Tinder swipes right on the pandemic

Also in today's edition: Amazon's brick-and-mortar push, FB will have Reels, ICYMI.

Good morning! It’s the weekend. Well, almost. A few hours to go. Yesterday, Marvel dropped a trailer for The Eternals. It had crossed a few million views in a matter of hours. The last time Marvel dropped a trailer for this film was in May and it recorded 77 million views in 24 hours. Our bet? This one will break that record. 

On to the day’s stories:

  1. Facebook’s finance flirt.

  2. This Diwali, book your dates but not your figs.

  3. A collection of long reads to unwind with over the weekend.

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The Market Signal 

Stocks: Indian markets were shut on Thursday. The US markets have been adjusting for the Federal Reserve reducing its purchases of bonds, a move known as tapering. The Fed has been buying bonds worth about $120 billion every month. That liquidity will slowly dry up in the coming months and traders and investors are adjusting their strategies for it.


Black August in China

The August bloodbath for Chinese tech stocks seems to be unending. E-commerce giant Alibaba’s shares plummeted to a record low in Hong Kong while closing at $172.35 on the NYSE, their lowest since October 2019. Tencent is close to an all-year low. Other big Chinese tech companies like Didi, Meituan, and Bilibili were not spared either.

Good god! We’ve been telling you about it. China’s new advertising and data handling regulations have sent ripples through global markets. 

Cooling down on China: Last month, ~$1 trillion of market value was wiped out of the tech sector. Investment biggies like George Soros and Cathie Wood are pulling out as well. China’s stringent measures mean trouble for big players who have so far been controlling a majority of the market. International fund flows may increase to countries such as India. 

Au contraire: Meanwhile, Baidu has managed to raise $1 billion in its first-ever environment, social, and governance bond.

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The Taliban: India’s Diwali Party Pooper

Dry fruits and Diwali are quite a pair, aren’t they? But this festival season may feel a little less bright and expensive and the Taliban may have something to do with it. 

Wait, but why? Because walnuts and pine nuts are imported from Afghanistan. It is also the only source for apricots and figs. That is, if they’re still available. The route for India’s exports and imports to Afghanistan passes through Pakistan and the Taliban have blocked cargo movement through that country. India is one of Afghanistan’s biggest trade partners, and dry fruits are a big chunk of the imports from that country. Dry fruit prices have already risen 20-30% over the past week.

Beyond Diwali: The festival season will be a bit downcast for exporters as well. India exported commodities worth $835 million in 2021. The Taliban’s move will only increase trade uncertainty, particularly tea exporters.


F is for Finance in Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg might dream of a perpetually connected virtual world and a seamless economy with the real one, but Facebook is yet to crack a crucial element—payments. Its earlier attempt with Libra went nowhere. So it is introducing Novi, a new avatar of its blockchain-based payment system, Diem (formerly Libra).

Novi, what? This is yet another attempt by Facebook to create a digital wallet following the regulatory pushback Libra received. Novi will enable users to move money around quickly, cheaply, and sometimes even free.

Self-reliant: Novi will have its own stablecoin, a digital currency pegged to, or backed by fiat currencies. It will help money transfers at scale while allowing accessibility and interoperability—via the Blue App, Messenger, and WhatsApp. The large pool of small businesses plugged into the Facebook ecosystem are a valuable catchment for payments and even financial services in the long term. 

The Signal:

Facebook has the small task of convincing regulators of its ambitious plan, a rather uphill task considering it is already facing regulatory heat across the world. The company claims it is working with regulators for permission to launch Novi in “almost all US states”. Facebook’s payments push also comes at a time when regulators are wary of stablecoins and the threat they pose to financial stability. More than regulators, however, Facebook will need to build consumer trust before it can banish its “underdog” status in the payments space.

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Tinder’s Got The Hots For The Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is also an epidemic of loneliness. And for lonely people, Tinder is therapy. Tinder’s Future of Dating study says its users have redefined dating by keeping it “fluid”, or “let’s see where it goes” in Tinderspeak. Just like shopping, dating has embraced digital too and it is likely here to stay.

The numbers: Tinder’s Gen Z users spent more time on the app in 2021, sending 19% more messages per day in February than a year before. Conversations were 32% longer during the pandemic. Nearly half of Tinder users had a video chat with a match. The app recorded 3 billion swipes a day for several days. Many were rewarded for those painful thumbs, with 42% more matches per member. Phew!

Safety first: With digital dating rocketing, Tinder has upped security, introducing Safety Center with guides, tools, and resources in India. It will soon roll out a free, voluntary (except places where mandated by law) verification feature, first introduced in Japan in 2019.


ICYMI

Heist tale: Can you brazenly blow a hole in a museum wall and rob $1.2 billion in jewellery? You can if you were a brash Gen Z of a ruthless crime family and the jewellery belonged to early-18th-century German monarch Augustus the Strong. The crowning glory of the treasure was a pure-white Golconda diamond. The story, as GQ tells it, of a new generation of Lebanese clans in Germany is just fascinating.

Uncensored: Random people and right-wing provocateurs have turned public school board hearings into the latest battlegrounds for culture wars in the US. They are using hearings to spout wild theories and spread misinformation about vaccines and attack critical race theory. Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook are unable to censor any of this content because they are official government proceedings. 

Manuscript thief: A few years ago those working in the top echelons of international publishing began getting sophisticated phishing emails. They were seeking manuscripts of about-to-be-published blockbusters. The motive of the thief never became clear but several people fell for it. It is a fascinating read

Empty fridges: Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted home budgets the world over. But it is the rising international food prices that are devastating many families. Some are even cutting back on even milk for their children.

The Creator Economy Crisis: As the creator economy is evolving, it faces a striking similarity to the gig economy, writes investor Li Jin. Why? Enter large social media platforms aka gatekeepers, which she argues, have begun “commoditizing creators in order to maintain their grasp on user attention.” Li’s note is an urgent call to action.


What Else Made The Signal?

Get bigger: Online marketplace Amazon plans to open several real department stores in the US as it seeks to expand in the brick-and-mortar world.

Dripping oil: The price of oil slipped to $66 per barrel, the lowest since May, driven down by a rise in Covid-19 cases, the US dollar strengthening, and a hike in US gasoline reserves. 

Reels and Reeling: With one eye on TikTok, Facebook is testing Instagram’s Reels in its Blue App in the US. The FTC has refiled its antitrust complaint against Facebook, defining its market as "US personal social networking services.”

Loan boost: Eduvanz, India’s education loan provider startup, has got INR 1 billion in funding. Juvo Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, and Unitus Ventures led the round. 

Fewer babies: China has another problem on its hands: too few babies. The number of births in 2021 may be the lowest since 1950. 

Win the race: Private equity group Carlyle leads the race to acquire Hexaware Technologies with a $3 million deal that can be one of the largest PE buyouts.

Smart business: HDFC Bank raised $1 billion from the international market through additional tier-I bonds, the biggest ever by an Indian lender.

And that’s it from us for the week. See you on Monday. 

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