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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tech companies are seizing the market moment

Tech companies are seizing the market moment

The biggest tech companies strengthened their hold on the global economy during the pandemic. Now, the industry is leveraging a moment of market euphoria to gear up for what comes next.

What's happening: Airbnb and DoorDash could raise billions of dollars through initial public offerings, while Salesforce's purchase of messaging platform Slack (WORK) for nearly $28 billion is a bet on the future of work.

This week has brought a flurry of tech deal activity as investment bankers help companies prepare for life after 2020.

The arrival of safe and effective vaccines has given investors a jolt of confidence, making it easier for companies to make their Wall Street debuts with bold promises about future growth.

See here: Airbnb disclosed Tuesday that it plans to sell shares in a price range of $44 to $50. At the the upper end of that range, Airbnb would be valued at just over $30 billion — not far off its private valuation before the pandemic decimated demand for travel bookings.

If the offering goes ahead at $47 per share, the deal could raise up to $2.5 billion. It's a notable figure for a company that's come through an immensely challenging year, slashing costs and relying more on longer-term stays closer to home.

Not alone: Delivery app DoorDash said earlier this week that its IPO could raise $2.54 billion if it prices shares at $80, the midpoint of its expected range.

Meanwhile, other tech companies are increasing their exposure to cloud computing and services that support remote work, which have been bright spots during the pandemic.

Salesforce (CRM), which sells cloud-based customer management software and other enterprise applications, said its acquisition of Slack, announced Tuesday, will help to bolster its business offerings at a crucial time.

"Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world," Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said.

It's not just a US phenomenon. After selling nearly $100 billion in assets, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank (SFTBF) is back in buying mode. Sinch, a Swedish cloud and telecommunications company, said this week that SoftBank had acquired a 10% stake in the firm, which is the best performing stock in Europe this year.

And Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi said Wednesday that it's raising more than $3 billion for strategic investments and expansion in key markets.
Step back: In a recent report, Bain & Company noted that tech companies' share prices have been "resilient" during the recent downturn, and many are sitting on piles of cash. That creates the conditions for a spending spree.

"Those with the means will use this opportunity to add new capabilities and reposition their organizations for the post-pandemic world," partners Adam Haller and Chris Johnson said.

Three big developments investors should watch

Global investors are watching three big events this December: the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, stimulus efforts and Brexit trade talks. On all fronts, there have been important developments.

* On vaccines: The United Kingdom has become the first Western nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, a landmark moment in the coronavirus pandemic that paves the way for the first doses to be rolled out across the country next week. "Help is on the way," Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Wednesday morning, after UK regulators granted emergency authorization for a vaccine made by US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

* On stimulus: President-elect Joe Biden has said his top priority is getting a stimulus package through Congress, even before he takes office. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a package worth roughly $900 billion aimed at jumpstarting stalled talks. While the plan doesn't have support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pressure to act is growing. McConnell indicated Tuesday that Republicans may try to combine stimulus spending with legislation to keep the government funded and prevent a shutdown. That would require buy-in from both parties, however.

* On Brexit: Reports on Tuesday indicated that negotiations on a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union were nearing a positive conclusion. That sent the British pound above $1.34, its highest level in more than two years. But an EU diplomat told CNN Wednesday that differences remain and there's still no guarantee of agreement.

Stocks are taking a breather on Wednesday after a strong start to December. But additional progress in any of these areas could shift markets.

Nasdaq's diversity push for Corporate America

Nasdaq wants to give companies that list on its high-profile exchange an ultimatum: Diversify your boards, or get out.

Details, details: The exchange is proposing a rule that would require companies to have at least two "diverse" directors, including one woman and one member of an underrepresented minority group, my CNN Business colleague Chris Isidore reports. Smaller companies and foreign companies on the exchange could comply with two directors who are women.

A company could have its shares delisted from the exchange if it does not comply.

Big picture: Nasdaq joins a growing group of voices pushing for greater diversity in boardrooms. In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that would require at least one minority member on the boards of all publicly-traded companies based in the state. Goldman Sachs has said it will not take a company public unless it has at least one diverse board member.

Many large public companies already comply with the rule's minimum requirements. A spokesperson for Nasdaq said it believes that at least 85% of its 3,249 listed companies have either one woman or one underrepresented minority on their boards.

What's next: Should the rule get a green light from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nasdaq-listed firms would need to have at least one diverse director within two years, and two within four to five years, depending on the size of the company.

Up next

US stock futures are slightly lower after the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite both logged fresh records Tuesday. Markets in Europe dipped in early trading, while stocks in Asia were mixed. Investors are selling benchmark US Treasuries, sending yields higher.

CrowdStrike (CRWD) and Snowflake report results after US markets close.

Also today: The ADP private employment report for November posts at 8:15 a.m. ET. It's an important data point ahead of Friday's official US jobs report.
Coming tomorrow: Dollar General (DG) and Kroger (KR) post earnings.


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