Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
🗺 World Affairs + Geopolitics
#1 Biden Bans Imports of Russian Oil, Natural Gas
President Biden banned imported oil and other energy sources from Russia to punish the country as it intensified its military campaign in Ukraine, a move that will add pressure to already record U.S. gasoline prices and the economic recovery.
The U.S. immediately prohibited new Russian shipments of oil, certain petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and coal under an executive order Mr. Biden signed Tuesday. Washington will give companies 45 days to wind down existing contracts for Russian energy supplies, a senior Biden administration official said. The order also bars new U.S. investment in Russia’s energy sector and blocks Americans from financing foreign companies that invest in the sector.
European governments, which are far more reliant on Russian energy, took their own actions on Tuesday, though they weren’t as stringent as what the U.S. imposed. About 8% of U.S. imports of oil and refined products, or about 672,000 barrels a day, came from Russia last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.Source: WSJ
As the war in Ukraine continues to drag on (probably as much of a surprise to Russia as it is to everyone else…), governments around the world including the US continue to take retaliatory actions. The US is blocking imports of Russian oil and gas, which will likely further pressure global energy markets.
Although the US mainly imports Russian product out of convenience and can substitute with domestic production, domestic supplies will take time to ramp up and fill the gap.
#2 The Rising Costs Of China’s Friendship With Russia
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine started two weeks ago, Jane Yan, a senior executive at a machine parts maker in eastern China, said she was not too worried about the impact. After all, buyers in Russia and Ukraine accounted for less than 5 per cent of the company’s overseas sales last year.
But as the full ferocity of the Russian onslaught started to become apparent, the outlook shifted dramatically. Important clients in countries such as Poland and Germany cancelled orders with the Zhejiang-based company.
“A Munich-based client said ‘it feels terribly wrong to send money to a country that is tolerating war in Ukraine — sorry’,” said Yan, who asked that her employer not be identified. She added that inquiries from European buyers have also fallen sharply since the conflict started. “I hope the war ends as soon as possible.”
The outrage in Europe over the war is potentially dangerous for Beijing. While China has escalated its own geopolitical contest with the US in recent years, it has worked energetically to prevent Europe joining forces with Washington. It has done this partly through using the allure of its market for German and other countries’ companies and partly by playing divide and rule.
But the Russian invasion has united the US and EU in ways that seemed impossible during the presidency of Donald Trump.Source: FT
China’s position on Russia / Ukraine continue to gather attention that China likely doesn’t want. China strategically likely wants to be aligned with Russia, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing China’s relationships with the US (which was already bad) and Europe (which was okay, though lukewarm) to further deteriorate.
The biggest loss for China is likely the hardening of views in Europe against China since the invasion of Ukraine is principally a European problem. Europe’s own interests are now at stake, whereas the US China trade war over the last 5 years was really about American interests rather than European ones.
But here’s the bigger picture – China has been the single biggest beneficiary of global peace and open trade of the last 40 years. Any change to that peaceful and open world is bad for China. China was the biggest winner on the way up…it also means China has the most to lose in a war-torn, de-globalizing world. With that perspective, it’s clear why China would just prefer the world to be stable and just mind their own business. (Stability is also one of the most used words in Chinese government communications over the last year).
#3 China Considers Buying Stakes In Russian Energy, Commodity Firms
China is considering buying or increasing stakes in Russian energy and commodities companies, such as gas giant Gazprom PJSC and aluminum producer United Co. Rusal International PJSC, according to people familiar with the matter.
Beijing is in talks with its state-owned firms, including China National Petroleum Corp., China Petrochemical Corp., Aluminum Corp. of China and China Minmetals Corp., on any opportunities for potential investments in Russian companies or assets, the people said. Any deal would be to bolster China’s imports as it intensifies its focus on energy and food security — not as a show of support for Russia’s invasion in Ukraine — the people said.Source: Economic Times
Seems like China thinks there is an opportunity to take control of some valuable assets on the cheap (instead of just buying Russian oil and gas as a customer, this potentially allows them to own the companies that produce it). But I’m not sure the US or Europe will like this…the US and Europe will likely view this as support for Russia.
#4 Chinese Companies That Aid Russia Could Face U.S. Repercussions, Commerce Secretary Warns.
Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, issued a stern warning Tuesday to Chinese companies that might defy U.S. restrictions against exporting to Russia, saying the United States would cut them off from American equipment and software they need to make their products.
The Biden administration could “essentially shut” down Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation or any Chinese companies that defy U.S. sanctions by continuing to supply chips and other advanced technology to Russia, Ms. Raimondo said in an interview with The New York Times.
Russia “is certainly going to be courting other countries to do an end run around our sanctions and export controls,” Ms. Raimondo said. But if the United States were to find that a company like the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, in Shanghai, was selling its chips to Russia, “we could essentially shut SMIC down because we prevent them from using our equipment and our software,” she said.Source: NYT
The stakes continue to rise.
Although the US has very powerful sanction tools, it does need other countries to cooperate. If other countries do not cooperate, US sanctions won’t really have much teeth unless the US is also willing to sanction non-cooperating countries / companies.
This is exactly what the US is threatening China with if China tries to help Russia evade sanctions. China already thinks the US meddles too much in its internal affairs. This is another injury to add to the list…
The US and China are basically in a game of chicken.
#5 US Assures Nervous Baltics Of NATO Protection Against Russia
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday assured Lithuania and Latvia of NATO protection and American support as he made quick visits to two of the three Baltic states that are increasingly on edge as Russia presses ahead with its invasion of Ukraine.
Along with Estonia, which Blinken will visit on Tuesday, the former Soviet republics are NATO members, and the Biden administration is aiming to calm any fears they have about their security in the event Russia chooses to expand its military operations.Source: AP News
If you’re Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia, you know NATO has an obligation to defend you if Russia invades. But obligation and willingness are two different things.
The problem is that everyone can see how US and Europe don’t want to intervene in Ukraine because of the dangers of directly going to war with Russia, a nuclear-armed country (and not because the West thinks Ukraine is unimportant and therefore not worth defending).
Russia knows this, too. If you extrapolate that logic, it means that if Russia did invade a minor NATO country like Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia on Russia’s side of Europe, NATO would likely be similarly scared of being in direct war with Russia. Would NATO have a direct obligation to defend them? Yes. Would NATO be similarly scared? Yes!
Obviously another game of chicken…this time between US / NATO / Europe and Russia.
#6 Russia Calls For Return To ‘Peaceful Co-Existence’ With U.S. Like During Cold War
Russia and the United States should return to the principle of “peaceful co-existence” like during the Cold War, the Interfax news agency cited the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Tuesday.
The foreign ministry added that it was open to honest and mutually respectful dialogue with the United States and that hope remained that normalcy in relations between the two countries could be restored, Interfax reported.Source: Reuters
Seems like Russia thinks a Cold War outcome is the best or base case scenario (rather than I guess direct war?)
🤑 Economics + Markets
#7 Inflation Rose 7.9% In February, As Food And Energy Costs Push Prices To Highest In More Than 40 Years
Inflation grew worse in February amid the escalating crisis in Ukraine and price pressures that became more entrenched.
The consumer price index, which measures a wide-ranging basket of goods and services, increased 7.9% over the past 12 months, a fresh 40-year high for the closely followed gauge, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The February acceleration was the fastest pace since January1982, back when the U.S. economy confronted the twin threat of higher inflation and reduced economic growth.Source: CNBC
Inflation continues to rise. Inflation will likely continue to rise some more as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further pressures global commodity markets.
#8 China Shuts Shanghai Schools, Adds Hospitals on Covid Return
China is experiencing its most significant Covid-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, igniting a flurry of new restrictions and mitigation measures as the country’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus is challenged like never before.
The country responded by locking down a city of 9 million people in the northeast and ordering the construction of makeshift hospitals there and in the eastern port city of Qingdao. An outbreak of the omicron variant in Shanghai saw schools there shuttered again, while officials are said to be looking at diverting all international flights away from the financial center to ease pressure on quarantine hotels. China isolates all virus cases, including those in the community, as part of its Covid Zero policy.Source: Bloomberg
Hopefully China can manage these outbreaks. China’s vaccination rate is very high (higher than the West), but the vaccines used in China seem to be less effective. China’s lockdown strategy proved quite effective during 2020 and 2021 at preventing deaths, but Omicron spreads much faster. It’s not clear that China’s lockdown strategy is all that effective at containing a fast-spreading strain like Omicron.
This will likely also impact supply chains and further push inflation upwards.
#9 Chinese Tech Stocks Plunge After US Names Companies For Potential Delisting
Popular Chinese tech stocks have plunged after the US regulator named five Chinese companies that could be removed from American stock markets for failing to meet audit requirements.
The names cited by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday are fast-food company Yum China Holdings (YUMC), tech firm ACM Research (ACMR), biotech group BeiGene(BGNE), Zai Lab (ZLAB), as well as pharmaceutical company Hutchmed.
But big tech stocks also fell because investors are concerned that more companies might be added to the US regulator’s list.
The companies cited by the SEC on Thursday are the first among the roughly 270 Chinese firms that could be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq for not complying with the law. According to Citi analysts in a research report on Friday, there are “worries that more companies will be put on the [US] list in the coming months.”
On Friday, China Securities Regulatory Commission responded to the US move and said it was confident it will reach an agreement with US counterparts on securities supervision. Talks between the CSRC, the Chinese finance ministry and the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board had made “positive progress,” the CSRC said in a statement.Source: CNN
Chinese stocks took a huge battering this week as the SEC published its initial list of non-compliant Chinese stocks.
As a reminder, the US has agreements with almost all countries around the world for audit examinations (to ensure that accounting audits meet US standards necessary for protecting investors). China is the biggest exception with Chinese authorities limiting access to audit papers. Discussions have been ongoing for almost a decade with no result. If US and Chinese authorities do not resolve differences, many (most?) Chinese stocks listed in the US will likely get delisted by 2024.
#10 Chinese Nickel Giant Tsingshan Faces $8 Billion Trading Loss as Ukraine War Upends Market
The paper loss stood at $8 billion on Monday, before violent moves in nickel prices led the London Metal Exchange to suspend trading in the metal on Tuesday, one of the people said. Late Tuesday, the exchange said it anticipates trading won’t resume before Friday.
Some of Tsingshan’s creditor banks in China have become concerned about the effect of the company’s trading losses on its balance sheet, according to the people familiar with the company. They were assured by the firm on Tuesday that its financial position was sound and that it could weather even “extreme losses” from the forward contracts, according to one of the people.Source: WSJ
Markets were also under pressure this week as global commodity price spikes led to massive derivative / hedging losses and counterparty risk across a number of global financial institutions.
#11 Goldman Sachs: Single Stock Put Options Exceed Call Options For the First Time
During retail GameStop mania a year ago, we discussed how investors were weaponizing call options to drive meme stocks up. The same thing could happen in reverse if people buy put options instead of call options. Put options exceeded call options for the first time ever…this may be one of the factors contributing to recent stock volatility.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#12 President Biden to Sign Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets
President Biden will sign an Executive Order outlining the first ever, whole-of-government approach to addressing the risks and harnessing the potential benefits of digital assets and their underlying technology. The Order lays out a national policy for digital assets across six key priorities: consumer and investor protection; financial stability; illicit finance; U.S. leadership in the global financial system and economic competitiveness; financial inclusion; and responsible innovation.Source: White House
Crypto is getting regulated. Nothing too surprising in the Executive Order, but question is whether crypto will survive in its libertarian form…seems like crypto is going to become more centralized.
#13 Stripe Launches Payments Support For Crypto Businesses, Partners With FTX
Global payments giant Stripe has announced that it now supports crypto businesses including exchanges, wallet providers, and NFT marketplaces, among others.
According to a statement on its website on Thursday, Stripe now offers fiat payments API integration for crypto businesses to process crypto-to-fiat currency payments.
As part of the toolkit for crypto firms, Stripe says it is also offering flexible on-ramps for exchanges. These on-ramps, as co-founder John Collison put it on Twitter, will enable both fiat deposits and withdrawals for crypto exchanges.
Stripe’s crypto business toolkit also includes protocols for user identification and fraud prevention. Crypto exchange FTX and its US affiliate, FTX.US, have partneredwith Stripe to improve their know your customer (KYC) protocols.Source: The Block
#14 An NFT Bubble Is Taking Over the Gig Economy
He worried about competition at first, because Fiverr filters gig workers based on the number of jobs completed and reviews on their work, and he had no experience designing NFTs. It wasn’t an issue. “I have [music] gigs on Fiverr with more than 100 five-star reviews, but with this [NFT] gig with no reviews I was getting more attention,” he says. In January 2022, when he first sold NFT services on Fiverr, he made more than $10,000. As a middleman selling artists’ work to NFT enthusiasts, he’s expecting to make $40,000 from NFT design sales in February 2022. He has done 40 NFT collections—and doesn’t see them slowing down.
Tavis came in at the height of a boom period for NFT projects on freelance sites like Upwork and Freelancer. Two in three US-based freelancers have profited from servicing the burgeoning economy around NFTs, according to a survey by Fiverr. Huge numbers of people are buying NFTs as investments, lured in by celebrities like Paris Hilton who endorse their own items on social media and the eye-poppingly large prices for them listed on platforms like OpenSea, and enhanced by the drumbeat of media coverage of the space—including stories like this one. As more people buy in, there’s an increase in demand for new projects from artists on Fiverr and competing platforms who are able to produce low-cost, high-quality, quick-churn work.
“It has become common to read how many high-ticket projects rely on low-paid artists and designers to make their NFTs,” says Andres Guadamuz, an intellectual-property-law academic at the University of Sussex. “In some instances the artist is at the forefront of the project, but for the most part the art is irrelevant, and the value is in the white paper and the roadmap.”
Flick likens the NFT sector to a “colonialism project,” where the people at the top of the chain are the ones dictating the rules and have the capital and wealth to demand that those beneath them carry out their orders. “The whole system was supposed to be decentralized to free up the economy from these centralized institutions like banks, but what it’s actually doing now is creating a new set of institutions that have almost the same function,” says Flick. “They gate-keep and capitalize on people’s labor.”Source: WIRED
Fascinating! I had no idea that many NFT projects are basically just churned out of “factories”. Apparently 2/3 of Fiverr’s gig workers (Fiverr is a marketplace where you can hire freelancers to do random projects) are doing grunt work for NFT space.
Really makes you think about how much “art” you are getting when you are buying an NFT.
Also incredible that the artists doing the art are getting so little…most of the money is going into the pockets of the NFT project promoters.
Web3 was supposed to empower creators, but seems like it’s got some problems to work through.
#15 Bored Ape Yacht Club Creator Buys Cryptopunks And Meebits
Yuga Labs, the creator of Bored Ape Yacht Club, announced today that it had acquired CryptoPunks and Meebits from Larva Labs. CryptoPunks is one of the oldest and most valuable brands in the NFT world, and Meebits quickly joined the list of most valuable NFT collections after launching last May.
But while today’s purchase turns Yuga Labs into even more of a juggernaut in the NFT space, its founders are looking beyond NFTs when thinking about what’s next. The company has already launched merch drops, released a limited-time mobile game, and held a celebrity-packed party in Brooklyn.
“We see ourselves with tentacles into all those things: streetwear, events, gaming, NFTs, et cetera,” says Wylie Aronow, another co-founder of Bored Ape Yacht Club, who goes by the pseudonym Gordon Goner. “It’s just a matter of figuring out and extending that utility to these new IPs.”Source: The Verge
The two most visible brands in the NFT world are getting together.
#16 Dash Now, Pay Later: DoorDash Launches Partnership with Afterpay
In an Australian first, on-demand delivery platform DoorDash is partnering with Afterpay to offer buy now, pay later finance options on all orders.
The market-first partnership will allow users to pay for DoorDash orders, and DashPass subscriptions, across four installments at no additional cost.Source: Doordash
#17 Visa Completes Acquisition of Tink
Visa (NYSE: V) today announced it has completed its acquisition of Tink – an open banking platform that enables financial institutions, fintechs and merchants to build financial products and services and move money. Through a single API, Tink enables its customers to move money, access aggregated financial data, and use smart financial services such as risk insights and account verification. Tink is integrated with more than 3,400 banks and financial institutions, reaching millions of bank customers across Europe.Source: Visa
Visa is a network, and all networks are fungible. Visa continues to expand what its network taps into beyond credit and debit cards. With Tink, Visa is now pushing into open banking (bank-to-bank and bank-to-X) transactions.
#18 Amazon Acquires Veeqo, A Start-Up That Helps Sellers Manage Their Online Businesses
Amazon has purchased Veeqo, a company that makes tools to help online businesses sell products on and off Amazon.
For several years, Amazon has offered a program called Multi-Channel Fulfillment, which lets sellers store and ship products using Amazon’s services regardless of whether they’re selling on the home site.
By acquiring Veeqo, Amazon could integrate more robust tools for sellers into its MCF program, potentially luring them away from other providers.Source: CNBC
A step towards addressing their Shopify risk…however, recent global supply chain pressures already swung the pendulum back in Amazon’s favor since Amazon’s logistics capabilities are unparalleled.
#19 Google Announces Intent to Acquire Mandiant
Google LLC today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Mandiant, Inc., a leader in dynamic cyber defense and response, for $23.00 per share, in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $5.4 billion, inclusive of Mandiant’s net cash. Upon the close of the acquisition, Mandiant will join Google Cloud.
Today, organizations are facing cybersecurity challenges that have accelerated in frequency, severity and diversity, creating a global security imperative. To address these risks, enterprises need to be able to detect and respond to adversaries quickly; analyze and automate threat intelligence to scale threat detection across organizations; orchestrate and automate remediation; validate their protection against known threats; and visualize their IT environment in order to identify and simulate new threats. The cloud represents a new way to change the security paradigm by helping organizations address and protect themselves against entire classes of cyber threats, while also rapidly accelerating digital transformation.
As a recognized leader in strategic security advisory and incident response services, Mandiant brings real-time and in-depth threat intelligence gained on the frontlines of cybersecurity with the largest organizations in the world. Combined with Google Cloud’s cloud-native security offerings, the acquisition will help enterprises globally stay protected at every stage of the security lifecycle…Source: Google
Cybersecurity is now one of the most important areas of technology.
🍪 Semiconductors + Chips
#20 Apple Unveils M1 Ultra, The World’s Most Powerful Chip For A Personal Computer
“M1 Ultra is another game-changer for Apple silicon that once again will shock the PC industry. By connecting two M1 Max die with our UltraFusion packaging architecture, we’re able to scale Apple silicon to unprecedented new heights,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies. “With its powerful CPU, massive GPU, incredible Neural Engine, ProRes hardware acceleration, and huge amount of unified memory, M1 Ultra completes the M1 family as the world’s most powerful and capable chip for a personal computer.”
M1 Ultra features an extraordinarily powerful 20-core CPU with 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. It delivers 90 percent higher multi-threaded performance than the fastest available 16-core PC desktop chip in the same power envelope. Additionally, M1 Ultra reaches the PC chip’s peak performance using 100 fewer watts.
For the most graphics-intensive needs, like 3D rendering and complex image processing, M1 Ultra has a 64-core GPU — 8x the size of M1 — delivering faster performance than even the highest-end PC GPU available while using 200 fewer watts of power.Source: Apple
Earlier in the week, Apple revealed its latest chip, the M1 Ultra. This chip is now materially faster than the fastest PC chip commercially available. This chip is also now decently faster than the fastest PC GPU commercially available…
And this is just for two M1 Max chips fused together. A few months ago, Bloomberg reported that the upcoming Mac Pro will feature four M1 Max chips fused together. The performance of that chip will likely be mind-boggling.
A decade ago, most people were skeptical about the potential of Apple Silicon. 5 years ago, people started to see the potential of Apple Silicon but still questioned whether it could take the lead. 2 years ago, it became apparent that Apple could take the lead. Then 1 year ago Apple took the lead.
And now just a year later, it’s patently clear Apple is way, way, way ahead of everyone else. It’s not even close.
Two of the most powerful forces in society are energy and computation. Obviously with what is going on in Ukraine many people now intuitively understand the importance of energy for society. Computation is just as important, and Apple is now the most powerful individual entity in the computation arena.
#21 Apple’s New M1 Ultra Aims To Beat Nvidia’s RTX 3090
Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max chips were a GPU-shaped warning to Nvidia and AMD last year, and now Apple has cranked up the heat with its new M1 Ultra. Apple claims it will rival Nvidia’s giant RTX 3090 graphics card, the fastest GPU on the market right now. But how does Apple think it can beat an RTX 3090? It turns out, last year’s M1 Max has some secret sauce inside.
Apple’s new M1 Ultra is a surprising combination of two M1 Max dies, fused together to create a single powerful chip. The M1 Max has a secret high-speed interface that allows Apple to combine two chips into one. The result is an M1 Ultra chip that has double the CPU cores, double the memory, double the memory bandwidth, and most importantly, double the GPU cores.
Nvidia and AMD have built similar solutions for combining two GPUs in the past, but as AnandTech points out, it looks like Apple has solved the holy grail of multi-GPU design here. Apple’s UltraFusion tech supports an impressive 2.5TB/s of bandwidth between the two M1 Max chips. That’s a huge bandwidth jump over what Nvidia offers with NVLink for SLI or AMD with Infinity Fabric, which are used as high-speed links between GPUs.
Apple’s high-speed link means the two separate M1 Max GPUs will be shown as a single GPU in macOS, allowing apps to easily tap into the combined power. That should mean apps and games don’t have to do anything special to utilize the power of the M1 Ultra, whereas games have had to natively support Nvidia’s SLI implementation on Windows in the past to see any performance improvements.Source: The Verge
Apple’s UltraFusion tech is truly very impressive. So far it appears UltraFusion allows Apple to potentially string together any number of chips without much scaling issues. Others like Nvidia and AMD and Intel have had issues scaling this sort of approach. Unless others figure out how to scale like Apple, they’re in for a nightmare.
🤔 Hmm… / 😮 Much Wow
#22 New Carrier Rocket, Moon And Mars Missions… Lawmakers Reveal China’s Forthcoming Space Programs
“The development of China’s new-generation manned launch vehicle has come to a key technological breakthrough and in-depth feasibility study stage, and the new model will support China to acquire the ability to land taikonauts on the Moon before 2030,” Jiang Jie, chief designer of China’s largest carrier rocket manufacturer China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), who is also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body, told the Global Times on the sidelines of the two sessions.
“The sun is about 150 million kilometers away from Earth, which is one astronomical unit. We plan to achieve the goal of ‘double 100’ in 2049. That is, to complete 100 astronomical units, or 15 billion kilometers of travel in deep space, for the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China,” Wu said.Source: Global Times
100 astronomical units! Wow. China is setting a very ambitious goal…the only way to reach that by 2049 is if China dramatically ramps up its space missions (exponentially).