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Tech Stock Roundup: Facebook Has Much to Say at F8

With the Yahoo YHOO bids expected to start coming in this morning and the earnings season also upon us, not many investors will be thinking about other things. There were however some important events last week, most notably Facebook’s FB F8 conference, which is what we’ll start off with today.

Facebook F8

Facebook’s F8 announcements were interesting, if not totally surprising. The company may be into social networking, but it’s not leaving any stone unturned to help people connect and communicate any way they can.

Facebook’s long-term plan with AI is ambitious: it might help the blind to see, the deaf to hear and so forth. But more immediate benefits are expected to be related to translation and image recognition. So it would easily translate a script in another language for your easy reading or quickly find a photograph you are looking for. Most interesting is the image segmentation that will allow it to describe the picture to a blond person. Microsoft MSFT is also working on technology to “help the blind to see.”

Facebook also announced that it was opening its hugely popular Messenger to chatbot development. Facebook didn’t sound like it was in a tearing rush either: the chatbots, which are basically a form of artificial intelligence with the ability to speak or text will be a way for businesses to interact with their customers on Messenger. But monetization is still not a priority for the company, so there’s time to come up with something good. Just as well given Microsoft’s recent escapade with the infamous Tay.

Its current VR efforts are focused on a hand held controller, which is “going to add a whole new layer of immersion.” Facebook also announced its own pro-grade 360-degree video camera that includes 17 cameras and costs $30K. The camera literally weaves together all the images captured for a 360-degree picture.

App developers are also being offered an Account Kit that will help apps recognize a user through email or phone number thus eliminating the need for passwords. The Free Basics simulator will help developers working with it and the all-new Demographic Insights from Facebook will provide demographic information so developers can modify content accordingly.

There were two bits of news for publishers: the first being the expansion of Instant Articles to all publishers anywhere in the world and the second, a new tool called Rights Manager, so publishers can manage, protect control and regulate videos on Facebook.

Other announcements from F8 have been discussed in various sections below.

Company

Last Week

Last  6 Months

AAPL

+1.10%

-1.07%

FB

-0.89%

+18.14%

YHOO

+1.12%

+17.94%

GOOGL

+2.70%

+16.12%

MSFT

+2.25%

+19.03%

INTC

-0.54%

-0.88%

CSCO

+0.76%

+2.46%

AMZN

+5.25%

+16.44%

Other stories you might have missed-

Corporate

Google Exec Joins Facebook: Alphabet’s GOOGL Advanced Technology & Products Group head Regina Dugan has been whisked away by Facebook to head its new hardware-focused R&D effort called Building 8. Facebook intends to invest hundreds of people and millions of dollars into the effort.

Some of the intended focus areas are artificial intelligence, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) and new technologies to increase Internet penetration across the world. The goal is to bring Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-style focus to the effort, which according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a method “characterized by aggressive, fixed timelines, extensive use of partnerships with universities, small and large businesses, and clear objectives for shipping products at scale.” Before Google, Regina Dugan led the DARPA effort of the U.S. government.

Yahoo Changes Definition: Bloomberg reports that Yahoo has modified the definition of “change of control” as it relates to employee severance plans. The earlier definition required change of control with respect to the whole business for severance plans to kick in, now it will happen when “all or substantially all of the company’s operating business” is transferred. So even if the company’s sizeable non-operating assets like Alibaba BABA and Yahoo Japan don’t change ownership, employee severance plans would still go into effect. This ensures that Mayer (and other top executives) gets to make a tidy sum in the event of a sale of the core business. Executives terminated without cause will also benefit from accelerated vesting, according to the WSJ.

Google to Train a Million Africans: Google has partnered with Livity Africa to set up an online portal called Digify Africa through which it will help a million Africans to develop their digital skills. The current plan will cover 15-34 year-olds, of which 400K will be in Nigeria, 300K in South Africa, 200K in Kenya and 100K in other African countries.

TeleGeography estimates that African Internet bandwidth grew 41% last year and at a 5-year CAGR of 51%, which indicates growing demand. This also means a growing demand for people who can build, maintain and secure it. So Africa’s huge unemployment rate (as high as a third of the population according to some estimates) and growing demand for IT skills makes digital skills very important. Most tech companies are involved in training programs around the world to get into the good books of respective governments.

Legal/Regulatory

Microsoft Privacy Lawsuit: Microsoft has sued the DoJ and Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act unconstitutional because it violates its own free speech rights (according to the First Amendment) and because it also violates its customers’ right to know if the government has seized or searched their property (according to the Fourth Amendment).

The case between Microsoft and the DoJ has been going on for two years; the main problem seems to be the government’s increased use of gag orders that prevents Microsoft from telling its customers when the government has accessed their data. Law enforcement says that secrecy is important given that they are often targeting serial killers and the like, but Microsoft says the definition is being used too broadly taking unfair advantage of the fact that more information is stored in the cloud nowadays.

Microsoft Supports EU Privacy Law: The EU has already invalidated its Safe Harbour agreement with the U.S. and has proposed a replacement in Privacy Shield. The goal is to ensure the same level of privacy of data that is transferred to the U.S. for processing as is available in the EU. While some member countries, notably Germany are still opposed to the law in its present form, Microsoft last week became the first U.S. company to agree to sign up to it. 

New Technology/Products

Facebook Has New Wi-Fi Services: The ARIES (which stands for Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum) base station has 96 antennas for up to 24 devices or simultaneous streams over the same radio spectrum and allows for 4G plus speeds. The system is intended to spread high-speed connectivity to areas surrounding cities without significant investment in infrastructure. It is therefore being considered for developing economies.

For developed markets, the company plans a system called Terragraph, which creates a network of nodes 200-250 meters apart (which can therefore use 60GHz spectrum) each with an antenna transmitting signals over a WAN. The nodes can be placed on existing light posts. The system is thought to be cost efficient because it will not require expensive fiber and Facebook is currently testing it at its headquarters in San Jose. 

Alphabet Has Brand New Robot: Alphabet may be considering the sale of Boston Dynamics, but that certainly isn’t the end of its robotics plans (as may be expected). Another robotics company called Schaft that it recently acquired is in the process of building a robot that can navigate stairs and possibly clean up on the way. It also doesn’t trip over stuff, so who knows? Maybe this is going to be our future cleaning lady!

Amazon Kindle Oasis: Amazon AMZN has launched a new Kindle that is notably lighter (4.6 punce compared to the 7.2 ounce Paperwhite) and lighter. The grip transfers the center of gravity to your hand and you can flip pages by using the touch screen or button-pressing. It has crammed in 60% more LEDs into the front light making for the brightest display thus far. Most important, the promised battery life is 9 weeks (including the battery in the cover), much longer than ever before. The only challenge is the price, which at $289.99 is the highest ever.  

M&A

Microsoft, Facebook Team Up: Microsoft has been looking to get app developers interested in its OS but that hasn’t happened to date. With Windows 10, it created the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which may have interested app developers if not for the fact that its share of smartphones is next to nonexistent and share of tablets is still quite small (around 10%).

Theoretically, UWP gives developers access to its huge desktop presence, but in practice that’s not very helpful because apps aren’t generally used there. So now it has partnered with Facebook, allowing developers to use the social networking company’s popular React Native tool to build apps for UWP. 250K+ developers use the tool to make iOS and Android apps and now they can bring their apps to UWP as well.  

Alibaba Invests In Ele.me, Lazada: Alibaba is investing $900 million in Chinese food delivery app Ele.me and its finance arm Ant Financial is investing another $325 million. Ele.me’s two major competitors are Dianping-Meituan and Baidu’s Nuomi. Alibaba was earlier invested in Dianping-Meituan, but recently sold off its stake for $900 million. So it seems that the company is transferring interest to a smaller player that it can better absorb (the deal includes a clause wherein Ele.me and Alibaba’s own JV Koubei will collaborate). Koubei promotes restaurants on mobile devices. The company also bought a controlling stake in retailer Lazada, which operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam for $1 billion.

Box Ties with Amazon, IBM: Box has tied with Amazon and IBM so its customers can store data locally while using its file sharing web application. Many countries, especially in Europe and Asia now require companies to store their data locally, so this agreement makes it easier for Box to offer its services in these regions while also keeping its infrastructure costs down. The new solution is called Box Zones and the company says it has been working on it for the past three years.

Some Numbers

Apple iPhone Sales Estimates: Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley who has a Buy rating on Apple AAPL shares says that market survey results show that Apple maintains strong share of the premium-tier phone segment. At the same time, softer global trends and similar form factor of the iPhone 6S increases the likelihood that the product will see negative year-over-year sales for the remainder of 2016. Apple supplier TSM has further increased fears saying that it is seeing reduced second-quarter demand for devices priced above $500.

Wireless Carriers Stealing Show from Apple Stores: A report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, or CIRP says that Apple is seeing reduced footfall at its stores, with more customers preferring to buy from carriers. Last year 11% of customers bought their iPhones from Apple stores compared to 16% two years ago. Carrier traffic in the same time period grew from 65% to 76%.

PC Shipments: Both Gartner and IDC reported continued misery in the PC market in the March quarter. While Gartner said that PC shipments in the quarter fell 9.6% year over year to 64.8 million units, IDC places the decline at 11.5% from the year-ago period to approximately 60.6 million units. They have slightly different measurement criteria, which is why the final number varies slightly. But both maintain that the top three vendors are Lenovo, HP and Dell.

Seagate Misses Estimates: Seagate announced preliminary results last week, lowering its revenue and margin expectations for its fiscal third quarter. Seagate now expects revenues to be $2.6 billion, down from its earlier guidance range of $2.7 billion. Moreover, non-GAAP gross margin is anticipated to be 23%, as against its earlier forecast of 25.6%.

Companies Reporting This Week: INTC, AMD, LRCX, NLSN, YHOO, GOOGL, MSFT, NFLX, IBM, VMW, EMC, FFIV, CHKP

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