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Archive for the ‘International Finance’ Category

Article from SFGate.

It’s suddenly a lot harder for venture capitalists and startups to raise funds, as investors fed up with low returns turn their backs on the sector.

Most industry observers agree that lots of young firms will simply not be able to raise their next round of funding, commencing a period of belt tightening, consolidation and closures. At a minimum, it seems to mark the beginning of a more level-headed investment climate in Silicon Valley, after years of insatiable lust for all things mobile and social.

But if the drop-off is too sudden and steep, this new austerity could spill over into an economy highly dependent on the tech sector. Indeed, as The Chronicle reported last week, the industry has an enormous impact, with each tech job creating 4.3 indirect jobs in the community, according to a Bay Area Council Economic Institute report.

The investors and venture capitalists I spoke to insisted that we’re not on the verge of anything like the dot-com meltdown, characterizing the shift as a minor and healthy correction, or a “rationalization.” One suggested it was little more than the usual process of separating good and bad ideas in the marketplace.

But the numbers suggest something new is afoot. In the third quarter, the amount that U.S. companies raised in venture capital dropped 32 percent from the prior year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Venture capital funds themselves raised 17 percent fewer dollars from the second to third quarter, even as the number of funds grew, according to a joint report from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association.

Economic uncertainty

Some partially blame the economic uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the election and the “fiscal cliff.” But the main problem seems to be that many of the “limited partners” that fund venture capital are pulling back after years of frustration.

Ever since a brief period in the late 1990s when venture capital burned bright, the industry has been delivering consistently weak returns on the whole.

In fact, despite requiring greater risks and larger capital outlays, venture capital has been underperforming the stock market over the past decade, according to a report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Joe Dear, chief investment officer for CalPERS, told Reuters this summer that venture capital “has been the most disappointing asset class over the past 10 years as far as returns.” The huge pension fund for California’s public employees didn’t return repeated calls from The Chronicle.

Investment horizons have steadily spread out, from five to 10 to sometimes 15 years, as exit opportunities like acquisitions and initial public offerings fail to materialize. This has sometimes forced investors to put in more money to protect their initial funds.

‘Pretty grumpy’

“The industry definitely, for the last decade, has been a tough place to be,” said Ray Rothrock of Palo Alto venture capital firm Venrock. “We’re all pretty grumpy right now.”

Some of this is due to macroeconomic conditions outside the control of venture capitalists, notably the housing and banking crises. But at least some of it has to do with poor picks and herd mentality, funding companies with few real prospects and driving up the entry price for legitimately promising companies beyond what they could pay off.

“The market overfunded the number of companies in the system,” said Hans Swildens, founder of Industry Ventures in San Francisco. “There’s a glut.”

Even the grand promise of Web 2.0 companies that lured so much recent money hasn’t generated the hoped-for returns. The ones that managed to go public were often disappointments, including Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, in some cases leaving late-stage investors underwater on their holdings.

That was a final straw for some.

Last week, Forbes dug up figures from CB Insights that highlighted a wide and growing gap between the number of companies that raised initial funding and companies securing the follow-on investments, known as a Series A, generally necessary to keep going. This year, there have been 1,747 seed or angel rounds but only 688 Series A deals, underscoring the coming crunch.

Bad businesses

Based on as scientific a survey as the PR pitches in my inbox, there’s a tremendous number of silly, redundant and poorly executed companies out there that don’t warrant additional funding. The real problem isn’t that many of these companies won’t raise more money; it’s that they raised money in the first place.

For the venture capital industry to get back on track, it needs to embrace a renewed sense of discipline – on company picks, deal terms and total spending.

But hope springs eternal in Silicon Valley.

Rothrock stresses that the industry’s trend-line averages mask very strong results and ongoing investment at top firms, as well as growing venture capital activity among corporations like Google. Companies are just being more selective and looking beyond consumer Internet opportunities.

“We’re steady as she goes in terms of funding enterprise,” he said.

Secondary opportunity

Swildens oversees a secondary fund that buys shares from limited partners and venture firms looking to liquidate part of their holdings. He sees this period as a ripe opportunity for bold investors to get into promising companies at suddenly reasonable rates.

“Ours is one of the few firms aggressively putting money into these funds,” he said.

Mark Heesen, president of National Venture Capital Association, is similarly optimistic. He says the industry could be primed for a strong comeback in 2013, as long as the broader economy strengthens.

Above all, what the industry needs are some wins – acquisitions or initial public offerings that put investors clearly in the black and start to restore some lost confidence.

“If we see these exit markets start to generate good returns, I think you’ll see limited partners look at this asset class again,” he said.

James Temple is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: jtemple@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jtemple

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Article from NYTimes.

Japanese companies have made a string of deals in the United States this year, but the pact announced on Monday is one for the record books.

The agreement by SoftBank to take control of Sprint Nextel is the biggest deal by a Japanese company in the United States since at least 1980, according to Thomson Reuters, which values the deal at $23.3 billion.

That far exceeds the next-largest deal, the $9.8 billion stake that NTT DoCoMo, SoftBank’s rival, took in AT&T Wireless in 2000.

The SoftBank deal is also worth more than some recent takeovers, including Takeda Pharmaceutical’s 2008 purchase of Millennium Pharmaceuticals for $8.1 billion. It also tops the $7.8 billion agreement the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group struck with Morgan Stanley in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to Thomson Reuters data.

It also ranks as the biggest foreign deal involving an investment in an American company so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters.

The deal on Monday is a welcome development for the financial advisers involved, in a year starved for deal activity.

The agreement has lifted Citigroup, an adviser to Sprint, to sixth from seventh place in the Thomson Reuters global league table this year. Sprint’s other advisers, UBS and Rothschild, each moved up one spot as well.

One of SoftBank’s advisers, the Raine Group, entered this year’s league table in 30th place after the deal. (The deal is the group’s biggest, according to Thomson Reuters.) The Mizuho Financial Group, another SoftBank adviser, rose to 17th place from 22nd.

For American consumers, SoftBank is set to be the latest Japanese company to make its mark on daily life in this country.

In 1989, the Mitsubishi Estate Company made headlines with a deal to buy a 51 percent stake in the Rockefeller Group in New York. (The stake eventually grew to 100 percent, after Rockefeller went through bankruptcy.)

Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, drew a comparison to that deal last week, when Sprint confirmed it was in talks with SoftBank.

“This is tantamount to Japanese buyers buying Rockefeller Center,” he said.

The year 1989 was also when the Japanese electronics giant Sony took a foothold in Hollywood. Its roughly $4.7 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures Entertainment was a blockbuster at the time.

SoftBank’s shares fell 5.3 percent in Tokyo on Monday, with investors concerned over the company’s ability to turn around the ailing Sprint.

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Article from NYTimes.

Few investors have ridden the recent Internet boomlet like the GSV Capital Corporation.

After GSV announced in June 2011 that it was buying a stake in the privately held Facebook, the closed-end mutual fund surged 42 percent that day. Capitalizing on the euphoria, GSV sold another $247 million of its shares, using the money to expand its portfolio of hot start-ups like Groupon and Zynga.

Now, GSV is feeling the Facebook blues.

When the public offering of the social network flopped, GSV fell hard, and it still has not recovered. Shares of GSV, which were sold for an average of $15.35, are trading at $8.54.

“We probably benefited from our stake in Facebook more than we deserved on the way up,” said GSV’s chief executive, Michael T. Moe, “and were certainly punished more than we deserved on the way down.”

GSV, short for Global Silicon Valley, is the largest of several closed-end mutual funds that offer ordinary investors a chance to own stakes in privately held companies, at least indirectly. Closed-end funds like GSV typically sell a set number of shares, and their managers invest the proceeds. In essence, such portfolios operate like small venture capital funds, taking stakes in start-ups and betting they will turn a profit if the companies are sold or go public.

“I think GSV was really innovative in creating a kind of publicly traded venture capital fund,” said Jason Jones, founder of HighStep Capital, which also invests in private companies.

But the shares of closed-end funds trade on investor demand – and can go significantly higher or lower than the value of the underlying portfolios. The entire category has been hit by Facebook’s troubles, with GSV trading at a 38 percent discount to its so-called net asset value.

Mr. Moe, 49, has previously experienced the wild ups and downs of popular stocks.

A backup quarterback at the University of Minnesota, he started out as a stockbroker at the Minneapolis-based Dain Bosworth, where he wrote a stock-market newsletter called “Mike Moe’s Market Minutes.” He met the chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, on a visit to Seattle in 1992, and he began covering the coffee chain after its initial public offering.

“I left believing I had just met the next Ray Kroc,” Mr. Moe wrote in his 2006 book, “Finding the Next Starbucks,” referring to the executive who built the McDonald’s empire.

After stints at two other brokerage firms, Mr. Moe became the director of global growth research in San Francisco at Merrill Lynch in 1998. There he ran a group of a dozen analysts at a time when mere business models “were going public at billion-dollar valuations,” he said.

Shortly after the dot-com bubble burst, he founded a banking boutique now called ThinkEquity. At the time, he expected the I.P.O. market to shrug off the weakness and recover in a couple of years. Instead, it went into a decade-long slump.

“Market timing is not my best skill,” Mr. Moe said. In 2007, he sold ThinkEquity.

The next year, he started a new firm to provide research on private companies, NeXt Up Research. He later expanded into asset management, eventually changing the name to GSV. Within two months of starting his own fund, he bought the shares in Facebook through SecondMarket, a marketplace for private shares.

GSV soon raised additional funds from investors and put the money into start-ups in education, cloud computing, Internet commerce, social media and clean technology. Along with Groupon and Zynga, he bought Twitter, Gilt Groupe and Spotify Technology. The goal is finding “the fastest-growing companies in the world,” he said.

But Mr. Moe has paid a high price, picking up several start-ups at high valuations on the private market. He bought Facebook at $29.92 a share. That stock is now trading at $19.10. He purchased Groupon in August 2011 for $26.61 a share, well above its eventual public offering price of $20. It currently sells at $4.31.

Max Wolff, who tracks pre-I.P.O. stocks at GreenCrest Capital Management, said GSV sometimes bought “popular names to please investors.”

“This is such a sentiment-sensitive space, the stocks don’t trade on fundamentals,” Mr. Wolff said, adding, “If there’s a loss of faith, they fall without a net.”

GSV’s peers have also struggled. Firsthand Technology Value Fund, which owns stakes in Facebook and solar power businesses like SolarCity and Intevac, is off 65 percent from its peak in April. “We paid too much” for Facebook, said Firsthand’s chief executive, Kevin Landis.

Two other funds with similar strategies have sidestepped the bulk of the pain. Harris & Harris Group owns 32 companies in microscale technology. Keating Capital, with $75 million in assets, owns pieces of 20 venture-backed companies. But neither Harris nor Keating owns Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, so shares in those companies have not fallen as steeply.

GSV is now dealing with the fallout.

In a conference call in August, Mr. Moe was confronted by one investor who said, “the recent public positions have been a disaster,” according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha, a stock market news Web site. While Mr. Moe expressed similar disappointment, he emphasized the companies’ fundamentals. Collectively, he said, their revenue was growing by more than 100 percent.

“We have been around this for quite some time, and we are going to be wrong from time to time,” Mr. Moe said in the call. “But we are focused on the batting average.”

In the same call, Mr. Moe remained enthusiastic – if not hyperbolic – about the group’s prospects. Many of GSV’s 40 holdings are in “game-changing companies” with the potential to drive outsize growth, he told the investors.

Twitter, the largest, “continues to just be a rocket ship in terms of growth, and we think value creation,” he said. The data analysis provider Palantir Technologies helps the Central Intelligence Agency “track terrorists and bad guys all over the world.” The flash memory maker Violin Memory “is experiencing hyper-growth,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But Mr. Moe was a bit more muted in recent interviews. While he says he still believes in giving public investors access to private company stocks, he recognizes the cloud over GSV. “We unfortunately have a social media segment that got tainted. I completely get why our stock is where it is. It’s going to be a show-me situation for a while.”

Acknowledging some regrets, Mr. Moe said he was angriest about overpaying for Groupon, saying, “Yeah, I blew Groupon.” He said that he also did not anticipate what he called a deceleration in Facebook’s growth rate, and that it was “kind of infuriating” that some of its early investors were allowed to exit before others. GSV often must hold its shares until six months after a public offering.

But the downturn in pre-I.P.O. shares has a silver lining, Mr. Moe said. Since the Facebook public offering, he has been able to put money to work “at better prices.” He recently bought shares of Spotify at a valuation of about $3 billion, roughly 25 percent below the target in its latest round of financing.

The I.P.O. market is also showing signs of life, he said, with the strong debuts of Palo Alto Networks and Kayak Software. And he still has faith in Facebook.

Whatever its current stock price, at least it is a “real company” with revenue and profit, Mr. Moe said, adding, “It’s not being valued off eyeballs and fairy dust.”

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Article from NYTimes.

The Knight Capital Group confirmed on Monday that it had struck a $400 million rescue deal with a group of investors, staving off collapse after a recent trading mishap, even as the New York Stock Exchange temporarily revoked the firm’s market-making responsibilities.

The rescue package, which was arranged by the Jefferies Group, includes investments from TD Ameritrade and the Blackstone Group. Getco and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company were also involved.

“We are grateful for the support of these leading Wall Street firms that came together to invest in Knight,” Tom Joyce, the firm’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “The array of participants in this capital infusion underscores Knight’s critical role in the capital markets.”

In a regulatory filing, Knight Capital said the investors agreed to purchase $400 million of the brokerage firm’s preferred stock. Under the terms of the deal, Knight will also expand its board by adding three new members.

The deal could provide the investors with more than 260 million shares of the firm, affording the investors the right to buy the shares at $1.50 a piece, according to the statement. Last week, before the trading blunder, the firm’s shares closed over $10.

The rescue deal will hugely dilute existing shareholders of the company. In mid-morning trading, shares of Knight Capital were down 24 percent.

The lifeline was assembled in the wake of Knight Capital’s disclosure of a $440 million trading loss. The loss stemmed from a technology error that occurred on Wednesday when the firm unveiled new trading software, a glitch that generated erroneous orders to buy shares of major stocks. The orders affected the shares of 148 companies, including Ford Motor, RadioShack and American Airlines, sending the markets into upheaval.

Knight Capital said it reached the deal on Sunday, and it expected to close the transaction on Monday. It was a rapid a recovery for a firm that just days ago was facing collapse.

Still, the firm faces significant challenges. The New York Stock Exchange said on Monday it “temporarily” reassigned the firm’s market-making responsibilities for more than 600 securities to Getco, the high-speed trading firm that also invested in Knight. Market makers buy and sell securities on behalf of clients.

The move, the exchange said in a statement on Monday, was a stop-gap measure needed until the investor deal was final. Once the recapitalization plan is complete, Knight will resume its duties.

“We believe this interim transition is in the best interests of investors, our listed issuers, market stability and efficiency, as well as Knight, as the firm finalizes its equity financing transaction,” Larry Leibowitz, chief operating officer of NYSE Euronext, said in the statement.

Knight Capital also faces heavy regulatory scrutiny. The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining potential legal violations as it pieces together the firm’s missteps.

The problems for Knight Capital began at the start of trading on Wednesday. The firm tweaked its computer coding to push itself onto a new trading platform that the New York Stock Exchange opened that day. Under this program, trades from retail investors shift to a special platform where firms like Knight compete to offer them the best price.

But when Knight’s new system went live, the firm “experienced a human error and/or a technology malfunction related to its installation of trading software,” the firm explained in the filing on Monday.

Chaos ensued. The error caused Knight to place unauthorized offers to buy and sell shares of big American companies, driving up the volume of trading and causing a stir among traders and exchanges.

Knight had to sell the stocks that it accidentally bought, prompting a $440 million loss. The loss drained Knight’s capital cushion and caused “liquidity pressures,” the firm said in the filing.

“In view of the impact to the company’s capital base and the resultant loss of customer and counterparty confidence, there is substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” the filing said.

Knight and its chief executive, Thomas M. Joyce, began contacting potential suitors for parts of the business, and the firm consulted restructuring lawyers on a potential Chapter 11 filing, according to the people with direct knowledge of the matter.

But events soon turned in the firm’s favor.

The firm secured emergency short-term financing that allowed it to operate on Friday, and it used Goldman Sachs to buy at a discount the shares Knight had erroneously accumulated.

Some of the firm’s biggest customers, including TD Ameritrade and Scottrade, said that they had resumed doing business with Knight by Friday afternoon.

The firm capped its efforts to stay afloat on Sunday with the rescue deal. Knight expects to finalize the agreement on Monday morning and detail the financing terms in a regulatory filing.

“Knight’s financial position and capital base have been restored to a level that more than offsets the loss incurred last week,” Mr. Joyce said in a statement. “We thank our clients, employees and partners for their steadfastness during a brief yet difficult period and we are getting back to business as usual.”

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Article from GigaOm.

As you might know, I am on a bit of a “staycation.” As a result, I am spending less time in front of the computer. However, I do read a lot these days — both on and offline. Here are some stories you might find enjoyable.

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Waving the White Flag

By

May 12, 2012

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

For quite some time in this letter I have been making the case that for the eurozone to survive, the European Central Bank would have to print more money than any of us can now imagine. That the sentiment among European leaders was that they were prepared for such a move was clear – except for Germany, which is haunted by fears of a return to the days of the Weimar Republic and hyperinflation.

When Germany agreed to a fixed monetary union and a European Central Bank, it was with the clear understanding that it would be run along the lines of the German central bank, the Bundesbank. The members of the Bundesbank and the German members of the ECB were most outspoken about the need for a conservative monetary policy that would keep a clamp on inflation.

However, as I have previously noted, the Bundesbank was a toothless tiger. Germany has two votes out of 23 on the ECB, and the loud drumbeat from most of Europe, which is experiencing the difficulty of austerity accompanied by too much debt, is for a far more accommodating ECB.

The simple fact is that Mario Draghi, the Italian president of the ECB, created €1 trillion euros to help fund European banks, which promptly turned around and bought their respective countrys’ sovereign debt. Germany’s Angela Merkel forced the Bundesbank to “play nice” and go along with what was seen as the only way to solve a growing banking crisis in Europe. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that this at least bought a year during which things could be sorted out. But it turns out that a trillion euros just doesn’t go as far as it used to. The “relief” lasted about a month. The last few weeks have presented yet another budding crisis, as least as large as the last one. Where to get the next trillion?

This week the German Bundesbank waved the white flag. The die is cast. For good or ill, Europe has embarked on a program that will require multiple trillions of euros of freshly minted money in order to maintain the eurozone. But the alternative, European leaders agree, is even worse. Today we will look at the recent German shift in policy, why it was so predictable, and what it means. This is a Ponzi scheme that makes Madoff look like a small-time street hustler. There is a lot to cover.

At the end of the letter I will mention a few upcoming speaking engagements, in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and a webinar I will be doing next week. Now let’s jump over to Europe.

Waving the White Flag

It is the world’s worst-kept secret: Germany does not want inflation but wants to abandon the European Union even less. And as we will see, the eurozone simply does not have enough money to keep itself together without massive ECB intervention.

“Cry havoc,” wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, “and let slip the dogs of war.” The military order “Havoc!” was a signal given to the English military forces in the Middle Ages to direct the soldiery (in… – go to link below

http://www.johnmauldin.com/frontlinethoughts/waving-the-white-flag

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