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China smartphone sales keep falling — that’s likely bad news for Apple

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Other indicators could point to iPhone weakness in China. The number of searches for iPhone on Chinese search engine Baidu dropped 48 percent in February, marking the fifth consecutive month of decline, according to Longbow Research. The firm argues that iPhone search trends on Baidu are indicative of demand in the China.

Analysts said that Apple was likely to have felt the pain of a slowing overall market, and low-cost rival Xiaomi could also suffer amid stiffer competition.

“Apple and Xiaomi continue to be the biggest losers whereas Huawei, Vivo and OPPO continue to grab more share away,” Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, told CNBC.

“The China market has become a zero sum game with replacement rates becoming slower in the premium end of the market and most folks are not upgrading their expensive and durable smartphones. Most of the growth is coming from mid-tier of the market where Huawei’s Honor brand, Nova series, and Oppo’s A series is doing quite well and affecting Xiaomi,” he added.

Both Apple and Xiaomi were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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nationalist parties seats in the new European Parliament

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Citizens across 28 European nations have been voting for new representatives at the European Parliament — in an election that could radically reshape power at the heart of Brussels.

The European parliamentary election is the second largest democratic exercise in the world. However, one of its biggest challenges is voter turnout, which has fallen since 1979 — when the first ever EU-wide vote took place. In the previous election in 2014, only 43% of eligible citizens participated.

This year’s vote is particularly relevant due to the surge of anti-European and nationalist parties across the EU. Projections, before the polls opened on Thursday, suggested that these parties could get nearly 30% of seats at the European Parliament. At the same time, the traditional mainstream majority between the Socialists and the Conservatives, which has led Europe over the last few decades, is expected to come to an end.

The first official projection is due at 10:15 p.m. London time on Sunday evening. This will include official results from nine member states; provisional numbers from 13 countries, national estimates from five nations and pre-election voting intentions in the U.K. This will be followed by further updates, including one at 11:15 p.m. London time and one at 00:15 a.m. on Monday.

This year’s vote will shed light on how Europeans feel about the European Union but will also be a test for national governments.

“The European elections are a big referendum on the governing party. This is the case in France, where the French will have (for) the first time the opportunity to say what they think about (President Emmanuel) Macron,” Alberto Alemanno, professor of European law at H.E.C. University in Paris, told CNBC prior to the election.

Ahead of this year’s EU elections, Macron finds himself fighting the nationalist and Euroskeptic party of Marine Le Pen once again. The recently renamed National Rally (RN) party was slightly ahead in the pre-election polls, suggesting it will be a close call between the two.

There is also a strong focus on Italy and how much support there will be for the anti-establishment coalition; as well as on the U.K., where until recently citizens were not expected to take part in this election, given the country’s decision to leave the EU back in 2016. The result also comes after Theresa May resigned as U.K. prime minister on Friday following a prolonged Brexit stalemate.

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Fiat Chrysler and France’s Renault plan to team up amid changes to the auto industry

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A row of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) 2017 Crysler Pacifica minivan vehicles are displayed for sale at a car dealership in Moline, Illinois, on Saturday, July 1, 2017.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Fiat Chrysler and France’s Renault are in advanced talks to forge extensive ties in the face of sweeping changes to the global auto industry, according to a report in The Financial Times.

The collaboration could bring the Italian-American carmaker into the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, according to The Financial Times, although the other members — like Japan’s Nissan — would have to be won over. 

The discussions could still fall apart, sources told The Financial Times. Once source told the newspaper that Nissan has had no involvement in the talks so far. 

The Financial Times reported in March that Renault planned to take up merger talks with Nissan within the year, and then potentially acquire Fiat Chrysler.

Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive, Mike Manley, previously told the FT: “If there’s a partnership, merger, relationship that makes us stronger, then I’m absolutely open to looking at it.”

If Fiat Chrysler were added to the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which dates back to 1999, it would become the largest global carmaker, with 15.6 million combined sales a year. The current leader, Volkswagen, sold 10.8 million last year.

Read the full story in the Financial Times

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Microsoft has grown more than a basket of unicorns since 2015

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A man wearing an unicorn costume plays at a computer during the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2019 event in Katowice on March 2, 2019.

BARTOSZ SIEDLIK/AFP/Getty Images

In November 2015, tech investor Marc Andreessen weighed in on a hot debate about whether Silicon Valley’s start-ups were frothy from all the cash propping up so-called unicorns, or venture-backed companies valued at $1 billion or more.

Andreessen noted at a Fortune conference that the whole class of billion-dollar start-ups, headlined by Uber and Airbnb, was “worth half of Microsoft, ” and he opined on the hypothetical choice of investing in Microsoft or the “basket of unicorns.”

He suggested the unicorns were a better value.

“As a basket, it’s almost certainly too low,” Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, told Fortune’s Alan Murray. “Microsoft’s a fine company, but you need a couple to really take off, and it becomes very clear in retrospect that they’re under-valued.”

(Microsoft was actually worth $433 billion at the time, and the unicorns were valued at a combined $504 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal’s “Billion dollar start-up club” tracker. Andreessen, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.)

In the long run, Andreessen could still be right. But three and a half years after those comments, the straight Microsoft bet would have yielded stronger returns than the non-existent unicorn index.

Since Andreessen’s session on Nov. 3, 2015, Microsoft shares have gained 133%, closing on Friday at $126.24. The value of unicorns over that stretch, based on the Journal’s tracker, has climbed by 89%, with a good chunk of the value creation coming from companies that have since gone public or been acquired.

The start-up group has still done fine against the broader market, solidly beating the S&P 500, which is up 34%.

But Andreessen’s view reflected both the tendency for Silicon Valley investors to downplay the ability for Microsoft (and probably other mega-cap tech companies) to continue growing in the face of stiffer competition, and their willingness to pay up for companies that in many cases were years away from being able to justify their price tags.

For example, ride-hailing company Uber was valued at $55 billion at the time, and is now only at $68 billion following its IPO this month. Investors valued Snap at $16 billion in late 2015, and the company’s inability to find a profitable business model since its 2017 IPO has left it worth $15 billion on the public market. Pinterest went public in April and has a market cap of $12.9 billion, up just a bit from its $11 billion valuation in 2015. Dropbox has slipped from $10 billion then to a market value of $9.4 billion now.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is cranking out earnings from its dominant Windows products and its ability to push legacy clients to emerging cloud products like Azure and Office 365. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has recorded eight straight quarters of year-over-year double-digit sales growth. In April, it became the third public company to reach a $1 trillion market cap, though it’s fallen some since then.

There have also been plenty of solid gains within the unicorn basket, many coming from enterprise software companies. Twilio, Zscaler and Okta have been some of the best-performing tech stocks since their fairly recent IPOs, and others like MuleSoft and GitHub were acquired for huge premiums. (In a fitting bit of irony, Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion in June 2018, paying nearly four times GitHub’s last reported valuation.)

Andreessen has benefited handsomely from some of these, including Okta and GitHub. His firm was also an early investor in Lyft, which was worth $2.5 billion in November 2015, and now has a market cap of $16.9 billion.

On the downside, there are several significant companies that have lost value since late 2015 and others that are in limbo. Palantir, for example, was valued at $20 billion, and Bloomberg reported on Friday that the data analytics company has pushed out its IPO likely to next year. Meanwhile, its private market valuation is flat.

And the worst performer? No contest there. Theranos was worth $9 billion in November 2015, and today the blood-testing company no longer exists, while founder Elizabeth Holmes and former president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani are awaiting trial and potential jail time on fraud charges.

Here are a few significant themes from the unicorn data:

  • Biggest companies have hardly budged: As mentioned earlier, the IPOs of some of the biggest companies in the group — Uber, Snap and Pinterest — have done little for investors. China’s Xiaomi, which was second on the 2015 list at $46 billion, has actually lost significant value since going public in Hong Kong last year.
  • Enterprise IPO excitement: Twilio went public in 2016 and is now worth $16.8 billion, up from $1 billion in 2015. Okta has gone from $1.2 billion to $12.4 billion, Zscaler from $1 billion to $9.1 billion and Coupa from $1 billion to $6.8 billion. Slack isn’t yet public, but secondary investors are valuing it at as much as $17 billion, up from $2.8 billion in 2015. Among consumer companies to go public, Lyft has provided the best return for 2015 investors, going from $2.5 billion to $16.9 billion, followed by Spotify, which has jumped to from $8.5 billion to $21.6 billion. Adyen, an Amsterdam-based payments company, has a stock market value of $21 billion in Europe, up from $2.3 billion.
  • M&A: MuleSoft went public before getting snapped up by Salesforce last year for $6.5 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2015. GitHub was worth $2 billion then and was purchased by Microsoft in 2018 for $7.5 billion. Qualtrics, previously valued at $1 billion, was headed for an IPO late last year before SAP bought it for $8 billion. Online retailer Jet.com was acquired for $3.3 billion by Walmart in 2016, more than doubling its $1.4 billion valuation.
  • Private but gaining value on paper: Some companies could still be overvalued, but we don’t know yet because they remain private and continue to attract capital. China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has jumped from $16 billion to $55 billion. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has climbed from $12 billion to $31.5 billion. WeWork is now at $44 billion, up from $10 billion.
  • Flameouts and disappointments: Theranos went from $9 billion to zero, but it’s not the only bust. Digital media company Mode Media shut down in 2016 after achieving a $1 billion valuation. Shazam was valued at $1 billion but sold to Apple last year for $400 million. Blue Apron was worth $2 billion, but has lost more than 90% of its value to $144.5 million.

WATCH: An IPO of IPOs could be about to hit the market. Is the unicorn mania a sign of the top?

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