Some stats from Morning Brew put recent stock market volatility into perspective. The Dow posted its eighth straight weekly loss, which is its longest weekly losing streak since 1923. The S&P has lost ground for seven straight weeks, its longest losing streak since 2001. The Nasdaq has dropped more from its peak last November than when the world shut down in spring 2020. We repeat: The literal world shut down and the Nasdaq is doing worse now.
Tiger Global, the hedge fund known for making big bets on technology companies, slashed its shareholdings and dumped stakes in companies such as Netflix and Rivian as it suffered heavy losses during this year’s stock market rout. ‘Big Short’ investor Michael Burry revealed a bet against Apple stock — and built stakes in Alphabet and Meta last quarter. Coinbase shares jumped Tuesday after the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US said it’s pulling back the pace of hiring to strengthen its businesses during a slump in the US$1.4 trillion crypto market. Southeast Asian ride hailing and food delivery company Grab said its business is recovering as the region reopens from Covid-19 lockdowns. Cisco Systems forecasts revenue drop, blames China lockdowns. China’s Tencent reports no revenue growth for first time. Apple execs recently presented augmented reality headset to company board, suggesting product is close to launch. Facebook parent company Meta Platforms has plans to monetize WhatsApp. Your online behavior and location are shared with advertisers 747 times a day. Square to offer Afterpay’s BNPL at brick-and-mortar stores. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker, is considering building a semiconductor factory in Singapore to help address a global supply shortage, according to people familiar with the matter.
As investor conferences gradually resume in person, Sophic clients Renoworks Software (RW-TSXV), Smart Employee Benefits (SEB-TSXV), Swarmio Media (SWRM-CSE), and Edge Total Intelligence (CTRL-TSXV) attended the Planet MicroCap Showcase 2022 conference in Las Vegas recently. Sophic Client Clear Blue Technologies’ (CBLU-TSXV) CEO, was on BNN Bloomberg this week to talk about Smart Off-Grid energy. Voyager Digital (VOYG-TSX) announced a common share private placement of approximately US$60 million anchored by leading crypto companies.
Canadian Technology Capital Markets & Company News
As investor conferences gradually resume in person, multiple Sophic clients attended the Planet MicroCap Showcase 2022 conference in Las Vegas recently. Please see below for their investor presentations.
Renoworks Software (RW-TSXV, ROWKF-OTC): https://youtu.be/l5rMSzIDLZ8
Smart Employee Benefits (SEB-TSXV, SEBFF-OTCQB): https://youtu.be/-x4t8jHBLyA
Swarmio Media (SWRM-CSE): https://youtu.be/Gyf_lNwr8Hw
Edge Total Intelligence CTRL-TSXV, Q5I-FRA): https://youtu.be/ZsY5dtti7OU
Sophic Client Clear Blue Technologies (CBLU-TSXV, CBUTF-OTC, 0YA-FRA) CEO, was on BNN Bloomberg this week to talk about Smart Off-Grid energy. https://bit.ly/3PA8KL5
Voyager Digital (VOYG-TSX) announced common share private placement of approximately US$60 million anchored by leading crypto companies.
Voyager Digital Ltd., ihas obtained subscription agreements from subscribers for a private placement of common shares of the Company (the “Shares”) for gross proceeds of approximately US$60 million at a price of US$2.34 per Share (equivalent $3.00 per Share). The Offering was led by Alameda Research with participation by, among others, Galaxy Digital, Blockdaemon, and Digital Currency Group. For the brokered portion of the Offering, BTIG acted as sole agent and bookrunner (the “Agent”). Assuming the completion of the Offering in full, Voyager would have available liquidity of over US$225 million, which is comprised of over US$175 million in cash and approximately US$50 million in crypto. https://bit.ly/3sE8kK2
Intermap (IMP-TSX) files short form base shelf prospectus.
Intermap Technologies, announced that it has obtained final receipt and filed a final short form base shelf prospectus with the securities commissions in each of the provinces of Canada, other than Quebec. Intermap intends to use the net proceeds from the sale of securities to continue to pursue its growth strategy, which includes, among other things, financing for future acquisitions and to enhance profitable organic growth. This filing allows the Company to offer and issue up to US$20,000,000 of common shares, preferred shares, debt securities, subscription receipts, warrants or units, or a combination thereof, during the 25-month period that the base shelf prospectus remains effective. The Corporation has undertaken not to complete an offering of securities under the base shelf prospectus unless it raises at least US$1,800,000 under the base shelf or a private placement within 90 days following the issuance of the final receipt. https://bit.ly/3lcH5lN
Georgian backs Vention again in $123.7 million in series C round.
Montréal-headquartered industrial tech startup Vention has raised $123.7 million (US$95 million) in Series C funding. This round would represent Toronto-based venture capital firm Georgian Partners’ second time as lead investor in Vention’s capital raises, also leading Vention’s $38 million Series B round in June 2020. Vention closes its Series C round following a period of significant growth for the company. Since its Series B almost two years ago, Vention has more than doubled its headcount, increasing its employee base from 100 to 260. It has also gained two new offices in Berlin and Boston this year. https://bit.ly/3FNgFAg
OMERS Growth Equity backs US data analytics startup Imply in US$100 million Series D.
Burlingame, California’s Imply has secured US$100 million to expand the reach of its real-time data analytics platform. The Canadian-led, United States-based startup, which was founded by the original creators of the open-source Apache Druid project, offers a database designed to help developers build data analytics applications. The all-equity Series D round also saw participation from existing Imply investors Bessemer Venture Funds, Andreessen Horowitz, and Khosla Ventures. If all primary, the round brings Imply’s total funding to US$215 million and gives the company a valuation of US$1.1 billion. https://bit.ly/3G3DzUc
ChargeLab’s software layer to power ABB’s EV chargers in North America.
ChargeLab, a Toronto-based startup that builds software to operate and optimize electric vehicle charging equipment for fleets and commercial customers, has raised a US$15 million Series A round. The round was led by King River Capital and notably includes participation from strategic investor ABB E-Mobility, a spinoff of technology company ABB that focuses on electric mobility and building charging stations. As part of ChargeLab’s commercial agreement with ABB, the two companies will launch a bundled hardware and software solution for fleets, multifamily buildings and other commercial EV charging use cases, according to Zak Lefevre, founder and CEO of ChargeLab. ChargeLab’s core product is its cloud-based charging station management system, which provides apps for EV drivers, dashboards for fleet managers and open APIs for third-party system integration. https://tcrn.ch/3lrJXeD
Forma.ai closes US$45 million Series B financing to accelerate revolutionary AI-supported sales performance management platform.
Forma.ai, the Sales Performance Management solution (SPM) that is revolutionizing how sales compensation is designed, managed and optimized, today announced it has raised US$45 million in Series B funding. The round is led by ACME Capital, along with Crosslink Capital, Golden Ventures, Uncork Capital, Xfund and Gaingels. With 400% revenue growth in 2021 and rapid enterprise adoption of its revolutionary SPM platform, Forma.ai plans to use the capital to expand its product development and go-to-market capabilities to meet growing demand in the SPM market. Forma.ai handles billions in annual managed commissions for market leaders like OpenTable, Stryker, and Autodesk. Forma.ai is building a world where high-value compensation resources spend time on driving better sales behaviors through incentive design—not fussing over formula building. https://bit.ly/39wTDS6
Fable raises $13.4 million, launches accessibility training program for businesses.
Toronto-based accessibility tech startup Fable has raised $13.4 million in a Series A round led by Five Elms Capital. The investment also saw participation from a group of several notable angel investors including John Ruffolo, who is the founder and managing partner of Maverix Private Equity. Fable did not disclose the other angel investors that took part in the round. Other investors include Difference Partners, as well as Toronto’s Disruption Ventures, which led Fable’s $2 million seed round in July last year. Founded in 2018, Fable aims to help businesses test their offerings’ accessibility through its flagship product, Engage. Fable’s services include tester recruitment, technical support, and compensation. “Ultimately, our goal is to empower people with disabilities to participate, contribute, and shape society. By working with companies who serve millions of users, we’re well on our way,” said Fable CEO Alwar Pillai. https://bit.ly/3NnseAU
Round13 launches new venture fund with initial US$70 million to back blockchain companies providing “the base” for web3.
Round13 Capital has unveiled a new venture fund focused on blockchain and Web3 infrastructure companies. The Toronto-based tech and growth-stage-focused VC firm has secured US$70 million for its recently launched Digital Asset Fund, from a group of undisclosed investors led by a “major Canadian pension fund,” with support from other institutions, family offices, high-net-worth individuals, and members of the Round13 team. Round13 has set an “initial target” of US$100 million for the open Digital Asset Fund. The Digital Asset Fund intends to invest between US$300,000 and US$5 million per company, generally at the Series A-stage or below, but remains open to investing at later stages should the right opportunity arise. https://bit.ly/3wCu0qZ
Yaletown-backed software company Tasktop to be acquired by Texas-based planview.
Vancouver-based Tasktop has inked a definitive agreement to be acquired by fellow B2B software company Planview, which is based in Austin, Texas. The financial terms of the strategic acquisition, which is expected to close mid-summer 2022, were not disclosed. The move comes just over a year after Tasktop raised $126 million in growth equity financing led by California’s Sumeru Equity Partners, with participation from previous investors Vancouver-based Yaletown Partners and Austin-based Elsewhere Partners. The round brought Tasktop’s total funding to about $162.5 million (US$130 million). According to Tasktop and Planview, which both declined to disclose the financial terms of the acquisition, the newly combined entity will be a $400 million company with over 1,200 employees and more than 5,000 enterprise customers. https://bit.ly/3luc50w
Global Markets: IPOs, Venture Capital, M&A
Celsius mining confidentially files for public listing.
Celsius Mining, a bitcoin mining subsidiary of crypto financial services company Celsius Network, announced on Monday it had confidentially filed for a public listing. A spokesperson declined to comment on whether the listing would be an initial public offering or a direct listing. The confidential filing of a draft S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission comes amid a broad selloff in technology stocks as well as market downturn for cryptocurrencies. The price of bitcoin, which was more than US$45,000 just last month, has slipped below US$30,000. While the timing of an expected listing is unclear, Celsius Mining is one of few companies in the past six months to announce plans for an eventual public listing. Social media site Reddit announced late last year that it had confidentially filed for an initial public offering, and grocery delivery startup Instacart announced similar plans last week. Blockchain.com, a London-based crypto exchange, is reported to be planning an IPO for later this year, according to Bloomberg. The subsidiary of Celsius Network, last valued at US$3 billion in October, would join a small number of crypto companies that are public, including crypto exchange Coinbase and BIT Mining. https://bit.ly/3Npv8Fl
Near Intelligence going public on Nasdaq via SPAC merger.
Near Intelligence Holdings Inc. said Thursday it plans to go public on the Nasdaq for trading under the ticker symbol “NIR” through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company that values the Pasadena, Calif.-based marketing data service provider at about US$1 billion. Near Intelligence said it will merge with KludeIn I Acquisition Corp. The deal will generate gross proceeds of US$268 million. The two sides also inked a US$100 million equity financing facility with a unit of Cantor Fitzgerald LP. Near Intelligence equity holders Sequoia Capital, Telstra Ventures, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Greater Pacific Capital agreed to convert their ownership stakes into the equity of the company. Near Intelligence also plans to raise US$95 million in a private placement as part of the deal. https://on.mktw.net/3NhUBAu
Tiger Global slashes bets on tech groups after stock market sell-off.
Tiger Global, the hedge fund known for making big bets on technology companies, slashed its shareholdings and dumped stakes in companies such as Netflix and Rivian as it suffered heavy losses during this year’s stock market rout. The total value of Tiger Global’s public stock positions fell from US$46 billion at the end of last year to just over US$26 billion at the end of the first quarter, according to regulatory filings released on Monday. Tiger Global sold its entire stake in several well-known consumer tech companies including dating app Bumble, vacation rental company Airbnb and Didi, the Chinese ride-hailing group. It also significantly reduced its exposure to trading app Robinhood, selling almost 80 percent of its stake, and Peloton, the beleaguered connected fitness company. Tiger Global’s main hedge fund fell 15.2% in April, bringing this year’s losses to 43.7%. Another fund that only makes “long” stock investments fell 51.7% between the start of the year and the end of April. The New York-based fund sold its entire stake in Google’s parent company Alphabet and more than 90% of its position in Amazon during the first quarter, according to filings. It also sold a more than US$600 million stake in the fintech company Upstart, which it had backed as a private start-up. https://on.ft.com/3FXGmhV
‘Big Short’ investor Michael Burry reveals bet against Apple stock — and built stakes in Alphabet and Meta last quarter.
Michael Burry, the investor of “The Big Short” fame, placed a bet against Apple and loaded up on other stocks last quarter, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealed on Monday. Burry’s Scion Asset Management held bearish put options against 206,000 Apple shares as of March 31. The iPhone maker’s stock price has roughly quadrupled since the start of 2019, but has slumped by 16% this quarter alone. The slew of purchases helped to boost the total value of Scion’s US stocks (excluding options) by 122% to US$165 million. Last June, the Scion chief warned of the “greatest speculative bubble of all time in all things” and cautioned that retail investors were piling into meme stocks and cryptocurrencies before the “mother of all crashes”. Burry slashed his US stock portfolio from more than 20 holdings to only six in the third quarter of 2021, reducing its total value (excluding options) from almost US$140 million to US$42 million. https://bit.ly/3FSpetC
Paramount soars 16% after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reveals US$2.6 billion stake in the media company.
Paramount Global stock soared as much as 16% on Tuesday after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway revealed a stake in the media giant late Monday. The conglomerate’s quarterly 13F filing made with the SEC showed that Berkshire owned US$2.6 billion of Paramount at the end of the first quarter. Berkshire’s near-69 million-share stake in Paramount makes it one of the largest owners of the company after the Redstone family, which has been in control for decades. Buffett now owns 10.6% of Paramount, and the position is Berkshire’s 18th largest position, representing about 0.70% of the entire portfolio. https://bit.ly/37UV900
Coinbase surges 14% after outlining plan to slow down hiring during crypto market downturn.
Coinbase shares jumped Tuesday after the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US said it’s pulling back the pace of hiring to strengthen its businesses during a slump in the US$1.4 trillion crypto market. Stock in Coinbase rose as much as 14% to US$70.03. Volume was heavy, with more than 10 million shares exchanged by early afternoon compared with average daily volume of 7.8 million shares. The move was cutting into the stock’s fall of 76% year-to-date through Monday’s session. Coinbase said it will focus on integrating new hires as it works to ensure it is best positioned to succeed during and after the current market downturn. The value of the cryptocurrency market has dropped this year to US$1.4 trillion from US$2.3 trillion in late December, largely weighed by a slide in the price of bitcoin. Bitcoin has lost more than 50% since hitting an all-time high of US$69,044 in November, according to CoinGecko. https://bit.ly/3MmVqYC
Twitter board says it will ‘enforce the merger agreement’ despite Elon Musk’s latest move.
Who wants to own Twitter? Maybe Elon Musk doesn’t. Sure, maybe he is causing chaos to extract a lower price from the Twitter board, but he just as well may walk away altogether and create a Twitter clone. There is a “60%+ chance from our view Musk ultimately walks from the deal and pays the breakup fee,” analyst Dan Ives said Tuesday. But what if Musk pays to make this deal go away? What will become of the social network the media loves to hate? “Since it seems there’s a decent chance Elon pulls out of the Twitter deal, who else would be in line to buy up the pieces (at a much bigger discount)? My white knight guess is Microsoft,” Techdirt’s Mike Masnick wrote Tuesday. https://cnn.it/3Mt9f7M
SoftBank-backed fintech giant Klarna looks for new funds at lower valuation.
Klarna Bank AB is seeking to raise new funds that could value the fintech giant at almost a third less than the roughly US$46 billion valuation it achieved just under a year ago, according to people familiar with the matter, an example of the struggles facing the tech investing world. Klarna specializes in buy-now-pay-later services, a popular type of cash advance that competes with credit cards and lets customers pay for goods and services in installments without paying interest. Klarna makes money by charging merchants who offer Klarna’s services a fee. Klarna became Europe’s most valuable financial-technology startup in June when SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund 2 led an investment in the company that valued it at US$45.6 billion. The Sweden-based payments company is aiming to raise up to US$1 billion from new and existing investors in a deal that could value it in the low US$30-billion-range after the money is injected, the people said. That would represent a roughly 30% drop from the previous round. Earlier this year, Klarna spoke with investors about a valuation of more than US$50 billion, but some balked amid the market jitters, one of the people said. https://on.wsj.com/3PyRPZo
SE Asia food delivery and ride hailing firm Grab sees rebound.
Southeast Asian ride hailing and food delivery company Grab said its business is recovering as the region reopens from Covid-19 lockdowns. The Nasdaq-listed company reported a quarterly loss of $435 million, 35% less than in the same period last year, and revenue of US$228 million, 6% more than last year. The company said it expected businesses to recover as the region moves ahead of opening up and that it would reduce incentives to drivers, which should ease pressure on the bottom line. Grab merged with a SPAC last year that valued it at US$40 billion. Its shares have since fallen on fears of its profitability. While its price rose sharply after its earnings, Grab’s market capitalization is still just US$12 billion. https://bit.ly/3PCkAV2
Netflix lays off 150 people.
Netflix is laying off 150 people, Deadline reported the latest sign of how it is dealing with slowing revenue growth. The majority of the layoffs were in the U.S. and many worked on original programming, a key area for the streaming service, the report said. A few weeks ago Netflix laid off dozens of people at Tudum, a new marketing site it had just launched, but that was less core to the business. Netflix had 11,300 employees at the end of December. Netflix said it lost 200,000 subscribers globally in the first quarter, and that it expected to lose another 2 million in the second quarter due to increasing competition from newer streaming services as well as widespread password sharing. The sudden stall in subscriber growth sent Netflix’s stock plunging to its lowest point in several years, intensifying questions about prospects for the streaming market. The company has started to take a number of steps, including cracking down on password sharing, to address the slowdown. Netflix also has said it is looking to add an advertising-based tier to the service to attract consumers who are willing to watch ads to pay less for Netflix. While the streaming giant has routinely culled its ranks through its somewhat rigid performance-based culture, the layoffs mark a departure from that as they are directly related to cutting costs, the company said, according to a memo quoted by Deadline. https://bit.ly/3sKQ9lJ
Cisco Systems forecasts revenue drop, blames China lockdowns.
Cisco Systems, the biggest seller of networking hardware for data centers, on Wednesday reported flat revenue growth of US$12.8 billion in the three months ending in April and said that sales would fall in the current quarter due to Covid 19-related lockdowns in China, where its components come from, and its decision to pull out of Russia and Belarus. Following the stunningly bad result, Cisco’s shares fell by more than 12% in after-hours trading. Prior to the surprising quarterly result, Cisco had been outperforming the Nasdaq composite index by several percentage points. “Clearly it’s a challenging environment,” CEO Chuck Robbins said in an earnings call with analysts. The company is redesigning products so they won’t rely as much on parts from China, he said. (Some analysts on the call questioned his laying the blame on China lockdowns, arguing that they didn’t appear to impact rivals as much.) Cisco also said it has stopped letting customers cancel orders within 45 days of the date their products are expected to ship, raising the question of how many cancellations it has been facing amid supply chain-related delays. Revenue from security hardware and software rose 7%, the same rate of growth as during the prior quarter. But collaboration revenue, including from Cisco’s Webex suite of videoconferencing products, fell 7%. Robbins said Cisco could be losing some market share to competitors in some categories, but said “I feel good” about demand in Cisco’s core network switching and routing businesses. https://bit.ly/3yQU2K6
China’s Tencent reports no revenue growth for first time.
China’s Tencent had virtually no revenue growth in the first quarter—for the first time since it became a publicly listed company in 2004—while its net profit dropped 51%. The worse-than-expected results came as the internet giant, the world’s largest videogame publisher and the operator of the WeChat social messaging app, continued to suffer from the country’s economic slowdown and the consequences of Beijing’s harsh regulatory crackdown on the sector. Many Chinese companies continue to face a tough environment in the current quarter through June as severe Covid lockdowns are dealing a major blow to the country’s slowing economy. Tencent’s revenue increased just 0.1% in the first quarter to 135.47 billion yuan (US$20 billion). Its profit decline was due in part to rising costs in areas such as research and development and share-based compensation, as well as growing expenses for overseas operations. Worsening earnings at other Chinese and foreign companies that are partially owned by Tencent also hurt the tech giant’s bottom line. Tencent’s game business, the company’s biggest source of revenue, also struggled. Revenue from the company’s overseas game business, one of its few bright spots last year, only grew 4% in the first quarter, slowing dramatically from the 34% year-on-year growth in the fourth quarter. Online advertising revenue fell 18% in the quarter. Tencent has previously said that demand was weakening from advertisers in categories such as education, videogames and internet services, after those sectors got hit hard by Beijing’s crackdown. https://bit.ly/3wyGiSv
Elon Musk says US$44 billion Twitter deal can’t proceed until CEO proves the platform has fewer than 5% fake accounts.
Elon Musk said Tuesday his proposed US$44 billion Twitter buyout can’t move forward until Twitter’s CEO provides proof the platform has fewer than 5% fake accounts. Musk said Tuesday: “20% fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be *much* higher.” Musk did not detail how he arrived at the 20% figure. It’s possible Musk is using his professed concern over fake accounts as a pretext to force Twitter back to the negotiating table and get a better price for his deal. https://bit.ly/39swdNS
SPAC buying Truth Social jumps 6.6% premarket after it files registration statement with SEC.
Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company that is buying the company behind Donald Trump’s Truth Social, rose 6.6% premarket Monday, after it officially filed its registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company did not specify the timing of a vote on the proposed deal but said once it’s completed, the company will be renamed Trump Media & Technology Group Corp. https://on.mktw.net/3FPwvdO
FTX.US launches free stock trades.
FTX.US, the Chicago-based sister company of global crypto exchange FTX, launched its stock trading platform on Thursday for a group of waitlisted users. The company will allow people to trade equities and ETFs for free, charging no commissions on transactions. The move deepens FTX.US’s competition with Robinhood, a popular stock and equities trading platform. Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO and founder of FTX and FTX.US, recently bought a 7.6% stake in Robinhood. With stock trades, FTX.US is further expanding into traditional financial services or related products. The company recently filed an application with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to allow people on its platform to trade crypto derivatives on margin, putting up only a portion of obligations on derivatives as collateral. “Our goal is to offer a holistic investing service for our customers across all asset classes,” said FTX.US president Brett Harrison in a press release. The company will route trades directly through Nasdaq instead of through market makers to clear the trades, a process that generates fees known as payment for order flow. This practice, which represents a significant portion of Robinhood’s revenue, has recently come under scrutiny from regulators. FTX.US was valued at US$8 billion in January. That same month, FTX was valued at US$32 billion. https://bit.ly/3PA71W7
Apple execs recently presented augmented reality headset to company board, suggesting product is close to launch.
According to a new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, Apple has recently demoed its upcoming AR/VR headset device to the Apple company board of directors. This is a good indicator that the project is at an ‘advanced stage’ and that a public product launch is imminent. Bloomberg previously reported that a consumer launch for the headset is planned for 2023 but an early announcement of the device is likely. Bloomberg said Apple has been working on augmented reality versions of core iPhone apps to use on the headset as well as new apps “that will handle tasks such as streaming immersive content and holding virtual meetings.” The first iteration of the headset is expected to be a relatively bulky and expensive device, featuring high-resolution displays, a powerful chip, and advanced sensors. Some previous reports have pitted the headset at a price well above US$1000. https://bit.ly/3wHo4wS
Apple reportedly testing color e-ink display technology to use as a second screen for a foldable device.
According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is exploring the use of color paper displays by E Ink for its future products. Kuo says that this manufacturer’s technology is particularly well suited to enabling a low-power second screen experience for a foldable form factor device. Of course, Apple does not currently make a foldable although there have been ongoing rumors that the company is considering designs for a foldable iPad. What Kuo seems to be suggesting is that the e-paper panel would serve as the outward-facing display, providing a low-power accessory screen experience for users, who want to get some utility out of their foldable without having to unfold it. https://bit.ly/3PkMXHg
Uber to test delivering food with robots.
Uber is the latest company to try delivering food to people’s homes with robots. The company, which has long claimed that automation is key to its future profitability, is launching two test programs to deliver Uber Eats in greater Los Angeles this month, including four-wheeled robots that roll on sidewalks for short trips as well as self-driving cars for longer distances. Uber Eats customers will be given the option to have their meals delivered by one of the robots, rather than a traditional human delivery. Customers will receive instructions in the Uber app for how to retrieve their food from inside the robot. The Serve robot resembles a colorful cooler on wheels, with a lid that flips open to reveal a delivery inside. The robot, which will operate in West Hollywood, has headlights that resemble eyes, making it look like something out of a cartoon. Hyundai sedans with self-driving technology from the company Motional will handle larger orders in Santa Monica, California. The partnership was originally announced in December. Motional is one of the longest-tenured teams in autonomous driving. When previously named nuTonomy, it introduced a limited robotaxi service in Singapore in 2016, and the company began to test autonomous rides with Lyft in Las Vegas in 2018. Motional is owned by Hyundai and the automotive tech supplier Aptiv. It plans to launch a robotaxi service with Lyft in Las Vegas next year. https://cnn.it/3LBt3ov
Media, Streaming, Gaming & Sports Betting
Disney limiting commercials on new ad-supported Disney+ service: WSJ.
Walt Disney Co. plans to limit itself to four minutes of commercials per hour of programming on its new advertising-supported version of Disney+ streaming service, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. The media company also said no advertising will be shown at all to preschoolers who are using their own profile to watch the service. The four minutes of commercials per hour amounts to about half the advertising time on Hulu, which Disney also controls. It’s also less than competing streaming services. https://on.mktw.net/3NluSHd
Netflix exploring live streaming for first time; plans to roll out for unscripted series & stand-up specials.
Deadline understands that the streamer is exploring the launch of live streaming. It plans to roll out the capability, which Netflix confirmed was in the early stages of development, for its swathe of unscripted shows and stand-up specials. It would mean that Netflix would be able to use it for live voting for competition series and talent contests such as its upcoming dance competition series Dance 100 from The Circle producer Studio Lambert. In future, it could potentially air shows live, albeit with a few seconds delay in case things get saucy. The move opens up the potential to order a whole new raft of unscripted series to use the technology, bringing it in to line with the linear networks, which often air live specials for big competition series such as ABC’s American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, which is moving to Disney+. The inevitable next question is whether such a move could be rolled out to cover sports, which has been a hot topic of discussion given its recent success of F1 series Drive to Survive. https://bit.ly/3wf2GjJ
TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam.
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app – one of the world’s most popular with more than 1 billion monthly active users. Boasting a tech-savvy population with 70% of its citizens under the age of 35, Vietnam is an attractive market for social media platforms such as TikTok, Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube and Google. TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, also plans to roll out gaming more widely in Southeast Asia, the people said. That move could come as early as the third quarter, said two of them. A TikTok representative said the company has tested bringing HTML5 games, a common form of minigame, to its app through tie-ups with third-party game developers and studios such as Zynga Inc. Users of ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have been able to play games on the platform since 2019. TikTok’s games are likely to carry advertisements from the start, with revenue split between ByteDance and game developers, a separate source said. TikTok’s foray into games mirrors similar efforts made by major tech firms seeking to retain users. Facebook launched Instant Games in 2016 and streaming firm Netflix also recently added games to its platform. https://reut.rs/3wvrNyS
Adtech, Privacy & Regulatory
Facebook parent company Meta Platforms has plans to monetize WhatsApp.
Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. is adding commercial services to WhatsApp so businesses can build a custom dashboard to chat with customers and offer customer services. On Thursday, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post the introduction of WhatsApp Cloud API, a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API. The service is the latest technology iteration in a years-long push to monetize the otherwise free messaging app as Meta explores revenue streams outside of advertising. Additionally, the company is venturing into the metaverse to boost sales. https://bit.ly/3sL7g7e
Match withdraws restraining order after Google agrees to ‘various concessions’.
Shares of Match Group Inc. surged 5.2% in premarket trading Friday, after the data apps company after Alphabet Inc.’s Google made “various concessions” regarding Match’s complaints. As a result, Match said it has withdrawn its request for a temporary restraining order, which it said last week that it would ask a federal judge to issue to prevent the search engine from throwing Match off its Google Play app store. Alphabet’s stock rose 1.0% ahead of the open. Match, which dating apps include Tinder, Match and OkCupid, said the concessions include a guarantee that Match apps will be allowed to offer users choice in payment systems. As part of the agreement between the companies, Match will put US$40 million into an escrow account, instead of paying Google directly for billing transactions that occur outside of Google Play Billing, until the federal courts hears and adjudicates antitrust claims filed against Google on May 9. Match said it still believes the fees Google charges for payments outside of Google Play Billing are illegal. Match’s stock has plunged 43.3% year to date through Thursday, while Alphabet shares have shed 23.8% and the S&P 500 has dropped 18.2%. https://bit.ly/382o6ao
Your online behavior and location are shared with advertisers 747 times a day.
Ad tech companies share your online behavior and location with advertisers an average of 747 times a day in the US, and 376 times a day in Europe, according to a report by a civil liberties group. It describes the practice as the biggest privacy breach in the world. The report says Google is the biggest offender, using a process called real-time bidding (RTB) to let advertisers target internet users by browsing behavior and locations. Although advertisers don’t know your identity, ad tech companies can gather information from your browser that reveal much more than your location and the specific website you are visiting. https://bit.ly/3Mq9iS7
Amazon is using gig economy drivers to deliver from malls.
Amazon.com Inc. is testing a service that uses the company’s sprawling network of gig drivers to fetch packages from mall-based retailers and deliver them to customers. The program, should it become a permanent part of the e-commerce giant’s delivery options, could help Amazon expand the variety of goods it has available for fast shipment. Shoppers who want same-day or quicker shipping could be shown products stocked by a local mall store. They order the item from the retailer on Amazon.com, and one of the Seattle-based company’s contract drivers delivers it. https://bloom.bg/3PDgY5d
Fintech, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
Square to offer Afterpay’s BNPL at brick-and-mortar stores.
Square is bringing Afterpay’s short-term installment loans to in-person shoppers. Customers will now be able to use a virtual Afterpay card on their phones to pay merchants that use Square’s point-of-sale systems, Square said on Tuesday. The move comes as companies that benefited from the surge in e-commerce during the pandemic look for ways to capture the return of in-person shopping. Smaller installment-loan rival Zip in November rolled out a physical card that shoppers can use to make in-store purchases. Square is part of Jack Dorsey’s payment company Block, which bought Afterpay early this year. Block has already integrated Afterpay’s pay-in-four installments for online sellers. The latest move brings Afterpay to the small brick-and-mortar merchants that use Square’s signature white card readers and other products. https://bit.ly/3LtOSGo
Mastercard is launching a payment system that allows customers to pay by smiling or waving their hands at checkout.
Shoppers in Brazil will be the first to pilot the new system this week. Payments may be more secure and fast, but similar systems have yielded civil rights concerns. Mastercard customers will soon be able to make payments with just their fingerprints or their face, the credit card firm announced Tuesday. A new biometric payment system, which is being piloted in Brazil this week, will allow customers to pay by waving their hand over a reader or smiling into a camera at checkout, without the need for a card or a mobile telephone, the company said. Mastercard said the benefits of the technology include faster transaction times, better security, and – in a nod to the post-pandemic environment – a more hygienic process. It comes as the market for contactless biometric technology is set to reach US$18.6 billion by 2026, according to data from KBV Research. https://yhoo.it/3lzQtjf
China makes a comeback in bitcoin mining despite government ban.
While the US extended its leading position as the dominant location for Bitcoin mining, China has reemerged as the second-largest locale despite a government ban on the activity last year. The US accounted for 37.84% of global hashrate, a measure of computing power used to extract the digital currency, between September 2021 to January, according to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, in a report released on Tuesday. Following the mining ban in China last year, the country has seen a sudden surge in activity through “covert mining operations” and has “re-emerged as a major mining hub” grabbing 21.11% of global hashrate, according to the CCAF. It seems covert mining is still happening in China through virtual private networks that make it appear the computers are operating in another country. Kazakhstan was third at 13.22%, followed by Canada taking 6.48% of global hashrate. Russia accounted for 4.66%, and has seen cryptocurrency mining operations relegated elsewhere, said the report. https://bloom.bg/3aalKXN
Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC eyes building plant in Singapore.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker, is considering building a semiconductor factory in Singapore to help address a global supply shortage, according to people familiar with the matter. A final decision hasn’t been made yet and details of the plan are still under discussion, but preliminary talks involve a major plant whose cost would run into the billions of dollars, one of the people said. The government in Singapore, a major chip-making hub, might help fund the plant and negotiations are under way with the government’s Economic Development Board, some of the people said. https://on.wsj.com/3MzJCT9
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