Alibaba buys back $2bn in shares from SoftBank

Chinese online giant Alibaba Group Holdings has agreed to buy US $2bn of Alibaba Group from one of its major investors, Softbank Group. The company has stated that it will fund the transaction with cash.

Alibaba released a statement today that said “Further to the US$2 billion share purchase, members of the Alibaba Partnership, acting collectively, will enter into an agreement with SoftBank Group to acquire an additional US$400m of Alibaba shares at the same price per share as the purchase by Alibaba Group.

“These transactions have been agreed in conjunction with SoftBank Group’s launch of US$5bn in principal amount of mandatory exchangeable trust securities (METS) that are exchangeable into Alibaba shares in three years.”

Softbank initially invested in Alibaba in 2000, and this is the organisation’s first sale of Alibaba shares. On the 31st March this year, Softbank Group held 32% of Alibaba Group’s outstanding shares. If all of the proposed transactions are completed, Softbank;s shareholding in Alibaba Group will be reduced to 28%.

Commenting on agreement, Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, said of the purchase, “Under the leadership of Masayoshi Son, SoftBank has been a highly valued, long-time partner of Alibaba for more than 16 years, and we look forward to continuing our strong partnership together.

“As SoftBank looks to strengthen its own balance sheet, Alibaba determined that it was the best use of our capital to re-invest in our own business through an efficient buyback of a large number of shares in our own company that is accretive to our stockholders.”

Reuters reported today that Softbank is looking to sell at least $7.9bn of shares in Alibaba Group Holding because it needs to cuts its debt amid concerns about losses at its US telecoms unit Sprint Corp.


India Post sees parcel revenues up by 80pc

Perhaps a sign of India joining the world of e-commerce, the country’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad has announced that India Post’s parcel revenues have increased significantly under the current National Democratic Alliance government.

According to Prasad, India Post post offices’ parcel revenues have increased by 80% since May 2014 when the current government came to power. He suggested that much of this was driven by e-commerce.

India is one of the nations in the region where e-commerce has a long way to go to achieve maturity and as such is a major target for companies seeking to break new ground. It has a growing middle class and a population of over 1 billion, as well as being the biggest democracy in the world in terms of population. With its liberal market, e-commerce has great potential in India, and those able to invest in the country stand to benefit from growth that would far outshine more mature markets in Europe and North America.

The Communications Minister has also said that all India Post delivery staff in its urban centres will soon be equipped with smartphones by the end of 2016, and the same technology will soon be rolled out to rural areas. This will speed up the systems in place, and ensure security for those sending parcels to their customers.

Prasad has also announced that his Department of Posts is working on a scheme for India Post to offer a delivery service for “Gangajal” (holy water from the Ganges, sourced at Haridwar). This should boost revenues further since the Ganges river is so important in the Hindu religion.


PostNL and Bpost end merger talks

Last week the story broke that the Belgian mail operator Bpost and PostNL were in talks over a potential merger. Today it was announced that the two companies have not been able to negotiate a deal. PostNL seems to be a very good buy for Bpost if merger talks are restarted.

According to a statement from the two companies today, ”PostNL confirms that it has conducted negotiations with bpost regarding a possible combination of the two companies through a friendly public offer by bpost on all shares of PostNL.”

This continued, “These negotiations have, in the end, not led to agreement on the terms of such a transaction.”

Bpost is now known to have made the approach in secret some weeks ago, in what was described as a ‘friendly offer’ to buy PostNL’s shares. The Belgian postal operator, which is majority owned by the Belgian government, has been diversifying out of the mail delivery market to offset its fall in mail volumes. As a result its turnover has been maintained even has volumes fell by about 6% last year.

PostNL has seen a drop in profits as well as mail volumes. The postal operator created and sold off TNT in 2011, that has been extremely successful and is in the process of being merged with US delivery company FedEx. The same may well happen with its parent company.

Where international mergers have failed more often than their domestic equivalents and are not a popular move these days, the two Benelux countries have a lot more in common than the US and Netherlands. There is something to be said for the two operators merging their sorting centres and parcel operations in the Flanders region in particular, so where the deal is off for now, don’t ignore the goings on there – the deal may indeed take place, albeit not as soon as speculated.


Collect+ revenues up

Collect+, the parcel pick up and drop off service co-owned by Yodel and PayPoint, has reported that revenues are up but it still made a loss in 2015 – 16.

PayPoint’s Chief Executive Dominic Taylor has said in a statement about the group’s preliminary results for the year ending 31 March that PayPoint has been in long running discussions with Yodel about the future structure of Collect+. In order to encourage discussions, PayPoint has  “temporarily agreed to allow Yodel to charge more for its carrier services to Collect+ and this has caused it to make a small loss”.

The parcel pick up and drop off company has reported a revenue for 2016 of £49.6 million, up from nearly £46 million the year before.

PayPoint’s statement also said, “Within the consumer send market, there continues to be substantial price competition and consequently the Collect+ management team has focussed on developing Click & Collect and returns.”

With major players in the pick up and drop off service market such as Doddle, there is intense competition for a service that is well used by e-commerce shoppers. Though the demand is there and profits can be made, it is subject to fierce competitive pressures and these have in turn made it somewhat harder for Collect+ to make money. Given there is consumer demand, adjustments to the way the company operates may well allow it to succeed and grow. That there is strong competition in the sector suggests that this will be subject to commercial pressures. Being jointly owned and not freestanding unlike its major competitors will allow for some losses without risking Collect+ existence.


Canada Post publishes online shopping survey

Research published by Canada Post has concluded that online shoppers ‘love a bargain’ and are therefore willing to “sacrifice fast shipping for free shipping”.

The white paper added that this could mean that online shoppers “will buy from a competitor who offers free shipping or even delay their purchase because they expect a merchant to offer free shipping soon as part of a promotion”.

The Canadian postal operator commissioned the research for the white paper, “Is the price right? Designing an effective shipping pricing strategy “, to get a better handle on what combination of shipping options Canadians prefer. More than 4,000 online shoppers shared their views.

“Canada Post works with retailers of every size to support their growth and success in e-commerce,” said Jennifer Mach, Strategy & E-commerce Market Development, Canada Post. “This research gave us incredible data, which we’ve used to offer small- and medium-sized merchants strategies and tools they can apply as they create, adjust or even experiment with their shipping strategy.”

According to the research, two thirds of online shoppers have abandoned their shopping carts due to shipping costs being too high. 70% of shoppers however would shop more often with a merchant if they were offered free shipping with a minimum purchase.

The research suggested that free shipping has become a “table stake”.

“Conversion rates drop by as much as 50% if free shipping is not offered, and 66% of online shoppers will sacrifice fast shipping for free shipping,” commented Canada Post.

The size of this research is quite small in terms of numbers surveyed, so may not be fully representative of the views of Canadian shoppers. It does however give a pointer to their particular shopping habits. It is important to note that different nations have different online shopping habits, and these should not be interpreted as being the same as the UK and Europe for example.


Uber to test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh

Uber’s Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) is to begin road testing a self-driving car on the streets of Pittsburgh in the next few weeks.

The company posted a statement on its blog on the 19 May that said, “The car, a hybrid Ford Fusion, will be collecting mapping data as well as testing its self-driving capabilities. When it’s in self-driving mode, a trained driver will be in the driver’s seat monitoring operations. The Uber ATC car comes outfitted with a variety of sensors including radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of the environment.”

The statement then explained why Uber is conducting the tests, “Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology. Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world. 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error.

“In the future we believe this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents.

“These goals are at the heart of Uber’s mission to make transportation as reliable as running water — everywhere and for everyone.”

The Uber statement added, “While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements. Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road — pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. We’ve informed local officials and law enforcement about our testing in Pittsburgh, and our work would not be possible without the support we’ve received from the region’s leaders.”

As previously reported by Apex Insight, Uber has joined up with fellow ride hailing app Lyft, Google and car manufacturers Ford and Volvo at the end of April to form the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.


CEVA streamlines customs clearance procedures in Brazil

CEVA Logistics has streamlined its clearance procedures in Brazil to improve its customer experience across the complex and ever changing area of customs processes in the country.

A number of these procedures are unique to importing and exporting goods to and from Brazil and it is vital that customers have the latest information at their fingertips to ensure their shipments are handled in the most efficient way.

“Our aim is to improve our own process so that we can further enhance our productivity and therefore make our customers’ supply chains more competitive. We have specific Customs expertise in São Paulo and Campinas which allows us to focus on the technical and operational phases of the Customs clearance process,” says Rubio Guimarães, CEVA’s Customs Clearance Director in Brazil.

Brazilian customs processes can lead to delays for those companies that are not working with a partner that is fully conversant with all aspects of the operations in question. One of the main reasons for goods getting stuck at Brazilian customs is the lack of proper documentation that needs to be presented when goods need to be cleared. Those goods that do become stuck then have a maximum deadline to be cleared or the goods can be seized by the Federal Revenue and then auctioned or destroyed.

The new model being delivered by CEVA keeps the customer service, technical support and implementation of innovative procedures for Customs processes wholly within the branch offices. Internal operational activities are centralized to increase efficiency and scale gains, giving CEVA greater time to focus on the individual needs of our customers.

At Viracopos Airport (São Paulo) CEVA has already received a positive ranking from the airport authority for its Customs performance. During 2015 CEVA increased the efficiency of its Customs procedures at the airport by approximately 67%.

Every month, the company carries out about 800 customs clearance processes at Viracopos Airport and more than 3,000 throughout Brazil.


Royal Mail end of year profits stable

Royal Mail has announced that its revenues for the year end 27 March were up 1% with a 1% drop in its underlying UK costs.

According to the Chief Executive Moya Greene, the company had “delivered a resilient performance in challenging markets”.

Greene added, “Our UK parcel revenue and volumes grew by 1% and 3%, respectively. Our addressed letter volumes declined by 3%; total letter revenue by 2%. GLS, our European parcel business, continued to perform strongly, supporting the overall Group revenue performance.

“We are introducing new and improved products and services and responding quickly to changing customer needs. These measures, alongside our emphasis on customer focus and delivering a value for money service, have helped us to maintain our pre­eminent position in UK letters and parcels and driven growth in GLS.”

Before transformation costs, the adjusted operating profit was £742 million, up 5% on the previous year. Adjusted operating profit margin after transformation costs declined 10 basis points that Royal Mail said was a ”result of increased transformation costs due to our cost avoidance and efficiency programme”.

David Cheetham, Market Analyst at, said: “Royal Mail have posted a resilient set of results for the 12 months ended March 27th 2016 that have come in slightly above analysts’ estimates.

“Whilst the earnings per share showed a slight decline to 41.3p from 42.8p previously, this is still above a consensus call of 38.7p. In addition to this beat on expected earnings, the announcement of an increase in dividends to 22.1p will please shareholders after a challenging year performance wise as the 500-year old institution has had to adapt to rivals pushing investment in technology as well as companies like Amazon expanding their UK operations.

“A rise in UK parcel revenue and volume has offset the drop in numbers for addressed letters and with planned transformation costs of £160 million for 2016-17 as well as the share price closing yesterday near the upper-end of its recent range the company seems well placed to deliver an impressive performance going forward.”


Nissan to roll out autonomous cars in EU

Japanese car maker Nissan has put out a statement saying that it welcomes proposals for new legislation in the Queen’s Speech on self driving cars. This could pave the way for autonomous delivery vehicles one day but car companies are already developing semi autonomous domestic cars.

According to the company, the proposals will have “a significant role in the adoption and integration of the breakthrough technology that can help reduce traffic congestion and vehicle incidents on UK roads, as well as creating new jobs in the UK’s high-tech economy”.

The car manufacturer has already confirmed that a new version of the Nissan Qashqai will be the first Nissan car in Europe as well as the first UK manufactured car equipped with autonomous technology in 2017 with the ProPilot system.

From 2018, ‘multiple-lane control’ in Nissan cars will allow them to autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes while driving. 2020 will see the launch of ‘intersection autonomy,’ which will allow cars to navigate busy city junctions and heavy urban traffic without driver intervention.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has already announced it will launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous drive technology by 2020 in the United States, Europe, Japan and China. The technology will be installed on mainstream, mass-market cars at affordable prices, with a focus on accessibility to all customers.

This week Nissan also marked the opening of a Joint Research Centre for Intelligent Mobility at Tsinghua University (Department of Automotive Engineering) in Beijing, China. The collaboration will work on the research and development of electric vehicle and autonomous drive technologies for the Chinese market.

Paul Willcox, Chairman of Nissan Europe, said: “Any new legislation, such as we’ve seen announced, that supports the adoption and integration of autonomous vehicle technologies, is a positive for the UK.”

“Autonomously-equipped vehicles will improve the safety and well-being of drivers, with fewer collisions and reduced traffic congestion. The UK economy can also benefit, by playing a pivotal role in a global industry estimated to be worth £900billion by 2025.”


UPS launching on-demand 3D printing network

International delivery company UPS is to launch an on demand additive manufacturing network that will make 3D printing accessible to more potential users. The company has released a statement that says that the solution links UPS’s global logistics network with both the 3D printers installed in over 60 UPS stores as well as the Fast Radius’ high capacity 3D printing facility in Louisville, KY, USA.

According to the statement, “The integration into one additive manufacturing and logistics solution this summer will make 3D printing accessible to more potential users, enabling them to realize the convenience and cost-savings this technology offers.”

Fast Radius, in which UPS is a minority stakeholder, changed its name from CloudDDM this week. Its Louisville factory has the equivalent of 100 3D printers on site.

UPS explained in the statement how customers will be able to use the 3D printing network: “Customers will visit the Fast Radius website (formerly CloudDDM) to place their 3D printing orders, which will be directed to the optimal manufacturing or The UPS Store location based on speed, geography, and the product quality the customer requires. Orders can be shipped as early as same day. While participating The UPS Store locations are all in the U.S., companies globally could utilize the network and place orders.”

Additionally, the delivery company announced that SAP’s extended supply chain software is being integrated with its 3D printing solution and logistics network. According to UPS this will mean that “SAP customers will be able to digitize and simplify the production part approval process through SAP and their orders can be seamlessly routed to UPS for production and delivery”.

Stan Deans, president, UPS Global Distribution & Logistics, said of the new venture, “UPS is a leader in bringing industrial-strength 3D printing to reality. By building this disruptive technology into our supply chain models, we also bring new value to our manufacturing customers of all sizes.

“Additive manufacturing technology is still developing rapidly so ‘manufacturing as a service’ is a smart approach for many companies.”

Daniel Remba, Small Business Technology Leader for The UPS Store added, “Connecting all The UPS Store locations into a larger network provides more opportunity for new customers to access our printers and gives customers added flexibility to match their requirements with the appropriate UPS location.”

Click here for more information on The UPS Store 3D printing capabilities. For more information about 3D printing at UPS, please visit .