Connect with us

Business

Secret and unprofitable Palantir goes public – Al Jazeera English

Published

 on


Seventeen years after it was born with the help of the CIA seed money, data-mining outfit Palantir Technologies is finally going public in the biggest Wall Street tech offering since last year’s debut of Slack and Uber.

Never profitable and dogged by ethical objections for assisting in the Trump administration’s deportation crackdown, Palantir has forged ahead with a direct listing of its stock, which is set to begin trading on Wednesday. In its stock offering, the company is not selling newly minted shares to raise money; it is simply listing existing shares for public trading.

The low-key strategy may not generate the enthusiasm many technology offerings do. But it is in character for a secretive company long reliant on spies, police and the military as customers – and whose founders are holding onto voting control of the company.

The big question for both investors and company management: Can Palantir successfully transition from a business built on the costly handholding of government customers to serving corporate customers at scale? The company is a hybrid provider of software and consulting services that often embeds its own engineers with clients.

Analysts say its future depends on selling multinationals its tools for gathering disparate data from an ever-expanding data universe and using artificial intelligence technology to find previously undetectable patterns. Those can theoretically guide strategic decisions and identify new markets much as they have aided in tracking rebel fighters and sorting military intelligence.

The company sets itself apart from most US technology providers, and just moved its headquarters to Denver from Silicon Valley. Palantir colours itself patriotic and belittles other tech firms that would not unquestionably support US dominance in war-fighting and intelligence.

“Our software is used to target terrorists and to keep soldiers safe,” CEO Alex Karp wrote in a letter accompanying Palantir’s offering prospectus. While Karp acknowledged the ethical challenge of building software that “enables more effective surveillance by the state”, Palantir’s prospectus touts its work helping US soldiers counter roadside bombings and fight the ISIL (ISIS) group.

But investors also have to reckon with the Peter Thiel factor.

The iconoclastic entrepreneur and PayPal co-founder endorsed President Donald Trump in 2016, worked on his transition team and holds the largest chunk of Palantir stock. Thiel already exerts tremendous power from the board of Facebook, which dominates global media and seeks to create a digital currency.

In its IPO prospectus, Palantir paints a dark picture of faltering government agencies and institutions in danger of collapse and ripe for rescue by a “central operating system” forged under Thiel’s auspices. As the offering is structured, Thiel will be the dominant voice among the Palantir co-founders who will retain voting control.

“Is that someone who you want deciding how a component of the [national] security apparatus is designed?” asked New York University business professor Scott Galloway. “If you believe that power corrupts and checks and balances are a good idea, this is just from the get-go a really bad idea.”

Earlier in September, BuzzFeed reported that Thiel hosted a known white nationalist, Kevin DeAnna, at a 2016 dinner party, citing emails it obtained and published whose authors refused to talk to the online news outlet. Thiel declined through a spokesman to discuss the report with The Associated Press news agency. Critics say he shares the blame for Facebook’s incomplete removal of toxic disinformation disseminated by the pro-Trump far-right fringe.

Then there are Palantir’s fundamentals, which Galloway considers lousy. The company has just 125 customers in 150 countries, including Airbus, Merck, Credit Suisse and the Danish National Police. Slightly less than half its 2019 revenues were from government agencies, and three clients – which Palantir did not name – accounted for almost a third of revenues.

“They’re massively unprofitable and they’ve never been able to figure it out,” Galloway said, noting that it took Google three years to earn a profit, and Amazon seven. Over a much longer span, Palantir has accumulated $3.8bn in losses, raised about $3bn and listed $200m in outstanding debt as of July 31.

As the Palantir offering is structured, Peter Thiel will be the dominant voice among the Palantir co-founders who will retain voting control [File: Ben Margot/AP Photo]

Palantir, named for the mystical all-seeing stones from Tolkien’s “Lord of The Rings”, has recently been deepening its relationship with Uncle Sam, including winning a modest contract early in the COVID-19 pandemic for helping the White House gather data on the coronavirus’s impact.

Senior emerging technology analyst Brendan Burke of Pitchbook says he is not worried that Thiel’s association with Trump will hurt the company if Trump loses the election.

“The political connections don’t appear to be the main driver of their recent substantial contract wins,” he said, although he noted that government contracts can be more volatile than corporate ones, where Palantir’s foothold is less firm.

Palantir offers two software platforms. Foundry is designed to link disparate and largely incompatible data sources into a central operating system. It is the company’s primary hope for broadening its business.

An earlier product, Gotham, has been used by defence and intelligence analysts and police departments to identify patterns deep within datasets. But the value of “predictive policing” tools developed with the platform have been questioned for their potential to unfairly target people of colour. The New Orleans and New York City police departments, once customers, have used it.

A 2017 research paper by University of Texas sociologist Sarah Brayne, who studied the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of Gotham, found the software could lead to a proliferation of unregulated personal data collected by police from commercial and law enforcement databases.

On Monday, Amnesty International issued a briefing that says Palantir is failing to conduct human rights due diligence around its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling it “deeply ironic” that the company crows about its determination not to work with regimes like China that abuse human rights.

Palantir’s ICE contracts involve the maintenance and improvement of two products used in deportation raids. One of them, its web-based Falcon tool, has enhanced data accessible to investigators “involving the illegal movement of people into, within, and out of the United States”, according to documents obtained by the AP, including court records, and by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center in a freedom-of-information request.

Palantir has acknowledged in its SEC filing that “unfavorable coverage in the media” and from social activists could hurt its business. It also says its contractual obligations might prevent it from being able to defend its actions publicly, although it recently named a former Wall Street Journal reporter to its board.

Negative publicity over ICE contracts may also have hurt company recruitment on college campuses.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Business

Ant Group raises $34 billion in world's largest IPO – CNN

Published

 on


The tech company behind China’s largest online payments platform priced its dual listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai’s Star Market at 80 Hong Kong dollars ($10.32) and 68 yuan ($10.13) per share respectively, according to regulatory filings released Monday.
That means the IPO will raise over $34.1 billion and value the company at about $310 billion. The previous record for a stock-market listing was held by Saudi state oil company Aramco, which raised $29.4 billion in an offering on the Riyadh exchange last December.
The listing is a win for China which has been encouraging the country’s top tech companies to list at home instead of on top exchanges in the United States.
Ant is splitting the IPO evenly between Hong Kong and Shanghai, selling 1.67 billion shares on each exchange. The shares to be issued are equivalent to about 11% of the company.
Ant is the financial technology company affiliated with Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba (BABA), which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 in what was also a world-record setting IPO. Billionaire Ma has ultimate control over Ant.
Ant is one of the biggest technology firms in the world and the biggest online payments platform in China. The app has established its presence in every aspect of financial life in China, from investment accounts and micro savings products to insurance, credit scores and even dating profiles.
The firm’s payments app Alipay had 731 million monthly active users as of September, Ant said in regulatory filings. The platform handled 118 trillion yuan ($17.7 trillion) in payments in the 12 months through June.
The company said revenue for the nine months ended in September rose about 43% to 118.2 billion yuan ($17.7 billion) compared to the same period last year. Gross profit for the period rose 74% to 69.5 billion yuan ($10.4 billion).

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Business

Canada's transport regulator hasn't settled a single COVID-19 flight cancellation complaint – CBC.ca

Published

 on


The Canadian Transportation Agency has failed to settle a single complaint from Canadians demanding refunds for cancelled flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned. 

The independent tribunal said it has been inundated with close to 10,000 complaints from mid-March, when global air travel largely ground to a halt, until Oct. 16. 

The agency confirmed it’s still processing complaints it received before March 11; it has yet to deal with any cases filed during the public health crisis.

For months, Canada’s Transport Minister has told Canadians if they are unsatisfied with refunds, the course of action is to file complaints with the tribunal.

Carly Aubertin and her husband Rob McLean are upset that they filed a complaint in April, which has been sitting in limbo ever since.

“It’s just so disheartening,” said Aubertin. “It’s frustrating that the government’s not there to support us.” 

The Ontario residents are considering selling their home as they wrestle with living off a single income because the pandemic has hurt McLean’s business. Sunwing gave them a voucher for a cancelled trip to Antigua due to COVID, rather than a full refund that could help pay their mortgage until the spring.

 “Right now, I mean, $5,000? There’s five months of mortgage right there,” she said.

Long backlog before pandemic started

The delay is partially due to a two-year backlog of complaints the CTA received before the pandemic struck. The backlog is tied to a significant influx of complaints received after new air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.

COVID-19 hampered further efforts to process complaints; the CTA temporarily paused its discussions with airlines regarding “dispute resolution activities” until June 30, 2020 to allow airlines to focus on more urgent matters. The agency also granted airlines an extension until Oct. 28 to respond to passengers seeking compensation.

But the CTA says it’s making progress on tackling the caseload. The agency processed a record number of complaints in the past fiscal year. The administrative tribunal also received a funding boost to get through cases more quickly and says it’s weeks away from starting on complaints filed during the pandemic.

WATCH | Thousands of Canadian travellers are waiting for flight refunds:

CBC News has learned that despite receiving thousands of complaints from travellers looking for refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not settled a single one. 1:59

An ongoing battle for closure

The agency said it’s now working through about 17,300 complaints. 

Those includes complaints from Canadians like Aubertin and McLean, who spent about $5,000 for a spring vacation with a group of friends to celebrate some of their 40th and 50th birthdays.

McLean found himself without work during the pandemic, meaning the Port Robinson, Ont., couple has started to dip into their retirement savings. His last pay cheque was in February. 

“It’s frustrating because in these times we hear the leaders of our country saying to look out for everybody and do the right thing and respect your community, and then to allow these multimillion dollar companies to keep our money interest free for an extended period of time doesn’t feel like the right thing to us,” McLean said. 

Aubertin said the obstacles have been particularly disappointing given that other countries have taken a firmer stance on helping passengers.

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers” despite the pandemic and warned that it would take “enforcement action” as necessary.

Carly Aubertin, left, and Rob McLean, right, have emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help — but his office said the couple’s only option was to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Submitted)

In Canada, airlines have been asking the government for financial help to survive an unprecedented drop in business during the height of the pandemic. In many cases, airlines have been issuing travel vouchers redeemable for two years, rather than refunds. 

The CTA said it issued a “non-binding statement” on issuing vouchers in the face of “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic.

The agency said the industry collapsed worldwide and there was an “absence of any general minimum obligation under the law for airlines to pay refunds for flights cancelled for reasons beyond their control.”

After months of public outrage, WestJet announced last week it was changing its refund policy on Nov. 2 to give customers back money for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.

Air Canada took to Twitter shortly afterwards and said it’s already repaid $1.2 billion to date for refundable tickets cancelled during the pandemic.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, said the timing is no coincidence.

Canada’s major airlines — WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and Swoop — are facing a series of class action lawsuits over refunds during COVID and the federal court certification hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2. 

Gradek also believes airlines realized there wasn’t public support for a government bailout unless carriers refunded passengers first. The Globe and Mail reported Friday cabinet is currently deliberating a package for the aviation sector that includes scaling back airport fee increases and low interest loans.

CTA losing credibility, Bloc MP says

Passengers and consumers have a right to feel upset about the federal government’s lack of action, said Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval.

On Friday, he presented a bill seeking to amend the Canada Transportation Act in order to ensure passengers are fully refunded in the event that an air carrier cancels a flight. 

He said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s failure to resolve the issue has put undue pressure on the CTA.

“By not acting, Mr. Garneau’s transferring the weight of the situation on the shoulders of the CTA and that’s a big problem,” said Barsalou-Duval. 

“[The CTA is] losing credibility. And that’s the big problem because usually they’re supposed to… apply the rules, apply the law.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has stated for months that he sympathizes with those seeking refunds, while reiterating that airlines are going through a difficult time. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Garneau said he understood the frustration.

“This situation is far from ideal,” he said. “We are encouraged to see that some airlines have refunded their customers, and expect air carriers will do their best to accommodate passengers under these extraordinary circumstances,” the statement read.

“This is an important issue to Canadians. We also continue to work with the airlines to address the overall challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Business

Owner of all-electric Nissan Leaf frustrated by difficulty of getting new battery – CBC.ca

Published

 on


You might think that Nissan, the first car-maker to achieve widespread success with a zero-emissions electric vehicle, cares deeply about the environment. But Clayton Brander isn’t so sure. 

Three years ago, the Powell River, B.C., resident chose to buy a used 2013 Nissan Leaf, motivated by a keen interest in sustainability. 

“I love the car,” he said. “Honestly, in three years and 40,000 kilometres, I’ve replaced a set of tires and windshield wiper fluid. Nothing breaks down. It’s a fantastic little vehicle. I think electric vehicles are the way to go.”

But nowadays, instead of being able to drive the 120 km that 2013 Leafs could initially go on a full charge, Brander can’t get much more than 80 km. He has even become hesitant about turning on the heat or window defroster, since using those features require battery power and will reduce his driving range even further.  

Brander always knew that batteries lose capacity over time, and he figured it wouldn’t be a problem getting a new one. 

“The dealership where I bought the car said that in a few years, you can replace the battery for about $5,000,” said Brander.

But now, he can’t find one. He’s tried two nearby Nissan dealerships, three local repair shops and contacted Nissan Canada.

“Nissan hasn’t been helpful. I’ve sent probably six emails to them,” said Brander. “They keep telling me to go to the dealership. I called my local dealership and they sent emails to Nissan Canada. Six weeks later, neither of us has gotten a response.”

Both dealerships told him that a new battery — if he can find one — could cost him at least $15,000, which would be more than he paid for the vehicle in the first place.

WATCH | Brander’s struggle to replace his car’s battery:  

Clayton Brander of Powell River, B.C., assumed that buying a reliable electric vehicle was an environmentally sustainable decision. Three years later, he’s faced with the choice of buying an expensive replacement battery, if he can find one, or a new car. 2:10

His local dealership has encouraged him to solve the issue by simply purchasing a brand-new Nissan Leaf. The basic 2020 model costs $42,000 and can travel about 240 km on a full charge. That suggestion doesn’t seem very sustainable to Brander. 

“It seems like these things are going to end up in the landfill,” he said. “It makes more sense for them financially, I imagine, to sell new cars than to service the old cars.”

U.S. class-action lawsuit 

The Nissan Leaf has long been the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, surpassed for the first time in 2020 by Tesla’s Model S, according to Nissan and Tesla’s own figures.

Olivier Trescases, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre, said Nissan deserves credit for being a pioneer.

“They were one of the first to release a compelling electric vehicle with a reasonable range and most importantly, a low price point,” he said.

But he added that one of the design “compromises” Nissan initially made in order to keep production costs down was to not install an advanced cooling system for its batteries. “They were using a chemistry that was particularly temperature-sensitive, and they did not use expensive liquid cooling.”

Olivier Trescases works at the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre, where students are working on a battery prototype that will get longer life and a greater driving range. (Dianne Buckner/CBC)

That means the battery’s capacity is reduced more quickly. In 2012, Leaf owners in California and Arizona launched a class-action lawsuit claiming the car’s driving range was lower than advertised.

The company settled the suit and extended the battery capacity warranty to five years on models made from 2013 onward. Later, Nissan extended the warranty to eight years on models made after 2016. 

As well, a battery replacement program for first-generation Leafs was launched in the U.S. A new one cost $5,499 US, plus labour, but the program was discontinued in early 2018.

Where’s the loyalty? 

After an inquiry about Clayton Brander’s situation from CBC’s Go Public team, Nissan declined an interview but released a statement via email. It said Nissan Canada will conduct an inspection of Brander’s vehicle and is “hopeful to find a resolution.” 

Contacted by phone, the head of corporate communications for Nissan Canada wouldn’t clarify if that means that they would find him a new battery, or at what price. 

The statement also pointed out the environmental impact of the Leaf, saying owners around the world have driven 4.8 billion kilometres and helped to prevent “more than 2.4 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions.”

Trescases believes Nissan should show more loyalty to its first customers. “Some of these early adopters helped them to get the car out on the market, get some acceptance and go from there.”

Nissan Canada says more than 3,300 Canadians have purchased Leafs built prior to 2015.

Trescases said the challenge of replacing batteries in older electric cars shouldn’t discourage buyers of newer models, explaining the latest EV batteries are incredibly efficient.

An electric vehicle charging station is pictured in Burnaby, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Today, companies are talking about million-mile batteries,” he said. “That’s a big buzzword, but let’s say they even get close to that — that means that the battery will actually outlive the car by a long stretch.”

Last year, Nissan began powering streetlights in Japan and a stadium in the Netherlands with batteries from cars no longer in use.

Keeping car on the road

At just seven years old, Brander’s Leaf is newer than most cars on the road in Canada, where the average vehicle is 10 years old. (In B.C., the average is 11.)

He remains determined to hang on to the vehicle, ideally with a new battery. He’s happy that Nissan Canada finally got in touch with him after the inquiry from CBC News, but he’s puzzled why the company says the vehicle needs to be tested. He said he already paid $130 for a battery test at a local dealership.

“The fact that I don’t get enough driving range out of this one is all that’s needed to determine that I need a new battery,” he said.

A newer-model Nissan Leaf is seen at an electric vehicle charging station in Burnaby, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He’d like to see Nissan show some loyalty to its most faithful fans, by helping keep the cars on the road for as long as possible.

“They got all the kudos for introducing the electric vehicles to the masses, so that looks really good,” he said. 

“But they’re losing them now by not supporting these older models and just pushing new vehicle sales, instead of saying, ‘Look, we can still keep these out of the landfill.'”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending