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More money chases Indian tech start-ups as investors shun Chinese names

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Zomato food delivery partners is seen on a road in Kolkata , India.

Debarchan Chatterjee | NurPhoto | Getty Images

At a time when investors are selling Chinese technology stocks, more money is chasing Indian start-ups.

Shares of food delivery app Zomato soared as much as 82% in their debut Friday on the National Stock Exchange of India. The initial public offering was priced at 76 rupees per share, or a little more than $1 per share. The stock opened more than 50% higher, valuing the company at about 910 billion rupees or $12.2 billion.

Jayasankar Venkataraman, head of equity capital markets at Kotak Investment Banking, said before trading started that the IPO was oversubscribed for institutional and retail investors.

“I think Zomato’s successful IPO might open the floodgates,” said Anirudh Suri, founding partner of the India Internet Fund. Suri has invested in 20 start-ups across India.

Tech giant Uber sold its India food delivery business to Zomato last year in an all-stock transaction that gave the U.S. company a stake. Zomato’s other prominent backers include Indian internet company Info Edge, Alibaba-affiliate Ant Group and Singapore state investor Temasek.

Sources told CNBC that after listing in India, Zomato has plans to make its debut in the U.S.

As to which companies will be next to go public, Suri said he’s betting on Paytm, which claims among its backers Japan’s SoftBank, Ant Group and Berkshire Hathaway.

India payments company Paytm recently filed its IPO paperwork with a goal of raising $2.2 billion in its public debut this November.

Overall, Indian start-ups raised $12.1 billion in funding in the first six months of the year, compared with the $5.3 billion raised during the same period last year, according to Venture Intelligence.

What’s behind the recent pivot to India?

Somesh Dash, general partner at venture capital firm IVP, said that investors are waking up to the idea that China no longer has the best growth story in town.

“China doesn’t have a lot of young people. India does. What the Indian economy presents is a growing middle class and a dynamic workforce: one of the largest populations in the world. It’s very attractive from a longer-term perspective,” Dash said.

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Amit Anand, co-founder of exchange-traded fund company NextFins, expects Indian tech IPOs to price at a premium multiple compared with Chinese companies, citing growth in internet penetration.

“Investors recognize the long runway for internet penetration. E-commerce penetration in India is 7% versus 25% in China. Smartphone penetration in India is about 30%, less than half of China’s 60%,” said Anand, who formerly worked for Axial Capital.

Anand and his partners at NextFins launched the Nifty India Financials ETF on the belief that investors will want more exposure to India’s secular growth story, especially as internet and smartphone penetration continue to rise. INDF’s assets have tripled since the beginning of the year and are up 50% since June.

“Investors are betting that as these people enter the workforce, they will consume more and need financial products like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. That’s why e-commerce and fintech companies have been the primary recipients of venture capital investment in India,” noted Anand. With more tech companies going public in India, he now has plans to launch an ETF focused on Indian tech stocks.

“The tech indices in India currently track the large outsourcing companies; there is no way for investors in either India or the U.S. to target faster-growing internet companies,” he said.

Some of the country’s unicorns, those companies worth $1 billion or more, continue to raise additional rounds, capitalizing on the strong interest in India tech. Hotel start-up Oyo, backed by SoftBank, raised an additional $660 million. E-commerce platform Flipkart raised $3.6 billion at a mega-high valuation of $37.6 billion, the largest fundraise for an Indian company. Key investors include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Walmart.

Like China, data privacy issues do exist in India. Last week, Indian regulators banned Mastercard from issuing new credit cards to customers in the country after not complying with data privacy rules. Key question venture investors are trying to answer are whether India’s government will carve out its own path or follow China’s lead on the topics related to regulation and overseas listings.

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White House prepares for potential government shutdown

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, center, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., arrive for a news conference to announce a framework for President Bidens economic plan in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, September 23, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Democrats in Congress scrambled Thursday to beat a string of deadlines that hold massive stakes for both the health of the U.S. economy and President Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aim to work their way out of multiple binds as they try to prevent a government shutdown, a default on U.S. debt and the collapse of Biden’s domestic ambitions.

The leaders first find themselves staring at a Sept. 30 deadline to pass an appropriations bill before government funding lapses. The White House on Thursday began to advise federal agencies to prepare for the first government shutdown of the Covid-19 era.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is taking steps to let department and agency leaders know that, barring a new appropriations bill, they are expected to execute shutdown plans starting late next week. For many agencies, those plans often include sending workers home.

The office typically asks agencies seven days before a government shutdown to update their plans and will share a draft template each department can use to update government employees on congressional efforts to pass a funding bill and how many workers may need to be furloughed.

The communication does not reflect the office’s views on whether a continuing resolution is likely or not and is viewed as more of a formal duty.

Efforts to pass a new budget are underway on Capitol Hill, where House Democrats earlier this week passed a measure to fund the government, suspend the debt ceiling, and approve emergency aid such as disaster relief.

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That proposal is expected to stall in the Senate, where Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to any bill that seeks to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. 

Democrats are on tight economic timelines. Some are self-imposed, such as Pelosi’s promise to hold a vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on or before Sept. 27. The Senate has already passed the measure.

But there are other, standing deadlines. While Congress must pass a new budget by the end of September to avoid a shutdown, lawmakers must also figure out a way to increase or suspend the debt ceiling by a to-be-determined “drop-dead” date.

Treasury officials estimate that lawmakers have until some point in October before the U.S. would default on its debt for the first time.

Despite the time crunch, Schumer has promised to take up the House-passed debt ceiling and government funding bill nonetheless and force the GOP to publicly vote against a bill that would keep the government open and allow the Treasury Department to continue to pay for legislation Congress has already authorized.

Raising or suspending the debt ceiling, or borrowing limit, does not authorize new federal spending, but allows Treasury to pay for legislation that lawmakers have already passed. An increase would allow the department to pay off bills associated with the trillions in Covid relief enacted under former President Donald Trump and Biden.

Many suspect that Pelosi will be forced to pass a new resolution without the debt ceiling to keep the government open. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said on multiple occasions that he would support such a “clean” bill to avoid a shutdown.

Separately, Pelosi and Schumer declared Thursday morning that they had reached an agreement on the “framework” for taxes that would be needed to fund Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package to revolutionize the U.S. public safety net.

“The White House, the House and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement,” Schumer said. “So, the revenue side of this, we have an agreement on. It’s a framework. An agreement on the framework.”

Moderate and progressive Democrats have clashed over the size and scope of the package. Neither Pelosi nor Schumer clarified whether the negotiators had made decisions whittling down their options for financing the bill, or were simply in agreement over which of many options they are collectively willing to consider.

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CDC panel endorses third Pfizer doses for millions

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Lisa Wilson receives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site in Orlando, Florida.

Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

A key Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group voted Thursday to recommend distributing Pfizer and BioNTech‘s Covid-19 booster shots to older Americans, nursing home residents and other vulnerable Americans, clearing the way for the agency to give the final OK as early as this evening.

The agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices specifically unanimously endorsed giving third Pfizer shots to people 65 and older and nursing home residents in the first of four votes. The panel also recommended third shots for adults age 18 to 64 with underlying conditions.

The panel will also vote on whether to recommend the shots for adults who are more frequently exposed to the virus – possibly including people in nursing homes and prisons, teachers, front-line health employees and other essential workers.

The elderly were among the first groups to get the initial shots in December and January.

The vote is seen as mostly a win for President Joe Biden, whose administration has said it wants to give booster shots to all eligible Americans 16 and older as early as this week. While the CDC panel’s recommendation doesn’t give the Biden administration everything it wanted, boosters will still be on the way for millions of Americans.

The endorsement comes a day after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to administer third Pfizer shots to many Americans six months after they complete their first two doses. While the CDC’s panel’s recommendation isn’t binding, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the panel’s endorsement shortly.

Walensky addressed the committee Thursday before the vote, thanking them for their work and laying out what’s at stake.

“These data are not perfect, yet collectively they form a picture for us, and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic,” she said.

Prior to the vote, some committee members said they worried that widely offering boosters could interfere with efforts to get the shots to the unvaccinated or potentially reduce confidence in the vaccines’ effectiveness. Others were frustrated that only Pfizer recipients would be eligible to get the shots, leaving out millions of Americans who got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The vote came at the end of a two-day meeting, where CDC advisors listened to several presentations on data to support the wide distribution of booster shots, including one presentation from a Pfizer executive who displayed data that showed a third shot appears to be safe and boost antibody levels in recipients.

During one presentation Thursday, CDC official Dr. Sara Oliver presented observational studies from Israel, where officials began inoculating the nation’s population ahead of many other countries and began offering third shots to their citizens in late July.

The Israel data has been criticized by at least one FDA official as so-called observational studies don’t adhere to the same standards as formal clinical trials.

“We can use the experience from Israel to inform our knowledge of the safety of boosters,” Oliver said, adding the country has only reported one case of a rare heart inflammation condition known as myocarditis out of nearly 3 million third doses administered.

CDC official Dr. Kathleen Dooling said data also suggests a third dose may reduce the risk of severe illness in older adults and people with comorbidities. Potential risks include myocarditis, although this risk is very rare, occurring mostly in males under 30, she said.

“The third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine appears to have similar reactogenicity as the second dose,” she added.

The topic of who should get boosters and when has been a contentious topic among the scientific community since the Biden administration outlined its plan to widely distribute boosters last month.

In a paper published days before an FDA advisory meeting last week, a leading group of scientists said available data showed vaccine protection against severe disease persists, even as the effectiveness against mild disease wanes over time. The authors, including two high-ranking FDA officials and multiple scientists from the World Health Organization, argued in the medical journal The Lancet that widely distributing booster shots to the general public is not appropriate at this time.

In outlining plans last month to start distributing boosters as early as this week, Biden administration officials cited three CDC studies that showed the vaccines’ protection against Covid diminished over several months. Senior health officials said at the time they worried protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death “could” diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were inoculated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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NIH Director Collins calls Israeli data ‘impressive’

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A patient receives his booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine during an Oakland County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Southfield Pavilion on August 24, 2021 in Southfield, Michigan.

Emily Elconin | Getty Images

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins called Israel’s data on Covid-19 booster shots “impressive,” noting that they provided a tenfold reduction in infection for people who received a third dose.

Israel began administering boosters in late July to individuals over 60, giving scientists more time to examine their ability to combat Covid and bolster the waning effectiveness of the initial series of doses. Collins’ comments Thursday came just a day after the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid booster for high-risk people, including anyone 65 and older.

“Without tipping my hand too much, I will say the data looks really impressive, that the boosters do in fact provide substantial reduction in infection,” Collins said during a discussion on Covid hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Like a tenfold reduction just within 12 days after that booster, and also a reduction in severe illness, which is the thing we’re most concerned about.”

Collins added that the Israeli data indicated a roughly twelvefold reduction in severe Covid as the nation was starting to experience more breakthrough cases. Pfizer reported on Aug. 25 that recipients of its third doses experienced a threefold increase in antibodies.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of medical authorities who offer guidance to the agency, will vote Thursday on whether to endorse the FDA’s booster decision. The panel began a two-day series of presentations on boosters on Wednesday to give experts and the public a chance to hear more data before the final vote.

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