ASUS launches new ZenFone Max in India

ASUS has launched an updated version of the ZenFone Max in India.

One of the changes in the new model is the upgrade to an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chipset. The phone also comes in two variants with 2GB or 3GB RAM options, and has 32GB storage common across both with microSD support up to 64GB. Other features such as 5.5-inch 720p display, 13 megapixel rear camera, 5 megapixel front camera are carried over from previous phone but the new model will come with Android 6.0.1 out of the box.

The main feature here still is the 5000mAh battery, that ASUS claims will give three days of usage and 38 days of standby time. The phone can also be used as a charger for other devices, using an OTG cable.

The new ZenFone Max will be available in black, white, orange, and blue. It is priced at INR 9,999 ($148) for the 2GB and INR 12,999 for the 3GB option.

ASUS also announced that Bollywood actress Sonakshi Sinha will be the company’s first ever brand ambassador in India. Sonakshi will be part of future ASUS launches and will be trying out the devices prior to launch to strengthen her connection with the brand and the product.

UK finance firms face anxious year

More than four in 10 major financial services firms say their confidence has been knocked by the slowing global economy, Brexit fears and a slump in oil prices.

In recent months 42% of major banks and insurers said their “confidence had diminished” because of this cocktail of ongoing uncertainties, according to a survey by Lloyds Bank.

Only 3% of more than 100 major institutions surveyed said they were more hopeful about prospects than a year ago.

The firms, which also included asset managers and private equity funds, added that the two major threats facing the UK’s economy were volatile financial markets and new regulation.

Lloyds Bank’s financial institutions sentiment survey 2016 found that 70% of firms said jumpy financial markets, sparked by a slowing economy in China, were a key obstacle to UK growth. As China’s industrial growth has slowed, global oil prices have fallen by about 70% since the summer of 2014.

The UK’s 23 June EU referendum vote, and warnings by the chancellor, George Osborne, and Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, that a vote to leave the 28-nation bloc will damage growth, have also clouded the economic environment.

The survey found that 70% of companies also said new regulation, as watchdogs keep a tighter focus on financial firms, could hinder expansion in Britain.

However, 52% of firms surveyed still forecast that the UK would grow faster than its G7 peers – the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – over the coming year.

Firms cited Britain’s skilled workforce, financial reputation and relative economic stability as being among its chief attractions.

The Lloyds Commercial Bank managing director of financial institutions, Ed Thurman, said: “2016 has already proved to be a very challenging year for the UK financial services sector and this has dented confidence across the sector.

“The headwinds of economic volatility and new regulation do not show signs of abating, but the overwhelming view is that the UK will ultimately fare as well as, or better than, our G7 peers.”

Austria election: far-right candidate and rival tied at 50% in exit poll

Austria’s political future is on a knife-edge, with the candidate bidding to be the European Union’s first far-right president holding a wafer-thin lead over his rival.

According to the public broadcaster ORF, Norbert Hofer of the rightwing populist Freedom party (FPÖ) was neck and neck on 50% with his rival Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green party leader who is running as an independent.

Postal ballots, accounting for 14% of eligible voters and expected to favour the left-leaning candidate, are being tallied on Monday, and a full result is not expected until Monday afternoon. Fifty per cent and one vote would suffice to hand the presidency to one of the two candidates. Data from Austria’s interior ministry, which does not take into account the projected postal vote, put Hofer on 51.9% and Van der Bellen on 48.1%.

Even though the Austrian presidency is mainly a ceremonial role, a vote of around 50% for the far-right politician Hofer already represents a political earthquake in a country in which two centrist parties have dominated the landscape since 1945, and will be celebrated as a triumph by xenophobic parties across the continent.

Initial exit poll results had shown a slender lead for Hofer. However, the economist academic Van der Bellen performed strongly in cities across the country, gaining 62% of the vote in Graz, 61% in Vienna and 56% in Salzburg.

Voter turnout was 71.8%, up on the first round of the presidential election in April.

Hofer arrived at the FPÖ party to enthusiastic chants of ‘Norbert! Norbert!’ as the party chief Heinz-Christian Strache paid tribute to his achievement. “The entire encrusted, failed system has linked arms with Norbert,” he said. “Half of Austrians chose to take Norbert’s path … it’s a new awakening! Today history has been made.”

Hofer, sporting a spotty tie and a pink handkerchief in his jacket pocket, said nobody yet knew who would be president of Austria on Monday, “but we’ve made history. Eleven years ago this party had just 3% … today every second Austrian voted for the FPÖ.”

He repeated the assessment of election observers who say that postal votes, which are still being counted, will be the deciding factor in the final outcome. “It could well be the case that after counting postal votes that we’re not quite at the front, but I’d say we’ve won anyway,” Hofer said.

He added there were only two scenarios: either he would be Austria’s Head of State, or he would be supporting Strache in his ambitions to become Austrian chancellor in or before 2018. With the FPÖ’s standing currently at around 35%, its chances of entering government are widely believed to be good.

Hofer said he had been deeply hurt throughout the campaign by how often his disability – he walks with a stick following a serious paragliding accident – had been used against him. “They have repeatedly abused me, saying I’m a cripple,” he said. “But I tell you, the stronger the pressure they put me under, the stronger I become.”

He then introduced his whole family, including his wife Verena, and his four children, before Marlies Grasser, the presenter of FPÖ-TV, told the crowds “now it’s time to celebrate our dear Norbert,” and the party leaders linked arms to sing the FPÖ’s anthem, “Austria Forever”, while the crowds, bathed in a blue light, joined in, needing no prompting with the text: “When I sing this song, I have tears in my face, but they’re tears full of pride of which I’m not ashamed”.

Earlier in the day, while casting his vote in his home town of Pinkafeld in the Burgenland region, Hofer told the press: “I am not a dangerous person.” In the run-up to the elections, questions were raised about Hofer’s background in the far-right fraternity culture and proximity to people advocating for a Greater Germany.

Supporters from both camps celebrated the initial results. The mood at the FPÖ’s election party at Vienna’s Prater amusement park, close to the city’s famous big wheel, was upbeat. Over beer and sausages, members sat amid balloons in the party’s trademark blue and Austrian flags, glued to a large screen at the Alpendorf bar as the results came in.

A folksy band sang Alles Wird Gut (all will be well), with the lead singer telling the cheering crowds: “For 25 years now, we’ve held the dream of a new Austria and now we’re so excited to be on the verge of finally getting it.”

On Sunday night, Van der Bellen said he had been moved in the two weeks since the first round by the Austrians who had mobilised to support him “from across the generations and classes. That has carried me considerably and I’m very grateful.” He said that if he won, one of his first priorities would be to create more jobs. Austria’s unemployment rate has doubled in the past three years.

During a fraught election campaign that divided the country, 45-year-old Hofer and 72-year-old Van der Bellen clashed on a series of issues, including the refugee crisis and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP) between the European Union and America.

The FPÖ’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, accused the public broadcaster ORF of deliberately not showing the figures of the interior ministry, which had put Hofer in the lead.

In a television interview, Hofer said: “Whoever wins will have the task of uniting Austria once again. At the end of the day, we’re all Austrians.”

Asked whether, in the event of victory, he would try to appease his critics from abroad who liken the political mood in Austria to that before the rise of the Nazi party, Hofer responded: “Of course it’s completely absurd to claim that … it’s just a baseless claim.”

The journalist pressed him: “But how would you try to convince them you’re not extreme right as they claim?” Hofer said: “I’d tell them that this is not a reflection of the facts. I’d sort things out very quickly just by the daily contact I have with them. I’d be able to persuade them they have nothing to fear.”

While the Austrian presidency has been interpreted mainly as a ceremonial role by the centrist politicians who have held the post in the past, there are fears that Hofer could use the instruments of the president’s office to dissolve the government and usher in a chancellor from his own party, which is currently leading in the polls.

Some constitutional experts question whether a president would be able to dissolve the government without presenting a plausible reason to do so.

Poor results in the first election round for the two governing parties, the centre-left SPÖ and the centre-right ÖVP, triggered the resignation of the social democrat chancellor Werner Faymann, who has been replaced by Christian Kern, previously the head of Austria’s federal railway company.

Austria is scheduled to hold its next federal election by September 2018.

Britannia Industries shares tumble 8% post March quarter

Shares of Britannia Industries slumped nearly 8 per cent on Monday despite the company reporting a 13.7 per cent increase in its consolidated net profit at Rs 190.2 crore for the March quarter.

The stock slipped as much as 7.84 per cent to Rs 2,703.40 on BSE.

Britannia Industries shares tumble 8% post March quarter

The company had posted a net profit of Rs 167.3 crore in the same period of the previous fiscal.

Britannia’s net sales rose to Rs 2,189.8 crore during the quarter, up 7.8 per cent, from Rs 2,031.8 crore in the year-ago period, Britannia Industries had said in a BSE filing.

For the entire 2015-16, the company’s net profit stood at Rs 806.1 crore as against Rs 688.6 crore in the year-ago period.

Net sales during 2015-16 grew to Rs 8,607.1 crore, from Rs 7,775.1 crore a year earlier.

PM Narendra Modi invites ideas for Under 17 Football World Cup

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited ideas from the public as India gears up to host the Under 17 Football world cup next year.

The 17th edition of the Under 17 Football world cup will be held in six cities from September to October 2017.52 world cup matches will be held in the global competition.

Variable annuity sales drop to lowest level in 15 years: LIMRA

Sales of variable annuities plunged to their lowest level in 15 years last quarter as the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule loomed large and market volatility scared consumers away from equity-based products.

Variable annuity sales were $26.6 billion in the first quarter, a drop of 18% compared with the same quarter in 2015 and the lowest quarterly sales total since 2001, according to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute’s first-quarter U.S. Retail Annuity Sales Survey. Nineteen of the top 20 variable-annuity product manufacturers reported decreases. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. was the one carrier that saw an increase in VA sales on the quarter.

Further, the market share of variable annuities compared to overall annuity sales dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years. VA market share was 45% for the quarter, compared to 60% a year ago. The last time VA market share was 45% or lower was in 1995, according to LIMRA.

Lackluster quarterly sales are in line with a multiyear trend that’s been playing out with variable annuities, with 2015 seeing the fourth consecutive year of sales declines.

Volatility in equity markets early in the year, following a dip in the market toward the end of 2015, was one of the primary factors in the variable annuity sales slump, said to Todd Giesing, assistant research director at the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute.

“You saw consumers kind of shy away from products that were equity-based for the quarter,” Mr. Giesing said.

The S&P 500 dropped around 5% in January, following a 1.75% dip in December.

Fixed annuities seem to have benefited from consumers’ flight to more conservative products — all types of fixed annuities experienced double-digit growth during the quarter, contributing to a 48% year-on-year spike in growth, to $32.3 billion, for all fixed annuities compared to the same period last year.

India commits huge investment in Iran’s Chabahar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived Tehran on Sunday on a two-day visit seeking to further cement Indo-Iranian ties and explore avenues to bolster trade in a big way in the wake of lifting of sanctions against Iran.

India will invest billions of dollars in setting up industries — ranging from aluminum smelter to urea plants — in Iran’s Chabahar free trade zone after it signed a pact to operate a strategic port on the Persian Gulf nation’s southern coast.

The inking of commercial contract to build and run the strategic port of Chabahar will help India gain a foothold in Iran and win access to Afghanistan, Russia and Europe, thus circumventing Pakistan, Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari told PTI here.

“The distance between Kandla and the Chabahar port is less than the distance between New Delhi and Mumbai, and so what this agreement does is to enable us quick movement of goods first to Iran and then onwards to Afghanistan and Russia through a new rail and road link,” he explained.

Over Rs 1 lakh crore investment can happen in Chabahar free trade zone,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here on Sunday on a two-day visit seeking to further cement Indo-Iranian ties and explore avenues to bolster trade in a big way in the wake of lifting of sanctions against Iran.

Iran, Gadkari said, has cheap natural gas and power that Indian firms are keen to tap to build a 0.5-million tonne aluminium smelter plant as well as urea manufacturing units.

“We spend Rs 45,000 crore annually on urea subsidy, and if we can manufacture it in the Chabahar free trade zone and move it through the port to Kandla and onward to hinterland, we can save that amount,” he said.
Gadkari said Nalco will set up the aluminium smelter while private and co-operative fertiliser firms are keen to build urea plants provided they get gas at less than $2 per mmBtu.

Railway PSU IRCON will build a rail line at Chabahar to move goods right up to Afghanistan, he said.

Gadkari said India Ports Global Pvt, a joint venture of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and the Kandla Port Trust, will invest $85 million in developing two container berths with a length of 640 metres and three multi cargo berths.

The Indian consortium has signed the port pact with Aria Banader Iranian.
“The contract is for 10 years and can be extended. We will take 18 months to complete phase one of the construction,” he said, adding that first two years of the contract are grace period where India doesn’t have to guarantee any cargo.

ZTE Grand X Max 2 launched with dual rear camera setup, 6-inch display

ZTE has launched a new smartphone in the US. Dubbed Grand X Max 2, the device – which comes with a large 6-inch display and dual rear camera setup – is now available for purchase from AT&T’s prepaid subsidiary Cricket.

Other specifications of the handset include full HD display, 1.5GHz octa-core processor (Snapdragon 617 SoC), 2GB/16GB memory configuration, and 3,400mAh battery. It features dual rear (13MP + 2MP) cameras and a 5MP front shooter.

The phone is 4G compatible, features Quick Charge 2.0, offers USB Type-C connectivity, and runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out-of-the-box. As for price, the Grand X Max 2 carries a tag of $200.

Screen-size limit for Win10 Mobile devices raised to 9-inches

Microsoft has updated the minimum hardware requirements for its Windows 10 Mobile platform, allowing the OS to be installed on devices with screen-size up to 9-inches. Previously, the limit was 8-inches.

Another change that the Redmond, Washington-based company has introduced is that auto-flash has been made mandatory. Aside from the mobile platform, the hardware requirements for Windows 10 OS have also been tweaked – head to the Source link below for more details.

Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro could be headed outside of China

Looks like the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro (2016) – which was launched back in March this year, and is currently officially only available for purchase in China – could soon be landing in other markets worldwide.

While the device launched in China carries a model number of SM-A9100, a Samsung SM-A910F has been spotted listed on India’s import/export tracking website Zauba.

While there’s no confirmation on exactly which regions will get the Galaxy A9 Pro, a polish retailer is has reportedly already started accepting pre-orders for the device, suggesting that Europe is on the list.

In case you don’t already know, the A9 Pro is a slightly upgraded version of the A9 with 4GB RAM, 32GB memory, and 16MP rear camera. It also packs in a 5,000mAh battery and runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.