Our Canadian capital markets and buy-side contacts are excited about upcoming Thinkific and Magnet Forensics IPOs. At the same time, investors remain somewhat cautious with regards to deploying capital towards smaller cap deals, as many strongly performing small cap stocks are down ~40-60% from highs set in mid-late February. Investor response to some highly anticipated US new listings, such as Coinbase and TuSimple was tepid as well. That said, shares of newly listed Esports Technologies Inc. have performed very well as investors continued to cheer the public debut of the Las Vegas-based online gambling company. The company provides esports wagering products and technology. Investors can also play this theme via Sophic Client LuckBox (LUCK-TSXV, LUKEF-OTC) and the adjacent esports community theme via soon to be publicly listed Sophic Client Swarmio.

Canadian Technology Capital Markets & Company News

Thinkific aims to raise $160 million through TSX IPO.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup plans to issue between 12.3 million and 14.6 million subordinate voting shares, priced between $11 to $13 per share, according to documents filed Monday. The offering is set to value Thinkific at $750 million, according to The Globe and Mail. The SaaS startup said it has experienced significant growth over the past few years, including during COVID-19. Thinkific initially filed to go public three weeks ago, applying to trade on the TSX under the symbol ‘THNC.’ The company plans to use the proceeds from its IPO to invest in sales and marketing, its platform, and other unspecified “future opportunities.” Thinkific aims to join a growing list of Canadian tech startups that have turned to public markets in recent months, including fellow SaaS startup Vendasta, FinTech firm Payfare, healthtech companies Dialogue and Mednow, and ecommerce startups General Assembly Pizza and KITS Eyecare. Thinkific’s $160 million target comes amid a recent sell-off in growth stocks, including those of tech companies that have gone public in recent months, according to The Globe and Mail. The Globe reports this sell-off “has dulled previously exuberant investor demand for Canadian IPOs.” The Globe has reported that Vancouver-based online furniture seller Cymax Group has delayed its IPO plans as a result of this shift, while Vendasta has struggled to sell its planned IPO. Saskatoon-based cloud commerce SaaS Vendasta, which filed to go public in mid-March, is hoping to raise $100 million. https://bit.ly/3ahPL5h

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Magnet Forensics looks to raise $90 million in IPO.

Kitchener-Waterloo startup Magnet Forensics, which develops digital investigation software for forensic professionals, plans to raise $90 million in an initial public offering (IPO) on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). The company filed its preliminary prospectus Thursday, and plans to trade on the TSX under the symbol ‘MAGT.’ The company plans to sell between 5,625,000 and 6,428,571 shares at a price between $14 and $16. Magnet Forensics is one of a number of Canadian tech startups that have turned to public markets in recent months. BMO Capital Markets and Canaccord Genuity Corp. are acting as lead underwriters and joint bookrunners for the IPO. https://bit.ly/3swMKE9

TeraGo (TGO-TSX) announces $14.7 million private placement.

The company entered into subscription agreements dated April 14, 2021 (the “Subscription Agreements”), pursuant to which Cymbria Corporation, acting at the direction of its portfolio manager, EdgePoint Investment Group Inc. (“Cymbria”) and other certain institutional investors (collectively with Cymbria, the “Purchasers”) will subscribe for an aggregate of 934,100 Series A Units, 934,100 Series B Units and 934,100 Series C Units of the Company at a subscription price of $5.25 per Unit, for an aggregate purchase price of $14,712,075, all by way of a private placement (the “Private Placement”). Each Series A Unit is comprised of one common share in the capital of the Company (a “Unit Share”) and one-half (½) of one Series A Warrant; each Series B Unit is comprised of one Unit Share and one-half (½) of one Series B Warrant; and each Series C Unit is comprised of one Unit Share and one-half (½) of one Series C Warrant. Each whole Series A Warrant, Series B Warrant or Series C Warrant (each a “Warrant”) will entitle the holder to purchase one common share in the capital of the Company (a “Warrant Share”) at an exercise price of $7.00, $7.50 and $8.00, respectively, within a period of 24 months, 30 months and 36 months, respectively, from the date of closing of the Private Placement. https://bit.ly/3uYnGI6

Spectra7 (SEV-TSXV) announces brokered private placement.

Spectra7 Microsystems Inc. (“Spectra7” or the “Company”), a leading provider of high-performance analog semiconductor products for broadband connectivity markets, announces that it intends to sell, on a brokered private placement basis, in one or more tranches, up to 220,000,000 units (the “Units”). The Company has engaged Cormark Securities Inc. (the “Agent”) to offer the Units for sale on a best efforts agency basis. The issuance price of the Units will be determined in the context of the market. Each Unit will consist of one common share in the capital of the Company (each, a “Common Share”) and one common share purchase warrant (each, a “Warrant”) with each Warrant being exercisable into one Common Share at an exercise price of $0.05 for a period of five years from the date of issuance, subject to adjustment upon certain customary events.  The expiry date of the Warrants can be accelerated by the Company at any time following the date that is four months and one day after the closing of the Private Placement and prior to the expiry date of the Warrants if the closing price of the Common Shares on the TSX Venture Exchange is greater than $0.08 for any 10 non-consecutive trading days. https://bit.ly/3uZ0JEI

Georgian closes US$1.02 billion alignment fund.

Toronto venture capital firm Georgian Partners has closed its new Alignment Fund I, pulling in US$1.02 billion. As reported by BetaKit in February, SEC filings made just before the end of 2020 indicated the launch of the new fund. The $1.02 billion recently closed and was raised as a special purpose vehicle with a mandate to invest in existing Georgian portfolio companies, according to The Globe and Mail. Georgian confirmed the close of the fund to BetaKit, noting it took place in late March. The report indicated Georgian plans to use the capital on four portfolio companies: Toronto-based EdTech startup Top Hat, United States-based customer data management company Tealium, New York’s WorkFusion and stock exchange IEX Group. A longtime Top Hat investor, Georgian committed US$130 million of the Alignment Fund to TopHat in February. https://bit.ly/3do5cuC

Content creation platform ContentFly raises $11.2 million Series A round.

Toronto-based ContentFly, which offers an on-demand content creation platform, has closed an $11.2 million Series A round of funding. The raise was led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Y Combinator (YC), Global Founders Capital, and a number of additional investors, including Alex Norman, who is a partner at N49P Ventures and co-founder and managing director of TechToronto. https://bit.ly/32pa8sW

Deeplite raises $7.5 million seed round to optimize deep neural networks.

Montréal-based Deeplite has raised $7.5 million in seed funding as the startup looks to accelerate its software that optimizes deep neural networks. Nick Romano, CEO and co-founder of Deeplite, told BetaKit the round consisted of two components: the first was a $2 million USD convertible note completed in July 2020, which included participation from Desjardins Capital, Somel Investments, and BDC Capital through its Bridge Financing Program. The $4 million USD priced round, which closed at the end of March, was led by Boston-based venture capital firm PJC, with participation from Innospark Ventures, Differential Ventures, and Ajay Shah, who is the executive chairman of Smart Global Holdings. BDC Capital, Desjardins Capital, and Somel Investments also provided follow-on capital. https://bit.ly/3tr997r

Following a year of growth, healthtech startup My Intelligent Machines raises $5 million.

My Intelligent Machines (MIMs), a healthtech and artificial intelligence startup based in Montréal, has raised $5 million CAD in equity financing. The round was raised from existing MIMs investors and led by MEDTEQ+ and StandUp Ventures, with participation from Desjardins Capital and Real Ventures. Anges Québec and its subsidiary Anges Québec Capital both provided separate investments as part of the round. CEO Sarah Jenna told BetaKit a “big angel” investor also participated in the round but declined to disclose the name. The startup has been able to achieve more than 100 percent revenue growth for this fiscal year. MIMs classified this investment as seed financing. The startup raised two previous convertible notes closed in 2017 and 2019 that were also classified as seed capital. To date, MIMs has raised $8.1 million. https://bit.ly/3sqhMNZ

Ark Invest’s Cathie Wood thinks Shopify (SHOP-NYSE, SHOP-TSX) could be next Amazon.

Famed stock picker Cathie Wood said Shopify Inc. may one day be as big as online retail giant Amazon.com Inc. Wood, founder and chief executive officer of Ark Investment Management LLC, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview that Shopify remains one of the top 10 investments in the firm’s flagship fund and is poised to be the social e-commerce leader in what she described as an “explosive space”. “We’re trying to figure out how Amazon is going to deal with this notion of individuals seeing something on Instagram or elsewhere on Facebook or on Twitter, or on Snap and just buying there,” Wood said. “That’s a Shopify-enabled commerce opportunity and we think it’s going to be big.” U.S. social e-commerce sales are forecast to rise by 34.8 per cent to US$36.09 billion this year and should account for about four per cent of all online retail, according to industry data tracker eMarketer. While Shopify’s rise may make it too pricey for some investors, Wood believes that the Ottawa-based tech giant can still grow as big as Amazon, given the long-term opportunities in the social e-commerce space. “We know Shopify is a very expensive stock but because of these viral networking opportunities around commerce, we think it’s the most exciting one probably out there,” Wood said. “Shopify doesn’t care who wins. It’s going to be involved with many, if not most, of all of the sites that are going to be powering up commerce.” https://bit.ly/3ssAqoL

Shopify CTO Jean-Michel Lemieux one of three execs to depart company.

Three Shopify executives are set to depart their roles from the company. Jean-Michel Lemieux, the chief technology officer of Shopify, and chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth have announced on Twitter they are stepping down from their roles in the coming months. Chief legal officer Joe Frasca is also set to step down, according to a report from the Ottawa Business Journal, which noted that all three execs will end their tenures in June. A Shopify spokesperson confirmed the departures to BetaKit. The latest departures come approximately six months after another major executive shuffle at Shopify. Shopify published a statement from CEO Tobias Lütke on the executive departures Wednesday, highlighting the accomplishments of Lemieux, Forsyth, and Frasca. “Each one of them has their individual reasons but what was unanimous with all three was that this was the best for them and the best for Shopify,” Lütke wrote. https://bit.ly/3stVzij

EMERGE (ECOM-TSXV) launches JustGolfStuff.com across the U.S. in April, provides golf vertical update, including strong growth in March.

Following record results in March on JustGolfStuff.ca (Canada), EMERGE Commerce Ltd., announces the upcoming launch of JustGolfStuff.com, its golf equipment and apparel brand, across the United States. JustGolfStuff.com will be launching with a new Shopify-powered site in April. The golf business achieved strong organic growth in Gross Merchandise Sales (“GMS”) in March 2021 across both the UnderPar.com and JustGolfStuff.ca brands. Sales momentum has continued through April to date, driven by robust sales from a campaign centered on the 2021 Masters Tournament. JustGolfStuff.ca (Canada) recorded its largest month ever in March 2021, achieving 357% growth in GMS compared to March 2020. In late Q1, JustGolfStuff.ca re-launched a refreshed Shopify-powered website theme and added hundreds of new products to the site. The new website has garnered over 1,000, 5-star reviews in the first 30 days, and includes new features such as interest-free financing, powered by Sezzle. JustGolfStuff.com (U.S.) will launch in April with the same new website design and functionality. Golf is EMERGE’s largest vertical by GMS, and second largest by revenue, behind Grocery, another vertical that has seen strong organic growth. Expansion into the golf equipment and apparel sector is a large growth opportunity for the Company. https://bit.ly/3x2AK0M

Evolve plans to launch world’s first Ether ETF.

Evolve Funds Group Inc. (“Evolve”) is pleased to announce that it has filed the final prospectus in plans to launch the world’s first Ether ETF (“ETHR” or the “ETF”). ETHR is expected to begin trading on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 on the Toronto Stock Exchange (“TSX”), subject to TSX approval. ETHR is designed to provide investors with direct exposure to Ether, currently the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. “We are very excited to have launched one of the world’s first bitcoin ETFs and now plan to launch the world’s first Ether ETF,” says Raj Lala, President and CEO at Evolve. “Similar to bitcoin, investors will now be able to trade Ether as simple as buying shares through their bank or brokerage. ETHR will provide daily liquidity, transparency and security through a regulated ETF structure.” https://bit.ly/3mUGzc5

Evolve files preliminary prospectus for the world’s first ETFs to bring carbon neutrality to S&P/TSX 60 And S&P 500 indices.

Evolve Funds Group Inc. (“Evolve”) is pleased to announce that it has filed a preliminary prospectus with the Canadian securities regulators for the world’s first ETFs to bring carbon neutrality to traditional indices through the newly formed Evolve CleanBeta™ series of ETFs. The Evolve S&P/TSX 60 CleanBeta™ Fund (“SIXT”) and the Evolve S&P 500 CleanBeta™ Fund (“FIVE”) are designed to provide investors with the performance of S&P/TSX 60 and S&P 500 Indices, respectively, while striving to offset the carbon footprint of the securities in the portfolios. https://bit.ly/2OWWfPn

Facedrive (FD-TSXV) provides new information on company operations following OSC request.

Toronto-based ride-sharing company Facedrive recently provided what it called “clarifying information” on its acquisitions and projects launched in the third and second quarters of 2020. Facedrive claimed to be providing the information after being requested to do so by the Ontario Securities Commission’s Corporate Finance Branch as part of a continuous disclosure review that dates back to 2020. The recent clarifications come in the wake of two reports questioning Facedrive’s valuation, leadership, and purported growth. Facedrive went public on the TSX Ventures Exchange in 2019 through a reverse takeover. As of Friday, it trades at $18.42, and its market capitalization is $1.75 billion. The recent clarifications from Facedrive come in the wake of two reports questioning Facedrive’s valuation, leadership, and purported growth. One report, from The Globe and Mail, recently questioned how a company with “meagre revenue” and no high-profile venture-backing could achieve a valuation of over $1 billion. That followed a report from Hindenburg Research in July, which called Facedrive’s core business “hollow,” and claimed Facedrive’s CEO “has a history that bodes poorly.” The reports specifically addressed some deals Facedrive has made regarding companies that were also part of the OSC review, such as the Medtronics consulting agreement. https://bit.ly/32lUezv

Global Markets: IPOs, Venture Capital, M&A

Coinbase shares open at US$381, then start falling.

Shares of Coinbase opened at around US$380 apiece, valuing the crypto firm at roughly US$99 billion, in a much anticipating stock offering. But after hitting a high of just below US$400, the stock started dropping, a possible sign of selling pressure. By mid afternoon Coinbase share were around US$330. In a direct listing, unlike an initial public offering, shareholders are not restricted from selling immediately. It’s possible a number took advantage of doing so, given the huge escalation from the prices at which Coinbase raised money over the past few years. The company is seen as a symbol of the burgeoning crypto market, generating most of its revenues from trading commissions on trades of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Its first quarter revenue was more than what it made in all of last year, a sign of the bitcoin rally. https://bit.ly/3tpWz8h

Esports stock soars again, after a 6-fold jump on its public debut.

Shares of Esports Technologies Inc. soared 36.5% in premarket trading Friday, adding to the 6-fold gain in the previous session, as investors continued to cheer the public debut of the Las Vegas-based online gambling company. The stock’s first trade Thursday morning was at US$21.00, or 250% above the US$6.00 a share initial public offering price, and it continued to climb in volatile trading to close at US$36.42. At that closing price, the Esports’ market capitalization was about US$460.7 million, compared with the market cap of US$75.9 million at the IPO pricing. Based on premarket trading Friday, the company is on track to open with a market cap above US$600 million. The frenzy for Esports shares occurred on a day that shares of Applovin Corp. , with a valuation of US$28.6 billion at the IPO price, closed 18.5% below its IPO price, and TuSimple Holdings Inc. , valued at US$8.5 billion at its IPO price, closed right at its IPO price. The Renaissance IPO ETF rose 1.3% on Thursday while the S&P 500 gained 1.1%. https://on.mktw.net/3ds38lm

Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple’s stock falls on opening day.

Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple’s public stock debut turned sour on Thursday, as the stock quickly fell below its IPO price. TuSimple shares were trading in mid afternoon at US$37.90, below the US$40 level at which it priced the IPO, although it rallied to close at exactly US$40. At the IPO price, TuSimple is worth US$8.5 billion, compared to its US$1 billion valuation as recently as last fall. The weak reception suggests wariness about TuSimple’s nascent business. It is among a group of companies in the autonomous driving tech space to go public, including several firms developing Lidar technology that have gone public via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. Those firms, including Velodyne Lidar and Luminar, have seen their stocks drop sharply in recent months. https://bit.ly/3trLJ1L

Squarespace files for direct listing.

Squarespace Inc. filed paperwork Friday for a direct-listing that would enable shares of the website-design company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange without the company raising money through a traditional initial public offering. Squarespace, which makes tools for building and hosting websites, generated revenue of US$621.1 million in 2020, up from US$484.8 million in 2019. The company is profitable but saw its net income decline to US$30.6 million in 2020 from US$58.2 million a year earlier. Squarespace had 3.66 million unique subscriptions to its platform as of the end of December. The company said in a filing that it’s benefitting from a rise in online commerce and a growing interest from brands to develop better direct relationships with consumers. The company intends to list on the NYSE using the ticker SQSP. The company has yet to disclose when it plans to conduct the direct listing or how many shares will be made available in the process. https://on.mktw.net/3x4hro0

Chinese tech start-ups pull IPO plans as Beijing tightens scrutiny.

Over 100 companies have voluntarily withdrawn applications to list on Shanghai’s STAR Market and Shenzhen’s ChiNext since Ant’s termination of its initial public offering (IPO) in November, according to Reuters review of exchange filings. The unprecedented withdrawals come against the backdrop of sharply intensified grilling of listing prospects by regulators, leading to IPO delays, outright rejection or even penalties, say bankers and company executives. The scramble to withdraw IPO applications raises questions over the quality of China’s IPOs and robustness of due diligence done by their underwriters. The trend, if it continues, would threaten China’s ambition to compete with global listing venues such as Hong Kong and New York at a time when Beijing is also considering establishing a new bourse to attract overseas-listed firms. https://reut.rs/2Qu7yyQ

Singapore’s Grab to go public in US$39.6 billion SPAC merger deal.

Grab, Southeast Asia’s major ride-hailing and food-delivery app, said it plans to go public in the U.S. through a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values the Singapore-based company at about US$39.6 billion. Grab will merge with Altimeter Growth, a Nasdaq-listed SPAC sponsored by Silicon Valley investment firm Altimeter Capital Management, in what is expected to be the largest-ever U.S. equity offering by a Southeast Asian company. Grab plans to raise more than US$4 billion in a funding round that accompanies its SPAC merger deal. Grab’s move comes as global institutional investors are paying more attention to Southeast Asia, a region with twice the population of the U.S. that encompasses Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. For example, the market capitalization of Sea, a Singapore-based e-commerce and online games company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has jumped more than five-fold over the past year to about US$125 billion. Even though Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the region’s economy, Grab said the volume of transactions on its platform last year stood at about US$12.5 billion, higher than pre-pandemic levels. Over the past year, the company also has accelerated its expansion into financial services such as payments, loans, insurance and investment products for drivers, merchants and consumers. https://bit.ly/32jF39W

Gojek, Tokopedia finalizing US$18 billion merger, name combined company ‘Goto’.

Gojek and Tokopedia, two of Indonesia’s biggest internet companies, are finalizing their US$18 billion merger to create a giant in ride-hailing, food delivery and e-commerce. The two companies plan to call the combined business Goto—pronounced “go to”—and both sides expect to close the deal as early as this month, people with knowledge of the matter said. Goto’s top management team will consist of its four most-senior executives, two from Gojek and two from Tokopedia. The merger between Gojek, a ride-hailing and food delivery firm that also offers financial services, and Tokopedia, a major online shopping site, comes as Southeast Asia’s biggest tech companies are coming under the spotlight in both Silicon Valley and Wall Street. This week, Singapore’s Grab, the region’s biggest ride-hailing and food delivery app, said it plans to go public in the U.S. through a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values the Singapore-based company at about US$39.6 billion. https://bit.ly/3uVc8oY

‘Fortnite’ maker Epic Games raises US$1 billion in funding, including US$200 million more from Sony.

Epic Games, the company behind global smash hit “Fortnite,” announced that it completed a US$1 billion round of funding — giving it a whopping equity valuation of US$28.7 billion. The round includes an additional US$200 million investment from Sony, which pumped US$250 million into Epic last year (for an implied valuation of US$17.9 billion at the time). The upped investment from Sony “builds on the already close relationship between the two companies and reinforces their shared mission to advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment, and socially connected online services,” Epic said in a statement. Other investors in Epic’s latest round include Appaloosa, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Co., GIC, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Park West, KKR, AllianceBernstein, Altimeter, Franklin Templeton and Luxor Capital. https://bit.ly/32mWl61

Microsoft buys Nuance Communications in a US$16 billion deal.

Microsoft announced Monday that it will buy speech recognition company Nuance Communications for US$56 per share, about 23% above its closing price Friday. The deal is worth about US$16 billion. It’s the latest sign Microsoft is hunting for more growth through acquisitions. The company is also reportedly in talks to buy the chat app Discord for about US$10 billion. On top of that, Microsoft made an effort to buy TikTok’s U.S. business last year for about US$30 billion before the deal was derailed. The Nuance acquisition represents Microsoft’s largest acquisition since it bought LinkedIn for more than US$26 billion in 2016. Last month, Microsoft completed its US$7.6 billion acquisition of gaming company. https://cnb.cx/3dsqLKg

Airbnb’s CEO says the company will need millions more hosts to deal with a post-pandemic travel boom ‘unlike anything we’ve ever seen’.

Airbnb will need millions of new hosts to meet demand as the world exits the pandemic, CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC on Friday. “To meet the demand over the coming years, we’re going to need millions more hosts,” Chesky told the network’s Deirdre Bosa on air. As the world tiptoes out of the pandemic, travelers are taking their first steps towards normal vacation routines. Many are wondering if Airbnb accommodations and hotels are safe. Chesky said on Friday that Airbnb expected the industry to roar back. He told CNBC: “I think that we probably will have a high-class problem where there will probably be more guests coming to Airbnb than we’ll have hosts for, because … we think there’s going to be a travel rebound coming that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” Airbnb lists 4 million hosts, at present. As of the end of last year, they had about 5.6 million active listings in more than 220 countries and regions, according to the San Francisco company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. https://bit.ly/32vjbIx

Uber says it saw its highest gross bookings on record in March.

Uber Technologies Inc. announced Monday morning that its mobility business saw its best month in a year during March, while overall gross bookings reached their highest monthly level in the company’s history. Uber’s mobility business exceeded a US$30 billion annualized gross bookings run rate during March, making for the company’s highest monthly total since March 2020. Average daily gross bookings were up 9% on a month-over-month basis within mobility, the company added. Uber’s delivery business notched an all-time record for monthly performance by crossing a US$52 billion annualized gross bookings run rate, up more than 150% from a year earlier. “As vaccination rates increase in the United States, we are observing that consumer demand for Mobility is recovering faster than driver availability, and consumer demand for Delivery continues to exceed courier availability,” Uber said in a filing. The company also disclosed that a historical-claims settlement process with U.K. drivers, who will now be treated as workers, is expected to lead to a “significant accrual” that’s likely to reduce reported first-quarter revenue and take rates. These effects will be excluded from Uber’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (Ebitda). https://on.mktw.net/2QvjCjt

Emerging Technologies

Apple reportedly developing an Apple TV with a built-in camera and speaker.

Apple is reportedly developing a new TV accessory that combines elements of its Apple TV with a HomePod speaker and camera for video calls, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Alongside it, Apple is also said to be working on a smart speaker with a display, similar to Amazon’s Echo Show or Google’s Nest Hub. Development of both devices is said to be in its early stages, with plans subject to change. The unannounced TV accessory would have the hardware to fulfill a variety of roles. As a TV accessory it could offer access to games and the streaming video services supported by Apple TV today; while its built-in speaker would likely be an upgrade over those found in most TV sets, similar to Roku’s soundbars. It would also support HomePod features like music playback and Siri voice assistant controls, much like the Sonos Beam offers with Alexa and Google Assistant. Finally, the camera would let it serve as a video calling device like a Facebook Portal TV. It’s potentially a lot of functionality in a single Apple device. https://bit.ly/3sth9Uc

LG and Magna reportedly ‘very near’ to signing deal for Apple Car production.

According to a report from The Korea Times, Apple is apparently close to signing a deal with the joint automotive venture of LG and Magna, currently named “LG Magna e-Powertrain.” The contracts would supposedly see the LG and Magna International venture produce the initial rounds of Apple Car production. Apple is currently expected to introduce its own electric vehicle in 2025 at the earliest. At the beginning of the year, there was a flurry of reporting that Apple was exploring a deal with Kia and Hyundai, to the value of about US$4 billion. However, the automotive companies confirmed that they were no longer in discussions with Apple in February. https://bit.ly/3gjUgQj

Walmart invests in Cruise, the GM-backed autonomous-car startup.

The world’s largest retailer is taking an undisclosed stake in Cruise LLC, the autonomous-vehicle technology company that’s majority-owned by General Motors Co. The Walmart investment brings the size of Cruise’s latest funding round to US$2.75 billion, the two companies said in a statement Thursday, up from the US$2 billion Cruise announced in January when Microsoft Corp. became an investor. The investment will help support Walmart’s push to create a home-delivery logistics network that’s “fast, low-cost and scalable,” Walmart’s U.S. chief executive officer, John Furner, said in a blog post. The two companies began working together in November through a delivery pilot program in Arizona. For years Walmart has dived in and out of partnerships with last-mile logistics providers like Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Door Dash, and it’s also created an internal network called Spark to do the same. The additional funds will raise Cruise’s post-investment valuation to more than US$30 billion, San Francisco-based Cruise said. That’s up from US$19 billion when T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. invested in the company in 2019.  https://bloom.bg/3e5YZCE

Cruise strikes deal to launch robotaxi service in Dubai.

Cruise has expanded its robotaxi ambitions beyond San Francisco. The autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has struck a deal to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023. The robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, the all-electric shuttle-like vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds. The Origin, which was unveiled in January 2020, will be manufactured by GM. Cruise will establish a new local Dubai-based company, which will be responsible for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the fleet. The service will start with a limited number of vehicles, with plans to scale up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030 as part of Dubai’s self-driving transport strategy, according to Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, the director-general and chairman of the board of the RTA. https://tcrn.ch/3wXdXUd

Media, Streaming, Gaming & Sports Betting

Apple Music says it pays one cent per stream, roughly twice what Spotify pays.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is set to release an open letter to artists later today. Most significantly, the letter says that Apple Music pays one cent per stream. That is roughly twice what Spotify pays, according to estimates. Streaming services are trying to show that they are friendly to artists, especially as revenue from concerts and tours cratered during the pandemic. In the same vein, Apple recently invested in an independent music artist platform called UnitedMasters. https://bit.ly/3v46ykd

Tencent bets billions on gamers with more fans than NBA stars.

Asia’s most valuable company has set its sights on a billion-dollar esports arena that already boasts more regular viewers than the National Basketball Association or the National Football League. Tencent has placed pro gaming at the heart of its ambition to dominate online entertainment, from mobile games and video streaming to social media. It’s betting that esports will entice and retain the internet audiences it needs and eventually grow to something approaching the US$10-billion-plus NBA. Key to realizing that vision is Tencent’s blockbuster League of Legends battle arena title and TJ Sports, the outfit it set up in 2019 to organize and promote the game’s competitive play in China. While total revenue in TJ’s first two years just surpassed 1 billion yuan (US$152 million), the fledgling company intends to create original content such as reality shows and livestream channels around its star players and teams, and peddle merchandise. “Esports is like the Super Bowl, which isn’t just a sport event but also a vehicle of art and entertainment,” said TJ co-Chief Executive Officer Leo Lin. “We are going for the direction of connecting esports with our games and wider entertainment business.” Esports show how Tencent thinks about its long-term future. The world’s largest games publisher has invested billions of dollars in talent agencies, streaming sites and tournament organizers to create the infrastructure necessary to turn pro gaming from a niche into an instrumental part of its growth strategy. TJ expects to double overseas viewership as soon as this year and aims to do the same with media rights revenue from outside China. Not only do Tencent’s investments have considerable value — US$185 billion as of Dec. 31, up from US$131 billion at Sept. 30 — but many provide strategic relationships that help drive revenue. Partnering with content providers across video (NBA, NFL, HBO), video games (FIFA, PUBG, Fortnite) and music (Universal, Warner, Sony) enhances service offerings and expands Tencent’s target audiences. https://bloom.bg/3aiGfP3

NFL picks Caesars, FanDuel, DraftKings for first wave of sports betting partnerships.

The National Football League is officially open for sports betting, announcing sportsbook partnerships with top companies Caesars, FanDuel, and DraftKings. The agreements allow the sports betting firms to use NFL intellectual property and use its trademarks for betting promotions. The betting companies will also operate in a content-sharing model with the NFL — for example, the betting sites will be able to use material such as NFL highlights and Next Gen Stats data, which will help them set betting lines. The firms may create their own promotional content to be featured on NFL properties. Financial terms were not made available, but according to a person familiar with the agreements, the five-year pacts could be worth just under US$1 billion combined over the life of the deal. But the NFL has rights to opt-out after the third and fourth year of the agreements, the person added. Caesars will keep its league sponsorship as “Official Casino Sponsor” allowing it to leverage NFL trademarks at its casino properties. The league also agreed to media rights deal in March with partners NBCUniversal, Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports and Amazon. The 11-year deal is worth over US$100 billion. After the announcement Thursday afternoon, DraftKings stock was up 4% to US$60 per share in after hours, while Caesars was slightly down at roughly US$93 per share. https://cnb.cx/3dteWU8

Adtech, Privacy & Regulatory

China warns 34 internet companies to comply with antitrust rules.

Just days after announcing a US$2.8 billion anti-monopoly fine against e-commerce giant Alibaba, China’s market regulator said it had a meeting with 34 internet companies and warned them to comply with rules. The State Administration for Market Regulation said in a statement Tuesday that it and other regulators had a meeting with representatives from major tech companies including Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance, Baidu, JD.com, Meituan, Pinduoduo and Kuaishou. The statement is the latest indication of how China’s government is tightening its control over the country’s increasingly powerful internet sector as a whole. In the meeting, the regulators focused on the problem of online platforms forcing merchants and other customers to avoid using rival platforms. The regulators also ordered the 34 companies to conduct self-inspections within one month and rectify their practices. https://bit.ly/3dnn8Wk

Australia court finds Google misled consumers about location tracking.

An Australian court has ruled that Alphabet’s Google misled consumers about its collection of personal data through Android devices, the country’s competition and consumer commission said. The ruling comes as governments seek to rein in major tech companies and are looking into whether firms go too far in their collection of personal information. The incidents occurred between January 2017 and December 2018 and involved telling consumers who created new Google accounts that their “location history” wouldn’t be tracked if they turned it off. However, they weren’t made aware that Google still collected this data under its “web and app activity,” which was turned on by default. “Google’s conduct was liable to mislead the public,” the commission said in an online statement, adding that it would determine what penalties and compliance orders would be required at a later date. https://bit.ly/3gguYCH

House approves legislative blueprint to rein in Big Tech.

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a scathing 450-page report advocating legislation to rein in Big Tech’s expansive powers. The report, released in October, recommends an overhaul of antitrust law to counter the growing influence of tech behemoths such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. , Facebook Inc. , Apple Inc. , and Amazon.com Inc. . “Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook each hold monopoly power over significant sectors of our economy. This monopoly moment must end,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a statement. “Now that the Judiciary Committee has formally adopted our findings, I look forward to crafting legislation that addresses the significant concerns we have raised.” https://on.mktw.net/3ss1u7A

Europe eyes strict rules for artificial intelligence.

The European Union wants to avoid the worst of what artificial intelligence can do — think creepy facial recognition tech and many, many Black Mirror episodes — while still trying to boost its potential for the economy in general. According to a draft of its upcoming rules, obtained by POLITICO, the European Commission would ban certain uses of “high-risk” artificial intelligence systems altogether, and limit others from entering the bloc if they don’t meet its standards. Companies that don’t comply could be fined up to €20 million or 4 percent of their turnover. The Commission will unveil its final regulation on April 21. The rules are the first of their kind to regulate artificial intelligence, and the EU is keen to highlight its unique approach. It doesn’t want to leave powerful tech companies to their own devices like in the U.S., nor does it want to go by the way of China in harnessing the tech to fashion a surveillance state. Instead, the bloc says it wants a “human-centric” approach that both boosts the tech, but also keeps it from threatening its strict privacy laws. https://politi.co/3tFQVik

eCommerce

Amazon Prime now has over 200 million subscribers.

A new letter to shareholders from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that the tech giant’s Prime service now has over 200 million subscribers. That’s up 50 million from the beginning of 2020. Bezos also noted that the net profit for Amazon in 2020 was US$21.3 billion. https://cnet.co/3sxex7r

Uber could start delivering cannabis if it’s decriminalized under federal law, its CEO said.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday said the taxi firm might start delivering cannabis if federal laws change. “When the road is clear for cannabis, when federal laws come into play, we’re absolutely going to take a look at it,” Khosrowshahi told CNBC. Cannabis is currently illegal under US federal law, but 15 states and Washington, D.C, have legalized the drug for adults over the age of 21. Thirty-six states have legalized medical marijuana so far. Weed delivery services are legally available for those aged 21 years olds or above in California, Nevada, Oregon, and most recently New York, the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis, after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on March 31. https://bit.ly/3ebSr5j

Fintech, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Ant to be financial holding firm in overhaul forced by China.

Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. will drastically revamp its business, bowing to demands from Chinese authorities that want to rein in the country’s fast-growing Internet giants. Ant will now effectively be supervised more like a bank, a move with far-reaching implications for its growth and ability to press ahead with a landmark initial public offering that the government abruptly delayed late last year. The overhaul outlined by regulators and the company on Monday will see Ant transform itself into a financial holding company, with authorities directing the firm to open its payments app to competitors, increase oversight of how that business fuels it crucial consumer lending operations, and ramp up data protections. It will also need to cut the outstanding value of its money-market fund Yu’ebao. The directives come as China’s regulators pledge to curb the “reckless” push of technology firms into finance and crack down on monopolies online. https://bloom.bg/32oBMGs

Massachusetts regulators seek to revoke Robinhood’s license; brokerage sues.

Massachusetts regulators on Thursday sought the revocation of Robinhood’s broker-dealer license after charging that it encourages inexperienced investors to place risky trades without limits, while the online brokerage sued to invalidate a new rule underlying the case. Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin sought the revocation in a revised administrative case announced shortly after Robinhood sued in state court in Boston to challenge a fiduciary standard of conduct his office adopted last year. Robinhood, which is seeking to go public through an initial public offering, in a blog post called the regulator “elitist” and said it was seeking to “reinstate the financial barriers that Robinhood was founded to break down.” The case is the first enforcement action brought under a state fiduciary rule that took effect in September that raised the investment-advice standard for brokers. Robinhood in its lawsuit argued that Galvin lacked authority to override a long-standing conclusion by Massachusetts’ top court that brokerage firms like itself are not considered fiduciaries of their customers. https://reut.rs/3x2kMDZ

Charles Schwab added 3.2 million retail investor accounts in the 1st quarter, more than in all of 2020.

Charles Schwab opened more retail accounts during the first quarter of 2021 than it did during all of 2020, with figures from the broker highlighting the recent boom in new market participants. The company as part of its earnings report on Thursday said it opened 3.2 million new brokerage accounts during the first three months of this year, exceeding its total for 2020, excluding accounts it acquired through recent mergers with other brokerages. The new accounts contributed to daily trades rising to an average of 8.4 million in the quarter. Schwab said that was four times higher than the pro forma combined pace for the fourth quarter of 2019 that marked the start of the $0-online-equity-commission era. https://bit.ly/3ebOuO7

Crypto exchanges usher in era of round-the-clock stock trading.

Binance on Monday began allowing its non-U.S. based users to trade a tokenized version of Tesla Inc. stock, joining a growing list of cryptocurrency exchanges that are setting their sights on the world of traditional finance. At first glance, the stock tokens might seem like a solution looking for a problem. Fractional shares and after market trading are common features offered by U.S. brokerages, but for investors based outside of the U.S. the offerings provide ready access to the country’s US$47 trillion stock market without having to jump through regulatory hoops or having to wake at odd hours to transact. And, on some exchanges such as FTX, cryptocurrencies can be used as collateral for buying stocks on margin. “Binance serves many users around the world and we are very pleased to be able to help them participate in the equity market,” said Binance Chief Executive Officer Changpeng Zhao in a statement. “Stock tokens demonstrate how we can democratize value transfer more seamlessly, reduce friction and costs to accessibility, without compromising on compliance or security. Through connecting traditional and crypto markets, we are building another technological bridge for a more inclusive financial future.” https://bloom.bg/32kADjb

BlackRock’s Fink says cryptocurrencies may become a great asset class- but his institutional clients aren’t interested in it.

BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink said that he’s fascinated by the idea of cryptocurrencies as an asset class, but emphasized that his institutional clients haven’t showed much interest in them during a Thursday interview with CNBC. “I’m encouraged by how many people are focusing on it. I’m encouraged about the narrative. It may become a great asset class, and I do believe this could become a great asset class,” Fink told CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I don’t want to suggest that we have perfect information, but our broad based client relationships have had… very little inner connectivity on the conversation on crypto,” he added. His insights show a divergence from the dominant narrative that institutional interest has been responsible for the recent surge in bitcoin and cryptocurrencies more broadly. (Though some crypto researchers argue that retail investing had a large role in driving the latest leg of bitcoin’s rally.) Fink said his conversations with institutional clients have focused more on climate risk, deficits, and inflation than cryptocurrencies. https://bit.ly/2OWQilt

Jerome Powell says Fed is doing lots of work on a digital dollar as policymakers warily eye China’s digital yuan.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has said the US central bank is working hard on researching a potential digital dollar, as nervousness grows in some quarters about China’s rapid development of its own digital currency. Powell told CBS’s “60 minutes” in an interview aired last Sunday the Fed is running a number of technological experiments looking at how exactly a digital dollar might work. “There are many subtle and difficult policy choices and design choices that you have to make. We’re doing all that work.” But Powell said no final decision has been made, adding that it would be an important step that required the involvement of the public and Congress. US officials are increasing their scrutiny of China’s development of a digital yuan, Bloomberg reported Sunday, with some concerned it could be a long-term attempt to dislodge the dollar from its dominant place in the global economy. https://bit.ly/3ssr3oM

Bitcoin tumbles 5% from record highs amid Turkey’s crypto-payments ban starting April 30.

Bitcoin slipped as much as 5% from record highs on Friday after amid reports that Turkey’s central bank will bar the use of cryptocurrencies as a method of payment starting April 30. The move stoked fears that other nations may follow suit. Bitcoin tumbled 5.3%, to US$60,062.71, at intraday lows. Altcoins such as ether and XRP also slipped as they typically move in lockstep with the world’s biggest cryptocurrency. Turkey’s central bank on Friday said crypto assets entail significant risks, citing four reasons: lack of regulatory oversight, volatility of market valuation, possible use for illegal transactions, and the fact that these transactions are irrevocable. “It is considered that their use in payments may cause non-recoverable losses for the parties to the transactions due to the above-listed factors,” the bank said in a statement. “And they include elements that may undermine the confidence in methods and instruments used currently in payments.” https://bit.ly/3v46iSh

Dogecoin extends record-shattering weekly gain to 520% after another inscrutable tweet from Elon Musk.

Dogecoin spiked more than 200% on Friday to a record high after Elon Musk tweeted another inscrutable message that appeared to reference the meme currency. At 12:33 a.m. ET on Friday, the Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder published a tweet to his 51 million followers saying “Doge Barking at the Moon.” Attached was a photo of a creature that resembles a dog staring at an object that resembles a moon. The caption of the billionaire executive is a version of the “to the moon” slang dogecoin bulls use in reference to the astronomical rise in dogecoin’s price. Dogecoin hit a 24-hour high of $0.43 around 9:45 a.m. ET and was trading at $0.38 as of 10:35 a.m. ET, according to data from Coinbase. https://bit.ly/2OWb70o

There’s a new way to buy and trade official MLB baseball cards.

These virtual cards can’t be forged and come with a complete trading history. This week, Topps, the card company that issues baseball trading cards, will be launching a line of digital-only trading cards of Major League Baseball players as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The launch will take place on Worldwide Asset Exchange (WAX) later this month. An announcement on WAX showed that customers can choose between a US$5 “standard pack” of six cards and a $100 “premium pack” of 45 cards. The packs have random mixes of cards with different levels of rarity. The launch will take place on April 20 and will be on the WAX platform for blockchain-based token sales. The New York Times DealBook newsletter reported that Wax “minted more than a million NFTs for 75,000 digital card packs.” https://bit.ly/3x5K4Ro

Semiconductors

TSMC expects to spend US$30 billion on chip production capacity this year.

TSMC, the semiconductor manufacturing company that counts customers such as Apple and AMD, expects to spend US$30 billion on expanding capacity this year, up from an earlier forecast. The company revised its forecast higher amid a chip shortage that is affecting the global supply of everything from PlayStations to Teslas and iPads. The announcement came amid its latest earnings results. TSMC said its net profit was up nearly 20% in the first quarter of 2021 when compared with the year-ago period. The Taiwanese company said demand for high-end processors offset weaker demand from its smartphone chip business and that its outlook for the second quarter would follow the same trend. https://bit.ly/3mSuML6

Apple silicon supplier TSMC warns chip shortages will persist into 2022.

TSMC is Apple’s primary chipmaker and serves as the exclusive supplier of A-series and M-series Apple silicon chips. The company reported strong earnings results for the first quarter, with downstream partners such as smartphone, tablet, and laptop makers seeing strong demand as people continue to work from home. However, it warned that the global chip shortages will continue for the foreseeable future and well into next year. Naturally, this has concerning implications for Apple’s product rollouts. As Apple is TSMC’s single largest supplier, it can typically secure supply ahead of everyone else as it dwarfs TSMC”s other customers in quantities and spending power. However, it seems the chip shortages are so severe Apple is not impervious. It has already been reported that the chip shortages have affected Apple’s production schedules for some iPad and MacBook models. Bloomberg said that the new mini-LED display for the upcoming 12.9-inch iPad Pro — set to be unveiled at next week’s event — is also supply constrained. Availability of iPhone chips remains “tight.” https://bit.ly/3uXSSHh

Nvidia announces plan to make CPU chips.

Nvidia has taken aim at a core Intel market with its first general-purpose data centre chip, for use in the most advanced AI systems. The US chip company rose to prominence on the back of its more specialised graphics chips, known as GPUs, which it has adapted to the data-intensive task of machine learning. Adding CPUs to its line-up — chips that can be programmed to handle a wider range of tasks — pushes it deeper into data centre computing, and follows last year’s bid for CPU design company Arm. https://on.ft.com/3uKZ8C4

ESG

Facebook reaches its target of using 100 percent renewable energy.

Facebook says it has reached its target to power its global operations entirely on renewable energy. The company is now focusing its efforts on the broader goal of reaching net-zero emissions across its entire “value chain” by 2030, including suppliers and business activities like travel and employee commuting. Facebook first announced its 100 percent renewable energy push in 2018 as Big Tech attempted to offset the environmental impact from ballooning business amid a global push to tackle climate change. Two years earlier, the Paris Climate Agreement saw 143 countries pledge to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon have all adopted environmental targets and spent billions purchasing renewable energy to eliminate carbon-emitting generation. But, their unbridled growth — along with pressure from investors tracking environmental, social and governance scores — means maintaining those commitments will be a fine balancing act. https://engt.co/2QvPhkQ

Apple announces US$200 million investment fund for forest restoration projects.

As part of Apple’s continued environmental commitments, the company today announced a new US$200 million ‘Restore Fund’ that will develop new financially-viable initiatives to restore forest woodland areas, which removes carbon from the atmosphere. The fund aims to generate meaningful financial returns on the investments. Apple hopes that will convince other companies to follow its lead and start up other forest restoration projects. Apple has set a goal for the entire business to be 100% carbon neutral by 2030, including any carbon generated by the creation, use, and eventual disposal of its products. The company has been carbon neutral for its own operations since 2018. Apple says it will remove 75% of carbon emissions in its supply chain by 2030. The forestry fund will contribute to the remaining 25%. https://bit.ly/3ghUZSj

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