|Day's Range||140.78 - 140.78|
In a set of new lawsuits, two Illinois residents argue that three tech giants violated state laws prohibiting the use of personal biometric data without permission. Illinois residents Steven Vance and Tim Janecyk allege that images of their faces appeared in IBM's "Diversity in Faces" database without their consent and were used to train facial recognition systems at Amazon, Microsoft and Google's parent company Alphabet. While all three companies are based on the West Coast, the suit accuses the tech giants of running afoul of an Illinois law known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
Google is launching a major update to its G Suite productivity tools today that will see a deep integration of Gmail, Chat, Meet and Rooms on the web and on mobile, as well as other tools like Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides. At the core of today's update is the idea that we're all constantly switching between different modes of communication, be that email, chat, voice or video. Google is branding this initiative as a "better home for work" and in practice, it means that you'll not just see deeper integrations between products, like a fill calendaring and file management experience in Gmail, but also the ability to have a video chat open on one side of the window while collaboratively editing a document in real time on the other.
SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Youssef Squali raised his stock price target for Google-parent Alphabet Inc. , by just enough to make him the most bullish on the internet search giant, citing signs of material improvement in search advertising spending. Squali raised his target to $1,805 from $1,550 and reiterated the buy rating he's had on the stock for at least the past three years. Of the 42 analysts surveyed by FactSet, Squali's target is now just above the second-place target of $1,800, from both Brent Thill at Jefferies and Laura Martin at Needham. "Conversations with marketers suggest there was material improvement in search ad spend from the March lows and throughout 2Q20, as shutdowns were reversed, especially in sectors such as retail," Squali wrote in a note to clients. "The month of March marked the trough with negative [year-over-year] growth, but April and May saw material improvement, with some stabilization in June." Stifel Nicolaus analyst Scott Devitt also raised his stock price target to $1,550 from $1,400 while keeping his buy rating, as he adjusted the discount rate used the value the company given what will likely be a prolonged period of low interest rates. Alphabet's stock fell 1.2% in morning trading, and has now pulled back 2.7% since closing at a record $1,539.01 on July 10. The S&P 500 has gained 0.6% over the same time.
EU competition regulators are seeking information from 400 companies to establish if there are problems in the market for voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri and other internet-connected devices that could lead to antitrust cases. The European Commission has opened similar inquiries in the past into sectors such as e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy that led to cases against companies and eventually hefty fines. Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Alphabet's Google Assistant are among the most popular voice assistant devices.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Whatever Netflix Inc.’s second-quarter results show, it’s clear that the Covid-19 crisis is fortifying the company’s lead in streaming-TV entertainment. Other services that have been trying to build audiences in recent weeks and months — Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, Quibi — are merely competing for second place. Netflix is set to report earnings after the market closes Thursday, with subscriber growth numbers sure to be the focal point once again. Analysts predict the service added 8.3 million paying customers globally, according to the average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. That may be a touch too high, even with so many consumers still social distancing and spending lots of time at home. While the service posted incredible growth in the first quarter, adding 15.8 million users, CEO Reed Hastings warned that the pace won’t keep up as many of those customers would have joined down the road if it weren’t for the virus. That’s why Netflix sees just 7.5 million new subscribers this time around.If analysts are indeed setting themselves up for disappointment, the stock could react negatively to Thursday’s numbers. After all, the share price has surged 60% this year for one of the best returns in the S&P 500 Index. But even if Netflix’s stock takes a deserved breather, it still remains the unquestioned streaming leader and a must-have subscription in a market of mostly mediocre offerings. Meanwhile, normally blue-chip-quality companies such as Walt Disney Co. are struggling to find balance as their key profit centers get walloped by the pandemic and the Hollywood shutdown holds back their own streaming ambitions. Disney, which relies on its theme parks, resorts, cruises and retail stores for nearly half its annual operating income, just reopened Disney World in Orlando last weekend after shutting down in March. Hong Kong Disneyland is closing again to comply with government mandates following an increase in coronavirus cases — emblematic of the challenge in operating a business that revolves around crowds and travel. Before Covid-19, it was the stability of such businesses that made Disney’s venture into the not-yet-profitable world of streaming feasible. Now, Netflix’s market capitalization eclipses that of Disney, as well as AT&T Inc., the parent of HBO, and Comcast Corp., the parent of NBC and Universal Studios.While social distancing and stay-at-home orders have given Netflix’s competitors a chance to amass a following more quickly, subscribers are finding that once they binge-watch the top programs on these new apps — “The Mandalorian” in the case of Disney+ — there isn’t much else there. Part of the reason is that productions have been at a halt due to Covid. Netflix hasn’t been affected to the same degree because much of its planned new content for the year was already at or near completion, and so it will take longer for Netflix users to experience the programming drought. The service just added another new film last week that became an instant hit: “The Old Guard,” a sci-fi action flick starring Charlize Theron. (Hulu’s “Palm Springs” is also drawing much fanfare.) If Netflix’s library starts to look light later in the year, the company may need to pay up for more licensed content, but so far it’s had a steady stream. Google’s YouTube TV recently stunned consumers by raising its monthly fee 30% to $65, signaling that Netflix has room to raise its own standard $13-a-month subscription price. But with Netflix’s stock on a tear and investors still entirely focused on growth and not cash profits, it has no reason to increase fees just yet.Other media giants can’t sustain the Netflix way of doing things. They may be forced to turn to price hikes and to embrace ads, which could turn off customers. And that right there is the Netflix moat. As ominous as its stock price looks, you can’t say the strategy isn’t working. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the business of entertainment and telecommunications, as well as broader deals. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google has announced an overhaul of its Gmail for G Suite business application by integrating its traditional tools to better accommodate the demands of people working from home.The new app does not resemble the traditional Gmail format and has been converted to more of a communication tool that integrates Google’s other platforms such as Chat, Gmail, Meet, and Rooms. Google stated that it will have an “Early access preview” followed by complete availability later this year to all G Suite customers. The changes were announced in conjunction with Google’s online version of its annual conference, Google Cloud Next 2020.In a July 15 press release, Google Vice President & GM, G Suite Javier Soltero said, "We’re integrating core tools like video, chat, email, files, and tasks, and making them better together, so that you can more easily stay on top of things, from anywhere.” He added, “I’m excited to help more companies make the transition to flexible work with G Suite.” This news follows an announcement on July 14 from Microsoft (MSFT) that it was “improving remote-working features” for Microsoft Teams by adding features for video meetings. In March, the popular business communication platform, Slack (WORK) also updated its overall design for ease-of-use.In light of the pandemic, many companies have begun to tailor their products to a workforce that is working from home. Google has stated that it is shifting its applications to accommodate these demands especially with its use of Google Cloud. Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian highlighted the impact of the pandemic at the Google Cloud event saying, “This is a very defining moment for all of us around the world to have the hope and the optimism to reimagine your business as you recover from the pandemic.”Monness analyst Brian White was impressed, writing, “We remain optimistic around trends at Google Cloud and yesterday’s event highlighted the growing success of this business.” He reiterated a Buy rating on Alphabet on July 15, along with a price target of $1,420 implying downside potential of 6%. Google’s stock is up 13% year-to-date with a Strong Buy analyst consensus that breaks down into 28 Buy ratings versus 1 Hold rating and no Sell ratings. The $1,579.31 average price target suggests 4% upside potential for the shares in the coming 12 months. (See Google's stock analysis on TipRanks).Related News: Google Expands Android Subscription Service To Nine More Countries Cloud Tailwinds Could Trigger Further Upside for Microsoft Stock, Says 5-Star Analyst Microsoft Acquires CyberX to Boost Azure’s IoT Security More recent articles from Smarter Analyst: * Dell Mulls Sale Of 81% Stake In VMware Pushing Shares Higher In Pre-Market * AstraZeneca Pops Ahead of Covid-19 Vaccine Data Report Due July 20 * Beyond Meat Shares Rise On Sale Of Plant-Based Meat In Brazil * Facebook To Increase Oculus Production To 2 Million Units- Report
Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG) subsidiary Google is revamping its email service for business users by integrating core tools such as video, chat, email, files, and tasks.What Happened The move to add more features to Gmail, for its business product GSuite, was announced at Google Cloud's annual customer and partner conference on Wednesday, CNBC reported.Google is making its video-conferencing application "Meets" accessible from within Gmail for business, and also adding Google Docs and Google Chats service for team communication.The move touted by Google as "a better home for work" is spurred by the increased adoption of digital technologies by stay-at-home workers, which have become commonplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Why It Matters The rehaul of Gmail for business is likely aimed at preventing users from turning to similar offerings by companies such as Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), Slack Technologies Inc. (NYSE: WORK), and Zoom Video Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: ZM).Gmail has over 1.5 billion active users, but Microsoft's Office is still the market leader in the productivity software segment. GSuite overall has 6 million business customers, according to CNBC.The Chats tool from Google, which is akin to Slack, will be made available on both Android and iOS platforms, the company said. It is also bringing new security capabilities for Google Meet, which will give hosts more control over meetings.Price Action Alphabet Class A shares traded 0.1% lower at $1,515.12 in the pre-market session Thursday. Class C shares were slightly up at $1,514.33.See more from Benzinga * Microsoft, Amazon, Google Sued For Alleged Privacy Violation In Use Of IBM Facial Recognition Database * Facebook To Stream Official Music Videos From Next Month, In A Challenge To YouTube: Report * Google Tells EU It Will Not Use Fitbit Data For Targeted Ads(C) 2020 Benzinga.com. Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.
(Bloomberg) -- It wasn’t meant to be like this for Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition chief who’s made a name for herself as Silicon Valley’s worst nightmare.Her order for Apple Inc. to pay back a record 13 billion-euros ($14.9 billion) in state aid from Ireland in 2016 sealed her reputation as the world’s most feared antitrust enforcer.But the iPhone maker’s court victory on July 15, toppling the decision, risks leaving her crusade against unfair tax deals in tatters. It follows separate criticism that huge EU antitrust fines for Google have made little difference.How she reacts now will define her attempts to ensure some of the world’s top companies pay their fair share of tax and that U.S. tech giants don’t abuse their power as they grow ever more dominant.“This is a painful defeat” for Vestager after she “made tax rulings under state-aid rules a priority,” said Annabelle Lepiece, a lawyer at CMS, noting that this week’s reversal comes “hot on the heels” of another defeat involving Starbucks Corp.’s tax treatment in the Netherlands.While she’s been depicted on social media caricatures as an ax-wielding Viking warrior, Vestager is a mild-mannered Dane who calmly bats off angry presidential tweets and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook’s complaints that her decisions are “political crap.”Fair TreatmentHer motive, she says repeatedly, is to ensure fair treatment and to ensure all companies face the same tax rules. Her method was to deploy EU state-aid laws to go after secretive preferential agreements that big businesses often reach with tax authorities.“The only comfort here is that the court agrees with us that we can use state-aid tools to look at fiscal state aid as well,” Vestager said in an online event on Thursday. “It was never so that state aid, too, will give us tax justice as such. Of course, we need to change legislation and implement it.”A crack team of EU antitrust investigators, known as the tax-planning task force, has targeted Amazon.com Inc., Starbucks, Nike Inc. and Ikea for fiscal deals -- known as tax rulings -- they reached with Luxembourg or the Netherlands.Along with Ireland, where Apple’s European headquarters are, the three countries have attracted many multinationals that shift profits across units. Ireland especially has become a favorite for U.S. tech giants, attracted by a low corporate tax rate that’s often criticized by bigger European countries.What seemed like Vestager’s master stroke was to attack individual companies’ taxation arrangements and push countries to change tax rules. She extracted progress that years of EU governments had failed to achieve. Until recently, tax was a taboo issue among EU nations, with any of them -- often Ireland or the U.K. -- able to threaten a veto to any effort to push for more uniform tax rates or treatment.Despite the defeat, Vestager vowed not to give in on taxes -- even though she didn’t say whether the commission would take up its right to appeal.Her team “will continue to look at aggressive tax planning measures under EU state-aid rules to assess whether they result in illegal” subsidies, she said in a statement soon after the judgment.“If member states give certain multinational companies tax advantages not available to their rivals, this harms fair competition in the EU,” she said. “It also deprives the public purse and citizens of funds for much needed investments -- the need for which is even more acute during times of crisis.”The court ruling forces the EU to make some hard choices. Winning an appeal could be tough after the lower court cited multiple errors in its work. It could try to re-investigate Apple’s tax affairs in Ireland to fix those errors. But that might not allow it to claim another massive back-tax order.Regulators failed to prove that Apple’s tax treatment by Ireland was an unfair subsidy and were wrong to find Apple’s Irish branches were responsible for profits it made in Europe, the EU court said. It was apparent, judges pointed out, that research and development, strategies for new products and distribution in Europe were led out of Apple’s Cupertino headquarters in California.That means the profits attributed to the Irish branches -- the profits used to calculate some 13 billion euros in unpaid tax -- may be far lower and any new repayment order may not catch quite so many headlines. EU officials may also have to work harder to show that tax arrangements breach subsidy rules.Lawyers pointed to some crumbs of comfort following the ruling.While the judgment is “a major setback for the commission” it “does not generally question its approach to tax rulings or fiscal state aid,” said Alfonso Lamadrid, a Brussels-based lawyer at Garrigues. “Going forward, however, it will need to carry out a more in-depth analysis of all relevant circumstances and avoid relying on presumptions.”Much HarderThe court sets a high burden of evidence for regulators to prove that a tax measure breaches state-aid rules, said Totis Kotsonis, a lawyer at Pinsent Masons. But that doesn’t mean the fight against unfair tax arrangements will go away.“It simply has become much harder,” he said.Meanwhile Vestager keeps up the drumbeat on taxation and fair treatment, calling for governments to ban financial support to businesses based in tax havens, potentially shutting them out of some 3 trillion euros in aid being doled out during the pandemic.Her job policing subsidies “needs to go hand in hand with a change in corporate philosophies and the right legislation to address loopholes and ensure transparency,” she said. “We have made a lot of progress already at national, European and global levels.”(Updates with Vestager comment in 8th paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The search engine giant's $4.5bn bet comes after Facebook, Intel and Qualcomm bought stakes in Jio.
Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google has announced that it is expanding its subscription service known as Play Pass to nine new countries this week.The Android service, which offers hundreds of free games and apps, will be available soon in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK. Last September, the service launched to Android users in the U.S. at $4.99 per month offering access to over 350 games and apps which were all ad-free and without any in-app purchases. In a July 14 press release, Google stated that since the service was launched, they’ve “added over 150 new titles—from racing games to drawing apps—to the Play Pass catalog, and are continuing to add new content every month.”Additionally, Play Pass will have a new annual subscription option for $29.99 in the U.S. By comparison, Apple’s (AAPL) game subscription service known as Apple Arcade goes for $49.99 per year and offers only video games.Consumers spent an estimated $23.4 billion worldwide in Q1 2020- the largest ever quarter, according to data from App Annie. The App Store yielded $15 billion and Google Play reaped $8.3 billion. Both amounts were an increase of 5% year-over-year on their respective platforms with Google Play up nearly 25% year-over-year with nearly 10 billion game-related downloads. The Q1 increase has been largely attributed to COVID-19-related global lockdowns.On July 14, Google CEO Sundar Pichai highlighted the impact of the pandemic during an online Google Cloud conference keynote speech saying that the company plans to use Google Cloud more to accommodate people as they operate from home. Monness analyst Brian White commented on the keynote on July 15, saying that he expects “Alphabet will struggle with weak digital ad spending and other headwinds in the near term.” He added, “We remain optimistic around trends at Google Cloud and yesterday’s event highlighted the growing success of this business.” He reiterated a Buy rating on Alphabet’s stock and a price target of $1,420 implying downside potential of 5%. Overall, 28 analysts assign Buy ratings, 1 Hold rating, and no Sell ratings, giving GOOGL a Strong Buy Street consensus. The average analyst price target stands at $1,566.04 suggesting 4% upside potential, with shares already up 12% year-to-date. (See Alphabet's stock analysis on TipRanks).Related News: Google Snaps Up 7.7% Stake In India’s Jio Platform For $4.5B Cloud Tailwinds Could Trigger Further Upside for Microsoft Stock, Says 5-Star Analyst Microsoft Acquires CyberX to Boost Azure’s IoT Security More recent articles from Smarter Analyst: * Facebook To Increase Oculus Production To 2 Million Units- Report * Google Brings 5 Game Studios To Stadia To Make Exclusive Games * BioNTech (BNTX): Fast Track Designation Does Not Justify Current Valuation, Says J.P. Morgan * 3 Cannabis Stocks to Benefit From New York Recreational Cannabis Approval
Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google has announced that it has signed five game development companies to make exclusive titles for its cloud gaming service, Stadia.The July 14 announcement brings developer, Harmonix and studio, Supermassive Games for a slate of exclusives in the future. The arrangement for Stadia is a win considering some of the publishers are high profile game development companies with a record of game successes such as Harmonix’s Rock Band and Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn. The other game developers to be included in Stadia’s exclusive deal are Splash Damage and Uppercut Games. The live-streamed event called, “Stadia Connect” also provided a viewing of the first-party exclusive, Orcs Must Die 3 (OMD3) from Robot Entertainment. Last year, Google reached an exclusive agreement for the title which was released on July 14.Robot Entertainment CEO Patrick Hudson said on August 19 of last year, “OMD3 would not be possible today without Google’s support. They are behind the game in a big way. We’ve hired more developers to bring it to life.” The addition of first-party exclusives to Google Stadia is part of the company’s push to expand its online game selection. First-party games have historically been used as a strategy to retain a video game console maker’s customer base because of their exclusivity. Conversely, third-party titles are typically published on other competitors' systems such as Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation or Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox. Stadia, however, was unveiled last year as an alternative to hardware with online game streaming that allows users to play through a Chrome browser. The technology is also being deployed by Google’s main game-streaming competitor, Microsoft with its xCloud platform. The tech giant has been rolling out preview versions of xCloud to various countries since last September.Microsoft CEO Sayta Nadella called it the “Netflix for games” at an invitational press meeting on January 13. He stated, “We have as much a shot to build a subscription service as anybody else.” Stadia received a mixed reception after it announced on June 6, a subscription package that required customers to purchase some games at full price.Following the pricing announcement on June 7, 2019, Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post noted that it is an ambitious platform and will have lots of competition soon. Over a year later, as of June 22, 2020, he maintains a Buy rating and a price target of $1,610 (implying 6% upside potential). Google’s stock is up 14% year-to-date with a Strong Buy analyst consensus that breaks down into 28 Buy ratings versus 1 Hold ratings and no Sell rating. The $1,566.04 average price target suggests 3% upside potential for the shares in the coming 12 months. (See Google’s stock analysis on TipRanks).Related News: Amazon’s ‘Crucible’ Game Retreats Back To Closed Beta Microsoft’s Xbox Closes Mixer Live Streaming, Partners With Facebook Gaming AMD: Console Boost to Round Out Big 2H More recent articles from Smarter Analyst: * BioNTech (BNTX): Fast Track Designation Does Not Justify Current Valuation, Says J.P. Morgan * 3 Cannabis Stocks to Benefit From New York Recreational Cannabis Approval * J.C. Penney To Cut 1,000 Jobs, Close 152 Stores; Stock Surges 16% * Navistar Partners With TuSimple To Develop Self-Driving Trucks
(Bloomberg) -- The hijacking of several prominent Twitter accounts, including that of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, has again raised questions about the company’s ability to combat disinformation on its platform and rekindled concerns about potential election interference with November just four months away.Twitter Inc. and other social media sites such as Facebook Inc. were already facing scrutiny over their ability and willingness to protect the integrity of the democratic process and avoid a repeat of 2016, when Russia spread disinformation in efforts to bolster Donald Trump’s candidacy.That pressure increased on Wednesday as Biden, Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk were among the prominent political and business leaders whose accounts were exploited to send out tweets in an apparently coordinated effort to promote a cryptocurrency scam.“What happened today should be a red flag in terms of the huge amounts of disinformation that are already rife in this election and it’s only going to get worse,” said Meredith McGehee executive director of Issue One, a non-profit focused on political reforms. “When you’re going after presidential candidates and the richest men in the world, it’s a display of their vulnerability.”Lawmakers were swift to call for the company to answer questions or for the U.S. to bolster its cybersecurity position.Democratic Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees much of U.S. technology policy, said in a tweet that Twitter “needs to explain how all of these prominent accounts were hacked.” Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, who chairs the Oversight Committee, sent out a release noting she had just held a hearing on creating a national cyber director for the U.S.Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a vocal tech critic who has backed Trump on accusations that the largest social media platforms have tried to silence conservative voices, wrote a letter to Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey within minutes of the hack.He urged Dorsey to get in touch with the U.S. Justice Department and FBI to secure the site, and asked about potential data theft and whether the breach affected select users or the security of the platform overall.Verified accounts such as Pallone’s and those of other members of Congress had trouble posting Wednesday evening as the company locked them down in a seeming effort to stop the unfolding scam, while Hawley’s spokeswoman, whose account does not have a blue check mark, had to tweet his letter.Who hacked Twitter and how are certainly the company’s greatest immediate concerns. But until Wednesday’s episode, users could take for granted that verified account holders were indeed who they claimed to be. And that the messaging from those accounts was, if nothing else, authentically sourced.That sense of trust may have been altered during a five-hour window when some of Twitter’s highest-profile accounts were commandeered by an intruder, said Laura Galante, founder of the cyber research firm Galante Strategies.“What’s really important now are the parameters Twitter sets to disclose these incidents to the public,” she said. “And how are you going to verify swiftly that a tweet is fake and an account has been hacked. That’s something they need to figure out now.”It’s true that voters checking Twitter may be swift to recognize false statements from Biden, Trump and other high-profile figures -- or the media will identify those statements with urgency. Yet the credibility of accounts really becomes an issue at the state and local level.“Who will notice right away if local election administrators’ accounts are hacked and used to peddle misinformation about how to vote or where?” said Darren Linvill, a professor and disinformation researcher at Clemson University. “That’s the kind of threat that can be long lasting. Even if it’s just a day, if that day is Election Day then there’s more than enough time to do damage.”Experts had bigger worries than a cryptocurrency scam following Russia’s use of fake personas in 2016 to promote false news, sow division and suppress Democratic votes. Yet lawmakers, cybersecurity researchers and good-government advocates have spent the ensuing years warning that disinformation’s tendency to spread quickly on Twitter could be a threat to the election as well as to public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.They cited not just the actions of foreign nations but domestic operatives including official campaigns, with Trump showing an eagerness to spread falsities, using tools ranging from lies to manipulated videos.The calls seemed to have moved Dorsey, whose company’s smaller size relative to Facebook or Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube means it must rely more on algorithms than humans, to enforce policies that ban manipulating elections and other forms of disinformation.In October, he announced Twitter would ban political ads on the platform even as Democrats complained that Trump was spreading lies about Biden on Facebook unchallenged.In May, Twitter fact-checked Trump’s false claims about mail-in voting, prompting the White House to issue an executive order aimed at curbing liability protections for social media services. The company has since then flagged one Trump tweet for violating its policies on glorifying violence and continued to take a more active role in monitoring his tweets.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- With the $28 billion he’s raised working from home, India’s richest man wants to step into the breach created by the technology cold war between America and China. The two Silicon Valley tech giants that gave him a third of the money will help put him there. It’s an audacious plan. Politicians in many nations, including the U.S., the U.K. and India, are reluctant to let Huawei Technologies Co., which they accuse of being an instrument of the Chinese state, become embedded in the fast-speed internet networks that will run everything from power stations to autonomous cars.Ambani’s four-year-old Jio Platforms Ltd. has indigenously built its own 5G technology, the tycoon announced at Wednesday’s annual general meeting of his flagship Reliance Industries Ltd. After testing it on the 400 million 4G customers he has in India, he’ll offer it to other markets. The news18.com website, also controlled by Ambani, called the technology a “Huawei-killer,” and noted that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had praised Jio as a clean network for not using the Chinese firm’s gear.While details of Ambani’s 5G prowess and the markets he hopes to target are still fuzzy, the planned assault against handset makers is clearer. Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai made a virtual appearance at the Reliance AGM and pledged $4.5 billion for a 7.7% stake in Jio and a chance to build an Android operating system. The cheap smartphones running it will migrate 350 million Indians who still use feature phones to mobile internet. But how much customization will Google be comfortable with? If it’s a lot, the phone may be affordable but tied to Jio’s apps. Too little, and the pricing may be unattractive. Somewhere in between those extremes, it’s a threat to Xiaomi Corp. As Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Anthea Lai notes, India accounted for 35% of the Chinese vendor’s smartphone shipments last year. One more thing is now evident: WhatsApp, the messaging system of Facebook Inc., which has given Jio $5.7 billion for a near-10% stake, will drive commerce. The blueprint is again Chinese. Whatsapp’s popularity, and its ability to handle payments in real time, make it a perfect platform for Ambani to build a super-app like Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, connecting brands with customers.The 300,000 Reliance investors who watched the AGM on JioMeet, Ambani’s cloud-conferencing clone of Zoom Video Communications Inc., probably found the sharp pivot away from hydrocarbons a bit too much to take. Ambani dropped enough hints that last year’s plan to sell 20% of his mainstay oils-to-chemicals business to Saudi Aramco was now unlikely. Given the Covid-19 situation, writing a $15 billion check would be a further strain on Aramco’s $75 billion-a-year dividend payout, as my colleague David Fickling has noted. Still, Reliance shares fell 3.8% after Ambani said the unit will be spun off and seek new investors.Reliance may get saddled with a permanent discount as a holding company of digital, retail and hydrocarbon assets, but the empire could as easily command a premium as India’s undeclared national champion. Just as Ambani wants to emulate several successful Chinese firms at once, the country’s policy makers want the same thing for the broader economy: make India the world’s factory, by lodging it into the growing chasm between the West and China. But neither the physical infrastructure, nor most of India Inc.’s balance sheet, is ready. After the pandemic, everything from a broken financial sector to grossly inadequate worker housing, healthcare and social security will compete for fiscal sops from a government trying to retain its tenuous investment-grade rating. Reliance’s capital-raising spree has made it free of net debt. It’s willing to run with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s buy-Indian agenda. Its grocery business would lift farmer incomes by direct purchasing. Jio’s cheap cloud services for small businesses would help them digitize. By connecting to JioMart, a virtual store, neighborhood shops could outgrow their limited shelf space, Ambani said. JioMeet could become as a virtual classroom to the country. Reliance also wants to supply cleaner auto fuels to end Indian cities’ crippling pollution problem.As India has learned from China, economic policy that aligns itself with the expansion of a few large capitalists is more manageable — and produces faster results — than one that has to play referee to free and open competition. By the time that throws up a winner, Vietnam and Bangladesh might corner the export opportunity that India wants to claim. India’s competitive landscape would have been broadened had Google’s Pichai bought a stake in Jio’s telecom competitor Vodafone Idea Ltd., a plan it was considering, according to a Financial Times report in May. Although that deal is probably now dead, Pichai might still pitch his own tent separately from Ambani’s. So far, he’s only decided on the handset partnership with Jio. There’s still plenty left in the $10 billion kitty he set aside for India this week.There’s also Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos. It will be surprising if, after committing $5.5 billion to the country, he bows out. As for Ambani, he still has to demonstrate that one company can be India’s answer to everything, from Zoom and Tencent to Huawei and Xiaomi, while also being a large telco like Verizon Communications Inc.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies and financial services. He previously was a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He has also worked for the Straits Times, ET NOW and Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Mukesh Ambani’s slew of announcements at the annual shareholder meeting of his flagship company Reliance Industries Ltd. failed to meet investor expectations, that are running high, according to analysts’ reviews.Among positives, the chairman of Reliance named Alphabet Inc.’s Google as the latest investor in Jio Platforms, promised a rollout of its own 5G solutions, and said he plans to induct investors into the Indian firm’s retail and oil to chemicals businesses. Still, a delay in a $15 billion deal with Saudi Aramco and a dampening in the optimism that prevailed before the AGM saw the stock price fall Wednesday. The shares have more than doubled from a low in March.Here is what the analysts are saying about India’s most valued company:Buy on Dips“The stock price of Reliance witnessed a decline toward the end of the AGM since most of the news was already priced in and there were not many surprises,” said Nirali Shah, an analyst at Samco Securities. “Hence, it will see some correction to levels of 1,750 rupees in the short term but the long-term growth trend is still intact for this stock.” The shares closed at 1,844 rupees yesterday.Deepak Jasani, head of retail research at HDFC Securities Ltd., said gains in the company’s shares this month were in anticipation of announcements at the AGM, and most were in line with investor expectations. The stock added 12% this month through Tuesday.“We remain positive on the company’s long-term growth plans and would advise investors to hold the stock for healthy returns,” analysts at Religare Broking Ltd. wrote in a note. “Fresh investment in RIL should be made only on dips.”5G RolloutAn early 5G launch from Reliance Industries “can potentially trigger another capex cycle, again straining telcos balance sheets,” Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd.’s analysts including Pranav Kshatriya wrote in note. “We expect large scale commercial 5G launches by operators by 2024–25, and advancement to next 1–2 years is likely to entail significant capex.”“While Reliance JIO’s partnerships with Facebook and Google have created a stir, these are limited to select use cases; we would wait and see how it pans out.”Digital RoadmapThe initiatives announced at the AGM alongside the strategic partnerships have laid out a “powerful” long-term digital roadmap for Reliance, Aditya Suresh, head of India research at Macquarie Capital Ltd. wrote in a note. “The ability of RIL/JIO to morph to a tech-focused company and solve for India’s trillion dollar digital opportunity has substantially increased,” he said, increasing the firm’s target price by 17% to 1,400 rupees.However, Macquarie is maintaining an underperform rating on valuations. “We still see no meaningful sustainable organic FCF generation -- even without a potential 5G capex cycle -- and our earnings for FY22-23 EPS are 15%-20% below consensus,” he said.(Adds comments from Macquarie)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- After raising more than $20 billion for his digital venture in three months, billionaire Mukesh Ambani is readying his retail unit for global partners, as his oil-to-petrochemicals conglomerate turns to India’s billion-plus consumers for growth.Asia’s richest man and the chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. told shareholders Wednesday that Reliance Retail Ltd. is getting inquiries from investors and may start bringing some on board in the coming months. The legacy petrochemicals business is also getting attention from potential investors even though a proposed stake sale to Aramco isn’t proceeding as planned, he said.“We’ve received strong interest from strategic and financial investors in Reliance Retail,” Ambani told the 300,000-plus people who logged into the virtual conference from 41 countries. “We will induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”The 63-year-old tycoon has identified technology and retail as future growth areas in a pivot away from the energy businesses he inherited from his father who died in 2002. Retail is the next frontier for Ambani, who just finished selling almost 33% of his digital venture over the past three months to a slew of investors including Silicon Valley giants Facebook Inc. and Google, valuing Jio Platforms Ltd. at $58 billion.Reliance Retail, which runs supermarkets, India’s largest consumer electronics chain store, a cash and carry wholesaler, fast-fashion outlets and an online grocery store called JioMart, reported 1.63 trillion rupees ($22 billion) in revenue in the year through March 2020. The unit operates almost 12,000 stores in nearly 7,000 towns.Although Ambani laid out a vision for a technology future for Reliance Industries at the shareholders meeting, shares of the conglomerate slumped. The tycoon confirmed that a planned sale of stake in Reliance’s oil-and-chemicals division to Saudi Arabian Oil Co. for an estimated $15 billion hadn’t progressed as planned, disappointing investors.Frenzied FundraisingThe stock fell 3.8% Wednesday, its biggest loss since May 14, paring gains from a rally spurred by the frenzied fundraising by Jio. The drop shrank Ambani’s net worth to $69 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, pushing him down the rankings to the world’s 10th richest. Earlier this week, he had briefly rocketed to No. 6, past Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.Most of Ambani’s focus during the 93-minute presentation to shareholders was on technology. He, along with his children Isha and Akash Ambani, unveiled a slew of services, including a fifth-generation wireless network as early as next year and a mega video-streaming platform that will bring Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime and dozens of other TV channels under one umbrella. The twins, who have been at the forefront of the fundraising efforts, also demonstrated some of the technologies.“I believe that the time has come for a truly global digital product and services company to emerge from India, and to be counted among the best in the world,” Ambani said.Read more: Can Ambani Take on Tencent, Huawei and Xiaomi?: Andy MukherjeeJio Platforms, unveiled last year, is now at the center of his ambitions to tap a billion Indians increasingly embracing mobile devices and data plans to shop online. Jio is eyeing an opportunity to shake up retail, content streaming, digital payments, education and health care.Giant RivalsThose plans would put Jio in direct competition with e-commerce giant such as Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s local operations. Alphabet Inc.’s Google is the latest to join Jio as an investor, with Wednesday’s announcement of a $4.5 billion investment for a 7.7% stake.“Each of the new hyper growth engines have high customer acceptance opportunity with scale, and will be multiple times current valuation, making the traditional oil and gas business a less than 20% contributor to valuation going forward,” said Chakri Lokapriya, chief investment officer at TCG Asset Management in Mumbai.Jio, which started out as a wireless carrier as its first building block back in 2016, will roll out its 5G network once airwaves are available, according to Ambani. Unlike most other carriers, Jio will use a technology developed in-house for 5G, Ambani said, leaving it immune to pressures many global telecommunications companies are facing from the U.S. over Chinese equipment vendors.Here are some of the plans laid out by Ambani:Google and Jio are partnering to build an Operating System that could power a cheap 4G/5G smartphone.JioMart, the online shopping portal, and WhatsApp will be working closely to create growth opportunities for millions of Indian small merchants and enable customers seamlessly transact with mom-and-pop storesJio Glass to bring teachers and students together in 3D virtual rooms and conduct holographic classes through our Jio Mixed Reality cloud in real-timeBroadband for enterprises and small businesses; Narrowband Internet-of-Things (NBIoT)(Updates with slide down the wealth rankings in seventh paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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