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Internet’s on the wire
Also in today’s edition: Ocean's bounty, Online rainbow, Omicron spreads, No fun flying
Good Morning! Everyone loves a good underdog story. People often see themselves as underdogs against the big bad world. Here’s what happened. In Japan, an ageing horse won a race after a decade. People on Japanese social media went crazy. But it wasn’t just for the horse, it was also because it reminded them of a game called Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Or, erm, Horse Girl Pretty Derby. In this game, avatars of pop stars with horse ears and tails compete with others. The winner performs a concert. And no, this isn’t a niche game. Since it was released in February, it has earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Japan can get weird.
Btw, our podcast has been going strong for two 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: Foreign institutional investors continued to be sellers while domestic institutions stood on the other side maintaining their buying spree on Monday. Inflation worries weighed on investors’ minds and Omicron continued to spread uncertainty if not panic. Tego Industries, meanwhile, made an impressive debut ending at a 60% premium to its listing price.
Power Lines To Compete With Satellites
Intel is taking its second stab at solving access to high-speed internet. The most recent attempt comes via what's commonly known as powerline—using cables transmitting electricity to also ferry data. This, it hopes, will help take the Internet to villages and remote corners of the country. The first such attempt was sometime in January 2013 when it piloted HomePlug technology.
But what is it? Much like DSL, which uses an existing telephone line to bring high-speed internet, the powerline network uses the home or office electrical wiring to create a network. Most power line Internet providers use two channels in the electrical wire: one to carry electricity (low frequency) and the other (high frequency) to carry data.
Access, please? While unconventional, power lines help scale affordable Internet access using existing infrastructure, especially in places where optic fibre cables might be harder to deploy. This is the most recent attempt by companies to expand Internet access, with others such as Elon Musk opting for satellites, the government trying its hand via Bharatnet, and telecom companies such as Reliance Jio and Airtel offering cheap data through 4G.
The Year When Shipping Changed
One of the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the disruption in movement of goods, on road, rail and over sea. Unavailability of containers due to congestion in US ports and quarantine rules in China added to the woes.
Rising tide: The Drewry World Container Index had risen to well over $10,000 per 40ft box a couple of months ago. It has come off its peak but was still over $9,262 for a 40ft container on December 9. That is, however, proving to be a windfall for container shipping companies. Analyst Alphaliner forecasts that the top 10 of them will make a combined profit of more than $120 billion in 2021, six times more than the previous year. Investors have hit the jackpot too.
Lifts Chinese boat: Meanwhile, shipbuilders in China have booked 40% more orders in 2021 compared to the previous year. That means like mobile phones and automobiles, China is becoming a manufacturing hub for ships as well.
Online Grocery Stores Crowd The Market
After backing Ninjacart to build a fresh-produce supply chain, Flipkart and parent Walmart are now plonking down $145 million to help it sell groceries online. With newly puffed-up coffers, Ninjacart will take on JioMart, Amazon India, and Tata-owned BigBasket.
Act fast: The frenzy intensified when Zepto entered the fray with its 10-minute delivery promise. Last month, it raised about $60 million in an early institutional round.
Time crunch: Online retailer Amazon was the first to start daily essentials’ delivery within two hours of ordering with its Amazon Fresh stores on Prime Now app that was later folded into the Amazon app itself.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns have shaped behaviours, home-delivery becoming a habit for consumers and a competitive strategy for companies. All of them were essentially delivering the same items and the only differentiation could be time taken from order to delivery. Cue, Zepto, which shortened it to on-demand delivery. At which point there is no real difference.
Looks like the trend is here to stay, however. According to this report, quick commerce is expected to grow 10 to 15 times by 2025. Big money is betting on it too. Swiggy invested $700 million in Instamart, the platform's quick-commerce vertical. BigBasket, owned by Tata, will join the quick-commerce sector in February 2022. BigBasket had shut down its 90-minute express delivery in 2019.
Only time will tell if this is FOMO, Fool’s Gold or the real McCoy.
Omicron spreads its tentacles
Kerala and Chandigarh reported their first Omicron cases, raising India’s caseload of the highly-infectious Covid-19 variant to 38. South African epidemiologist Juliet Pulliam warns that Omicron could spread rapidly in India, adding that the country should consider booster shots and vaccinating children.
Omicron casualty: Meanwhile, UK prime minister Boris Johnson issued new targets for booster doses as the country grapples with an ‘Omicron emergency’. Unfortunately, the variant claimed its first victim in the UK. According to a study, the variant could also lead to higher hospitalisations than January 2021, if extra measures aren't implemented.
Immune to immunisation: Omicron’s ability to bypass vaccine immunity confounded even the World Health Organisation (WHO). The organisation expressed concern over transmissibility in the UK, where 70% are fully vaccinated. On the other hand, its spread is slower in South Africa, where just 26% of the population is vaccinated.
Speaking of South Africa, president Cyril Ramaphosa is isolating in Cape Town after testing positive for Covid-19.
India’s Flying Nightmare
In 2022, two new airlines will take to the Indian skies. The country’s newest airline, Akasa, may take off sooner than Jet 2.0 as it is slated to get its air operator’s permit as soon as April 2022. These launches come at a time when flying has become a frazzling affair for its chaotic experience.
Not easy: Long queues, baggage mix-ups and overcrowded airports are the norm. Passengers are being asked to arrive three to four hours before departure.
What’s happening? A sudden, unexpected spurt in passenger traffic has left airlines and airport authorities unprepared. While they were expecting a dip in flyers post Diwali, the daily passenger traffic jumped to ~3.5 lakhs in November from 2.7 lakhs in October. Corporate and leisure travel is back to almost pre-pandemic levels while there aren’t enough staff to handle flyers. Queues for Covid-19 testing and poor Internet connectivity have added to the woes.
What Else Made The Signal?
Victim shaming?: An Alibaba employee who accused her boss of sexual assault was fired by the company for “spreading false information”. The shock move comes just months after Alibaba terminated her alleged abuser and introduced measures to check workplace abuse.
Back to the drawing board: There's yet another exit at Twitter. Former Twitter head Manish Maheshwari is leaving the company to launch an edtech startup.
Headed to D-street: Amazon-backed More Retail could make an initial public offering to raise about $500 million.
Blame game: Meta's head of virtual reality Andrew Bozworth has blamed individual humans and not social media for sharing misinformation about Covid-19.
Hat tip: Tesla and SpaceX CEO and part time crypto enthusiast, Elon Musk, is Time magazine's 2021 Person of the Year.
Merger: Two Shriram group non-banking lenders are merging to form Shriram Finance, India’s largest shadow bank.
Prices rise: High vegetable prices pushed up retail inflation to 4.91% in November, well within the central bank’s tolerance range.
No tokens for this bag: Little did Mason Rothschild know that in complaining about fake versions of his NFT, he’d get called out by the very brand that inspired his creations. The artist behind MetaBirkins—a collection of NFTs based on the iconic Birkin line of bags—claimed that scammers made $35,000 selling fake MetaBirkins. But Hermès, maker of the original, physical Birkins, says MetaBirkins are a trademark infringement in themselves, and that they haven’t entered the NFT market because they value “tangible expression”. Ouch.
Now accepting Tether: Myanmar’s shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG) adopted stablecoin Tether (USDT), instead of the Myanmar Kyat as its official currency. The timing works since Burmese citizens have been pulled up for donating to the NUG’s armed wing. Myanmar’s central bank declared digital currencies illegal in May last year. It remains to be seen if its citizens make note.
Giant gem: Sri Lanka's Ratnapura (the Gem City) is living up to its name. Certified as the world's largest natural corundum blue sapphire, the gemstone weighs 310 kg. While international organisations are yet to give it their stamp of approval, local gemologists say it is indeed a rare one.
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