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Sun and sand (and a laptop)
Also in today’s edition: Sebi’s post-Adani lesson; Big Oil’s big moves; Advantage Azure; Intel gets cornered
Good morning! ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ seems to be the guiding mantra in the age of AI as well. A team led by Ben Zhao, a professor at the University of Chicago, has created a new tool called Nightshade, which is designed to protect artists' work, reports MIT Technology Review. With Nightshade, artists can add invisible changes to the pixels in their art before uploading it online. Why? So that if the artwork is scraped by an AI training set, it can disrupt the model, inducing unpredictable errors and chaos. Immaculate! 🤌
Roshni Nair, Soumya Gupta, and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: Asian equities were trading deep in the red after a broad sell-off in US markets. Shanghai was the only green zone in Asia. Treasury yields rose on the US economy’s resilience and the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumped after Google’s parent Alphabet revealed a poor quarterly performance. Meta saying that 2024 earnings were uncertain added to the woes.
Early GIFT Nifty movement indicated a red opening for Indian shares too.
Indian markets regulator Sebi has asked an unregistered investment advisor Baap of Chart whose real name is Mohammad Nasiruddin Ansari to deposit ₹17 crore (~$2 million), which it says were his illegal gains, in an escrow account.
Meanwhile, Mamaearth parent Honasa Consumer has priced its shares in the band ₹308-₹324 for its upcoming IPO starting October 31.
Welcome To Nomadland
With tourism expected to take a hit this season, the Goa government has a plan: co-working shacks called “sea hubs”. It has also been pushing the Centre to introduce a digital nomad visa, which would allow foreigners to come and work remotely from India for a limited period.
The pandemic brought a wave of Indian techies to Goa, which drove up rents and other prices. Now, Goa wants to attract foreign digital nomads with salaries of ~₹1 crore ($120,000) a year, with the expectation that 30-35% of that is pumped back into the economy.
But: India will be quite late to the party. As many as 46 countries already offer digital nomad visas.
The Zeppelin Is Exploding
The accusations by Hindenburg Research—the short seller named after the ill-fated zeppelin airship—against the Adani Group might finally close loopholes in foreign investment rules.
Starting November 1, it will be mandatory for foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) to identify shareholders who invest over ₹25,000 crore (~$3 billion) in Indian equities or have more than 50% of their assets under management in companies of one promoter family or corporate group, The Economic Times reported. Hindenburg (and later OCCRP) had accused the Adani family of using phoney FPIs to manipulate group companies’ stock prices.
Old problem: Markets regulator Sebi has cracked down on the misuse of similar provisions. In 2015, it tightened rules around participatory notes used by investors to funnel money into India anonymously. Investors began abandoning the instrument soon after. More recently, Singapore brought family offices under anti-money laundering rules after it discovered Chinese citizens laundering gambling profits in its markets.
Petroleum giant Chevron’s purchase of Hess Corp for $53 billion and rival ExxonMobil’s ~$60 billion acquisition of Texas shale oil producer Pioneer Natural Resources are signs of a strategic consolidation in an industry predicted to be nearing its sunset.
Chevron earlier spent $20 billion to buy Noble Energy and PDC Energy. The consolidation comes at a time when the International Energy Agency has forecast global oil consumption to peak before 2030 and fall by half by 2050 to about 55 million barrels per day. The mergers in the US, where ESG (environment, social, governance) is highly divisive, could put pressure on energy rivals such as BP and Shell across the Atlantic, where the European Union is determined to phase out fossil fuels.
Academic Aswath Damodaran argues that the ESG framework is dead, and wherever oil companies pared investments, private equity stepped in. Yet, the shift to electric vehicles is accelerating in big markets such as the US and Europe and emerging ones such as China and India. For instance, despite economic expansion, the pace of petroleum consumption growth in India has slowed sharply.
Consolidation will help the US energy industry withstand pressure from ESG proponents and have greater control over prices and margins in a conflict-ridden world where supply disruption could become the norm. By paying in stock, the companies have preserved their mountains of cash, which can be used to reward investors or deploy for exploration and production if need be.
🎧 Why Big Oil is consolidating, and why ESG may be dead. Also in today’s edition: how artists are taking on AI. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
What Investors Want…
…when it comes to Big Tech is cloud-everything. Increases in overall profits and sales be damned. That was the message after Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet announced their Q3 2023 results. Microsoft’s shares rose 5% in after-hours trading, while Alphabet’s fell 7%.
Microsoft reported a revenue increase of 19% in Intelligent Cloud, which comprises, among others, the Azure cloud platform. Revenue from Azure—where Microsoft introduced several AI-as-a-service features—alone increased by 29%. This stands out in a year where clients have trimmed cloud costs.
Google Cloud reported a 22.5% increase in revenue. But this was the division’s slowest growth in 11 quarters. That stuck with investors despite the cloud accounting for just 11% of Alphabet’s revenues, and the company reporting a 9% year-on-year increase in ad sales.
Intel Inside? Don’t Count On It
PC shipments may be declining, but generative AI (GenAI) could be a watershed moment for the industry. That moment is nearly here, and Intel—which dominates the PC processor/CPU market—will have to watch its back.
Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of smartphone processors, has unveiled the Snapdragon X Elite, which can run GenAI models with over 13 billion parameters on-device. Qualcomm claims it’s faster and more energy efficient than Intel and Apple chips. PCs running on Snapdragon X Elite are expected mid-2024.
AI chip juggernaut Nvidia is also coming for the CPU market, and Intel rival AMD is building AI chips based on Arm technology. Both may hit the market by 2025.
The winner?: Microsoft. In diversifying its vendors, it’s readying for a future where AI processing will be done on-device, not just the cloud.
Aside: Qualcomm is also bringing on-device GenAI capabilities to its latest phone chipset, Snapdragon 8 Gen 3.
Slight opening: India will begin some visa services in Canada from today. Those that will be processed include entry, business, medical, and conference visas.
More scrutiny: India’s accounting regulator started an inquiry into one of the member firms of EY, the longtime auditor of the Adani Group, reports Bloomberg.
Second innings: South Korean conglomerate Daewoo, which sold cars in India in the 1990s, is returning to the country. This time, it’ll focus on e-bikes, e-cycles, power and energy products.
To hell with the planet: British oil major Shell is slashing 15% of its workforce in its low carbon solutions division and scaling back its hydrogen business to boost profits, Reuters reports.
Turbulence: Boeing reported a loss of $1.64 billion in the quarter ended September 2023 and cut its delivery target of the 737 MAX jet from 400-450 to 375-400.
Manipulative Meta: A coalition of 33 US states has sued Meta—which reported a 23% revenue increase in Q3 2023—for using “harmful and psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended platform use”.
No entry: Israel has banned United Nations representatives from visiting the country “to teach them a lesson” after secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the Hamas attacks had to be seen in context of “years of suffocating occupation”.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The record-breaking age of Bobi, who outlived every dog in known history before dying in Portugal on Monday. He roamed without a leash, enjoyed the company of cats, and was a very good boy. (CNN)
Gimme more: That’s what the fans are crooning, now that Britney Spears’ memoir, The Woman In Me, is out. The book reveals previously undisclosed aspects of her life, such as her tumultuous relationship with Justin Timberlake and the oppressive conservatorship managed by her father. Spears also expresses her appreciation for the #FreeBritney movement, which she credits with challenging the legal system to terminate her conservatorship. However, the heightened media attention following the book's launch has left Spears reluctant to promote it.
Let ‘em see: It’s time to change our outlook on discovering alien life. Astronomers argue that instead of actively seeking aliens, it's time to make ourselves detectable. Key indicators include oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapour, signifying a stable liquid ocean; and nitrogen dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons, byproducts of combustion and technology, suggesting industrial activity. Yet, revealing these requires advanced telescopes. To be visible to "normie" aliens, substantial urbanisation is essential, as the unnatural emission of sodium from our lights transforms Earth into a beacon.
Foul taste: For detractors of beer, it has always tasted like piss. Now, there’s proof of that. A video recently surfaced from a Tsingtao Brewery plant in China, depicting a worker urinating into a tank. Tsingtao is the second-largest brewery in the country and a significant supplier to South Korea. Naturally, Korean consumers are ditching Tsingtao beer post the ‘incident’. Sales have dropped by 26.2% compared to the previous week in one retail chain, while the demand for other imports, such as Budweiser, has increased.