Southeast Asia VC firms could see a larger impact from SVB fallout than startups
“I think from a VC firm’s perspective, you will see a bigger impact here,” said David Gowdey, managing partner at Jungle Ventures, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
“That’s really because the local banks here aren’t providing the same product and services that SVB provides,” Gowdey said Tuesday, adding that SVB was Jungle Ventures’ primary bank.
While SVB served tech startups and venture capital firms mostly located in the U.S. or have a presence in the U.S. Some VCs based in Southeast Asia — such as Jungle Ventures and Golden Gate Ventures — were also clients of SVB.
The bank provided VC firms and startups access to the U.S. capital market as well as networking opportunities in the U.S.
In terms of replacing some of the features that SVB provides in the U.S., it is “going to be hard,” said Vinnie Lauria, managing partner at Golden Gate Ventures, on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.
“We were a client of SVB so we understand the value-add very well,” said Lauria.
Lauria qualified that less than 1% of Golden Gate Ventures’ entire portfolio had banked with SVB. For those companies backed by Golden Gate that banked with SVB, they did not engage full banking services with the U.S. bank, he said.
Only two companies in Jungle Ventures’ portfolio of more than 70 startups had exposure to SVB, said Gowdey.
“That was really because [these two companies] had operations in the U.S.,” he added.
While the two companies had exposure to SVB, only one had material exposure, said Gowdey, adding that the company that faced material exposure had engaged SVB for payroll services.
As for startups in Southeast Asia, VC firms say they will not likely be hit by the contagion from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
“The reality is, here in Southeast Asia, a lot of the startups were really buffered. Most did not bank with Silicon Valley Bank,” said Lauria from Golden Gate Ventures.
“So the reality is, Southeast Asia is already very isolated from what was happening in Silicon Valley,” he said.
TikTok CEO got grilled by lawmakers from both parties on whether the Chinese-owned app can protect American privacy
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“We may not always agree on how to get there, but we care about our national security, we care about our economy and we sure as heck care about our children,” Carter said.
Chew found little reprieve during the questioning from either side of the aisle on Thursday. Lawmakers grilled him on the app’s potential to harm kids through its addictive features and potentially dangerous posts, as well as whether data from U.S. users could end up in the hands of the Chinese government through its China-based owner, ByteDance.
After more than five hours of questioning, it’s clear that lawmakers on the committee are not satisfied with TikTok’s current ownership structure, even if not all of them are calling for a full ban. But Chew’s testimony did not quell many concerns that lawmakers had about its ties to China or the adequacy of its risk-mitigation plan, Project Texas. In some cases, it may even provide fodder for those who believe the risk from TikTok is unacceptable.
“I’ve not been reassured by anything you’ve said so far and I think quite frankly your testimony has raised more questions for me than answers,” Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., said at one point in the hearing.
It’s not clear how Thursday’s hearing will translate into action. But several members seemed focused on passing a comprehensive digital privacy bill, like the one the panel approved last Congress but didn’t get to the floor for a full chamber vote. That sort of legislation would help resolve data privacy concerns that exist across all tech companies, including U.S. businesses like Meta, Google, Twitter and Snap.
Congress has been mulling such a bill for years with no results. Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., noted this was the 32nd hearing Congress has held on privacy and Big Tech.
A ban or forced sale of the app, which some members think is the only way to solve the immediate risks, is another matter. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) is reviewing ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok’s predecessor app, Musical.ly. It could recommend that the president force divestment if members can’t agree on an acceptable alternative to mitigate national security risks.
Or, the government could find other ways to try to ban the app. For example, the bipartisan RESTRICT Act introduced in the Senate would give the Commerce secretary the ability to review technology from foreign adversary countries and recommend the president ban the technology if the risks can’t be appropriately mitigated.
In one particularly dramatic moment on Thursday, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., played a video she found on TikTok showing what appeared to be an animated gun continuously reloading with the caption “Me asf at the, House Energy and Commerce Committee on 3/23/23.” TikTok removed the video at some point during the hearing.
TikTok played down the importance of Thursday’s hearing in a statement.
“Shou came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said. “Also not mentioned today by members of the Committee: the livelihoods of the 5 million businesses on TikTok or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans.”
Clarity on China connections
Chew began his opening remarks by sharing details of his background and the countries to which he’s been connected. Chew said that he’s lived in Singapore, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Like him, his parents were born in Singapore and his wife was born in Virginia.
Notably, China wasn’t on the list.
But during the hearing, lawmakers drilled down into TikTok’s ties to China through its parent company.
While TikTok recently found a few allies on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee did not display a similar level of sympathy. On Wednesday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., likened the focus on TikTok to a “red scare” over China, but many of his Democratic colleagues on Thursday seemed deeply concerned about security risks stemming from TikTok’s Chinese ownership.
Throughout the hearing, the lawmakers interrogated Chew about the ability of China-based ByteDance employees to access U.S. data, its failure to remove some dangerous or harmful posts and whether the company has interacted or aligned itself with the Chinese Communist Party.
Chew denied that TikTok shares data with the Chinese Communist Party. He said the company doesn’t have a policy to ask individual employees about their party affiliations in China, but pointed out that ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo is not a member of the party.
A key question for members of the committee seemed to be whether TikTok could uphold American values while being a subsidiary of a Chinese company. Lawmakers and intelligence officials fear that Chinese government officials could access U.S. user data from ByteDance through a Chinese law that allows officials to obtain company information for purported national security reasons.
“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values — values for freedom, human rights, and innovation,” said Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R.-Wash., who supports a TikTok ban, in prepared remarks.
“TikTok needs to be an American company with American values and end its ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” Rep. Darren Soto, R-Fla., later echoed.
Chew admitted that China-based employees can still access some U.S. data, but that new data will stop flowing once the firm finishes deleting it from its Singapore and Virginia-based servers as part of its Project Texas mitigation plan.
But several members said they think the project is still inadequate to protect American data.
“I don’t find what you suggested with Project Texas and this firewall that’s being suggested to whoever will be acceptable to me,” ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said. “I still believe that the Beijing communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do.”
It didn’t help that The Wall Street Journal reported that China said it would oppose a forced sale of TikTok, saying that it would involve an export of technology.
“Despite your assertions to the contrary, China certainly thinks it is in control of TikTok and its software,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, pointing to the news article.
Burgess and others also asked Chew about his preparation and whether ByteDance employees were involved in getting him ready for the hearing. Chew said TikTok’s team in D.C. helped him prep.
Later, Chew told Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., that TikTok shares legal counsel with ByteDance. Griffith said under that arrangement, “there is no firewall, legally,” since those lawyers could share information with each other.
When Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., asked if Beijing has persecuted the Uyghur minority group in the country, Chew sought to redirect the discussion back to TikTok.
“While it’s deeply concerning to hear about all accounts of human rights abuse, my role here is to explain what our platform does,” Chew said.
Later, when Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, asked if TikTok supports genocide, Chew again sought to bring the conversation back to app. Asked a second time, Chew answered that no, it does not.
Toward the end of the hearing, Chew expressed that his testimony was attempting to do something almost impossible. Referencing a report that members brought up from the University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab, Chew said, “Citizen Lab is saying that they cannot prove a negative, which is what I have been trying to do for the last four hours.”
WATCH: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew: Never had any discussions with Chinese government officials as CEO
‘Can’t get their act together’: Crypto firms slam SEC, Washington for lack of clarity on rules
Unlike other countries, the U.S. has yet to come up with a comprehensive framework or set of regulations that allows cryptocurrency and blockchain firms to operate without fear of being targeted by regulators.
Meanwhile, since the collapse of crypto exchange FTX last year, the U.S. SEC has stepped up enforcement action against companies.
On Wednesday, the SEC sent exchange Coinbase a Wells notice, warning the company that it had identified potential violations of U.S. securities law. The SEC also unveiled fraud and unregistered securities charges against crypto founder Justin Sun and celebrities that endorsed the digital coins he was pushing.
“It feels uncollaborative,” a senior crypto executive at the Paris Blockchain Week event told CNBC, wishing to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the matter. “It’s very frustrating for players that have been doing right the whole time.”
Joe Lubin, CEO of ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum, told CNBC Thursday that he thought the ecosystem was “generally frustrated.”
“I think we’re sort of continuing to watch the SEC play this game of punishing the people that are still surviving. And it’s a little bit, you know, sort of a frustrating thing to observe,” Nicolas Cary, president of Blockchain.com, told CNBC on Thursday.
Much of what the SEC has done involves applying existing regulations to the crypto industry, which were formed several decades after the Howey Test — one of the key tests to determine whether something is a security or not.
Many in the crypto industry feel this is not the right path to take.
“Where I think you have less successful regulatory regimes is when you try to analyze crypto through the lens of traditional finance. You say, ‘well, is it a bit like a security? Is it a commodity?’ … No, it’s kind of none of those things. It’s crypto,” Oliver Linch, CEO of Bittrex Global, told CNBC Wednesday.
The SEC was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.
CNBC spoke to numerous executives on the ground at Paris Blockchain Week, one of the most prominent crypto conferences in Europe, and one request executives made to U.S. regulators was the need for clarity.
“We’d love to have a little bit more clarity in regulation,” Silvio Micali, founder of blockchain company Algorand, told CNBC on Wednesday.
Bitcoin has had a strong start to the year with the cryptocurrency seeing a huge rally.
Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Some have expressed some sympathy with the SEC, however, suggesting that the watchdog is just operating within existing rules and that it is up to the U.S. government to change them.
“What are they supposed to do? If all you’re given is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail,” Bittrex Global’s Linch said.
Blockchain.com’s Cary said the SEC is “trying to do their job to protect consumers.”
What the SEC says
SEC Chair Gary Gensler addressed a lot of these points in a opinion piece he wrote in The Hill this month, suggesting the regulator has been clear on the rules.
“I find the talking point that there’s a lack of clarity in the securities laws unpersuasive,” Gensler said. “Some crypto companies might message that the laws are unclear rather than admitting that their platforms don’t have sufficient investor protection.”
He laid out instances where crypto firms come under existing securities laws, such as when a company offers lending products.
Gensler also said “crypto intermediaries aren’t exactly lining up to register with the SEC and comply with the laws enacted by Congress.”
The SEC chair said enforcement actions are “another tool” in the regulator’s toolbox to root out “noncompliance.”
U.S. risks falling behind Europe
Executives have warned that the lack of clear regulation in the U.S. could see it fall behind other countries and jurisdictions.
“It’s incumbent, I think, on Congress to actually create a legal regulatory framework that regulates crypto properly, because … crypto is here to stay,” Linch said.
Governments across the globe are weighing up how to regulate crypto. Places like Switzerland and Dubai have marketed themselves as crypto-friendly destinations with favorable regulation.
Meanwhile, the European Union is slated this year to introduce the Markets in Crypto-Assets, or MiCA, regulation, designed to bring some rules in and around digital currency companies.
When asked by CNBC if the U.S. is at risk of falling behind other jurisdictions in the crypto economy, Monica Long, president of Ripple, said: “We think so.”
“Europe is really emerging as a leader in terms of setting really clear regulations and rules that allow crypto companies and also traditional finance to embrace crypto,” Long said.
The Ripple president referenced MiCA, a law that required the agreement of all 27 nations that make up the EU, calling it “remarkable when the U.S. has one government and they can’t get their act together.”
These tech giants are still making money, but layoffs are coming hard and fast
Beata Zawrzel | Nurphoto | Getty Images
That’s despite most of these companies being profitable.
“Headcount reduction is a result of over hiring during the pandemic and a slower growth outlook than originally forecasted,” according to a report by financial services company Jefferies.
With interest rates and inflation remaining elevated, consumers are pulling back spending amid uncertainty in the global economy.
As a result, companies “need to reduce headcount in order to regain operating efficiency with a headcount that matches current demand trends,” the analysts at Jefferies said.
With interest rates rising, capital has become more expensive and companies started reining in their headcount costs.
“Particularly for startups, the surge in employment was partly fueled by cheap capital,” wrote a Bank of America Global Research report.
Here are some of the more prominent global tech firms that have axed staff despite earning big money.
Microsoft posted a net profit of $16.4 billion for the quarter ended Dec. 31, down 8% from a year ago. Its cloud business drove results, with Microsoft Cloud revenue at $27.1 billion, up 22% year-over-year.
The firm also delivered “record results” in fiscal year 2022 ended Jun. 30 despite a “dynamic environment,” CEO Satya Nadella said in the tech giant’s annual report.
“We reported $198 billion in revenue and $83 billion in operating income. And the Microsoft Cloud surpassed $100 billion in annualized revenue for the first time,” he said in the fiscal year 2022 report.
Despite that, Microsoft announced in January that it’s laying off 10,000 workers as the firm braces for slower revenue growth.
Alphabet, parent of Google
Google parent Alphabet announced in January it will be cutting 12,000 workers.
The company missed on earnings and revenue in the fourth quarter, but managed to eke out a 1% year-on-year revenue growth for the quarter ended December.
CFO Ruth Porat said during the earnings call that Alphabet added 3,455 people during the quarter, most of them technical roles.
She also told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa the company is meaningfully slowing the pace of hiring in a bid to deliver profitable growth in the longer run.
“Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today,” said CEO Sundar Pichai, in a memo to staff.
Germany’s SAP said it met guidance across the board for full year 2022, with cloud revenue increasing 24% from a year ago. The enterprise software company also returned to positive operating profit growth of 2%.
However, SAP announced in January that it’s cutting up to 3,000 jobs, as the leadership seeks to steer the company toward double-digit profit growth in 2023.
Singapore-based tech giant Sea Group reported net income of $422.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2022 — the company’s first quarterly profit since it started in 2019.
Days later, the Indonesian unit of Sea’s e-commerce arm Shopee conducted a fresh round of layoffs, affecting less than 500 full-time and contractual employees, according to media reports.
Last year, the company reportedly already cut more than 7,000 jobs — or about 10% of its workforce.
Other tech firms in Asia have not been spared either.
Indonesia’s GoTo Group, Singapore’s Sea Group, Carousell, Foodpanda and South Korea’s Naver and Kakao are some of the companies that have cut employees in the last few months.
The headcount reduction was conducted in an effort to “stay ahead of downturn impacts,” co-COO Jeff Clarke said in a memo to employees.
While fiscal year 2023 revenue improved, Dell’s operating income dipped 26% to $1.18 billion in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023 as demand for PCs and laptops slowed globally.
Apple has dodged mass layoffs so far, having hired at a slower pace than Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Meta.
But the iPhone-maker is also seen tightening its belt.
The company reportedly delayed bonuses for some employees and limited hiring in March. Apple let go of contract staff in August, according to a Bloomberg report.
The iPhone maker missed expectations for revenue, profit, and sales for several lines of business in the first quarter of fiscal year 2023 which ended Dec. 31 last year.
CEO Tim Cook blamed it on a strong dollar, production disruptions in China, and macro headwinds.
This is not exhaustive list.
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