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Vested Shorts: Visa and Mastercard fee cuts in China, Netflix’s 100,000 sq ft retail foray, SoftBank’s $1B AI push, and Ethereum’s regulatory victory

by Parth Parikh
June 22, 2024
4 min read
Vested Shorts: Visa and Mastercard fee cuts in China, Netflix’s 100,000 sq ft retail foray, SoftBank’s $1B AI push, and Ethereum’s regulatory victory

In today’s edition

  • China negotiates card fee cuts
  • Netflix launches giant retail spaces
  • Fisker declares bankruptcy
  • SoftBank’s $1 Billion AI investment
  • Ethereum secures regulatory victory

Market Snapshot

US equity markets ended mixed last Friday, with declines in tech shares, particularly Nvidia and other semiconductors, overshadowing broader gains. Despite Friday’s downturn, the S&P 500 still posted its eighth weekly advance in nine weeks, nearly matching a record high. In contrast, economic indicators presented a mixed picture: The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index for May declined more than expected, while US services and manufacturing sectors showed significant growth, according to S&P Global Flash PMI data.

For the week, the S&P 500 rose 0.6%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by 1.5%, and the Nasdaq Composite was relatively flat. With the halfway point of the year approaching, investors are now focused on upcoming economic reports, including the PCE price index, which will provide further clues on the potential direction of Federal Reserve policy.

Stock market closing data for the week of Jun 17th to Jun 21st, 2024

News Summaries

China is actively negotiating with major global card issuers like Visa (Explore: V) and Mastercard (Explore: MA) to reduce the fees that local merchants pay on transactions made with foreign bank cards. The Payment & Clearing Association of China has proposed lowering these fees from the current range of 2-3% to 1.5% to enhance the convenience for foreign visitors using their cards. This move, still under negotiation, aims to increase merchant willingness to accept foreign cards, aligning with the State Council’s March directive to encourage broader acceptance. Visa and Mastercard have shown a willingness to collaborate, with Visa planning to integrate more deeply with local digital payment systems like WeChat Pay and Alipay. This effort reflects China’s broader transition towards a digitized and cashless economy, focusing on making transactions smoother and more cost-effective for both merchants and international tourists.

Netflix (Explore: NFLX) is venturing into the retail space with the launch of “Netflix House,” a new 100,000 square foot venue located in former department stores in Dallas, Texas, and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. These sites were selected for their high traffic and proximity to major urban centers, within two of America’s busiest shopping malls. At Netflix House, visitors can engage in immersive experiences themed around popular Netflix series like “Bridgerton” and “Squid Game,” complemented by themed retail and unique food and drink offerings. This move is part of Netflix’s broader strategy to enhance its physical presence globally, having already launched over 50 similar experiences across 25 cities. This expansion aims to maintain viewer engagement by leveraging its popular content in physical spaces, adapting to post-COVID shifts in consumer behavior where more people are spending time outside their homes.

Fisker Inc., despite raising roughly $2 billion during the pandemic SPAC boom, has filed for bankruptcy after a disappointing performance that fell short of its forecasts. Initially projecting 51,000 vehicle deliveries and $3 billion in revenue, the company managed to build only 10,000 Ocean SUVs in 2023, delivering just half of these for less than $300 million in revenue. Fisker’s strategy to outsource production to Magna International and maintain an “asset-light” approach did not achieve the gross profit margins necessary for sustainable production, especially as high interest rates curtailed new investment opportunities. This financial struggle, compounded by technical challenges and regulatory scrutiny, has led Fisker to opt for selling its assets rather than reorganizing, amid a broader trend of bankruptcies and challenges within the electric vehicle sector, including high costs and slow adoption rates.

At SoftBank’s (Explore: SFTBY) annual shareholder meeting, founder Masayoshi Son emphasized the company’s strategic shift toward pioneering artificial superintelligence (ASI), describing past investments as merely a warm-up for this broader ambition. Son outlined key focus areas including AI robotics, data centers, and autonomous driving, emphasizing the need for strategic partnerships to advance these initiatives. Emerging from a period of financial caution, SoftBank boasts a strong balance sheet and substantial capital reserves, and is actively pursuing AI investments. This includes a notable $1 billion investment in Wayve, a UK-based self-driving startup, marking Europe’s largest AI deal to date. While investor groups like Elliott Management push for significant shareholder returns through a $15 billion share buyback, Son maintains that realizing ASI remains his primary focus, even considering the potential privatization of SoftBank to address what he perceives as an undervaluation of its stock, referred to as the “Masa Son discount.”

From the World of Crypto

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reclassified Ethereum from a security to a commodity, signalling a pivotal shift in regulatory approach. 

This reclassification follows concerted efforts by Consensys, a major player within the Ethereum ecosystem, who on June 7 submitted a persuasive letter to the SEC. This letter cited the recent approvals of Ethereum ETFs (Explore: EETH and EFUT)  in May as key evidence supporting Ethereum’s commodity status, influencing the SEC’s decision.

The SEC’s ruling effectively ends the regulatory uncertainty that has long shadowed Ethereum, clearing the way for more straightforward governance and potentially fewer compliance hurdles for associated projects. By distinguishing Ethereum from securities, the SEC has differentiated it from many other crypto assets still under intense scrutiny for security-like characteristics. This decision is expected to foster a more conducive environment for innovation and growth within the Ethereum network and its myriad applications.

The market responded positively to the SEC’s decision, reflecting increased investor confidence in Ethereum’s future prospects. This regulatory clarity is anticipated to have beneficial ripple effects throughout the entire Ethereum ecosystem, encouraging both existing projects and new ventures to develop and expand without the looming threat of stringent regulations. This could potentially lead to increased investments and more robust development within the broader cryptocurrency market, enhancing Ethereum’s role in the digital economy.

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