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Netflix hikes U.S. prices by up to 18 per cent

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Netflix is raising its U.S. prices by 13 per cent to 18 per cent, its biggest increase since the company launched its streaming service 12 years ago.

Its most popular plan will see the largest hike, to $13 per month from $11. That option offers high-definition streaming on up to two different internet-connected devices simultaneously. Even at the higher price, that plan is still a few dollars cheaper than HBO, whose streaming service charges $15 per month.

Canadian prices are also set to rise in the next billing cycle, as part of previously announced plans, but Tuesday’s new prices are on top of that, for U.S. customers only.

The extra cash will help to pay for Netflix’s huge investment in original shows and films and finance the heavy debt it has assumed to ward off rivals such as Amazon, Disney and AT&T.

While subscribers may bemoan a bigger monthly bill Wall Street cheered, sending shares up more than 5 per cent in midday trading.

This marks the fourth time that Netflix has raised its U.S. prices; the last hike came in late 2017 . But this is the first time that higher prices will hit all 58 million U.S. subscribers, the number Netflix reported at the end of September.

Previously, Netflix had continued to offer a basic, $8-a-month streaming plan while raising rates on more comprehensive plans with better video quality and options to watch simultaneously on different devices.

This time, the price for the cheapest plan is going up to $9 per month. A premium plan offering ultra-high definition will jump to $16 per month from $14.

The new prices will immediately affect all new subscribers and then roll out to existing customers during the next three months. Customers in about 40 Latin America countries where Netflix bills in U.S. currency will also be affected, excepting key international markets such as Mexico and Brazil.

Netflix had nearly 79 million subscribers outside the U.S. as of September.

Higher prices could alienate subscribers and possibly even trigger a wave of cancelations. For instance, Netflix faced a huge backlash in 2011 when it unbundled video streaming from its older DVD-by-mail service, resulting in a 60 percent price increase for subscribers who wanted to keep both plans. Netflix lost 600,000 subscribers after that switch.

The company is now betting it can gradually raise its prices, bolstered by a string of acclaimed hits during that past five years that have included House of CardsOrange Is The New BlackStranger ThingsThe Crown and, most recently, the film Bird Box.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience,” the company said in a statement.

Consumers also have an increasing array of other streaming options .

Amazon offers a streaming service as part of its Prime shipping program for $13 US per month, or $120 US for an annual membership. Hulu sells an ad-free service for $12 per month. AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit plans a broader streaming service this year centered on HBO. Walt Disney is gearing up to launch a streaming channel this year.

With Apple also widely expected to join the video-streaming fray, the competition for programming is enabling top directors, writers and actors to charge more for their talents. That has intensified financial pressure on Netflix, which hasn’t been bringing in enough money to pay for all its programming and other business expenses.

The company burned through about $3 billion last year and is expecting to do so again this year. To offset the negative cash flow, Netflix has been borrowing heavily to pay for programming. The Los Gatos, California, company had accumulated nearly $12 billion US in debt before borrowing another $2 billion US in an October bond offering.

Concerns about the stiffening competition and Netflix’s ability to sustain its current leadership in video streaming has caused the company’s stock price to slide by 21 per cent from its peak of $423.21 reached last June.

News of the price hike sent a charge into shares of Netflix Inc., which jumped $21.17, to $354.11.

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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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