.Canadian tech & clean tech capital markets had an eventful week, marked by new issues, fund raising and M&A. It continued an overall theme in capital markets towards ESG investing and better ESG focused corporate governance. In the USA, there was considerable chatter focused on the recent GameStop stock pop and resultant drama. Crunchbase had some interesting data around unicorns and their recent proliferation. Meanwhile, Bitcoin seems to be undergoing a correction, which some attribute to Janet Yellen’s comments at her recent Senate confirmation hearing.

Canadian Technology Capital Markets & Company News

KITS Eyecare Ltd. (KITS-TSX) closes $55 million initial public offering and announces listing on the TSX. The company completed its oversubscribed and upsized initial public offering (the “IPO”) and listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange (“TSX”). The IPO consisted of the issuance of 6,470,588 common shares of the Company (the “Shares”) at a price of $8.50 per Share (the “Offering Price”) for gross proceeds of $55,000,000. KITS’ Shares are expected to commence trading today on the TSX under the symbol “KITS”. http://bit.ly/3bYk8iw

Enthusiast Gaming Holdings Inc. (EGLX-TSX) announces upsize to previously announced bought deal financing. The Company has upsized its previously announced bought deal financing  pursuant to an amended agreement with a syndicate of underwriters led by Canaccord Genuity Corp. (the “Underwriters”). Pursuant to the terms of the amended agreement, the Underwriters have agreed to purchase on a bought deal basis an aggregate, 8,870,000 common shares (the “Shares”) of Enthusiast Gaming, at a price of $5.75 per Share (the “Offering Price”) for total gross proceeds of approximately $51 million. Of the aggregate 8,870,00 Shares being offered, 6,420,000 Shares will be issued from treasury by Enthusiast Gaming for gross proceeds of approximately $36.9 million (the “Treasury Offering”) and 2,450,000 Shares will be offered by Blue Ant Media Inc. (the “Selling Shareholder”) for aggregate gross proceeds to the Selling Shareholder of approximately $14.1 million (the “Secondary Offering”, or together with the Treasury Offering, the “Offering”). The Selling Shareholder is selling approximately 13.4% of its holdings of Enthusiast Gaming, and will continue after the Offering to retain a substantial interest in the Company. The Selling Shareholder is not participating in the upsize portion of the Offering and all the incremental proceeds will go to the Company. http://bit.ly/2XYGY1s & https://bit.ly/3quD5O2

Versus Systems Inc. (VS-CSE) announces closing of $11.0 million public offering. The company closed its previously-announced public offering of 1,280,000 units. Further, the underwriter has exercised in full its over-allotment option to purchase an additional 192,000 common shares, at the public offering price, less the underwriting discount. The offering was priced at US$7.50 per unit, for gross proceeds of US$11,040,000, before deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and other offering expenses payable by Versus. Each unit consists of one common share, one Unit A Warrant and one Unit B Warrant, each to purchase one common share at US$7.50 per share.The common shares and Unit A Warrants began trading on The Nasdaq Capital Market on January 15, 2021 under the ticker symbols “VS” and “VSSYW”, respectively. http://bit.ly/39dcmQ5

TGS (TGS-TSXV) announces upsizing of strategic financing to $2 million due to strong investor demand. http://bit.ly/2Nr1Psp

mCloud (MCLD-TSXV) closes US$1.515 million third tranche of convertible equity debenture totaling US$6.183 million in aggregate.  http://bit.ly/2Y87fuk

Paystone secures $69 million as company chases acquisitive growth strategy. Paystone, a London, Ontario and Montreal-based startup that offers customer engagement and payment processing software, has secured a $69 million investment. The financing consisted of both an equity investment and debt financing. With Paystone having already brought its products to market its CEO, Tarique Al-Ansari, classified the round as late-stage strategic financing. This brings the total funding to date for Paystone, which was founded in 2009, to approximately $100 million. The investors include the Canadian Business Growth Fund (CBGF) and National Bank of Canada. CBGF, Paystone’s first-ever institutional investor (previous investors have been angels and other non-institutional investors), provided all the growth equity capital, while National Bank provided the debt portion. http://bit.ly/3ofjQX8

Bold Commerce raises $35 million Series B backed by OMERS. Once known only as Shopify’s largest app developer, Winnipeg-based Bold Commerce is hoping a $35 million Series B round will help it become the platform to power commerce anywhere and everywhere. OMERS Ventures led the all-equity round, which saw participation from past investors Whitecap Venture Partners and Round 13 Capital (history does rhyme: OMERS once led Shopify’s Series C round). Bold’s last round, a $22 million Series A in 2019, was also its first – the company had chosen to bootstrap its development since its founding in 2012. http://bit.ly/3qEzJb8

Ottawa cloud backup startup Rewind raises $19 million Series A. Ottawa-based Rewind has closed a $19 million Series A round of financing as it looks to capitalize on and expand its “backup-as-a-service” business. The almost six-year-old startup has developed a platform that helps businesses backup and restore (if needed) their software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud data. The Series A round represents significant financing for the startup as it looks to grow its customer base within the platforms it currently operates on, like Shopify and BigCommerce, as well as new platforms like Trello. The all-equity round was led by Inovia Capital, with participation from United States venture capital firms Ridge Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners. The round also included return investors such as Ottawa’s Mistral Venture Partners, FundFire, and unnamed angel investors. ScaleUP Ventures, which led a small seed round for Rewind also made a follow-on investment for the Series A. The round, while majority primary capital, included what CEO Mike Potter called a minority but “significant” portion of secondary financing. http://bit.ly/3qyv4aE

Vancouver’s Autozen raises $4.2 million to simplify private auto sales. Autozen, an online marketplace that aims to make it easier for car owners to sell their vehicles, has emerged from stealth mode after raising $4.2 million in seed financing. Founded in 2020, Autozen claims its platform will offer an easier, faster, and more transparent way for car owners to sell their vehicles compared to the traditional car sale process. The startup plans to use this initial investment to build its team’s capabilities. http://bit.ly/2Y6BCRP

Wattpad to be acquired by South Korea’s Naver Corp. for $754 million. Wattpad is set to be acquired by South Korean internet company Naver Corp. for an estimated $754 million. Naver announced the deal early before market open Wednesday morning local time in South Korea. Wattpad confirmed the deal to BetaKit Tuesday evening. The transaction includes cash and 248,543,779 in stock shares in exchange for KRW 652.5 billion. Touting itself as the world’s leading social storytelling platform, Wattpad counts more than 90 million monthly users, who spend more than 23 billion minutes engaged in original stories. This cache of original stories has led to Wattpad being an abundant source of intellectual property to an entertainment industry that is increasingly searching for fresh, but proven, content. It was first reported by The Globe and Mail at the beginning of the month that Wattpad was in talks with “multiple parties” about a potential sale for upward of US$500 million. To date, Wattpad has raised more than $117 million. Its investors include Tencent Holdings Limited, a leading provider of internet services in China, BDC, OMERS Ventures, Golden Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures, and Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund, among others. http://bit.ly/35YROZT

Franchise shift: Gatineau software firm acquired by U.S. franchise management giant. Virginia-based FranConnect announced this week it has acquired LavaBlast Software, which makes a subscription-based platform used by franchisors to maintain consistent standards across their operations. Financial terms of the deal, which closed Jan. 14, were not made public. Launched 14 years ago by a pair of University of Ottawa software engineering grads, LavaBlast ​– which did business under the name FranchiseBlast ​– has more than 100 customers. They include Recipe Unlimited Corp., the company behind Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and other Canadian restaurant brands, as well as Cinnabon parent company Focus Brands, BeaverTails and Smoke’s Poutinerie. http://bit.ly/2Y4H2Nh

How Canadian fund managers are betting on the bitcoin boom. There is no pure-play bitcoin ETF yet, but Accelerate Financial Technologies Ltd. plans to launch OneChoice Alternative Model Portfolio ETF on Jan. 27, which includes a 10-per-cent allocation to bitcoin. Famed U.S. investor Warren Buffett blasted bitcoin as “probably rat poison squared” a few years ago. Despite his comments and bitcoin’s trademark volatility, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency has been gaining more respect. More U.S. institutions and notable investors – from Bill Miller to Paul Tudor Jones and Stanley Druckenmiller – own bitcoin as digital gold. U.S.-listed Microstrategy Inc. (MSTR-Q) and Square Inc. (SQ-N) have moved cash into bitcoin in their corporate treasuries, while Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. bought US$100-million in bitcoin for its general investment fund. Here in Canada, some fund managers are finding ways to offer investors exposure to this nascent digital asset as well. “Basically, the dam has been broken,” says Felix Narhi, chief investment officer (CIO) and portfolio manager at PenderFund Capital Management Ltd. “We’re leaning to the bullish story [on bitcoin], but we are still cognizant of the risk.” “Bitcoin is not a big bet for us, but having exposure in the early innings makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Narhi says. “We can’t own it in our mutual funds, but buying the stock of a company in which a big chunk of its value is in bitcoin is fine.” Another bitcoin bet, Mr. Narhi says, is Canadian-listed Bigg Digital Assets Inc. (BIGG-CN), which is held in Pender Small Cap Opportunities Fund. Bigg has two businesses – one owns the Netcoins crypto exchange, while the other sells software and services to governments and law enforcement agencies to track down bitcoin-related criminal activities. Greg Taylor, CIO at Purpose Investments Inc., is also bullish on an emerging crypto asset that differs from central bank currencies. “Bitcoin is by far the biggest, … but [another cryptocurrency] may be the winner.” Purpose Global Innovators Fund, which he co-manages, plays bitcoin and other cryptocurrency assets by owning shares and warrants of Canadian-listed Voyageur Digital Ltd. (VYGR-CN), a U.S. crypto-asset broker that plans to expand to Canada. http://tgam.ca/38ZqgW6

Global Markets: IPOs, Venture Capital, M&A

Public market verdict: The unicorn binge wasn’t crazy; It was really profitable. Back in 2013, venture investor Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, penned an essay coining the term “unicorn” to describe VC-funded companies valued at US$1 billion or more. At the time, she could count just 14 still-private companies less than a decade old that qualified for the title. Today, Crunchbase counts nearly 700 globally with just over 300 in the United States alone. Collectively, the U.S. cohort is valued at around US$945 billion, based on last known reported valuations. Until recently, the fast-multiplying herd sparked considerable consternation about whether it could possibly fetch high enough exit valuations to deliver returns to investors. In 2019, the implosion of WeWork’s planned public offering raised some doubts, as did Uber’s underwhelming IPO. And early last spring, few expected a booming IPO market amid the pandemic, particularly for companies in hard-hit sectors such as travel. But then came the latter part of 2020. It was a pretty rotten period for many things, but an absolutely spectacular one for recently and newly public venture-backed companies. Forty of the most valuable have a collective public valuation of around US$1.1 trillion. http://bit.ly/3sReWTN

EVgo to go public via SPAC in bid to power EV charging expansion. EVgo, the wholly owned subsidiary of LS Power that owns and operates public fast chargers for electric vehicles, has reached a deal to become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corporation. The combined company, which will be listed under the new ticker symbol “EVGO” will have a market valuation of US$2.6 billion. LS Power and EVgo management, which today own 100% of the company will be rolling all of its equity into the transaction. Once the transaction closes in the second quarter, LS Power will hold a 74% stake in the newly combined company. EVgo has raised about $575 million in proceeds through the business combination, including a $400 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Investors include Pacific Investment Management Company LLC (PIMCO), funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Wellington Management, Neuberger Berman Funds and Van Eck Associates Corporation, according to the announcement. http://tcrn.ch/3odtwBv

Coding prodigy behind hit game PUBG eyes IPO worth billions. Bluehole Inc., as Krafton was called at the time, released PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, in 2017. It became one of the most successful games of all time, with the PC and console versions selling more than 70 million copies and the mobile version being downloaded about 600 million times, according to Krafton. Now the company is planning an initial public offering in mid-to-late 2021 that could be South Korea’s biggest in years. The share sale could raise billions of dollars, Kim, who became Krafton’s chief executive officer last year, said in an interview in Seoul, declining to give further details. The IPO could value the startup at as much as 30 trillion won (US$27.2 billion), according to a Jan. 5 report by Eugene Investment & Securities Co. South Korea is set to raise as much as US$10.9 billion, a record, through more than 120 IPOs this year, according to the brokerage. KakaoBank Corp., the largest internet-only lender, and LG Chem Ltd.’s battery unit are expected to conduct initial share sales in 2021, according to the report. The surge in IPOs comes after South Korea’s benchmark stock index gained 34% in the past 12 months, one of the best performances in the world. http://bloom.bg/396DKzv

Intel Chairman planning up to US$1 billion health-tech SPAC IPO. Intel Corp. Chairman Omar Ishrak is planning to raise funds for a blank-check firm targeting deals in the health technology sector, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Ishrak, who previously ran medical device giant Medtronic Plc, could file public registration documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as soon as Tuesday, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Ishrak is targeting to raise about US$750 million to US$1 billion for the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, they said. https://bloom.bg/2KAnWeO

Citrix agrees to buy Slack competitor Wrike for US$2.25 billion. Citrix Systems Inc. has agreed to buy Wrike Inc. for US$2.25 billion in cash to add collaboration software to its products serving remote workers. The deal, expected to close in the first half of the year, will be “modestly dilutive” to Citrix’s earnings in 2021, Citrix said in a statement on Tuesday, confirming an earlier Bloomberg News report. https://bloom.bg/3oX4oA4

MGM scraps UK gambling takeover after US$11 billion bid rejected. MGM Resorts International is walking away from an attempt to buy the owner of British gambling brand Ladbrokes after its $11 billion bid was rejected. The US casino group said in a statement Tuesday that it would not make a firm offer for Ladbrokes owner Entain, following “careful consideration” and “limited recent engagement.” MGM (MGM) made a £8.1 billion (US$11 billion) takeover proposal earlier this month, seeking to capitalize on a surge in online betting during the pandemic. But Entain said the offer “significantly” undervalued the company’s shares and its prospects. Shares in Entain surged 25% after the MGM offer was disclosed, indicating that investors believed a higher offer was coming, either from MGM or another competitor. Following the announcement on Tuesday, Entain’s stock plunged 15% in London. MGM’s shares rose 2.6%. MGM, a major player in Las Vegas, said it remains committed to BetMGM, its existing joint venture with Entain. BetMGM, a sports betting and online gaming company, operates in more than a dozen US states. http://cnn.it/2LJCtWa

Allied esports agrees to US$78.3 million sale of world poker tour. The acquisition comprises an initial upfront payment of US$68.3 million in cash and an additional US$10 million revenue share earn-out based on 5 per cent of WPT-branded tournament entry fees on Element-owned or licensed gaming platforms. The WPT initially went public in 2003 and was later purchased by PartyGaming for $12m and a related revenue share. In 2015, the company was purchased by Ourgame International for US$35 million and then acquired by NASDAQ-listed Black Ridge Acquisition Corp. for US$50 million in 2019 as part of a larger deal that led to the listing of the company as Allied Esports Entertainment (AESE). Allied Esports said that the rapid growth and popularity of gaming and esports during the COVID-19 pandemic had also driven strategic interest in the company’s esports business. As a result, the company’s board has agreed to explore strategic options for its esports business, including a possible sale, and has engaged Lake Street Capital Markets to assist with the process. https://bit.ly/3qxKNqy

GameStop stock halts trading after Reddit drama. Trading in stock of video game retailer GameStop (GME) was halted briefly Friday, as it soared more than 70 percent, due partly to the enthusiastic support of a group of Reddit day traders. The stock is up more than 250 percent year to date, rising sharply last week after GameStop announced Chewy CEO Ryan Cohen was joining its board, CNBC reported. Short-seller Citron Research predicted the price would drop, but members of the Reddit board r/wallstreetbets, who had been generating interest in the stock, criticized Citron on the Reddit message board and continued praising the stock on social media. GameStop is the most-shorted stock in the market, CNBC said, citing FactSet. More than 138 percent of its shares are sold short — making it a prime target for a short squeeze. GameStop’s Reddit-related surge triggered a circuit breaker stoppage when it rose 69 percent (nice) on Friday around 12:45PM ET. Citron said Friday it would no longer comment on the GameStop stock because of “the angry mob who owns this stock.” Citron Research editor Andrew Left wrote in a note to readers that the backlash had included criminal activity he planned to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which included harassment of minor children as well as financial crimes. http://bit.ly/3qKNQvQ

GameStop’s stock spikes up after short seller Citron cancels livestream. Shares of GameStop Corp. spiked higher midday trading Thursday, as widely followed short-seller Citron Research’s planned livestream, in which five reasons to sell the video game and consumer electronics retailer’s stock were expected to be highlighted, was canceled. The livestream, which was originally planned for Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, was delayed to Thursday so as not to interfere with President Joe Biden’s inauguration. But given technical difficulties, the livestream was delayed slightly, then canceled. “Too many people hacking Citron twitter, will record and post later today. $GME going to US$20 buy at your own risk,” Citron tweeted. The stock was trading up about 3.0% just before 11:30 a.m. ET, then spiked up as much as 14.4% to an intraday high of US$44.75 as the livestream failed to proceed, before paring gains. The stock was recently up 8.8%. It has tripled (up 201.8%) over the past three months, while the S&P 500 has gained 12.2%. http://on.mktw.net/3pdAVBY

Emerging Technologies

Amazon offers to help U.S. with vaccine in letter to President Biden. Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday offered to help with the United States’ efforts involving the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, seen by Reuters. The world’s largest online retailer has an agreement with a healthcare provider to administer vaccines at its facilities, Dave Clark, chief executive of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, said in the letter. He added, “We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts.” http://reut.rs/2NkoiqL

Virus detection tech gets funding for COVID adaptation. Kromek, headquartered in Durham, has received £1.25 million from Innovate UK to adapt its biological threat detection system, which is already deployed in high-footfall locations to identify airborne threats. Using DNA sequencing, Kromek’s radiation-based technology samples the air in-situ to automatically detect and analyse airborne pathogens. The system will now be adapted to rapidly test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – as well as mutations of the virus which have recently been raising alarms. By detecting the virus in the air in real-time rather than solely relying on individual testing methods, the system will enable earlier identification of potential infection exposure, which will help reduce transmission. According to Kromek, it will also support facilities management by enabling site operators to know what level of ventilation is required from HVAC systems, or when decontamination is necessary. http://bit.ly/3iH4cm9

Apple developing ‘pricey, niche’ VR headset ahead of eventual augmented reality glasses. Apple Inc. is planning a headset that would be a “pricey, niche precursor” to an eventual pair of augmented-reality glasses, according to a Bloomberg News report. Apple has long been rumored to be planning a dedicated augmented-reality device, but its first foray into the headset space could be mainly focused on virtual reality, the report said, with a launch coming as early as 2022. The report cites “some Apple insiders” who said that the headset could be considerably pricier than competing VR offerings such that Apple might only sell one unit a day in each of its retail locations. The company is farther behind in its development of the AR glasses intended to be a more mainstream product, per the report. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment. http://on.mktw.net/2Y6yc1t

Cruise, GM partner with Microsoft to commercialize self-driving vehicles. Self-driving car maker Cruise and majority shareholder General Motors Co said on Tuesday they would partner with Microsoft Corp to commercialize driverless autonomous vehicles. Microsoft will join General Motors, Honda Motor Co and institutional investors in a combined new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise, bringing the post-money valuation of Cruise to $30 billion. Cruise will use Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, for its self-driving vehicles. https://bit.ly/3c1bLmy

The next Tesla? Investors bet big on electric truck maker Rivian. Rivian, which has raised another $US2.65 billion, plans to sell a pickup truck and S.U.V. it has worked on for more than a decade. https://nyti.ms/2Nn9eZC

Media, Streaming, Gaming & Sports Betting

Ladbrokes owner Entain will do ‘whatever it takes’ for US success. Ladbrokes owner Entain has said it will do “whatever it takes” to expand in the US despite rejecting an £8bn takeover from Las Vegas-based casino giant MGM this month. Entain’s US betting joint venture, which it runs with MGM, lifted online revenues 130 per cent over the year as it entered new states where gambling had been recently legalised, the company said yesterday. It increased its 2020 revenue forecast to between US$175 million and US$180 million, up from US$150 million -US$160 million. https://on.ft.com/3iDYHoA

Parler reappears with help from Russian-owned service. Parler, the social network popular with the alt-right and conspiracy theorists, reappeared with the help of a Russian-owned web security service as the website hunts for a way around bans that took it offline earlier this month. “Our return is inevitable due to hard work, and persistence against all odds,” Chief Executive Officer John Matze wrote in a new post, the latest since Amazon Web Services stopped hosting the site and it was banned from Apple Inc.’s and Google’s app stores. “Despite the threats and harassment not one Parler employee has quit. We are becoming closer and stronger as a team.” https://bloom.bg/35XLlyb

Epic pledges US$20 million for Fortnite esports in 2021. Fortnite developer Epic says that, for 2021, the game’s competitive scene will have a prize pool of US$20 million. That’s a step up from last year’s total of US$17 million — though it’s not as massive as the 2019 World Cup, where US$30 million was on the line. The news comes as Epic provided details on the latest season of the Fortnite Champion Series, the game’s highest level of competition. The developer previously said that all competitions would take place online, and today, it revealed more details about the schedule: qualifiers will kick off on February 4th, with the finals starting on March 12th. In a nod to the global nature of the game, there will also be three new, separate broadcasts with commentary in French, German, and Spanish. http://bit.ly/2XW7I2H

Adtech, Privacy & Regulatory

Privacy-focused Facebook competitor MeWe says it’s gained more than 2 million users in the past week. MeWe, a social media app that bills itself as a secure and private alternative to Facebook, has gained 2.5 million new users in the last week, the company said, as fringe groups search for new platforms with less oversight. After the November 2020 election, MeWe made headlines for hosting Stop the Steal, QAnon, and other alt-right groups that were kicked off mainstream platforms. When asked about moderation in an AP interview earlier this week, Weinstein declined to disclose the size of MeWe’s content moderation team. In an email, a company spokesperson said the site’s policies prohibit “inciting violence, hate, harassment, bullying, illegal activity,” and other similar actions. http://bit.ly/3sLaje5

US Defense Intelligence Agency admits to buying citizens’ location data. An intelligence agency has just confirmed that the US government does indeed buy location data collected by its citizens’ smartphones. In a memo sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and obtained by The New York Times, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) admitted that it buys location data from brokers — and that the data isn’t separated by whether a person lives in the US or outside of it. Data brokers are companies that, as the name implies, collect and sell people’s information. The companies collect people’s location information (and much more) by paying app makers and websites for it. Once the broker has the information, they can aggregate it and sell it to whoever’s willing to pay for it — including the US government. http://bit.ly/39axeYj

European data agencies reportedly issued US$193 million in fines for GDPR violations in 2020. European data agencies imposed US$193 million (€159 million) in fines in the last year, according to research by DLA Piper, first reported by the Financial Times. This accounts for around 40% of all sanctions given out since the General Data Protection Regulation laws came into effect in May 2018. Over the course of those two years, European data control authorities have imposed US$331 million (€272 million) in penalties, half of which was imposed by Italian and German authorities. The highest penalty imposed was a US$57 million fine the French authorities issued to Google. Twitter became the first US firm to be fined under the law with a sanction of US$546,000 in December. http://bit.ly/3iGvUPT

eCommerce

Worldwide ecommerce will approach US$5 trillion this year. Despite a challenging year for retail in 2020, we estimate that worldwide retail ecommerce sales posted a 27.6% growth rate for the year, with sales reaching well over US$4 trillion. This represents a substantial uptick from our mid-pandemic assessment that global ecommerce would decelerate to 16.5% growth and demonstrates the remarkable extent to which consumers transitioned to ecommerce last year. Even as total worldwide retail sales declined by 3.0% and recessionary conditions set in around the world, ecommerce managed to perform above pre-pandemic expectations in 2020. https://bit.ly/3bTqpw8

WeChat advances e-commerce goals with US$250 billion in transactions. WeChat continues to advance its shopping ambitions as the social networking app turns 10 years old. The Chinese messenger facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to US$250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs,” third-party services that run on the super app that allow users to buy clothes, order food, hail taxis and more. That is double the value of transactions on WeChat’s mini programs in 2019, the networking giant announced at its annual conference for business partners and ecosystem developers, which normally takes place in its home city of Guangzhou in southern China but was moved online this year due to the pandemic. To compare, e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, Alibaba’s archrival, saw total transactions of US$214.7 billion in the third quarter. http://tcrn.ch/3qDJd6x

American Airlines will now deliver wine to your door, and you can get air miles for every dollar spent. A 3-bottle monthly subscription costs US$100. American Airlines is the latest industry giant to start selling its onboard food and drink to people stuck at home during the pandemic. The airline is launching a wine delivery service that will bring bottles of its premium alcohol to your door. “Flagship Cellars” has three different purchase models. You can choose a pre-selected box of mixed wines, build your own box, or buy a subscription that gets you three wines a month for US$100. The airline described it as a “wine passport to the world” that allows you to sample its premium wines without being onboard. American isn’t the only airline innovating amid the pandemic, as companies try to stay afloat amid falling revenues. British Airways sold crockery, slippers, blankets, and trolleys, Singapore Airlines opened a US$440-per-head restaurant in a grounded aircraft, and Finnair sold its onboard catering as ready meals in supermarkets. http://bit.ly/3iFDv1t

Used Peloton bikes are selling within hours, and the lack of inventory reportedly caused the company to wait to roll out its resale marketplace. Used Peloton bikes are selling online within hours for nearly full price. Peloton reportedly delayed its own pre-owned marketplace because there isn’t enough inventory. At-home fitness subscriptions have soared during the pandemic. http://bit.ly/2NfpYBS

Fintech, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Treasury pick Janet Yellen: Cryptocurrency crime of ‘particular concern. In her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Janet Yellen—President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury—said that “cryptocurrencies are of particular concern” for their role in facilitating criminal activity, and that she’ll be keeping a close eye on them in her new role. In response to a question from Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire about how Yellen’s Treasury Department would work to rein in crypto-financed crimes, and terrorist financing in particular, Yellen said, “We need to make sure that our methods for dealing with these matters, with tech-terrorist financing, change along with changing technology.” https://bit.ly/2XUsorL

BlackRock has joined the bitcoin business – the world’s largest asset manager has said two of its funds can now invest in the cryptocurrency. BlackRock has authorized two of its funds to invest in bitcoin futures, according to filings released Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The move allows exposure to cryptocurrencies for clients of the world’s largest asset manager for the first time. The US$8.7 trillion asset manager said it could use bitcoin derivatives, among other assets, under the BlackRock Strategic Income Opportunities and the BlackRock Global Allocation Fund. The funds are only permitted to trade cash-settled bitcoin futures, meaning the holder will receive a simple cash credit once the contract expires. Such settlements do not require physical delivery of the underlying asset. More specifically, BlackRock’s two funds will trade only in those bitcoin futures that trade on exchanges registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. At present, the only exchange registered to do so is the CME. http://bit.ly/3iEuKEI

A record US$3.7 billion in Bitcoin options are set to expire on January 29 as interest in cryptocurrencies surges. On Monday morning, open options contracts were worth around 245,700 Bitcoin – or roughly $9.1 billion – according to cryptocurrency data analytics website bybt.com. Options contracts worth around 101,000 Bitcoin – or US$3.7 billion at Monday’s prices – are to to expire on January 29, bybt.com’s data showed, although not every option will result in a trade. That is more than the previous record of around US$2.4 billion seen on 25 December, as noted by Cointelegraph. http://bit.ly/3sGeYh7

Crypto crime summarized: Scams and darknet markets dominated 2020 by revenue, but ransomware is the bigger story. In 2019, criminal activity represented 2.1% of all cryptocurrency transaction volume, or roughly US$21.4 billion worth of transfers. In 2020, the criminal share of all cryptocurrency activity fell to just 0.34%, or US$10.0 billion in transaction volume. One reason the percentage of criminal activity fell is because overall economic activity nearly tripled between 2019 and 2020. As was the case in 2019, scams made up the majority of all cryptocurrency-related crime at 54% of illicit activity, representing roughly US$2.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency received. However, both the raw value and share of all criminal activity represented by scams is much smaller than in 2019, as there were no scams in 2020 comparable to those like the enormous PlusToken Ponzi scheme, which took in over US$2 billion from millions of victims. Darknet markets were once again the second-largest crime category, accounting for US$1.7 billion worth of cryptocurrency activity, up from US$1.3 billion in 2019. However, the big story for cryptocurrency-based crime in 2020 is ransomware. That may sound counterintuitive, as ransomware accounted for just 7% of all funds received by criminal addresses at just under US$350 million worth of cryptocurrency. But that figure represents a 311% increase over 2019. No other category of cryptocurrency-based crime rose so dramatically in 2020, as Covid-prompted work-from-home measures opened up new vulnerabilities for many organizations. http://bit.ly/3sQdocI

Semiconductors

Samsung considers US$10 billion Texas chipmaking plant, sources say. Samsung Electronics Co. is considering spending more than US$10 billion building its most advanced logic chipmaking plant in the U.S., a major investment it hopes will win more American clients and help it catch up with industry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. The world’s largest memory chip and smartphone maker is in discussions to locate a facility in Austin, Texas, capable of fabricating chips as advanced as 3 nanometers in the future, people familiar with the matter said. Plans are preliminary and subject to change but for now the aim is to kick off construction this year, install major equipment from 2022, then begin operations as early as 2023, they said. While the investment amount could fluctuate, Samsung’s plans would mean upwards of US$10 billion to bankroll the project, one of the people said. Samsung is taking advantage of a concerted U.S. government effort to counter China’s rising economic prowess and lure back home some of the advanced manufacturing that over the past decades has gravitated toward Asia. The hope is that such production bases in the U.S. will galvanize local businesses and support American industry and chip design. Intel Corp.’s troubles ramping up on technology and its potential reliance in the future on TSMC and Samsung for at least some of its chipmaking only underscored the extent to which Asian giants have forged ahead in recent years. http://bloom.bg/3acxPbt

Lumentum to acquire Coherent in US$5.7 billion cash-and-stock deal. Lumentum Holdings will acquire Coherent, a laser systems maker, in a cash and stock deal valued at US$5.7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported. The acquisition will allow Lumentum, which manufactures optical and photonic products, to beef up its laser segment. Lumentum, which is currently valued at US$8 billion, and Coherent, valued at US$3.7 billion, are the latest players in the semiconductor industry and related areas to join forces amid a stream of consolidation deals. Earlier this month, Qualcomm announced plans to acquire Nuvia, a chip maker startup. Under the terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the second half of 2021, Coherent shareholders are set to receive US$100 and about 1.2 shares of Lumentum stock for each Coherent share, the Journal reported, along with 27% ownership of the combined company. http://bit.ly/399bHPz

ESG

Solar and Hydrogen to flourish in 2021 as green spending grows. The race to decarbonize the world is on, and 2021 is set to break fresh records for investment and installations in renewable energy and clean technologies. A BloombergNEF report published Tuesday showed more than US$501 billion flowed into climate friendly sectors last year from renewable energy to electric vehicles and batteries to green hydrogen. All that despite the disruption caused by the pandemic. https://bloom.bg/35TLWAU

Total to acquire 20% stake in Adani Green Energy. Total SE will acquire a minority stake in Adani Green Energy Ltd. as the French company bets on India’s push for cleaner fuels. Total will buy a 20% stake in Adani Green from the promoter group, and half the ownership in operative solar assets for US$2.5 billion, according to a company statement. As of September 2020, the promoter group held 74.92% stake in Adani Green. https://bit.ly/2XPf73G

Duke Energy: North Carolina customers increasingly turn to solar. Solar power has continued to grow in North Carolina in 2020, with more Duke Energy customers using solar power than ever before. Driven by the company’s five-year, $62 million solar rebate program, which helps pay for the significant upfront costs of solar systems, about 5,500 Duke Energy customers installed private solar systems at their homes and businesses in 2020. Today, more than 18,000 Duke Energy customers have a private solar system. Almost 60% of the company’s generation in the Carolinas is carbon-free, with nuclear, solar and hydroelectric power being the leading sources of carbon-free generation. https://bit.ly/3nYHRl1

A megabattery boom is coming to rescue overloaded power grids. The world’s overloaded power grids are on the cusp of a megabattery boom. California, keen to avoid last year’s blackouts, could add more than 2 gigawatts of energy storage, including from batteries, by summer. The frenzied rush to claim the title of “biggest battery” started in 2017, when Tesla Inc. and French renewable energy company Neoen SA installed the first 100-megawatt lithium-ion storage project in Australia. As systems get bigger, they can store and dispatch more energy. That’s seen the titleholder changing frequently—leading to Vistra Corp.’s 300MW Moss Landing project in California claiming the current top spot. http://bloom.bg/3sNFcyl

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