Aston Martin’s electric sports models to be made at Gaydon plant

Luxury car giant Aston Martin has pledged to manufacture all of its electric cars in the UK from 2025.

As first reported in the Financial Times, owner Lawrence Stroll said all of its battery sports cars will be made at its plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Its electric SUV models will be made at St Athan in Glamorgan, he confirmed.

The company is due to start making hybrid versions of its cars over the next four years, followed by battery-only models.

Aston Martin cars
image captionThe manufacturer will produce hybrid models over the next four years before moving to electric

A growing number of car makers have said they are moving away from petrol and diesel engines, including Jaguar Land Rover, which announced last month its Jaguar brand will be all-electric by 2025.

It comes as the UK government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

Aston Martin is not going quite as far and said it would continue to make traditional engines for car enthusiasts.

Luxury car brand Bentley Motors, owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, said in November its range will be fully electric by 2030, and General Motors said in January it aimed to have a zero tailpipe emission line-up by 2035.

Aston Martin cars
image captionThe firm has a technical partnership with Mercedes Benz

Earlier this week, Mr Stroll told the BBC electrification would not be a problem for the company as the technology could be brought in from Mercedes-Benz, which Aston Martin has a technical partnership with.

Mercedes also has a 20% stake in Aston Martin, and Mr Stroll told the Financial Times the partnership put the firm “way ahead of our rivals”.

Aston Martin employs about 2,500 people in Gaydon and St Athan, although it is not clear whether the announcement would mean changes for workers.

It announced 500 redundancies last year as the impact of coronavirus hit car makers.

UAE’s first independent digital banking platform launches

DUBAI – The first independent digital banking platform in the United Arab Emirates launched on Sunday, a neobank hoping to become a leader in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Dubai-based YAP does not have a banking licence itself but has partnered with RAK Bank which provides international bank account numbers for YAP users and secures their funds under its own banking licence.

YAP, like other neobanks which do not have physical branches, does not offer traditional banking services like loans and mortgages, but offers spending and budgeting analytics, peer-to-peer payments and remittances services and bill payments.

YAP is in the process of partnering with banks in other countries, head of product Katral-Nada Hassan said, including a bank in Saudi, in Pakistan and in Ghana.

Global leaders in digital banking, such as Revolut, one of the world’s fastest-growing apps, do not have a UAE presence.

Some UAE banks have in recent years launched their own digital banking offerings targeted at digitally-savvy and younger users, such as LIV by Emirates NBD and Mashreq Neo by Mashreq Bank.

Abu Dhabi state-owned holding company ADQ last year said it plans to set up an as-yet unnamed neobank using a banking licence of the country’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB).

“The fintech revolution has become very popular in other parts of the world and we saw a gap and unique need for this service in the Middle East,” said YAP CEO and founder Marwan Hachem

Hassan said there are challenges for fintechs looking to expand to the UAE.

“There are a lot of fintechs right now looking at partnering with banks, but that requires a lot of discussion, relationship building … It is not an easy thing to do,” she said, adding YAP’s founders had an existing relationship with RAK Bank.

YAP is at seed funding stage, funded by founders, a private equity firm and private investors, Hassan said, adding that more than 20,000 customers have pre-registered and accounts will gradually go live in coming weeks.

‘A side of shares’: Deliveroo to offer 50 million pounds of stock to customers

LONDON (Reuters) – Deliveroo said shares worth 50 million pounds ($69 million) would be earmarked for customers in its upcoming flotation, with the offer branded “Great food with a side of shares”.

The Amazon-backed food delivery firm announced plans on Thursday to list in London, with a potential value of $7 billion making it the biggest market debut in Britain for three years.

Founder and chief executive Will Shu said Deliveroo’s customers had supported the firm’s growth and he wanted to give them the chance to share in the next stage of its journey.

“Far too often, normal people are locked out of IPOs, and the only participants are the institutional investors,” he said on Sunday.

“I wanted to give as many customers as possible the chance to become shareholders, which is why we’re making 50 million pounds of shares available to them, alongside our restaurant partners and riders.”

Deliveroo said any customer who had placed an order would be able to register their interest via the company’s app from Monday.

Each would be able to apply for up to 1,000 pounds of shares, it said, adding that loyal customers would be prioritised if the offer were oversubscribed.

Russ Mould, investment director at online platform AJ Bell, said a year of lockdowns had fuelled demand for companies like Deliveroo and there was an expectation that habits formed during the pandemic would remain long into the recovery.

“All this suggests there is likely to be a bun fight for the 50 million pounds worth of customer shares in Deliveroo at the IPO offer,” he said.

Deliveroo said it would also recognise the role played by its delivery riders in its success with a 16 million pound reward programme to be launched on the day of listing.

Cash rewards from 10,000 pounds to 200 pounds will be available to riders in Deliveroo’s 21 markets based on the number of orders delivered. It said the average per eligible rider would be 440 pounds.

($1 = 0.7225 pounds)

Coronavirus: US Senate passes major $1.9tn relief plan

The US Senate has voted to approve America’s third major spending package to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan passed by 50 votes to 49 on Saturday, and will now head to the House of Representatives where it is expected to be endorsed.

The relief plan has been championed by President Joe Biden, but Republicans have criticised it as too costly.

Mr Biden’s Democratic Party compromised on a key issue ahead of the vote.

There were long discussions over federal unemployment benefit, which Democrats agreed to lower from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit would be extended until 6 September under the plan.

The package also envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans.

America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%. 

What’s in the package?

The so-called American Rescue Plan allocates $350bn to state and local governments, and some $130bn to schools.

It would also provide $49bn for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution.

The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes – at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000.media caption”I’m not sure how we’re going to survive”

The extension of jobless benefits until September, meanwhile, would mark a key reprieve for millions of long-term unemployed Americans whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March.

The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25bn for restaurants and bars; $15bn for airlines and another $8bn for airports; $30bn for transit; $1.5bn for Amtrak rail and $3bn for aerospace manufacturing.

What were the sticking points?

While Republicans broadly backed two previous stimulus plans, passed when they controlled both the White House and the Senate under Donald Trump, they have criticised the cost of Mr Biden’s bill.

There was a marathon 27-hour session before the final vote on Saturday, and the 50-49 tally along party lines was indicative of the widespread Republican opposition.

The even split between the parties in the Senate meant that every Democratic senator needed to support the party’s plans.

But on Friday a moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, objected on the grounds that the huge bill might overheat the economy. It took 11 hours of negotiation throughout the night to come up with a deal.

The compromise on lowering unemployment benefit meant the package could move forward to a final vote.

“It’s been a long day, a long night, a long year, but a new day has come and we tell the American people help is on the way,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, however, criticised the aid package. “The Senate has never spent $2tn in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process,” he said.

Mr Schumer has predicted that the House will endorse the bill and President Biden will sign it before boosted unemployment benefits expire on 14 March.

How the number of deaths has been falling in the US
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Jack Dorsey: Bids reach $2m for Twitter co-founder’s first post

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has listed his first ever tweet for sale, with bids reaching $2m (£1.4m).

“Just setting up my twttr,” the post, sent from Mr Dorsey’s account in March 2006, reads.

It will be sold as a non-fungible token (NFT) – a unique digital certificate that states who owns a photo, video or other form of online media.

But the post will remain publicly available on Twitter even after it has been auctioned off.

The buyer will receive a certificate, digitally signed and verified by Mr Dorsey, as well as the metadata of the original tweet. The data will include information such as the time the tweet was posted and its text contents.

View original tweet on Twitter

The tweet was listed for sale on ‘Valuables by Cent’ – a tweets marketplace that was launched three months ago. 

In a post on the site, the platform’s founders compare the buying of a tweet to that of a more traditional autograph or piece of memorabilia.

“Owning any digital content can be a financial investment,” it says. “[It can] hold sentimental value. Like an autograph on a baseball card, the NFT itself is the creator’s autograph on the content, making it scarce, unique, and valuable.”

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

Tweets are the latest digital assets to be monetised through so-called non-fungible tokens.

NFTs use the blockchain, the same distributed database technology underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, to create unique certificates of ownership of any kind of digital goods.

While the idea that digital artists can earn an income by offering buyers some sense of ownership has its attractions, the “sale” of tweets will leave many scratching their heads.

Valuables, the platform marketing Mr Dorsey’s tweet, seems to recognise that the concept will leave people bemused. In its FAQ it explains “owning any digital content can… hold sentimental value and create a relationship between collector and creator”.

Most of us might think that this is a high price to pay for a relationship with the Twitter boss. But given the feverish and often irrational state of any kind of cryptocurrency related market, maybe the buyer is betting there’ll be someone along soon to take the tweet off their hands at an even higher price.

Meanwhile, on the basis that if you can’t beat them, join them, I put one of my tweets up for sale. It was about this story – and I’ve just accepted a bid of $1. That might sound modest but seeing as I’ve got 72,466 other tweets available it could be the start of something big….

Presentational grey line

Old offers for Mr Dorsey’s tweet suggest that it was first put up for sale in December, but the listing gained more attention after he tweeted a link to it on Friday. That tweet has since been shared thousands of times.

Within minutes of the tweet being posted, bids reached more than $88,000.

But they skyrocketed on Saturday, with a bid of $1.5m being usurped by a $2m offer at around 15:30 GMT. 

According to Valuables by Cent’s terms, 95% of a tweet’s sale will go to the original creator with the remainder going to the website.

BT denies any CEO rift behind chairman’s retirement

LONDON (Reuters) – BT denied any “misalignment” between board and management on Saturday after Sky News said that CEO Philip Jansen had indicated he might resign unless the company replaced its chairman.

The British broadband and mobile telecoms operator said on Monday that Jan du Plessis, who was appointed chairman in November 2017, had informed the board of his intention to retire once a successor has been appointed.

“The chairman throughout his tenure has demonstrated strong leadership … been extremely supportive of management and any suggestion that he has impeded the transformation of BT is without foundation,” BT said in a statement on Saturday.

“There has been no misalignment between the board and executive management over the company’s strategy,” BT added.

On Friday Sky News reported that Jansen, who joined BT as CEO in 2019, had told fellow directors he was frustrated with the speed at which it was taking key strategic decisions.

Jansen indicated that he was prepared to resign unless a new chairman who could accelerate the pace of change was appointed, Sky News said, citing several people close to the company.

Jansen is seeking to make the former monopoly more agile.

He wants BT to accelerate Britain’s shift to fibre and 5G networks, and he is pushing the government and regulator Ofcom to create the conditions that would allow him to turn on the taps to billion of pounds of investment.

That aim was boosted by changes to corporation tax announced on Wednesday to incentivise investment.

Jansen said in November he was open-minded about selling a stake in the company’s networks unit Openreach.

However, he said any decision would come after Ofcom publishes its new framework.

Du Plessis sought to build bridges with Ofcom during his tenure. “Above all, our relationship with Ofcom has improved significantly over the last three years,” he said on Monday.

Malaysia’s AirAsia Group plans air taxi, drone delivery service

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s AirAsia Group Bhd plans to launch an air taxi service and the country’s first drone delivery service as the budget carrier seeks to diversify amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s CEO said on Saturday.

As part of the group’s diversification push, it also aims to launch a ride-hailing service next month as COVID-19 continues to hit air travel.

“The air taxi will have a pilot and four seats. At the moment, we have our team working on this upcoming service by AirAsia,” Chief Executive Tony Fernandes said at the Youth Economic Forum 2021, state news agency Bernama reported on Saturday.

The service should start operating in about 18 months, Fernandes was quoted as saying.

He also announced that the airline’s logistics unit Teleport, which is currently testing an urban drone delivery service with state-backed firm Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), would conduct its first commercial delivery by the end of this year.

“(The) idea was brought up three weeks ago and now it’s reality,” he wrote on Instagram.

Fernandes said the group was recovering from the impact of the pandemic and had used the opportunity to accelerate its digital transformation, Bernama reported.

The struggling airline, which reported a fifth straight quarterly loss in November, has been seeking to raise 2.5 billion ringgit ($613.95 million) from loans and investors.

Last month, it said its 33%-owned Japanese unit, which ceased operations last October, had begun bankruptcy proceedings.

($1 = 4.0720 ringgit)

Microsoft hack: White House warns of ‘active threat’ of email attack

The US is expressing growing concern over a hack on Microsoft’s Exchange email software that the tech company has blamed on China.

“This is an active threat,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “Everyone running these servers – government, private sector, academia – needs to act now to patch them.”

Microsoft said hackers had used its mail server to attack their targets.

It is reported that tens of thousands of US organisations may be impacted.

Ms Psaki told reporters that the White House was “concerned that there are a large number of victims” and said the vulnerabilities found in Microsoft’s servers “could have far reaching impacts”. 

Microsoft executive Tom Burt revealed the breach in a blog post on Tuesday and announced updates to counter security flaws which he said had allowed hackers to gain access to Microsoft Exchange servers. 

The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) attributed the attacks with “high confidence” to a “state-sponsored threat actor” based in China which they named Hafnium.

The tech giant said Hafnium had tried to steal information from groups such as infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions and defence contractors. 

Reuters news agency, citing a person familiar with the US government response, reported that more than 20,000 organisations had been compromised in the US – and many more worldwide.

Brian Krebs, an industry expert and blogger, put the number higher – citing multiple security sources.

“At least 30,000 organizations across the United States – including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments – have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber-espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations,” he wrote in a blog post.

Mr Krebs warned attacks had “dramatically stepped up” since Microsoft’s announcement. 

News of the breach prompted the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa) to release an emergency directive telling agencies and departments to take urgent action. 

Jake Sullivan, the White House National Security Adviser, has also urged network owners to download the security patches as soon as possible.

View original tweet on Twitter

Microsoft has not confirmed the reported figures but said in a further statement on Friday that it was working closely with US government agencies and told customers “the best protection” was “to apply updates as soon as possible across all impacted systems”. 

This is the eighth time in the past 12 months that Microsoft has publicly accused nation-state groups of targeting institutions critical to civil society. 

Microsoft said the attack was in no way related to the SolarWinds attack, which hit US government agencies late last year

Although Hafnium is based in China, it allegedly conducts its operations primarily from leased virtual private servers in the US, Microsoft said. 

China presence

While many US tech firms have had a tumultuous relationship with the Chinese government, Microsoft has maintained a mainland presence since 1992. 

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Microsoft’s business-oriented social media platform LinkedIn is still accessible in China. 

So, too, is its search engine Bing, although locally-grown Baidu dominates the search market.

‘Failing up’: Why some climb the corporate ladder despite mediocrity

Allowing workers to ‘fail up’ can yield talented leaders. But only some people are allowed to fail without penalty, while others never get the chance.

It’s the lacklustre associate who makes partner despite a poor record, even though you’ve been working around the clock at the same firm without even a glance from the bosses. It’s getting passed up for that big account after being at an agency for five years, only to see your unremarkable-but-charismatic colleague score the project after two. Or maybe it’s that ineffective manager who, despite poor people skills, continues to get more staff and responsibility.

Most of us know the frustrating feeling of watching someone ‘fail upward’: landing successively sweeter gigs even after professional mediocrity or missteps. It turns out, allowing employees to fail up isn’t necessarily bad and can sometimes yield talented, resilient leaders. What is troubling, experts say, is the significant gap between who’s allowed to fail without penalty on the way up – and who never gets that chance.

Why people fail up

Multiple factors set the stage for ordinary hires to fail upward. One of the reasons the phenomenon persists, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a business psychology professor at Columbia University in New York City, is because hiring managers, decision-makers, even voters can be easily “seduced” by characteristics incompatible with good leadership, such as overconfidence.

Research published in Leadership Quarterly in 2019 showed that across multiple studies, hiring managers consistently saw leadership potential in those who demonstrated inflated confidence in their skills. At the same time, this type of extreme hubris, which Chamorro-Premuzic says men exhibit more than women, often runs counter to actual competence. In social psychology circles, it’s known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Often, colleagues who perform the same tasks don't have equal latitude to make mistakes in their jobs (Credit: Alamy)
Often, colleagues who perform the same tasks don’t have equal latitude to make mistakes in their jobs (Credit: Alamy)

“The frustrating thing is that we have known for four or five decades what attributes we should be selecting for… and yet we don’t do it,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, who also serves as the chief talent scientist at the workforce solutions company ManpowerGroup. “We started focusing so much on style, extraversion, assertiveness, lean in, be confident, brand yourself, make eye contact, body language, that we forgot to focus on substance.”

And even if arrogance doesn’t win over a hiring manager, similarities in race, gender, self-presentation and personal experiences can increase a worker’s chances of success. Research published in the American Sociological Review says “cultural matching” can have a significant effect on applicants’ evaluations and “often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity”.

Once an individual is promoted, they become more visible to management, recruiters and other leaders; experience on a resumé begins to hold more value than actual performance outcome. And perhaps most importantly, once an employee is promoted, bosses become invested in that person’s success because it becomes a reflection of their own judgement. Failures are downplayed and losses are spun into wins. “It’s very easy to remain strategically ignorant about our mistakes,” says Chamorro-Premuzic.

As people continue to move up, he says we’re conditioned to believe that their positions are the result of merit – and rarely ask questions about how they got there.

The privilege of failing up

When we do ask those questions, however, the role of privilege becomes more evident.

At a panel held during the 2019 Austin Film Festival, the co-creators and co-writers behind the Emmy Award-winning drama series Game of Thrones explained that while they were both writers, neither had any television experience when the show began. David Benioff and DB Weiss said they were allowed to take several risks even though it was their first time running a production. And their unaired original pilot required re-casting, re-writes and re-shoots before it was finally accepted: “It took more than one try, which we were fortunate to get a second chance,” said Weiss. Benioff added: “A lot of the mistakes were basic, elemental writing mistakes.”

In a lot of organisations, the people who are allowed to fail and fail up… are overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white – Ruchika Tulshyan

The comments at the festival sparked a larger conversation on social media about who, exactly, is allowed to fail in workplaces and still get support, another chance and, as in this case, find their way to success.

“In a lot of organisations, the people who are allowed to fail and fail up, the people who are allowed to learn from those mistakes and still be given an opportunity to get back up again, are overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white,” says Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of the Seattle-based inclusion strategy firm Candour.

A 2020 research paper from Utah State University reveals women and BIPOC employees in elite leadership roles who make even minor missteps at work – from dress code to displays of emotion – can be judged much more harshly than white men. “For many of us, we only have one shot to try,” says Tulshyan. “Therefore, we will instinctively try and safeguard ourselves … If you don’t feel like you can take risks in your career, it is that much harder to grow.”

Remarks from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss sparked a discussion about who is able to make mistakes and still move forward, and who isn't (Credit: Alamy)
Remarks from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss sparked a discussion about who is able to make mistakes and still move forward, and who isn’t (Credit: Alamy)

The report, which explores issues of racism and bias not often covered through traditional research methods, also concludes that gendered or racialised leaders were often seen as “outsiders” and even viewed as menacing to a workplace’s status quo.

“Outsiders’ presence is experienced as a disruption, even a threat, and they are often confronted with a burden of doubt regarding their competence, suspicion regarding their trustworthiness, infantilization of their roles and] hyper-surveillance of their work performance,” wrote co-author and sociologist Christy Glass.

With that added scrutiny, mentorship and “sponsorship” – where supervisors not only guide workers but also advocate for their promotions and pay increases – become particularly important on the way to the top. But even that contingency is fraught. Research shows sponsors will most often choose protégés of the same gender and the same race. “So, if the majority of your executives are white, and the majority of executives are white male, guess who gets that second chance to prove themselves after they have failed? And that’s how we create this pipeline where women, and especially women of colour, are really overlooked in these conversations and in these sorts of opportunities,” says Tulshyan.

So, if there are more women and people of colour in leadership, that pipeline should start to change, right? Not exactly, because also studies show that when women and minorities advocate for other women and minorities, those advocates are penalised with worse performance reviews.

When women and minorities advocate for other women and minorities, those advocates are penalised with worse performance reviews

“We are labelled aggressive and confrontational and too assertive and difficult to work with and not being a team player, even though we might exhibit the same characteristics [as men],” says Jodi-Ann Burey, a writer and podcast host who recently co-wrote an article with Tulshyan about racial and gender bias in the workplace.

How do we effect change?

Both Tulshyan and Burey say failing at work, when it’s the result of a professional misstep and not a moral one – such as sexual harassment, racism or generally making your employees miserable – is necessary and can be critical to good leadership in the future. People can often learn the greatest lessons from having to pick themselves up again after a poor performance, difficult challenge or blunder on the job.

Women and BIPOC employees in elite leadership roles who make even minor missteps at work can be judged much more harshly than white men (Credit: Alamy)
Women and BIPOC employees in elite leadership roles who make even minor missteps at work can be judged much more harshly than white men (Credit: Alamy)

They also say being rewarded after those kinds of failures isn’t awful either. In the case of the Game of Thrones showrunners, they were allowed to experiment, take chances and learn along the way with support from higher-ups invested in their success. Eventually, their work produced a monumental hit series. The problem is that everyone isn’t afforded the same room to make mistakes in a safe environment and without swift cost. “You tell me one black woman who would have had that huge of a budget to pull something like that off and without any experience,” says Burey.

Changing the workplace so that all employees can be recognised for their successes and supported through their failures is crucial to building a more meritocratic environment. This begins, says Burey, with acknowledging issues of racism that breed an environment in which women of colour are disproportionately labelled as not up to the task while when white men are allowed to fail as part of their development process. “That awareness could look like conversations, that awareness could look like metrics and tracking who has been moving up and who hasn’t been. And that awareness could immediately look like action, maybe changing the language or culture around failure.”

Tulshyan suggests companies can go one step further by using failure as a learning opportunity in meetings or boardrooms for every employee. Normalising failure can encourage people to take more risks and think outside the box, which can level the playing field and allow talent to rise based on innovation and ideas rather than who’s most visible. “You do need to have an environment where people can take risks and where they can fail without fear of retaliation.”

Chamorro-Premuzic, who has studied the intersection of personality and leadership for decades, says people involved in hiring processes also need to start focusing on more meaningful characteristics for management positions, such as empathy, humility and integrity – measures by which women tend to score higher – rather than giving a free pass to those with extreme confidence or who appear to fit in better.

By: Zulekha Nathoo – BBC

VW says electric car production in Spain hinges on EU support

Spanish automaker SEAT’s parent company Volkswagen wants a firm commitment from Brussels to support a potential project to manufacture electric cars in Spain, the German group’s chief executive officer Herbert Diess said on Friday.

The Spanish government announced on Thursday it will use European Union funds to create a public-private consortium with SEAT and power company Iberdrola that would build the country’s first factory for electric-car batteries.

SEAT said last year it was considering producing a small electric vehicle in Spain from 2025, but tied it to receiving public aid as carmakers ramp up production of electric vehicles to meet tougher emissions regulations.

Diess told an event at SEAT’s plant in Martorell near Barcelona, which was attended by Spanish King Felipe and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, that the potential project would include battery production and receive EU’s pandemic recovery funds, but stressed more backing was needed.

“We hope for the willingness of the European Commission to let this flagship project of historic importance for Spain and Europe become reality,” Diess said.

“The successful transformation of the Spanish auto industry will hinge upon a clear commitment by the European Commission,” he added, without elaborating.

As Europe’s second largest car manufacturer, Spain has the potential to become an electric mobility hub, he said. SEAT-branded electric cars are currently manufactured in Germany and Slovakia.

SEAT Chairman Wayne Griffiths said his company was seeking a broad alliance with Iberdrola, phone operator Telefonica and Caixabank, as well as other Spanish companies, to meet its electric mobility goal.

At SEAT’s plant, King Felipe said Spain’s strategy to develop electric vehicles was “irreversible” and that authorities will give their total support to the automotive sector, that accounts for 8% of the economy.

MicroStrategy buys 205 bitcoin for $10 million

The world’s largest publicly-traded business intelligence company now owns close to 91,064 bitcoin as of March 5, acquired at an aggregate purchase price of about $2.196 billion and an average purchase price of around $24,119 per bitcoin. (bit.ly/38avqNW)

Bitcoin was trading at $47,663 on Friday, down 18.3% from a record high of $58,354.14 hit on Feb. 21.

MicroStrategy spent last year steadily amassing more bitcoin after making its first investment in August as the cryptocurrency soared in value. It has since made multiple purchases of the digital currency.

The company bought 328 bitcoin for about $15 million in cash on March 1. (reut.rs/3sRe2Wv)

MicroStrategy’s shares fell 1% in pre-market trading.

Tech Tent: The new ‘space race’ for computer chips

Silicon chips are at the heart of many of the biggest technology stories of our time.

Without them, car plants around the world have come to a halt. The technology to make them is now seen by the United States as a key weapon in its trade war with China. And access to the latest and most-powerful versions will determine who wins the artificial intelligence race.

In this week’s Tech Tent podcast, we look at the semiconductor industry and try to answer five important questions about chips.

What’s behind the current shortages?

From Ford and General Motors in the US, to Honda in the UK, and electric car-maker Nio in China: major automotive companies have had to cut back production due to a shortage of chips. Why?

Well it seems the pandemic is to blame, continually making every prediction about chip demand look out-of-date.

First, it made demand for gadgets soar, as years of digital transformation happened in weeks. 

“We’ve been talking about working from home and 5G and IoT and the cloud for years. And now suddenly it’s a reality,” says Jodi Shelton, chief executive of the World Semiconductor Association.

Meanwhile, sales of new cars fell off a cliff and automotive executives cancelled orders for chips. 

But then, an unexpected rebound in sales caught them flat-footed, along with their chip suppliers.

Jodi Shelton says car-makers with “just in time” supply chains came up against a semiconductor industry that cannot just quickly turn the tap on or off.

“They’re going to have to learn that that’s not really the way it works. These are just not products that are off-the-shelf.”

Who is making the best chips?

The shortages have made one thing clear: there is no longer just one kind of chip.

As demand shifts, so does power in the semiconductor industry.

For decades, Intel – with its marketing slogan “Intel Inside” – was the only chip-maker in the minds of many.

But that is no longer the case. Analyst Richard Windsor of Radio Free Mobile says the world has moved on.

He outlines two trends: the use of chips for data storage, and the growing importance of graphics chips (GPUs), which aren’t just for making games come to life but play a vital role in artificial intelligence applications.

And he points to new superpowers in this industry, in particular the Taiwanese company TSMC.

“TSMC is by far the world’s number one manufacturer of cutting-edge silicon chips at this point in time,” he explains.

“It’s very different from Intel. What Intel does is it designs the chips; makes its own chips; and then sells those chips. What TSMC does is make chips for other people.”

And building chip factories – or foundries as they are known – is a hugely expensive business. Richard Windsor tells us that it can cost as much as $25 billion (£18bn) to open a new foundry with state-of-the art equipment.

What is the most important company in chip-making?

Mr Windsor also talks about the vital role played by ASML, a company that is the only supplier of what is effectively a printing press for the very latest and smallest silicon chips.

“A relatively obscure Dutch company,” is how my colleague Leo Kelion, the BBC’s technology desk editor, described the company in an article last year. ASML liked the description so much that it printed it on t-shirts for staff.

“We build the tools that the carpenter uses to build your house,” says Jos Benschop of ASML, explaining how the likes of TSMC, Intel and Samsung all need its equipment.

When the company was founded in 1984 there were ten big players in the chip lithography market. Now it is the only one left.

“As the technology became progressively more difficult to master, and the investment needed became progressively larger, then you had the survival of the fittest. Fewer and fewer companies were able to keep up.”

But that means ASML is caught in the trade war between the US and China. The Trump administration put pressure on the Dutch government to halt the sale of ASML technology to a Chinese customer. That seems to have worked – shipment of the equipment has been delayed.

Why do chips play a role in the US-China trade war?

As China and the United States battle for supremacy in artificial intelligence, access to equipment that builds the latest AI chips is a key weapon.

Dr Pippa Malmgren, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, says the stakes are as high as they were in another technological battle: the space race.

“The new space race at the geopolitical level is for computational power. Who can gather the most data and process that data the fastest? That is why both China and the US, frankly the EU as well, are spending a lot of money on quantum computers, incredibly fast supercomputers. And all of these things require chips,” she explains.

Taiwan, home of TSMC, is on the front line of this battle. Given its fight to be independent from China, you might think it would do whatever the US wanted.

But Dr Malmgren warns that things are not so simple :”Chinese money is heavily invested in Taiwan.

“And I think if you were to ask, can you extricate Chinese backing from the Taiwanese economy, the answer is that it would be very difficult.”

Is Moore’s Law over?

Since the 1960s, the chip industry has been governed by Moore’s Law, which predicts that the capability of computers will double every two years as manufacturers cram ever-smaller transistors on to their chips.

But given that the transistors are now so unimaginably small, can we expect this pattern to continue?

I asked Sophie Wilson, who in the 1980s played a key role in designing what is now the world’s most popular chip, the Arm processor.

She tells us progress is still possible because the industry keeps on finding new ways of cramming more into a smaller space.

“We’ve reached the end of the road many times. And each time we’ve reached the end of the road, there has been some sort of way out,” she explains.

And the future may be 3D.

“What you’ll see over the next few years is stuff working in three dimensions. We can still up the density in a given volume by building more and more silicon layers on top of each other. The silicon layers are very thin, so you can stack them on top of each other,” she says.

And don’t expect China to opt out of this battle.

As it is denied access to current chip equipment, the Chinese government will pour huge sums into research into new approaches with the aim of leapfrogging the United States in the next era of the chip economy.

Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent (BBC)

Texas grid operator made $16 billion price error during winter storm- Watchdog

ERCOT kept market prices for power too high for more than a day after widespread outages ended late on Feb. 17, Potomac Economics, the independent market monitor for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, said in a filing.

“In order to comply with the Commission Order, the pricing intervention that raised prices to VOLL (value of lost load) should have ended immediately at that time (late on Feb. 17),” Potomac Economics said.

“However, ERCOT continued to hold prices at VOLL by inflating the Real-Time On-Line Reliability Deployment Price Adder for an additional 32 hours through the morning of February 19,” it said, adding the decision resulted in $16 billion in additional costs to ERCOT’s markets.

The findings of Potomac Economics were reported first on Thursday by Bloomberg and the Texas Tribune.

Separately, rating agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded ERCOT by one notch from A1 to Aa3 and revised the grid operator’s credit outlook to “negative” on Thursday.

On Wednesday, ERCOT’s board ousted chief executive Bill Magness, as the fallout continued from a blackout that left residents without heat, power or water for days.

The mid-February storm temporarily knocked out up to half the state’s generating plants, triggering outages that killed dozens and pushed power prices to 10 times the normal rate.

Many of ERCOT’s directors have resigned in the last week and the head of the state’s Public Utility Commission, which supervised ERCOT, resigned on Monday.

Blockchain firm Ripple sees no fallout in Asia Pacific from SEC lawsuit

TOKYO – Blockchain payments firm Ripple has not experienced any fallout in its Asia Pacific business after being sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company’s chief executive officer said on Friday.

In late December, the SEC charged Ripple, which is associated with cryptocurrency XRP, with conducting a $1.3 billion unregistered securities offering.

After that, the top U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase shut down trading in XRP, which is the world’s seventh-largest cryptocurrency by market value.

“It (the lawsuit) has hindered activity in the United States, but it has not really impacted what’s going on for us in Asia Pacific,” Brad Garlinghouse, Ripple’s chief executive officer, told Reuters in a video interview from California.

“We have been able to continue to grow the business in Asia and Japan because we’ve had regulatory clarity in those markets,” he said, adding that he did not know of any exchange outside the United States that had halted XRP trading.

“XRP is traded on over 200 exchanges around the world. It’s really only three or four exchanges in the United States that have halted trading,” he said.

Garlinghouse was one of two of the firm’s executives alleged by the SEC in December of personally gaining about $600 million received from the unregistered offering.

Financial regulators around the world are looking to decide how they should regulate the cryptocurrency industry.

The outcome of their assessments could determine whether cryptocurrencies will grow into mainstream assets or remain niche products.

Gary Gensler, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the SEC, promised during his congressional confirmation hearing to provide “guidance and clarity” to the cyptocurrency market.

While bitcoin is considered a commodity by U.S. financial regulators, most other cryptocurrencies have yet to be classified as commodities or securities.

Ripple has signed more than 15 new contracts with banks globally since the SEC brought its lawsuit, Garlinghouse said, adding that he believed the lack of clarity in the United States has been a “hindrance” to innovation.

“We’re seeing the activity of XRP liquidity has grown outside the United States and continue to grow in Asia, certainly in Japan,” he said.

Why are we obsessed with others’ lives?

By: Krystin Arneson

Humans are curious – and we’re looking into each other’s lives more than ever. But in a pandemic, this might not simply be a nosy habit.

As our own social worlds have shrunk as a result of the pandemic, the lives of others have never been more compelling. 

We’re browsing photo essays capturing the workdays of overstretched medical staff, consuming news about politicians breaking lockdown and celebrities jetting off to private islands. Some of us peek outside to see which neighbours wear masks to take out the rubbish. We’re also spending record amounts of time online: UK watchdog Ofcom found last June that adults were spending on average a quarter of their waking day using the internet, while a global survey early in the pandemic found 40% of consumers were spending longer on social media.   

It’s not surprising we’re consuming information, news and personal updates. We’ve always been curious as a species; our own stories are formed by the exchanges we have with other people’s lives and stories, says Brunel University London senior lecturer Anne Chappell, who recently examined this behavior alongside Plymouth University associate professor Julie Parsons. During the pandemic, however, our interest in other people’s lives seems to be reaching new heights.

We've always been curious – but now we have so many more ways to learn about other people (Credit: Alamy)
We’ve always been curious – but now we have so many more ways to learn about other people (Credit: Alamy)

But although it may seem a bit nosy – or even voyeuristic – this urge may not be a bad thing. In times like these, when behaviours and norms are unprecedented and evolving, observing other people can help us process each twist and turn of the pandemic – and even learn how to adapt ourselves. 

A shared understanding 

Of course, voyeurism is nothing new. We had society pages giving accounts of proto-Kardashians in 19th Century newspapers well before we had People magazine, which emerged well before Instagram Stories. Today, though, we have far more ways to peek over the metaphorical fence than we did even a decade ago. News providers have proliferated, offering think pieces and photo essays that add dimension and human perspectives to the stories of the day. On social media, we don’t just have Facebook, but Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and now Clubhouse – a plethora of diversified platforms that all provide different ways to observe others. 

This desire to look into the lives of others isn’t just voyeurism, however: the word, says Chappell, often implies illicit or sexual behaviour – a passive observer watching others actively engage, sometimes but not always with the consent of those being watched. Yet what we get from looking at other people’s stuff – an act, says Chappell, that is often unconscious on our parts – isn’t a “morbid fascination”. Rather, it is a more active exchange, an effort to make sense of the world around us. Chappell mentions the historical diaries of people like Anne Frank, saying they’re more than one person’s thoughts – they tell us about both the individual life and how society functioned around them.

Observing other people can help us process each twist and turn of the pandemic

Our desire to observe, then, seems to be born from a desire to exchange information about who we are through the stories we tell about ourselves. “All the stories that we encounter directly in person with other people – and those we read about and see about and hear about and engage with – are all having some kind of impact in shaping our shared understandings of society,” says Chappell. 

Learning and processing

Since Covid-19 swept the globe, we’re even more interested in these stories; our heightened desire to consume all kinds of information in part reflects our curtailed daily lives. Whether it’s colleagues we’re missing from the office or the parents from your child’s football team, “with increased social isolation during the pandemic, we are more curious and interested in the lives of those around us”, says Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. 

Social media, something that brings an element of escapism from the same four walls, allows us to peer into the lives of others on a virtual plane – whether by analysing bookshelves of interviewees or obsessing over a viral recipe strangers make in their kitchens. It provides a placebo for connection opportunities in the real world that have been stripped away, says Laura Tarbox, an expert in cultural and brand strategy who studies emerging shifts and behaviours in social media for clients.

Although these interactions might not be as satisfying as real-life encounters, social-media platforms are one of the few ways we have left to spontaneously connect with other humans, says Romanoff. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat all help us cross virtual paths with those we’d otherwise likely never meet during lockdown, adds Tarbox. 

Observing the lives of medical professionals helps us process the pandemic's impact on our society (Credit: Alamy)
Observing the lives of medical professionals helps us process the pandemic’s impact on our society (Credit: Alamy)

Social media also plays a role in rapidly establishing new norms, something that becomes clear when we cringe at photos of unmasked guests at a wedding, or pass judgement on palm-tree-filled Instagrams of a celebrity’s clearly non-essential travel. “We’ve been monitoring social media, both consciously and unconsciously, to gain an understanding of the new ‘rules’ of acceptability during the pandemic – in short, to absorb a new social code being created in real time,” says Tarbox.  “What is acceptable to do, how should we be behaving, who is it OK to be with, and what is safe to share? … Social media is where we pick up the cues and learn the rules.” 

Other information sources feed in, too, whether from reading articles, watching documentaries or observing passers-by, and they become our textbook for rapidly changing times“We use others as data points,” says Romanoff. “Folks use this data to gauge how to make appraisals and assessments of their own lives. We are social creatures and rely on others in our tribe and community to refer to when making relativity-based judgments.”

Social media is where we pick up the cues and learn the rules – Laura Tarbox

Other people’s lives – whether a fly-on-the-wall TV medical documentary, a Facebook post about a friend’s Covid-19-stricken grandmother or the comments section of a news story announcing a record death toll – also provide a locus for collectively processing this unprecedented situation. Seeing others’ fears laid bare in a post, or validated by others liking or commenting on it, can have a calming effect, says Romanoff. She adds this is a process called “projective identification”. “Aspects of the self, like fear and dread, are split off and attributed to an external source, like a friend’s status update on Facebook or a catastrophic article with hundreds of shares,” she says. 

‘Storied beings’ 

Of course, too much news, social media or even fence-peeking can all be a bit much; when our cognitive processes are overtaxed trying to integrate distressing information into our internal worlds, it “only compounds and intensifies the stress and anxiety folks are already experiencing”, says Romanoff.  

But if you’re finding yourself scrolling through Instagram to see what friends are up to, watching programmes about frontline workers or reading articles on the pandemic’s mental health impact, these aren’t idle pursuits. Even if it’s unconscious, it’s a way of coping with the constraints of our times, processing our personal anxieties and making sense of our strange new world. 

“We’re always looking to the Other because we’re storied beings – because we make sense of our lives in relation to others,” says Chappell.

Source: BBC

Credit Suisse winding down Greensill-linked funds

ZURICH (Reuters) – Credit Suisse is winding down its supply chain finance funds which held most of their roughly $10 billion in notes backed by beleaguered Greensill Capital, it said on Friday.

“The fund boards have now decided to terminate the funds. Credit Suisse Asset Management’s priority is to ensure a balance between a timely liquidation of the funds and maximizing value for the investors,” it said in a statement.

It had suspended the funds on Monday.

Source: Reuters

Boeing looking for new $4 billion revolving credit facility – source

Boeing Co has approached a group of banks for a new $4 billion revolving credit facility, according to a person familiar with the matter, as the planemaker battles a prolonged slowdown in commercial air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investment-grade rated companies use revolving credit facilities as backstop financing, with these facilities remaining undrawn for the most part.

The U.S. jet manufacturer has the option to raise the size of the two-year credit facility to as much as $6 billion, the person said on Thursday.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment. The development was earlier reported by Bloomberg News.

Boeing Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith had discussed raising more debt at the company’s quarterly earnings call in January.

Smith said Boeing has “sufficient liquidity” currently, but it continues to consider all options to strengthen its balance sheet.

Texas electric industry financial crisis to grow as more costs surface

The Texas electricity market faces “insurmountable distress” as more gas and service bills come due, power industry officials said on Thursday at a hearing into financial fallout from the state’s February blackout.

High prices for emergency fuel and power saddled the companies that sell, transmit and generate electricity in the state with about $47 billion in storm-related costs. Those costs have led to one bankruptcy and put two retail providers out of business in the state.

Consumers facing bills for broken water pipes and food losses will see higher prices as costs get passed down through rate increases or fewer choices in providers, officials said. Future spending on weather defenses and grid linkages could add billions of dollars to the recovery. San Antonio’s city-owned utility expects about $1 billion in extra costs.

“The market is facing a financial crisis and it’s a very severe financial crisis,” Catherine Webking, executive director of an industry lobby group told state lawmakers at a hearing in Austin on Thursday. “You’ll see more and more financial distress that is insurmountable,” as bills for natural gas and financial collateral come due in coming weeks, she testified.

Vistra Corp., one of the largest utilities in Texas, forecast that buying natural gas at high prices triggered by the storm and selling power at fixed-rate prices will cut its profit by between $900 million and $1.3 billion, Vistra senior vice president Bill Quinn testified.

GAS SHORTAGES

Vistra’s power plants ran between 20% and 30% below capacity because of a lack of natural gas, Quinn said. “Getting gas to them was a challenge,” he said, noting all four of the utility’s gas providers could not meet their fuel commitments.

On Wednesday, grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) disclosed 12 energy companies and two municipal utilities were overdue on $2.21 billion for power and services during February.

Part of the deficit was covered by tapping internal grid accounts, but the rest eventually will be passed along to all grid users, straining those that have covered their initial bills, an official said.

ERCOT has little means to cover the charges, said Kenan Ogelman, the grid’s vice president for commercial operations. It collects money from suppliers and pays generators, typically in four days. Texas may have to consider providing a financial backstop during future emergencies, he said in response to a question.

“This event has demonstrated some consideration for a grid instrument,” Ogelman said. Multi-billion dollar service charges have led to collateral calls on top of the fuel bills. The short period to pay both has led to “cascading concerns,” he said.

The decision to hold power rates high to keep power plants running even after the emergency passed was management judgment, he said. “In hindsight, it would look like that wasn’t needed. In real-time it looked like it was needed,” Ogelman said.

ERCOT normally uses a bid system to set prices but officials decided to set a $9,000 per megawatt hour charge that was about 450 times the price before the storm. It held at that $9,000 level for about 90 hours, leading to 10s of billions of dollars in charges over five days.

The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) on Friday is expected to vote on a proposal to claw back some charges for standby power and other services that were not provided. It could save grid users about $1.5 billion, Carrie Bivens, the state’s independent market adviser told the PUC in a letter on Thursday. She previously estimated the storm would push up state-wide power costs by $47 billion.

Broadcom shares fall as chip sales disappoint

Shares of Broadcom Inc fell slightly on Thursday after the company reported chip sales slightly below Wall Street estimates, joining a growing list of chip industry peers hit by the global semiconductor shortage.

Broadcom reported semiconductor solutions revenue of $4.90 billion for its fiscal first quarter ended Jan. 31, slightly below analyst estimates of $4.95 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Shares of the chip company, which is a major supplier to iPhone maker Apple Inc, were down 1.9% at $435 in extended trading.

Broadcom forecast second-quarter revenue of about $6.5 billion, compared with analysts’ estimates of $6.33 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

For the fiscal first quarter, Broadcom’s infrastructure software business had sales of $1.74 billion, beating Wall Street estimates of $1.64 billion, according to Refinitiv data. The strong software revenue helped overall sales rise to $6.66 billion in the fiscal first quarter from $5.86 billion a year earlier. Overall first-quarter sales beat analyst expectations of $6.62 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, the company earned $6.61 per share in the fiscal first quarter, beating analysts’ estimate of $6.56 per share.

A ramp-up in 5G technology adoption is expected to boost demand for higher-priced chips used in phones and is likely to benefit semiconductor firms such as Broadcom.

The company, which also makes chips for data centers and servers, also stands to benefit from an extended remote working trend as people wait for vaccines to roll out.

Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia, according to Italian media reports.

The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.

The move has been backed by the European Commission, the reports say.

The news comes amid a row between EU officials and the company, which has provided only a fraction of the agreed supply to member states.

Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.

In January, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.

Source: BBC

US suspends tariffs on single malt Scotch whisky

The US has agreed to suspend tariffs on UK goods including single malt whiskies that were imposed in retaliation over subsidies to the aircraft maker Airbus. 

Tariffs will also be lifted on UK exports such as cheese, cashmere and machinery.

Washington said the tariffs would be suspended for four months.

On 1 January, the UK dropped its own tariffs on some US goods put in place over a related dispute about US subsidies to Boeing.

‘Sigh of relief’

The Scotch Whisky Association called the suspension “fabulous news”.

Boss Karen Betts said: “The tariff on single malt Scotch whisky exports to the US has been doing real damage to Scotch whisky in the 16 months it has been in place, with exports to the US falling by 35%, costing companies over half a billion pounds. 

“So today, everyone in our industry – from small companies to large – is breathing a sigh of relief.”

However, she said the UK and US would still need to negotiate a long-term settlement to the aerospace dispute.

Airbus A350 XWB

For more than a decade, the EU and US accused each other of propping up their home aviation markets with tax breaks, research grants and other aid.

But tensions flared under former US president Donald Trump, who made imposing new tariffs a central part of his trade policy with both rivals and allies alike.

In 2019, the US put tariffs on £7.5bn of EU goods, including UK products such as Scotch whisky.

Then last November, the EU moved ahead with a plan to hit $4bn (£3bn) of American goods with tariffs as punishment for US subsidies for Boeing.

In a joint statement, the UK and the US said that the suspension would “ease the burden on industry and take a bold, joint step towards resolving the longest running disputes at the World Trade Organization”.

The two countries added that it would also “allow time to focus on negotiating a balanced settlement to the disputes, and begin seriously addressing the challenges posed by new entrants to the civil aviation market from non-market economies, such as China”.

Action in the long running dispute began in 2004, when the US filed a case at the World Trade Organization challenging European loans to help Airbus develop aircraft, and stopped a 1992 agreement covering government support for the two top aircraft manufacturers.

Exclusive: U.S. suppliers to Chinese chip giant SMIC slow to get export licenses

The U.S. government has been slow to approve licenses for American companies like Lam Research and Applied Materials to sell chipmaking equipment to China semiconductor giant SMIC, even as a global shortage has supercharged chip demand, several sources said.

Licenses for U.S. suppliers to ship much of an estimated $5 billion dollars’ worth of parts and components still have not come through, industry sources said, though many companies sought them soon after the company was blacklisted in December. Certain licenses have been granted, including for small numbers of expensive equipment in recent days.

As policy shifts under President Joe Biden, who took over from Donald Trump in January, U.S. government agencies led by new appointees still haven’t completely decided what should be sold to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, which produces chips for Qualcomm and other American companies.

The Trump administration placed SMIC on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s entity list over concerns of SMIC aiding China’s military.

The listing, which requires U.S. suppliers to get a license before shipping goods to SMIC, is unusual because it says most products should be granted on a case-by-case basis. However, equipment that can be used to make only the most advanced, 10 nanometer and smaller chips is likely to be denied licenses.

The administration is supposed to make decisions on license applications within a month, but follow-up questions stop the clock.

“Lam Research is still in the application process and has not yet received a response,” a Fremont, California, company spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Applied Materials’ chief financial officer said in a February 18 earnings call that their forecast did not assume licenses would come through. A spokesman for the Santa Clara, California based company declined comment on the licenses this week, including whether the comment was still valid.

SMIC did not respond to requests for comment, but the company has said it provides services solely for civilian and commercial end users and that it has no ties to the Chinese military.

Decisions on licenses have been held up as officials ask follow-up questions about applications in part to determine whether the parts or components could be diverted for use in producing items 10 nm or smaller, sources said.

Washington trade lawyer Giovanna Cinelli said many license applications have resulted in “a lot of back and forth, which has elongated the period of review.”

In a statement, a Commerce Department official dismissed the possibility that curbs on SMIC could contribute to the chip shortage, noting that the shortfall was tied to older technologies while SMIC restrictions relate to leading edge technology. The statement did not address the potential impact of delays in licenses for older technology.

SMIC, the largest foundry in mainland China, is an important player in the global semiconductor supply chain, which is under pressure as pandemic lockdowns drive up demand for electronics such as laptops and phones. Last month, it said it could not meet customer demands for certain technologies and its plants have been running “fully loaded” for several quarters.

SMIC’s technological capabilities lag far behind cutting-edge foundries like industry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, according to industry sources.

Companies like Applied Materials and Lam Research, two key suppliers of production equipment, submitted numerous license applications to sell to the company. The bulk have not yet been acted on, industry sources said.

A spokeswoman for Entegris, a Massachusetts company that submitted license applications to sell to SMIC, told Reuters late Wednesday that it had received its first license within the past week.

Other companies that ship to SMIC include California’s KLA Corp and Axcelis Technologies in Massachusetts. A KLA spokeswoman declined to comment on licenses, and while Axcelis’s CEO spoke of “uncertainty” related to its licenses on Feb. 11th, a company spokeswoman declined to provide an update.

Qualcomm, which uses the Chinese foundry to produce chips with decades-old technology, put in applications for tools SMIC needs to produce them, just in case equipment makers don’t get theirs, an industry source said. But they have not come through yet, the source added.

In September, SEMI, a worldwide industry group, said in a draft letter seen by Reuters that SMIC accounts for as much as $5 billion in annual U.S. sales.

Global semiconductor shortage spurs run on vintage chipmaking tools

Minnesota-based Polar Semiconductor makes chips for automakers and is booked beyond capacity. But expanding production lines to help solve a chip shortage that is shutting down car factories around the world is not feasible – in part due to the scarcity of older-style chipmaking machinery.

Chip factories like Polar use these tools to make chips on 200-millimeter silicon wafers, which were state-of-the-art two decades ago. Now, advanced chips are made using much larger wafers, but there is still a lot of demand for simpler, older chips.

The demand has been supercharged by a combination of the COVID-19-driven boom in computer gear and unexpected strength in auto sales that resulted in shortages. General Motors Co on Wednesday extended production cuts at three North American plants and added a fourth to the list of factories hit, and Fiat Chrysler owner Stellantis warned the pain could linger far into the year. Shortages forced Ford Motor Co to slash shifts for production of its F-150 pickup truck, a longtime profit driver.

Automakers use a range of chips in cars. Some, such as those in infotainment systems, are made in the same cutting-edge chip factories that make smartphone chips. But other chips in braking and engine systems are made using older, proven technologies that meet automakers’ durability and reliability requirements.

But the machines to make those older chips can take six to nine months to find, said Surya Iyer, vice president of operations and quality at Polar.

“There’s no way I can expand capacity beyond just stretching my limits,” Iyer said. “A real capacity increase would take nine to 12 months, minimum.”

Resellers of chipmaking gear saying they cannot find used equipment, leading some buyers to stalk old factories in the United States, Japan and Europe, waiting for them to close in hopes of snapping up the gear inside.

“Demand is hot for used equipment, but we don’t have enough of them to cope with demand,” said Bruce Kim, chief executive of South Korea’s Surplus Global Inc, one of the largest dealers of used chipmaking gear.

He said used equipment prices have gone up by as much as 20% over the past six months, while the number of refurbished tools in its inventory fell to 1,000, down from between 7,000 to 8,000 a decade ago.

Ohio-based Rite Track, in normal times, buys up old chipmaking equipment, upgrades it and sells it to chip factories. But Chief Executive Tim Hayden said the recent squeeze has spurred the company to spend more time sending technicians out to upgrade tools that are already installed on factory floors in order to squeeze more chips out of them.

“You just can’t go out on the open market and buy a used 200-millimeter tool – they’re just not readily available,” Hayden said. “So people are getting a little bit more creative.”

NEW OFFERS FOR OLD TOOLS

Demand for old tools is so robust that buyers are looking at every kind of factory. Spin Memory in Fremont, California, is designing a new kind of memory chip and maintains a small “pilot production line,” mostly to provide samples to potential customers, said Chief Executive Tom Sparkman. Even though Spin Memory’s tools use 20-year-old technology, Sparkman gets offers to buy them almost every day.

“We haven’t taken the plunge to get rid of it yet, but some days it’s tempting,” he said.

Toolmakers such as Applied Materials Inc and Lam Research Corp, meanwhile, are building booming businesses by refurbishing or recreating some of their greatest hits from the 1990s and earlier.

“It’s really exploding,” said Mike Rosa, head of strategic and technical marketing for a group at Applied Materials, the world’s biggest chip-equipment vendor.

David Haynes, a managing director at Lam Research, said demand for 200-millimeter tools was once mostly from China as it worked to build up its domestic chipmaking industry. Now, he said, customers from around the world are looking to buy or upgrade older tools.

Still, investment in older technology lags relative to the spending on more advanced production lines, or “nodes” as they are known in the industry.

“Most of the capital expenditure has been going into advanced nodes,” said Tyson Tuttle, chief executive of Silicon Laboratories Inc, which designs automotive chips to be made on older technology. Chipmakers “have always relied on the fact that the digital guys move out of the older nodes, and that frees up capacity for all the support chips. The problem is, the digital guys aren’t moving out as fast. The mainstream nodes are all just jammed.”

By: Stephen Nellis, Hyunjoo Jin

UK starts probe on Apple over alleged App Store monopoly

Britain’s competition regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into Apple Inc after complaints that the iPhone maker’s terms and conditions for app developers are unfair and anti-competition.

The probe will consider if Apple has a dominant position in the distribution of apps on its devices in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said.

Payment policies related to Apple’s App Store have for long drawn complaints from app developers as it requires them to use its payment system, which charges commissions of between 15% and 30%.

The company has also been at loggerheads with Epic Games, the creator of popular game Fortnite, which last year tried to avoid the 30% fee by launching its own in-app payment system, leading to Apple banning Fortnite from its store.

The iPhone maker said on Thursday it will work with the regulator.

“The App Store has been an engine of success for app developers, in part because of the rigorous standards we have in place — applied fairly and equally to all developers — to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent,” Apple said in a statement.

The company is also being investigated on similar grounds by the Dutch competition authorities, who are nearing a draft decision, Reuters reported last month.

Last year, the European Commission too had opened a probe into the iPhone maker over App Store commission fee.

“Complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said.

Honda to sell limited batch of level 3 self-driving cars

Honda Motor Co Ltd on Thursday said it will sell a limited batch of its flagship Legend sedan equipped with level 3 autonomous driving technology that enables vehicles to navigate congested highways.

When the level 3 “Traffic Jam Pilot” is activated, a driver can watch movies or use the navigation on the screen, helping to mitigate fatigue and stress when driving in a traffic jam, Honda said in a statement.

The Japanese automaker’s plan to sell 100 of the vehicles with the advanced technology would represent a significant step towards its goal of being the first company to mass produce a car with level 3 technology.

The Legend’s “Traffic Jam Pilot” system can control acceleration, braking and steering under certain conditions.

It can also alert the driver to respond when handing over the control, such as vibration on the driver’s seatbelt, Honda said. And if the driver continues to be unresponsive, the system will assist with an emergency stop by decelerating and stopping the vehicle while alerting surrounding cars with hazard lights and the horn, it added.

The announcement comes after the Japanese government awarded a safety certification to Honda’s “Traffic Jam Pilot” in November.

Global automakers and tech companies, including Google parent Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Tesla Inc, have been investing heavily in autonomous driving.

Yet even as the technology advances, regulations on autonomous driving differ from country to country. Audi unveiled an A8 sedan with level 3 technology in 2017 but regulatory hurdles have prevented it from being widely introduced.

The limited edition Legend will be sold from Friday in Japan at a retail price of 11 million yen ($103,000), Honda said.

The automaker has no plans to increase production or sales of a level 3-equipped Legend for now, its operating officer told reporters on Thursday.

($1 = 107.0500 yen)

German business decries gradual easing of coronavirus curbs as ‘disaster’

German business groups expressed dismay on Thursday after Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed a gradual easing of coronavirus curbs but added an “emergency brake” to reimpose restrictions if case numbers get out of control.

“The results of the coronavirus summit are a disaster for the retail sector,” said Stefan Genth, chief executive of the HDE retail association.

Under the five-stage plan agreed late on Wednesday, up to five people from two households will be allowed to meet from March 8, with children under 14 exempt. Some shops, including book stores and garden centres, can reopen.

Other retailers can only reopen in regions where case numbers are below 50 cases per 100,000 people over seven days. If the incidence rises above 50, ‘click and meet’ restrictions kick in, whereby customers book a slot to go to the store.

On Thursday, Germany’s seven-day case average rose to 64.7 from 64 on Wednesday. New infections increased by 11,912 to 2,471,942 and the death toll rose by 359 to 71,240.

“The stable incidence of 50 prescribed for opening shops is not in sight,” the HDE said, adding that retailers were likely to lose another 10 billion euros ($12.1 billion) in sales by the end of March compared to 2019.

Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun defended the decision to ease curbs only gradually, telling ARD public broadcaster that the emergency brake for regions with incidence rates above 100 was needed to avoid a third wave of infections.

“That’s very important… because the opening steps come at a time when the numbers are slightly going up again and the British mutant is becoming the most common virus type in our country. So we have to remain cautious”, Braun said.

The HDE was sceptical about the possibility of shopping by appointment, noting that personnel and operating costs would probably be higher than the turnover.

Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of the association representing skilled trades, called for faster progress on vaccination and mass testing for COVID-19.

“In order to prevent the death of businesses on a broad front, economic life must be made possible again as quickly as possible,” Wollseifer said. “The decisions taken now do not do justice to this.”

He called for other criteria had to be taken more into account instead of just focusing on the level of infections, such as the situation in intensive care units in hospitals as well as progress in testing and vaccination.

($1 = 0.8295 euros)

SpaceX Starship rocket prototype nails landing… then blows up

The third time appeared to be the charm for Elon Musk’s Starship rocket – until it wasn’t.

The latest heavy-duty launch vehicle prototype from SpaceX soared flawlessly into the sky in a high-altitude test blast-off on Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas, then flew itself back to Earth to achieve the first upright landing for a Starship model.

But the triumph was short-lived. Listing slightly to one side as an automated fire-suppression system trained a stream of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket, the spacecraft blew itself to pieces about eight minutes after touchdown.

It was the third such landing attempt to end in a fireball after an otherwise successful test flight for the Starship, being developed by SpaceX to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

For Musk, the billionaire SpaceX founder who also heads the electric carmaker Tesla Inc, the outcome was mixed news.

The Starship SN10 came far closer to achieving a safe, vertical touchdown than two previous models – SN8 in December and SN9 in February. In a tweet responding to tempered congratulations from an admirer of his work, Musk replied, “RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”

The video feed provided by SpaceX on the company’s YouTube channel cut off moments after the landing. But separate fan feeds streamed over the same social media platform showed an explosion suddenly erupting at the base of the rocket, hurling the SN10 into the air before it crashed to the ground and became engulfed in flames.

The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 394-feet (120 metres) tall when mated with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is SpaceX’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle – the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.

A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year’s end. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023.

Amazon Fresh till-less grocery store opens in London

Amazon has opened a till-less grocery store in London – its first “just walk out” shop outside the US.

Visitors to Amazon Fresh scan a smartphone app when entering and are automatically billed as they leave.

The store stocks hundreds of own-brand items as well as third-party products, and also serves as a place to collect and return goods bought online.

Campaigners have raised privacy concerns but one retail expert said the opening marked a “watershed moment”.

“Having a physical presence will enable Amazon to address some of its weaknesses, like the mounting cost of deliveries and returns,” said Natalie Berg, an analyst with NBK Retail.

But she said she did not believe it would pose a threat to the major chains in the near term.

“Supermarkets have had a few years now to prepare and test their own checkout-free shopping concepts.”

Amazon’s approach, however, promises a more “frictionless” experience than other retailers.

Amazon Fresh store
image captionVisitors can buy a bag or use their own, and are emailed a copy of their receipt after leaving

Visitors only have to place an item in a bag or otherwise carry it out to be charged by the store, which is located at the street entrance of a shopping centre in the borough of Ealing.

By contrast, retailers including Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s require consumers to scan items into a smartphone or other device.

The US firm is so confident of its tech that it says shoppers are not under any obligation to check all the items were accounted for.

“When you’re finished, you’re free to walk out,” said Matt Birch, director of Amazon Fresh Stores and an ex-Sainsbury’s executive.

Cameras and sensors

The technology involved was pioneered at the firm’s similar Amazon Go stores in the States, which opened to the public in 2018.

However, recent advancements mean the system can now cope with customers selecting from different bouquets of flowers, magazines and greetings cards – it could not distinguish accurately enough between one choice and another before.

It involves the use of hundreds of cameras and depth-sensors, and software developed using deep-learning artificial-intelligence techniques.

However, it does not involve facial recognition.

Amazon Go
image captionAmazon tracks each customer as they move around the shop

Instead, users must identify themselves on arrival by scanning a barcode displayed within their account on the standard Amazon Shopping app.

One civil liberties group has raised concerns.

“[It] offers a dystopian, total-surveillance shopping experience,” said Silkie Carlo, from Big Brother Watch.

“Amazon’s intense tracking of shoppers will create larger personal data footprints than any other retailer. Customers deserve to know how and by whom these records and analytics could be used.”

The company has said it will only associate information collected in-store with a customer’s Amazon account for up to 30 days, and has further details about how it uses the data on its privacy site.

Expansion plans

Amazon said it had sourced many of its own-brand groceries – including milk and eggs – from UK suppliers itself.

In addition, it has launched an “Our Selection” sub-brand for “premium” products including desserts.

Other items come from Morrisons and Booths, supermarkets with whom its has pre-existing ties.

The store also contains a booth where orders can be delivered from its online store.

And customers can return goods by scanning a code without having to repackage or relabel the item.

“Hand the product over and we’ll do the rest for you,” said Mr Birch, adding he plans further stores on some of London other high streets as well as its city centre.

M&S app
image captionMarks & Spencer announced in November it was expanding use of its “scan, pay and go” service to all its UK grocery stores

The Ealing store’s customer area covers about 2,500 sq foot (232 sq m) in total, which is much smaller than a typical supermarket.

Amazon also operates seven Whole Foods Market supermarkets in the UK.

And there have been persistent rumours that it might try to expand further in the sector by buying one of the larger chains.

However, the company is also offering to sell its Just Walk Out technology as a service that can be installed in other companies’ stores.

And ultimately it might decide there is more money to be made pitching this to the established supermarkets than challenging them head-on with bigger stores of its own.

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by Emma Simpson, business correspondent

Amazon has barely made a dent in the overall UK grocery market, but it’s clearly got big ambitions for food. 

It’s been ramping up its online service, with free same-day deliveries for Prime members, putting pressure on rivals. 

The traditional supermarkets have been improving their technology over the past few years and the pandemic has accelerated the changes. 

Sainsbury’s, for instance, has had a huge take-up in its SmartShop system where shoppers can pick up a handset and scan items as they go. 

Amazon technology removes checkouts and friction altogether. 

Amazon Fresh store
image captionUsers must scan a QR barcode on their smartphone as they enter

Moving into bricks and mortar is another milestone for Amazon. 

Its new range of own-branded products is also eye-catching. 

When it comes to convenience stores, being able to grab and go could prove very popular. But location is key. 

And most of the best convenience-store sites in densely populated, urban districts have already been taken. 

This launch won’t pose a big, immediate, threat to the big established grocers but they know only too well that Amazon has the potential to be a hugely disruptive force and has already forced them to up their game.

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

ByteDance developing Clubhouse-like app for China amid copycat rush – Sources

(Reuters) – TikTok owner ByteDance is working on a Clubhouse-like app for China, sources familiar with the matter said, as the global success of the U.S.-based audio chat service inspires a rush of copycats in the country.

At least a dozen similar apps have been launched in the past month, with momentum picking up after Clubhouse was blocked in China in early February. Clubhouse had seen a surge in users who participated in discussions on sensitive topics such as Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong independence.

New offerings include Xiaomi Corp’s reworking of its Mi Talk app into an invitation-only audio service targeted at professionals last week. More are currently under development, industry executives say.

ByteDance’s plans are still in the early stages, said two sources who were not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified.

Discussions about TikTok and ByteDance on Clubhouse had prompted interest in the genre from ByteDance executives including CEO Zhang Yiming, said one of the sources.

ByteDance declined to comment.

The success of Clubhouse, which can host up to 8,000 people per chat room and has seen a discussion between Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev boost user numbers, has rammed home the potential of audio chat services.

But similar apps in China are expected to take on Chinese characteristics that will accommodate censorship and government oversight.

One such example is Nasdaq-listed Lizhi Inc’s Zhiya app which was launched in 2013 and whose users usually talk about video games or sing songs.

The app requires real name registration, a trait Lizhi CEO Marco Lai says is key in China. The company also employs staff to listen to conversations in every room and deploys artificial intelligence tools to weed out “unwanted” content, such as pornography or politically sensitive issues.

The app was briefly taken down by Chinese regulators in 2019, but reinstated after Lizhi made rectifications.

Lizhi’s Lai said that outside of politics there was plenty of room for audio chat apps in China.

“Adults in China do not like to express their views in public, we have been taught to keep a low profile since we were young,” he said. “A good approach in China, though, is entertainment, you invite everybody to have fun.”

Some new entrants to the market have had hiccups.

Inke Ltd, best known for its livestreaming platform, launched a similar app, Duihuaba, this month that recruited venture capitalists, fashion critics and other celebrities to host conversations.

However, it abruptly pulled the app two weeks after its debut, saying that it needed further improvements without elaborating.

By: Yingzhi Yang, Pei Li, Brenda Goh

Bitcoin rises 5% to $50,942.58

Bitcoin rose 5% to $50,942.58 on Wednesday, adding $2,426.23 to its previous close.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, has risen 83.7% from the year’s low of $27,734 on Jan. 4.

Bitcoin has fallen 12.7% from the year’s high of $58,354.14 on Feb. 21.

Bitcoin’s price soared this year as major firms, such as BNY Mellon, asset manager BlackRock Inc, credit card giant Mastercard Inc, backed cryptocurrencies, while those such as Tesla Inc Square Inc and MicroStrategy Inc invested in bitcoin.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, rose 7.18 % to $1,595.64 on Wednesday, adding $106.84 to its previous close.

Drones could help find tidal energy sites

Drones could help cut costs of finding suitable sites for marine renewable energy projects.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are to be used in trials in Scotland and Wales and led by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

Drones will be used to film the movement of water at selected offshore sites.

Scientists will apply algorithms to the footage to determine the speed of underwater tidal currents.

UHI said current methods for measuring tidal streams rely on using survey vessels or installing seabed sensors which can be time consuming and expensive.

Dr Benjamin Williamson, of North Highlands College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, is leading the 12-month project along with colleagues from Swansea University and Bangor University in Wales.

The team will run tests in the Pentland Firth between the north Highland mainland coast and Orkney, and Pembrokeshire’s Ramsey Sound.

Dr Williamson said: “Measuring the flow speed and movement of water is vital for developing offshore renewable energy. 

“These measurements are needed to predict the performance and inform the placement of underwater tidal stream turbines or to optimise the moorings and design of floating turbines. 

“However, gathering these measurements is typically high-cost and high-risk.”

Aerial image of sea
image captionAlgorithms will be applied to films of the sea taken by drones

Meanwhile a team from North Highland College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute are helping to develop a new way of spotting marine plastic pollution from space. The research also involves the use of drones.

The waste has been detected using satellites before, but the researchers said this work had to be carried out in daylight.

The new study looks at how thermal imaging cameras could be used to find the pollution at day or night.

Tests using drones are to be held in the sea around Thurso in Caithness.

Disney to close 60 North American retail stores, focus on e-commerce

Walt Disney Co will close at least 60 Disney retail stores in North America this year as the company revamps its digital shopping platforms to focus on e-commerce, the company said on Wednesday.

Disney also is evaluating a significant reduction of stores in Europe, a spokesperson said, adding that locations in Japan and China will not be affected. The company currently operates roughly 300 Disney stores around the globe.

Disney did not say how many people would lose their jobs as a result of its store closures.

Consumers have been moving to digital shopping over physical locations, and chains including Walmart Inc and Macy’s Inc have shuttered physical stores. The global coronavirus pandemic accelerated that change in behavior when people were forced to stay home.

“While consumer behavior has shifted toward online shopping, the global pandemic has changed what consumers expect from a retailer,” said Stephanie Young, president of Disney’s consumer products, games and publishing.

Over the past few years, Disney has expanded its shops inside other retailers such as Target. Those locations will continue to operate, as well as Disney Parks Stores. Disney-licensed products also will remain widely available through third-party retailers.

“We now plan to create a more flexible, interconnected ecommerce experience that gives consumers easy access to unique, high-quality products across all our franchises,” Young said.

Digital shopping gives Disney a chance to offer a much broader selection and include higher-end products from all of its Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars brands.

New products will be introduced including adult apparel, artist collaborations, streetwear, premium home products and collectibles, the company said.

Disney will revamp its shopDisney apps and websites over the next year.

Disney recently launched new digital marketplaces in Australia, New Zealand and India.

Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak hails ‘swifter and more sustained’ recovery

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the UK’s rapid Covid-19 vaccine rollout will foster a “swifter and more sustained” economic recovery.

Official forecasts predict the UK economy will grow 4% this year, and get back to its pre-pandemic size six months sooner than previously expected.

An extension of the furlough scheme is also expected to limit job losses.

However, Mr Sunak warned that repairing the long-term damage to the economy “will take time”.

The government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), expects the pace of growth to strengthen to 7.3% in 2022.

UK GDP growth

This would be the highest growth rate since official records began in 1949 and help the economy to return to its pre-pandemic size in the middle of next year.

Unemployment is expected to peak at a lower rate of 6.5%, keeping it well below levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis.

However, half a million more people are expected to be out of work by the end of this year.

Government borrowing is expected to rise to a peacetime high of £355bn this year to help pay for economic support measures.

Mr Sunak said: “It’s going to take this country – and the whole world – a long time to recover from this extraordinary economic situation. But we will recover.”

The chancellor said tax rises were needed in the coming years to help repair the public finances.

Mr Sunak announced corporation tax will rise to 25% in 2023.

From April, he will also freeze the amount of money employees can earn before paying income tax at £12,570 until the middle of the decade.

The OBR estimates an extra 1.3 million people will start to pay income tax by 2026 as a result of the freeze.

Mr Sunak said it would be “irresponsible to allow our future borrowing and debt to rise unchecked”.

U.S. private payrolls rise less than expected in February

U.S. private employers hired fewer workers than expected in February, suggesting the labor market was struggling to regain speed despite the an nation’s improving public health picture.

Private payrolls increased by 117,000 jobs last month, the ADP National Employment Report showed on Wednesday. Data for January was revised up to show 195,000 jobs added instead of the initially reported 174,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast private payrolls would increase by 177,000 jobs in February.

The ADP report is jointly developed with Moody’s Analytics. It has a very poor track record predicting the private payrolls count in the government’s more comprehensive, and closely watched, employment report because of methodology differences. The ADP report’s initial 174,000 private payrolls tally for January way overshot the Labor Department’s total of only 6,000.

“It remains difficult to use the ADP data as a signal for forecasting the Labor Department employment figures,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

Nevertheless, the report is still followed for clues on the labor market’s health.

The labor market has been slow to regain traction as some restrictions on services businesses have been rolled back amid a decline in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

The number of Americans filing initial claims for weekly state unemployment benefits remains way above its 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession. At least 19 million people are collecting unemployment checks.

The lack of significant improvement in the labor market is also despite nearly $900 billion an additional pandemic relief provided by the government in late December, which boosted consumer spending and positioned the economic for faster growth in the first quarter. That has led to concerns of labor market scarring that could take years to heal.

According to a Reuters poll of economists, the government will likely report on Friday that nonfarm payrolls increased by 180,000 jobs in February after rising only 49,000 in January.

Hopes for a pick-up in hiring were supported by a survey last week showing consumers’ perceptions of the labor market improved in February after deteriorating in January and December. In addition, a measure of manufacturing employment increased to a two-year high in February.

The economy has recovered 12.3 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic. Employment is not expected not return to its pre-pandemic level before 2024.

Parler drops legal case against Amazon

Parler has withdrawn its antitrust action against Amazon, two months after filing the case against the tech giant.

The website was removed from Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) hosting platform in January for violating its rules.

Parler brands itself as a “free speech” social network and the platform is popular with far-right supporters.

It has now dropped the case, without providing an explanation, but “without prejudice to refiling” it in the future.

Amazon suspended use of its platform after the rioting on Capitol Hill, following the US presidential election. 

It claimed it had discovered 98 posts on Parler that encouraged violence, and notified the social network about them.

AWS said it acted because Parler was “unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content”.

The BBC has contacted Parler, which has lodged a “voluntary dismissal” of the action in a district court in Seattle, for comment.

Back online

Since 15 February, the social network has been back online, using alternative hosting services.

But its app cannot be downloaded from Apple or Google’s app stores, as both companies removed Parler in January for similar reasons to Amazon’s.

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of Donald Trump and other conservatives. 

Its users frequently accuse Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

The platform features several high-profile conservative contributors, including Texas senator Ted Cruz and Fox News host Sean Hannity.

GlobalFoundries pours $1.4 billion into fab expansion amid chip demand boom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – GlobalFoundries will invest $1.4 billion this year to raise output at three factories in the United States, Singapore and Germany, as a global shortage of semiconductors has boosted demand for chips, its chief executive said.

The U.S.-based company, a unit of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund Mubadala, may also bring forward its initial public offering to late 2021 or the first half of next year, from a previous target of late 2022 or early 2023.

It is aiming for revenue growth of 9% to 10% from just over $5.7 billion last year.

Automakers and electronics producers are facing a global shortage of chips which has fueled manufacturing delays.

“The adoption of technology that would normally have taken a decade happened in one year in 2020 because of COVID-19,” GlobalFoundries CEO Thomas Caulfield told Reuters.

Before the pandemic, the chip industry was projected to grow 5% over a five-year horizon and now it has accelerated to grow at twice that rate, he said.

While the supply crunch has resulted in car makers such as Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors cutting output, an increase in supply would create further demand.

GlobalFoundries said the $1.4 billion, which will be divided evenly among its fabs in Dresden, Germany, Malta, New York and Singapore, will begin to ramp up output through 2022 to produce chips from 12 to 90 nanometers.

About a third of the investment will come from clients seeking to lock in supply over several years, Caulfield said, forecasting a 20% rise in production next year following an expected 13% increase in 2021.

If demand continues to rise GlobalFoundries could build a new plant adjacent to its Malta, New York, plant after securing a purchase option agreement for about 66 acres of undeveloped land last year.

But a decision to break ground there would hinge on the U.S. Congress funding a set of measures to incentivise chip manufacturing in the United States known as the Chips Act, which was approved last year.

“It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s just a question of ‘when,’… And a key element of going forward will be the funding of the Chips Act,” Caulfield said.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who took office in January, has pledged to support the effort, and senators are looking at providing emergency funding for the law as part of a bigger package to counter China’s rise, as chipmaking has shifted to Asia.

GlobalFoundries is the world’s third-largest foundry by revenue behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd but ranks second when factoring out the part of Samsung’s foundry business that makes chips for other elements of the South Korean firm.

Britain to ease listing rules to buttress London after Brexit

Britain will modernise its listing rules to attract more high-growth and “blank cheque” SPAC company flotations to London, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said after a government-backed review said the capital was on the back foot after Brexit.

The London Stock Exchange is facing tougher competition from NYSE and Nasdaq in New York, and from Euronext in Amsterdam since Britain fully left the European Union on Dec. 31.

In a bid to keep London globally competitive after Brexit, Sunak commissioned a review of listings rules last November. It was led by former European Commissioner Jonathan Hill and published its recommendations on Wednesday.

“The review has more than delivered and I’m keen we move quickly to consult on its recommendations, cementing the UK’s reputation at the front of global financial services,” Sunak said in a statement.

The Financial Conduct Authority will consult publicly on the proposed changes, though some would require legislation to implement.

The government faces pressure to act – it announced a fast-track work visa scheme last week for fintechs – after swathes of euro stock and swaps trading left London for Amsterdam and New York after full Brexit in December.

But asset managers and company directors warn about eroding corporate governance standards by easing listing rules.

Hill said “the composition of the FTSE index makes clear another challenge: the most significant companies listed in London are either financial or more representative of the ‘old economy’ than the companies of the future.

He added that there was a sense that the financial sector is on the “back foot” due to Brexit and new competition emerging from Amsterdam.

“The recommendations in this report are not about opening a gap between us and other global centres by proposing radical new departures to try to seize a competitive advantage,” Hill said.

“They are about closing a gap which has already opened up. All the recommendations are consistent with existing practices in other well-regulated financial centres in the USA, Asia and Europe,” Hill added.

‘STATE OF THE CITY’

Two changes seek to move London in line with New York and other financial centres by allowing founders to list their company while still retaining significant control.

Hill recommends allowing dual class share structures to give directors and founders enhanced voting rights on certain decisions for five years, a move retail investor groups say is contrary to the “one share, one vote” principle. The minimum “free float” or amount of a company’s shares or in public hands would be cut from 25% to 15%.

Hill also recommends liberalising listing rules for special purpose acquisition companies or SPACs, whose flotations in New York have surged over the past year, with Amsterdam also attracting some recently.

The prospectus, used by companies to set out their initial or secondary offer of shares, should also be fundamentally reviewed to make listing a company faster and simpler, Hill has recommended.

Hill said regulators in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the EU have an objective to maintain competitiveness of their financial sector and this would be helpful for Britain’s Finanancial Conduct Authority as well.

There should also be an annual “State of the City” report form the finance minister to parliament on the financial sector’s competitive position.

“Continuing to evolve the UK listings regime is key to providing flexibility for companies who want to list in London while maintaining high standards of corporate governance,” said David Schwimmer, chief executive of the LSE Group.

By: Huw Jones

‘Exceptional’ 15th Century bowl unearthed at US yard sale

A small bowl bought for $35 last year is set to be auctioned for between $300,000 and $500,000.

As far as antiques hunting goes, this might just be as good as it gets.

A small bowl bought for just $35 (£25) at a market sale in the US state of Connecticut has turned out to be a rare 15th-Century Chinese artefact.

The white porcelain bowl was spotted by an unidentified antiques enthusiast near New Haven last year, and they quickly sought an expert evaluation.

The experts came back with good news, revealing that the bowl is thought to be worth between $300,000 and $500,000.

In fact, it is believed to be one of only seven such bowls in existence and most of the others are in museums.

The bowl is set to be auctioned in New York on 17 March by Sotheby’s auction house, which describes the find in its listing as “exceptional and rare”.

“It was immediately apparent to both of us that we were looking at something really very, very special,” Angela McAteer, an expert on Chinese ceramics at the auctioneer’s told the Associated Press news agency.

“The style of painting, the shape of the bowl, even just the colour of the blue is quite characteristic of that early, early 15th-Century period of porcelain,” she added.

The 6-inch (16cm) diameter bowl features cobalt blue floral paintings and an intricate design around the rim.

“All the characteristics and hallmarks are there that identify it as a product of the early Ming [Dynasty] period,” Ms McAteer said.

How exactly the bowl found itself being sold at a Connecticut outdoor sale remains a mystery. Some have suggested it may have been passed down through generations of the same family.

“It’s always quite astounding to think that it kind of still happens, that these treasures can be discovered,” Ms McAteer said. “It’s always really exciting for us as specialists when something we didn’t even know existed here appears seemingly out of nowhere.”

Source: BBC

South Sudan plane crash kills all 10 on board

The authorities in South Sudan have confirmed that a small plane crashed on Tuesday evening in the eastern Jonglei State, killing all the 10 people on board.

The plane crashed at Pieri airstrip shortly after takeoff while heading to the capital, Juba.

A team of investigators will on Wednesday be sent to the site of the crash to conduct preliminary investigations, according to Transport Minister Madut Biar Yel.

The plane belonged to a local aviation company, the South Supreme Airlines. The firm has not yet issued a statement on the crash.

Jonglei State Governor Denay Jock Chagor said he received the news with “shock and horror” and sent condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.

South Sudan’s air safety profile is not yet rated by the International Aviation Safety Assessment Programme. 

But the database on Aviation Safety Network (ASN) shows that at least 10 planes crashed in different locations in South Sudan between 2018 and 2020, which caused about 30 fatalities.

By: Nichola Mandil, BBC News, Juba

Indian tractor maker presses AGCO to refresh board, consider alternatives

Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited, the largest investor in AGCO Corp, on Tuesday again pressed the agricultural machinery maker to refresh its board and consider strategic alternatives as it risks falling further behind its rivals.

Indian tractor manufacturer Tractors and Farm Equipment, known as TAFE, said in a U.S. regulatory filing that it made a presentation to the company in which it outlined AGCO’s weakening long-term competitive position and urged immediate action.

“We believe that material risks exist for AGCO’s shareholders in the inevitable cycle downturn and that the Board should proactively focus on minimizing such risk now,” TAFE, which is AGCO’s largest shareholder with a 16.2% stake, said in the presentation.

AGCO was not immediately available for comment.

TAFE is calling on the company to appoint three new independent directors to the board, appoint a new lead independent director with strong board experience and form a committee to oversee the execution of a strategic plan.

AGCO’s recent stock price gains have been fueled by macro economic tailwinds in the agricultural sector but mask the company’s weakened stature compared with rivals like John Deere and Kutoba, TAFE said.

AGCO, which is valued at $9.6 billion and is headquartered in Duluth, Georgia, has seen its stock price surge 103% in the last 52 weeks and closed trading at $129.11 on Tuesday.

“Strategic missteps have resulted in a deteriorating market position in Brazil, continued sub-scale presence in North America (a key market) and an unsuccessful investment initiative in China,” TAFE said in the presentation, which was attached to the regulatory filing.

TAFE, which has previously raised similar concerns with AGCO, has been an owner for seven years and paid an average $48.13 for its stake.

Proxy adviser ISS backs activist shareholder’s proposal for Toshiba probe – Sources

Proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services Inc (ISS) on Wednesday recommended that Toshiba Corp shareholders vote for Effissimo Capital Management’s proposal for an independent probe into the Japanese industrial conglomerate.

Toshiba has been embroiled in a row with Singapore-based Effissimo Capital Management, which is calling for a third-party probe into the firm’s annual general meeting (AGM) last year, arguing that the voting rights of several shareholders were compromised.

ISS said in a report seen by Reuters that Toshiba’s internal investigation into the issue was “one-sided.”

“It will be difficult to escape the impression that Toshiba conducted a perfunctory investigation in response to the allegations by Effissimo,” the report said.

Coronavirus: Texas and other states ease rules despite warnings

Texas will lift its mask requirement and allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week, Governor Greg Abbott has announced.

A woman receives a Covid vaccine in Jim Hogg County, Texas
image captionStates across the US have started to ease Covid-19 restrictions, causing concern among health officials

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” the Republican said on Tuesday.

Texas is the largest US state to end its mask mandate. Mr Abbott has faced criticism from his party over the measure, which was imposed last July.

But the administration of US President Joe Biden has made it clear coronavirus restrictions are still necessary.

The announcement in Texas came as similar rules were lifted in other states, including Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which also ended its mask mandate.

The roll-out of vaccinations against Covid-19 has boosted confidence in a return to pre-pandemic life in the US.

On Tuesday, President Biden said the US was on track to have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May.

Yet the wave of reopenings has put states at odds with the Biden administration and its senior health officials, who have reacted with dismay to the relaxation of coronavirus measures at a precarious time in the pandemic.

On Monday the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of a “potential fourth surge of cases” if the country lapsed into complacency.

Covid-19 data shows that, while infections and deaths have declined in recent weeks, they are still at high levels relative to other countries.

In total, the US has recorded more than 28 million infections and 516,000 deaths related to Covid-19, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.

What did the Texas governor announce?

Mr Abbott issued an executive order that rescinded most of the coronavirus measures he imposed earlier in the pandemic.

The new executive order, which is to take effect on 10 March, lifts all mask requirements and forbids local authorities from penalising residents who do not wear a face covering. 

It removes all restrictions on businesses in counties without a high number of Covid-19 patients in hospital.

Greg Abbott (file picture)
image captionMr Abbott has been under pressure to lift the restrictions

“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities,” Mr Abbott said in a speech at the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Lubbock. “Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end.”

He said that with increased vaccinations and improved treatment for Covid-19, the state was “in a far better position now”.

But, he added, “Covid has not suddenly disappeared”. Following weeks of decline, coronavirus infections and related deaths are creeping up again in Texas, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed.

Texas has recorded more than 43,000 deaths related to Covid-19, the third-highest state toll in the US.

Texas puts White House relations to the test

Angelica Casas, reporting from San Antonio, Texas

Governor Abbott’s announcement was no surprise to Texans. After all, the state’s pandemic response has been political from the start.

The state’s Republican leadership favoured former President Donald Trump’s relatively relaxed approach to imposing restrictions. But that created tension with local officials in the state’s major cities, which all lean Democrat.

It was control of the disease vs control of the economy. Mask requirements vs maintaining personal liberties. And when the surges came, state politicians were more reactive than proactive.

A year later, not much has changed. The state’s death toll and current case rate are still among the highest in the US. That’s why critics say Governor Abbott’s decision does not follow the science.

So the decision will be a test to the state – but also to Mr Abbott’s relationship with President Biden, who has addressed the pandemic with more urgency than his predecessor.

What about other US states?

Individual states are in charge of public health policy in the US. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, most introduced restrictions on businesses and travel.

About 35 required face coverings to be worn in public places – either or outdoor – although enforcement of these mask mandates has been patchy.

With cases and deaths falling sharply in recent weeks, several states have begun easing the restrictions.

Shortly after Mr Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said he would do the same in an even shorter time frame.

“Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules,” Mr Reeves said.

Health experts have warned that the pandemic was far from over and cases could pick up if curbs were lifted too soon.

President Joe Biden speaks about the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic at the White House in Washington
image captionPresident Biden has urged Americans to remain vigilant against the threat of the virus

President Biden – in contrast with his predecessor Mr Trump – has made fighting the virus a priority for his administration.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden said he was upbeat about reaching his goal of delivering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, but urged Americans to remain vigilant in wearing masks and observing social distancing.

“Today’s announcements are a huge step in our effort to beat this pandemic,” Biden said in a televised statement from the White House. “But I have to be honest with you. This fight is far from over.”

How has Covid affected the US?

  • The 28.7 million total confirmed US infections is nearly double that of second-highest India (11 million) and Brazil (10.5 million), according to Johns Hopkins University research
  • But the US ranks ninth in terms of deaths per 100,000 population, behind countries such as the UK and Italy
  • At least 90,000 more Americans are expected to have died with the virus by 1 June, an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projection says. By late May, the virus will kill around 500 Americans per day – down from approximately 2,000 now
  • Hospital admission rates have fallen sharply since January
  • The growing number of new variants, which could spark further outbreaks, remains a concern

Maezawa wants you: Japan billionaire seeks ‘crew’ for moon trip

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on Wednesday launched a search for eight people to join him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

He had originally planned to invite artists for the weeklong voyage slated for 2023.

The rejigged project will “give more people from around the globe the chance to join this journey. If you see yourself as an artist, then you are an artist,” Maezawa said.

The first stage of the application process runs to March 14.

The entrepreneur, who sold his online fashion business Zozo Inc to SoftBank in 2019, is paying the entire cost of the voyage on SpaceX’s next-generation reusable launch vehicle, dubbed the Starship.

Two recent prototypes have exploded during testing, underscoring the risks for Maezawa, 45, and his fellow passengers, who must also contend with the strains of space travel in the first private journey beyond Earth’s orbit.

“This mission we expect people will go further than any human has ever gone from Planet Earth,” Musk said, days after SpaceX completed its latest $850 million fundraising, which has helped turn the businessman into one of the world’s richest people.

Maezawa is known for his art and supercar collections, and the cash giveaways that have made him Japan’s most-followed Twitter account.

Last year he launched a short-lived documentary search for a new girlfriend to join him on the trip before pulling out citing “mixed feelings.”

By: Sam Nussey

Hacking group targets organizations via Microsoft server software – Researcher

An unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a newly discovered flaw in Microsoft mail server software, a researcher said on Tuesday, in an example of how commonly used programs can be exploited to cast a wide net online.

Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous suite of products has been under scrutiny since the hack of SolarWinds, the Texas-based software firm that served as a springboard for several intrusions across government and the private sector. In other cases, hackers took advantage of the way customers had set up their Microsoft services to compromise their targets or dive further into affected networks.

Hackers who went after SolarWinds also breached Microsoft itself, accessing and downloading source code – including elements of Exchange, the company’s email and calendaring product.

Mike McLellan, director of intelligence for Dell Technologies Inc’s Secureworks, said he noticed the recent issue after a sudden spike in activity touching Exchange servers overnight on Sunday, with around 10 customers affected at his firm.

“It appears to be someone scanning and exploiting Microsoft Exchange servers in some way. We don’t know how,” he told Reuters.

Microsoft said in a statement that it would be “releasing an update and additional guidance to customers as soon as possible.” The statement said there was no relationship between the recent activity and the SolarWinds-tied hacking campaign.

McLellan said that for now, the hackers appeared focused on seeding malicious software and setting the stage for a potentially deeper intrusion rather than aggressively moving into networks right away.

“We haven’t seen any follow-on activity yet,” he said. “We’re going to find a lot of companies affected but a smaller number of companies actually exploited.”

McLellan said he had no solid indication of who might be responsible. The hackers in this case were using a strain of malware called “China Chopper,” which – despite the name – is used by a variety of digital spies.

The profile of the targets did not match any particular online threat, McLellan said. “It looks like a bit of a random mix.”

JPMorgan looks to cut office space in Manhattan – Bloomberg News

JPMorgan Chase & Co is looking to sublet big blocks of office space in Manhattan, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

The bank is looking to sublet just under 700,000 square feet at 4 New York Plaza in the Financial District and more than 100,000 square feet at 5 Manhattan West in the Hudson Yards area, the report said. (bit.ly/3bT02Vj)

Due to COVID-19 pandemic-led lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, fewer people have been going to office, which has prompted companies to reassess the need for real estate.

“It is too early to comment on specifics as we continue to learn and adapt to this current situation and how it impacts our commercial real estate needs. We are committed to New York and are planning for the next 50 years with our new headquarters here,” a spokesperson for the bank said.

Real estate broker Jone Lang LaSalle is marketing JPMorgan’s space, the report said.

In October, JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said JPMorgan would press ahead with its plans to build a large headquarter in New York that is scheduled to open in 2024. (reut.rs/3uNyqcZ)

Texan chipmakers face slow recovery from power crisis as demand rises

Chipmakers, such as Samsung Electronics, will need a couple of weeks to resume production in Texas after shutdowns caused by severe weather, and customers could face knock-on effects in several months’ time, a representative of a trade body said.

Samsung, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon Technologies were ordered to shut factories in Texas last month after a winter storm killed at least 21 people and left millions of Texans without power.

The shutdown threatens chip supplies to customers, when the industry is scrambling to meet demand, which is rising especially from the auto sector, but also for laptops and other products as economies recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Chipmakers now have the power, water and gas they need to operate, but they need time to restart tools and clean the factories, Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, said.

He said the process was slow and “very expensive”.

The plant suspension would have an impact on automakers five months later because that is the time needed to make chips, he told Reuters.

There is also an impact now, Risto Puhakka, president of VLSIresearch, said.

“The impact is almost immediate, as the chip inventories are low and customers need them as soon as possible,” he said. “We are now looking at about one month of lost production.”

Samsung supplies chips for Tesla and other customers and NXP and Infineon are also automotive chip suppliers.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said the electric vehicle company’s Fremont, California, plant shut down for two days last week, without elaborating further.

NXP, which has two factories in Austin, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are diligently working through equipment, system and product assessments to resume our operations as soon as possible.”

Samsung had no immediate comment.

Robinhood now a go-to for young investors and short sellers

(Reuters) – Robinhood, the online brokerage used by many retail traders to pile in to heavily shorted stocks like GameStop Corp, has made an ambitious push into loaning out its clients’ shares to short sellers as it expands its business.

The broker had $1.9 billion in shares loaned out as of Dec. 31, nearly three times the $674 million a year earlier, and it was permitted to lend out $4.6 billion worth of securities under margin agreements, around five times bigger than the prior year, according to an annual regulatory filing here late on Monday.

The size of the jump highlights Robinhood’s rapid growth over the past year as the number of retail investors has soared in the work-from-home environment during the pandemic and as retail brokers have largely eliminated trading fees, a model Robinhood helped pioneer.

Menlo Park, California-based Robinhood is expected to go public this year with a valuation of more than $20 billion.

Securities lending is common among brokerages, which can earn income by lending shares to hedge funds and others, who then sell the shares back into the market, betting the share prices will drop so they can buy them back at a lower price when it is time to return them, pocketing the difference.

Shares that are in heavy demand from short sellers, like GameStop, which had 140% short interest in January here, command the biggest premium from the lender.

What makes Robinhood notable is that many of the stocks its users invest in are among the most sought-after by people who want to bet against them, said one senior financial executive involved with hedge funds.

It was unclear how great a benefit the securities lending was to Robinhood’s revenue and income, which it does not disclose.

Robinhood declined comment on the filing and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the details of which stocks it loans out.

In January, retail investors coordinated through trading forums on social media in an attempt to punish hedge funds by buying up shares of GameStop and other heavily shorted names, like AMC Entertainment, driving up their prices and forcing short sellers to close out positions at big losses.

On Jan. 28, at the height of the retail trading mania, Robinhood, along with several other brokers, restricted the buying of GameStop and other so-called meme stocks due to a massive spike in collateral requirements needed to clear the trades, angering many of its customers.

The trading restrictions sparked congressional hearings, regulatory probes and have placed greater scrutiny on short selling.

In response, Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s chief executive officer, called for shorter stock settlement times, which would reduce clearing collateral requirements.

He also said the idea that more shares of a stock can be shorted than there are available to trade, as was the case with GameStop, is a “pathology” that could destabilize the financial markets.

Robinhood positioned itself for growth in securities lending in October 2018 by launching its own clearing broker, which acts as a go-between with the clearinghouse that settles its trades, and allows it to hold its customers’ assets. The broker can then lend out securities its customers buy on margin.

At present, less than 3% of Robinhood’s funded accounts are margin-enabled, Tenev recently told Congress here.

U.S. ITC to probe some cellular devices made by Samsung & Motorola Mobility

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday said it was probing certain LTE-compliant cellular devices made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Lenovo Group Ltd-owned Motorola Mobility following a complaint.

The agency said it was launching the investigation following a Feb. 1 complaint filed by Austin, Texas-based Evolved Wireless LLC that alleged patent infringement.

Instacart valuation more than doubles to $39 billion with latest funding round

Instacart has more than doubled its valuation in less than six months to $39 billion with a $265 million fundraising round from existing investors, as the grocery delivery company benefits from a surge in online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The San Francisco start-up, whose transaction volumes surged sixfold last year as doorstep delivery boomed during lockdowns, said on Tuesday it plans to use part of the new funds to increase its corporate headcount by an estimated 50% in 2021.

The company was valued at $17.8 billion in November following the closing of a previous funding round. That same month, Reuters reported Instacart had picked Goldman Sachs Group Inc to lead its initial public offering at around a $30 billion valuation.

Its latest cash injection comes just a few months after California backed a ballot proposal that upheld the status of app-based delivery drivers as independent contractors- a major boost for the likes of Instacart and Uber Technologies Inc, which rely on people to work independently and not as employees.

The new funding round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners, Fidelity Management & Research Co and T. Rowe Price Associates.