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‘Juul-alikes’ Are Filling Shelves With Sweet, Teen-Friendly Nicotine Flavors

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Eonsmoke and the other companies deny targeting minors.

Eonsmoke argues that Juul’s patents are invalid. “Juul has tweaked some very simple standard ways to basically heat up and vaporize a liquid and puff on it,” Mr. Lobbin said. “They haven’t figured out a way to get to Mars.”

Ziip, which designs and manufactures dozens of different flavor pods and devices is also under investigation by the F.D.A., which said that it, like Eonsmoke, might have products on the market illegally.

Like Eonsmoke, Ziip claims that Juul’s technology is either the same or very close to what was previously invented, invalidating its patents.

“Juul is trying to gain a virtual monopoly over the e-cigarette industry in the United States,” said Steven Susser, a lawyer for Ziip. He also blamed Juul’s marketing practices for putting the industry under a microscope.

“All Ziip wants to do is to offer a less expensive, and what it believes to be a better quality, alternative,” he said. Ziip sells dozens of Juul-compatible flavors including Froopy, Iced Pina Colada, Cinnamon Roll and Strawberry Lemonade.

In documents filed with the trade commission, Juul called its vaping system “a runaway success” and said that the devices and nicotine pods manufactured and sold by the accused companies were based on stolen intellectual property. Juul also raised questions about its competitors’ quality control, although in an interview it did not give any specific examples of problems.

Melanie Milin, co-founder of Vapor4Life, said her company had always told prospective customers not to start vaping if they don’t already smoke. The company offers products in a range of nicotine levels to encourage people who vape to taper off and quit.

The showdown has stirred up mixed feelings among the tobacco-control crowd.

“It is hard to root for Juul in a corporate fight about who profits from nicotine addiction,” Mr. Bostic said. “But from a purely public health perspective, an I.T.C. decision in their favor would at least get some products aimed at children off the market. All of these should be banned, and a growing number of jurisdictions are doing just that.”

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Why are products for older people so ugly?

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On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco, people are filtering into a small conference room appointed with a whiteboard and subdued black-and-white photography. As the seats fill up around the long white table, a woman dressed mostly in red, with sparkly silver nail polish, invites everyone to her upcoming ukulele performance. A man in a blue plaid shirt passes around a container of heavily iced hot cross buns. A woman in a green turtleneck chitchats about the presidential power struggles in Venezuela. They’re here to talk about technology—a scene that should be entirely unremarkable in a city filled with small white conference rooms where people are doing exactly the same.

This story is part of our September/October 2019 issue

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“Okay, everyone ready?” asks Richard Caro, the meeting’s leader, an Australian with neatly cropped silver hair, alert dark eyes, and the demeanor of a kind professor. “Let’s start with you, Lynn. You’ve got one here”—he glances down at his notes—“that says ‘hearing aids.’”

Lynn Davis, a 71-year-old retired project coordinator, says her sister-in-law recently talked about a pair of $300 hearing aids she’d bought online and loved. Excited, Davis had Googled the product, only to find a lengthy blog post that “ripped it apart.”

“Ha!” chortles the woman sitting next to her. “A piece of junk!”

The comment sparks a spirited back-and-forth about hearing aids. Caro, at 63, is one of the youngest people in the room: the average age of the 11 women and five men gathered here is somewhere in the mid-70s. A retired computer programmer says she has considered buying hearing aids that can be programmed at home. A man with an iPhone sticking out from the pocket of his flannel jacket talks about the signal-to-noise ratio. A redhead wearing a hand brace describes her stereophonic pair, which affords her surround-sound hearing.

“Wow, you’ve got the Cadillac!” one woman cracks.

“For the money,” the redhead responds, “I have the Ferrari.”

They are the Longevity Explorers, part of Caro’s experiment to improve the way technology is developed for older adults. They’ve been meeting here since 2014. Throughout most of the meeting Caro sits quietly at the head of the table, hands clasped together, and just listens. He wishes more people—especially entrepreneurs—would do the same.

Elizabeth Zelinski has a story she likes to tell. It’s about the company that made a wearable pad to prevent people from hurting their hip if they fell. “They couldn’t sell the thing,” says Zelinski, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Because, guess what? You know why? Nobody wants to have a big butt.”

If they had just done some user testing, she says, “they would have saved themselves from a lot of heartache.”

It’s a familiar tune to engineer Ken Smith, director of the mobility division of the Stanford Center on Longevity. He says one of the biggest mistakes designers make is to assume that around the age of 60 people lose interest in aesthetics and design. This can have dire consequences for products meant to help people with their health. No one wants to stick a golf-ball-size hearing aid the color of chewed gum in their ear, any more than they want to wear a T-shirt that reads “SENIOR CITIZEN.”

Similarly, there’s a common perception that people of a certain age simply can’t or don’t want to learn about new technologies. There is only a kind-of, sort-of, not-really kernel of scientific truth to this. Zelinski, a specialist in neuroscience and cognition, says aging causes changes to the medial temporal lobe—the part of the brain associated with new learning. And your white matter, or myelin, which helps speed the transmission of information from one brain cell to another, is going to get funky, she says. “People just need longer … they need more exposure to something to learn how to use it. It’s not that they completely lose the ability to learn.”

Experts say older adults who still work, or who spend time with younger family members who use technology, are more apt to pick it up. Also, says Zelinski, “a lot of the technology that older people are interested in has to be something that they find easy to use, that’s affordable and compelling.”

Mobility
Seismic’s body suit uses built-in sensors and robotics to give wearers extra support when sitting or lifting.

Photograph by Cody Pickens

That sounds like what anyone would want. And yet the list of lousy products for older people is long. Smith describes clunky walkers, ugly canes, and institutional-looking grab bars—although he adds that he’s recently seen some cleverly disguised to look like towel racks or other household objects.

Smith’s division has helped bring to market a number of products for the older consumer, like a line of Stanford-designed shoes for people with knee arthritis. One of the options even looks like a slick running shoe, rather than a Frankensteinian orthotic.

Engaging older people in designing for older people “is a good thing,” says Smith. “Because younger people do tend to have this picture of designing things that are functional for older people, but not really understanding what makes them happy.” Presented with products that are “brown, beige, and boring,” many older people will forgo convenience for dignity.

That’s why last year, as part of an annual global design challenge he runs at Stanford, Smith brought in the Longevity Explorers so that the designers could actually meet some older people. Smith said the workshop helped—his young finalists came away thinking of older consumers as less of a stereotype, and more as individuals with heterogeneous tastes and needs.

A handful of major companies are trying to set an example by doing something similar. Design heavyweight IDEO brought on Barbara Beskind, then 89, as a designer in 2013 to help it create products for older people. Hazel McCallion, former mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, was 98 when Revera, one of Canada’s largest providers of assisted living, hired her as its chief elder officer in 2015.

But progress is incremental, perhaps because aging still gives people the heebie-jeebies.

“Unfortunately, the first thing you hear when you say ‘Well, so much of the population is aging, they’re living older’—people will say, ‘Oh my God! What are we going to do about this problem?!’” says Smith. “And you know, if you back off a step, you realize this is, like, one of the great accomplishments in human history.”

Caro has an adventurous streak—he once heli-skiied the Himalayas—but he is not brash. He gathers his thoughts before he speaks, and when he does, he uses his hands judiciously for emphasis. He’s mastered Silicon Valley Neat Casual: Button-ups under top layers that suggest athletic activity, dark jeans, an Apple watch.

He arrived in California from Melbourne, with a stop to study lasers at Oxford University as part of a doctorate in experimental physics. After a job at a pioneering laser eye surgery firm in Boston, he spent the 1990s at startups and medical-device companies in Silicon Valley and ended up going solo as a management consultant and angel investor. Then, five years ago, he decided to take on the problem that had been nagging him for years. For older people, he says, “all the existing products were ugly and stigmatizing. It just seemed there was a fertile opportunity that was being missed.”

After he’d conducted about 100 interviews with people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, one thing stood out: many of the people he met missed feeling useful. “There’s this huge demographic of people who have sort of been put aside and told to go off and play bridge and bingo and not contribute to society,” he says. Zumba and lectures were fun, but not fulfilling.

An idea took shape: Why not get people together to talk about aging and use those discussions to pinpoint problems technologists should tackle? It would be a resource for product developers, as well as giving the target audience some influence over the companies gunning for their dollars.

“We weren’t sure we could make it interesting to them so they’d want to come back,” he says. “We weren’t sure anything useful would come out of it. We weren’t sure of anything.”

It turned out to be an experiment that paid off. Today there are eight Longevity Explorer “circles,” as Caro calls them: five in Northern California and one each in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. There are about 500 members, most of whom are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, although there are members in their 60s as well. He often gets emails from people who want to either join a group or start one, and he is gradually greenlighting circles throughout the US, run by volunteers. The circles are enabled by Caro’s company, Tech Enhanced Life, a public benefit corporation.

Circle meetings go like this: Members start by writing down topics they want to cover (like hearing aids) on sticky notes and passing them to Caro, who cycles through those suggestions before introducing a discussion topic. He uses the same topic at multiple circles, and it’s usually from a theme that has cropped up at more than one meeting. (The day I was there, the topic was “What do we do about the fact that the world seems to be shrinking around me? I’m not ready to just sit in my armchair and wait for the end.”)

Practical demonstrations are encouraged. At one point during my visit, a woman whipped out a tool she liked for opening packages (plastic clamshells are even more maddening when you have arthritis). Explorers recommend and review gadgets and digital tools—everything from ride-share apps to jar openers—and those conversations get turned into guides on techenhancedlife.com.

Personal care
Gillette’s Treo razor is designed for those who have to shave others. It has a different angle, a special razor guard, and a tube of shaving gel built straight into the handle.

Courtesy photo

One of the site’s most popular pages is a roundup of toenail clippers—it turns out the difficulty bridging the distance between your hands and toes is a common side effect of gaining years. Content for older adults and their caretakers is free; a small fraction of the information deemed of more interest to companies or researchers lives behind a $45-a-month paywall.

Today the company is funded mainly by Caro, two other cofounders, and a handful of investors, but eventually Caro wants it to pay for itself. In 2017, after feedback from Explorers that they would like to weigh in on product development, not just the finished goods, he introduced “sponsored explorations”—a paid service for companies designing products for older adults. Each Explorer gets a fee, usually in the range of $100 to $500, for taking part in focus groups, information–gathering sessions, and other projects. They’ve done them with early-stage companies, venture-backed startups, and “humongous companies that everyone in the world has heard of,” Caro says. He’s evasive, though, about who those clients are and how many sponsored explorations have been conducted, saying only that the number is “more than 10 but less than 100.” The products have involved everything from robotics to fintech—and frequently, he says, the companies come away realizing that their assumptions were “completely wrong.”

Charles Mourani met Caro at a conference in Palo Alto when he was two months into building Mason Finance, a service targeted at older adults interested in selling their life insurance policies for cash—the kind of thing many turn to when they’re hit with large, unanticipated expenses, like medical bills.

Mourani’s team still hadn’t tested its product with users beyond their own parents and grandparents: “It’s not like you can just simply show up to a retirement home,” he says. So he hired the Longevity Explorers. Over the course of 2018 they ran three different projects, and the results, he says, were “eye-opening.”

Among the things that surprised Mourani was the Longevity Explorers’ proclivity for reading the terms of service. Younger users breeze through this step on most websites by simply checking a box, ignoring the text, and clicking “next.” But older users want to read the small print. A 30-second application quickly becomes 10 minutes when someone reads every single condition.

Lots of designers have had similar “aha!” moments after talking to their older users. Take Nick Baum, who created StoryWorth, a subscription app and website that allows family members to prompt each other to tell stories about themselves. Launched in 2013, the site has collected well over one million stories, Baum says, the vast majority of them from people over 60. During the early years, Baum handled a lot of the customer support himself and often fielded phone calls from older users. Once, an unanticipated problem popped up.

“We quickly ran into this case where couples were sharing an email address,” he says. “At first I thought, ‘Well, that’s crazy. Who would share an email address?’ Then I realized that 50 years ago people didn’t have cell phones, and they had a shared phone number, right? And so of course you get email—why not have shared email?” Rather than force people to change their behavior, he adjusted to allow more than one account under the same email address, so that people sharing a single email could get individual communications from the company in the same in-box.

Designing for older users doesn’t only benefit older users, says Caricia Catalani, a design director at IDEO. The company recently worked with Los Angeles County to revamp its voting machines, with an eye toward older people who were robust voters in their youth but had stopped showing up at the polls. It turned out that designing for them led to “good design decisions for everyone,” says Catalani.

Isolation
Social isolation is real for many older people. Virtual-reality company Rendever makes headsets that let users revisit old haunts or join in activities with their peers.

Courtesy photo

Those with weak or no vision liked having audio prompts, for instance. But so did people with low literacy and young people who had never voted before, because the audio program acted as a host and guide. They also found that larger, more legible text was “desirable from everyone’s point of view,” not just for older voters with poor vision. The new machines are currently being manufactured and will be rolled out soon.

I asked Catalani if she sees companies showing more interest in incorporating the viewpoints of older adults in their design process.

“I wish that was true,” she says. While some are starting to see older people as a demographic defined by more than age, many just see “the financial opportunity,” she adds. It’s a revenue stream they may never tap if businesses continue to see their elder customers as a monolithic pocketbook instead of as individuals.

Lynn Davis—who had debunked the $300 hearing aids at the Longevity Explorers meeting I attended—first joined the group about four years ago. She’s an Apple devotee who recently learned how to use Google Docs and describes her tech aptitude as “low to middle.” But those who have worked with the Longevity Explorers know that is not exactly true of the group as a whole.

“When I’m in a room with 85-years-olds on average who all have an iPhone in their pocket, the question remains as to how representative that actually is,” says Mourani.

Caro acknowledges this. Most members are white and middle class, and many are former professionals. He describes the consulting groups as just one tool—suited to understanding early adopters, for instance, rather than all consumers. “When we have more circles in other places, we’ll be able to do even more sorts of projects,” he says.

When Davis meets me to talk about the group, she’s wearing chic purple-framed eyeglasses and guitar-pick earrings. She says she dreams of exoskeletons that will improve mobility, and cars that come on their own when you call, but for her, Longevity Explorers isn’t just about better products—it’s about better relationships. Receiving advice from, and commiserating with, her peers is a major draw.

“It’s just nice to know there’s a room full of people who also get stuck,” she says. Often, tech talk segues naturally into what she calls the “hard work” of discussing things like hospitalization and loneliness.

It’s no secret that older adults like Davis can be a boon for companies—but people I spoke to for this story told me that although businesses are eager to sell them things, they’re slow to include them in the design process.

Caro is betting this will change. He is in talks to start about 10 more circles nationwide—the beginning of what he calls a “movement”: groups all over the world where older consumers are telling developers what they want, and not the other way around. But ultimately, like the Explorer meetings, it’s not really about physical things.

“It’s about being in control of your own destiny,” he says.

 

Andy Wright is a writer and editor based in San Francisco.

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Full-Year Results Of Three Stocks: SEQ, KPG And HIT

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Sequoia Financial Group Limited, Kelly Partners Group Holdings Limited and HiTech Group Australia Limited have released their full-year results for FY2019 ended 30 June 2019. Let’s see how these companies performed during the period.

Sequoia Financial Group Limited

An integrated financial services company, Sequoia Financial Group Limited (ASX: SEQ) offers investment and superannuation products, retail, wholesale and institutional trading platforms, and wealth management and advisory services. Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, SEQ caters to wholesale as well as self-directed retail customers. It also serves 3rd party professional service businesses.

On 20 August 2019, Sequoia Financial Group released its full-year results for the period ended 30 June 2019. The company reported an increase of 9.7% in revenues from ordinary activities to $ 83.02 million. However, its loss for the period stood at more than $ 1 million.

Source: Company’s Report

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In the first nine months, the Group made heavy investments in improving the capability to deal with the heavy growth aspirations. The company also took a conservative stance and wrote down the value of the non-core business, intangibles, fixed assets in addition to writing off some of the historical accrued revenues as bad debts. The group incurred some heavy costs related to acquisitions, as well as redundancy costs and contract renegotiation costs related to its work concerning the enhancement of the technology solutions around clearing, direct to market sales units and the legal document business. The sum of all the non-recurring items is around $ 1.5 million (including actual write downs).

On 24 July 2018, the company secured $ 5 million in a placement through the issue of 15,151,515 new fully paid ordinary shares at a price of $ 0.33 per share. These funds were raised from existing and new institutional and sophisticated investors to support the company in paying its short-term debt as well as improve the financial position. Additionally, the company divested its entire private share investment of $ 1,657,850 in Noble Oak in the month of February 2019.

Recently, the company, on 7 August 2019, unveiled the acquisition of a successful financial advice dealer group, Libertas Financial Planning Pty Ltd, which has approx. seventy authorised representatives. The acquisition would help the company in boosting its operations in the advice marketplace.

Outlook:

In FY2020 and beyond that, the company would target a net revenue growth (after sales costs) of 23% with a spread in the range of 15% to 40% across various operating divisions.

The short-term goals of SEQ include:

  • Generation of strong cash flow from all divisions.
  • Provide a return on equity on non-cash equity of 15% and even more than that.
  • Rebuild investors’ confidence.
  • Achieve the share price trading at or more than equity per share.
  • Restart paying dividends to shareholders at 20% to 50% of net profit after tax.

Stock Performance:

By the end of day’s trading on 21 August 2019, the price of the share of SEQ was A$ 0.175, down by 2.778% as compared to its previous closing price. SEQ has a market cap of A$ 21.46 million with ~ 119.19 million outstanding shares, an annual dividend of 2.78% and a PE ratio of 30.510x.

Kelly Partners Group Holdings Limited

Kelly Partners Group Holdings Limited (ASX: KPG) is a specialist chartered accounting network that offers better services to private clients, businesses as well as their owners and families. On 20 August 2019, the company announced its FY2019 results for the period ended 30 June 2019. It reported group revenue of $ 40 million during FY2019, in line with the prior guidance. There was an increase of 7.5% in organic revenue to $ 31.6 million, which excludes Sydney CBD. The total revenue growth, excluding Sydney CBD, increased by 11.9%.

Underlying EBITDA of the group was also in line with the previous guidance, reaching $ 10.9 million during the period, while underlying attributed NPATA for the period was $ 3.2 million. The company reported a strong cash inflow through operating activities, up 51% when compared with the previous corresponding period, to $ 10.0 million. Total dividend for FY2019 was 4.3 cents per share, representing a growth of 10% on FY2018.

FY19 Income Statement (Source: Company’s Report)

Operational Highlights:

  • The growth in organic revenue was driven by increase in volume and price.
  • The company made three Tuck-in acquisitions and 1 Marquee acquisition. It expects a full-year revenue contribution of $ 3.0 million – $ 4.0 million during FY2020 from the acquisitions made in FY19.
  • KPG implemented upgrades to the IT server in FY2019, while trainings for client managers and business managers are ongoing.
  • The company also reported a 56% increase in revenue from other services including wealth management, corporate advisory and investment office.

Stock Performance:

The shares of KPG last traded on 20 August 2019 and closed at a price of A$ 0.880. KPG has a market cap of A$ 40.03 million with ~ 45.49 million outstanding shares and a PE ratio of 19.3x.

HiTech Group Australia Limited

HiTech Group Australia Limited (ASX: HIT), a provider of recruitment and  ICT (Information and Communication Technology) consulting services, released its investor presentation focusing on its full-year results for the period ended 30 June 2019, on 20 August 2019.

FY2019 Highlights:

FY2019 remained another record year for HiTech Group Australia Limited. Revenue of the company during the period improved by 15% to $ 30.28 million, while EBITDA grew by 10% to $ 4.09 million and net profit after tax increased by 13% to $ 2.89 million when compared with the same period a year ago.

Net tangible assets in FY2019 remained at par with respect to FY2018 at $ 0.19 per share. The company also announced a fully franked final dividend of 4 cents per share, scheduled for payment on 12 September 2019 to all the registered shareholders by the closure of the business on 29 August 2019.

At the end of the reported period, the company had a cash balance of $ 5,927,690, which was up 1% from $ 5,862,986 recorded in the same period a year ago.

The presentation also covered the 2 Tier growth strategy of the company. It includes organic growth and M&A growth.

Organic Growth:

Organic growth comprises of: 

  • On-boarding of new clients.
  • Improving the service offerings to the company’s existing customers by providing them with a wider suite of ICT consulting as well as recruitment solutions along with base contracting agreements.
  • Expansion of the ICT offering into high margin consulting and service space to meet the clients’ objectives.

M&A Growth:

M&A growth comprises of:

  • Pursuing acquisitions in a highly fragmented market, with the targets matching the culture of the company as well as fitting into the industry. It should be EPS and CFPS accretive and should provide positive returns to shareholders.
  • Multiple probable targets being considered.
  • The board is committed to focus on employing a disciplined M&A growth strategy that is in the best interest of shareholders and beneficial for the company.

Outlook for FY2020:

The company has placed itself well to capitalise on the demand for its ICT talent and services. The focus of the company would be to provide its clients with high-grade services and simultaneously maintaining the profitable growth.

The FY2020 outlook would rely on the prevailing economic situations along with the demand and supply forces for its ICT talent as well as services.

Stock Performance:

By the end of day’s trading on 21 August 2019, the price of the share of HIT was A$ 1.170. HIT has a market cap of A$ 44.52 million and ~ 38.05 million outstanding shares, an annual dividend yield of 6.84% and a PE multiple of 15.29x.


Disclaimer

This website is a service of Kalkine Media Pty. Ltd. A.C.N. 629 651 672. The website has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as a complete source of information on any particular company. Kalkine Media does not in any way endorse or recommend individuals, products or services that may be discussed on this site. Our publications are NOT a solicitation or recommendation to buy, sell or hold. We are neither licensed nor qualified to provide investment advice.

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6 Cannabis Stocks under Investor’s Limelight…

Cannabis companies that sell both medicinal weed and recreational pot. Marijuana stocks to look at. Marijuana mergers and acquisitions. Dispensary data analytics. Upcoming marijuana IPO’s
Those phrases have become increasingly common as marijuana legalization spreads.

Global spending on legal cannabis is expected to grow 230% to $32 billion in 2020 as compared to $9.5 in 2017, according to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. As of June 29, 2018 the United States Marijuana Index, despite a lot of uncertainty around regulations, has over the past 1 year gained 71.49%, as compared to about 12% gain seen by the S&P 500.

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Apple turning to Chinese firm BOE for premium iPhone screens: Nikkei

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A Chinese man holds his son as they look at iPhones on display at an Apple store on January 7, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

Apple is in the final stages of certifying premium smartphone displays from Chinese tech firm BOE Technology Group for the iPhone, according to a report from the Nikkei.

The Nikkei, citing sources, said that Apple was “aggressively testing” BOE’s flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, adding the company would decide by the end of the year whether to take the company on as a supplier of the panels.

The move is aimed at cutting costs and reducing Apple’s reliance on Samsung, the Nikkei reported.

The U.S. tech giant is expected to unveil its new flagship phones in September, and speculation has grown over what Apple will bring to the table with the latest models. Last year, the company brought out three new models, the XS, XS Max and XR.

Analysts don’t expect the new iPhone, which has been dubbed the iPhone 11 by industry watchers, to include significant updates to previous models. The expectation is that the company will not release phones with any major changes, including 5G, until 2020.

Selecting a Chinese company would be a surprising move, given the company has warned of the impact of the U.S.-China trade war on its business. Many of Apple’s major products, including the iPhone, are produced in China.

The firm has reportedly considered moving some production out of the country, but got a slight reprieve earlier this month after the U.S. announced it would delay tariffs on electronics and other consumer products made in China until mid-December.

Apple was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

You can read the full Nikkei report about Apple’s production move here.

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