Covid third wave hits India
Also in today’s edition: The fall of Elizabeth Holmes, Devas does a Cairn, Ultrafast delivery goes slow in US, Cinemas say BRB
Good Morning! You’ve likely seen people tweet this. A mysterious tile with numbers next to it. It looks like a crossword puzzle met minesweeper. What you've been seeing is a crossword of love. Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn-based engineer made the crossword as a gift to his partner because she loved puzzles. When he launched it in November, 90 people played it. By the end of December, 300,000 people were playing Wordle. And the reason there is no link to play the game is because that’s his design.
Btw, our podcast has been going strong for three months now. Tune in on your daily jog, drive to the office, or even as you WFH-ers have breakfast in bed. We promise it’ll be music to your ears.
The Market Signal
Stocks: Shares continued to rally on Tuesday as buying interest was sustained and broad-based. Banks led the rally, closely followed by energy companies’ shares.
Meanwhile, Apple became the first company in the world to hit a market cap of $3 trillion (more than India’s GDP) although it closed a shade lower.
Third-Wave Fear Picks Up
If there is one record you don’t want to brag about, this is it. The US has set a global record of one million Covid-19 cases in 24 hours. But it is not going to shut down despite cases doubling in a week. The quarantine period for asymptomatic cases has been reduced to five from 10 days.
Worry in India: India appears to be in the grip of a third wave as daily infections continued to rise rapidly for the seventh day. Omicron cases have touched the 2,000 mark. Delhi, which has seen a sharp rise in cases, has declared a weekend curfew. Even chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is infected. Metro cities such as Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi collectively have 75% of Omicron cases.
Maria Van Kerkhove @mvankerkhoveOmicron is NOT the common cold. While some reports show a reduced risk of hospitalisation of Omicron compared to Delta, there are still far too many people infected, in hospital sick & dying from Omicron (& Delta). We can prevent infections, save lives now. #VaccinEquity @WHO
Another day, another variant: Scientists in France have, meanwhile, identified a new variant of Covid-19. But hey, some experts say there is no reason to panic.
Game Over For Elizabeth Holmes
In what doubles as an indictment of the Silicon Valley hype machine, a US jury found Elizabeth Holmes guilty on four charges of fraud. The sentence for the Theranos founder—once lauded as a wunderkind who’d revolutionise US healthcare—is yet to be decided.
Mighty rise, mighty fall: Elizabeth Holmes, and her former partner and CEO Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani claimed their nanotainer technology could run 200-plus laboratory tests on just one drop of blood. This promise attracted investors and board members like the Walton family (of Walmart fame), Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, and George Shultz. Shultz’s grandson, Tyler was among the Theranos whistleblowers.
The company was exposed as fraudulent in a 2015 investigation by The Wall Street Journal reporter John Carryrou.
Patients, please: Despite storied accounts of Holmes’ sociopathy, the 37-year-old was found not guilty of defrauding and misleading patients. In short, the jury acknowledged the wrong done only to investors and (troublingly) overlooked the endangerment to patients who received false and inaccurate test results.
The Ultrafast Cookie Is Crumbling
In today’s edition of “this was a bubble waiting to burst”, we bring you this story about ultrafast delivery platforms doing something that’d make Captain Obvious proud: they are opting for slower deliveries.
Rapid boom, rapid bust: Jokr—which is valued at $1.2 billion but loses $159 on each order—is mulling a subscription service and longer delivery windows to fulfil multiple orders on each trip. Ditto Buyk. Fifteen-minute delivery service Fridge No More will deliver pizzas and sell private label milk and olive oil.
The common thread between these and similar startups is that they are haemorrhaging due to operating costs in the US.
While the platforms in question (Buyk, Jokr, Fridge No More, FastAF, Gorillas, etc.) are based in the US and EU, their follies offer a cautionary tale to their Indian counterparts such as Blinkit, Zepto, and others. The hypercompetitive space will combust unless it addresses two fundamental questions: one, what is the magnitude of demand for 10-minute over 30-minute delivery; and two, do operating costs justify the investments to change consumer behaviour? The answers to both are here.
It’s also unlikely that white labelling or expanding beyond groceries can provide succour, because with more inventory comes the need for more (and bigger) dark stores. Real estate inflection in metros and Tier-I cities is imminent. Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy says consumers don’t want it.
Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital and other venture capitalists with stakes in international rapid delivery platforms have similar investments in India. For them, 2022 could be a year of consolidation at best and condolences at worst.
Kill The Chicken To Scare The Monkey
In November 2021, Scottish oil explorer Cairn Energy forced India to the negotiating table by getting a French court to seize Indian government properties in Paris. Now, another company is following the template.
Court order: Devas Multimedia has persuaded a Canadian court to seize money collected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on behalf of Air India and the Airports Authority of India in lieu of money owed by the Indian government. IATA has held back $30 million belonging to the Indian entities. Devas went to court to enforce an international arbitration award of $1.2 billion that the company had won against India in 2005 after its satellite deal with Isro went awry.
The order comes at a time when the Indian government is about to complete the sale of Air India to the Tata Group. The Tatas are reportedly protected from Air India’s previous legal liabilities by agreement but it could still create complications.
Intermission At The Movies
Last month, Spider-Man: No Way Home sent cash registers dinging worldwide. The big-ticket flick rekindled the moviegoing experience, kick-started the movie theatre business and brought back a collective sense of normalcy. Sony Pictures was also set to release Morbius starring Jared Leto as the titular anti-hero this January. But the dream run will have to wait.
Light of day: Omicron is the new villain in town. Morbius is now slated for release in April 2022. The film, originally set to release in July 2020, has been delayed six times since then.
Same boat: Theatres are closing down. Again. SS Rajamouli’s much-anticipated magnum opus RRR and Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey have pushed their release dates. With night curfews and caps on movie hall occupancies, Bollywood wants to play its cards right.
Until then, in SRK’s words, picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost.
Back to fundraising: iD Fresh Food has raised ₹507 crore from NewQuest Capital Partners and Premji Invest. SBI has invested $20 million in payment solutions provider Pine Labs. Exotel has raised $40 million in a new round.
Give it back: Elon Musk’s satellite broadband venture, Starlink, will refund the $99 deposit it collected for Indian pre-orders after the government said it required a licence to operate.
Mass exodus: A record of 4.5 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in November as workers continue to search for better opportunities.
Covid pass: Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will defend his title after he was granted an exemption from vaccination.
In the pipeline: Mankind Pharma plans to launch Molulife, the cheapest Covid-19 drug, at ₹35 per capsule, next week.
Better check WhatsApp: Sebi will now send show-cause notices to offenders via WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal.
Notch higher: Netflix may soon upgrade to investment grade, after the pandemic helped rake in profits.
Cigarettes for cabbage: Xi'an is China's latest Covid outbreak epicentre. While authorities have been claiming that they have been distributing food after lockdown protocols were put in place in December 2021, locals tell a different story. They have started swapping gadgets for food amid a shortage. All this after the city of more than a million people reported three Covid-19 cases.
Pet tech: Look at it as a smartwatch, but for your dog. At the ongoing CES 2022, Invoxia presented a dog collar that can do a host of things. Users can monitor their pet’s vitals such as resting respiratory and heart rate. It can also track its daily activities (read: walking, running, eating, barking), and of course, location. However, it is currently unavailable for small dogs.
No glove, no love: One would think that having hours in the day, courtesy the pandemic, would translate to more sex. But Goh Miah Kiat, CEO of Karex, the world's top condom maker reveals otherwise. Sales have dipped to as low as 40% in the last two years. The reason? Hotels were inaccessible because of lockdowns.
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