Company news in brief

20 March 2019 | Business

Steinhoff ex-chairman open to talks

Former Steinhoff chairman and top shareholder Christo Wiese is open to negotiations over his US$4 billion claim against the company, he said on Monday, days after Steinhoff released a report that showed the scale of a devastating accounting fraud.

The South African retailer said on Friday that an independent report had found it had overstated profits over several years in a US$7.4 billion accounting fraud involving a small group of top executives and outsiders.

As the largest shareholder in Steinhoff, with a stake of about 20%, Wiese was particularly hard hit by the more than 90% crash in the company's stock price. He acquired the stake in 2014 when he sold his company Pepkor to Steinhoff in exchange for shares.

"I would expect Steinhoff to give me back my money, and I will give them back their worthless shares," Wiese told Reuters. "But everybody knows the company does not have that kind of money, so our approach has been that the only way forward is for all the stakeholders to sit around the table and reconstruct the company," Wiese added. – Nampa/Reuters

Firestone Liberia to lay off staff

Firestone Natural Rubber Co which operates the world's largest single natural rubber plantation in Liberia, said on Monday it will be laying off 13% of its workforce or around 800 Liberian employees.

The announcement is the latest blow to one of the West African country's largest employers, which began reducing production at its rubber wood factory last September in response to falling rubber prices.

These cuts will happen over the second quarter of this year, it said.

In a statement, Firestone said the lay-offs are "necessary due to continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company's concession agreement with the government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country's prolonged civil wars and continued low global natural rubber prices."

Global rubber prices have fallen by more than 40% since January 2017 and are now only slightly above historic lows. Firestone most recently laid off over 400 workers in 2016, again crediting the decision to falling rubber prices. – Nampa/Reuters

Marriott to open 1 700 hotels

Hotel chain Marriott International Inc on Monday mapped out a three-year plan to open more than 1 700 hotels around the world, return up to US$11 billion to shareholders and make a full-year profit of as much as US$8.50 per share by 2021.

Marriott, which owns the Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis luxury hotel brands, said it would add between 275 000 and 295 000 rooms over three years, potentially adding US$400 million in fee revenue in 2021 and US$700 million annually when stabilised.

During the three-year period, the company plans to pay US$1.9 billion to US$2 billion in dividends and buy back US$7.6 billion to US$9 billion in shares, Marriott said.

Last month, Marriott missed Wall Street estimates for fourth-quarter revenue and forecast a lower-than-expected full-year profit, blaming weak demand in North America, its largest market.

The company was hit by a massive data breach involving up to 383 million guests in its Starwood hotels reservation system and chief executive officer Arne Sorenson earlier this month apologised before a US Senate panel and vowed to protect against future attacks. – Nampa/Reuters

Netflix says it will not join Apple TV service

Netflix Inc, the world's dominant streaming service, will not make its TV shows and movies available through Apple Inc's upcoming video offering, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said on Monday.

"We prefer to let our customers watch our content on our service," Hastings told reporters at the company's offices in Hollywood. "We have chosen not to integrate with their service."

Apple is expected to unveil a television and video service at an event on March 25, a move that will amp up competition for Netflix and others that deliver entertainment programming online.

Asked about the looming competition, Hastings said the biggest challenge for Netflix is to "not get too distracted" by rivals but still "learn lessons" from them.

Hastings also said he expected Netflix, like other US technology companies, to be blocked in China "for a long time". – Nampa/Reuters

Aluminium producer Hydro hit by cyber attack

Norsk Hydro, one of the world's largest producers of aluminium, was sustaining a cyber attack yesterday that affected its operations, sending its shares lower.

"IT-systems in most business areas are impacted and Hydro is switching to manual operations as far as possible. Hydro is working to contain and neutralise the attack, but does not yet know the full extent of the situation," it said in a statement.

Norsk Hydro's website was unavailable yesterday. The company was not immediately available for further comment.

Hydro's shares were down 2.9% at 0806 GMT, lagging an Oslo benchmark index up 0.13%. – Nampa/Reuters

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