How to Make the Most Out of That Summer Trip You're Planning on Taking

Summer is (pretty much) finally here. The sun is staying out later, the air is warmer, and it seems like every other day someone else is out of the office.

I get to travel often for work, and like anyone else, I love my vacation time–especially when it involves taking a trip. Both experiences can be overwhelming if you don’t have a game plan.

Whether you’re making a couple of pit stops en route to a client visit, saving a few extra bucks with a simple day trip or splurging on a big trip to celebrate some Q2 successes, these tips will help you maximize your vacation for the richest experience. You can apply them to a business trip, or a true vacation.

1. Plan ahead, at least a little.

I know, I know–there’s something magical about traveling, especially to a new place, and deciding you’re just going to “wing” it, or figure things out as you go along. While this can fun, it’s also an easy way to let a day slip away.

Maybe an activity you decide to do requires booking in advance, or the easiest way to get anywhere is with the city’s public transportation. The point is, you want to have some sort of idea of what you’ll be doing.

Before I take a trip, I try to talk to anyone I know who’s been where I’m going and see what suggestions they have. This allows me to learn more about my co-workers or clients and their travels (and allows us to trade stories upon my return).

I also get a general idea of what goes on in the area, and what opportunities might be available to me. People will usually offer logistical advice, too, which is super helpful in avoiding any last-minute hiccups.

2. But–be prepared to think on your feet.

Ever been to an improv show? When they’re great, they’re hilarious.

When things are going haywire–the jokes aren’t landing, people are messing up–true improvisers don’t get fazed. That’s because they, much like entrepreneurs, can think on their feet.

There’s no time like a vacation to put your improv (or problem-solving skills, if you prefer) to the test. Even if you plan things down to the T, something is going to go wrong.

That’s not always a bad thing–it opens you up to a new opportunity. Instead of getting discouraged when things don’t go as planned, let your entrepreneurial spirit shine through, and be ready to take action.

3. Eat the food.

Between jet lag and long days in the sun, it can be easy to just settle for something familiar when it’s meal time. But think about it: If you’re traveling, you likely have to eat out anyway.

You might as well take advantage of the excuse to enjoy some local fare. Apps like Google Maps and websites like The Infatuation are life savers for figuring out the best way to eat your way through the local cuisine.

If your travels are business-related, trying new foods can be a great way to bond with clients or investors. 

4. Let yourself be a tourist.

Living in New York, I’ve become desensitized to Times Square. It’s loud, it’s crowded, I’ve seen it before, and I can go there whenever I want (which is pretty much never). Still, it’s fascinating to see the people who come from all over the world to take a photo in front of M&M world or visit the Hard Rock Cafe.

Cheesy to me, sure. For them, it’s magic, and that’s beautiful.

If you’re traveling somewhere with a popular or historic landmark, go see it. You’ll feel silly if you miss out just because you “didn’t want to be a tourist.” At the very least, having seen these spots means you can add something to a conversation about travel, which is everyone’s favorite topic–especially in the summer.

5. Write things down.

We’re lucky enough to live in the era of smartphones, which means that we have the power to document anything at any time. But sometimes, a quick pic on your phone isn’t the most effective way to create a tangible memory.

Bring a journal and write down what you did at the end of each day. Having a written memory of your trip, in your own words, is a lot more special.

You can talk about the high points, the low points and the little details. A photo of you smiling at the museum is nice, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of your experience. Those details are what you will want to look back on and remember, and who knows–revisiting them in the future may spark an idea or two. 

When being cloud-native is a bad idea

It’s good to be cloud-native, or at least that’s what everyone is telling you. The idea is that you refactor (meaning partially recode) your applications to take advantage of the native features of the host cloud, such as its native APIs, storage systems, database systems, or security systems, depending on what that host cloud services offers.

The promise you’re being given is that being cloud-native will provide enhanced performance, lower operational costs for your applications, easier operations, and a bunch of other benefits as the cloud platform improves over time.

However, there is a dark side to being cloud-native, and it’s worth some consideration before you spend a significant about of time refactoring your code. The considerations include:

The lockin issue. You’re not going to make an application cloud-native application without giving up some or all of its portability. If you’re localizing an application for Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure, you’re coding to the native APIs of those clouds. By using native APIs, it will be difficult to move that code to other clouds, or back to on-premises systems, without refactoring again.

Depending on the complexity of the applications, that could be a significant investment in time and added risk.

Native benefits are not always there. Using native services can generate a benefit in some way, shape, or form. But not always; many IT organizations use native APIs but don’t see the benefit of using those APIs during operations.

You need to understand what benefits those APIs will provide, and measure the benefits once deployed.

Native features often change. It’s hard enough to refactor an application around cloud-native APIs to call cloud services. It’s even harder when those services change. Although your API calls are static, the services they access are dynamic, and the cloud provider will change them to meet its own needs. As such, you need to consider what’s changed in the application and react accordingly.

The fact that services change is not in and of itself bad. But it means you can never rest easy, and in some cases the cost of keeping up with the service changes is not worth using the cloud-native services in the first place. API monitoring and governance tools come in handy here, because they can alert you to API/service changes as they occur, so you have time to react.

The cloud-native allure is real, and for the most part it’s a good thing. However, like any other technology choices, there is both an upside and a downside. You need to understand both before you refactor.

Report: Document Shows Apple Knew iPhone 6 Was More Likely to Bend

Apple knew ahead of time that its iPhone 6 was “more likely to bend” than other iPhones, according to tech news site Motherboard.

A lawsuit filed in 2016 claims Apple knew about defects with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, including so-called “touch disease” — or problems with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus touchscreen responsiveness, which can happen if the phone is bent.

While documents submitted by Apple in this case are under seal, U.S. District Court judge Lucy Koh made some information public in a procedural ruling on the case on May 7. In it, she said that “Apple’s internal testing ‘determined that the iPhone 6 was 3.3 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s (the model immediately prior to the subject iPhones) and that the iPhone 6 Plus was 7.2 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s.”

She continued: “Underscoring the point, one of the major concerns Apple identified prior to launching the iPhones was that they were ‘likely to bend more easily when compared to previous generations’ something that Apple described as ‘expected behavior.’”

Koh also wrote that Apple began adding reinforcement to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in May 2016 that caused malfunctions. (Koh also presides over a long-running patent infringement case between Apple v. Samsung).

After the premiere of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 2014, some customers complained about the phones bending, leading media outlets to give the problem the nickname “bendgate.” Following those reports, Apple released a statement that minimized the problem:

“Our iPhones are designed, engineered and manufactured to be both beautiful and sturdy. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus feature a precision engineered unibody enclosure constructed from machining a custom grade of 6000 series anodized aluminum, which is tempered for extra strength. They also feature stainless steel and titanium inserts to reinforce high stress locations and use the strongest glass in the smartphone industry. We chose these high-quality materials and construction very carefully for their strength and durability. We also perform rigorous tests throughout the entire development cycle including 3-point bending, pressure point cycling, sit, torsion, and user studies. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus meet or exceed all of our high quality standards to endure everyday, real life use.

“With normal use a bend in iPhone is extremely rare and through our first six days of sale, a total of nine customers have contacted Apple with a bent iPhone 6 Plus. As with any Apple product, if you have questions please contact Apple.”

Apple, according to Motherboard, has argued that bending cannot cause “touch disease” “unless the phones had already been repeatedly dropped on a hard surface.”

Fortune contacted Apple for more information about Motherboard’s report and will update as necessary.

Elon Musk Suggests Big Oil Is Behind Critical Media Coverage of Tesla

Journalists may be critical of electric-car maker Tesla Inc. because oil and traditional auto companies are some of the biggest spenders on advertising, according to Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

Riled up by a Robert W. Baird analyst report that said “increasingly immaterial” headlines were dominating Tesla news cycles, Musk went on a Twitter attack Wednesday afternoon, saying the public no longer respects the media because of “holier-than-thou hypocrisy” and lies. Distrust of news outlets was the reason President Donald Trump got elected, he wrote.

“Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired,” Musk tweeted in another post. “Tricky situation, as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies & gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Sails Through E.U. Parliament Grilling

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg managed to dodge tough questioning by European Union parliamentary members on Tuesday during a hearing about the company’s data collection practices.

The parliamentary members asked thorough, multi-part questions about Facebook’s policies and global operations. But because their questions were grouped together at the beginning of the roughly hour-and-a-half long session, Zuckerberg was able to mostly ignore them when it was finally his turn to speak.

Instead, he reiterated the company’s recent talking points around its efforts to clean up its service like hiring more monitors and combating fake news.

Several EU politicians brought up previous questions Zuckerberg ducked during two U.S. congressional hearings in April in Washington D.C. Similar to the EU parliamentary hearing, the U.S. congressional hearings were intended to look into Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved an academic obtaining and selling Facebook user data to a political consulting firm, and the company’s repeated privacy blunders that forced its executives to repeatedly apologize and pledge to do better.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s party in the European Parliament, kicked off questioning during the hearing on Tuesday by first commending Zuckerberg for apologizing for the company’s lapses and voluntarily appearing for the heading. The German politician then asked Zuckerberg a series of questions that included the following:

Can Facebook guarantee that another Cambridge Analytica scandal will not occur within the next year?

Did Zuckerberg personally make the decision against notifying its users when the company learned of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a question Weber noted, was similar to one U.S. Senator Kamala Harris asked during the recent U.S. Congressional hearing?

Would Facebook be open to a discussion about whether it should open its secretive algorithms to the public to ensure transparency?

Zuckerberg did not respond to these questions when it came time for his answers, but he pledged that Facebook (fb) would follow up later in writing.

British politician Syed Kamall, the co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, asked Zuckerberg about “the public outcry over shadow profiles,” a reference to Facebook’s practice of collecting data about non-Facebook users. He wanted Zuckerberg to expand on comments he had made during the previous U.S. congressional hearings during which he said that Facebook collects non-user data for security purposes. He asked Zuckerberg whether the only way for users to avoid having their data collected by Facebook would be to stay off the Internet entirely.

Another parliamentary member asked Zuckerberg whether he could guarantee that Facebook doesn’t use that non-user data for other services like targeted ads.

Zuckerberg avoided answering any questions related to shadow profiles until the very end of the hearing, when parliamentary members appeared upset and began shouting over each other in frustration.

“On the security side, we think it’s important to keep it to protect people in our community,” Zuckerberg said, a vague answer that implied that Facebook would continue to collect data about non-Facebook users. The executive then quickly shifted gears and said, “Were there any other themes that we wanted to get through?”

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After the hearing, several parliamentary members tweeted their frustration with Zuckerberg:

Zuckerberg largely reiterated what Facebook has already said publicly about its efforts to fix its service following the latest data privacy uproar.

And in the end, investors seemed pleased with his performance, as Facebook shares were relatively flat at end-of-day trading, slightly in-line with the overall market for tech stocks.

Daniel Ives, an analyst with GBH Insights, seemed positive about Facebook in a research note after the EU hearing. He said that the company’s stock continues to rebound after several months of investor concern that its latest scandals would impact the company’s bottom line.

“The Street has stepped away from the edge of the cliff over the last month on Facebook as the combination of stronger than expected March results, an impressive performance by Zuckerberg in DC, and the fears of regulation starting to fade in the background have been catalysts for a major rebound in shares,” Ives wrote. “While we expect more back and forth between the EU and Facebook over the coming weeks, we view today as another step forward for Zuckerberg post Cambridge.”

As Zuckerberg heads to Brussels, British lawmakers ask for answers

LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) – British lawmakers want their European counterparts to quiz Facebook FB.O CEO Mark Zuckerberg about a scandal over improper use of millions of Facebook users’ data, as he will not give evidence in London himself.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Zuckerberg will be in Europe to defend the company after alleged misuse of its data by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy that worked on U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

But while he will answer questions from lawmakers in Brussels on Tuesday, and is meeting French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, he has so far declined to answer questions from British lawmakers, either in person or via video link.

Damian Collins, chair of the British parliament’s media committee, said on Tuesday that he believed Zuckerberg should still appear before British lawmakers.

“But if Mark Zuckerberg chooses not to address our questions directly, we are asking colleagues at the European Parliament to help us get answers – particularly on who knew what at the company, and when, about the data breach and the non-transparent use of political adverts which continue to undermine our democracy,” he said in a statement.

Last month, Facebook Chief Technical Officer Mike Schroepfer appeared before Collins’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is investigating fake news.

But the lawmakers have said his testimony and subsequent written answers from the firm to follow-up questions have been inadequate.

Collins outlined deficiencies in Facebook’s answers so far in a letter to Rebecca Stimson, head of public policy at Facebook UK, which has been shared with the EU lawmakers who will quiz Zuckerberg. Collins requested a response from Facebook to his questions by June 4.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Microsoft, Google find fresh flaw in chips, but risk is low

(Reuters) – Cyber security researchers have found a new security flaw that affects a broad swath of modern computing chips and is related to the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws that emerged in January.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Microsoft logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The newest chip problem, known as Speculative Store Bypass or “Variant 4” because it’s in the same family as the original group of flaws, was disclosed by security researchers at Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday. Though the flaw affects many chips from Intel Corp, Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Softbank Group’s ARM Holdings, researchers described the risks as low, partly because of web browser patches already issued earlier this year to address Spectre.

The Meltdown and Spectre flaws, which emerged in January, can allow passwords and other sensitive data on chips to be read. The flaws result from the way computers try to guess what users are likely to do next, a process called speculative execution.

When the flaws emerged in January, researchers warned that they were likely to find new variants of Spectre in the future. Earlier this month, German computer science magazine c’t reported that a “next generation” of flaws had been found in Intel’s chips and was likely to be disclosed this month. Intel declined to comment on whether Monday’s announcement was related to the German magazine’s story.

FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

In its research findings, Microsoft said that patches issued for common web browsers earlier this year greatly increased the difficulty of carrying out an attack with the newly discovered flaw.

Chips from Intel, AMD and ARM all have patches available, either directly from the makers or through software suppliers such as Microsoft. Intel said it expects a performance slowdown of between 2 percent and 8 percent from the patches, and ARM said it expects a slowdown of between 1 percent and 2 percent.

However, Intel said that because of the low risk of a real-world attack, it would ship its patches turned off by default, giving users the choice whether to turn them on. AMD also advised leaving the patches turned off due to the difficulty of carrying out an attack.

The security problems do not appear to have impacted chipmakers’ stock prices. Intel shares are up nearly 16 percent to since the start of the year to $54.32, and AMD shares are up 18.3 percent to $12.99 since the start of the year.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

'Smart Money' Buying Oil After Missing Entire Rally

We had previously looked at the positioning of large commercial traders in the oil futures market. While the consensus view had been that this meant that oil prices were due to fall significantly, we basically took the stance that the data implied no such thing.

Since then crude oil prices have risen, with Brent oil futures threatening to break the $80 barrier and by our count, at least 4 grades of oil trading above the critical $80 mark. With prices firmly entrenched in a long-term upswing, we were surprised to see that the commercial traders had started to actually go long crude oil futures.

Source: CFTC.GOV

This was the second consecutive week where commercials expanded their net long position after shorting this market for what seemed like an eternity.

So what do we make of this change in behavior?

Where is this coming from and what it means

The one group that has been notoriously absent from trading crude oil positions in the last few years has been the airline group. Having been burnt a few times by hedging oil prices too high, they have stayed on the sidelines since 2016.

While carriers saved hundreds of millions of dollars from oil prices halving since June, they forfeited a large chunk of that gain because of the fuel hedges they bought as protection against oil rising.

The bulk of those hedges – which effectively lock in fuel costs in advance – are set at levels that force airlines to pay more for fuel than current market prices, turning them into a hindrance rather than a help.

As a result, three of the four biggest carriers – Delta, Southwest and United – said this week they were rethinking their hedging tactics. Meanwhile, American, which does not hedge fuel costs at all, is reaping the biggest savings.

Southwest Airlines Co. said on Thursday its outstanding hedges represented a loss of $1.8 billion through 2018, at Jan. 15 prices. However, it still expects a fuel bill that is more than 30 cents per gallon lower this year compared to 2015, or a roughly half-billion dollar net benefit.

It was this group’s absence that distorted the futures positioning in the crude oil market and gave the appearance that collectively “the hedgers” were bearish on oil. That logic proved very costly as anyone who went by the commitment of traders report, stayed away from long positions and missed the entire rally.

However, with prices breaching past levels that no analyst thought possible last year, the airlines may be getting religion. Fuel represents the single biggest cost factor for airlines and it is hard to pass on unless capacity utilization is extremely high. While for most part airlines have denied that they will hedge, we believe some in the group are now breaking ranks. There are two likely reasons for this. The first being the certainty of cash flow is likely to assuage investor concerns, even if it is at a much higher price than they should have hedged. The second is this.


While the front end of the curve is flirting with much higher prices, airlines still have the opportunity to lock in sub-$60/barrel prices further out. So in a sense, oil prices have to fall more than $15/barrel from today’s prices for them to actually lose money on further out hedges. We think that they will embrace this opportunity as world oil fundamentals continue to tighten and supply surprises will continue to be on the downside.

As they do so, we think the incredible backwardation currently visible will begin to ease and the curve will become flatter. To some extent, this will be counterbalanced by increased producer hedging as they see an opportunity to lock in good prices, but on the whole, the curve will flatten in our view. The biggest impact of this though will be on oil producers. Oil producers continued to be priced for a $50/barrel market, and as the futures curve reflects the correct longer term supply demand situation, oil producers should embark on a spectacular rally.


Oil producers have outperformed the broader indices recently, but we believe this is a long-term trend that can still be bought. Our favorite oil producers are trading at a fraction of their fair value and offer gains not available anywhere else in the market. Oil itself has had a sensational run and is due for a pullback. But the longer-term story is still intact and we continue to ignore silly stories about EVs denting demand.

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Charging Electric Scooters Is a Profitable, Fun—and Occasionally Dangerous—Youth Trend

The newest big trend in tech startups is in turn fueling an emergent youth culture, as teenagers and young adults spend their free time collecting and charging electric scooters. Some compare it to a game—one that they’re getting paid pretty well for playing, but also comes with some real-world risks.

As reported by The Atlantic, the part-time gig is sometimes called ‘Bird hunting.’ That name comes from Bird, the most prominent company in a wave of new “dockless” scooter and bike rental startups, which use smartphone apps to both rent and track light vehicles.

The systems offer a potentially innovative solution to urban transportation, particularly what’s known as the “last mile” problem: how to get users of public transit from stations to their doorsteps. Because they can be dropped off anywhere, the rental vehicles can be more convenient for riders than personal scooters or bikes (though they can also, according to some city officials, create a “public nuisance”).

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The apparent convenience of those systems, though, is created by a lot of behind-the-scenes work, much of it done by contractors, known as “chargers,” who collect and charge the scooters. Several young chargers described their work to The Atlantic as a fun side-hustle—one even compared it to playing Pokémon GO, since it involves using an app to find the GPS-tagged scooters. The “prizes” for finding scooters are also game-like, with chargers paid more for retrieving scooters that are harder to find. Young chargers report teaming up to do the work faster, starting what amount to small businesses with some socializing thrown in for good measure.

Rewards can range up to $20 for a single scooter, and chargers described making up to several hundred dollars per night. Those rewards are likely to decline, assuming that Bird and other startups are following the standard tech-industry model of sacrificing revenue for market share early on (at least $250 million in venture capital supports Bird and similar companies). But the game-like aspects of charging may make workers less price sensitive.

That said, just as Uber has become a primary source of income for many of its drivers, it’s clear that recharging scooters is not a game for everyone. Chargers interviewed by The Atlantic describe occasional conflicts over scooter bounties, manipulation of the reward systems, and outright theft of the scooters, which criminals have been known to chop up for parts. Perhaps worst of all, some report that criminals are hunting the hunters—using scooters as bait, then mugging the chargers who arrive to retrieve them.

Spotlight On Gambling Reset And Banking Bill

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Stocks to Watch – a preview of key events scheduled for the next week. Follow this account and turn the e-mail alert on to receive this article in your inbox every Saturday morning.

While investors will surely have their eyes on trade talks, developments in the oil market and rising interest rates in the week ahead — a sideline show will continue to be the complete reset in the gambling industry following the Supreme Court decision that opens up legalized sports betting. Notable movers since the SCOTUS decision came down include Dover Downs (NYSE:DDE) +46%, Scientific Games (NASDAQ:SGMS) +13%, Churchill Downs (NASDAQ:CHDN) +11%, Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ:PENN) +8%, The Stars Group (NASDAQ:TSG) +8% and Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) +8%. Across the pond, bookmaker stocks William Hill (OTCPK:WIMHY), Paddy Power (OTC:PDYPF), GVC Holdings (OTCPK:GMVHF) and 888 Holdings (OTCPK:EIHDF) also jetted higher. Expect even more price swings with new names as the ramifications become clearer. Nomura Instinet analyst Harry Curtis reminds that the upside potential from the Supreme Court decision down the road includes higher traffic and customer engagement at land-based casinos, as well as digital offerings and tech/financial partnership opportunities. On that last point, there’s a sense major players such as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Visa (NYSE:V), Mastercard (NYSE:MA) and Google (GOOG, [GOOGL]]) aren’t going to completely ignore the developments. On the economic calendar this week, data on new and existing home sales will capture some attention.

Notable earnings reports: Monro (NASDAQ:MNRO) on May 21; International (NASDAQ:CTRP), Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN), The Container Store (NYSE:TCS) and TJX Companies (NYSE:TJX) on May 22; Target (NYSE:TGT), Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (NYSE:HPE), Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) and Lion’s Gate (NYSE:LGF.A) on May 23; GameStop (NYSE:GME), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Gap (NYSE:GPS) and Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK) on May 24; Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) on May 25. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list.

IPOs expected to price: Evo Payments (EVOP) on May 22; CLPS (CLPS), Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals (KNSA), Scholar Rock (SRRK) and GreenSky (GSKY) on May 23; Iterum Therapeutics (ITRM) on May 24.

Analyst quiet period expirations: Ceridian HCM (NYSE:CDAY) and Nlight (NASDAQ:LASR) on May 21; DocuSign (NASDAQ:DOCU), Goosehead Insurance (NASDAQ:GSHD) and Smartsheet (NYSE:SMAR) on May 22.

Upcoming stock splits: DDR (NYSE:DDR) 1-for-2 on May 21, China Lodging (NASDAQ:HTHT) ADS-to-ordinary share ratio to change on May 24 from one ADS per four ordinary shares to one ADS per one ordinary.

Banking bill: The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a banking reform bill next week. The bill would raise the threshold at which banks are considered risks to the system to $250B from $50B. The legislation also exempts banks with less than $10B in assets from some proprietary trading rules. Zions Bank (NASDAQ:ZION), BB&T (NYSE:BBT), Bank of New York (NYSE:BK), State Street (NYSE:STT) and SunTrust (NYSE:STI) are just a few of the banks to keep an eye on with the new rules. On a broader scale, John Hancock Regional Bank Fund’s Lisa Welch observed that the S&P 500 bank index trades at 11.34X earnings estimates for the next 12 months compared with the historical mean of 12.56X. “It’s a sector that benefits from rising rates, a growing economy and a more favorable regulatory environment that’s trading at attractive valuations,” she noted.

Projected dividend hike announcements: Donaldson (NYSE:DCI) to $0.185 from $0.180, DXC Technology (NYSE:DXC) to $0.21 from $0.18, Flower Foods (NYSE:FLO) to $0.18 from $0.17, National Storage to $0.30 from $0.28, Tiffany (NYSE:TIF) to $0.55 from $0.50.

Notable Analyst/investor meetings: Micron (NASDAQ:MU), Monro (MNRO) and (NASDAQ:GLAD) on May 21; Walgreen Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), Brooks Automation (NASDAQ:BRKS), National Instruments (NASDAQ:NATI), Sanmina (NASDAQ:SANM), Xilinx (NASDAQ:XLNX), Atlas Financial (NASDAQ:AFH) on May 22; Align Technology (NASDAQ:ALGN), Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO), Phototronics (NASDAQ:PLAB), Pure Storage (NYSE:PSTG), Qorvo (NASDAQ:QRVO) and Huntsman (NYSE:HUN) on May 23; Cabot (NYSE:CBT) on May 24.

FDA watch: Loxo Oncology (NASDAQ:LOXO) and Bayer (OTCPK:BAYRY) are expected to hear on a FDA review for larotrectinib NDA, while Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:LXRX) and Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) should find out whether sotagliflozin NDA for type 1 diabetes has been accepted for FDA review.

Wolfe Research 11th Annual Global Transportation Conference: Companies due to talk at the transportation industry get-together include Genesee & Wyoming (NYSE:GWR), American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), United Continental (NYSE:UAL), Alaska Air (NYSE:ALK), USA Truck (NASDAQ:USAK), J.B. Hunt Transport (NASDAQ:JBHT), Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ:WERN), ArcBest (NASDAQ:ARCB) and Daimler Trucks (OTCPK:DDAIF). The high cost of freight transportation has been a common topic on the Q1 earnings conference calls of retailers.

Crypto watch: The big blockchain event in New York last week didn’t light a fire under cryptocurrencies as regulatory concerns still linger. Over the last seven days, Bitcoin (BTC-USD) is down 2.3%, Ethereum (ETH-USD) is up 4.6%, Litecoin (LTC-USD) fell 2.5% and Ripple (XRP-USD) dropped 1%. ZCash (ZEC-USD) was one of the cryptos that did break significantly higher, with a 50% pop during the week,

Eyes on crude oil: Saudi Energy Ministry Khalid al-Falih will meet with Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak at a St. Petersburg economic summit next week. An election in Venezuela on Sunday could also impact oil prices if President Nicolas Maduro is re-elected to a six-year term. WTI crude oil trades at $71.28 per barrel, while Brent crude is at $78.51.

M&A watch: Shareholders with Bravo Brio Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:BBRG) will hold a special shareholder meeting on May 22 to approve the merger transaction with Spice Private Equity. The deadline for the start of the tender offer by Lilly (NYSE:LLY) for Armo BioSciences (NASDAQ:ARMO) hits on May 23. The go-shop period on the acquisition of VeriFone Systems (NYSE:PAY) by Francisco Partners expires on May 24.

60 Minutes: Alphabet will be featured in a story on the Sunday night news show. Critics are expected to take aim at the tech company over some of its anti-competitive practices.

Box Office: Fox’s (NASDAQ:FOXA) Deadpool 2 is expected to dominate the weekend box office. The Marvel comic book mashup is expected to take in $138M in a wide release of 4,439 theaters. Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Avengers: Infinity War is predicted to come in second place with $29M to add to its eye-popping $1.69B global box haul through this week. Next Friday, Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story opens in a highly-anticipated holiday weekend debut. The U.S. box office is up 4.4% YTD.

Barron’s mentions: Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) are lined up as attractive high-dividend stocks at knockdown prices. All three trade with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of lower than 20 and below their historic norms. Chinasoft International (OTC:CFTLF) and Baozun (NASDAQ:BZUN) are mentioned as two other ways for investors to play the digital explosion in China beyond first-movers Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY). Lowe’s is seen as having limited downside into its earnings report.

Sources: EDGAR, Bloomberg, CNBC and Reuters.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Trump urged Postal Service to double package rates for Amazon: Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has personally pushed the postmaster general to double the rates the U.S. Postal Service charges and other companies to ship packages, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing three unnamed sources.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is pictured inside the company’s office in Bengaluru, India, April 20, 2018. Picture taken April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa/File Photo

Postmaster General Megan Brennan resisted Trump’s suggestion in private conversations in 2017 and 2018, telling him that package delivery rates are set by contract and reviewed by an independent commission, and that the arrangements have helped the financially challenged Postal Service, the sources told the newspaper. Trump has claimed without evidence that deliveries for Amazon were costing the service money.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment and a spokesperson for the Postal Service could not be immediately reached.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Tim Ahmann

5 Tips to Help You Survive Any Work Disaster

Most of us can recall our first big blunder at work, but mine was a doozie. It happened while I was working for a construction company in Idaho. I’d only been on the job a few weeks, and my basic responsibilities involved tearing out old concrete and shoveling new concrete in its place.

My boss owned a huge, 10-speed dump truck used to haul away rubble from various sites. One day, the driver didn’t show up. Sensing an opportunity, I volunteered to take his place.

I knew how to drive a 10-speed. Granted, all my experience had been with hay trucks, but a truck is a truck, right? Wrong. The first thing I did after hauling a full load of concrete to a private dump in the middle of nowhere was sink into a pile of rotten potatoes and tip the damn thing over on its side.

It took at least a full day for me to track down my boss and for us to get the truck upright again. I then drove us back into town. On the way, we stopped for gas, where I promptly sideswiped a car with an ear-shattering screech.

I got fired on the spot. My boss refused to even give me a ride home. Here are five takeaways–for both bosses and employees–from that wonderful experience:

1. Keep your temper.

My boss may have fired me and left me stranded at a gas station, but he wasn’t verbally abusive about it. He didn’t scream at me or insult me. I could see by his expression that he never wanted to lay eyes on me again, but he didn’t add insult to injury.

Throughout your career, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations where losing your temper is understandable–even appropriate. But losing your temper doesn’t have to mean losing your dignity or robbing someone else of theirs. Stay in control. Follow the Golden Rule, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2. Don’t get in over your head.

Driving a truck all day sounded a lot more fun than shoveling wet concrete. This tempted me to volunteer for a position that I manifestly was not qualified to fill. I followed that temptation, much to my shame and sorrow.

Be ambitious, but don’t be cocky. Know your limitations. This isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence, and one of the greatest weapons in your intellectual arsenal when it comes to real advancement. Knowing your limitations means knowing what to focus on to improve.

3. Avoid putting blind trust in people at all costs.  

On the opposite side of the coin, the same thing goes for employers. Know the limitations of your employees. When I told my boss I could drive a 10-speed truck, he should have asked one or two follow-up questions.

Not wanting to lose a full day of work, he handed me the keys instead. The irony of that rash move is obvious–he lost a full day of work and had his truck damaged as a result. Encourage your employees to grow their skill sets, but be intimately acquainted with exactly what those skill sets consist of.

4. When the stakes are high, be highly cautious.

I tipped the truck over because of a stupid miscalculation that I’m sure I could have avoided had I just taken some extra time to think. I knew how gravity operated, that the truck was canted at an angle not ideal for raising the bed, but I was nervous and flustered and in a hurry to get the job done.

When in crisis, a minute of cool, centered reflection can save you hours (or days, or weeks) of struggle and pain. The urge to rush through an important but unfamiliar task is based on our natural distaste for discomfort and uncertainty. Take a moment to calm yourself. Think. Breathe.

5. Claim what’s yours.

The pay cycle for my construction job was a day’s pay for a day’s work. I might have tipped my boss’s dump truck on its side and scraped the hell out of a car at a gas station, but I’d still tried to do my best. I still needed the money, and the money was legitimately mine.

I remember pulling up to my boss’s house to pick up my last paycheck. I saw him stare at me through his living room window and then suddenly disappear. His wife answered my knock and handed me an envelope with a look on her face that said, “Just take this and leave here forever.” I did, and I don’t regret it.

3 Ways to Sow the Seeds of Your Startup's Success This Spring

Many business owners measure the success of their company by how much profit they’re bringing in. This isn’t necessarily the wrong way, and a large part of business is learning how to minimize expenses while maximizing revenue, but for fledgling startups that might not yet have a large customer base, these metrics aren’t ideal. Instead, a good indicator you’re on the road to startup success is when you find yourself in a productive, thriving ecosystem.

A Blossoming Ecosystem

An ecosystem is partly defined by the geographic area where you’ve chosen to put down your company’s roots, but it’s also made up of the people you choose to surround yourself with. These people might be your employees, advisors, and investors, in addition to other counselors such as law or finance professionals. The attitudes and outlooks of all of these individuals contribute to your ecosystem, and for your business to thrive, their impact needs to be positive.

Good influences will help you talk through decisions and support you when you’re not sure which option to pursue. They’ll also help you connect with other individuals who they think might have something to offer to you and your business — and the best team members will do so without being asked. To get the most out of your ecosystem, though, you’ll also need to give back.

What can you do to help the people you work with? What are their goals and aspirations, and how are you and your business capable of helping them achieve those goals? In an unhealthy ecosystem, one organism hoards all of the resources for itself. In a healthy one, organisms cooperate to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes that are greater than what any party involved could have achieved on its own.

Once you’ve made sure your ecosystem is the kind that breeds successful businesses and partnerships, take these three steps to cultivate your startup’s success:

1. Network to help your startup sprout essential partnerships.

With the right mindset, networking can happen in any place and at any time, sprouting relationships that are valuable for your startup’s growth. Whether you’re on a bus, at the airport, or getting some work done at your favorite coffee shop, be approachable and strive to make connections on a daily basis. That’s not all there is to it, however. Justin Zastrow, CEO of Smart Armor, points out that “Networking and ‘showing up’ is only half the battle. In addition to networking, you need to learn how to meaningfully and authentically connect with people. Otherwise, your networking efforts will be wasted.”

So much of business is about relationships, but the literature tends to overemphasize forming new relationships and underemphasize nurturing the ones you create. Don’t let connections wither away by falling out of touch. Reach out to your contacts on a regular basis to see what you can offer or how you can help.

2. Join a startup support organization that will help you establish strong roots.

Accelerators and incubators are valuable communities that help startups and entrepreneurs build a solid foundation. These groups will help provide you with a number of key elements necessary to fertilize your startup, including mentorship, working space, networking opportunities, and even financial backing in some cases.

The Ameren Accelerator, for instance, is a partnership that combines the resources of a leading energy corporation, a lauded accelerator program, and a state university system to produce an ecosystem in which energy-focused startups can flourish. The accelerator selects five to seven companies for a 12-week program that connects them with mentors, including current and former business executives, in addition to providing funding opportunities, office space, and other perks.

Different accelerators cater to different industries, so find one that fits your startup idea and do everything you can to join the community.

3. Keep finances fertile by outsourcing.

Startup owners often feel the need to fill certain roles with full-time employees when they could save money and get a better product by outsourcing. If you’re running an e-commerce website, you don’t necessarily have a full team of developers on the payroll, and the same can be true for marketing or finance. An in-house CMO will end up costing a fortune, so don’t be afraid to outsource this role.

Erik Huberman, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and founder and CEO of Hawke Media, says outsourcing positions like a CFO or CMO can save your company between 40 to 65 percentHe explains, “For less money, you can contract someone who will not only get the job done efficiently, but who will also not be looking to justify, retain, or grow his or her in-house position.”

If your startup is like most, you don’t have unlimited resources. Instead of blowing through your budget on one big hire, sow more than one seed by outsourcing certain positions.

Your product might not make it to market until late summer, or you might be hoping to secure a seed investment to finance your dream. No matter what stage of the startup process you’re in, you can set yourself up for success each day by taking the right steps to encourage healthy growth.

Homeland Security unveils new cyber security strategy amid threats

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday unveiled a new national strategy for addressing the growing number of cyber security risks as it works to assess them and reduce vulnerabilities.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

“The cyber threat landscape is shifting in real-time, and we have reached a historic turning point,” DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. “It is clear that our cyber adversaries can now threaten the very fabric of our republic itself.”

The announcement comes amid concerns about the security of the 2018 U.S. midterm congressional elections and numerous high-profile hacking of U.S. companies.

“The United States faces threats from a growing set of sophisticated malicious actors who seek to exploit cyberspace. Motivations include espionage, political and ideological interests, and financial gain,” according to the 35-page report reviewed by Reuters before its public release. “Nation-states continue to present a considerable cyber threat. But non-state actors are emerging with capabilities that match those of sophisticated nation-states.”

The report noted that by 2020 more than 20 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet. “The risks introduced by the growing number and variety of such devices are substantial,” it said.

Nielsen said the government “must think beyond the defense of specific assets — and confront systemic risks that affect everyone from tech giants to homeowners.”

The report also noted the 2015 intrusion into a federal agency resulted in the compromise of personnel records of over 4 million federal employees and in total impacted nearly 22 million people.

The DHS report said the agency “must better align our existing law enforcement efforts and resources to address new and emerging challenges in cyberspace, to include the growing use of end-to-end encryption, anonymous networks, online marketplaces, and cryptocurrencies.”

Nielsen will testify Tuesday at a Senate hearing.

In March, Nielsen said the department was prioritizing election cyber security above all other critical infrastructure it protects, such as the financial, energy and communications systems.

U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 contests after doing so during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Nielsen said that more than half of U.S. states have signed up for the agency’s cyber scanning services, designed to detect potential weaknesses that could be targeted by hackers.

DHS said in 2016 that 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers in 2016 and that a small number of networks were compromised, but that there was no evidence any votes were actually altered.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

Electrified roads: Swedish project could slash cost of electric vehicles

OSLO (Reuters) – An electrified road in Sweden that is the first in the world to charge vehicles as they drive along is showing promise and could potentially help cut the high cost of electric cars, project backers Vattenfall [VATN.UL] and Elways told Reuters.

The state-funded project, named eRoadArlanda and costing about 50 million crowns ($5.82 million), uses a modified electric truck that moves cargo from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport to Postnord’s nearby logistics hub to test the technology.

A electrified rail embedded in the tarmac of the 2-km-long (1.24 miles) road charges the truck automatically as it travels above it. A movable arm attached to the truck detects the rail’s location in the road, and charging stops when the vehicle is overtaking or coming to a halt.

The system also calculates the vehicle’s energy consumption, which enables electricity costs to be debited per vehicle and user.

Elways’ chief executive Gunnar Asplund said the charging while driving would mean electric cars no longer need big batteries — which can be half the cost of an electric car — to ensure they have enough power to travel a useful distance.

“The technology offers infinite range — range anxiety disappears” he said. “Electrified roads will allow smaller batteries and can make electric cars even cheaper than fossil fuel ones.”

Asplund said the Swedish state, which is funding the project, was happy with the results so far, with the only issue — now resolved — having been dirt accumulating on the rail.

Elways has patented the electric rail technology and is part of a Swedish consortium backing the eRoadArlanda project that also includes infrastructure company NCC and utility Vattenfall, which provides power from the national grid to the rail.

“Such roads will allow (electric vehicles) to move long distances without big, costly and heavy batteries,” said Markus Fischer, a Vattenfall spokesman, adding that installing the arm in new cars would be cheaper than retrofitting current models.

Vattenfall said in a statement electrified roads could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from lorries, which account for about 25 percent of total road traffic emissions.

“The investment cost per kilometer is estimated to be less than that of using overhead lines, as is the impact on the landscape,” it added.

Testing at eRoadArlanda started in April and will last at least 12 months so that the electric truck can use it under different weather conditions.

Editing by Catherine Evans

Synergy Pharmaceuticals: The Short Covering Has Begun

For many shareholders, Q1 results might seem like the reason they were looking for to bail on their investment at Synergy Pharmaceuticals (SGYP) and shorts know that and are going to capitalize on it. I expect after the opening bell a huge of amount of sell orders to hit the bid. This will create a huge drop in price from the previous day and will force even more to people to liquidate their positions. Then the share price will start to recover over the next few days.

The company was very clear that in Q2 there will be a resolution to the ongoing strategic review which most likely means a partnership is in the works. This is not the time to sell shares but rather to hold, average down or even do opportunistic buys. There are many indications that a recent activist movement in the company shares asking them to partner, buy or merge before the annual shareholder meeting is bearing fruit.

Now, I want to emphasize that a failed investment rarely is the shorts fault. Shorts, just like longs, are constantly searching the market for big opportunities to profit and on Synergy Pharmaceuticals they have found their own paradise. It’s management who should be blamed for creating this environment where every pop on the share price should be shorted rather than every dip should be bought environment.

Shorts: Facts vs Fiction

Blaming shorts for a drop in share price is an amateur game especially when short interest doesn’t reflect that theory. In this case is different because almost 25% of the shares are shorted. Whoever shorted the shares in Synergy knows that the company is telegraphing a strategic move ahead of time and that it will most likely cause a change in trend direction. The time to maximize their profits is coming to an end so they have to decide whether to capitalize on a revenue miss and short more shares or to use the weakness to start covering their shares. I think the latter is more likely.

The damage is already done. Don’t make decisions based on emotions

As I spoke with many investors over the last few days I realize there are many here who bought this stock at $4 or $5 a share and have been holding for over 3 years. There’s no point in giving up now until the next Q2 results are announced.

I urge everybody to wait for Q2 results before making a decision to bail out on Synergy Pharmaceuticals. Troy Hamilton, the CEO of the company is still relatively new to the company and partnerships, mergers and co-promotion agreements are not something that happens overnight.

The drug is definitely not worthless and the science is very good. It’s all about the cash burn and the strategy. And it seems that with the failure to gain significant ramp up in April, the company only has one option left: partner.

Covenants indicate the need for a partnership

The company needs $61 million in sales this year or it will be forced to repay back the loan immediately. At the current scripts rate, it will be impossible to achieve this goal even if sales doubled beginning in the third quarter.

To put this in perspective we will need beginning the first week of July for scripts to be running at 6,000 Rx’s per week and growing in order to achieve the sales goal. Our current rate is 3,238 per week as of the report of the week ending on April 28th, 2018.

I expect sales to significantly accelerate in the following weeks to reach around 4,300 to 4,500 at the beginning of July but that still leaves the company short of reaching their sales goal.

No mention of a shareholder revolt

As I was expecting the company remained silent on the shareholder revolt. That group is already the largest blocking vote in the company and might grow even larger in the weeks to come.

That to me is actually a good sign. I interpret that as a sign negotiations are ongoing and that they can’t show a weak front as a company.

The inclusion of the word M&A into their Q2 presentation slides reflects just how much pressure behind the scenes the group has already exerted on management.

Q1 Slide

As mentioned at the beginning of the open letter to the CEO, Troy Hamilton.

“We have a message for you: If you can’t deliver on a partnership before the annual meeting then hire a group of investment bankers and put the company on the market for sale. We are willing to be auctioned to the best bidder rather than continuing with the current failed marketing strategy.”


There’s huge and tremendous upside for the shares if Synergy is able to close a significant ex-USA partnership or USA partnership. I recommend investors to give management until Q2 results as asked as management asked before giving up on their investment. The best shareholders can do for now is to wait, join the shareholder activist movement and vote against an increase in the number of authorized shares of the company.

Disclosure: I am/we are long SGYP.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: The opinions and facts presented here don’t represent an offer or advise to buy, sell or trade securities. Consult an investment advisor before placing any trade. The risks involved with trading securities include but are not limited to total loss of capital invested.

Facebook Just Tapped the Next Mark Zuckerberg

Earlier this week, Facebook announced a grand reshuffle of its leadership. First reported by Recode, the new structure includes teams for the company’s apps, new platforms and infrastructure, and central product services. Most of the people moving into new roles have been with the company for close to a decade or longer, and many have proven themselves adept at the skill Facebook appears to value over all others: growth.

Chris Cox Is the New Mark Zuckerberg

If there were ever a question as to who would step in to fill Zuckerberg’s shoes should something happen to him, it has been resolved. With his new role as head of the company’s family of apps—Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and the tried and true Big Blue (aka Facebook)—Facebook’s chief product officer is stepping out as the leader he has long been internally. Anyone paying close attention knows this already.

Cox, who is very close friends with Zuckerberg, dropped out of a Stanford graduate program to join Facebook in 2005. He’s done a lot of jobs since. When I first met him in 2008, he was the 25-year-old head of resources who zipped around the office on a ripstik. An engineer by training, he helped invent news feed and was the star of the video Facebook showed investors in the run-up to its initial public offering. Cox is a brilliant public face for the company because he pairs engineering rigor and Facebook history with an emotive voice that Zuckerberg sometimes lacks. (Check out his F8 keynote from 2011 to see this in action.)

Cox’s new role also suggests Facebook will integrate Instagram and WhatsApp more deeply into the company, now that they’re organizationally closer to Messenger and Facebook. This may have contributed to WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum’s departure last month.

Javier Olivan Just Got a Lot More Important

Of Zuckerberg’s three direct reports on the product side of the business, Olivan is the only one not currently on Facebook’s leadership page. The Spanish native arrived at Facebook after finishing his Stanford MBA in 2007 to run international growth, when the company had just 40 million users, most in the United States. The growth team is Facebook’s Navy SEALs, a special-operations force brought in when the company sees potential for a feature to take off and the stakes are high. Historically, most teams at Facebook have included one of Olivan’s direct reports.

Olivan’s responsibilities now include ad products, analytics, and a group called “integrity, growth, and product management.” One could also read this as one way Zuckerberg is demoting ad products. Mark Rabkin, who is in charge, now reports to Olivan.

Controversy Won’t Stop WhatsApp’s New Boss

Unlike its Instagram acquisition, Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp was never a great culture fit. Koum promised to keep WhatsApp ad-free, then sold it to an ad company. In March, cofounder Brian Acton, who’d already left Facebook to start a foundation, advised his 35,000 Twitter followers to #Deletefacebook. Then last month, Koum announced he was leaving his post as WhatsApp’s CEO and stepping off Facebook’s board.

Now Chris Daniels, a seven-year Facebook veteran, steps in to replace Koum, eschewing the title as CEO of WhatsApp for a vice president title. It will be on Daniels, who will report to Cox, to sort out a business for the messaging service. He’s got the experience to take on the challenge. Until recently, Daniels ran Facebook’s initiatives around expanding access in developing countries. The largest of these projects is Free Basics, an app that offers access to free web services. Although telecom companies rejected the idea of partnering with Facebook to provide the Free Basics app early on—and India banned it in 2016—more than 80 carriers partner with Facebook to offer the service.

Facebook Probably Has a Blockchain Plan

David Marcus, who ran Facebook’s Messenger app, will now lead a team of fewer than a dozen people dedicated to blockchain technology. Kevin Weil, who was in charge of product at Instagram, is joining him along with James Everingham, who was in charge of engineering there. (WIRED’s Erin Griffith and Sandra Upson have some thoughts on what this means.)

A board member of cryptocurrency wallet Coinbase with a lot of payments experience, Marcus has a history of leaving large posts to take up seemingly small projects. He was CEO of PayPal in 2014 when he left to run Messenger. The move was a head-scratcher: At the time, Messenger was a tiny messaging app that had failed to take off as an email replacement. But Zuckerberg had a plan to transform Messenger into a better version of WhatsApp (which, it should be said, he’d just bought), one that businesses could harness to reach users in new ways.

Messenger’s Chief is a Growth Expert

Replacing Marcus at Messenger is Stan Chudnovsky. He’s one of the newer members of the leadership bench, having arrived at Facebook in 2014. Like Marcus, Chudnovsky is a serial entrepreneur; he sold his last company, the software startup IronPearl, to PayPal before it was a year old. Chudnovsky’s nascent startup had been building growth tools for companies, and at PayPal he was head of growth. At Messenger, Chudnovsky worked closely with Marcus to grow Messenger into a service with more than 1.3 billion monthly active users.

There Are Almost No Women Here

A shamefully obvious aspect of the image of the org chart that Recode pieced together earlier this week is the paucity of female faces. In fact, there’s only one: Naomi Gleit, who now runs “integrity, growth and product management.” Gleit, who is Facebook’s longest tenured employee (she was #29), has long been part of the growth team at Facebook and was until recently the company’s “vice president of social good.” Gleit is a force to be reckoned with, no doubt. But this new structure raises questions about Zuckerberg’s commitment to building an inclusive workforce. For as much as the company has benefitted from the work its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has done personally to promote women, it should be unacceptable for Zuckerberg to fill 13 of the company’s 14 most critical technical positions with men.

A New Face(book)

Dynavax Will Not Be Another Synergy

Dynavax Technologies (DVAX) has been making solid strides in its efforts to launch Heplisav-B, its novel best-in-class Hepatitis B vaccine, since it won FDA approval last year on the third attempt. We have written research notes in the past reflecting on the challenges of 2017 and celebrating its eventual triumph with the federal drug regulator.

Our most recent research note discussed the company’s Q1 2018 earnings report and conference call, which took place on March 8th. We highlighted the good progress being made on bringing Heplisav-B to market, as well as Dynavax’s strong financial position and solid pipeline. We have consistently highlighted the value of Dynavax’s approved product, as well as the accretive value we believe will be unlocked as more data emerges from the ongoing trials of SD-101, the company’s lead immuno-oncology pipeline candidate. For months, we have called Dynavax a solid buy, and have frequently referenced a 12-month price target of $30 to $35.

Yet the stock market has largely failed to heed our analysis, favoring a much grimmer outlook for the developmental-turned-commercial biotech firm. Closing at $16.05 a share on March 9th, Dynavax was down 3% since reporting earnings, and down 35% from its 52-week high reached shortly before the FDA approved Heplisav-B on November 9th, 2017.

The picture brightened a bit on May 10th off the back of JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) initiating coverage with an “Overweight” rating and a $27 price target. Other analysts have likewise reiterated buy ratings with the expectation of considerable upside. The result of this analyst action was a spike in the share price to a close of $18.75.

While this is a welcome development, it is not the first time Dynavax shares have headed upward in recent months only to drift back down. And even after its scorching performance on May 10th, it is still trading well below where it was around the time of approval.

How is it that Dynavax could trade so far below where it was before it even had an approved product?

The answer to that vexing question lies in a fateful decision taken by Dynavax’s management: to forego a commercialization partnership in which a large and established pharmaceutical company would take over the marketing of Heplisav-B in exchange for an upfront cash payment, various sales milestone payments, and a percentage of all sales revenues. Instead, Dynavax has decided to go it alone. Such a strategy, if executed successfully, means the company gets to keep all the income from product sales. But it also means the company must foot the expenses involved in a commercial launch and must build and train a sales and marketing team, often from scratch.

The approach Dynavax has chosen is manifestly riskier, so it is understandable that the market would be skeptical, especially during the early phases of commercialization. But the steep haircut to the share price since management made its fateful decision looks radically overblown.

Is there something else behind the extreme market skepticism?

To answer this question, we engaged in an extensive historical analysis of price action before, during, and in the wake of FDA approvals, looking for patterns in market response generally, and between two subsets of companies: those that opted for a commercial partnership, and those that opted to go it alone.

While our analysis remains preliminary, we have observed a pattern: that the market has very little faith in developmental biotech firms’ ability to transition into commercial-stage companies and punish them harshly, and that the harshness of this punishment has been magnified in recent instances.

So why does the market have less faith in transitional biotechs now?

The reason for the harsher treatment, we suspect, is the fair number of high-profile commercialization troubles, or outright failures, experienced by other companies trying to make the transition relatively recently. While there are quite a few culprits in this rogue’s gallery of mismanaged commercial rollouts, Synergy Pharmaceuticals (SGYP), which reported Q1 2018 earnings after hours on May 10th, has gotten the lion’s share of attention in recent weeks.

Synergy has burned through cash at an alarming rate in an effort to market Trulance, a therapy originally approved last year for the treatment of chronic idiopathic constipation, but with an expanded indication to treat irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. Many shareholders and analysts – including yours truly – gave Synergy’s management the benefit of the doubt, believing it could successfully commercialize Trulance due to a favorable profile making it a best-in-class competitor to market leader Linzess, which is sold by Allergan (AGN) under license from Ironwood (IRWD).

Unfortunately, Synergy’s commercialization efforts have proved extremely expensive, while managing to make progressive, but troublingly slow, headway into the market. Trulance continues to grow its market share and prescription numbers are rising, but not at a pace investors demand – and way behind Linzess when comparing their commercial launch trajectories head-to-head. The result of the slow ramp has been punishing dilution and subsequent share price deterioration as a large swathe of the market has lost confidence in Synergy’s ability to deliver on the true potential of Trulance, and does not believe it will ever reach the level of peak sales previously predicted.

But what does Synergy’s struggle have to do with Dynavax?

As we stated before, the market has become much less forgiving of developmental-stage biotechs trying to make the transition into full-fledged commercial ventures. Burned by the likes of Synergy, the markets seem to be saying loud and clear that they want developmental biotechs to keep developing drugs and leave the sales to the big boys.

So, when Dynavax opted to go it alone, the baggage of other fraught – or failed – transition attempts spring more readily into investors’ consciousness. Investors realize that valuable products may never reach their potential in the hands of incompetent management. They want their biotech investments to hand over the assets to companies that can credibly unlock their full value, while also shouldering the costs of marketing.

Did Dynavax make the wrong decision?

In listening to various conference calls and presentations conducted by Dynavax CEO Eddie Gray in the weeks and months after Heplisav-B received approval, it is easy to hear a tone of perplexity in his tone when talking about the company’s stock price action. Like many analysts, as well as investors who opted to hold their shares through the pivotal catalyst, the fairly rapid price drop and continued anemic trading price came as something of a surprise. To be sure, a bit of “selling the news” action was to be expected. But the persistent low share price has clearly been both perplexing and galling.

We argued in multiple research notes published before and after Heplisav-B was approved that Dynavax would be better off, and its shareholders better served, by accepting a commercial partnership. However, since deciding to take the plunge, Dynavax has shown considerable competence in building out a smart, lean commercialization strategy that looks like it will, in fact, succeed. But the market will not be satisfied until it sees the revenues start pouring in. The company is not quite at that stage yet, but we anticipate considerable revenues in Q2 2018, with rapid growth through the rest of the year.

Is Dynavax different?

One of the problems of market psychology is that it results in a degree of contagion. Specifically, when some companies stumble with a certain strategy in a given industry, the default assumption becomes one of skepticism to any similar attempts by other companies. That kind of heuristic is not wholly unjustified in a general sense, but its efficacy is diminished when discussing so heterodox an industry as developmental biotechs.

Here is the rub: Because these companies are dealing in vastly different drugs, with different price points, patient profiles, market sizes, and competitive environments, tarring all transitional companies with the same brush is a very bad idea.

Other than sharing a similar phase in their corporate life-cycles, there is very little similarity between what Dynavax and Synergy are selling. And those differences have immense impact on the likelihood of success for each. Yet, in the comments section of numerous articles, we have seen statements to the effect that Dynavax is on course to follow Synergy down the toilet. In our estimation, this strange conclusion could hardly be further from the truth.

Comparing Dynavax to Synergy

Interestingly, Heplisav-B and Trulance have very similar projected peak sales, amounting to about $500 million in annual peak revenue. Yet, on almost every other meaningful level, Dynavax faces a very different, and far easier, market. We will address the three major reasons for this in turn.

Product differentiation

Heplisav-B is the only approved two-dose Hepatitis B vaccine. This represents a huge advantage over incumbent vaccines, which rely on three-dose regimens and experience worryingly low levels of compliance. Existing vaccines also lack efficacy in certain vulnerable populations in which Heplisav-B has been shown to be effective. Diabetics are the biggest such population and present a virtual green-field opportunity for Dynavax to pursue in the coming years.

Synergy’s Trulance, on the other hand, does show modestly better efficacy than Linzess, but the difference is not massive. The limited superiority means it is relatively more challenging, though far from impossible, to get prescribers to switch from Linzess to Trulance, or to add Trulance to their arsenals.

Furthermore, there are many over-the-counter drugs and therapies for dealing with severe and chronic constipation issues, and many patients opt for this cheaper option even when it is manifestly less effective.

Cost of reaching decision-makers and prescribers

While Synergy has had to try to raise awareness among a vast universe of physicians, hospitals, clinics, and insurance providers, Dynavax is able to address the lion’s share of its market through a relatively limited number of engagements. This is because Hepatitis B vaccines are administered in a relatively small number of facilities.

The cost of market access, and of maintaining a competitive sales team, is thus much lower for Dynavax and reduces the risk of the sort of ruinous cash burn that has afflicted Synergy since its commercial launch of Trulance.

Competitive pressures

The relative challenges posed by their respective competitive landscapes also reveals a stark contrast between Dynavax and Synergy. Synergy has had to face off against two players in the market, with market leader Linzess backed by the marketing muscle of a massive, diversified pharmaceutical company with long experience in drug sales in a wide range of markets.

Television ads for Linzess are common, and appear to have become more ubiquitous in recent months in an evident effort to crowd out public awareness of the upstart competitor. Synergy simply lacks the resources to compete on the same footing, so it has to rely on manpower-intensive sales and marketing tactics to build awareness among prescribers.

Dynavax, conversely, faces a rather open field – and not merely because of its obvious status as the best-in-class vaccine. There are, in fact, two producers of a three-dose vaccine, Merck (MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). But while these pharma giants might, under conventional circumstances, look like an existential threat to puny Dynavax, both have faced considerable manufacturing problems that have contributed to a shortage of Hepatitis B vaccine. Furthermore, the patents protecting these legacy vaccines are set to expire over the relative near term, which will likely have the added effect of diminishing these big pharma players’ desire to go head-to-head with the new best-in-class product.

Investors’ Eye View

While it is still relatively early days for the Heplisav-B commercial rollout, things appear largely to be moving according to plan. Dynavax has enough cash on its books to get well into 2020, even without any revenues, and is thus set to reach the inflection point into positive cash flows – and it has a fair amount of wiggle room thanks to its cash pile and value accretion from an accelerating immuno-oncology pipeline.

Synergy, on the other hand, has been wracked with problems even as sales have grown. The cost of making sales has been enormous, and cash burn continues to raise red flags even after the company raised funds through a painful dilutive offering and accessed a substantial private loan facility.

Are we being too harsh on Synergy?

It is perhaps unfair to be entirely doom-and-gloom about Synergy. Yet, that has undoubtedly become the prevailing mood in the market. A nascent shareholder revolt has started in an attempt to force management’s hand to shift strategic direction and look for a commercial partner or outright buyer. But for all the negativity, the prescription growth rate, if it can be enhanced even moderately, could well be enough to get Synergy across the line of profit inflection before the bank runs dry.

Synergy is definitely not doomed, and the market may even be treating it overly harshly. But it lacks both Dynavax’s room to maneuver and its promising pipeline. Synergy really only has the one shot, which means it cannot afford to miss.

Where to from here?

Coming to our conclusion at last, it should be clear now that not all transitions from developmental-stage to commercial-stage biotech are created equal. Dynavax is well-positioned to triumph, and its share price will undoubtedly begin to perk up once investors are finally shown the commercial success. Synergy too can still deliver for shareholders, though its path remains a tougher one.

Dynavax is being tarred unfairly with the same brush as similar-stage companies that stumbled at the post. It deserves a chance to deliver, and it appears to be solidly on track to do so.

Disclosure: I am/we are long SGYP, DVAX.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Xiaomi sued for alleged patent infringement ahead of blockbuster IPO

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese smartphone maker Coolpad Group said its unit has sued three group firms of Xiaomi, which last week filed for a Hong Kong IPO that could be worth up to $10 billion, for patent infringement.

A company logo of Xiaomi is displayed on its smartphone during an event announcing a strategic alliance between CK Hutchison and Xiaomi in Hong Kong, China May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Coolpad said in a statement late on Thursday its subsidiary, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific (Shenzhen) Co Ltd filed a lawsuit against Xiaomi Telecom Technology Co Ltd, Xiaomi Technology Co Ltd and Xiaomi Factory Co Ltd in a court in Jiangsu province for using its patent without authorization.

Yulong demanded that the Xiaomi companies should immediately stop production and sale of some smartphone models, including the Mi MIX2, Coolpad said.

Yulong had filed a similar legal case against Xiaomi in a Shenzhen court in January.

“It is because the IP (intellectual property) protection environment in China improved that Coolpad launched the lawsuit in January this year,” Coolpad’s global chief patent officer Nancy Zhang told a press conference on Friday, denying they were timed with Xiaomi’s upcoming IPO.

Xiaomi last week filed its IPO plans, which could be the largest listing globally in almost four years.

Coolpad has alleged that Xiaomi violated its patented multi-simcard design and other technology related to user interface. It demanded that Xiaomi compensate it for losses due to the alleged infringement, though Zhang declined to give a figure.

In a statement, Xiaomi said it has requested patent authorities to invalidate patent rights that are the subject of the lawsuit filed in Shenzhen. It said it will fully cooperate in the investigation by authorities on the matter.

Coolpad, a Shenzhen-based smartphone maker founded 25 years ago, was once a unit of Jia Yueting’s LeEco conglomerate, which has been struggling financially over the past year and a half. LeEco sold off all its interest in Coolpad in January.

Coolpad shares have been suspended since March 2017. It has been unable to report its 2017 annual result on time and only just filed its 2016 annual report last month after repeated delays due to audit problems. It reported a loss of HK$4.38 billion for 2016 versus a profit of HK$2.32 billion in 2015.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Samsung faces new pressure on group structure after criticism by antitrust head

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], came for fresh criticism about its ownership structure on Thursday, with the country’s antitrust chief saying it was unsustainable.

FILE PHOTO – Samsung Group chief, Jay Y. Lee, is surrounded by media as he arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

Korea Fair Trade Commission chief Kim Sang-jo took aim at the group’s circular shareholdings between companies such as Samsung C&T, Samsung Life Insurance, and Samsung Electronics.

The structure has enabled the family of Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee to retain control of the companies in the conglomerate, especially crown jewel Samsung Electronics, with minimum investments, critics have said.

“The clear fact is, the current ownership and control structure of Samsung Group, which goes from Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee to Samsung C&T to Samsung Life Insurance to Samsung Electronics, is not sustainable,” Kim told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with business leaders.

Samsung Group’s complex ownership structure has come for criticism earlier too, most notably from U.S. activist hedge fund Elliott Management, which proposed as a solution in 2016 that Samsung Electronics split itself into two.

Samsung Electronics rejected that proposal but accepted part of the fund’s proposals by announcing plans to cancel its existing treasury shares worth over $35 billion by 2018.

Fair Trade Commission’s Kim said he urges Jay Y. Lee to make a decision concerning the ownership structure, adding that Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Yoon Boo-keun, who attended the meeting, had told him it will be considered.

A Samsung Electronics spokesman did not have an immediate comment.

Others have also questioned the group’s ownership structure recently.

The country’s top financial regulator said on Wednesday that Samsung Life Insurance must consider ways to lessen the risk of having too much of its assets concentrated in one place, including selling some or all of Samsung Life’s stake in Samsung Electronics.

“Lessening the risk of concentrated assets is key to securing financial stability, which is what we are interested in,” said Choi Jong-ku, Chairman of the Financial Services Commission.

“If there are any concerns about retaining management control (of Samsung Electronics) we are saying, look for ways to keep it while lessening the risk.”

Samsung Life Insurance is at the heart of a cross-shareholding structure in which it owns about 8 percent of Samsung Electronics, which has a market value of about $340 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Yuna Park; Additional reporting and writing by Joyce Lee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

South Korean prosecutors raid LG's head office in tax probe

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean prosecutors have raided LG Group’s head office as part of a probe into alleged tax evasion by family members controlling the conglomerate, the prosecutors’ office said on Wednesday.

A man walks past an LG logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Prosecutors are looking into possible evasion of capital gains tax worth about 10 billion won ($9.25 million) in relation to the transfer of shares of an LG affiliate, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said in a text message to reporters.

A spokeswoman at LG Corp, the group’s holding company, said the relevant parties will cooperate with the prosecutors’ probe.

The probe appeared to have been caused by differing views on the amount of tax payable after some shareholders sold shares in the market and paid the corresponding taxes, she said.

The probe into the country’s fourth-biggest conglomerate by assets would be the latest of a string of troubles faced by families controlling the country’s conglomerates, known as chaebols.

A tantrum by the heiress of Korean Air Lines Co Ltd earlier this year reignited public anger at the behavior of the rich and powerful, and sparked investigations into her family and its businesses.

The liberal government of Moon Jae-in has pledged to pursue chaebol reform, urging them to improve governance structures to improve transparency and fair competition.

Reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin, Editing by Christopher Cushing and Richard Pullin

Memory boost: How chipmakers are weathering slowing smartphone sales

SEOUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Investors in global chipmakers have had a rocky ride in the last few months on worries about a slowing smartphone market, but a clamor for more video content from consumers is underpinning buoyant sales for memory-chip makers.

FILE PHOTO: Microchips emerge from a machine onto a roll in the clean room at the UTAC plant in Singapore February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Indeed, the earnings reports of various chipmakers and smartphone companies in the past month tell a more interesting story beyond the cooling in phone shipment volumes: smartphone makers are cramming their devices with memory to satisfy the increasing demands of consumers.

A case in point is last week’s quarterly report from Apple Inc (AAPL.O). The Cupertino, California-based company said the iPhone X was the most popular iPhone model in the March quarter – the first cycle ever where the costliest iPhone was also the most sought after.

More upbeat assessments from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O), and Franco-Italian company STMicroelectronics (STM.PA), have also eased concerns.

Samsung last month forecast strong sales for “high-density” chips that have more processing power and bigger storage capacity – demand that will help it weather a decline in overall smartphone shipments as consumers are willing to pay for costlier and faster models that allow them to easily watch and store large amounts of video.

“Even as the number of smartphone shipments slow down, each smartphone will contain memory chips with bigger capacity and better performance, which, for memory chip makers, makes up for a slowdown in the number of total smartphones,” said Kim Rok-ho, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment.

That puts into perspective a warning by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) (2330.TW) of softer smartphone sales, which was partly responsible for the recent selloff in Apple and other chipmakers.

The broader concerns about a slowdown in the chip market appear to have eased as well.

FILE PHOTO: Mobile memory chips made by chipmaker SK Hynix are seen in this picture illustration taken in Seoul May 10, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index .SOX, a proxy for global chipmakers that fell sharply from its peak in mid-March on initial iPhone sales concerns, has stabilized in the past two weeks, posting a 4.4 percent rise so far this year.


The $122 billion memory chip industry enjoyed an unprecedented boom since mid-2016, expanding nearly 70 percent in 2017 alone, thanks to robust growth of smartphones and cloud services that require more powerful chips that can store loads of data.

The pace of growth is set to more than halve as memory-chip prices come off their highs, but the outlook remains strong for pure-play memory chipmakers such as Micron Technology Inc (MU.O) and SK Hynix (000660.KS). Micron’s shares have risen 18 percent this year and Hynix’s stock has gained 8.5 percent.

Revenue at Micron, for instance, has grown at an average rate of about 65 percent in the two quarters it has reported this year, and analysts expect it to grow at an average of 30 percent for the rest of the year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Micron and Hynix both trade at roughly 4 times forward 12-month earnings against a sector median of 16.7, suggesting that the stocks have room to grow.

Other chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD.O) and Texas Instruments (TXN.O), which are less leveraged to the smartphone market, including those that sell to carmakers, industrial, bitcoin, and gaming companies are well set up too.


All the same, the slowdown in smartphone shipments is bad news for chipmakers that design microprocessors: each phone needs just one microprocessor chip versus rapid growth of memory content in devices.

Global smartphone shipments fell 2 percent in the first quarter, following a 9 percent drop in the fourth quarter, according to market research firm StrategyAnalytics.

Qualcomm, whose Snapdragon processors power many popular smartphone models, recently showed just how far it is willing to go to hedge against a slowdown after revenue from its key licensing business slumped 44 percent in the latest quarter.

The company, which charges a fee for its chip patents based on a percentage of the selling price of a smartphone, said it would cap the phone price used to calculate that fee at $400. More expensive phones, which can sell for $1,000, would still be treated as $400 for the purpose of the Qualcomm license fee.

TSMC, whose fortunes are more closely tied with the broader smartphone industry as it is the world’s largest contract chipmaker, felt the slowdown more acutely in the latest quarter.

Qualcomm and TSMC stocks are down 21 percent and 2.6 percent respectively so far this year.

“The spending cycle (by chipmakers for investment) is continuing, but there may still be volatility similar to the correction in 2015,” Tammy Qiu, an analyst at Berenberg said in a note to clients.

Additional reporting by Tenzin Pema in Bengaluru; Editing by Miyoung Kim & Shri Navaratnam

Sweden's iZettle to list on Nasdaq Stockholm

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Fast-growing Swedish fintech firm iZettle said on Tuesday it planned to list on the Nasdaq Stockholm stock exchange, with the initial public offering to take place this year.

An entrance of the iZettle company is pictured in the headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, August 12, 2016. REUTERS/Violette Goarant

The company said it planned to list during 2018, “depending on market conditions”, and that the listing application had been approved by the stock exchange.

The firm said it planned to raise around 2 billion crowns ($226.17 million) in connection with the initial public offering.

Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom, editing by Helena Soderpalm

A 66-Year-Old Woman’s Brain Implant Was Shut Off By a Lightning Strike

A doctor in Slovenia has reported on a case with a lesson you might want to remember. If you wind up with a brain implant at some point down the road—including the kind that might someday allow you to control computers with your mind—be sure you don’t try and charge it during a thunderstorm.

According to the report, published earlier this month and spotted by Ars Technica, a 66-year-old patient with a brain implant was in her apartment when it was struck by lightning. The strike was strong enough to “burn and destroy” electrical appliances in the apartment, including a television and air conditioner.

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It was also strong enough to trigger a failsafe that shut off the woman’s brain implant, even though it wasn’t connected to the home’s wiring. The patient was being treated for involuntary neck spasms using a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS. It’s a well-established therapy that has been used for Parkinson’s disease for more than two decades, and was approved to treat severe obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2009. DBS treatment relies on an implant called a neurostimulator, in this case a unit from Medtronic, that sends electrical impulses to electrodes implanted in the brain.

The patient didn’t notice anything was wrong until an hour after the storm, when her spasms returned. She was able to get her implant reactivated and her tremors back under control quickly, and no damage to the implant was found.

But that outcome, according to the reporting doctor, could have been much worse if the implant had been plugged in to recharge during the lightning strike. Though the report doesn’t speculate on just how badly the patient could have been harmed, it does refer to “serious brain injury” in cases where patients with implants were exposed to strong electromagnetic fields. Electrical implants can be shut off or damaged when they get too close to generators, arc welders, or even medical equipment like MRI machines.

A medical neurostimulator isn’t precisely analogous to the kind of brain implants that entrepreneurs including Elon Musk want to develop. In fact, simple brain-computer interfaces have already been shown to work without any implant at all. But more sensitive versions of the technology probably will involve implants, so if you ever decide to literally hack your brain, be careful when you plug it in.

Chinese-American Elites Lament a Brewing Trade War

It’s not easy to promote closer US-China ties these days. The countries are moving toward a trade war; a US delegation left Beijing Friday reporting little progress on resolving disputes. US executives accuse China of stealing their intellectual property. The US government is imposing ever tighter restrictions on Chinese telecommunications firms.

That made an uncomfortable backdrop for the annual conference of the Committee of 100, a group of influential Chinese-Americans, in Silicon Valley over the weekend. The group billed the event as a “Bridge Between the US and China.” But speakers and attendees lamented deteriorating relations, heaped scorn on the Trump administration, and expressed concern that nativism could lead to discrimination against Chinese-Americans.

“It does not take a very stable genius to understand that the US relationship with China is now under severe stress,” Chas Freeman, a senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, told several hundred guests. In 1972, Freeman was an interpreter for President Nixon during his first visit to China. More than four decades later, Freeman noted the growing hostility between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies, even as their nations remain interdependent. “The US and China are each too globalized, too successful, and entangled to divorce,” he said.

Freeman and others said Trump administration policies risk weakening the US or exacerbating tensions between the countries. The tax cut approved by Congress last year will lead the government to issue more debt, much of which will be bought by the Chinese, he said. Blocking Chinese telecom company ZTE from buying US-made components could backfire by encouraging China to buttress its domestic suppliers; those firms could eventually displace US components in other products.

Not all the blame went toward Washington. Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, said China is engaged in a “massive government-organized and lavishly funded drive to acquire foreign technology to make itself into a high-tech superpower.” After decades of movement toward a market-based economy, Shirk said the Chinese government is increasing its involvement in the economy, and re-emphasizing its socialist ideology. “What’s happening in China is not your normal industrial policy,” Shirk said. “These are efforts to reduce integration with the rest of the global economy.”

Shirk said executives and political leaders in other developed economies share concerns about China’s path. “This is a much broader and deeper concern than just Trump,” she said. Gary Locke, a former US ambassador to China, echoed that sentiment, saying China limits foreign ownership of Chinese businesses, prodding many US firms into uncomfortable joint ventures with Chinese companies that are, or could be, rivals.

Technology executives find the growing tensions unsettling. “As a tech person, I love to think that technology has no boundaries,” said Paul Yeh, who runs a Palo Alto, California venture capital fund that invests in both the US and China. But Yeh said he’s not naive, and thinks the tech industry ultimately will suffer from the hostility. One potential warning sign: Three-fourths of respondents to a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China said foreign businesses are less welcome in China than previously.

Beneath the rhetoric, China has emerged as a legitimate tech power. Locke, the former ambassador, noted that Chinese inventors filed more patents than those from any other nation last year, and the country is home to the world’s fastest supercomputer. China has been particularly aggressive in artificial intelligence, with a national goal to catch the US by 2020. China’s SenseTime, which makes image-analysis software, is now the world’s most valuable AI startup.

Fei-Fei Li, Google’s chief scientist for artificial intelligence and machine learning, offered a more personal perspective on the rivalry between the two countries. Li was born in China and came to the US during high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics before moving into computer science and ultimately, AI. She noted that the discoveries that revolutionized physics in the early 20th century came from scientists in several countries. “No company or country owned modern physics,” she said, drawing a parallel to artificial intelligence. “We all benefit.”

In some areas, the two countries are so interconnected that it’s hard to distinguish what is American and what is Chinese. Several startups pursuing self-driving technology include people from both countries and technology from both countries, said Jonathan Woetzel, the Asia-based director of the McKinsey Global Institute. “Business is what happens while politicians are talking,” he said.

Rising Tension

Why Elon Musk and Warren Buffett Are Suddenly Trolling Each Other Over See’s Candies

During the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting Saturday, CEO Warren Buffett offered some advice to Tesla’s Elon Musk: Stay away from See’s Candies.

What the renowned investor probably didn’t anticipate was that Musk, a fellow multi-billionaire, would interpret his message as a dare.

Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns See’s Candies, was responding to a shareholder’s question about whether he agreed with Musk’s views about so-called economic “moats,” a term Buffett coined in a 1999 Fortune article referring to a company’s wide competitive advantages.

While Buffett has long extolled the benefits of moats—which are a key component of his stock-picking process—Musk spurned the concept entirely during a Tesla earnings call this week.

“I think moats are lame,” Musk told analysts on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday. “They are like nice in a sort of quaint, vestigial way. If your only defense against invading armies is a moat, you will not last long. What matters is the pace of innovation, that is the fundamental determinant of competitiveness.”

Presented with Musk’s comment, Buffett acknowledged that the acceleration of technological advancement in recent years has made more moats vulnerable and “susceptible to invasion.” But he still believes the concept is crucially important, and that some companies’ moats are more impenetrable now than they’ve ever been.

“Certainly you should be working on improving your own moat and defending your own moat all the time. And Elon may turn things upside down in some areas,” Buffett said during the Berkshire meeting in Omaha. “I don’t think he’d want to take us on in candy.”

Buffett often cites See’s Candies as a company with a wide moat, because of the company’s loyal, entrenched customer base, particularly on the West Coast—making it difficult for any rival chocolate chains to steal any business from See’s.

Berkshire Hathaway acquired See’s Candies in 1972, and Buffett is famously fond of its peanut brittle— which he and his business partner Charlie Munger continuously munch on while answering questions for six hours at their shareholder meeting each year. Some of Berkshire Hathaway’s other businesses also have moats wide enough to stave off competition from an innovative tech upstart, such as Garanimals, a line of children’s clothing it owns, Buffett added.

Munger also scoffed at Musk’s perspective on moats. “Elon says a conventional moat is quaint, and that’s true of a puddle of water. And he says that the best moat would be to have a big competitive position, and that is also right,” Munger said. “It’s ridiculous. Warren does not intend to build an actual moat. Even though they’re quaint.”

Musk, who did not attend the Berkshire Hathaway meeting, caught wind of Buffett and Munger’s comments, and apparently felt he was being trolled. Responding to the Berkshire Hathaway executives in a series of tweets, Musk first posted a musical YouTube clip from the movie Trolls.

Then Musk announced on Twitter, “I’m starting a candy company and it’s going to be amazing.”

Although the Tesla CEO insisted he was “super super serious,” the tone of his Twitter thread — in which he also noted that “the plot of Willy Wonka is really messed up” — suggested otherwise. Still, Musk added, “Ok ok, just for sake of argument, what do you wish for in candy?” He followed that up with a single-word tweet: “Cryptocandy.”

Both Buffett and Munger loathe cryptocurrencies, which the Berkshire CEO on Saturday predicted “will come to bad endings.”

As for whether the investing duo will respond to Musk, it’s unlikely they even took notice of his tweets: While Buffett has a Twitter account, he has tweeted exactly nine times, and not since the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway meeting two years ago.

Dell EMC freshens high-end SANs with VMAX makeover, PowerMax

Dell EMC has unveiled the PowerMax series, the new flagship family of its SAN storage offerings. With a heritage in all-flash VMAX, PowerMax arrays offer improved performance as well as support for inline data deduplication.

At Dell EMC World last week in Las Vegas the company announced a refresh of its high-end storage range, with PowerMax unveiled as a successor to EMC’s VMAX and the latest in an evolution that originated in its historic Symmetrix family.

PowerMax takes much from the existing VMAX architecture but brings significant upgrades such as support for NVMe flash drives and inline data deduplication.

Like the current VMAX AF, PowerMax implements a multi-controller architecture based on so-called “PowerBricks”. Each PowerBrick comprises a 4U module with two active-active controllers and two shelves of 24 2.5” NVMe flash drives. The drives are dual-port to allow maximum availability in case one of the controllers fails.

PowerMax comes in two models, the 2000 and the 8000. The first is essentially an updated VMAX 250F. It can accommodate a maximum of two PowerBricks in the same rack, with 96 drives of 1.9TB, 3.8TB or 7.6TB for a maximum capacity of around 1PB. Like the VMAX 250F, the PowerMax 2000 only supports open systems (Windows, Linux, Unix) and not mainframe.

Topping off the series is the PowerMax 8000, which succeeds the VMAX 950F and can house up to eight PowerBricks. While its VMAX forebear was built on Intel Xeon E5v2 processors, the PowerMax 8000 uses the same Xeon E5v4 as the PowerMax 2000, which allows Dell EMC to boost the processing power of the array.

Like the VMAX 850F, the PowerMax 8000 supports open systems and the mainframe IBM Z-Series. PowerMax 8000 instances can be dispersed to different racks in the same datacentre to protect against electrical failure or other incidents within the same datacentre. As with its VMAX predecessor, arrays can be connected by a dual Infiniband fabric.

Dell EMC claims the PowerMax 2000 can deliver up to 1.7 million IOPS (read, 8k blocks) with latency below 300µs, which is about 50% better than the VMAX equivalent. Meanwhile, the PowerMax 8000 tops out at 10 million IOPS with a similar latency figure, but with throughput of around 150GBps.

For PowerMax, Dell EMC has significantly re-worked the OS code that drives its high-end systems and has upgraded its file system to optimise data placement on its drives. Eventually, these arrays will support up to eight classes of service, but that depends on Dell EMC adding support for Intel Optane drives to the flash drives currently supported

Another new feature is native support for inline data deduplication. Dell EMC’s position historically was that the technology held no interest for it in its high-end arrays, but it has bowed to pressure from competitors. The company has recently added deduplication to its Unity arrays and decided to do the same for PowerMax.

According to those responsible in the company, the algorithm used allows for a maximum reduction ratio of 5:1 and an average of 3:1. In the high-end storage array market, support for deduplication returns the advantage to Dell EMC over the DS888x systems from IBM and allows the firm to go up against Hitachi Vantara (and HPE, which re-sells Hitachi systems re-badged as XP7).

Storage admins can select data duplication and compression functionality by volume without impact on existing data services.

The two new PowerMax models are available this week, with Dell EMC indicating that new configurations that incorporate Intel Optane drives are set for 2018 release.

Support for NVMe-over-fabrics is also part of the Dell EMC roadmap, but the firm has not explained whether the protocol will be used to link server-based storage or to support shelves of NVMe-over-fabrics compatible external storage.

Qualcomm to depose Apple services chief Eddy Cue

(Reuters) – Qualcomm Inc can depose Apple Inc’s services chief Eddy Cue in addition to Chief Executive Tim Cook, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled on Friday, part of the chipmaker’s effort to determine whether Apple worked with Samsung to focus regulatory scrutiny on Qualcomm.

Eddy Cue, Senior VP of Internet Software, introduces Apple TV during a launch event in Cupertino, California, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The access to Cue is important because Qualcomm alleges talks between executives at Apple and its rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd were central to its decision to cut off Apple from a stream of nearly $1 billion in licensing rebate payments.

Apple sued Qualcomm early last year, contesting the San Diego-based chipmaker’s licensing practices and asking for those rebate payments back. Qualcomm then sued Apple for patent infringement in several countries. As part of the disputes, Qualcomm is also seeking to ban the import of some iPhones it believes are violating its patents.

In the lawsuit in Southern California filed by Apple, Qualcomm has alleged that at a conference in Idaho in 2015, a top Apple executive encouraged Samsung to “get aggressive” in asking South Korean antitrust regulators to pursue action against the chipmaker.

Cook and Cue are regular attendees of a media mogul conference held each year in Sun Valley, Idaho. The Apple executive in question, Qualcomm alleged, explained that a regulatory ruling on Samsung’s home turf would be Samsung’s “best chance” to force Qualcomm to change its licensing practices.

Qualcomm did not name the Apple executive cited in its filings. However, the conversation between Apple and Samsung is important because Qualcomm alleges it amounted to Apple “wrongfully inducing” a regulatory action against Qualcomm.

Qualcomm said such a move violated a cooperation agreement it had with Apple and that it stopped sending rebate payments to Apple because of that and other violations of the agreement.

Apple has argued in court filings that it cooperated with requests from regulators and that Qualcomm improperly retaliated against it for doing so.

Though Qualcomm is known as a chipmaker, its profit has been driven by a patent licensing business. Some of Qualcomm’s practices caused conflicts with customers such as Apple and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], as well as with regulators in China, Korea and the United States. Qualcomm has begun changing some of those practices to become more “regulator friendly,” its executives have said.

Apple declined to comment, and Samsung and Qualcomm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis

How to Change Your Twitter Password Right Now

On Thursday, Twitter chief technology officer Parag Agrawal disclosed in a blog post that the company had inadvertently recorded user passwords, in plaintext, in an internal system. This is not how things are supposed to go! And while Twitter has fixed the bug, and doesn’t think any of the exposed passwords were accessed in any way, you should still change your Twitter password right now to make sure your account is secure.

“It’s a bad thing and Twitter should be held to the fire for it,” says David Kennedy, CEO of the penetration testing firm TrustedSec. “But they are taking the right steps by requesting everyone change their password and making the bug public versus hiding it.”

Twitter has begun notifying both mobile and desktop users to change their passwords, but several people have reported errors and lags, presumably because everyone is trying to make account changes at once (which is good!).

Companies generally protect user passwords by scrambling them in a cryptographic process known as hashing. As Agrawal explained, Twitter does this, too, using a well-regarded hash function called bcrypt. But a bug caused Twitter to accidentally store passwords unprotected in some type of internal log before its password management system finished hashing them. The system would then complete the hash, and everything would look fine, even though the passwords were readable in the log. While it’s great that Twitter eventually realized the situation and is taking steps to ensure that it never happens again, it’s disconcerting that such a fundamental flaw in a crucial user protection existed in the first place.

“I’m sorry that this happened,” Agrawal wrote on Twitter after posting the announcement. “We are sharing this information to help people make an informed decision about their account security. We didn’t have to, but believe it’s the right thing to do.” The disclosure came on World Password Day.

It’s true that Twitter could have simply implemented remediations and hoped for the best, but its users deserve to know if and when their passwords have been exposed—especially because it’s always possible that the data actually was improperly accessed. And the company could have gone even farther with its disclosure. “We ask that you consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password,” Agrawal wrote in the statement. Instead of making it optional, Twitter could have forced all of its users to change their passwords to guarantee their security.

To do just that for your own account, navigate to Settings and privacy > Password. Enter your current password and then pick a new one. And if you used your old Twitter password for any other accounts, you should change those, too.

While you’re at it, set up two-factor authentication for Twitter if you don’t have it enabled already. Go to Settings and privacy > Account. In the Security subsection, click on Review your login verification methods. After entering your (newly revised) password to confirm that you want to make changes, you’ll land on a Login verification screen. Here you can set things up so you receive second factor codes via SMS or, preferably, using a code-generating app like Google Authenticator or Authy. The problem Twitter announced today is exactly the type of situation where two-factor is helpful—even if your Twitter password was compromised while it was exposed in the internal log, two-factor would keep a bad actor from using that information alone to access your account.

Twitter declined to comment on how long the plaintext passwords were exposed, or why the company decided not to reset all user passwords, but it seems to have acted in good faith to resolve the issue. For a platform with 336 million users, though, it’s a pretty major gaffe.

Past Passwords

Facebook Dating Looks a Lot Like Hinge

When Facebook announced a new dating feature at its annual developer conference this week, it drew quick comparisons to existing apps like Tinder and Bumble. But the social network’s matchmaking service, simply called Dating, most closely resembles another, lesser known dating app: Hinge.

Facebook hasn’t yet begun to test Dating, but the demo version touted on stage by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief product officer Chris Cox looks nearly identical to Hinge. This isn’t the first time Facebook has ripped off a competitor; Instagram famously lifted Stories from Snapchat in 2016. And as in previous cases, Hinge probably doesn’t have much recourse to stop them.

Based on the demo shown at the F8 developer conference, Facebook Dating doesn’t have a Tinder-like “hot or not” swiping feature for quickly sorting through potential matches. Instead, it works like Hinge, which has users scroll through detailed profiles. Both Hinge and Facebook Dating also allow users to post answers to questions on their profiles, like whether they prefer dogs or cats. And in the biggest similarity, singles on both services can start conversations not by merely saying hello but by commenting on a specific profile item. For example, you can click on a picture of a crush’s trip to Morocco and mention that you’ve been there too. You can also simply “like” an image, video, or question response to signify your interest.

Hinge and Facebook Dating also share the same ethos. On stage, Zuckerberg stressed that Dating focuses on finding meaningful relationships rather than hookups. Hinge advertises itself the same way. In 2016, the app added a paid service; for $7 a month, users can interact with an unlimited number of potential matches and gain access to other exclusive features. The assumption is that people willing to pay to find a relationship are looking for something more substantial than casual dating. Facebook wants to do the same, just without the price tag.

Like most popular dating apps, Hinge also largely relies on Facebook data to operate; you even need a Facebook account to sign up, though the company says it’s developing a workaround. Hinge uses info from the social network to show you potential matches that have friends in common with you. You can also automatically pull in your Facebook photos and other information.

Again, Facebook Dating has yet to launch, so it’s impossible to know exactly how much it has in common with Hinge. But at first glance, they seem nearly identical, not just because they have the same features but also in the way they’re designed. Facebook didn’t respond to requests for comment about the similarities. Hinge, meanwhile, is playing it off as a compliment.

“When the Hinge team saw the similarity between our designs, particularly the profile and liking interaction, we congratulated each other. It’s gratifying to have one of the world’s biggest technology companies enter the dating space and draw so much inspiration from Hinge,” Tim MacGougan, Hinge’s vice president of product, said in an email. “We’re interested to see how their product evolves as they find their footing, and we’ll keep our focus on innovating at the forefront of the anti-swipe, pro-dating movement.”



Besides, it’s not like Hinge can really do anything about it. The reality is tech companies have ripped off each other’s interfaces for years, even if Facebook has a few recent, brazen examples. And legally, they’re entitled to.

“I don’t think any claim that Hinge could plausibly raise would stand much of a chance of being successful,” says Evan Brown, a partner at the firm Much Shelist who specializes in technology and intellectual property law. Brown explains that copyright laws are designed to protect creative expression, rather than methods of doing something, like crafting a successful dating app. “When you look at the similarities between how Hinge looks and Facebook looks, those similarities—as I see it—are purely factual or methodological,” he says.

Brown points to a 1996 Supreme Court case, Lotus Development Corp v. Borland International, in which a software company tried to assert that a drop-down menu it created was protected by copyright. The high court was split, but a lower court held that copyright doesn’t extend to the user interface of a computer. Brown says many of the same issues would come into play with Hinge. “No one would think they have exclusivity under copyright, it’s the very same thing here,” he says. “These are just stock elements of how interfaces look and operate.”

That hasn’t stopped other dating apps from suing each other, though. In March, Match Group, which owns Tinder, sued competing dating app Bumble for violating its patents and trademarks, as well as misusing trade secrets. Bumble quickly countered with a lawsuit of its own—accusing Match of coaxing it into revealing confidential information under the impression that it might purchase it. Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble, was previously one of the earliest employees at Tinder.

Daniel Nazer, a staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s intellectual property team, thinks Tinder’s case faces many of the same pitfalls. “I think most utility patents in this space face the same problems,” he says. (Utility patents protect new machines, processes, and other inventions). He specifically cites Alice Corp v CLS Bank International, a landmark Supreme Court case from 2014 that found an abstract idea doesn’t become eligible for a patent just because it’s implemented on a computer. The decision is largely seen as having been crucial in helping software companies fight back against patent trolls. He thinks the case decision makes Tinder’s patents invalid. IAC, Match’s parent company, declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

Facebook’s copycat moves can still feel unfair, especially for a company of its size. But bringing already successful features to new products mostly stands to benefit users. If Stories are any indication, people won’t mind that Facebook Dating’s look originated elsewhere. The social network announced earlier this week that a whopping 450 million people use WhatsApp Status every day, the Facebook-owned app’s version of Stories. Snapchat, by comparison, has less than 200 million users total. For now though, all Hinge can do is keep talking to Facebook, and hope the social network doesn’t kill its business.

“Since the announcement, our team has been in touch with Facebook about what our relationship will look like moving forward,” says Hinge’s MacGougan.

Internet Dating Diaries