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Australian KFC patrons clucking mad over lettuce-cabbage switch

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Australians are up in arms about local KFC outlets' decision to use a cabbage mix on some menu items due to a lettuce shortage
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Fried chicken chain KFC said Tuesday that high lettuce prices in Australia have forced it to switch to a cabbage mix in burgers and other products, prompting customers to complain the result is less than “finger lickin’ good”.

The local price of the verdant leaf has soared by as much as 300 percent in recent months, forcing the fast-food chain to tweak the Colonel’s recipe in some stores.

“We’re currently experiencing a lettuce shortage. So, we’re using a lettuce and cabbage blend on all products containing lettuce until further notice,” the company told customers.

The company blamed widespread flooding in the country’s east for the problem.

But supply chain expert Flavio Macau of Edith Cowan University said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was also a factor, pushing up diesel and fertiliser prices.

A single head of iceberg lettuce in Sydney or Melbourne that once sold for about $2 now goes for close to $8.

The company told customers: “If that’s not your bag, simply click ‘customise’ on your chosen product and remove lettuce from the recipe :)”

The change was certainly not the “bag” of some social media users.

“The fact that you are replacing lettuce with cabbage makes me rethink my whole meal at KFC. There’s 4 or 5 other things I would eat before cabbage Its such a weird choice,” said one disgruntled tweeter.

“Feels like a sign of the apocalypse,” said another.

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Asian markets mixed as rate hike woes offset China tech hopes

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Traders were cheered by reports that China was close to ending a crackdown on ride-hailing app Didi, lifting hopes of a similar move for the rest of the tech sector
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Asian markets struggled Tuesday on long-running worries over surging inflation and rising interest rates, which overshadowed hopes that China would ease off its regulatory drive against the country’s beleaguered tech giants.

A spike in US Treasury yields took the wind out of the sales for Wall Street, with focus now on the release of inflation data from the United States and China at the end of the week.

Analysts are tipping the Federal Reserve to lift borrowing costs by half a point at its next three meetings as officials try to get a grip on runaway prices.

But that is causing discomfort on trading floors as investors fret over the impact on economic growth and firms’ bottom lines.

“Inflation concerns are not going anywhere fast,” Fiona Cincotta, at City Index, said. “Rising crude oil prices and a strong labour report have lifted bets that the Fed may need to act aggressively to rein in inflation.”

And SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes added: “Investors are hyper-focused on inflation, economic growth, and future Fed policy.

“Most assume the worst and think a financial tsunami will hit the US and global markets thanks to the quorum of US-based bank CEOs that have given the gloomy growth narrative their imprimatur. Anything less than that outcome is going to surprise a lot of folks.”

Equity markets were mixed in early trade.

Tokyo rose, helped by a softening of the yen to a two-year low owing to expectations the Bank of Japan will not tighten monetary policy just as US rates climb.

Manila and Jakarta also edged up but there were losses in Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Wellington and Taipei.

Hong Kong dipped and Shanghai was flat, even as heavyweights Alibaba and JD.com led gains among tech firms following a report that China was close to ending a painful crackdown on ride-hailing app Didi Global and restore its main apps this week. Didi’s US-listed notes soared more than 20 percent.

The Wall Street Journal added that probes into two other firms — Full Truck Alliance and recruitment platform Kanzhun — fanning optimism for the sector’s outlook after a long period of hefty selling pressure.

“This was seen as a signal that the regulatory crackdown on Chinese tech firms was starting to end… as China focuses on stabilising the economy following Covid restrictions,” said National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland.

Markets have seen some levelling out in recent weeks as the easing of lockdown measures in China helps to offset some of the worries about higher rates and the impact of the Ukraine war.

But market-watcher Louis Navellier warned there was still plenty more volatility to come.

“If history repeats, we could be down tomorrow, then up on Wednesday, then down on Thursday, and possibly up on Friday,” he said in a commentary. “So just get used to these up-down, up-down oscillations because they are going to continue.

“I want to remind investors to not get too excited when the market rallies because it is going to continue to oscillate. There is just too much uncertainty out there.”

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.4 percent at 28,031.15 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.2 percent at 21,609.25

Shanghai – Composite: FLAT at 3,237.14

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.6 percent at $120.28 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.7 percent at $119.29 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0675 from $1.0699 

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2500 from $1.2528

Euro/pound: UP at 85.42 pence from 85.37 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 132.60 yen from 131.88 yen

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent to 32,915.78 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.0 percent at 7,608.22 (close)

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Apple unveils message recall, other ‘wish list’ features

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Apple CEO Tim Cook poses for a portrait at the Apple Park campus in California
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Apple opened Monday its first in-person developers conference since the onset of the pandemic with chips, maps and a way to delete precipitously sent messages, but was mum on any virtual reality offerings.

The tech giant touted new features and capabilities being built into the operating systems running iPhone, Apple Watch and more, along with a speedy new MacBook Air computer driven by a second generation of its custom chip.

Apple chief Tim Cook and his team showed off coming innovations during a keynote presentation at its first developers conference to be held at its campus in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino — and the first in-person version of the gathering since Covid-19 struck.

“It’s so good to see you all,” Cook said from a stage set up on a lawn next to Apple’s ring-shaped headquarters, as an audience of several thousand developers cheered in the morning sunshine.

No updates, however, were forthcoming on a rumored virtual reality operating system or hardware.

Still, developers will get to meet with Apple engineers during the weeklong conference, and even work in a new building with soundproof rooms to let them discuss ideas without being overheard.

Aside from new MacBook models, the event was a deep dive into coming new generations of operating systems for Apple’s line-up of offerings.

Apple will start letting people delete and edit messages after they have been sent as part of the latest update to its operating software, as well as customizable options for the iPhone main screen.

Users of its digital wallet should soon also be able to pay for purchases in installments.

Relying increasingly on custom made chips has enabled Apple to make its devices and software work more seamlessly together, and catch up a bit to features offered by rivals such as Google Maps and even Microsoft Xbox video game platform for Windows-powered computers.

Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi saw it as Apple filling “users’ wish-list,” adding capabilities to make its apps, services or hardware the natural option in an increasingly competitive market.

“They are listening to what the users are saying and they’re making changes,” Milanesi said.

As increased dependence on computers and the internet caused by the pandemic shows no sign of abating, and by better tuning hardware and software for convenience promises to keep people in Apple’s money-making ecosystem, the analyst added.

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Mexico boycott clouds Biden’s regional Americas’ summit

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US President Joe Biden, who will welcome Latin American leaders in Los Angeles, speaks in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
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The Summit of the Americas began under a cloud Monday after Mexico’s leader said he was snubbing President Joe Biden’s invitation because Washington refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela over human rights abuses and lack of democracy.

The dispute, right as the week-long gathering in Los Angeles was getting underway, highlighted the challenges facing the Biden administration’s attempt to solidify US leadership in its own backyard at a time when China is making diplomatic and commercial inroads.

Confirming it was not inviting the three far-left governments, a senior White House official cited “reservations regarding the lack of democratic space and the human rights situations.”

In response, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would stay away.

“You cannot have a Summit of the Americas if you do not have all the countries of the Americas attending,” Lopez Obrador announced, complaining of US “hegemony” and “lack of respect for nations.”

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will represent Mexico instead, but the leftist populist leader’s absence will diminish the impact of a summit where US-Mexico relations are at the heart of major immigration and trade issues.

The senior US official did not directly respond to Lopez Obrador’s boycott, saying only that “the United States recognizes and respects the position of allies in support of inclusive dialogue.” The official also said non-governmental representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela would be present.

Biden is expected to make announcements at the summit on economic cooperation and fighting Covid-19 and climate change, said Juan Gonzalez, the top White House adviser on Latin America.

The US president, who flies to Los Angeles Wednesday, also hopes to secure an agreement on regional cooperation over migration, a major concern for US voters and an area where Republican opponents see Biden as vulnerable in upcoming midterm elections.

The number of Central Americans and Haitians seeking to enter the United States has been surging as they flee poverty and violence in their homelands.

– ‘Unfortunate subplot’ –

Despite the dispute with Mexico, the Biden administration has secured the presence of other key regional players.

These include Argentina’s left-leaning Alberto Fernandez, whom Biden also invited to Washington, and Brazil’s far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

Benjamin Gedan, who heads the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Lopez Obrador’s absence would mark a “significant void” and said Mexico’s leader seemed more focused on domestic political gain.

The boycott has been “a really unfortunate subplot in the run-up to the summit because it has drained an enormous amount of US diplomatic energy for a bizarre cause celebre,” Gedan said.

He said Biden has crafted a positive agenda, avoiding simply summoning Latin American leaders to lecture them on democracy, corruption and China.

But he said it was unclear whether Biden will bring substantial resources to the table, in contrast to China’s lavish infrastructure spending and trade privileges.

“The real barometer for this summit will be whether the United States offers meaningful new market access, lending and foreign assistance to support economic recovery and infrastructure in the region,” Gedan said.

“And there I think, inevitably, the United States will disappoint.”

– ‘Progressively less ambitious’ –

The Summit of the Americas is the first held by the United States since the inaugural 1994 meeting in Miami, where then US president Bill Clinton sought the creation of a trade area to cover the whole continent except communist Cuba.

The United States has since soured on free trade, with Biden following the lead of his predecessor Donald Trump, who said such pacts hurt US workers.

Trump championed a hard line on Venezuela and Cuba, and did not attend the last Summit of the Americas, in Peru in 2018. 

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, recently told a congressional hearing that each summit has become “progressively less ambitious” with a shift “from a shared vision for democracy, trade and prosperity to a venue for taking a stand.”

Los Angeles, he said, “offers the perfect opportunity for Washington to announce a commitment to regional growth and recovery.”

Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, said the drama over summit attendance showed Washington’s waning hold over the region.

China has emerged as a leading partner, he said, and Latin American leaders are keenly aware of Biden’s political woes including the possibility that Republicans will retake control of Congress in November.

The United States “still has a lot of soft power,” Shifter said. “As for political and diplomatic influence, it is diminishing by the day.”

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