Big Tech blew its big moment at the Russia hearings

Big Tech’s big appearance in Washington this week was a big disappointment.

Congressional representatives have been investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in last year’s election. They called on Facebook, Google, and Twitter to testify about what happened and what the companies are doing to prevent similar propaganda efforts in the future. Mostly it was a chance for the big tech companies to show they are taking the problem seriously.

But on just about every level, Big Tech failed. The companies sent their lawyers instead of their top brass, a pretty good indication of how much of a priority they’re making of this problem.

While the companies’ lawyers assured the members of Congress that their companies take this issue seriously and are taking steps to make sure it never happens again, we’ve heard similar talk before. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have routinely shown they can’t handle such challenges, and they gave little reason to think things would be different this time around.

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Article Credit: Business Insider 

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Baltimore names Intel executive as newest CIO

After several rapid changes in IT leadership in recent months, the City of Baltimore is betting big on its newest chief information officer.

Frank Johnson, the city’s newest CIO and chief digital officer, becomes the fifth leading IT official at the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology in five years. Johnson, who started in early September, replaced acting department head Evette Munro, who resigned in July after taking over for former CIO Jerome Mullen, who was released in February just a couple months after the inauguration of Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The Pugh administration is betting big on Johnson, a longtime Intel sales executive, who is now among the highest paid officials in the city with an annual salary of $250,000, according to The Baltimore Sun. His salary tops that of the mayor, who is paid $176,000, and the police commissioner, who made $200,000 last year.

Johnson also earns nearly $100,000 more than previous city officials who held the same position. Pugh said the increased pay reflects the job’s expanded responsibilities, which include cross-agency system modernization, ensuring the security of the city’s data, and participation in mayoral initiatives.

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Article Credit: State scoop

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AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OR ALTERNATIVE INTELLIGENCE?

Artificial Intelligence is today’s buzzword that has been buzzing around more frequently with higher and ever-increasing intensity every passing day. The reason is as clear as a crystal: Its power and possibilities it can create.

A Gartner prediction goes on to say that AI bots will power 85% customer service interactions by 2020 and will drive up to USD 33 trillion of annual economic growth.

A report by BCG and MIT Sloan Management Review suggests that about 75% of global executives believe that AI will enable their companies to move into new businesses. Almost 85% believe that AI will allow them to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage. Among global leaders, the report further adds that 75% have identified the business cases for AI.

Per a market research firm called Tractica, the annual global revenue for AI products and services will grow from USD 643.7 million in 2016 to USD 36.8 billion by 2025, a 57-fold increase!

AI is nothing but the science of embedding cognitive abilities into machines. Simply said, it is to allow machines to undergo myriad numbers of experiences (Model training, its technical phrase) so that it would decide what works in what scenarios. This is not about coding into the system but allowing, rather enabling the system to code for itself. All you have to do is to be an informed facilitator; yes, here ‘informed’ will have a dark underline.

I am yet to decide whether to subscribe to the Elon Musk school of thought — which I know would force me to imagine a wicked grin from a robot — or to trust the sanity of the average human being picking up this closed book of AI which has barely opened. It doesn’t really matter who thinks of AI highly or lowly but one thing is certain: Its time has come. Before you buy time in realizing and delay in deciding of its adoption, it may come and stare straight in your face! You may not even have the bargaining power that you still enjoy today. Let me share with you some thought nuggets to chew over its probable potential:

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Article Credit: BBN

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Chipmakers bet on the ‘big bang’ of artificial intelligence

No one in Silicon Valley wants to be called a “chip company” these days. Qualcomm, which makes the processors found in many Android phones and iPhone modems, describes itself as a “platform company”. Intel, once proudly “inside” most of the world’s PCs, now positions itself as a “data company”. Nvidia, whose soaring share price has made it one of the best-performing stocks of any sector in the past two years, describes its graphical processors as “amplifying human intelligence”, thanks to their growing role in deep learning research.

Yet just as quickly as semiconductor companies are trying to rebrand themselves as something else, dealmakers are rushing into the sector. Since 2015, the chip sector has seen more than $150bn-worth of mergers and acquisitions — and that was before Broadcom chief Hock Tan made his bold $130bn move on Qualcomm this month.

Broadcom is the product of several of those deals, not least its $37bn buyout by the smaller Avago in 2015, which retained its target’s name.

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Article Credit: Financial Times

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The Key To How AI Can Help Us Be Healthier

Can AI make us healthier, happier, better? That’s the question on everyone’s minds these days.  If engineers continue to program AI to take away our jobs and our need to utilize our capacity for deductive reasoning and common sense, then the answer is clearly NO. Human beings thrive on being challenged. It develops will, intelligence, adaptability whether we recognize that fact or not. On the other hand, with an upsurge in health tech that uses AI to monitor our health systems and our sleep, the answer is YES. The real answers, lie with those who go beyond such pro/con conversations and look at the ethics of AI like The International Neuroethics Society or look at the human code and technical code as collaborative and operating on similar principles like Liza Lichtinger. Liza is a unique hybrid: psychologist, wellness pioneer and a computer code developer. It’s a combo that makes her uniquely qualified to live her mission as a futurist who shows companies CEO’s and Engineering teams how to design AI in ways that provide maximum health for people who use their products.

It’s one of those flawless Indian Summer days as I pull up to the beautiful, white 1920s style Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose for the SAND Conference which stands for Science and Nonduality and brings together some of the brightest minds in bioengineering, health, computer sciences and spirituality to share ideas, tips and concerns across platforms.  I’ve come to interview Liza who is working on character development and personality scripting with Hanson Robotics and the Institute of Noetic Sciences on the AI for a Wellness Coach Robot named Sophia. When finished, one of her capabilities will be guiding people through meditation, amongst many other things.

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Article Credit: Forbes

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Matthews International Reports Earnings for the Fiscal Year Ended September 30, 2017

  • HIGHER FISCAL 2017 GAAP EARNINGS OF $2.28 PER SHARE; HIGHER ADJUSTED EARNINGS OF $3.60 PER SHARE
  • COMPANY REPORTS RECORD GAAP OPERATING CASH FLOW OF $149.3 MILLION
  • CONSOLIDATED REVENUES INCREASE TO $1.52 BILLION, A NEW COMPANY RECORD

Matthews International Corporation (NASDAQ:MATW) (“Matthews” or the “Company”) today announced financial results for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017.

Net income attributable to the Company for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017 was $74.4 million, or $2.28 per share, compared to $66.7 million, or $2.03 per share for fiscal year 2016, representing an earnings per share increase of 12.3%.  On a non-GAAP adjusted basis, fiscal 2017 earnings were $3.60 per share, compared to $3.38 a year ago (a reconciliation of non-GAAP financial information is provided in the table below).  The increase in earnings per share primarily reflected the impact of higher sales for the Company’s Memorialization and Industrial Technologies segments, the realization of acquisition integration synergies, the impact of recent acquisitions and an improvement in the Company’s consolidated effective income tax rate.

The Company’s consolidated sales for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017 were $1.52 billion, compared to $1.48 billion a year ago, representing an increase of $35.1 million and another new record for the Company.  Higher sales for the current year resulted primarily from an increase in sales of cemetery memorial products and cremation equipment, sales growth in the U.K. and Asia Pacific brand markets, and higher sales of marking products for the Industrial Technologies segment.  The impact of recent acquisitions also contributed to the increase in consolidated sales over last year.  Changes in foreign currency exchange rates had an unfavorable impact of $12.8 million on the Company’s fiscal 2017 consolidated sales compared to last year.

The SGK Brand Solutions segment reported sales of $770.2 million for fiscal 2017, compared to $756.0 million last year.  Sales growth in its U.K. and Asia Pacific markets and the impact of recent acquisitions were the principal contributors to the increase in sales.  The segment’s sales in the U.S. and European markets were lower for the year primarily reflecting weaker brand market conditions.  Changes in foreign currency exchange rates had an unfavorable impact of $12.1 million on the segment’s sales for fiscal 2017 compared to last year.

Sales for the Memorialization segment for fiscal 2017 were $615.9 million, compared to $610.1 million last year, representing an increase of $5.8 million.  The increase reflected higher sales of cemetery memorial products and cremation equipment, which were partially offset by lower casket sales for fiscal 2017 as a result of an estimated decline in U.S. casketed deaths.

The Industrial Technologies segment reported sales of $129.5 million for the year ended September 30, 2017, compared to $114.3 million last year, representing an increase of $15.2 million, or 13.3%.  The increase primarily resulted from higher sales of marking products and OEM solutions compared to last year.

Non-GAAP adjustments for fiscal 2017 included costs in connection with acquisition integrations, including the Company’s ERP implementation, costs in connection with the Company’s recent acquisitions (including asset step-up expense), charges related to recent cost reduction initiatives in several of the Company’s businesses, and loss recoveries.  Non-GAAP adjustments last year primarily included acquisition integration costs (including inventory step-up expense).

Net income attributable to the Company for the quarter ended September 30, 2017 was $19.6 million, or $0.60 per share, compared to $23.9 million, or $0.74 per share, for the fourth fiscal quarter last year.  On a non-GAAP adjusted basis, earnings for the fiscal 2017 fourth quarter were $1.06 per share, compared to $1.08 per share a year ago.  In addition, the Company recorded an additional $0.04 per share toward its fiscal year-to-date earnings per share related to an income tax benefit on equity compensation expense.  Due to the nature of the benefit, accounting rules provide that the impact is only reflected in year-to-date earnings, but not the fourth quarter.  The Company’s consolidated sales for the fiscal 2017 fourth quarter were $396.1 million, compared to $377.0 million a year ago.  Higher sales for the current quarter resulted principally from an increase in sales for the Industrial Technologies segment, higher sales of cemetery memorial products and cremation equipment, and the impact of recent acquisitions.

In discussing the Company’s results for fiscal 2017, Joseph C. Bartolacci, President and Chief Executive Officer, stated:

“Our results for fiscal 2017 once again demonstrated the fundamental strengths of our Company, which included strong cash flow generating operations as evidenced by our record operating cash flow in fiscal 2017, leading positions in stable markets that facilitate core organic growth, strategic investments, and a track record of successful acquisition integration.  Despite challenges in the U.S. and European brands markets and a decline in a key Memorialization demographic (U.S. casketed deaths), the Company again reported earnings growth for the current fiscal year.  In addition, the Company absorbed a $0.07 per share increase in equity compensation expense during the year due to required accounting for retirement-eligible employees and a $0.05 per share increase in costs related to its product development project in the Industrial Technologies segment.

“The Memorialization segment reported sales growth and higher operating profit for fiscal 2017 primarily reflecting higher sales of cemetery memorial products and cremation equipment.  In addition, continued synergy realization from the Aurora acquisition and the benefits from ongoing operating productivity initiatives contributed to the segment’s improvement in operating results for the current fiscal year.

“Following a slow start to the current fiscal year due to sluggish market conditions, our Industrial Technologies segment posted a strong finish to fiscal 2017 as a result of sales growth for its core marking products and fulfillment systems.  Further, as we move into fiscal 2018, order rates for fulfillment systems remained solid.

“In our SGK Brand Solutions segment, we are nearing completion of the SGK acquisition integration and related ERP implementation and, as a result, we expect a reduction in integration-related costs in fiscal 2018.  In addition, another key ongoing benefit from the SGK integration and entity consolidation included a lower consolidated effective income tax rate, resulting from utilization of tax attributes in the Company’s U.S. and international operations.

“Our integration of Aurora Casket and other recent acquisitions will continue into fiscal 2018 and are progressing well.  At September 30, 2017, we estimate additional remaining annual synergies from all current acquisition integration activity in the range of $15 million to be realized primarily over the next two fiscal years.

Mr. Bartolacci further stated:  “Looking forward to fiscal 2018, we expect another good year for Matthews and continued growth in our adjusted earnings at a rate consistent with fiscal 2017.  In addition, we are confident in the continued success of our recent investments and integration execution.  However, we remain cautious with the continued slow brand market conditions in the U.S. and Europe as well as the current uncertainty with pending U.S. income tax legislation.”

Matthews International Corporation is a global provider of brand solutions, memorialization products and industrial technologies. The SGK Brand Solutions segment is a leader in providing brand development, deployment and delivery services that help build our clients’ brands and consumers’ desire for them.  The Memorialization segment is a leading provider of memorialization products, including memorials, caskets and cremation equipment, primarily to cemetery and funeral home customers that help families move from grief to remembrance. The Industrial Technologies segment designs, manufactures and distributes marking, coding and industrial automation technologies and solutions. We have approximately 11,000 employees in more than 25 countries on six continents that are committed to delivering the highest quality products and services.

Any forward-looking statements contained in this release are included pursuant to the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.  Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that may cause the Company’s actual results in future periods to be materially different from management’s expectations.  Although the Company believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, no assurance can be given that such expectations will prove correct.  Factors that could cause the Company’s results to differ materially from the results discussed in such forward-looking statements principally include changes in economic conditions, competitive environment, death rate, foreign currency exchange rates, technological factors beyond the Company’s control, and other factors described in the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K and other periodic filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

MATTHEWS INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION AND SUBSIDIARIES
CONDENSED CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF INCOME
(Unaudited)
(In Thousands, except Share Data)
Three Months Ended
September 30,
Fiscal Year Ended
September 30,
2017 2016 2017 2016
Sales $ 396,064 $ 376,995 $ 1,515,608 $ 1,480,464
Cost of sales (242,460 ) (230,165 ) (952,221 ) (924,010 )
Gross profit 153,604 146,830 563,387 556,454
Selling and administrative expenses (123,678 ) (107,158 ) (450,784 ) (437,639 )
Operating profit 29,926 39,672 112,603 118,815
Other income (deductions), net (5,341 ) (6,289 ) (16,316 ) (23,581 )
Income before income taxes 24,585 33,383 96,287 95,234
Income taxes (5,036 ) (9,783 ) (22,354 ) (29,073 )
Net Income 19,549 23,600 73,933 66,161
Non-Controlling Interests 92 263 435 588
Net Income attributable to Matthews $ 19,641 $ 23,863 $ 74,368 $ 66,749
Earnings per Share – Diluted $ 0.60 $ 0.74 $ 2.28 $ 2.03
Earnings per Share – non-GAAP (1) $ 1.06 $ 1.08 $ 3.60 $ 3.38

(1) See the reconciliation of non-GAAP financial information provided in the table below

The Company uses non-GAAP financial measures to assist in comparing its performance on a consistent basis for purposes of business decision making by removing the impact of certain items that management believes do not directly reflect the Company’s core operations including acquisition-related items, adjustments related to intangible assets, litigation items, and strategic initiative and other charges, which includes non-recurring charges related to operational initiatives and exit activities. Management believes that presenting non-GAAP financial  measures (such as Adjusted EPS, EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA) is useful to investors because it (i) provides investors with meaningful supplemental information regarding financial performance by excluding certain items, (ii) permits investors to view performance using the same tools that management uses to budget, forecast, make operating and strategic decisions, and evaluate historical performance, and (iii) otherwise provides supplemental information that may be useful to investors in evaluating the Company’s results. The Company believes that the presentation of these non-GAAP financial measures, when considered together with the corresponding GAAP financial measures and the reconciliations to those measures, provided herein, provides investors with an additional understanding of the factors and trends affecting the Company’s business that could not be obtained absent these disclosures.  These non-GAAP financial measures are supplemental to the Company’s GAAP disclosures and should not be considered an alternative to the GAAP financial information.

RECONCILIATION OF NON-GAAP FINANCIAL INFORMATION
EARNINGS PER SHARE
(Unaudited)
Three Months Ended
September 30,
Fiscal Year Ended
September 30,
2017 2016 2017 2016
Earnings per share, as reported $ 0.60 $ 0.74 $ 2.28 $ 2.03
Acquisition-related items 0.16 0.18 0.65 0.74
Strategic initiatives and other charges 0.14 0.01 0.21 0.01
Loss recoveries, net of costs (0.03 ) (0.23 )
Pension and postretirement expense (1) 0.05 0.04 0.19 0.17
Intangible amortization expense 0.14 0.11 0.50 0.43
Earnings per share, as adjusted $ 1.06 $ 1.08 $ 3.60 $ 3.38
RECONCILIATION OF NON-GAAP FINANCIAL INFORMATION
EARNINGS BEFORE INTEREST, TAXES, DEPRECIATION AND AMORTIZATION (“EBITDA”)
(Unaudited)(In thousands)
Three Months Ended
September 30,
Fiscal Year Ended
September 30,
2017 2016 2017 2016
Net income attributable to Matthews $ 19,641 $ 23,863 $ 74,368 $ 66,749
Interest expense 6,621 6,198 26,371 24,344
Income taxes 5,036 9,783 22,354 29,073
Depreciation and amortization 17,171 16,202 67,981 65,480
EBITDA 48,469 56,046 191,074 185,646
Acquisition-related items 6,134 8,216 25,748 34,674
Strategic initiatives and other charges 5,925 403 9,209 241
Loss recoveries, net of costs (1,325 ) (10,683 )
Stock-based compensation 2,708 2,672 14,562 10,612
Pension and postretirement expense (1) 2,191 2,185 8,773 8,413
Adjusted EBITDA $ 64,102 $ 69,522 $ 238,683 $ 239,586

(1) The non-GAAP adjustment to pension and postretirement expense represents the add-back of the non-service related components of these costs.  Non-service related components include interest cost, expected return on plan assets and amortization of actuarial gains and losses.  The service cost and prior service cost components of pension and postretirement expense are considered to be a better reflection of the ongoing service-related costs of providing these benefits.  The other components of GAAP pension and postretirement expense are primarily influenced by general market conditions impacting investment returns and interest (discount) rates.  Please note that GAAP pension and postretirement expense or the adjustment above are not necessarily indicative of the current or future cash flow requirements related to these employee benefit plans. On September 30, 2016, the Company changed the method used to estimate the service and interest components of net periodic benefit costs for its pension plans.  The impact of this change was not material for the quarter or fiscal year periods.

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Safe in the Cloud?

The biggest cloud providers leading the way in cybersecurity can’t do everything to protect companies — from themselves.

When the medical records of about 150,000 people in Patient Home Monitoring Corp.’s database were exposed in September, the breach may have seemed too small to merit the broad media coverage that Equifax received after hackers targeted the personal information of 145.5 million of its customers.

Kromtech Alliance Corp.’s security researchers discovered the breach of Patient Home Monitoring’s data, which included blood-test results, according to a news report from Fierce Healthcare in October. The Lafayette, Louisiana–based, the company helps manage respiratory diseases, sleep apnea, and blood testing for patients on anticoagulants like Coumadin.

Although its database was quickly secured and the size of the group exposed relatively small, the report was startling in a different way. The Patient Home Monitoring data resided in Amazon.com’s cloud computing network, Amazon Web Services, and the repository was “misconfigured” in a way that allowed public access to confidential information, according to Fierce Healthcare and a blog on Kromtech’s website. While companies like Amazon Web Services provide cloud security, their corporate customers are responsible for their own data protection.

Todd Zehnder, chief strategy officer and head of investor relations at Patient Home Monitoring, declined to comment. An Amazon spokesman said the company wouldn’t comment on a specific incident or customer relationship. Amazon Web Services says that its repository has built-in security features, though.

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Article Credit: Institutional Investor

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