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for instance, recently automated the job of packing and sealing boxes at the end of the assembly line. The company produces closures used for things like soda bottles and food packages.

Next up are “auditor” jobs. Machines in the Crawfordsville plant spit out new caps faster than a machine gun, so workers called auditors currently sit in small booths along the line, constantly checking that specifications are met.

Brad Bennett, the company’s senior vice president of global operations, said small robots will soon be installed in the booths to do the inspection work. “We won’t have to reduce people,” he said. Those workers will move to other tasks.

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The new machines will help avoid what happened during the pandemic, he said. “During COVID, we were literally running with 30% of the plant down because we couldn’t get a $15-an-hour guy to show up.”

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ByteDance confirms layoff plan at its Indonesian unit

ByteDance confirms layoff plan at its Indonesian unit

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ByteDance confirms layoff plan at its Indonesian unit

China’s ByteDance will lay off staff at its Indonesian unit following a deal where it bought a local e-commerce firm and combined it with its TikTok operation, a spokesperson said on Friday.

ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, did not say how many employees would be affected. Bloomberg had earlier reported there would be 450 jobs cut.

In January ByteDance completed a deal to buy a majority stake in Tokopedia, an Indonesian e-commerce firm, from the GoTo group.

ByteDance spokesperson Nuraini Razak told Reuters in a statement the company would “make necessary adjustments” as a result of the combination of TikTok and Tokopedia.

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“We identified areas to strengthen our organisation and better align our teams with company goals,” she said, adding the company would “aim to support employees throughout this transition”.

ByteDance had its own e-commerce operation in Indonesia via its TikTok app, but that was banned under an Indonesian rule that social media applications could not operate as an e-commerce platform.

Tokopedia is one of the leading e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

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Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

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Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

Indonesia is prepared to shut down social media platform X if it does not comply with a regulation barring adult content, the country’s communications minister said on Friday. Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, has strict rules that ban the sharing online of content deemed obscene.

Minister Budi Arie Setiadi told Reuters he had sent a warning letter to X related to this matter.

“We will certainly shut its services down,” he said, pointing to Indonesia’s electronic information and transaction (ITE) law that can carry a six-year jail sentence if someone spreads pornographic content.

His comments in an interview come after the social media platform recently updated its policies to permit consensually produced adult content.

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X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has not responded to Indonesia’s warning letter, Budi said, adding the government would send more letters before deciding on a potential closure.

X, formerly known as Twitter, did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.

Indonesians are big users of social media and X has 24.85 million users in the country, according to data gathering business Statista.

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Japan watchdog recommends action on MUFG units over sharing of client data

Japan watchdog recommends action on MUFG units over sharing of client data

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Japan's securities watchdog recommended on Friday that the banking and securities units of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group opens new tab (MUFG) be penalised for what it said was unauthorised sharing of client information. The Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC) made the recommendation to the banking regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), which hands out such punishments in Japan. The recommendation, which was widely expected, followed the SESC's investigation into MUFG's banking arm, MUFG Bank, and its two brokerage ventures with Morgan Stanley (MS.N), opens new tab. The investigation found that confidential client information had been shared between MUFG Bank and one of the two securities firms on at least 26 occasions between 2020 and 2023. MUFG Bank also illegally offered preferential lending rates to clients that did business with the group's two securities brokerages, the SESC said. Japan's "firewall" regulations prohibit banks and securities companies in the same group from sharing customer data with one another without the customer's consent. The investigation found no evidence of insider trading, but monitoring and internal controls were lacking, the SESC said. MUFG group companies will make every effort to strengthen control systems in light of the recommendation and will take measures to prevent recurrence, the parent company said in a statement. The two brokerages were established in 2010, two years after MUFG invested in Morgan Stanley at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. MUFG owned around 23% of Morgan Stanley as of March 2024.

Japan’s securities watchdog recommended on Friday that the banking and securities units of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group  opens new tab (MUFG) be penalised for what it said was unauthorised sharing of client information.

The Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC) made the recommendation to the banking regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), which hands out such punishments in Japan.

The recommendation, which was widely expected, followed the SESC’s investigation into MUFG’s banking arm, MUFG Bank, and its two brokerage ventures with Morgan Stanley (MS.N), opens new tab.

The investigation found that confidential client information had been shared between MUFG Bank and one of the two securities firms on at least 26 occasions between 2020 and 2023.

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MUFG Bank also illegally offered preferential lending rates to clients that did business with the group’s two securities brokerages, the SESC said.

Japan’s “firewall” regulations prohibit banks and securities companies in the same group from sharing customer data with one another without the customer’s consent.

The investigation found no evidence of insider trading, but monitoring and internal controls were lacking, the SESC said.

MUFG group companies will make every effort to strengthen control systems in light of the recommendation and will take measures to prevent recurrence, the parent company said in a statement.

The two brokerages were established in 2010, two years after MUFG invested in Morgan Stanley at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. MUFG owned around 23% of Morgan Stanley as of March 2024.

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