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Grab co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan on Uber deal, fintech, Indonesia

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Ever since wrapping a $2 billion fundraising round led by Softbank and Didi Chuxing last July, Grab has been moving quickly to connect the millions of “invisibles” across the region to its financial services.

The GrabPay e-wallet launched across Southeast Asia in November of last year on the heels of the company introducing its peer-to-peer payments service. The financial technology push picked up momentum last month when Grab inked a joint venture with Japan’s Credit Saison to form Grab Financial Services. On the same day, Grab announced a partnership with insurance giant Chubb for in-app insurance solutions.

Grab could, however, face even more formidable challengers than Uber in the race to bank the unbanked. China’s big tech firms are competing in the space with Tencent’s WeChat pay and Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial and have announced recent expansion plans in Southeast Asia. But Tan left the door open to teaming with, rather than defeating the internet giants.

“I think Ant Financial, again another great company, for us, as we are all about working with many, many partners. We don’t fixate ourselves on who’s the best partner … we think about what are the biggest problems and how do we solve that problem,” he said. “And if Ant Financial, or whoever, is another great partner, we are focused on that problem and on that segment of underbanked or invisible people that we can help and solve that problem.”

Finding friends may come in handy when it comes to staking a leadership claim in Grab’s biggest battleground: Indonesia. Home grown ride-hailing service GoJek, has also been investing in financial tech in a bid to capture the enormous amount of people in the country who don’t have a bank account.

But Tan isn’t taking the Indonesia challenge lightly, insisting Grab is already leading in transportation in the country, where most of his time is spent: “And now as we continue to invest in Indonesia we are very confident now with the Uber Eats assets we will also become the number one food player in this region. And then, as we continue to expand GrabPay, Grab Financial, that will expand throughout the region.”

Grab’s CEO is hoping that by cementing their position in ride-hailing and food delivery in crucial markets such as Indonesia, it will be easier to attract financial services clients through cross-promotion.

He sketched out what a day could look like for his ideal Grab consumer: “The minute they wake up, they book a car. The car comes and the guy has his car financed by Grab financial. He or she then pays for her lunch (at a) local noodle stall with Grab Pay, zips between meetings using a Grab bike then orders Grab food on the way home.”

When asked whether plans to turn Grab into a multi-service platform for the masses puts the company on a firmer path to an initial public offering, Tan kept his cards close to his chest. Still, he said the Uber deal is a step in the right direction: “I mean, now that one sector of our businesses clearly has a clear path to profitability. That obviously becomes a closer and closer reality.”

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Biden announces U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11

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US President Joe Biden speaks during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021.

Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he will withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s role in what has become its longest war.

The removal of approximately 3,000 American servicemembers coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East.

“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said. “It is time for American troops to come home.”

Biden said that he coordinated his decision with international partners and allies as well as with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The withdrawal of U.S. troops will begin on May 1. Following his remarks, Biden said he would visit Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ghani said he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces. Ghani said Afghanistan’s military is “fully capable of defending its people and country.”

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the orderly withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops from the war-torn country could happen well before September. The official added that Washington is prepared to “strike back hard” if American troops are attacked ahead of the September departure.

CIA Director William Burns acknowledged in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday that Washington’s ability to act on threats will be diminished by the U.S. withdrawal. However, Burns said some U.S. capabilities will remain in place.

“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” Burns said. 

“It is also a fact, however, that after withdrawal, whenever that time comes, the CIA and all of our partners in the U.S. government will retain a suite of capabilities, some of them remaining in place, some of them that we will generate, that can help us to anticipate and contest any rebuilding effort,” Burns said.

Lance Cpl. Patrick Reeder, with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, patrols in Nawa district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2009.

Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Purschwitz

In February 2020, the Trump administration brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce further the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July last year.

By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan, according to the deal. The majority of troops in the country are from Europe and partner nations. About 2,500 U.S. service members are now in Afghanistan.

Under the agreement, the Taliban promised to not let terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks against the U.S. or its allies and agreed to conduct peace talks with the central government in Kabul.

The White House, when pressed Wednesday about whether the Taliban will use the U.S. withdrawal to topple the central government in Kabul, said it expects the militant group to abide by its commitments.

“We have an expectation that the Taliban is going to abide by their commitments and that they are not going to allow Afghanistan to become a pariah state. That’s our view, that’s also in their interests,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.  

However, the Taliban said earlier this week that it will not attend a summit on Afghanistan in Turkey set for later this month and will not attend any conference until foreign forces leave the country.

Last month, Biden told reporters during his first press conference that he could not yet commit to the May 1 deadline. “It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said, adding, “it is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”

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When asked if U.S. service members would remain in Afghanistan another year, Biden said he did not see that being the case.

“We are not staying a long time. We will leave, the question is when we leave,” the president said, adding that his administration was in consultations with NATO allies and partners in the region.

The announcement to leave Afghanistan comes on the heels of a Wednesday meeting between NATO allies and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 troops in the country.

“Our allies and partners have stood beside us shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan for almost 20 years and we are deeply grateful for the contributions they have made to our shared mission,” Biden said. “The plan has long been in together and out together.”

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion collectively since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report

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Powell calls cryptocurrencies ‘vehicles for speculation’

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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell holds a news conference following the Federal Reserve’s two-day Federal Open Market Committee Meeting in Washington, July 31, 2019.

Sarah Silbiger | Reuters

Cryptocurrencies are largely for making bets on price increases and haven’t reached the status of payment mechanisms yet, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.

“They’re really vehicles for speculation,” the central bank leader told The Economic Club of New York in a virtual interview with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group. “They’re not really being actively used as payments.”

Powell compared crypto to gold.

“For thousands of years, human beings have given gold a special value that it doesn’t have” as an industrial metal, he said.

The comments come the same day as Coinbase goes public in a direct listing on the Nasdaq, an exchange that is weighted with tech companies.

Coinbase is the predominant exchange for trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It opened at $381 a share, well above its $250 reference price. The company said it generated $1.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter amid wild price gains for bitcoin, ethereum and other crypto names.

Powell’s predecessor at the Fed, Janet Yellen, is now Treasury secretary. In February, she told CNBC that she views bitcoin as “a highly speculative asset” and said it is not “widely used as a transmission mechanism” and is an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions.”

Along with a brief chat about crypto, the Powell interview encompassed a variety of other subjects, much of it familiar ground for the Fed leader.

One revelation was that Powell has yet to meet with President Joe Biden.

Fed watchers have been speculating as to whether Biden will give Powell another term as chair when the current one expires in 2022. Asked in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday on whether he wants another term, Powell demurred, saying he’s focused on “doing the best job I can.”

Powell said he has had no contact with Biden since the latter became president nearly three months ago.

Asked if he’s ever met Biden, Powell said, “I think I’ve shaken his hand, but I have not really met him and talked to him.”

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Xpeng Motors launches P5 Lidar electric car to rival Tesla in China

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Xpeng Motors launches the P5 sedan at an event in Guangzhou, China on April 14, 2021. The P5 is Xpeng’s third production model and features so-called Lidar technology.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

GUANGZHOU, China — Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors launched the P5 on Wednesday, a sedan with new self-driving features, as it looks to race ahead in China’s ultra-competitive auto market.

The P5, Xpeng’s third production model and second sedan after the P7, adds another competitor to Tesla’s Model 3 in China’s increasingly crowded field of electric car-makers.

The Chinese firm, a rival to domestic players Nio and Li Auto, said it will release its pricing at the Shanghai Auto Show on Apr. 19.

But in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Xinzhou Wu, vice president in charge of autonomous driving at Xpeng, said the P5 will be priced lower than the P7.

“At this price range with the features we put in the car, I think it will be quite compelling for our customers,” he said.

The P7 starts from 229,900 yuan ($35,192) after subsidies. In comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 in China starts at 249,900 yuan.

Wu said the P5 would roll out to customers in China in the third or fourth quarter of this year. Xpeng has also expanded into Norway, its first international market. Wu said that the company will expand its footprint in northern Europe and the P5 would eventually be launched there. He gave no timelines on when this might happen.

Driverless tech

Xpeng has tried to push the advancement of its self-driving features to differentiate from its competitors.

The P5 is equipped with so-called Lidar, or Light Detection and Ranging technology. Lidar systems send out lasers that bounce back and can measure distance. Those returning beams are processed by an algorithm to create a three dimensional representation of surrounding objects — a key technology for autonomous vehicles to understand their environment.

Xpeng claims that Lidar can help the P5 distinguish pedestrians, cyclists and scooters as well as road works — even at night and under low-light conditions.

On Wednesday, the Chinese vehicle maker also released a new version of XPILOT, its so-called advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS). This refers to a system with some autonomous features but where a driver is still required.

XPILOT 3.5 will have an updated version of a feature called Navigation Guided Pilot or NGP, which allows users to autonomously do tasks such as changing lanes or overtaking cars. Some of these features will work on city roads for the first time. Previously, NGP was just designed for highways.

Xpeng’s XPILOT is an attempt to compete with Tesla’s own ADAS system called Autopilot as well as other rivals like Nio with its Nio Pilot.

“In P7 we launched NGP … only on highways. But highway driving only occupies like 10% of peoples’ driving time. Being able to bring the technology and the capability to cities is very important to make the feature more usable and more compelling to Chinese customers,” Wu said.

In the city, Wu said the situation was becoming “exponentially” more difficult, citing challenges in ensuring the car can recognize objects in its path accurately and reliably. “We believe with Lidar … it will help us achieve our goal much faster and gives us an edge against our competitors.”

Competition heating up

China’s electric car market is expected to pick up this year with 1.9 million units expected to be sold, growing 51% year-on-year, according research firm Canalys.

Various incentives from the government, such as subsidies, have helped China become the biggest electric car market in the world. With that, a number of start-ups have grown rapidly such as Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto.

But these players are competing against traditional automakers who are boosting their electric vehicle capabilities as well as other technology firms entering into the fray.

Chinese search giant Baidu teamed up with Geely to create a standalone electric car company, while smartphone giant Xiaomi announced plans to launch an electric car business.

Last year, Xpeng delivered 27,041 vehicles, more than doubling from 2019. In comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 alone sold more than 137,000 units in 2020 in China.

Wu said Xpeng has developed a lot of technology which he believes gives the company an edge.

“We are definitely a step, a few steps ahead, you know as compared to most of our competitors. So we are pretty confident that we can win this race even with more newcomers into this space,” Wu told CNBC.

“We believe that with this kind of focus on the Chinese market, Chinese customers, Chinese road conditions and also the different technologies we bring together to make the tech better fitted to China market, I think we do have an edge as compared to Tesla in the China market.”

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