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Is China buying U.S. soy? Washington shutdown keeps traders guessing

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CHICAGO (Reuters) – Commodity traders are in the dark because of the partial U.S. government shutdown, unable to see daily and weekly reports of agricultural exports to obtain clues as to whether China is following through with promises to buy grain and soy amid the ongoing trade war.

Soy beans are seen in a field waiting to be harvested in Minooka, Illinois, September 24, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Traders have been anxiously awaiting proof from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that China is ramping up purchases of grains and soy from U.S. farmers, who are preparing their spring planting and trying to secure financing for seeds, fertilizer and land rents.

Now, trade experts and grain analysts warn the suspension of the reports is clouding the marketplace and potentially giving an advantage to big grain companies directly involved in the export trade. The government shut down partially at midnight on Dec. 21.

“We’re watching sales to China like a hawk,” said Ted Seifried, vice president and chief ag market strategist for the Zaner Group.

Beijing resumed buying U.S. cargoes earlier this month, after the two countries agreed on Dec. 1 to a trade war truce. But hefty tariffs on U.S. cargoes remain in place, and there is uncertainty over how much the top U.S. soybean customer will purchase.

The gap also gives the large commercial grain merchants – such as Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N), Bunge Ltd (BG.N), Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and Louis Dreyfus Corp [LOUDR.UL] – an advantage by allowing them to keep their export deals with countries like China and Mexico out of the public marketplace.

ADM and Cargill said on Friday they had no comment. The other two companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rich Feltes, vice president for research with Chicago-based brokerage R.J. O’Brien, said the absence of USDA export sales data can increase the risk involved in trading agricultural markets, pushing speculators to the side.

“It gives a little bit of unfair advantage to exporters who either are or are not making sales, and can trade that information accordingly,” he said.

Along with its weekly export sales reports, the USDA has issued daily announcements of grain and soybean sales over 100,000 tonnes since 1977. The reporting system was launched in response to the purchase of millions of tonnes of U.S. grain by the Soviet Union in 1972 in deals that resulted in soaring U.S. grain and food prices

FARMERS AT RISK

University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin said the partial shutdown could also deal a blow to farmers suffering from the U.S.-China dispute, by delaying aid payments meant to help offset some of the losses for crops hit by retaliatory Chinese tariffs in a trade war launched by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“If you’re talking about cash in the farmer’s pocket, the longer this goes on, the longer it’s going to delay that program, which is really just getting ramped up,” Irwin said.

The shutdown entered its seventh day on Friday, and was on track to continue into next week and possibly longer. It affects about 800,000 employees of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, and other agencies.

If the shutdown persists, it also could jeopardize the release of a host of hotly anticipated monthly and quarterly grain supply and demand reports.

The USDA on Friday reiterated that the shutdown, if it continues, would halt its World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report and reports by its National Agricultural Statistics Service, which tracks quarterly U.S. grain stocks and U.S. winter wheat seedings.

Those reports, along with an annual summary of U.S. crop production, were scheduled for release on Jan. 11.

In the reports, Feltes said analysts expected to see the USDA trim its estimates of the average 2018 U.S. corn and soybean yields, imply strong feed usage of corn in the first quarter, and shed light on how many acres of winter wheat farmers were able to plant this past autumn, given excessive rains in many areas.

“Those are all bullish influences that we are going to be denied confirmation of,” he said.

Reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek, P.J. Huffstutter and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Tracy Rucinski and Matthew Lewis

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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