Synaptics builds a fingerprint reader right into its trackpads [Updated]

Consider the trackpad. The ones in Windows laptops are rarely (if ever) their best feature, but they nevertheless remain ubiquitous. Synaptics is one of the biggest names in trackpads, and today it announced a new one called the “SecurePad” that integrates a fingerprint reader into the trackpad itself rather than as a separate component.

The SecurePad will have a small, 4mm by 10mm sensor on the trackpad’s surface that can scan a “fingertip placed at any angle on the sensor.” Said sensor will be available in a variety of different Synaptics trackpads, including the TouchPad, ClickPad, and ForcePad, and those trackpads will all be available in a variety of sizes. LED lights will provide feedback and allow the sensor to be used in dark environments.

Fingerprint data traveling between the sensor and the “host processor” is encrypted to prevent the information from being accessed by other apps (Apple uses a similar sort of encryption with TouchID, and it prevents user apps from accessing fingerprint data in transit). We’ve contacted Synaptics to see if storing and reading fingerprints securely requires a separate chip to be installed in laptops that use the SecurePad and to get more detail on how this encryption works—we’ll update this article if we receive a response.

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Hold the champagne: Why OPEC still has oil markets over a barrel

COMMENT

The oil-importing world has long hoped that the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries — a union of countries often at odds with each other  — will fall apart and usher in an era of free-market oil.

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OPEC’s decision at its November meeting to maintain output at 30-million barrels per day has once again raised the age-old speculation that the 12-member group featuring Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Iraq, among others, has become ineffective.

“With oil having to ‘balance itself’ going forward, OPEC has given up on its traditional role of keeping supply and demand in check,” said Francisco Blanch, commodity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a report. “The cartel is now effectively dissolved.”

Hold the champagne. Since the 1970s the group’s recalcitrant members have lurched from one oil episode to the next and have a long tradition of holding acrimonious meetings that seem to be their last. Often those meetings have not yielded the desired results, either.

The dysfunctional group has survived bloody wars between member countries (Iraq and Iran; Iraq and Kuwait), overcome US$9 per barrel oil in the late 1990s, and managed to hold regular meetings even as Saudi Arabia and Iran engage in proxy wars for regional influence.

Saudi Arabia’s latest feat of muzzling dissent from Iran and Venezuela in November  is also nothing new, as Riyadh has long held sway over the group with the help of allies protecting its interest against a cabal of other member countries.

But it’s also true that the recent US$50 drop in Brent crude prices from its summer high is uncomfortable for most OPEC producers. With the exception of Kuwait and Qatar, OPEC producers will not be able to balance their budgets next year if Brent crude stays at today’s price of US$65.

But other producers would struggle even more. HSBC expects “lower prices to squeeze U.S. capital spending hard, given the magnitude of outstanding debt in the sector.”

OPEC’s proceeds from oil exports will no doubt be affected, but the group will still rake in revenues of $760-billion this year alone, to add to the trillions of dollars already parked in sovereign wealth funds and global assets, and giving it the fiscal cushion to ride out the oil decline.

It appears that instead of being dissolved, OPEC remains a potent force in global markets.

Despite Venezuelan and Iranian ministers huffing and puffing over lack of output cuts by the cartel, producers are focused on the short-term and reluctant to cut their own production to arrest a decline in prices.

“Any break in OPEC solidarity or price war will lead to an enormous price dive shock” that would push oil to US$40 or US$50, Mohammad Sadegh Memarian, an Iranian oil ministry official, said at a conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

Do I look worried?

“Exporters don’t even have to cut oil production, but can maintain output and indicate they are putting aside 5%-10% into storage for selling six months to a year from now, where futures prices are 10% higher,” says London-based Eclectic Strategy strategist Emad Mostaque. It would starve oil available to the spot market and drive up prices.

“They do not do this as they focus only on short-term revenues to the detriment of medium-term average prices,” Mr. Mostaque said.

In comments at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi summed up the OPEC view: “This is a market and I’m selling in a market. Why should I cut?”

The International Energy Agency forecasts OPEC’s share of the global oil market will rise to 49% by 2040, from 42% currently, as non-OPEC resources dry up.

SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images

SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty ImagesIn comments at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi summed up the OPEC view: “This is a market and I’m selling in a market. Why should I cut?"

While the current oil price environment is unlikely to end OPEC, there are far greater structural changes under way that could reduce its dominance over time.

The Saudis and its Gulf allies currently hold nearly three million barrels per day in spare capacity as the ace that would trump their competitors within OPEC and outside. But their own domestic oil consumption is rising.

Saudi Arabia may be the world’s largest crude oil exporter, but it’s also the seventh-largest consumer of the commodity – and growing fast. Saudi oil consumption is reportedly growing at 4%-6% per year for the foreseeable future, which would reduce revenues from oil exports, as new oil production is set to grow by a mere 0.6% during the next 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency.

“The current president and Chief Executive Officer of Saudi Aramco, Khalid Al-Falih, said that domestic liquids demand was on pace to reach more than 8 million bpd of oil equivalent by 2030 if there were no improvements in energy efficiency,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

An aging Saudi monarchy and succession issues are also distracting the kingdom from taking strategic decisions today at a time of remarkable changes in the oil markets.

At some point in the future, Saudi Arabia and OPEC may lose influence, but it will take more than a 35% decline in prices when costlier non-OPEC producers continue to pump oil.

As Mr. Naimi told reporters in Peru Wednesday: “Do I look worried?”

He has reason to be, but not because of the current oil volatility.

Verizon admits utility rules won’t harm FiOS and wireless investments

Internet service providers have consistently told the government that utility regulation of broadband would harm infrastructure investment. AT&T has (not very convincingly) claimed that it can’t consider any new fiber upgrades while the Federal Communications Commission debates whether to impose utility rules on broadband under Title II of the Communications Act.

But Verizon struck a blow to that narrative yesterday when Chief Financial Officer Francis Shammo said utility rules will not influence how Verizon invests in its networks.

Speaking at a UBS investor conference (see transcript at Seeking Alpha), Shammo was asked, “Obviously there’s a lot of commentary coming out of Washington about this move to Title II… What’s your view of that potential occurrence down in Washington and does it affect your view on the attractiveness of investing further in the United States?”

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Sony CEO ordered ‘The Interview’ toned down, Rogen objected: emails

NEW YORK/SEOUL (Reuters) – Sony Corp. Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai ordered the film “The Interview” to be toned down after Pyongyang denounced it for depicting the assassination of North Korea’s leader, according to emails apparently stolen from Sony’s Hollywood studio.

Is public shareholder activism the best way to effect change?

When to take the matter public is a key issue that all activist investors face.

There is a spectrum that runs from working behind the scenes and trying to implement change to acquiring a toehold position and then going public with your demands. Between those extremes – with the former often being the approach adopted by institutional investors and the latter being the method often used by U.S. hedge funds — there are numerous other possibilities.

This week an example of disclosing early, a plan achieved by sending a letter to a target company (in this case Calgary-based Madalena Energy Inc.) and then issuing a press release about the matter, played out. The letter was sent by New York-based Maglan Capital LP which owns 9.8% of Madalena and which has been a shareholder for about a year. It sent the letter after saying that it had “maintained an ongoing and constructive dialogue with management and the board of directors over the last year.”

Reached Wednesday, Maglan described the letter and the press release as the “opening salvo,” without giving any indication of the length of time it plans to push its agenda – or possible next steps. One possibility is that as a more than 5% shareholder it has the power to call for a special meeting and try and change the board.

But the public release has had one measurable effect: other Madalena shareholders have contacted Maglan and expressed their concerns. In other words ‘you are not alone.’

Maglan’s actions in issuing a press release on the same day a letter was sent to the board, have led to other assessments. “It changes the dynamics entirely and shows that they are not willing to deal with this on a quiet basis,” added one veteran director, whose own personal view is that behind the scenes negotiations are often the best way to effect change, particularly on matters of strategy.

“Ordinarily if an investor wasn’t getting what it wanted from a discussion with the chief executive, they would send a letter to the board indicating that they expected to be taken seriously,” added the director who has sat on numerous oil-patch boards.

“There is no upside to going public immediately because you lose the ability to control the timing,” he said, noting that many activists don’t want to receive credit for achieving change. ‘They just want the changes,” he said.

Perhaps. But activism comes in many forms and going public focuses attention on the company in a more meaningful way than behind the scenes negotiations. Indeed without public pressure, the company can simply ignore the wishes of a shareholder, even one with a 9.8% stake.

Madalena is slated to have a board meeting Thursday to respond to the demands of Maglan. It could make an announcement Thursday or Friday. So far all that it has said is that it “will carefully consider the matters raised in the Maglan release and address them in an appropriate and timely manner.”

In the days since Maglan went public with its concerns, there has been no appreciable pick up in stock trading and no rise in the share price. Given the state of the markets, maybe that’s the best that could have occurred.

Financial Post

bcritchley@nationalpost.com

Prices Are an Ocean Apart…For Now

Price movements have grabbed the headlines in recent weeks. Commodity prices are falling, and as always, there are various arguments about the reasons this time. The implications are serious, so the debates are warranted. But the more pressing issue is recent movement in the general price level. Overall price growth has weakened lately, and there is renewed worry about disinflation and deflation (the dreaded Ds). Five years beyond the crisis, and we are still worried about this? What’s going on?

First off, the worry is warranted. Recent consumer prices on both sides of the pond are hugging the zero-line. Central banks typically ratchet up the alert level when this happens, as previous bouts of either of the ‘dreaded D’s’ have generally been ugly for the economy. Moreover, central banks don’t have a developed playbook on deflation. Just ask Japan. Inflation is another issue; although it’s the central banks’ prime obsession, they boast a 25-30-year playbook that has worked extremely well over that period. The absence of workable strategies for combating price weakness makes the current context more than a little unsettling.

U.S. consumer prices were well-behaved through June, shaking off the blahs that accompanied the temporary weather-induced slowdown in the first quarter. However, there have now been four back-to-back months at or below zero growth, and the headline year-on-year growth is back below the 2 per cent level. Euro-area growth has been even softer. Weakness can be traced back to March, and even though the record before then was positive, it wasn’t great. CPI for the region fell 0.1 per cent in October, heightening concerns. Year-on-year growth has now been below the half-per-cent marker since July.

Core inflation numbers tell a different story. By ‘core’, economists and statistical agencies are referring to that group of prices that are less volatile and subject to the vagaries of various international events. Traditional core prices strip out the volatile food and energy components, as the core measure is more helpful in setting the course for monetary policy. More sophisticated measures have been developed over time, but for our purposes, the more simple measure suffices. So, do core price movements tell a different story than the headline indexes?

Indeed they do. US core prices are jumping around lately, but on average they have been very close to the key 2-per-cent level over the past eight months. If anything, there are worries that the nascent rise in economic growth will soon put upward pressure on core prices, and that the Fed is actually somewhat behind the monetary policy curve. Remember, policy tightening needs to happen anywhere from 12 to 18 months ahead of price movements to nip them in the bud.

Core prices in the Euro Area are also on a different path than headline numbers, but the story is quite different from America’s. Core prices in Europe are increasing at about twice the pace of the all-items headline rate. However, that’s still not much to write home about. Core price growth has steadied at about 0.75 per cent year-on-year, less than half the pace in the ‘States. Monthly growth is more of a worry. It saw back-to-back declines in September and October, and the only signs that things may pick up are the up-trend in retail sales and stabilized confidence. For the moment, the ECB is likely to remain on high alert, ready to go into action if need be.

The cross-Atlantic differences in price behavior have analysts wondering about divergent monetary policies. No doubt the doves will be active, pressing for a heavy dose of quantitative easing on the continent in an all-out effort to stave off deflation. The ECB has thus far resisted high-profile calls to do ‘all that it takes’, but is reserving the right to go into action the instant they feel the need. In this hesitation is a positive message: the ECB must see current price weakness as temporary. And it may get help from plunging oil prices: as lower pump prices free up more income for other expenditures, those prices may well take off.

The bottom line? The drama in the world of prices has turned the spotlight back on deflation. The US is nowhere near it, and has the opposite problem. Europe is running close to the line, but most seem to feel that it is temporary, and there are good reasons to believe that the worst will soon be past.

TC Droidcast Episode 30: Cardboard VR, How Do You Wear Your Android Wear

droidcast-banner-glass This week, Google dropped so many updates today that we couldn’t help but talk about them, including new specs and software for the Google Cardboard smartphone-based VR program, and an updated version of Android Wear that supports custom watchfaces (officially, whereas before they were everywhere but not built using any kind of proper API). Darrell Etherington, Kyle Russell and Greg… Read More