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Inflation fear: More SME owners willing to take a pay cut to keep their biz alive

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Inflation fear: More SME owners willing to take a pay cut to keep their biz alive

Frustration, annoyance, and anxiety. These are just a few of the sentiments that small business owners have as the inflation rate climbs beyond double-digit percentage levels. 

According to a survey of 253 Australian SME owners conducted by an independent panel for Small Business Loans Australia, 85 per cent of companies will make difficult decisions to get through a difficult financial year. 

In particular, 40 per cent of business owners stated that they would lower their own salaries: 45 per cent of microbusiness owners (1–10 employees) would do so compared to 31 per cent of small business owners (11–50 employees) and 27 per cent of medium-sized business owners (27 per cent).

Some participants propose to raise available funds to resolve their existing liabilities: 10 per cent will refinance or find ways to pay off their debts quickly, and an additional eight (8) per cent of respondents will seek financing to help the business through the tough period. 

The big picture

Earlier, we reported that Australians are getting ready to dramatically cut the frequency of their visits to restaurants, pubs, and cafés, as well as the amount of money they spend there, according to new research by SevenRooms

Responses to biggest challenges SMEs anticipate in FY 23. Via: Small Business Loans Australia

A very rigorous fiscal year is anticipated for Australian businesses, which are already feeling the strains of a competitive labour market, capacity limitations, stricter lending standards, and supply chain disruptions. Business exit rates in Australia reached about 4 per cent in March 2022 because of expectations that inflation and interest rates would continue to rise.

The ‘Cost of Living’ research found that as much as 30 per cent of hospitality spending could be lost over the coming months. In addition, 82 per cent of Australians believe the present cost-of-living crisis has already affected their spending patterns, and another 13 per cent think it will do so in the near future. 

The target of their budget cuts will be the hospitality industry in particular. Three-quarters (78 per cent) of Australians will visit restaurants, cafes, and bars less -and 79 per cent said they’d spend less when they do see – due to the cost-of-living pressure.

Rising wages

The wage price index in Australia has risen at the quickest rate in over eight years, but it still lags behind the country’s headline inflation rate. Wages rose 0.7 per cent in the last three months to 2.6 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics issued Wednesday.

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While much below the inflation rate of 6.1 per cent and economist projections of a 2.7 per cent annual increase, this is Australia’s greatest wage growth rate since September 2014.

Bigger challenges for FY23

The major challenges that respondents might encounter in FY23 were asked to be identified. Just 10 per cent of respondents said they would not suffer any obstacles through FY23, while 90 per cent of respondents said they expect their business to endure difficulties. 

Fast-rising inflation was cited as the greatest difficulty by forty-two (42) per cent of respondents, while 41 per cent cited RBA rate increases and decreased consumer or client expenditure as their top worries.

Other challenges SME owners expect to face in FY23 included fast-rising interest rates (chosen by 28 per cent of respondents); having to pay higher wages on the back of the minimum wage increase and employee wage expectations (chosen by 22 per cent); the inability to fill roles in the business due to candidate shortages (19 per cent); and accessing financing or servicing loans and other debts (11 per cent).

Meanwhile, larger SMEs were more likely to identify significant challenges for FY23. Fifty-one (51) per cent of medium-sized businesses (51-200 employees) indicated that fast-rising inflation was their biggest challenge, compared with 41 per cent of small businesses (11- 50 employees) and 40 per cent of micro-businesses (1-10 employees).

Paying higher wages on the back of the minimum wage increase was also identified as a major challenge for medium-sized businesses, at 46 per cent. In contrast, 35 per cent of small businesses and just 13 per cent of micro-businesses said the same. This is likely because medium businesses have a higher headcount compared with micro- businesses that operate with just a few staff. Larger businesses also navigate higher overheads and other costs that are likely steadily increasing in price due to inflation.

Forty (40) per cent of medium-sized businesses also identified fast-rising interest rates as a significant challenge, compared with 37 per cent of small businesses and 23 per cent of micro-businesses.

Via Small Business Loans Australia

Alon Rajic, founder and CEO of Small Business Loans Australia, says: “Our research suggests that small business owners will do everything they can to minimise the impact of fast-growing inflation and interest rates on their business, including cutting costs and even underpaying themselves. They will aim to avoid incurring larger businesses’ debts while rates are still rising, directly impacting their investment spending. 

However, businesses know recessions usually don’t last long, so thankfully, letting go of their employees seems to be a last resort, and only if needed.”

Alon says: “Our results suggest that inflation and a potential recession will have a bigger impact on the SME sector than the 5.2 per cent increase to the national minimum wage and a shortage of workers. Despite a 10 per cent decrease in the number of unemployed people in June this year, price hikes and reduced consumer spending come out on top as the biggest obstacle with almost half of Australian businesses fearing future struggles with loan repayments and debt.” 

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One in 10 (10 per cent) of respondents said they would refinance their current loans to get a better deal, and 8 per cent said they would get financing. Alon says, “Looking for the right loan product in the current environment of rising interest rates and a plethora of loan options can be overwhelming for small businesses. 

“Comparison websites are one of the easiest ways to shop around –particularly ones that specialise in business lending. In addition to interest rates, consider fees, charges and any options that give you flexibility in paying down your loan.”

The full survey results, including breakdowns across ages and States, can be found here: smallbusinessloansaustralia.com/resources/australian-smes-2023.html

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

LONDON (AP) — Amazon won’t have to pay about 250 million euros ($273 million) in back taxes after European Union judges ruled in favor of the U.S. e-commerce giant Thursday, dealing a defeat to the 27-nation bloc in its efforts to tackle corporate tax avoidance.

The ruling by the EU’s top court is final, ending the long-running legal battle over tax arrangements between Amazon and Luxembourg’s government and marking a further setback for a crackdown by antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.

The Court of Justice backed a 2021 decision by judges in a lower court who sided with Amazon, saying the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, had not proved its case that Amazon received illegal state support.

“The Court of Justice confirms that the Commission has not established that the tax ruling given to Amazon by Luxembourg was a State aid that was incompatible with the internal market” of the EU, the court said in a press release.

Amazon welcomed the ruling, saying it confirms that the company “followed all applicable laws and received no special treatment.”

“We look forward to continuing to focus on delivering for our customers across Europe,” the company said in a statement.

The commission said it “will carefully study the judgment and assess its implications.”

The case dates back to 2017, when Vestager charged Amazon with unfairly profiting from special low tax conditions since 2003 in tiny Luxembourg, where its European headquarters are based. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits in the EU were not taxed, she said.

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The EU has taken aim at deals between individual countries and companies used to lure foreign multinationals in search of a place to establish their EU headquarters. The practice led to EU states competing with each other and multinationals playing them off one another.

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling nearly all vehicles sold in the U.S., more than 2 million, to update software and fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when using Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by U.S. safety regulators say the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers and even limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The added controls and alerts will “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

But safety experts said that, while the recall is a good step, it still makes the driver responsible and doesn’t fix the underlying problem that Tesla’s automated systems have with spotting and stopping for obstacles in their path.

The recall covers models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year. The update was to be sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it later.

Shares of Tesla slid more than 3% in earlier trading Wednesday but recovered amid a broad stock market rally to end the day up 1%.

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The attempt to address the flaws in Autopilot seemed like a case of too little, too late to Dillon Angulo, who was seriously injured in 2019 crash involving a Tesla that was using the technology along a rural stretch of Florida highway where the software isn’t supposed to be deployed.

“This technology is not safe, we have to get it off the road,” said Angulo, who is suing Tesla as he recovers from injuries that included brain trauma and broken bones. “The government has to do something about it. We can’t be experimenting like this.”

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update will limit where Autosteer can be used. “If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Depending on a Tesla’s hardware, the added controls include “increasing prominence” of visual alerts, simplifying how Autosteer is turned on and off, and additional checks on whether Autosteer is being used outside of controlled access roads and when approaching traffic control devices. A driver could be suspended from using Autosteer if they repeatedly fail “to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility,” the documents say.

According to recall documents, agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla did not concur with NHTSA’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. They have called for cameras to make sure a driver is paying attention, which are used by other automakers with similar systems.

Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous vehicle safety, called the software update a compromise that doesn’t address a lack of night vision cameras to watch drivers’ eyes, as well as Teslas failing to spot and stop for obstacles.

“The compromise is disappointing because it does not fix the problem that the older cars do not have adequate hardware for driver monitoring,” Koopman said.

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Koopman and Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, contend that crashing into emergency vehicles is a safety defect that isn’t addressed. “It’s not digging at the root of what the investigation is looking at,” Brooks said. “It’s not answering the question of why are Teslas on Autopilot not detecting and responding to emergency activity?”

Koopman said NHTSA apparently decided that the software change was the most it could get from the company, “and the benefits of doing this now outweigh the costs of spending another year wrangling with Tesla.”

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself, despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

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The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into emergency vehicles. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

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AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this story.

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Why Was Sam Altman Fired? Possible Ties to China D2 (Double Dragon) Data from Hackers

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Theories are going around the internet why Sam Altman was fired. On an insider tech forum (Blind) – one person claims to know by third-hand account and how this news will trickle into the media over the next couple of weeks.

It’s said OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models, which includes GPT-4. This data was obtained through a hidden business contract with a D2 shell company called Whitefly, which was based in Singapore. This D2 group has the largest and biggest crawling/indexing/scanning capacity in the world 10x more than Alphabet Inc (Google), hence the deal so Open AI could get their hands on vast quantities of data for training after exhausting their other options.

The Chinese government became aware of this arrangement and raised concerns with the Biden administration. As a result, the NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed that OpenAI had been using data from D2. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which is a major investor in OpenAI, was informed of the findings and ordered Altman’s removal.

There was also suggestion that Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board. This lack of candor ultimately led to his dismissal and is what the board publicly alluded to when they said “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”

To summarize what happened with Sam Altman’s firing:

1. Sam Altman was removed from OpenAI due to his ties to a Chinese cyber army group.

2.OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models.

3. The Chinese government raised concerns about this arrangement with the Biden administration.

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4. The NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed OpenAI’s use of D2 data.

5. Satya Nadella ordered Altman’s removal after being informed of the findings.

6. Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board.

 

We’ll see in the next couple of weeks if this story holds up or not.

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