Archives for February 2019

With a Single 10-Word Tweet, Elon Musk Just Made a Stunning Announcement About How He Spends His Time

In this episode, I’ll start by sharing a tweet that Musk posted on Twitter Monday afternoon.

I will then explain the insane background of the story from two crucial angles–one about the tweet itself, and one about the insane thing it says about Musk.

In case that didn’t embed for some reason, it’s Musk tweeting simply, “Did meme review last night with Justin Roiland from @RickandMorty.”

Here are your promised two angles:

‘Did meme review’

Okay, if you’re not initiated in what I’m about to explain, just know that this part of the story is going to seem like a creative writing class dropped acid before doing a group project.

There’s a Swedish YouTuber named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who is 29 years old and goes by PewDiePie, and who is basically the most successful single YouTuber of all time.

Forbes estimated then that he he was making $12 million a year. A lot has happened since, but two key things for our purposes stand out:

Second, he’s locked in an epic battle with a giant Indian music company called T-Series, over which can get more YouTube subscribers. As I write this late on Tuesday evening, the score is:

  • PewDiePie 86,303,046 
  • T-Series 86,250,944

It’s neck-and-neck, and it seems as if almost any tiny little edge could give PewDiePie or T-Series the victory.

If only there were an eccentric billionaire who might provide that edge…

Hi, I’m Elon Musk

Okay. In telling that story, especially the part about the battle for YouTube subscribers, I’m reminded of an old quote: “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

Kind of the same thing here. But, you also need to know that PewDiePie hosts a YouTube show called Meme Review. That’s the show Musk was saying he took time from his schedule to do.

There’s actually a whole debate right now online about whether Musk actually did the show, or if he’s just trolling everyone. But for our purposes, whether he did or not is more a matter of degree.

Because for someone like Musk, who is the CEO of one public company and at least two private ones, his time should be at a premium.

We’d be saying that even if Musk hadn’t laid off 7 percent of Tesla’s workforce less than a month ago.

Or if he hadn’t tweeted his way into an SEC oversight investigation, or a lawsuit over calling a British cave diver who helped rescue that Thai soccer team last year, a “pedo guy.”

The most important resource

And yet, here we are, talking about whether Musk really did Meme Review (along side Roiland, who as Musk points out is the creator of the Adult Swim series Rick and Morty), as part of what is almost certainly the effort to help PewDiePie get more subscribers.

The alternatives here aren’t great. Either Musk is serious, in which case he’s taking time away from his most important responsibilities to do a show that’s controversial to say the least.

Or, the whole thing is just a trollish joke, in which case: why is Musk even involved in talking about this? How does he even have time to know about it?

I wrote recently about how Jeff Bezos explained in one sentence that he realizes how much of a distraction the National Enquirer blackmail scandal could have been — and how much more important his time is than any other resource.

For Musk, the same is true. Time is what matters most. So why is he wasting it here?

And if we can’t come up with a good answer to that question, here’s another: Why would you still be willing to buy a Tesla?

Microsoft expands political security service to 12 European countries

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

(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it will offer its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain, to close security gaps and protect customers in political space from hacking.

Microsoft had recently detected attacks, which occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said here in a blog post.

The attacks, which targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia, are believed to have originated from a group called Strontium, the company added.

The AccountGuard service will also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.

Ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May, German officials are trying to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy.

Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

With 4 Short Words, Amazon Just Revealed the Brutal Truth About Its Decision to Cancel HQ2 in New York. (So Many People Don't Want to Admit This)

It’s not a plan really, not a hidden secret message. It’s more of an expression of emotion. Maybe a realization of necessity.

In fact, while the text Amazon posted on its blog on February 14 runs 363 words, the most important part of this crucial passage is just four words long. But those four words speak volumes.

It starts with a dig at “state and local politicians” in New York, and a statement about how many New Yorkers supposedly supported the deal. Then, we get to the crucial part:

We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion–we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture–and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. 

There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.

Those four crucial words? “We love New York.”

They’re not included by accident. In fact, I’ll bet this statement probably went through more writing, editing and rewriting than anything in Amazon’s history.

But the passage is crucial. It’s a recognition that even in a post-HQ2 world Amazon, still depends big time on New York. That’s why I think the company is at pains to reassure everyone that it isn’t going to try to just reopen the HQ2 search and do this elsewhere.

The brutal truth is: New York City is special.

I know people don’t like to admit this. I know that there are many trying to make political points, attacking union leaders and politicians who they say are to blame for Amazon running away.

But there is no other place truly like New York City, and Amazon isn’t really going to run — not completely. It’s not just chest-thumping; it comes down at least partly to sheer numbers. Here are three of them:

  • By far, New York is the largest city in America, with 8.6 million people–almost as big as the second, third, and fourth largest cities combined.
  • By far, it’s the largest metropolitan area: more than 20 million people. If it were its own state, it would be about as big as Florida — but much more densely packed.
  • By far, it has the largest GDP of any metro area, at at $1.7 trillion. That’s nearly 9 percent of the entire country.

Was it ever possible that Amazon would direct a personal insult at the largest and most important market in the country, by jilting it for say, Nashville? 

No offense to Nashville, the so-called runner-up. It’s a really great city too, but numbers don’t lie: it’s tiny compared to New York.

Remember, they just proved it at Amazon, too.

After staging a 14-month beauty contest, playing off more than 200 cities against each other, and keeping the terms secret so that none of them could know what they needed to do in order to win, the result was almost comically predictable:

Amazing n couldn’t do better than New York and an area right outside Washington, D.C. 

You know what I think’s going to happen now? Amazon is going to redistribute those 25,000 jobs around a lot of different places. (Remember, it was only planning to create 700 jobs this year, and wouldn’t hit the full number until 2028 at least.)

Now, New York will still get the largest share, only without having to give an average of $120,000 per job in tax breaks to get them.

And, it will make up the rest and still more–because Amazon just did the legwork for every other company in America.

Especially if the state and city can come up with anything even approaching a small percentage of the deal they were willing to give Amazon, and offer it to a wide array of smaller employers,  think things look pretty rosy.

No matter your size, and as long as you don’t try to squeeze completely one-sided terms out of the deal, if you want to attract amazing workers and expand in one of the greatest cities in the world, Amazon just proved where you should go. 

Amazon loves New York. And a lot of other people do too. 

Stocks To Watch: Spotlight On Walmart, Samsung And CAGNY

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.

All eyes will be on Bentonville, Arkansas this week with Walmart (NYSE:WMT) due to release earnings on February 19. The retail giant is expected by many analysts to post strong numbers ($1.39B revenue, $1.33 EPS, +2.9% same-store sales) for the holiday quarter, which could also give a push up to shares of Target (NYSE:TGT), Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and Dollar General (NYSE:DG) – unless the cadence on consumer spending, pricing and labor pressure works in the opposite direction. “Walmart likely had a solid 2018 holiday season, helped by favorable macro trends and initiatives related to merchandising and digital,” previews Telsey Advisory Group ahead of the report. Walmart’s report follows closely after a puzzling December retail sales report that may have been a bit of an outlier. On the economic calendar next week, FOMC minutes and retail sales for January are due out on February 20, while a deluge of reports will pour out on February 21 – including updates on U.S. PMI, durable goods orders, existing home sales and the latest Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook reading. Trade talks between the U.S. and China will continue in Washington, although President Trump’s tease of a deadline extension has taken some of the pressure off.


Notable earnings reports: Walmart (WMT), Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) and Terex (NYSE:TEX) on February 19; CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS), Agilent (NYSE:A) and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) on February 20; Hewlett Packard Enterprises (NYSE:HPE), Boyd Gaming (NYSE:BYD), Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU) on February 21; Wayfair (NYSE:W), Cinemark (NYSE:CNK) and AutoNation (NYSE:AN) on February 22. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list of earnings reporters.

IPO activity: Another quiet week is on tap for the IPO market with no new pricings anticipated. Investors will take a look at Carbon Black (NASDAQ:CBLK) earnings on February 19 and Dropbox (NASDAQ:DBX) earnings on February 21, but mainly there is a lull while government shutdown delays play out. While Levi Strauss (LEVI) created some excitement with its IPO filing as the company looks to enter new market categories, postponed public offerings from Cibus (NASDAQ:CBUS), BankFlorida (NASDAQ:BFL) and Virgin Trains (NASDAQ:VTUS) tempered enthusiasm that the IPO market is heating up.

CAGNY: Its official name is the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, but you might call it the Super Bowl of retail events with a huge number of consumer-facing companies set to present. Morgan Stanley says to expect companies to detail plans to reinvigorate market share and topline trends after sequential improvement towards the end of 2019, as well as give an update on recent pricing actions and highlight any benefits from a recent spot commodity drop. Discussion on emerging markets trends, M&A potential, labor pressures are also anticipated. The Morgan Stanley analyst team sees Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Churchs & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) and Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) as well positioned to gain after their CAGNY talks. Other companies in Boca Raton from February 18-22 include Coca-Cola European Partners (NYSE:CCEP), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), International Flavors & Fragrances (NYSE:IFF), Ingredion (NYSE:INGR), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), Performance Food Group (NYSE:PFGC), Sysco (NYSE:SYY), Tyson (NYSE:TSN), Hershey (NYSE:HSY), Kellogg (NYSE:K), McCormick (NYSE:MKC), Altria (MO,) PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM), Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Newell Brands (NASDAQ:NWL), Church & Dwight (CHD), Clorox (NYSE:CLX), Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), Spectrum Brands (NYSE:SPB), TreeHouse Foods (NYSE:THS) and Unilever (NYSE:UN).

Projected dividend changes (quarterly): Analog Devices (NASDAQ:ADI) to $0.52 from $0.48, Albemarle (ALB) to $0.35 from $0.335, CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL) to $0.25 from $0.54, Danaher (NYSE:DHR) to $0.18 from $0.16, Digital Realty (NYSE:DLR) to $1.07 from $1.01, Essex Property (NYSE:ESS) to $1.93 from $1.86, Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) to $0.38 from 34.5, Genuine Parts (NYSE:GPC) to $0.765 from $0.72, Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) to $0.55 from $0.53, LyondellBasell (NYSE:LYB) to $1.04 from $1.00, PSEG (NYSE:PEG) to $0.47 from $0.45, Prologis (NYSE:PLD) to $0.50 from $0.48, Sempra (NYSE:SRE) to $0.975 from $0.895, TJX (NYSE:TJX) to $0.21 from $0.195, Waste Management (NYSE:WM) to $0.5125 from $0.465, Williams Cos (NYSE:WMB) to $0.38 from $0.34. Walmart (WMT) to $0.53 from $0.52, Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) to $0.40 from $0.38, Armada Hoffler (NYSE:AHH) to $0.21 from $0.20, Cogent Comms (NASDAQ:CCOI) to $0.58 from $0.56, Cinemark (CNK) to $0.33 from $0.32, CyrusOne (NASDAQ:CONE) to $0.50 from $0.46, Carter’s (NYSE:CRI) to $0.49 from $0.45, Cubic (NYSE:CUB) to $0.15 from $0.135, Dick’s Sporting (NYSE:DKS) to $0.2475 from $0.225, Domino’s Pizza Inc. (NYSE:DPZ) to $0.65 from $0.55, Comfort Systems USA (NYSE:FIX) to $0.095 from $0.09, James River Group (NASDAQ:JRVR) to $0.35 from $0.30, LeMaitre Vascular (NASDAQ:LMAT) to $0.085 from $0.07, ManTech (NASDAQ:MANT) to $0.29 from $0.25, Marcus Corp (NYSE:MCS) to $0.175 from $0.15, MGP Ingredients (NASDAQ:MGPI) to $0.09 from $0.08, Insperity (NYSE:NSP) to $0.25 from $0.20, Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED) to $0.09 from $0.06, Old Republic (NYSE:ORI) to $0.1975 from $0.195, Sturm Ruger (NYSE:RGR) to $0.30 from $0.21, Re/Max (NYSE:RMAX) to $0.22 from $0.20, Retail Opportunity (NASDAQ:ROIC) to $0.20 from $0.195, Ruth’s Hospitality (NASDAQ:RUTH) to $0.12 from $0.11, Service Corp (NYSE:SCI) to $0.19 from $0.17, Telephone & Data (NYSE:TDS) to $0.17 from $0.16, Texas Roadhouse (NASDAQ:TXRH) to $0.27 from $0.25, Domtar (NYSE:UFS) to $0.445 from $0.435.

Samsung: Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) plans to open three retail stores in the U.S. next week. The company is also holding a launch event for the new Galaxy S10 and other products on February 20.

New York Toy Fair: More than 30K studio executives, buyers and toy company reps will descend on Manhattan February 16-19 to take in the annual toy show, according to Variety. Over 7K international buyers are also expected to be in the house for the event. Companies looking to make a splash include Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT), Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS), Funko (NASDAQ:FNKO), Spin Master (OTC:SNMSF) and JAKKS Pacific (NASDAQ:JAKK). The toy sector could use a lift after devastating guidance from Mattel late on Friday sent shares 18% lower.

Analyst/investor meetings: Ameren (NYSE:AEE) on February 20-21, Allakos (NASDAQ:ALLK) on February 19; Regenxbio (NASDAQ:RGNX) on February 21.

Business update updates/calls: Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE:ICE) on February 19, Raymond James Financial (NYSE:RJF) on February 20.

M&A tidbits: Shareholders at Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON) are due to meet on February 21 to vote on the C$2.4B investment by Altria Group (NYSE:MO). Lawyers from Rent-A-Center (NASDAQ:RCII) will be busy filing post-trial briefs on the legal battle with Vintage Capital.

Barclays Industrials Select Conference: The conference arrives at an unsettled time with the China trade deal still up in the air and transportation/logistics stocks bouncing around with an extra dash of volatility. Companies due to present at the event scheduled for February 20-21 include Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Cummins (NYSE:CMI), JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC), Parker-Hannifin (NYSE:PH), Regal Beloit (NYSE:RBC), Roper Technologies (NYSE:ROP),Sensata Technologies (NYSE:ST), Summit Materials (NYSE:SUM), Textron (NYSE:TXT), United Continental (NASDAQ:UAL), Gardner Denver (NYSE:GDI), Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP), United Technologies (NYSE:UTX), Woodward (NASDAQ:WWD), XPO Logistics (NYSEMKT:XPO), Honeywell (NYSE:HON), Aptiv (NYSE:APTV), C.H. Robinson (NASDAQ:CHRW), Danaher (DHR), Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ:SAVE), Rockwell Automation (NYSE:ROK), CF Industries (NYSE:CF), Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), General Dynamics (NYSE:GD), Lear (NYSE:LEA), United Technologies (UTX), J.B. Hunt Transport (NASDAQ:JBHT), Boeing (NYSE:BA), 3M (NYSE:MMM) and Avery Dennison (NYSE:AVY).

Breakfast wars: McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) introduces Donut Sticks at select restaurant stock across the U.S. on February 20. The direct challenge to Dunkin’ Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Krispy Kreme by McDonald’s is a limited time battle until the restaurant chain gauges results.

Rocket ride: A SpaceX (SPACE) Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch sometime in the February 21-22 window. The rocket will carry the PSN 6 communications satellite and SpaceIL’s Lunar Lander, which will be the first Israeli spacecraft to travel beyond Earth orbit and the first private lander on the moon.

Box office: Fox’s (NASDAQ:FOXA) Alita: Battle Angel, Warner Bros.’ (NYSE:T) The Lego Movie 2 and Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Happy Death Day 2U are all expected to top $20M for the three-day weekend.

Barron’s mentions: Loews (NYSE:L) is called a conglomerate that investors can love due to its big discount to net-asset-value estimates. There is a cautious take on U.S. marijuana operators such as Curaleaf Holdings (OTCPK:CURLF), Acreage Holdings (OTCQX:ACRGF), Green Thumb Industries (OTCQX:GTBIF), MedMen Enterprises (OTCQB:MMNFF), Harvest Health & Recreation (OTCPK:HTHHF), iAnthus (OTCQX:ITHUF) and Trulieve Cannabis (OTCPK:TCNNF). Even though $50B in annual black-market spending could roll into a new consumer goods industry, the path to profitability is seen as rocky. The publication calls out stocks that look attractive in front of a data center boom, with Equinix (NASDAQ:EQIX), CoreSite Realty (NYSE:COR), Iron Mountain (NYSE:IRM) and InterXion Holding (NYSE:INXN) making the list.

Sources: CNBC, Nasdaq, EDGAR, Reuters, Bloomberg

CenturyLink: Don't Head To The Bomb Shelter

The big dividend cut by CenturyLink (CTL) came as a surprise to some shareholders, but my previous research indicated that investors remain focused on free cash flows and EBITDA margins. Whether or not the company uses the cash flows to pay dividends or reduce debt shouldn’t reflect on the stock as the value is in the ability to generate cash on a consistent and hopefully growing basis. Any stock weakness from cutting the dividend and maintaining cash flow targets provides a better entry point in the stock.

CenturyLink logo

Image Source: CenturyLink website

Dividend Slashed

Only last week, Citibank argued that CenturyLink would slash the dividend. Analyst Michael Rollins slapped a $11 price target on the stock making a bearish case around more capital spending and a focus on revenue growth issues.

The negative analyst call was odd considering the telecom had beaten estimates since the new CEO took over to the point that the dividend wasn’t really at question. Regardless, it appears that some investors evidently knew that a cut was on the way or were just wanting to push the stock down so far that the company would cut the dividend.

Along with the Q4’18 earnings report, the Board of Directors made the move to cut the dividend to $1.00, down from $2.16 per share. With the dividend up around 15% and so many analyst questions about the sustainability, a dividend cut wasn’t a huge bombshell.

The likely shock to the investor community is that CenturyLink is having any financial problems that would require a dividend cut. According to CEO Jeff Storey on the Q4’18 earnings call, the move was made purely to de-lever the balance sheet quicker:

However as you saw, we announced today that we plan to reduce the annual dividend to $1 from the current $2.16 per share beginning with the next dividend declaration. This decision is not based upon any concern for the outlook of our business. Our business fundamentals are strong and we believe our free cash flow could sustain the dividend at the prior level through 2019 and beyond. As I said, this change in policy isn’t about a diminished view of our business; it is driven by our view that the long-term interest of shareholders are best served by proactively accelerating, de-levering to a new lower target range of 2.75 to 3.25 times net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA.

Despite these facts, the stock is down over 40% in the last 6 months while the S&P 500 is only slightly down.

Chart

Data by YCharts

In fact, CEO Storey actually hinted at interest rate hike fears as the real reason for slashing the dividend payout to reduce leverage:

By reallocating more of our capital to leverage reduction, we believe, we will improve our cost of capital, return a significant amount of cash to shareholders at a very sustainable payout ratio, and provide additional flexibility to respond to market opportunities and any potential interest rate challenges that may occur. This is not something we did lightly but it is something we firmly believe is in the best long-term interest of our shareholders.

It sure sounds like the FED hiking interest rates in 2018 and the prospects of more hikes in the future caused CenturyLink to reconsider the acceptable leverage ratio.

About Those Cash Flows

A big key to understanding the story here is to look at the FCF progression in 2018. CenturyLink originally guided to FCFs of $3.15 to $3.35 billion for the year.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’17 presentation

The company ended up hitting an incredible $4.25 billion of FCF for the year. Due to a tax refund and other items that amounted to a $500 million bonus in 2018 that won’t repeat this year, the company was clear that the improved cash flows weren’t sustainable in 2019

Regardless, the guidance for 2019 has FCF at $3.10 to $3.40 billion. The most important detail is the capital expenditure guidance.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’18 presentation

A big key here is the capital expenditures of $3.50 to $3.80 billion or roughly 16% of revenues. The company has guided to a long-term target of ~16% of revenues, but CenturyLink didn’t hit those targets in 2018 with capex of only $3.175 billion.

In essence, the 2019 plan includes an ~$500 million boost to capital expenditures in comparison to some of the under spending in 2018. Clearly, the company could further boost cash flows by constraining capex, but the best idea is for CenturyLink to reestablish a higher level of capital spending.

The end result is solid capex spending and a dividend payout of only $1.075 billion with a payout ratio in the 30% range on FCFs of $3.25 billion. In addition, the leverage ratio was already improved by $1.7 billion in debt repayments in 2018 due in part to the extra FCFs last year. The goal of reaching a leverage ratio of 2.75x in ~3 years is another positive sign for the stock.

Source: CenturyLink Q4’18 presentation

Takeaway

The key investor takeaway is that all of the numbers indicate the dividend cut was indeed due to a focus on reducing leverage and improving the capital structure. No indication exists that the cut was due to financial problems out into the future, therefore, the stock is appealing down below $13 with a dividend yield that still sits over 7.5%.

Investors shouldn’t make the mistake of heading to the bomb shelter like with typical dividend cuts.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as a solicitation to purchase or sell securities. Before buying or selling any stock you should do your own research and reach your own conclusion or consult a financial advisor. Investing includes risks, including loss of principal.

Disclosure: I am/we are long CTL. 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.

China ride-hailing giant Didi to lay off 15 percent staff this year: source

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a sign of station for Didi Chuxing in Beijing, China January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Didi Chuxing will lay off 15 percent of its staff or about 2,000 people this year, a source said, marking the ride-hailing firm’s first major cut back as it grapples with regulatory scrutiny and public backlash over the murder of two of its users.

Didi CEO Cheng Wei said at a meeting with management that the firm would focus on core mobility services and cut business units considered not critical to its main ride-hailing business in 2019, according to the source familiar with the matter.

But the Chinese ride-hailing giant will aim to hire more than 2,000 employees to focus on safety technology, product engineering and international expansion with the goal of maintaining its overall employee count, the source added on condition of anonymity as the information is not public yet.

A Didi spokeswoman declined to comment. Reports on possible job cuts at the company began to surface in late January.

Didi has been working to address consumer and government concerns over safety after a passenger was raped and killed by one of its drivers in August last year, about three months after another Didi user was murdered. A Chinese court has sentenced a man to death for the crime committed in August.

Concerns about safety have hobbled growth plans for Didi.

Didi, which successfully drove U.S.-based rival Uber out of China in 2016 to becoming the top ride-hailing player at home, is now facing financial strain due to competition from new entrants and the rise of bike-sharing services like Mobike.

This week, Chinese tech news website reported that Didi Chuxing lost 10.9 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in 2018.

Didi’s valuation exceeded $65 billion after its 2018 funding round and was considering an IPO as early as that year, sources have told Reuters. The privately held firm had been valued at $56 billion in a 2017 fundraising.

Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Himani Sarkar

It Might Be Time to Stop Assuming Hotels Are the Best Option for Business Travel

I travel about 75,000 miles a year for business, yet I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel. That may surprise many business travelers, but to me, it’s a relief. I suffered through years of expensive boutiquesor cookie cutter chains, uncomfortable mattresses and terrible breakfasts. Finally I gave up on hotels altogether, and I’ve never looked back.

For several years now, Airbnb has been the secret weaponto my business travel success. There’s an amazing variety of locations, types of lodging, and hosts. I’ve found wonderful places and fascinating people I never would have if I’d stayed in hotels.

1. Feels More Like Home

One of the biggest complaints about business travel is that you don’t have your stuff. It may sound silly, but the stuff and the people are what turns a house into a home. And if you can’t have the people while you’re traveling, at least you can have things more like your own stuff at home. Hotels can be so sterile – or worse yet, unsterile!

2. Cheaper than Hotels

I’ve saved a ton of moneyusing Airbnb instead of hotels. This is especially true for me because I’m willing to stay in a privatebedroom in a shared unit. Even if I weren’t into sharing, Airbnb-ing a fully private unit is often a huge savings over even a modest hotel. Don’t forget to consider a whole house rental for group business travel. It may be closer quarters with your colleagues than you’re used to, but think of it as bonding time. Everyone could still get their own bedroom, and you can save using group transportation and food options.

3. Healthier Eating

In the last 2 years, I’ve lost – and successfully kept off– 54 pounds. One of the benefits of Airbnb is that many units provide a fully functional kitchen, often including staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil. All I had to do was take a quick trip to the grocery store. Then instead of eating bad take out or overindulging at a restaurant, I could cook exactly what I wanted at exactly the calorie count I could afford. No more temptation for midnight room service. It saves calories and money – and you can multiply the savings by making your own lunch, too.

4. Often More Convenient

Business travel can be unpredictable, and often doesn’t leave flexibility for changingdates. So what can you do if you have to go visit a client at the same time as the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships, and every hotel room in Springfield, Illinois, is booked? Airbnb to the rescue. Just like hotels, Airbnb prices go up with demand, but I’ve never had a problemfinding an Airbnb that worked. Sometimes the Airbnb is considerably more convenient to where I need to spend time. I also often save money on parking by avoiding expensive hotel garages.

5. Opens Opportunities – and Eyes

One of the most fun and powerful reasons to use Airbnb is the amazing experience it can provide. While others are isolated in boring hotelsfilled with other businesspeople, you’ll be living among the local people. The hosts can share a great deal about the local way of life, which may be helpful in dealing with your client. The fellow guests, if you have them, often have wonderful stories to tell. For this and all the above reasons, Airbnb makes travel easier and more accessible, which means you can experience even more of this world!

Tesla rolls out 'sentry mode' safety feature

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen at a groundbreaking ceremony of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory in Shanghai, China January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

(Reuters) – Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc on Wednesday launched a safety feature called “sentry mode” for its electric cars, as it attempts to make its vehicles more attractive to buyers.

The feature will be compatible with U.S. Model 3 vehicles, followed by Model S and Model X vehicles that were manufactured after August 2017, the electric carmaker said.

When enabled, the “sentry mode” monitors the environment around an unattended car and uses the vehicle’s external cameras to detect potential threats, according to Tesla’s blog here

A minimal threat will be detected if anyone leans on the car, triggering a message on the touchscreen and warning that its cameras are recording.

For a more severe threat, like someone breaking a window, the mode activates the car alarm, increases the brightness of the center display, plays loud music and alerts owners on their Tesla mobile app.

The United States had 773,139 motor vehicles stolen in 2017 – the highest since 2009, according to data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. here

Last week, Tesla lowered the price of its Model 3 sedan for the second time this year to make its cars more affordable for U.S. buyers. The Palo Alto, California-based company has been cutting costs as it looks to turn in profit this year.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

Japanese self-drive cars map developer to buy rival U.S. startup for $200 million

(Reuters) – Japanese map platform developer Dynamic Map Platform announced on Wednesday it plans to acquire Detroit-based map startup Ushr for up to $200 million in a bid to widen its geographical footprint in the burgeoning self driving cars market.

Dynamic Map Platform counts Japan’s Toyota Motor, Nissan and Honda among its investors, while Ushr provides 3D mapping data to General Motors.

The move comes as the Japanese car makers seek to challenge Alphabet Inc’s Google and Chinese rivals in the mapping business.

For the acquisition, Dynamic Map Platform said it would raise a combined 22 billion yen ($198.9 million) from investors including two existing shareholders – the Japanese state-backed INCJ fund and Mitsubishi Electric.

“Through the combination, we will be able to offer automotive OEMs a comprehensive high-definition mapping solution for the North American and Japanese markets, with the ability to expand globally in the future,” Tsutomu Nakajima, the head of Dynamic Map Platform, said in a statement.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru and Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Amber Authenticate Protects Video Footage From Deepfakes and Tampering

Video has become an increasingly crucial tool for law enforcement, whether it comes from security cameras, police-worn body cameras, a bystander’s smartphone, or another source. But a combination of “deepfake” video manipulation technology and security issues that plague so many connected devices has made it difficult to confirm the integrity of that footage. A new project suggests the answer lies in cryptographic authentication.

Called Amber Authenticate, the tool is meant to run in the background on a device as it captures video. At regular, user-determined intervals, the platform generates “hashes”—cryptographically scrambled representations of the data—that then get indelibly recorded on a public blockchain. If you run that same snippet of video footage through the algorithm again, the hashes will be different if anything has changed in the file’s audio or video data—tipping you off to possible manipulation.

Users need to set the interval to balance system constraints on devices with what a camera may be filming. Creating hashes every 30 seconds on a police body camera might allow quick and subtle, but still potentially impactful, manipulations to slip through. Setting the interval to every second on a small business’ surveillance camera might be overkill.

“There’s a systemic risk with police body cameras across many manufacturers and models,” says Amber CEO Shamir Allibhai. “What we’re worried about is that, when you couple that with deep fakes, you can not only add or delete evidence but what happens when you can manipulate it? Once it’s entered into evidence it’s really hard to say what’s a fake. Detection is always one step behind. With this approach it’s binary: Either the hash matches or it doesn’t, and it’s all publicly verifiable.”

A tool like Amber has obvious appeal for human rights activists, free speech advocates, and law enforcement watchdogs wary of potential abuse coverups, but governments also have an interest in video integrity tools. Allibhai is presenting Amber Authenticate to Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security representatives at a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showcase on Monday. And DHS has already shown an interest in similar solutions like one from the blockchain-based data validity company Factom, which is also working on a video authentication tool.

Amber Authenticate is built on the popular open-source blockchain platform Ethereum, and includes a web platform that makes it easy to visually understand which parts of a video clip have hashes that match the originals stored on the blockchain and which, if any, don’t. A green frame around the footage as it plays indicates a match, while a red frame takes its place for any portion with a mismatched hash. Below the video player, Amber also shows a detailed “audit trail” that lists when a file was originally created, uploaded, hashed, and submitted to the blockchain.

The idea is for the manufacturers of products like CCTVs and body cams to license Amber Authenticate and run it on their devices. Amber research consultant Josh Mitchell, who found software vulnerabilities in five models of mainstream body cameras last August, has been able to demonstrate that Authenticate is compatible with at least some of those brands.

“I’ve been taking the technology and putting it on a body camera, because there’s no authentication mechanism right now on any of the cameras,” Mitchell says. “The fact that there’s nothing protecting that evidence from a malicious party is worrying, and manufacturers don’t seem very motivated to do anything. So if we have a provable, demonstrable prototype we can show that there are ways to ensure that all parties have faith in the video and how it was captured.”

Amber’s Allibhai, who is self-funding the project, says that Authenticate plans to be totally transparent and open to vetting by outside experts.

Whether’s its Amber Authenticate or another solution, an integrity and authentication tool for video—particularly police body cameras—can’t come soon enough, according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Technologists are going to have to validate the security of Amber as with any authentication technique,” he says. “But I hope that Amber or a similar product becomes standard. Like body cameras themselves, video authentication can help create community confidence in evidence about what’s taken place, and can give everybody confidence that things are on the up and up in what can be very harrowing and difficult incidents.”


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