How Augmented Reality is Transforming B2B Sales Process

The gap between someone’s expectations and reality is a persistent problem in the B2B sales world. Far too often, customers have a very different belief about what the product should be and what they receive. The result might be something that’s the wrong size, color, shape, or doesn’t function the way the customer expected. This unfortunate process leads to disappointment, inaccuracy, and painful revisions.

In other words, what the customer wants and what the company can do are often two incredibly different things. Buyers love endlessly customizable products and options, but salespeople often balk at this idea, believing that customization may interfere with inventory and cycle time metrics. Not every manufacturer can keep up with uniquely tailored goods for each customer. That’s why augmented reality and 3D visualization should play a vital role in the sales process.

Leveraging 3D & AR technologies are proving to be ideal for rapidly achieving customer confidence in the purchasing process. The more complex or spatially-oriented a product is, the riper it is to adopt a visual selling strategy. These applications offer customers a whole new world of immersive experience as they can see with their own eyes exactly what to expect. Allowing them to take part in the design means greater satisfaction, personalization, and loyalty.

The Power of Visual Configuration

Atlas Software, a cloud-based sales platform, says that visual configuration helps increase sales efficiency by 24%, boost conversation rates by 10%, and decrease the sales process by 30%. Furthermore, companies that have reached ‘digitally maturity’ yield 19% higher lead-conversion rates, 35% more quotes, 34% superior performance, and 105% larger deal size when compared to those who rely on outdated legacy systems and sales processes.

“Manufacturing is ripe for disruption from 3D and AR technology in the sale process because it allows customers to be immersed in a complex product without the time and expense that is tied to [a] physical product in brick and mortar environments,” said Atlas Software CEO, Marc Murphy.

Murphy believes that sales play an integral role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (also called Industry 4.0) and it forces manufacturers to ask themselves how their investments are effectively changing the purchaser’s buying experience. 

Smartphone AR applications are quickly moving AR to the mainstream. Companies and sales teams will have to adapt to the market’s quickly changing demands and expectations as computer power and hardware is doing so to keep pace with visual platforms.

The next generation of manufacturing salespeople will need to leverage emerging technology–it’s the fuel for modern relevancy and growth. 

How To Track Elon Musk’s Roadster On Its Journey Towards Mars

The successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy earlier this month was a landmark technical achievement, but it has quickly come to be symbolized by something a bit sillier — the image of a red Tesla Roadster floating through space, with a dummy in a spacesuit behind the wheel.

The car and its passenger — known as Starman — were the test payload for the Falcon Heavy, and they’re now on a long journey out into the solar system. If you’re curious what that path looks like, an aerospace engineer and SpaceX admirer has put together a website that uses NASA data to track the Roadster’s course. It’s called Where Is Roadster?, and it’s fascinating, with both live data on the Roadster’s location and an interactive tool that shows its future course.

It’s often mentioned that the Roadster is “on its way to Mars,” which can give the impression that it’s making a beeline for the Red Planet. But the Roadster, like all things in the galaxy, is subject to the tug of gravity, so instead of a straight path, it’s tracing a long arc away from Earth and the sun.

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And the distances involved are truly vast. Right now, the Roadster is still much closer to Earth — 2.25 million miles away — than to Mars, 137.5 million miles away. Meanwhile, Mars is moving too, so when the Roadster first intersects its orbit this July, the planet itself will already be millions of miles away. After that, the Roadster will actually return to something close to Earth’s orbit, though again, Earth itself won’t be anywhere close.

According to the site’s data, which is taken from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Roadster won’t actually be close to Mars until early October of 2020. And as far as we know, it doesn’t have any landing equipment or thrusters that would make it possible to actually get the car down to the surface.

Unless, of course, Elon Musk has another big secret up his sleeve.

Stocks To Watch: Retail Heavyweights To Center Stage

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Stocks to Watch – a preview of key events scheduled for the next week. Follow this account and turn the e-mail alert on to receive this article in your inbox every Saturday morning.

All eyes will be on the retail sector next week, with Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) both reporting earnings on Feb. 20. There is going to be a lot to unpack in the reports from the Dow constituents that combine for a 7.88% weighting of the index, including the impact of wage inflation and tax reform on full-year guidance. Both stocks tend to create some ripples with peers, which places companies such as Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW), Target (NYSE:TGT) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) on the watch list. On a broad scale, a confident tone from the retail heavyweights could take some of the sting off the underwhelming January report on U.S. retail sales. Checking the tape, Walmart is up 51% over the last 52 weeks and Home Depot is 31% higher.

Notable earnings reports: Superior Energy Services (NYSE:SPN) and Mosiac (NYSE:MOS) on Feb. 19; Home Depot, Walmart, Dominos’ Pizza (NYSE:DPZ), MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM), Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) on Feb. 20; Pandora (NYSE:P), (NASDAQ:CTRP), Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM), Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK) and Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN) on Feb. 21; HP Inc. (NYSE:HPQ), First Solar (OTCPK:FLSR), Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) and Apache (NYSE:APA) on Feb. 22; Pinnacle Entertainment (NYSE:PNK), Hunstman (NYSE:HUN) and Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG) on Feb. 23. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list.

3%: The yield on the 10-year Treasury danced to as high as 2.94% last Thursday as it came tantalizingly closer to the 3% yield some analysts see as potentially significant to dividend favorites like Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Exxon Mobile (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX). While concerns over higher rates seem to have receded a bit, there’s still some adjusting to do for investors to a new mix of higher rates and inflation factors. Goldman Sachs thinks companies with low labor costs could stand out in the new environment. Names that make the Goldman short list include Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Molson Coors (NYSE:TAP), Citigroup (NYSE:C), Deere (NYSE:DE) and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).

IPOs expected to price: Crescent Funding (Pending:CFUNU) on Feb. 22.

Analyst quiet period expirations: Eyenovia (NASDAQ:EYEN), Pagseguro Digital (NYSE:PAGS), Menlo Therapeutics (NASDAQ:MNLO), Gates Industrial (NYSE:GTES), Solid Biosciences (NASDAQ:SLDB), Restorbio (NASDAQ:TORC), ARMO Biosciences (NASDAQ:ARMO) and PlayAGS (NYSE:AGS) on Feb. 20.

Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference: This is a big one for the retail sector. In past years, plenty of guidance updates and M&A talk has poured out of the conference. Due to speak on Feb. 20 are General Mills (NYSE:GIS), Conagra Brands (NYSE:CAG), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Ingredion (NYSE:INGR), Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), Hain Celestial (NASDAQ:HAIN). On Feb. 21, it’s Kellogg (NYSE:K), Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), Coca-Cola European Partners (NYSE:CCE), Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), Altria (NYSE:MO), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) and J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM) giving updates. On Feb. 22, the agenda includes talks from Unilever (UN, UL), Procter & Gamble (PG), Valvoline (NYSE:VVV), Nomad Foods (NYSE:NOMD), Newell Brands (NYSE:NWL), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), International Flavors & Fragrances (NYSE:IFF), Spectrum Brands (NYSE:SPB) and Hormel (NYSE:HRL). Finally on Feb. 23, Danone (OTCQX:DANOY), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), L’Oreal (OTCPK:LRLCF, OTCPK:LRLCY), Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) and Nestle (OTCPK:NSRGY) take the stage.

Fedspeak galore: While it’s been hard to get a handle on which stocks are moving lockstep with interest rate concerns, traders get another crack this week with a glut of Fed speechs sitting on the calendar as potential party spoilers. Harker speaks on Feb. 21, while Dudley, Quarles and Bostic are all due to talk on Feb. 22. Then on Feb. 23 it’s Rosengren, Dudley, Mester and Williams all due to expound on central bank policy matters.

FDA watch: Jazz Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:JAZZ) is expected to hear from the regulator on a review for sleep disorder treatment solriamfetol.

Sales update: Raymond James Financial (NYSE:RJF) on Feb. 21.

Analyst/investor day meeting: Tractor Supply (NASDAQ:TSCO) and Radware (NASDAQ:RDWR) on Feb. 20; DineEquity (NYSE:DIN) on Feb. 21.

Box office: Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Black Panther is expected to generate huge weekend numbers, with some estimates ranging as high as $180M. The Marvel film opened in over 4K theaters. Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Peter Rabbit and Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Fifty Shades Freed are also in the early part of their runs, while Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is expected to rack up another $8M. Next week, Paramount’s (NYSE:VIA) Annihilation, Orion Pictures’ Every Day and Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) Game Night all debut. The U.S. box office is running about 4% behind last year’s pace for first eight weeks of the year, but has picked up recently. Across the industry, the impact of MoviePass (NASDAQ:HMNY) on admissions and concession revenue for AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), Regal Entertainment (NYSE:RGC), Reading International (NASDAQ:RDI), Marcus Corporation (NYSE:MCS) and Cinemark Holdings (NYSE:CNK) is still being gauged.

Extraordinary shareholder meetings for M&A votes: FCB Financial (NYSE:FCB) and Heartland Financial USA (NASDAQ:HTLF) on Feb. 20.

Non-deal roadshow: Carnival (NYSE:CCL) on Feb. 20; Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) and Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO) on Feb 22.

Barron’s mentions: General Electric (NYSE:GE) is profiled in the cover story in a piece that tips to the cautionary side. Boston Properties (NYSE:BXP) and SL Green Realty (NYSE:SLG) are two of the REIT stocks seen as attractive. Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) is a called a speculative bet.

Babe Ruth: It can’t be ignored that several Seeking Alpha users called their shots last week in the comment stream, including kauba with Twilio (+35%) and stevedas on Preogenic Pharmaceuticals (+11%).

Sources: EDGAR, Bloomberg, and

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Airport Controllers Trade the Tower for a Screen-Filled Room

The next time you fly into Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport, look out the window and see if you can spot what’s missing. The answer? A 160 feet high tower.

That’s what airport officials at the airport say would have been necessary for them to be able to safely control the movement of planes on the ground, taxiing to and from gates and runways at the recently expanded airport. That would be doing things the old fashioned way, by line-of-sight—aka looking at the planes. Instead of an elevated perch, ground controllers at FLL have an even better view from inside a nearby squat, building.

“They have no windows in their building,” says Mike Nonnemacher, the chief operating officer for Broward Country Aviation Department, which controls FLL airport. “It’s all done by radar, and augmented by a system of CCTV and infrared cameras.” A new computer system takes the data from those cameras, and other sensors, and stitches it together into one giant virtual vista.

Controllers sit in front of a video wall, which shows them what’s happening in real time. The infrared images offer improved visibility at night and in the fog. Wearing headsets, they calmly issue cryptic sounding instructions to pilots, and then track the plane moving. It’s the first of its kind in the US, and could set the bar for other airports around the country.

Gregory Meyer/Broward County Aviation Department

In the US, the FAA runs air traffic control, which sees planes safely onto the tarmac. But responsibility for moving these huge machines around on the ground falls on the airport or airline. Their wingspans, which look so elegant in the air, are just a protruding hazard on the ground. Pilots don’t have great visibility out of the cockpit windows, so they rely on ground controllers to tell them which gate to taxi to, where to hold, which path to take, and to warn them of other vehicles like fueling trucks or passenger busses crossing active taxiways. It’s a complicated dance, becoming ever more so as air travel booms and airports expand, allowing takeoffs and landings with barely 30 seconds between them. Airfields usually have one or more towers, so ground controllers can see everything that happens from the runways to the gates.

The layout of the Fort Lauderdale airport makes it a great test case for something new. One row of gates is hidden from direct view of ground controllers, so they used to send someone on foot to scout the scene, report back, and help them keep track of aircraft on a dry-erase board. Tired of all the back and forth and eager to avoid the cost of building a looming tower, they went the virtual route.

The result is that windowless building, inside which ground controllers take in feeds from 66 CCTV cameras, and FAA radar data that includes each plane’s location and call sign. “We take a lot of information, from lots of sources,” says Betros Wakim, the head of Amadeus Airport Technology in the Americas, which designed the software to stitch all that together and present it to controllers in useful ways.

When a plane is ready to leave its gate, ground controllers first make sure it’s safe to move. With their virtual views, they can train cameras toward the plane, check its flight number, and then check the surrounding area. Pushback can be rather hazardous.

“You always have construction and maintenance people who need to be on the runway to do repairs,” says Patti Clark, aeronautics professor at Embry Riddle University, and a former airport manager. Wild animals might be taking a stroll through the grounds. By combining cameras with the radar data, ramp controllers should be able to spot all that, and ward off disaster. “The human factor is always involved, but the more useful and reliable tools you can provide to the human, the better the situational awareness is,” says Clark.

No surprise then, that Nonnemacher says he has already had phone calls and visits from other airports interested in recreating the system, including Tampa, Dallas, and Toronto.

One day, virtual airfield control could remove ramp control centers from airports altogether, freeing up space for terminals or cargo handling areas. It’s all just data, it can be piped anywhere. There’s precedent in Europe; London City airport has just replaced its air traffic control tower with a remote system, and controllers sitting 120 miles away. That same tech is being used in Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland.

So the next time you come in to land at FLL, don’t bother looking for that non-existent tower. Instead, see if you can spot the little building, with the folks inside making your path to the gate—to freedom—quicker and safer.

At the Airport

Labor Board Rules Google’s Firing of James Damore Was Legal

Google did not violate federal labor law when it fired James Damore, a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concluded in a lightly-redacted memo made public Thursday. The former senior software engineer was fired from Google in August after internally circulating a ten-page memo arguing in part that women are not as biologically suited for coding jobs as men. After he was terminated, Damore filed a complaint with the NLRB, arguing that Google had violated his right to participate in protected activity, namely addressing problems in his workplace. The NLRB memo disagrees with Damore’s complaint, and recommends dismissing it, were it not withdrawn.

Damore dropped the NLRB complaint last month to instead focus on a class action lawsuit he and another former Google employee brought against the company accusing it of discriminating against white, male, and conservative employees. The NLRB memo released Friday was written by attorney Jayme Sophir in January—less than ten days after Damore filed his lawsuit.

Sophir concluded that Damore’s memo contained both protected statements (like criticizing Google) and not protected statements (perpetuating stereotypes about women), and that Google ultimately fired Damore for things he said that were not protected under federal law. Sophir wrote in her memo that workplaces should have the ability to “‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace.'”

She also said that Damore’s statements about women in his memo “were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding effort to cloak comments with ‘scientific’ references and analysis, and notwithstanding ‘not all women’ disclaimers. Moreover, those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace.” Sophir’s memo also cites two instances in which women withdrew their candidacy for engineering positions at Google after learning about the existence of Damore’s memo.

More on Damore’s Memo

I Tried Going Negative With My Advertising–and It Actually Worked. Here's What I Learned

We hear a lot about the power of positivity. Have you ever stopped to think about the power of negativity? This typically shows up in the form of political attack ads, but recently I’ve been experimenting with how I can use the power of negative and comparison advertising to support the growth of my own digital marketing.

At my company, thinking like an underdog both creates a drive within the company to innovate and also attracts a following of consumers who want to see us win and may even want to be a part of our win. We saw this happen specifically when a larger company sued us and it made local headlines. Many of our customers expressed their support, and when we finally won, we saw a bump in sales from new customers, referred by friends who had been backing us the whole time.

Going negative in a strategic and targeted manner, has been a huge competitive advantage for my business. It’s an outlier strategy that has increased my market share and continues to grow my consumers year after year.

Here’s what I discovered.

Comparison, Not Annihilation

Turns out, most of my customers will root for my company when I position myself as the underdog trying to knock out my biggest competitors. Thinking like an underdog both creates a drive within my company to innovate and also attracts a following of consumers who want to see me win and may even want to be a part of my winning growth story.

I have found that the common misconception that leads other CEOs and business owners away from comparison advertising is the (incorrect) assumption that you have to go full mud slinging, abandon all taste, and totally disparage your competition. That’s not what I’m talking about.

In today’s ‘don’t rock the boat’ business culture, my fellow CEOs are so afraid to run comparison ads on their competitors that they won’t even consider the strategy. What are they so afraid of?

I think that they fear any kind of controversy caused by an ad comparing them to their competitor, even if they’re the ones controlling the narrative. They are petrified it might reflect poorly back on them. And no one wants to come across as a bully.

To clarify my position, I’m not talking about total annihilation. Recently, my team carefully used the power of comparison to create underdog status with consumers similar to the “Avis, We Try Harder” campaign. This allowed us to engage with our audience, build our following, and ultimately craft an environment where our customers draw their own negative conclusions about my largest competitor, and chooses our company, all by themselves.

It’s About ROI

When looking to increase profile and brand awareness, I’ve found that going negative is a smart, lean, cost-effective solution, that can yield substantial results. When it comes to digital marketing, we’ve all been taught that differentiation and unique selling propositions are what allows us to stand out, become associated with the category and move to the first consideration when someone is thinking about making a purchase decision.  

To illustrate this point, think about T-Mobile’s recent strike at Verizon, with a single tweet. T-Mobile’s smart and adept CEO, John Legere, tweeted an article that showed that T-Mobile customers are more loyal than Verizon’s, Sprint’s, or AT&T’s. He appended the article with the following line:

Notice how he only called out the biggest competitor, Verizon? He didn’t mention Sprint or AT&T. There was no need–the press picked up the story did all that work for him. That’s what I’m talking about, and it’s a strategy that is highly underutilized in my opinion.

Turning Negative Advertising Into Positive Results

The bottom line is that negativity works. But, it has to be comparison advertising with finesse, including a certain flair, and creativity–especially for a company trying to disrupt their market and its more established competitors.

Going negative with this delicate formula will help position your company as the underdog, attract fans that root for you, and yield big returns. Give it a shot and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Once you realize the power this strategy yields, you’ll find all sorts of creative ways to leverage it for your growth.

White House Blames Russia for NotPetya, the 'Most Costly Cyberattack In History'

It’s been nearly eight months since the malware known as NotPetya tore through the internet, rippling out from Ukraine to paralyze companies and government agencies around the world. On Thursday, the White House finally acknowledged that attack. And in a reversal of its often seemingly willful blindness to the threat of Russian hacking, it has called out the Kremlin as NotPetya’s creator.

“In June 2017, the Russian military launched the most destructive and costly cyberattack in history,” reads the short statement published by the White House Thursday afternoon. NotPetya, the statement continues, “quickly spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine, and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict. This was also a reckless and indiscriminate cyberattack that will be met with international consequences.”

That brief statement, which follows similar from the UK and Danish governments earlier today, represents a long awaited—or perhaps long overdue—response to a Russian cyberwar that has barraged every level of Ukrainian society, and with NotPetya, spilled out into the rest of the world.

After years of hacker attacks on Ukrainian targets that have destroyed hundreds of computers, terabytes of government data, and twice caused the first-ever hacker-induced blackouts, the NotPetya worm hit Ukraine in late June of last year and quickly spread beyond of the country’s borders. Within days, in part thanks to a leaked NSA hacking technique, it had paralyzed multinational giants including Merck, Maersk, Fedex, and many others, permanently encrypting the hard drives of tens of thousands of those victims’ computers. The attack cost those companies hundreds of millions of dollars each in cleanup costs and lost business, according to their disclosures to shareholders.

Though the White House didn’t provide any evidence of the link between NotPetya and Russia, the notion that Russian military hackers were behind it doesn’t come as a surprise to most in the cybersecurity community. Despite NotPetya’s initial disguise as a form of profit-focused ransomware, security companies like the Ukrainian firm ISSP and the Slovakian company ESET linked the malware early on to a group known as Sandworm or Telebots, believed to be the Russian team responsible for spearheading Russia’s cyberwar attacks on Ukraine. In January, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had found Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, responsible for NotPetya.

But a more formal recognition of Russia’s hand in that massively damaging attack nonetheless represents a landmark, says John Hultquist, who led the team at security firm FireEye that first identified Sandworm. “Without ever being formally attributed by governments naming them publicly, they enjoyed a certain amount of protection from any response,” Hultquist says. “It appears the administration has drawn a line in the sand with an actor that’s been extremely aggressive and enjoyed quite a bit of anonymity until now.”

Beyond a mere recognition of NotPetya’s source and scope, the White House’s statement represents a new turn in its relations with the Russian government. President Trump has, after all, stubbornly refused again and again to name the Russian government as the source of the hacker meddling in the 2016 US election, even after US intelligence agencies named the Kremlin as the culprit behind the breaches of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign. Just earlier this week, in fact, a panel of intelligence agency directors told Congress that the White House has essentially failed to take any steps to prevent future election interference by Russian hackers.

The attribution of NotPetya to Russia represents a far more proactive response to the threat of Russian hacking, says Thomas Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “This is far easier for them to talk about. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s a safer attribution call for them to make,” says Rid. “This is the first step in actually drawing a red line so that something like NotPetya isn’t done again.”

Just how the US government will inflict the “international consequences” that the White House’s statement promises remains unclear. The Obama administration responded to various state-sponsored hacker attacks with, in some cases, indictments of hackers involved and sanctions. But the Trump administration has failed to even carry forward legally imposed sanctions on Russia imposed by Congress to punish the country for its role in meddling with the 2016 US election.

But FireEye’s Hultquist says he’s hopeful that the White House’s statement is nonetheless a step towards real deterrence of the broader cybersecurity threat Russia represents. “There are diplomatic, economic and other military tools that can be brought to bear, but the first step is attributing the activity,” he says.

Hultquist believes Sandworm’s attacks aren’t finished yet. But a recognition of the group at the highest level of the US government is perhaps a start towards reining them in. “This won’t be the last time we see of them,” he says. “But when the blame falls again on Russia, it’s going to be a lot easier for the public to digest and for action to be taken.”

Russian To Judgment

Applied Materials first-quarter results, current-quarter forecast beat on chip demand

(Reuters) – Applied Materials Inc (AMAT.O) reported first-quarter profit and revenue above Wall Street estimates as the world’s largest semiconductor equipment maker benefited from higher demand for flat panel displays and chips used in electronic items.

Share of the company rose 2.2 percent to $53.11 in after-market trading on Wednesday after its revenue and profit forecasts for the current quarter also came in above market expectations.

Sales from its semiconductor business, its largest, jumped 32 percent to $2.84 billion in the quarter.

The company’s results, seen as a yardstick for the semiconductor industry, has been benefiting from higher demand for 3D NAND memory chips from smartphone makers and the shift to organic light-emitting diode technology for displays.

Sales from its display business — which makes flat panel screens for televisions, PCs and smartphones — rose 7.8 percent to $455 million.

While Applied Materials has benefited from a surge in sales of smartphones, it is also set to cash in on the rise of new technologies such as AI, big data, machine learning, augmented reality and autonomous driving.

“We see sustainable strength in our markets as new demand drivers, including IoT, Big Data and AI, layer on top of traditional computing and mobility,” Chief Executive Gary Dickerson said on a post-earnings call.

The company said it also approved a $6 billion share repurchase plan, an increment to $2.8 billion remaining in the previously approved authorization, while also doubling its quarterly cash dividend to 20 cents per share.

Applied Materials said second-quarter revenue is expected to be between $4.35 billion and $4.55 billion and earnings per share in the range of $1.10 to $1.18. Analysts on average expected profit of $1.02 per share and revenue of $4.24 billion.

Net income fell to $135 million, or 13 cents per share, in the quarter ended Jan. 28, from $703 million, or 65 cents per share, a year earlier.

The company said it took a charge of $1 billion due to the recent changes in the U.S. tax law.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.06 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 98 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total net sales rose 28 percent to $4.20 billion in the quarter, above the Wall Street estimate of $4.12 billion.

Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

Shareholder Deason sues Xerox in U.S. to block Fujifilm deal

(Reuters) – Xerox Corp (XRX.N) shareholder Darwin Deason asked a court on Tuesday to block the company’s merger with Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp (4901.T), claiming the U.S. photocopier maker’s board failed shareholders by approving a deal that undervalues the company.

The lawsuit is the latest in Deason and fellow shareholder Carl Icahn’s fight to stop Fujifilm from taking over Xerox in a $6.1 billion deal. The two investors, who control 15 percent of Xerox, aruge the transaction dramatically undervalues Xerox and “disproportionately” favors Fuji.

The Fujifilm deal, “must be stopped dead in its tracks,” said Deason’s lawsuit filed in state court in New York.

Xerox has countered the claims saying that the merger seemed to be the best path for the company after a year of exhaustive examination of a number of alternatives.

“Mr. Deason’s allegations are without merit and the company will vigorously defend itself,” Xerox said in a statement.

Under the deal announced last month, Fujifilm plans to combine the U.S. company into their existing joint venture, to gain scale and cut costs as demand for office printing declines.

The joint venture has existed in various forms since 1962 and the current structure dates to 2001. The merger deal is expected to close in July or August.

The joint venture agreements have a previously undisclosed “crown jewel” lock-up right that gives Fuji control over Xerox’s intellectual property and manufacturing rights in the Asia-Pacific market if Xerox sells a 30 percent stake to another suitor, according to the lawsuit.

A “crown jewel” agreement is an offer to sell the stock or assets of a company to an investor most desirable to management – to prevent hostile takeovers.

Xerox said that Icahn had been privy to the details of the agreement through his representative, Jonathan Christodoro, on the Xerox Board, while Deason had been aware of the agreement when he sold his company, ACS, to Xerox in 2009.

“These documents have since been publicly disclosed. For any of them to assert that these agreements were ‘shrouded in mystery’ is disingenuous, at best,” the company said in a statement early on Tuesday, before the lawsuit was made public.

Deason also included former Xerox Chief Executive Ursula M. Burns in the lawsuit, saying she was chairman of Xerox between May 2010 and May 2017 and had full knowledge of the Fuji-Xerox joint venture agreements.

In a letter to shareholders, who still have to approve the deal, Xerox said that walking away from the joint venture would require it to completely rebuild its supply chain, which would be extremely expensive and take years to implement.

On Monday, Icahn and Deason, who own a combined 15.2 percent in Xerox, called upon shareholders to free “the company from the shackles of the Fuji Xerox joint venture.”

Some analysts have said that Xerox and Fujifilm management seem locked into the deal and have limited options in terms of addressing Icahn’s and Deason’s opposition.

Shares of Xerox closed down 2.6 percent at $29.17 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee, Aishwarya Venugopal and Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Tom Brown

Airbnb's 'Experiences' business on track for 1 million bookings, profitability

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Airbnb Inc’s year-old tours and activities business is booking tens of thousands of travelers every month and is likely to be profitable late next year, the company said on Tuesday, highlighting success in its efforts to grow beyond renting rooms and homes.

More than a year ago, Airbnb announced a broad effort to become a full-fledged travel company, adding to its home-renting business an assortment of new services such as excursions to see local attractions and restaurant reservations.

The expansion is part of Airbnb’s efforts to diversify its revenue sources amid global regulatory pressures. In some cities, it has been forced to reel in its core business, in which people rent out spare rooms or entire apartments or houses to travelers. Airbnb is betting that revenue from its new travel services will eventually eclipse its proceeds from home rentals.

The company now expects its “Experiences” service, which travelers can use to book guided tours or activities hosted by a local resident, will by the second quarter be on track to have 1 million guest bookings in a year. That number assumes no growth in the business, Airbnb said, making it a conservative estimate.

There have been more than 260 million home- and room-rentals through Airbnb since the company launched a decade ago.

Experiences, one of four separate units within Airbnb, is on track to be profitable by the end of 2019, the company said.

Experiences is an eclectic assortment of more than 5,000 excursions across at least 58 cities, ranging from wine tasting in California to glass-blowing in Chicago, making a kimono in Tokyo or guided meditation in Paris. Many capitalize on the locale, such as a tour to discover the hidden stairways in San Francisco.

Airbnb said an additional 25,000 travel experiences will be available by the end of this year.

The company charges the people who host Experiences a 20 percent fee. By comparison, Airbnb charges home renting hosts a fee of about 3 percent and guests up to 15 percent of the reservation.

Airbnb, which is valued at $31 billion, has previously said the company as a whole is profitable. A spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on the profitability of each of its other three business units – the home-renting service, a luxury vacation rental business and a separate China operation.

Chief Executive Brian Chesky this month refuted widely held expectations of an Airbnb initial-public offering this year, saying it is “not going public in 2018.”

Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Peter Henderson and Susan Thomas