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“I was once a kid with a dream”: Richard Branson blasts into space

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Well he finally did it. 17 years after Richard Branson first launched Virgin Galactic, the thrill-seeking billionaire has taken to the skies and reached space

In his boldest adventure yet, the 70 year old Richard Branson took off for the first stage of the flight.

On the ground, about 500 people watched on, including Richard Branson’s wife, children and grandchildren.

On board were his five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space tourism company.

Richard Branson and his five crew mates.
Richard Branson and his five crew mates.

The space plane detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 13km and fired its engine, reaching the edge of space about 88km up.

After a few minutes of weightlessness for the crew, the space plane is began its decent, set to end with a glide to a runway landing.

Richard Branson couldn’t contain his excitement, as he spoke on the journey back to earth.

Richard Branson’s message to children from space

He thanked his crew and remembered all those who had worked on the mammoth project.

After a decade of promises, the moment finally came for Richard Branson to unveil his spaceship for the people.

He said on board:: “To all you kids down there, I was once a kid with a dream. Now I’m up here, in a space ship!”

Customer spaceflight experience

As Branson took to space onboard Virgin Galactic, his official role for the journey will be “evaluating customer spaceflight experience”.

And that’s an important role – after all anyone who wants to rise Virgin Galactic will need to part with a quarter of a million dollars first, and that price is expected to rise.

Along with the two pilots, there is room for six passengers with a flight time of about an hour and a half.

The Virgin Galactic rocket ship detached from the mothership.
The Virgin Galactic rocket ship detached from the mothership.

The spaceship will just go over the 82 kilometres, which is where the US recognises someone as having been into space.

Then, passengers will get to experience about six minutes of weightlessness and seeing the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of space.

They will then descend, landing on a runway much like the old space shuttle or a normal passenger plane.

The new space race

Richard Branson’s adventure will pre-empt next week’s first flight for Blue Origin, as Jeff Bezos launches his space dreams.

Jeff and Blue Origin are promising a completely different experience for their customers.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard, which has no pilots and room for six passengers, reaches more than 100 kilometres high, which is the internationally recognised boundary of space.

Passengers on Blue Origin will get about three minutes to float around and feel like they are in space.

Might be half the time, but the price is 50,000 dollars cheaper than flying on Virgin Galactic.

But either way, the expensive thrill ride marks the beginning of earth’s commercial passenger trips into space.

Virgin Galactic doesn’t expect to start flying customers before next year.

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US energy stocks surge amid economic growth and inflation fears

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Investors are turning to U.S. energy shares in droves, capitalizing on surging oil prices and a resilient economy while seeking protection against looming inflationary pressures.

The S&P 500 energy sector has witnessed a remarkable ascent in 2024, boasting gains of approximately 17%, effectively doubling the broader index’s year-to-date performance.

This surge has intensified in recent weeks, propelling the energy sector to the forefront of the S&P 500’s top-performing sectors.

A significant catalyst driving this rally is the relentless rise in oil prices. U.S. crude has surged by 20% year-to-date, propelled by robust economic indicators in the United States and escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Investors are also turning to energy shares as a hedge against inflation, which has proven more persistent than anticipated, threatening to derail the broader market rally.

Ayako Yoshioka, senior portfolio manager at Wealth Enhancement Group, notes that having exposure to commodities can serve as a hedge against inflationary pressures, prompting many portfolios to overweight energy stocks.

Shell Service Station

Shell Service Station

Energy companies

This sentiment is underscored by the disciplined capital spending observed among energy companies, particularly oil majors such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

Among the standout performers within the energy sector this year are Marathon Petroleum, which has surged by 40%, and Valero Energy, up by an impressive 33%.

As the first-quarter earnings season kicks into high gear, with reports from major companies such as Netflix, Bank of America, and Procter & Gamble, investors will closely scrutinize economic indicators such as monthly U.S. retail sales to gauge consumer behavior amidst lingering inflation concerns.

The rally in energy stocks signals a broadening of the U.S. equities rally beyond growth and technology companies that dominated last year.

However, escalating inflation expectations and concerns about a hawkish Federal Reserve could dampen investors’ appetite for non-commodities-related sectors.

Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel Corp., highlights investors’ focus on the robust economy amidst supply bottlenecks in commodities, especially oil.

This sentiment is echoed by strategists at Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets, who maintain bullish calls on energy shares, citing heightened geopolitical risks and strong economic fundamentals.

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Money

How Australians lose nearly $1 billion to card scammers in a year

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A recent study by Finder has unveiled a distressing trend: Australians are hemorrhaging money to card scams at an alarming rate.

The survey, conducted among 1,039 participants, painted a grim picture, with 2.2 million individuals – roughly 11% of the population – falling prey to credit or debit card skimming in 2023 alone.

The financial toll of these scams is staggering. On average, victims lost $418 each, amounting to a colossal $930 million collectively across the country.

Rebecca Pike, a financial expert at Finder, underscored the correlation between the surge in digital transactions and the proliferation of sophisticated scams.

“Scammers are adapting, leveraging sophisticated tactics that often mimic trusted brands or exploit personal connections. With digital transactions on the rise, it’s imperative for consumers to remain vigilant and proactive in safeguarding their financial assets,” Pike said.

Read more – How Google is cracking down on scams

Concerning trend

Disturbingly, Finder’s research also revealed a concerning trend in underreporting.

Only 9% of scam victims reported the incident, while 1% remained oblivious to the fraudulent activity initially. Additionally, 1% of respondents discovered they were victims of bank card fraud only after the fact, highlighting the insidious nature of these schemes.

Pike urged consumers to exercise heightened scrutiny over their financial statements, recommending frequent monitoring for any unauthorised transactions.

She explained the importance of leveraging notification services offered by financial institutions to promptly identify and report suspicious activity.

“Early detection is key. If you notice any unfamiliar transactions, don’t hesitate to contact your bank immediately. Swift action can mitigate further unauthorised use of your card,” Pike advised, underscoring the critical role of proactive measures in combating card scams.

As Australians grapple with the escalating threat of card fraud, Pike’s counsel serves as a timely reminder of the necessity for heightened vigilance in an increasingly digitised financial landscape.

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Money

Workers rush back to their desks over job fears

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Workers across Australia are rushing back to their desks, driving office utilisation rates to their highest levels since February 2020.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays emerge as the busiest in-office days, contrasting with the continued reluctance to return on Fridays.

This insight, drawn from XY Sense data based on 18 enterprise customers in Australia employing approximately 68,000 individuals across 127 buildings, reflects a significant shift in workplace dynamics.

The surge in office attendance coincides with a resurgence in workplace attendance mandates and policies linking physical presence to bonuses and performance reviews.

However, co-founder of XY Sense, Alex Birch, suggests that rising job insecurity, rather than these policies, primarily drives this behavioral shift.

“The pendulum has moved towards the employer, and therefore people feel more obliged to go back into work,” commented Mr. Birch.

Job market

Danielle Wood, chairwoman of the Productivity Commission, anticipates this trend to persist as the job market softens.

She notes a disparity between employer and worker perceptions regarding the productivity benefits of hybrid work arrangements, hinting at potential shifts in the employment landscape.

Meanwhile, economists at the e61 Institute observe a partial reversal of the pandemic-induced “escape to the country” trend.

Rent differentials between regional and capital city dwellings, which narrowed during the pandemic, are now widening again.

This trend suggests a diminishing appeal of remote work options and a return to urban commuting.

Aaron Wong, senior research economist at e61, said the emergence of a “new normal,” characterised by a hybrid lifestyle that blends access to office spaces with proximity to lifestyle amenities such as natural landscapes.

While regional rents decline, rents for homes on the urban fringe surge, reflecting evolving preferences shaped by remote work opportunities.

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