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After a three-day trial, Elon Musk was found not liable for defamation in a federal court today in Los Angeles, where Musk reportedly owns a cluster of six homes as well as oversees the operations of both SpaceX and Tesla. British diver Vernon Unsworth had brought the suit against Musk in the fall of 2018 after Musk tweeted that Unsworth was a "pedo guy," meaning a pedophile. Why: after Musk and his employees developed what they called a mini-submarine or escape pod to save a children's soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July of 2018, Unsworth -- a stranger to Musk and an experienced diver with specific knowledge of the cave -- called the production a "PR stunt" when asked about the effort in an interview with CNN.
(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk beat back a defamation claim from a British cave expert who sued the billionaire CEO over a tweet in which Musk labeled Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy.”A federal jury in Los Angeles Friday took about an hour to return a verdict that said Musk’s insult fell short of defamation.“We were pretty much unanimous from the word ‘go,”’ said Carl Shusterman, a 70-year-old immigration lawyer who served on a jury for the first time.Shusterman said the verdict was straight-forward because it wasn’t clear if the tweet was actually about Unsworth, since Musk didn’t name him. The judge told the jurors that was one of the elements required to establish defamation, Shusterman said.“My faith in humanity has been restored,” Musk said after the verdict.It’s another win for Musk, 48, who’s managed to get out of legal trouble relatively unscathed. Musk agreed to step down from his role of chairman of Tesla Inc. for three years in 2018 to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit over a tweet the regulator said misled investors. But he’s run Tesla and SpaceX as usual.“It’s the last formal distraction from when Elon Musk went off the Twitter rails in 2018,” said Gene Munster of Loup Ventures. “Putting that to rest -- regardless of what the jury decided --is a step forward for Musk.”Unsworth had sought $190 million in damages for the harm he claimed to have suffered from the tweet, and to punish Musk. Musk said he fired off the tweet in anger after Unsworth insulted him and his team in a television interview.“I respect the jury’s decision,” Unsworth said after the verdict. “I’ll take it on the chin and move on.”His lawyers were less gracious, repeatedly referring to Musk as a “billionaire bully.”L. Lin Wood, one of Unsworth’s lawyer, said he wasn’t happy with the outcome. “He deserved a different kind of justice,” Wood said. Wood said he hasn’t decided whether to appeal the verdict.The four-day civil trial featured Wood, and Alex Spiro -- two heavyweights squaring off in the courtroom. Wood had represented Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely accused of being connected to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics.Spiro, a former prosecutor based in New York, lists rapper Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and several NBA players, including ex-Knick Charles Oakley as former clients.Spiro issued a five-word statement after the verdict.“The jury got it right,” he said.It was the first time that Musk has been called as a witness at a trial, despite numerous legal spats, including one with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over a tweet the regulator said misled investors.Musk told the jury the tweet aimed at Unsworth shouldn’t have been taken literally and was sent because the caver insulted his effort to help rescue members of a Thai soccer team from a flooded cave in 2018.The rescue effort had riveted the attention of the world’s media. Musk and engineers at his companies prepared a mini submarine, built with rocket parts, to help. The kids, aged 11 to 16, were saved without the use of the sub.The high-profile effort from the celebrity CEO drew derision from Unsworth, who knew the caves well and helped in the rescue effort. He told CNN that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts” and that it had no chance of working.Musk responded on Twitter, calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” and adding: “Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves.” Sus -- meaning suspect, or suspicious.Later, he asked why Unsworth hadn’t sued him. Musk also hired a private investigator to dig into Unsworth’s personal life and leak information to British tabloids.Unsworth, a financial consultant who divides his time between England and Thailand, described to the jury the effect the tweet had on him.“When you combine ‘sus’ and ‘pedo guy,’ I took it as I was being branded a pedophile,” Unsworth said on Wednesday. “I feel vulnerable and sometimes, when I’m in the U.K., I feel isolated.”490 StoriesIt was a tweet heard around the world. An expert witness for Unsworth told the jury that 490 English-language stories were published mentioning the “pedo guy” tweet -- not including stories about the litigation.Musk, who had apologized to Unsworth on Twitter, did so again in court. But Unsworth told the jury he had nothing to apologize for to Musk.Musk told the jury he found Unsworth’s comments in the CNN interview wrong and insulting -- especially to his team which he said worked hard to help in the rescue effort -- and so he fired back.“I thought he was just some random, creepy guy that the media interviewed,” Musk said of Unsworth.Neither man impressed Shusterman, the juror. He said there was no need for Unsworth to put down Musk’s mini submarine, and Musk’s response was equally immature.“I felt it was like two junior high school students fighting,” Shusterman said.(Updates with juror’s comment in third paragraph)To contact the reporters on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org;Kelly Gilblom in London at email@example.com;Dana Hull in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at email@example.com, Joe Schneider, Steve StrothFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Even before the verdict came in Friday, Elon Musk had earned the sobriquet Teflon Man on Twitter.Once a jury decided that he hadn’t defamed a British man by calling him a “pedo guy” in a post on the social media platform -- Musk’s favorite -- his reputation as a controversy-stirring billionaire who escapes relatively unscathed from the firestorms he creates for himself seemed to be sealed.Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst who covers Tesla Inc., one of Musk’s companies, repeated it: “Right now he’s the Teflon man.” But, Ives added, “it’s a cautionary tale and hopefully situations like this don’t repeat.”There have been more than a few of those already for Musk, who is chief executive officer of Tesla and chairman and CEO of SpaceX. His boards have tolerated them, his fans love him all the more for his antics and investors don’t seem to mind. Tesla shares have rallied more than 60% in the past six months.The defamation lawsuit “was the last formal distraction from when Elon Musk went off the Twitter rails in 2018,” said Gene Munster of Loup Ventures.Even with the positive outcome for Musk, it remains a highly unusual case for a CEO.In July 2018, as the world was riveted by efforts to save a Thai youth soccer team stuck in a flooded cave, Musk’s engineers tried to help by making a mini submarine out of rocket parts. Vernon Unsworth, an expert caver instrumental in the rescue, told CNN that the mini-sub was little more than a publicity stunt. Musk fired off the “pedo guy” tweet -- and hired a private investigator to dig into Unsworth’s personal life and leak information to British tabloids.From there, Musk seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis -- and emerged each time with relatively mild consequences. Another Twitter post in August 2018 got him into hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission; the agency sued him for securities fraud because he said he was taking Tesla private at $420 a share and had “funding secured,” which he in fact did not. (Tesla is still a public company, by the way.)His settlement with the SEC cost him $20 million and stripped him of his board chairmanship for three years, but he kept running the company as before anyway.Then there was the famous pot-smoking episode on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast in September 2018. Photos of Musk puffing on a cigar-sized joint went viral in a case of unfortunate optics for SpaceX, which has a contract with NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Musk later acknowledged in an email to SpaceX employee that the stunt was “not wise.”Musk was back in the SEC’s sights this February with a Twitter post about Tesla production figures that the agency contended violated the settlement agreement. A judge declined the SEC’s request to hold Musk in contempt and told both sides to “put on your reasonableness pants” and work something out. They did, amending the original deal to include specific topics that Musk can’t tweet about without prior approval from a Tesla lawyer.On the highly active Twitterverse of Tesla watchers, Friday’s outcome brought a mix of condemnation and applause -- as well as marveling that Teflon Musk had struck again.Lin Wood, Unsworth’s attorney, had his own take: “Goliath wins almost every time.”To contact the reporter on this story: Dana Hull in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at email@example.com, Anne Reifenberg, Kara WetzelFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Less than a year after Amazon.com Inc. walked away from a planned headquarters in New York, the e-commerce giant has announced a significant expansion in midtown Manhattan.The company signed a lease for 335,000 square feet in the Hudson Yards neighborhood on the west side. The new office will accommodate more than 1,500 workers and is slated to open in 2021, according to an e-mailed statement.“As we shared earlier this year, we plan to continue to hire and grow organically across our 18 Tech Hubs, including New York City,” the Seattle-based company said.Amazon abandoned plans in February to build an additional headquarters in New York’s Long Island City neighborhood following fierce public criticism of tax breaks promised to the company, and concerns about the impact on housing costs and transportation. The move sent shock waves through New York’s real estate community, which worried that the city was becoming inhospitable to business.But recent months have shown that companies are still attracted to New York and its deep pool of talented workers. Facebook Inc. announced that it was leasing more than 1.5 million square feet at Hudson Yards last month. And Google is also in the midst of a major expansion in the city.Amazon said it is not receiving tax benefits or other incentives for its new office, which will be located in SL Green Realty Corp.’s building on 10th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets. The outpost will be roughly the same size as the company’s other corporate offices in New York, where it currently has more than 3,500 employees in its tech hub.Dow Jones reported the lease earlier on Friday.To contact the reporter on this story: Noah Buhayar in Seattle at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Giammona at email@example.com, Linus Chua, Stanley JamesFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
A U.S. District Court jury in Los Angeles on Friday found in favour of Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk in the defamation lawsuit brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a "pedo guy" on Twitter. The plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth, was seeking $190 million (£148 million) damages against Musk, who during the trial estimated his net worth at $20 billion.
(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk should pay $190 million in damages to a British cave expert who claims he was defamed by the chief executive of Tesla Inc. in a tweet, the caver’s lawyer told a jury at the end of a trial in Los Angeles.A jury of five women and three men will decide the issue. Before the panel began deliberating, shortly after 1 p.m. in Los Angeles, standing next to the defense table where Musk was seated, L. Lin Wood told them: “Elon Musk is a liar.”Wood asked the jury to award $5 million in actual damages, $35 million in assumed damages and $150 million in punitive damages.Musk called Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy” in a tweet, responding to an interview the caver gave on television in which he criticized Musk’s effort to use a miniature submarine to rescue members of a soccer team trapped in a Thai cave in 2018.Musk had argued “pedo guy” actually meant “creepy old man,” but Wood said Musk knows that’s not true.“He dropped a bomb on this man,” Wood told the jury, as a tight-lipped Musk glared at the lawyer.Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro said in his closing argument that Unsworth hadn’t provided any evidence showing he was harmed by the tweets. Although he claimed on the stand to have suffered emotional damage from being a called a pedophile, Spiro said nobody believed he was accused of the crime.Spiro also argued that there had been no independent confirmation that Unsworth suffered emotionally. Unsworth’s Thai companion, Tik, was the only one who noticed when he had a “bad day,” the caver told the jury. But Tik never testified.“Tik’s been with him through this whole thing,” Spiro said. “Where’s Tik?”(Updates with Musk’s lawyer)To contact the reporters on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org;Dana Hull in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at firstname.lastname@example.org, Joe Schneider, Steve StrothFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Wall Street ended solidly higher on Friday as a strong jobs report and optimism about U.S.-China trade negotiations ahead of an upcoming deadline helped stoke investor risk appetite. The Dow and the Nasdaq ended the session down from last Friday's close. "This type of report shows underlying economic strength, and it gives corporate management confidence in the strength of the economy," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.
(Bloomberg) -- Peloton Interactive Inc. has been pilloried online and punished on the stock market following the release of a holiday ad for its stationary exercise bike that was deemed culturally insensitive. But the backlash could be a good thing for the company in the long run.The commercial, which features a woman documenting a year in her life with the Peloton bike her male partner gave her, struck some viewers as out of touch -- suggesting the already thin “Grace from Boston” was undergoing a strenuous workout in order to lose weight for the guy. The video, released about a month ago, went viral on social media, eliciting a scathing parody by comedian Eva Victor and prompting Peloton to close comments on the official YouTube video.As the internet buzz seemed to hit a peak earlier this week, Peloton’s stock fell 9%. But some experts say the increased attention could end up boosting sales. The shares were up 3.7% on Friday in New York.“They might benefit more because people are looking it up and learning more about it,” Laura Ries, president of advertising consultancy firm Ries & Ries, said. It’s still a short-term bump for a company that has historically been largely successful with marketing, with a total member base of 1.6 million people including more than 560,000 who have one of the proprietary bikes or treadmills plus a fitness subscription, according to Peloton’s most recent quarterly report. The official Peloton ad on the company’s YouTube channel has been seen by more than 3.6 million people.The controversy comes at a crucial time for the New York-based company, which is new to market scrutiny after listing shares in September, as it seeks to capitalize on the all-important holiday sales season and expand in new markets like the U.K. and Germany. The shares had gained 27% since its initial public offering before the wave of internet commentary dragged it down on Tuesday. The company is also facing increased competition in the booming at-home fitness market, especially among workout apps. Nike Inc., Aaptiv Inc. and apps like Kayla Itsines’s Sweat with Kayla have all gained followings for exercise programs available on a user’s phone.Peloton has been punished by Wall Street for its focus on growth over profitability. The company sells a stationary bike starting at about $2,000 and a treadmill that costs about $4,000, in addition to a basic “connected fitness” subscription plan at $39 a month for those pieces of hardware, and the separate digital apps that don’t require equipment. Its loss narrowed in the three months ended Sept. 30 to $49.8 million.The stock surged almost 10% last Friday after the company was reportedly seeing strong demand on Black Friday. And earlier this month, Peloton lowered the price of its digital subscription app to $12.99 a month from $19.49 in conjunction with the launch of new apps for Amazon’s Fire TV and the Apple Watch, a move that could entice new users. JMP Securities analysts raised their price target on the stock after the subscription reduction, saying it “broadens Peloton’s reach, improves conversion, and reduces purchase friction.” Ronald Josey, a JMP analyst, said there are “a lot of good things going on” at the company and that people will continue to buy the bike and other products despite the controversy.According to the most recent earnings report, Peloton expects its user base to grow to 680,000 or more by the end of its second quarter thanks to holiday sales and New Year’s resolutions.Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing a the NYU Stern School of Business, said the commercial itself is tone deaf and borderline offensive. But “in this attention-driven economy, anything that gets attention is arguably a positive,” he said in an interview. “It’s bringing Peloton into the social discourse on very regular basis, which is what ads are supposed to do.” If Peloton had to do it again, Galloway said, “I’d argue they probably would.”(Updates shares in third paragraph. A previous version of the story corrected a company error in the subscription price.)To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Verhage in New York at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Milian at firstname.lastname@example.org, Molly Schuetz, Anne VanderMeyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Alibaba (BABA)-backed AutoX applies for testing its self-driving vehicles, without in-car driver backup, thereby stirring competition in the autonomous-vehicle tech space.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Social-media companies insist they’re making progress in fighting the manipulation of their platforms. But two researchers, working on an extremely modest budget, have just shown that their defenses are routinely bypassed by an entire manipulation industry, largely based in Russia.In a report for NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, Sebastian Bay and Rolf Fredheim described an experiment they ran between May and August. In the first two months, during and just after the European Parliament election campaign, they hired 11 Russian and five European “manipulation service providers,” who they found simply by searching the web. The companies then delivered 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views and 5,100 followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube — all fake.Given how serious the social-media platforms claim to be about purging inauthentic activity, the experiment’s success rate was stunning. Four weeks after they were posted, a vast majority of the fake engagements were still live; even reporting them to the platforms didn’t get most removed.The study reveals a major weakness in the way the social-media giants report their anti-fraud efforts. Facebook has a lot to say about how much content it removes, for instance, but that’s like the mayor of a town reporting that 50% of its roads are now pothole-free: You never know which 50%. The important metric is how much manipulative content gets through. Bay and Fredheim found that, once professionals get involved, most of their work sticks, to the extent that they often deliver more engagements than promised for the money. Defenses only work on the most basic level. The pros are always a step ahead.NATO, of course, is mostly interested in political manipulation, and the researchers found that some of the same accounts that helped carry out their study “had been used to buy engagement on 721 political pages and 52 government pages, including the official accounts of two presidents, the official page of a European political party, and a number of junior and local politicians in Europe and the United States.”An important question is whether such efforts actually work. One recent paper tried to determine what effect the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency has had on U.S. political attitudes. The IRA, whose employees and owner were indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into meddling in the 2016 election, used some of the same techniques as the NATO Stratcom researchers. But, the paper said, their fake accounts were effectively preaching to the converted. Even for users who directly interacted with the IRA accounts, the researchers found “no substantial effects” on their political opinions, engagement with politics or attitudes toward members of the opposing party.This doesn’t mean social-network manipulation is ineffective for political purposes; much more research would be needed to draw any sweeping conclusions. What’s clear now, though, is that the manipulation industry isn’t primarily geared toward political uses. Bay and Fredheim found that “more than 90% of purchased engagements on social media are used for commercial purposes.” Even though it’s Russian-based, this industry isn’t about evil Kremlin masterminds trying to turn technology against American democracy. Rather, it’s about talented Russian engineers, stuck in the wrong country for launching grand commercial ventures like Facebook or YouTube, trying to make money by milking the existing platforms.What that usually amounts to is helping online “influencers” cheat advertisers. The abysmally low removal rates for fake video views in the Stratcom experiment show the platforms aren’t fighting such abuses hard enough. They don’t have to: They’re still essentially black boxes from an advertising client’s point of view. As a result, perhaps billions of dollars (estimates vary wildly) are lost to such fraud each year.Platforms have spent enough time trying, and failing, to prove that self-regulation can work for them. Governments should act to protect not so much voters as advertisers from the manipulation industry, penalizing social-media companies for their inability to prevent fraud and demanding more transparency. Now, as Bay and Fredheim wrote, “data is becoming scarcer and our opportunities to research this field is constantly shrinking. This effectively transfers the ability to understand what is happening on the platforms to social media companies. Independent and well-resourced oversight is needed.”Policy makers need to realize that the platform-manipulation industry doesn’t thrive because it’s a Kremlin weapon. Political weaponization is only a side effect of a parasitic industry built on the flaws of the social-media business model. It’s the model that needs to be regulated.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy Lavin at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk emerged victorious on Friday from a closely watched defamation trial as a federal court jury swiftly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a "pedo guy" on Twitter. The unanimous verdict by a panel of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk's trial. Legal experts believe it was the first major defamation lawsuit brought by a private individual over remarks on Twitter to be decided by a jury.
(Bloomberg) -- As protests jolt Hong Kong business, organizations from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to universities are adapting by going digital, switching to video-conferencing app Zoom to conduct online investor briefings and virtual lectures.Zoom Video Communications Inc. joins a number of internet services that have taken off since the unrest began over the summer, from mobile messenger Telegram to work-at-home apps. In a financial hub that thrives on face-to-face deal-making and power lunches, Zoom helps fill a void created by transport disruptions and concerns about personal safety.Hong Kong’s business community leans on the app’s features, which include slide-sharing and support for up to 1,000 call participants, to carry on cross-border communications and with mainland China, where WhatsApp, Telegram and Google alternatives are banned. There’s a local version of Zoom that’s compatible, which is why the app’s downloads in Hong Kong soared 460% in November, after an escalation in protest violence first triggered a spike in September, according to researcher Sensor Tower.Read more: Zoom’s Eric Yuan, the CEO Who Made Videoconferencing Bearable“As schools continue to be in lock-down mode, we’ve had to move our lectures online to minimize disruption,” said Cheung Siu Wai, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, adding Skype has been another option.Now valued at $19 billion, Zoom’s shares have almost doubled since listing on the Nasdaq this year. It’s unclear how the spike in downloads may translate into revenue growth for Zoom, founded by Chinese emigrant Eric Yuan, who now resides in California.The company has various pricing tiers and recently added HSBC to a roster of paying clients that includes Uber Technologies Inc. and Zendesk Inc., underpinning 85% growth in revenue to $167 million in the October quarter. Representatives for the company, which is backed by investors including Salesforce.com Inc., Tiger Global and Qualcomm Inc., declined to comment on how the Hong Kong protests have affected its business.”With the periodic traffic disruptions, our colleagues have no choice but to use video-conferencing apps,” said Derek Chan, co-founder of Master Concept, a Hong Kong-based cloud service provider.To contact the reporters on this story: Carol Zhong in Hong Kong at email@example.com;Lulu Yilun Chen in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at email@example.com, Vlad SavovFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Markets) -- They flew in from across the U.S.—venture capitalists and entrepreneurs—to discuss a new way to sell stock to the public and keep more money for themselves. The venue, appropriately, was a landmark hotel nicknamed “The Bonanza Inn.”Not invited: the bankers who’ve long dominated initial public offerings.For much of that September day at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, investors behind many of Silicon Valley’s biggest unicorns took turns railing against Wall Street. Some fumed over the hefty fees bankers collect for ushering companies onto the stock market. Many criticized IPOs for being priced too low—shortchanging the company owners—so banks could deliver quick profits for big money managers.Such complaints have been around for decades, but now there might be a solution. In 2018 a technique called a direct listing proved that technology can glide a company onto a stock market as smoothly as an expensive fleet of Wall Street underwriters.Two of the dominant U.S. IPO underwriters, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, are helping to develop the direct listing system in a bet that they can keep a place for themselves in the process. But the San Francisco gathering made it clear that much of Silicon Valley wants to limit the involvement of banks.What a ‘Direct Listing’ Is, and Why Banks Are Nervous: QuickTakeInstead, the Valley crowd is giving a bigger role to Citadel Securities, a Chicago-based firm with little stake in the existing IPO underwriting market, for its market-making technology.Bringing privately held, capital-hungry companies to the exchange for a public offering of stock is one of Wall Street’s oldest and proudest functions. Bankers advise startups on how much they can raise and when to go to market. Once conditions are ripe, the companies embark on a roadshow to drum up investor interest and price the new stock. On the big day, a syndicate of banks—sometimes numbering in the dozens—buys up blocks of stock to parcel out to money manager clients. The typical 7% fee on the money raised in a U.S. IPO has withstood competition for the deals, though some of the most high-profile debuts get discounts. Last year, global IPO fees surpassed $7 billion, with the top three banks each bringing in more than $500 million, according to data compiled by Freeman & Co.Companies have tried alternatives. In 2004, Google Inc. (now Alphabet Inc.) famously opted for a so-called Dutch auction, in which investors submit bids and the final price is the highest at which the entire offering can be sold. Low demand forced the company to cut the offering in half and sell at the bottom of the price range it had sought. But the stock popped on the first day, and then the shares kept climbing. There’s been debate ever since over whether Google could have gotten more money with a traditional IPO.A direct listing moves a company’s stock onto the public market, allowing venture capitalists and employees to cash out, without raising new capital. It does away with the order-building phase, relying on software to match private shares and public demand on the fly. The risk is that supply and demand fall out of whack, leading to violent price swings or even a trading halt, potentially inflicting major damage. Bankers try to keep that from happening by gauging investor interest.In 2018, Stockholm-based music-streaming company Spotify Technology SA became the first high-profile startup to go public through the technique. Its stock swooned as much as 11% from the opening price of $165.90 and remains below that level today. The company paid about $35 million to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Allen & Co. By contrast, if Spotify had raised $2.4 billion in a traditional IPO—selling about 10% of the company—it would have paid $75 million even at a discounted 3% fee. For its part of the process, Citadel Securities was paid by the stock exchange.Slack Technologies Inc. followed in 2019. On an overcast morning in June, as a jazz band played in front of the New York Stock Exchange’s massive columns, startups across the country watched to see if the technology would succeed in matching a supply of closely held shares with a flood of investor bids in real time. Everything hummed.The opening stock price valued Slack at more than double its latest private funding round valuation. (It has since fallen, on a depressed outlook for company revenue.) Trading volume at the open was the third-highest for any debut in the U.S., the New York Stock Exchange said. Slack, which paid advisers $22 million, probably reduced its costs by about a third compared with a typical IPO, according to bankers involved in the deal, who said they immediately started talking to other companies interested in direct listings.When venture capitalist John O’Farrell lingered on the trading floor, it wasn’t to see the bankers. Instead, he waited next to a booth occupied by Citadel Securities, the market-maker majority owned by billionaire hedge fund investor Ken Griffin, to introduce himself to a pair of low-key executives steeped in the deal’s wiring. It was their computers that had handled the deluge—and $1 billion of their firm’s own money facilitated 1 out of every 5 trades. Citadel Securities wouldn’t say if it earned profits on those trades.O’Farrell was clearly impressed. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, an early investor in Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., among others, wields immense clout in deciding how Silicon Valley stock offerings are carried out. If an era of direct listings is commencing, the starting point may be that afternoon he spent with Joseph Mecane, Citadel Securities’ head of execution services, and Peter Giacchi, head of floor trading, on the floor of the NYSE.“Everything we design in the first couple of days is about smooth performance,” Mecane would say later at a Citadel Securities office near the stock exchange. “We feel like we have our brand and reputation on the line with this business.”Mecane, the former head of electronic equities trading at Barclays Plc, jumped to Citadel Securities in 2017 and has been busy building a team to ensure smooth trading in the more than 1,400 listed entities for which the firm serves as designated market maker. Citadel Securities aims to expand that client set by helping more companies go public. In that sense, the listing business is just an entry point for potential future revenue. Citadel Securities says its goal is to work with banks on listings and not to compete with them.Mecane’s counterpart on the trading floor is Giacchi, who’s been making markets for more than 20 years, watching machines replace the functions of hundreds of people. Direct listings put the emphasis on traders and their role in price discovery, a development Giacchi welcomes.“It’s given the floor a renewed sense of value,” he says. Now, helped by technology, there is “the ability to process information quickly and reinvent yourself on the floor.”Just a few months after O’Farrell’s trip to the trading floor, his firm would help lead the charge in San Francisco to tell the other attendees about the promise of direct listings.In June, famed venture capitalist Bill Gurley at Benchmark Capital encouraged his more than 400,000 Twitter followers to call Citadel Securities and Morgan Stanley and pursue their own direct listings. “Other banks want to position direct listings as ‘exceptional’ or ‘rare,’ ” Gurley wrote.Five more companies may pursue direct listings in 2020, according to Morgan Stanley.Still, it may yet take years for IPOs to give way entirely to direct listings, says M.G. Siegler, a partner at Google Ventures, another major backer of startups. But “I’m not writing it off that it could be the majority of listings moving forward.”Basak covers Wall Street for Bloomberg News, television, and radio in New York.To contact the author of this story: Sonali Basak in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Christine Harper at email@example.com, David ScheerFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Tesla Inc said on Friday its Chinese-built Model 3 cars would receive state subsidies, a move that will help the U.S. electric vehicle maker's push into the world's biggest auto market. China's industry ministry had earlier said Tesla's Model 3 cars, being built at its $2 billion factory in Shanghai, were on a list recommended for subsidies for new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include plug-in hybrids, battery-only electric vehicles and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Tesla said in a statement the subsidies had been secured.
(Bloomberg) -- Tesla Inc.’s made-in-China sedans qualified to receive subsidies in the country, a potential boon for Elon Musk’s carmaker as it prepares to start selling locally-built models in the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles.The company’s Model 3 sedan was included in a list of qualified models published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Friday. That means buyers will get a subsidy of as much as about 25,000 yuan ($3,550) from the government. Tesla said in October the vehicles will be priced from about $50,000 in China.The company has said it’s planning to start delivering made-in-China Model 3 cars before late January as it nears the start of mass production at its new Shanghai plant, its first outside the U.S.A Tesla representative in China also confirmed the company’s locally built vehicles have been approved for subsidies. While the government has been scaling back electric-vehicle handouts, certain support measures still exist as the country seeks to move toward cleaner energy and reduce reliance on imported oil.The China plant will be a crucial test for Musk as he seeks to prove the carmaker can sustain profitability. The Shanghai Gigafactory, which broke ground in January, will initially build Model 3 sedans that will compete with electric cars from local contenders such as NIO Inc. and Xpeng Motors, as well as global manufacturers including BMW AG and Daimler AG.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Chunying Zhang in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at email@example.com, Ville Heiskanen, Reed StevensonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son unveiled a $184 million initiative Friday to accelerate artificial intelligence research in Japan, enlisting Alibaba’s Jack Ma to expound on his goal of commercializing the technology.Son’s company announced a partnership with the University of Tokyo that includes spending 20 billion yen ($184 million) over 10 years by mobile arm SoftBank Corp. to establish the Beyond AI Institute. He roped in the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder for an on-campus chat, during which the two billionaires discussed their vision for the future of technology.The institute will support 150 researchers from various disciplines and focus on transitioning AI research from the academic to the commercial using joint ventures between universities and companies. Health-care, city and social infrastructure and manufacturing will be the primary areas of focus, SoftBank Corp. said in a statement. That dovetails with its own goals: in November, SoftBank and Korea’s Naver Corp. said they plan to merge Yahoo Japan and Line Corp. into an internet giant under SoftBank’s control, to combine resources on AI and challenge leaders from Google to Tencent Holdings Ltd.Read more: SoftBank to Create Japan Internet Giant to Battle Global RivalsSon has long advocated AI as the most revolutionary new field of technological development. The Beyond AI Institute marks an investment in accelerating that research on his home turf, where he has previously bemoaned the relative under-performance of Japan’s startup scene. At the same time, he’ll be eager to put behind him a tough 2019 thanks to the calamitous implosion at WeWork and the shrinking values of Uber Technologies Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc.Offering a reminder of his most fruitful investment, Son hosted a talk with Ma, whose online retail empire has been the crown jewel in SoftBank’s investment portfolio. The two exchanged compliments and advocated passion, optimism and world-changing visions as essential to successful entrepreneurship.“In the past 20 years, we’ve been friends, partners and like soulmates in changing people’s lives,” said Son. Ma, in turn, said: “He probably has the biggest guts in the world when doing investment.”In a rare expression of contrition, Son recently said “there was a problem with my own judgment” after the WeWork debacle. He has imposed greater financial discipline on startups since then. On Friday, he said his enthusiasm for grand projects was undimmed. “My passion and dream is more than 100 times bigger than what I am right now. I am still only at the first step to my 100 steps.”To contact the reporters on this story: Vlad Savov in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org;Takahiko Hyuga in Tokyo at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vlad Savov, Peter ElstromFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
The Communications Workers of America union filed a federal labour charge against Alphabet Inc's Google on Thursday, accusing the company of unlawfully firing four employees to deter workers from engaging in union activities. The complaint, seen by Reuters, will trigger a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigation into whether Google violated the four individuals' right to collectively raise concerns about working conditions. Google fired the four named employees "to discourage and chill employees from engaging in protected concerted and union activities," the filing states.
The Communications Workers of America union filed a federal labor charge against Alphabet Inc's Google on Thursday, accusing the company of unlawfully firing four employees to deter workers from engaging in union activities. The complaint, seen by Reuters, will trigger a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigation into whether Google violated the four individuals' right to collectively raise concerns about working conditions. Google fired the four named employees "to discourage and chill employees from engaging in protected concerted and union activities," the filing states.