Microsoft is building a $500M firewall

Also in today's edition: ByteDance not IPO-ing, Flipkart raises, Black Widow smashes records

Good morning! TED talks are coming to Clubhouse. The audio-only social media platform has tied up with the American media organisation. TED will be allowed to sell, advertise, and hawk whatever it wants in its room. Clubhouse will take nothing from it. All it wants is DAUs. Where do you think TEDX goes? LinkedIn’s yet to be launched audio feature?

On to today’s stories:

  1. Is the third wave here?

  2. Jhunjhunwala has bought an airline ticket.

  3. Those dirty EVs.

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Covid-19: Are We In The Third Wave? 

Lo and behold, as anticipated, there’s no escaping the third wave of coronavirus. WHO chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, warned on Friday that with 500,000 global cases a day, the pandemic wasn’t slowing down. Dr Vipin Srivastava, a top physicist in Hyderabad, believes India has already been hit by the next wave as of July 4, 2021.

Meanwhile, average daily vaccinations have dropped across the country since June 21. The seven-day average of daily new cases in India has remained above 40,000 since March.

Tally: The total tally of coronavirus cases in India is now up to 30.8 million, while the UK tally has tipped over to 5 million cases. In the US, Dr Anthony Fauci called the Covid-19 Delta strain a "nasty variant" as it transmits faster from person to person.

Wait a little longer: The Zydus Cadila vaccine’s market entry has been delayed as it awaits emergency approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

No mo’ nasal swabs: As the entire world scrambles to find ways to tackle this pandemic, UK-based health-tech company Vatic has developed a quick and effective way for home-testing, using a person’s saliva. The results are displayed on an app to share with officials and others. The development of breathalysers that can detect the disease is also underway in places like Denmark and Singapore.

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Microsoft Takes Risk 

The Windows-maker has agreed to buy cybersecurity firm RiskIQ in an all-cash deal in excess of $500 million, according to Bloomberg. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2009 and has raised a total of $83 million thus far. Its cloud-based software helps companies protect their web, social, and mobile exposures. But it is perhaps best known for its annual “Evil Internet Minute” report on cybersecurity.

This adds to Microsoft’s purchase of ReFirm Labs, which secures IoT devices, last month, and its overall efforts to increase vigilance and build defences against hackers and ransomware. The recent attacks on IT-services provider Kaseya, which impacted over 1,500 businesses, and many others may have heightened the impetus.

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A Time To Fly 

Is it a good time to start an airline when nobody is flying? It sure is, if you are ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. He is backing a group of aviation industry professionals to start a low-cost flyer tentatively named Akasa, Sanskrit for sky.

The team: The others in the project are former Jet Airways CEO, Vinay Dube, former Jet vice president, Praveen Iyer, and former head of revenue management at GoAir, Anand Srinivasan.

Value investor: Jhunjhunwala, a firm believer in the India story, is known for his ability to pick stocks early and making audacious bets on them. He started buying rating firm Crisil at INR 150/share (INR 2,660/share as of yesterday) when it was a fledgling and raked up a double-digit holding in it. Although he has bet big on several companies, it is perhaps the first time he is founding an enterprise. That too in an industry that has been a graveyard for many.

The Signal

Just like his stock picks, the billionaire is entering aviation as a value investor. The sector is passing through an unprecedented crisis, and assets and resources are available dirt cheap. Balance sheets of several airlines are stressed and aircraft are idling in hangars, presenting an opportunity to lease or buy them at heavily discounted prices. The most important resource, pilots, both experienced and freshout of flying schools, are cooling their heels at home. Airports too are eager to start up as soon as possible and likely willing to cut deals. For instance, the Adani group, India’s largest airport platform that had recently taken over the management of six regional airports, has been struggling to get the business off the ground because of the pandemic. There never was a better time to prepare to fly, it seems.

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The Flipside Of Electric Vehicles 

The Atacama desert in Chile has become a barren land. What once used to host oases brimming with water and lush pastures for animals to graze on is now parched. The culprits? Electric vehicles, at least in part.

Switching to EVs is touted to be a great way to combat climate change. Vehicles like cars and trucks that burn fossil fuels contribute the most to global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, more electric cars means a reduction of the 15.6% contribution from them to global carbon emissions. But, are EVs all that eco-friendly?

The flipside: EVs use batteries made out of lithium and copper, both metals that need to be mined. Lithium mining uses a large amount of water and pumps out saltwater that can damage the soil. Copper mining uses water at every stage of the extraction and churning process. That’s what happened in Atacama. Chile exported almost $1 billion worth of lithium in 2020, nearly four times the amount from four years ago. A similar story is playing out in Australia, where only 2-3% of batteries are recycled. It certainly won’t stop there.

In many countries where power is still largely generated from fossil fuels, an increase in EVs means an increase in power — and thus fossil fuels — consumed. Water scarcity and local environmental damage may end up being the ironic impact of the EV green revolution.

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Dust Off Your Resumes 

A Naukri JobSpeak report says, compared to May, hiring grew by 15% in India in June, led by the IT, insurance, and finance sectors.  There was also a substantial recovery in hiring activity in hotels, restaurants, airlines, travel, and retail sectors.

This is heartening news, especially since nearly 23 million jobs were lost in April and May, as reported by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Things are looking up again, especially for IT companies, with the top five expected to hire nearly 100,000 fresh employees. A glut of funding in recent months means that many startups flush with cash have also stepped up their recruitment. Hiring for leadership roles at consumer companies is also taking off after a long gap.

White or blue? This uptick, however, seems more limited to white-collar jobs for now. It is estimated that in the unorganised sector, hiring will be much slower to recover, and incomes will likely remain depressed. This is turning out to be a big problem in the US where labour shortages are causing some companies to take crazy measures for recruitment. However, as a different business owner shows, there's no labour shortage, just a shortage of businesses willing to pay a decent wage.

Perhaps that’s why more teens are picking up jobs, along with automation software, and, of course, robots.

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What Else Made The Signal? 

Bye bye IPO: ByteDance Ltd., which owns TikTok, has shelved its plans to go public this year over data security concerns raised by Chinese officials.

Ecom capital pouring: Flipkart has raised $3.6 billion in funding from external investors including Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Singapore government’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and SoftBank Vision Fund 2, among others. It now has a valuation of over USD 37 billion. This comes before its big IPO plans in Q4 of 2021.

Recharge: Hero Electric has garnered $30 million in a funding round led by Gulf Islamic Investments (GII) and Oaks Asset Management. The round is still open, so the corpus may further increase.

Social moolah: Bangalore-based social commerce platform Trell has raised $45 million from Mirae Asset, H&M Group and LB Investments.

Back from the dead: Marvel’s Black Widow hit theater screens last weekend and impressed, setting a new pandemic box office record with $80 million domestic and $79 million overseas collections. It also raked in $60 million from Disney+ digital rentals.


Fun Signals

Just BTS things: K-pop band BTS is topping Spotify’s daily charts for South Korea with its new release, “Permission to Dance”. It has tough competition in second spot… from itself, with “Butter”. In third place? Another tough contender, BTS.

Peach of a deal: A sealed copy of the classic Nintendo 64 console game, Super Mario 64, has sold for over $1.5 million, making it the most expensive video game ever. It eclipsed the $870,000 record set by an NES copy of The Legend of Zelda just a couple days before.

Crossed wires: The OnePlus India twitter handle accidentally ended up promoting Samsung’s SPen stylus due to an error by its social media agency. The tweet was quickly deleted, with the disclaimer “No interns or managers were harmed in the making of this tweet”.

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