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Walmart chases higher profits powered by warehouse robots and automated claws

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — At first glance, this warehouse looks like many: Forklifts unload pallets from the back of dozens of tractor-trailers. Canned soup, soda and cleaning supplies whiz by on conveyer belts. Store-bound merchandise gets sorted by department and store aisle before getting stacked high like an elaborate game of Tetris.

The difference? Tasks are powered by giant automated claws and rolling robots, instead of people. The driver’s seats on the forklifts are empty.

Welcome to the future of Walmart

The big-box retailer at an investor event last week previewed how it plans to use automation to more quickly and cost-effectively manage inventory, stock shelves and keep up with online orders. The company took investors on a tour of an approximately 1.4 million-square-foot facility in Brooksville, Florida — its first automated distribution center for packaged foods and other shelf-stable household items.

Walmart plans to add that same automation from Symbotic
— a warehouse technology company that Walmart took a minority stake in last year — to all of its 42 regional distribution centers, though it didn’t share a timetable for doing so. By the end of January, roughly a third of stores will get distribution from the automated facilities, the company said.

Walmart’s automation is a piece of a broader plan to drive profits higher. CEO Doug McMillon said in the coming years the retailer’s revenue will grow about 4% year over year — a slower growth rate than the approximately 8% it saw in the past three Covid pandemic-fueled years, but still faster than growth of 3.1% and 3.6% the retailer posted in the three years prior to the pandemic.

McMillon added that he expects profits to grow at a quicker pace than sales over the next five years as Walmart adds automation and grows its higher-margin businesses like advertising, last-mile delivery and fulfillment services.

He said Walmart has given customers more ways to shop online and get those purchases faster. It offers more general merchandise, including exclusive brands in categories like apparel. And it has more sellers that have joined its third-party marketplace, too.

“We’re now in a phase that is less about scaling store pickup and delivery, e-commerce assortment, and e-commerce FC [fulfillment center] square footage and more about execution and operating margin improvement,” he said.

In three years, Walmart anticipates that about two-thirds of its stores will be serviced by some kind of automation, about 55% of fulfillment center volume will move through automated facilities and that unit cost averages could improve by about 20%.

Workforce shifts
For Walmart, the country’s largest employer, the automation push means rendering obsolete some of its 1.6 million roles.

At the Brooksville facility during the investor tour, few people appeared to be on the distribution center’s floor, though Walmart said its overall head count at the facility hasn’t changed.

David Guggina, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.′ supply chain operations, said automation is about increasing capacity, not cutting jobs. He said retention has significantly improved, since work is not as physically demanding. He declined to share specific turnover numbers, but said the first year after the Brooksville facility became automated, no employees left the job.

In an interview with CNBC, McMillon said he anticipates the retailer’s workforce will stay about the same size. But he said its composition will change. For example, he said, Walmart may need fewer people to unload pallets at warehouses, but more people to deliver online orders to customers’ doors.


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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail

Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.


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Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.

“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.

Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.

We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.

Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.

The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal



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‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price

Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.

What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?

It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.

A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.

Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.

She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.

Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.

“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.

It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.

She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.

“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.

The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.

Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.

“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.

Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.

She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.

“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.

In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.

News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.

“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.

One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”

That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.

No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.

They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.

“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.


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