VW diesel car owners file compensation lawsuit

BERLIN — Lawyers representing owners of tainted Volkswagen diesel-powered cars in Germany filed the first lawsuit seeking consumer compensation for damages from the car maker’s diesel scandal in a test case that could turn up pressure on it to compensate millions of European customers.

Volkswagen has agreed to pay around 535,000 U.S. consumers and car dealers compensation valued at nearly $20 billion, but has refused to make any similar offer to its nearly nine million customers in Europe affected by the emissions-cheating scandal.

If the German lawsuit succeeds, it could snowball into additional claims and Volkswagen’s costs to resolve the diesel scandal could rise significantly.

German consumer-advocacy firm MyRight filed the lawsuit on Tuesday against Volkswagen AG, demanding damages on behalf of a single VW buyer affected by its cheating scandal, the Braunschweig district court confirmed.

Germany doesn’t have U.S.-style class-action rules. Instead, a court will hear the case of a single plaintiff, which is then used as a model for litigation affecting other damaged parties. MyRight said it had also collected demands from about 100,000 other customers.

MyRight commissioned Hausfeld Rechtsanwälte LLP to handle the claims. Hausfeld is a subsidiary of the U.S. law firm that was part of the Joint Plaintiffs Committee that represented U.S. consumers in the Volkswagen class-action litigation.

The Hausfeld attorneys in the filing are demanding Volkswagen compensate their client for the full purchase price of EUR41,000 plus interest and legal fees, according to the court filing that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Volkswagen said it was aware of MyRight’s announcement but couldn’t comment because it hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.

Volkswagen, which has admitted to having installed illegal emissions-cheating software in more 11 million vehicles, faces lawsuits from authorities and consumers in many countries, but only a limited number of plaintiffs have brought individual lawsuits in Germany.

Volkswagen has rejected European car buyers’ demands for compensation and denied they suffered damages because of different regulations than those in the U.S. The company offered European customers only technical remedies for cars with the cheating software.

Write to Christian Grimm at [email protected] and Friedrich Geiger at [email protected]

Nikkei Kicks Off New Year With Sharp Gains

Japan equities started the new year sharply higher on Wednesday, amid a robust outlook for the U.S. economy and a positive signal for Japanese manufacturing, as well as expectations of continued yen weakness.

The Nikkei Stock Average ended up 2.5% at a 13-month closing high, helped by gains in financial and export-oriented stocks, as trading resumed after a four-day holiday weekend. It was the first time since 2013 that the index…

Carnival Corp.’s new ‘smart ships’ know your name, what you want and where you want it

Imagine a future world defined by technology so subtle you hardly know its there.

Servers know what you want ahead of time, so your food is ready when you sit down. The “what should I do today?” question is answered by a list of curated options based on your personal interests. Standing in line is a remnant of a life long ago. And perhaps best of all, the technology works so smoothly that no users’ manual is required.

But this isn’t some distant, Trekkie future. Within months, passengers will find these features aboard Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess.

For the last 18 months, in a boxy building across from a Doral cow field, Carnival Corp. — parent of Princess and 9 other lines — has been imagining and then devising a seagoing smart city. In November, it will be introduced first on Royal Princess in Fort Lauderdale, creating a world in which the crew and even the ship itself respond to each guest’s needs — often before anyone asks.

The Doral-based cruise company is set to announce its futuristic innovation at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday, delivering what it promises will be the idea that changes how companies approach not only cruising, but the hospitality industry altogether.

It’s the first time that a company can know who you are, it can know what you want, it can know where you are, it can at least make a good guess at what mood you’re in and take everything on the ship and customize it to your individual need at this time. Joe Pine, co-author of the “Experience Economy”

The project directly addresses the argument that cruises are floating behemoths that carry thousands of people like they’re cattle and not individuals with specific needs, said Joe Pine, co-author of the “Experience Economy,” which theorized in 1998 that what consumers truly want are personalized experiences rather than goods.

Carnival is hoping its new approach reduces or even eliminates the major gripes surrounding cruising — both for those who have and haven’t traveled on a cruise ship before — such as crowding, queues to get on and off the ship, impersonal experiences and a lack of authenticity.

“It’s the first time that a company can know who you are, it can know what you want, it can know where you are, it can at least make a good guess at what mood you’re in and take everything on the ship and customize it to your individual need at this time,” Pine said.

What Carnival’s new system does well, he said, is maximize the time a vacationer spends on the things they enjoy, while minimizing the tedious logistics that can cut into their precious leisure experience.

Lines? No more; travelers will be able to book slots to disembark and skip the line when it’s time to get off. Crowded spaces? Services will come to the cruisers, rather than forcing them to congregate in one space while they wait for a drink or to book a shore excursion. Impersonal experience? Every cruiser will be addressed by name and crew members will know details about them even if they’ve never met. And lack of authenticity? Not so lacking in this smart world where activities are catered around individuals and not mass groups.

How it works

Don’t let the idea of super-smart tech overwhelm you. For the guest, Carnival’s new technology is deceptively simple.

It starts with a medallion, a quarter-sized disc weighing just under 2 ounces emblazoned with a traveler’s name, ship and sail date. Guests need only carry it around, or purchase a wristband or necklace to carry it in.

This medallion is like a starship room key embedded with information on the individual cruiser. Like card keys and bands on some other ships, the medallion helps travelers unlock doors and pay for goods. But here it does much more. It can alert crew to know who guests are as they approach. Guests preferences — such as dietary restrictions and dining reservations — will also be part of the information crew members see on tablets populated with information from the medallions.

The more cruisers do, the more the medallion knows what they like and the more customized their experience becomes.

We think once it’s actually executed in those first sailings in November on Princess, when people experience it, it’s going to be transformational. Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp.

Remind you of something? Part of the team behind Disney’s MagicBand, a wrist band that unlocks similar features at Disney parks, has been entrusted to create Carnival’s iteration. And they’ve kicked the experience up a few notches.

“Frictionless” is the word Carnival’s chief experience and innovation officer (and MagicBand’s creator) John Padgett uses to describe it.

“The millisecond it’s not perfect in its function, it becomes technology,” Padgett said during a tour of cruise company’s innovation center in early December. The experience, he said, is designed to be seamless.

With Carnival’s medallion for instance, guests don’t have to raise their hands to a sensor — as they do with the MagicBand — to open a door. Instead, the room already knows they’re coming — so it will also know to change the temperature of the cabin depending on the weather outside — and will open only for its occupants.

The medallion system isn’t that different from a smart phone and its operating system. Imagine the phone is the ship and the medallion is iOS or Android. The phone knows only to open for your pass code — and it knows your preferences, what apps you enjoy, what sites you frequent.

This medallion helps travelers unlock doors, pay for goods, communicate with crew members, book excursions and set up time slots to embark and disembark the ship.

But for the medallion to know you — just as with a phone — you have to start by inputting information. Travelers are prompted prior to their vacations to plug in some simple background information, such as interests and credit card information, in a companion app called the OceanCompass. The OceanCompass can be accessed on a phone, computer or tablet and is also available on thousands of interactive screens — or “portals” — around the ship. The medallion does the rest.

“On the medallion, you don’t have to do anything, you just have it,” Padgett said. “It eliminates all action, unlike MagicBand.”

Based on information entered into the app and past choices (such as excursion purchases), the portal will analyze each guest’s interests (Do you like adventure and discovery? Fitness? Relaxation? All of the above?) and offer a selection of activities on board and at ports. Those offerings are based solely on guest interests, says Padgett, not on what makes money for the cruise line.

Thanks to location technology in the medallion, guests’ selection of options change as they move around the ship.

At the sports deck? Maybe a game of volleyball then or pick-up basketball. Near the bar? How about a wine tasting?

But there’s no need to worry about schedule conflicts; if guests already have booked something on their schedule, the OceanCompass won’t show options for that time slot. No need to for cruisers to feel stressed by running from place to place or worse, that sensation of missing out on something.

Ordering will be easier, too. Goods and services ordered through a mobile device or onboard portal will find guests, rather than the other way around. A traveler could order a drink via the app at the pool deck and then walk away. The server would be able to find them wherever on the ship they go.

‘Revolutionary’

“I think initially most people won’t comprehend it. And they will say, ‘We have stuff like that,’ and they are wrong. They don’t,” said Arnold Donald, Carnival’s president and CEO, in an interview. “We think once it’s actually executed in those first sailings in November on Princess, when people experience it, it’s going to be transformational.”

Stewart Chiron, a 27-year veteran of the industry, said Carnival’s technology is unlike any new project he’s ever seen in cruising.

Many previous shipboard innovations were adapted from concepts already available on shore, such as surfing simulators on Royal Caribbean or bowling alleys on Norwegian Cruise Line. Carnival Corp.’s new system is truly a first.

“This is a whole new level and it’s just not for cruising, it’s for hospitality. This kind of tech can be licensed anywhere,” Chrion said.

This is a whole new level and it’s just not for cruising, it’s for hospitality. This kind of tech can be licensed anywhere. Stewart Chiron, cruise industry expert

But the project does include some features cruisers may find invasive, Chiron said. For instance, the digital photo wall will mine the medallion’s location technology to project images of other cruisers who have passed within five feet of you on a voyage. Travelers can see photos of the couple they sat with at dinner or the family next to them at the pool that afternoon.

In staterooms, too, sensors alert crew to come back later when cruisers are occupied in their cabins.

Still, the ease of use will likely win detractors over, Chiron said.

He likens it to storing credit card information on a frequently used website, or the SunPass automated toll payment system. At first people were skeptical.

“Now people don’t care,” he said. “We are so advanced in technology today that they don’t have to recreate the mistakes from yesterday.”

The differentiator, said author Pine, is that when information demonstrably improves a customer’s experience, the concern of intrusion falls away.

It’s revolving around information about this individual, living, breathing person and using the information you gather to benefit that person. When you do that you have a powerful competitive advantage. Joe Pine, co-author of the “Experience Economy”

Pine predicts others companies will likely follow as they have with the MagicBand (Royal Caribbean International, for instance, has a band that opens doors when tapped against a pad on the door), but says it may take them years to catch up.

That’s thanks to the learning relationship the new technology fosters with its wearer. The information on what a cruiser likes is retained for the next time he or she sails and continues to evolve as the wearer’s needs evolve.

“It’s revolving around information about this individual, living, breathing person and using the information you gather to benefit that person. When you do that you have a powerful competitive advantage,” Pine said. “Even if a competitor comes along that has the same capabilities, what are the chances I would go to that competitor? Because I would have to teach a competitor all over again what Carnival already knows [about me] today.

“…It is revolutionary.”

Accelerating economic activity, inflation sustain investors’ festive fizz


LONDON Upbeat global economic data and growing signs that inflation on both sides of the Atlantic is accelerating fueled a second day of 2017 gains across world stock markets on Wednesday, and lifted the euro and oil prices.

A batch of reports from Europe showed that French consumer confidence hit a nine-year high, business activity across the euro zone rose at the fastest pace in more than five years and inflation in the euro zone is its highest in over three years.

This followed similarly upbeat reports this week on U.S., British, Chinese and Japanese business activity and helped steer investors toward riskier assets that benefit from higher interest rates – such as equities – and away from lower-yielding assets, including bonds.

“Over the month, confidence increased in the manufacturing sector and stabilized in services, amid solid new orders and businesses, strong optimism and elevated backlog of works,” said Apolline Menut, economist at Barclays.

“This suggests that euro area activity is poised for a strong start in 2017,” she said.

Economists at HSBC on Wednesday raised their 2017 and 2018 forecasts for global growth and inflation, the first time in nearly five years they have upped these outlooks over a two-year horizon.

At midsession in Europe on Wednesday, Europe’s index of leading 300 shares was flat at 1,445 points, supported by a 0.5-percent rise in financials but capped by the strength of the single currency.

The FTSEuroFirst 300 hit a 1-year high on Tuesday.

One of the biggest movers on major European bourses was UK retailer Next. Its shares fell as much as 14 percent after a profit warning. The stock has lost nearly 40 percent over the past year.

MSCI’s benchmark global index rose for a second day to trade 0.3 percent higher, and its index of major Asian shares excluding Japan rose for a seventh consecutive day, gaining 0.4 percent.

U.S. futures pointed to a higher opening of up to 0.2 percent on Wall Street, priming the Dow Jones for another test of the 20,000-point mark.

FED MINUTES

The potential for further U.S. rate hikes this year ensured profit-taking on the dollar’s run on Tuesday was limited to 0.2 percent against a basket of currencies.

The dollar’s strength in Asian trading helped Japan’s exporter-heavy stock market rally toward its biggest daily increase for almost two months.

In its first trading day of the year, the Nikkei climbed 2.50 percent and looked set for the highest close since December 2015. It was further aided by domestic data showing factory activity had expanded at the fastest pace in a year.

The euro rose 0.3 percent to $1.0435, and the dollar gave up earlier gains against the yen to trade little changed at 117.75 yen.

The continued grind higher in euro zone inflation is lifting inflation expectations closer to the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2 percent. This offers some welcome relief to ECB policymakers who for years have struggled to lift growth and inflation.

The focus for investors now turns to the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting last month, when it raised rates.

“It will be interesting to see just how much the (incoming Trump administration’s) fiscal stimulus plans contributed to the interest rate forecasts from Fed policymakers in December and whether there is potential for the pace to be faster still,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

U.S. Treasury yields inched up marginally, rising almost two basis points to 2.47 percent before easing back, but German and UK yields were down a basis point at 0.25 percent and 1.31 percent , respectively.

Germany’s 10-year yield had hit a two-week high of 0.29 percent on Tuesday.

In commodity markets, oil prices recovered from a fall of more than 2 percent on Tuesday. U.S. crude bounced back 0.5 percent to stand at $52.58 a barrel, while Brent futures rose 0.5 percent to $55.74.

Gold took advantage of the dollar’s slip to trade 0.6 percent higher at $1,165 an ounce.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Wall Street set to open higher, Fed minutes eyed


Wall Street looked set for a second day of gains on Wednesday as oil prices edged up slightly, and investors awaited the minutes of Federal Reserve’s December meeting in which it raised interest rates.

The Fed cited strength in the labor market and a slight uptick in inflation among reasons for its move. Investors will pore over the minutes to assess policymakers’ view on the incoming administration.

The minutes of the Dec. 13-14 meeting are expected at 2:00 p.m. ET.

With just over two weeks left before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, investors are waiting for the finer details of his proposed policies such as tax cuts and higher fiscal spending.

Some analysts have warned of a potential correction in a post-election rally, which has helped the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI to come within a hair’s breadth of 20,000.

“I think the market has gotten ahead of itself and is probably primed to give something back,” said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth.

“When it could happen and how long it lasts depends on the new administration’s ability to pass some of the initiatives that they pushed for during the election.”

The SP 500 is trading at 17.5 times forward 12-month earnings, well above the 10-year median of 14.7 times, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Dow e-minis 1YMc1 were up 43 points, or 0.22 percent at 8:26 a.m. ET, with 16,031 contracts changing hands. SP 500 e-minis ESc1 were up 5.75 points, or 0.26 percent, with 106,101 contracts traded. Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQc1 were up 10.75 points, or 0.22 percent, on volume of 12,897 contracts.

Automakers will report U.S. sales for December and the full year. Encouraging data could push the Dow to the elusive 20,000 mark. The Dow closed at 19,881.76 on Tuesday.

Wall Street ended the first trading of the new year with sharp gains as increases in technology stocks helped offset a decline in oil prices.

Oil, which hit an 18-month high on Tuesday before reversing course due to a strong dollar, was up marginally at $55.67 on Wednesday.

The dollar fell to profit-taking and was down 0.27 percent, a day after its index .DXY rose to a 14-year high.

Tesla (TSLA.O) shares fell 1.2 percent to $214.50 premarket after the electric carmaker reported a 9.4 percent decline in quarterly deliveries.

Agile Therapeutics (AGRX.O) lost 64 percent of its value in heavy trading and is set to open at a record low after the company provided an update on its contraceptive patch trial.

Depomed (DEPO.O) soared 12.5 percent to $22.89 after the NY Post reported that KKR Co was still interested in buying the drugmaker.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Tillerson and Exxon part ways; $180M retirement package


FILE - In this Friday, March 27, 2015, file photo, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, in Washington. Tillerson, the nominee of President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of state, is severing ties with Exxon Mobil through a $180 million retirement package ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing. Photo: Evan Vucci, AP / Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

NEW YORK (AP) — Rex Tillerson, the nominee of President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of state, is severing ties with Exxon Mobil through a $180 million retirement package one week before his Senate confirmation hearing begins.

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