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Why investment in Canadian SaaS Startups shot up 200 percent in 2019

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It’s a great time to be a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup. Advances in cloud computing and the need for enterprise-level software have contributed to incredible growth in recent years, with the worldwide SaaS industry expected to be worth over $100 billion by 2020.

Of course, every startup is different, and what may work for one SaaS company might be unsuitable for another. Yet, when it comes to Saas startups based in Canada, the long-term trends driving their growth remain consistent.

Here are the top takeaways to note as Canada (not just Ottawa!) becomes a more prominent hub of SaaS startups.

1. Startup investment is part of a long-term trend

The total investment in disclosed SaaS startup deals for 2019 was $5.13 billion, compared to 2018’s $1.62 billion. While this represents a massive increase in scale, investor interest in Canadian startups is by no means brand new.

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Ontario earned its title as ‘Silicon Valley of the North’ as far back as the 1980s, when Newbridge Networks was poised to disrupt the telco industry from its Ottawa headquarters. The dot-com bubble brought Newbridge and hundreds of other companies to bankruptcy, yet the strong investment in infrastructure and tech education within Canada’s borders remained. Now, this potential for success has turned into a reality, particularly in the SaaS sector.

It’s certainly not just Ontario driving this trend for SaaS growth. Deals have been inked across Canada, from the Yukon, to Newfoundland, and Quebec. While Ontario remains the leader in overall totals with $1.78 billion, the fact that millions in investment have spread nation-wide is an appealing sign of sustained long-term growth.

2. Average deal growth is up substantially

Two hundred percent growth overall is substantial, yet there is another number entrepreneurs and business investors would be wont to miss. The average deal size for a SaaS startup was $10.6 million in 2018. In 2019, that number grew to $43 million.

What could account for this 300 percent growth rate? There’s no one single reason, yet taking Canada’s SaaS ecosystem as a whole, clear signs point to similar growth rates for the future.

For example, Shopify’s acquisition of 6River late last year drew attention not only to the companies involved, but to Ottawa itself. Here was a Canadian company with worldwide reach acquiring a cutting-edge AI company based in the United States. Likewise, Vancouver-based Hootsuite and Quebec-based Coveo each received multi-million dollar investments, pushing their valuations up to $750 million and $1.3 billion, respectively.

These kinds of numbers and growth among well-known companies have a knock-on effect among smaller startups. When Hootsuite draws $50 million in investment and hits 16 million customers almost simultaneously, investors take note, and react by putting their dollars in other up-and-coming SaaS startups. Canada’s notability as a hub of SaaS activity is beginning to take root, and investors worldwide are noticing.

3. Canada (and Europe) are catching up to the US

The fact that the investors outnumber SaaS companies – 298 to 183 – is no surprise, and is a strong indicator for future investment. More surprising is the split between Candian and US investors in 2019 of 136 to 139, a near neck-and-neck tie.

For years, Canada’s tech sector has been dominated by US investments. There was (and is) simply more money south of the border. Yet, the near-parity achieved in 2019 tells us a great deal about the future of Canadian SaaS startup investment – in brief, that it will be more Canadian.

The ecosystem of Canadian companies and applications is growing, allowing startups from Vancouver, to Ottawa, to Quebec to rely more on their own networking and word-of-mouth. What’s more, this robustness has drawn the eye of investors across the Atlantic as well. Australian, German, British, and French investors all made notable contributions to growth among Canadian startups.

There’s no reason to believe that the US, still number one when it comes to startup investment, is falling away from Canada. The rest of the world is simply starting to catch up, with Canada herself leading the way on a more global approach to startup funding.

4. Business and productivity software drives the most growth

What do HootSuite, Shopify, and Coveo all have in common? Within the SaaS sphere, each company works in the industry that’s seen the highest investment: business/productivity software.

That’s not to say investment hasn’t been substantial in other industries as well. Financial services, for instance, netted $1.73 billion, a massive sum by any means, but just over half of business/productivity’s $3.4 billion.

Once again, these numbers can be attributed to Canada’s growing reputation as a provider of key business software. Startups with multi-million or billion-dollar valuations drive the appeal of newer companies working in the same field.

It’s important not to overlook the impact of other industries currently drawing millions in investment. Financial software, B2B media and information services, and IT consulting/outsourcing all received over $1 billion in investment, with the automation and application industries close behind with several hundred million.

2020: a look ahead

More growth, more investment, and more exits. Forfty five companies exited in 2019, including Wave, Solium, Lemonstand, and SimpleTax. Many of these were acquired by larger corporations, such as MailChimp’s acquisition of Lemonstand, or Solium becoming a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley.

A billion-dollar buyout isn’t in the cards for every SaaS company out there. No matter the goals, however, companies can look forward to a business environment in Canada that’s skewed toward success. One only needs to look at the data for 2019 to see where we’re going in 2020. For Canadians across the provinces, the future for SaaS looks brighter than ever.

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After FTX, is crypto as an investment dead?

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But following a series of failures in the industry, including the collapse of Bahamas-based FTX Trading Ltd. in November, bitcoin and ether prices are now down by about 75% from their all-time highs a year earlier — and financial advisors and crypto experts are divided as to the industry’s fate.

Many crypto skeptics see the collapse of FTX as confirming their worst suspicions.

“[Cryptocurrency] is highly speculative, highly volatile and it’s something you steer away from until we see signs of maturity in that sector,” said Andrew Pyle, investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy in Peterborough, Ont.

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While the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrency is likely to offer investment opportunities in the future, the sector has no place today in the portfolios of the “vast majority” of clients, said Pyle, who has never recommended crypto investments.

The fallout from FTX’s collapse means “you’re looking at a number of years before you get broader public trust in cryptocurrencies,” said Mark Noble, executive vice-president of ETF strategy with Horizons ETFs Management (Canada) Inc.

“That said, I don’t think the crypto ecosystem goes away,” Noble said, suggesting that blockchain innovations will continue during what could be a long “crypto winter” of little investor interest. Horizons ETFs offers both long and short bitcoin funds.

Institutional investors who believe in the transformative potential of blockchain technology are likely to “double down” on investments, said Michael Zagari, an investment advisor in Montreal with Burlington, Ont.-based Mandeville Private Client Inc.

“Just because one investment [FTX] didn’t work doesn’t mean they’re going to stop there,” said Zagari, who suggests there will be “a lot of deals to be had” but believes the industry will remain volatile for the next 12–18 months.

He recommends allocating no more than 10% of a portfolio to cryptocurrency or crypto-related investments for risk-tolerant clients with at least a 10-year horizon, as part of their equity exposure.

FTX’s bankruptcy has caused other crypto exchanges to suspend withdrawals, with some struggling to continue operating.

And “there are going to be more shoes to drop. We just don’t how many or how big,” said Alex Tapscott, managing director of the digital asset group with Ninepoint Partners LP, during a Nov. 24 webinar.

Characterizing himself as “short-term bearish, long-term bullish” on cryptocurrency, Tapscott suggested that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec exposed themselves to “huge concentration risk” by each investing in a single crypto firm rather taking positions in established cryptocurrencies. (See “Highs and lows,” below.)

Brian Mosoff, CEO of Toronto-based Ether Capital Corp., also said bitcoin and ether will endure through this crash, even if some exchanges don’t. “Nothing has changed [in terms of the technology],” Mosoff said. Bitcoin and ether “still do exactly what they set out to do: the fundamentals are the same; the value proposition is the same.”

Retail investors seem to agree. While crypto ETF assets under management dropped by $4.1 billion between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, only $66 million of the decline was due to outflows, according to data from National Bank Financial Markets (NBFM).

“It seems like the crypto ETF users in Canada are sticking to their allocations,” said Daniel Straus, director of ETF research and financial products research with NBFM, in an email to Investment Executive. “Bitcoin and ether are both extremely risky and speculative, but the anemic outflows from Canadian crypto ETFs suggest their investors may be treating them like ‘moonshot’ long-term bets.”

Mike Tropeano, senior director of wealth consulting with Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. in Boston, said he expects global regulators to “be much harsher” on the crypto industry after the collapse of FTX. What will follow over the next few years is “a thinning of the herd,” a flight to safety to the most established names, and more innovation.

“The information is still flowing daily, [not only] with regard to FTX but [also] with the overall market,” Tropeano said. “Anyone who is looking to play a role in the market — the [financial] advisor especially — requires a lot of diligence to stay on top of what is happening.”

Mosoff suggested some “advisors are probably relaxing a little bit,” knowing that clients are less likely to be asking about investing in cryptocurrency “until the next cycle starts.” But he said that cycle will come, and advisors should use the crypto winter to educate themselves.

While the fall of FTX and BlockFi Lending LLC have shaken the market, the depth of the crypto winter may depend on how the industry’s established behemoths weather the storm, said Daniel Gonzalez, research analyst and consultant in Toronto with California-based Javelin Strategy & Research: “If a Coinbase, crypto.com or Binance were to go down the drain, I think that would end crypto adoption for retail investors for a while.”

In many ways, the advisor’s role now isn’t different from what it was when cryptocurrencies were trading at their peaks.

“There’s absolutely a role for advisors to play here, and it’s to be the voice of reason [in terms of allocation to cryptocurrency],” Mosoff said. “But I don’t think that’s saying, ‘I’m going to rule out an asset class entirely.’”

That said, cryptocurrency has not proven to be an inflation hedge or a diversifier, said Jason Heath, managing director of Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Markham, Ont. Furthermore, “higher interest rates and a likely recession are sure to hinder speculative investments like cryptocurrency in 2023.”

Pyle said expecting retail investors to understand is unreasonable “if institutional investors, traders, analysts, portfolio managers, hedge fund managers and even regulators can’t understand this space.”

An advisor’s “paramount responsibility is to protect your clients’ wealth,” Pyle added. “Protect it from inflation, protect it from running out and protect it de facto from things that most people don’t understand.”

Highs and lows in the crypto space

2021

Feb. 18: Toronto-based Purpose Investments Inc. launches world’s first bitcoin ETF.

October: Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (OTPP) invests US$75 million in FTX Trading Ltd. through its Teachers’ Venture Growth platform.

Oct. 12: Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec invests US$150 million in New Jersey-based Celsius Network LLC, a crypto lender.

Nov. 10: Bitcoin hits its all-time intraday high of US$68,789.63.

Nov. 16: Ether hits its all-time intraday high of US$4,891.70.

2022

January: The OTPP invests another US$20 million in FTX.

Jan. 10: Fidelity Investments Canada ULC announces it will add 1%–3% exposure to bitcoin in its asset-allocation ETFs. (The target allocations remain the same as of press time.)

Feb. 14: New Jersey-based BlockFi Lending LLC agrees to pay the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission US$100 million in penalties and pursue registration of its crypto lending product.

March 31: Canadian cryptocurrency ETFs amass $6.1 billion in assets under management, according to data from National Bank Financial.

May: TerraUSD stablecoin and Luna, a linked token, crash.

June 18: Bitcoin plunges below US$25,000. It was trading above US$50,000 in early May.

July 6: Voyager Digital Ltd., a New York-based crypto broker, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

July 13: Celsius Network files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Aug. 17: Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec announces it is writing down its entire investment in Celsius Network.

Nov. 11: FTX files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Nov. 17: OTPP announces it will write down its entire investment in FTX.

Nov. 21: U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin and Tina Smith send a letter to FMR LLC (Fidelity Investments) asking the firm to reconsider a decision to allow 401(k) plans to offer access to bitcoin.

Nov. 27: Bitfront, a U.S. crypto exchange, announces it will cease operations in March 2023. The platform stated the decision “is unrelated to recent issues related to certain exchanges that have been accused of misconduct.”

Nov. 28: BlockFi files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing exposure to FTX.

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Credit Suisse’s investment bank draws interest from Saudi crown prince, WSJ reports

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Dec 4 (Reuters) – Investors including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and a U.S. private-equity firm run by a former Barclays CEO have shown interest in investing $1 billion or more in Credit Suisse’s (CSGN.S) new investment banking unit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is considering an investment of around $500 million to back the new unit CS First Boston (CSFB) and its CEO-designate Michael Klein, the report said, adding that bank has not yet received a formal proposal from any Saudi entity.

Additional financial backing could come from U.S. investors including former Barclays chief Bob Diamond’s Atlas Merchant Capital, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.

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Credit Suisse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seeking to restore vigor to a business that has been languishing, Credit Suisse in October said that it will reshape its investment bank by resurrecting the First Boston brand. The bank tapped board member Klein to lead CSFB.

Saudi National Bank (SNB), controlled by the government of Saudi Arabia, had earlier pledged to invest up to 1.5 billion Swiss francs ($1.60 billion) in Credit Suisse itself for a stake of up to 9.9%, and said it may back the standalone CSFB which will operate as an independent capital markets and advisory bank headquartered in New York.

Credit Suisse’s history with the First Boston brand dates to 1978 when the pair linked up to operate in the London bond market. They later merged to create CS First Boston, but a tough period followed after famed bankers departed and the firm ran into regulatory troubles.

Some bankers and investors have expressed scepticism over its ability to regain its past glory in a shrinking market.

($1 = 0.9373 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Kanjyik Ghosh and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

 

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

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Consumption, not investment, now key to growth

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CAI MENG/CHINA DAILY

Scholars and policymakers in China have not yet reached a consensus on whether stimulating consumption is the top priority for the Chinese economy at the moment. Some economists argue more about the need to boost growth by expanding investment, as they believe that stable investment will be the fastest way to encourage economic expansion.

My understanding is that competent policymaking departments and economists need to better realize and identify the importance of boosting consumption. Under China’s 20 years of stabilizing investment through infrastructure construction, it is necessary to completely change such concepts and realize the significance of encouraging consumption. There is still a lot of work to be done on this front. If this year’s policy is still the same as last year’s and the year before, it will affect growth stabilization performance in 2023.

What makes stimulating consumption for growth so important? The main reason behind it is that China’s economic structure has changed. In normal situations, consumption contributes about 65 percent of GDP growth in China. Therefore, as the proportion of fiscal funds spent to stabilize growth conforms to the economic structure, roughly 65 percent of fiscal funds are used to stabilize consumption, and the remaining 35 percent are put toward stabilizing investment. Yet, in practice, most of the fiscal funds are used to stabilize investment. This disrupts the overall growth structure.

With China’s economy developing and upgrading rapidly, consumption has now become the core factor in economic growth. The country has moved beyond the stage of 20 years of rapid urbanization and rapid industrialization, and infrastructure investment has been oversaturated. Therefore, if the method of stabilizing investment is once again applied to stabilize growth, it will seriously distort the driving force of China’s economic growth. However, I think such understanding has not yet been widely recognized by economists and policymakers, and therefore, further study on this matter is needed.

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China’s previous strategy of stabilizing investment has caused distortions in the overall fiscal expenditure structure. Last year, China’s total GDP reached 114 trillion yuan ($16.2 trillion). The total amount of investment in fixed assets was 55 trillion yuan, while fixed-asset investment accounted for 48 percent of GDP. In comparison, in developed countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan and European nations, the annual total investment in fixed assets accounts for only about 20 percent of the country’s GDP.Long-term distorted structure caused by China’s large proportion of fixed asset investment in GDP is unsustainable.

I would argue that if the current economic structure is corrected and adjusted in the next 10 years, investment in fixed assets will drop from 55 trillion yuan to 30-40 trillion yuan and then decline further. Its high growth will undoubtedly crowd out consumption in the economy, and have a negative impact.

Here are some ways to boost consumption:

First, efforts should be made to promote consumption in terms of raising incomes, instead of working from the production standpoint. Since 2020, in Europe and the United States, the key measure to stabilize consumption has been to issue consumption vouchers to residents, and this has generated a notable effect in boosting the economy. If people’s disposable incomes decline, consumption will definitely drop. Therefore, efforts must be made to find a way to increase disposable income of Chinese consumers. However, if we talk about increasing disposable incomes and only work on stabilizing employment, it would not be sustainable over the long term. It is a long-term policy to stabilize employment as well as improve the social security system, medical system and education system, whatever the circumstances are. The core of stabilizing consumption is to increase household incomes. One way to bring this about is to increase current incomes; that is, issue consumption vouchers or money to residents. It is the correct way to stabilize consumption from the income side. Another way of effecting this is to increase investment income, such as making the stock market more prosperous, so that everyone makes money, thus leading to higher consumption.

Second, efforts should be made to increase the public’s marginal propensity to consume by cutting interest rates. The best way to increase the marginal propensity to consume in the short term is, in fact, by reducing interest rates, which frees up credit. The two methods for stabilizing consumption in Europe and the US in 2020 were distribution of money and lowering of interest rates. By raising incomes through distribution of money and lowering of interest rates, it is possible to increase the general public’s marginal propensity to consume. People’s incomes are divided into two parts. One part is used for saving and the other part is used for consumption. When savings increase, consumption decreases. Savings are closely related and very responsive to interest rate changes. When Europe and the US faced economic downturn pressure in 2020 and wanted to stabilize consumption, they once lowered interest rates to zero or even negative. But China seems to be more conservative with regards to cutting interest rates.

There are many reasons for China to be shy about cutting interest rates. These include the need to prevent real estate bubbles, avoid a stock market sell-off, safeguard against rampant inflation, and stabilize the RMB exchange rate. The goal of monetary policy is complicated and has many facets. It needs to work not only to maintain economic growth, but also to stabilize prices, support the capital market, undergird the housing market and stabilize the exchange rate. Currently, in terms of the stock market, the Chinese bourse has a flat performance during the past 10 years, and share prices of many listed companies have fallen to historic lows. A rise in the stock market can increase investment income and benefit consumption. In terms of prices, China’s producer price index has entered negative growth since October. Currently, we do not have serious inflation, so from the perspective of prices, cutting interest rates will also work. In terms of the RMB exchange rate, now that the appreciation of the US dollar has ended and interest rate hikes outside China have slowed, the pressure of RMB appreciation is gradually picking up. Therefore, to increase the public’s marginal propensity to consume and to stabilize consumption, we should cut interest rates.

In addition, it is also very important to boost consumption by creating consumption scenarios with engaging consumption activities, where consumers can truly interact with shops and products. If consumers cannot have such interactions, contact consumption in many scenarios will not be realized. This involves the impact of COVID-19 and how to contain the pandemic in a science-based, accurate way, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

To sum up, only by realizing the importance of consumption and work on the income front, cutting interest rates and creating more engaging scenarios for consumption can the Chinese economy likely see a rebound in the first quarter of next year.

The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

The author is the director of the Wanbo New Economic Research Institute.

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