News Archive

Digital currency start-ups shrug off SEC warning on fund raising

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Technology companies looking to raise money by issuing digital coins are moving forward with their plans despite a U.S. regulator’s decision that their offerings may be subject to tough securities laws.

Such initial coin offerings, or ICOs, have allowed startups to raise $1 billion so far this year, but until this week it was unclear how the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission would treat the transactions.

On Tuesday, the SEC decided that tokens issued through the ICOs can be considered securities, meaning they would fall under laws that require disclosures and are subject to regulatory scrutiny to protect investors, unless a “valid exemption” applies.

Some industry participants and analysts had thought such a decision would have a chilling effect on the ICO market. But 20 new ICOs were announced since the SEC’s decision, with more than 120 scheduled to launch this year, according to ICO tracker

Representatives of Rivetz and ICOBox, which plan to launch tokens over the next few weeks, told Reuters they are pushing through with their offerings.

During an ICO, contributors typically send digital currencies like Bitcoin and receive new tokens in return. Those tokens are then listed on cryptocurrency exchanges where they can be traded for other types of tokens. (

Even as some ICOs have been criticized for failing to disclose information about underlying businesses and the way tokens are distributed, the frenzy surrounding the events has drawn backing from prominent venture capitalists and celebrities.

Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather took to Facebook on Thursday to say he was participating in the ICO of a company called STX technologies Ltd next week.

Potential Exemptions

But even with the SEC’s warning, it is not clear how much regulatory scrutiny the upcoming offerings will attract. Unlike a regular securities offering, ICOs have had limited disclosures and most participants do not get any equity rights.

The most likely exemption to the SEC rule refers to tokens that would have utility for a specific project. Many tech companies that pursue ICOs say their tokens are just that: “utility tokens,” which are necessary to activate their products or accelerate their development.

Both Rivetz Chief Executive Officer Steven Sprague and ICOBox founder Nick Evdokimov told Reuters their ICOs have a utility.

Charley Cooper, managing director of R3, a consortium of banks looking at using the technology behind digital currencies, said companies looking at ICOs needed to be certain the exemption applied to them.

“Anyone is who is contemplating doing an ICO now had better call their general counsel and fully understand securities laws in the U.S. and how they apply in their case,” he said.

“This wasn’t some vague policy that they floated. This is the division of enforcement of the SEC saying that if you operate in this market you need to follow the regulations.”

The SEC ruling also raises questions for digital currency exchanges such as Bittrex that facilitate trading after an ICO.

Crypto-exchanges may be required to register with the SEC if they trade tokens considered securities and are based in the United States or have U.S. customers, said Llew Claasen, managing director, at venture capital firm Newtown Partners.

Bill Shihara, chief executive officer of U.S.-based Bittrex, said he sees no need to register his exchange with the SEC because it does not plan to trade securities on its platform, only utility tokens.

“If the facts and circumstances of a token change and lead us to conclude it is a security, we will delist it from the exchange.”

Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Cynthia Osterman

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Wells Fargo to refund $80 million to customers hit by car loan insurance

(Reuters) – Wells Fargo and Co said it would reimburse about 570,000 customers who may have been charged wrongly due to issues related to auto collateral protection insurance policies.

The total compensation of about $80 million will be refunded to customers in the coming months – $64 million in cash and $16 million of account adjustments, the bank said late Thursday.

New York Times reported earlier that more than 800,000 people who took car loans from Wells Fargo were charged for auto insurance they did not need, and some of the customers were still paying for it.

Reporting by Mekhla Raina; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

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Asian shares pull back after U.S. techs knocked off highs

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stock markets sagged on Friday after U.S. tech shares retreated from recent rallies, though optimism about U.S. corporate earnings and the global economy underpinned overall sentiment.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.8 percent but was still on track for a 0.4 percent weekly gain, with Samsung Electric, Asia’s largest company by market capitalization, dropping 3.5 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei shed 0.4 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow industrials set a record closing high, helped by a 7.7 percent jump in Verizon, following the top U.S. wireless carrier’s quarterly earnings.

But investors were spooked by a sudden drop in technology and transportation shares. The SP 500 technology sector fell 2.0 percent at one point before ending the day down 0.8 percent.

After the bell, shares – up nearly 40 percent this year – fell 3.0 percent after the online retailer reported a slump in profits.

U.S. stock futures also dipped 0.3 percent in Asia.

“U.S. hi-tech shares have seen a spectacular rally in the past month. Few investors would have imagined that. I think it is quite natural to see some profit-taking in the short term,” said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Overall, investors’ sentiment remained solid on the back of upbeat corporate earning results and a bright global economic outlook.

“Given the Dow is hitting a record high, it’s hard to think market sentiment has suddenly changed,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

The SP 500 index is on track to post back-to-back, double-digit quarterly earnings growth for the first time in almost six years.

U.S. durable goods orders, released on Thursday, surged 6.5 percent last month, the biggest gain in three years

The bullish report came on the eve of the government’s advance second-quarter gross domestic product estimate on Friday.

Economists expect the data to show growth picking up to 2.6 percent from 1.4 percent in January-March.

A series of Japanese economic data released on Friday came in stronger than expected, with household spending rising more than forecast and the jobless rate unexpectedly falling.

MSCI ACWI, a gauge of the world’s 47 stock markets in dollar terms, hit a record high on Thursday, having gained 2.8 percent so far this month.

If the gains are sustained by month-end it would mark the biggest monthly jump in a year and the ninth consecutive month of increases – the longest such spell since 2003-04.

In the currency market, the dollar regained some footing after slumping to a 13-month low against a basket of major currencies the previous day when the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy statement led to the perception that it has grown cautious about soft inflation.

The euro consolidated at $1.1687, after hitting a 2 1/2-year high of $1.1777 on Thursday.

The dollar stood around 111.10 yen, a tad above Monday’s low of 110.625, its lowest in more than five weeks.

The biggest mover in the currency market was the Swiss franc, which fell 0.5 percent against the dollar and 0.6 percent versus the euro, due partly to expectations that the Alpine country is likely to keep easy monetary policy even as the European Central Bank looks to dial back its stimulus.

The euro broke out of its long-held range against the franc this week, rising to 1.1348 franc, its highest since the Swiss central bank had abandoned the peg of the Swiss currency to the euro in January 2015.

On the week, it is up 3.0 percent, also the biggest gain since early 2015.

Oil prices held near eight-week highs hit on Thursday, supported after key OPEC members pledged to reduce exports and the U.S. government reported a sharp decline in crude inventories.

Brent crude futures fetched $51.43 per barrel, down slightly in Asia after having climbed to $51.64 on Thursday.

Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Lisa Twaronite

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California gives Volkswagen green light for clean vehicle infrastructure plan

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) – California regulators gave Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) the go-ahead on Thursday to start expanding clean vehicle infrastructure across the state, after debate over whether the German automaker’s plan would do enough to help disadvantaged communities.

The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to approve the 30-month, $200 million plan, the first tranche of $800 million that Volkswagen has agreed to spend in California as part of its court settlement over diesel emissions cheating.

Volkswagen must spend $2 billion nationwide over 10 years to advance zero emissions vehicles, including charging, development of ride-sharing fleets and other efforts. An adequate number of charging stations is central to the adoption of electric vehicles, and state and local governments are expanding their infrastructure, often through partnerships with automakers.

An earlier version of Volkswagen’s spending plan, which is being carried out by VW’s Electrify America unit, was criticized by regulators for lacking detail on how it would help disadvantaged communities as well as promote hydrogen fuel cell technology.

In the version approved on Thursday, Electrify America said it aimed to spend 35 percent of investment funds in disadvantaged areas, in line with regulators’ guidelines.

It also committed to spend $2-$3 million on partnering with groups with access to disadvantaged and low-income communities, part of $20 million to be spent on brand-neutral public education throughout the state.

Out of the $200 million, VW aims to spend $75 million on a highway charging network of 50-plus stations and $45 million on more than 350 community charging stations in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco.

It also plans to spend $44 million in Sacramento, the state capital, where it intends to install more than 50 chargers to support car sharing services and other zero-emission programs.

Abigail Ramirez, a policy advocate with the Leadership Counsel for Justice Accountability, said a strong commitment from VW was needed to help rural areas in California’s Central Valley, where air pollution is the worst in the state.

“A lot of kids here in the valley suffer from asthma. When the air quality is really bad, they can’t play outside,” Ramirez said in an interview.

VW is required to prepare written quarterly reports on its progress.

In December, California said Volkswagen agreed to sell an average of 5,000 electric vehicles annually through 2025 in the state.

Reporting by Melissa Wen; Editing by Alexandria Sage and Jonathan Oatis

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Flush times for hackers in booming cyber security job market

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The surge in far-flung and destructive cyber attacks is not good for national security, but for an increasing number of hackers and researchers, it is great for job security.

The new reality is on display in Las Vegas this week at the annual Black Hat and Def Con security conferences, which now have a booming side business in recruiting.

“Hosting big parties has enabled us to meet more talent in the community, helping fill key positions and also retain great people,” said Jen Ellis, a vice president with cybersecurity firm Rapid7 Inc, which filled the hip Hakkasan nightclub on Wednesday at one of the week’s most popular parties.

Twenty or even 10 years ago, career options for technology tinkerers were mostly limited to security firms, handfuls of jobs inside mainstream companies, and in government agencies.

But as tech has taken over the world, the opportunities in the security field have exploded.

Whole industries that used to have little to do with technology now need protection, including automobiles, medical devices and the ever-expanding Internet of Things, from thermostats and fish tanks to home security devices.

More insurance companies now cover breaches, with premiums reduced for strong security practices. And lawyers are making sure that cloud providers are held responsible if a customer’s data is stolen from them and otherwise pushing to hold tech companies liable for problems, meaning they need security experts too.

The non-profit Center for Cyber Safety and Education last month predicted a global shortage of 1.8 million skilled security workers in 2022. The group, which credentials security professionals, said that a third of hiring managers plan to boost their security teams by at least 15 percent.

For hackers who prefer to pick things apart rather than stand guard over them, an enormous number of companies now offer “bug bounties,” or formal rewards, for warnings about vulnerabilities that leave them exposed to criminals or spies.

One of the outside firms that handle such programs, HackerOne, said it has paid out $18.8 million since 2014 to fix 50,140 bugs, with about half of that work done in the past year.

Mark Litchfield made it into the firm’s “Hacker Hall of Fame” last year by being the first to pull in more than $500,000 in bounties through the platform, well more than he earned at his last full-time security job, at consulting firm NCC Group.

In the old days, “The only payout was publicity, free press,” Litchfield said. “That was the payoff then. The payoff now is literally to be paid in dollars.”

There are other emerging ways to make money too. Justine Bone’s medical hacking firm, MedSec, took the unprecedented step last year of openly teaming with an investor who was selling shares short, betting that they would lose value.

It was acrimonious, but St Jude Medical ultimately fixed its pacemaker monitors, which could have been hacked, and Bone predicted others will try the same path.

“Us cyber security nerds have spent most of our careers trying to make the world a better place by engaging with companies, finding bugs which companies may or may not repair,” Bone said.

“If we can take our expertise out to customers, media, regulators, nonprofits and think tanks and out to the financial sector, the investors and analysts, we start to help companies understand in terms of their external environment.”

Chris Wysopal, co-founder of code auditor Veracode, bought in April by CA Technologies, said that he was initially skeptical of the MedSec approach but came around to it, in part because it worked. He appeared at Black Hat with Bone.

“Many have written that the software and hardware market is dysfunctional, a lemon market, because buyers don’t know how insecure the products they purchase are,” Wysopal said in an interview.

“I’d like to see someone fixing this broken market. Profiting off of that fix seems like the best approach for a capitalism-based economy.”

Reporting by Joseph Menn and Jim Finkle; additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Grant McCool

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Starbucks puts spotlight on China as U.S. growth cools

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Starbucks Corp’s (SBUX.O) new chief executive said the world’s biggest coffee chain is making a long-term investment in China, amid worries that growth from its dominant U.S. market is cooling.

Kevin Johnson, who succeeded Starbucks co-founder Howard Schultz as CEO in April, is tasked with the difficult job of finding new ways to deliver the robust growth that Wall Street has demanded from the popular chain.

The urgency of Johnson’s mandate was underscored on Thursday, when the Seattle-based company posted quarterly profit that just matched analysts’ estimates. Starbucks also tempered expectations for the current quarter as it grapples with softness in the U.S. retail and restaurant industries and said it would close all 379 of its Teavana stores.

Shares of the company, which is often punished by investors when it does not exceed Wall Street’s expectations, tumbled 5.5 percent to $56.24 in after-hours trading.

The financial report, the first under Johnson’s guidance, landed just hours after Starbucks said it would buy the remaining 50 percent stake of its East China business from its joint venture partners for about $1.3 billion, in its biggest ever acquisition.

  • Starbucks says coffee needs 70 percent locked in for FY2018: CFO

Net income fell 8.3 percent to $691.6 million, or 47 cents per share, for the third quarter ended July 2. Excluding items, Starbucks earned 55 cents per share, which matched analysts’ average estimate as complied by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

U.S. restaurants are locked in a bitter fight for market share, battling new competition from non-traditional rivals such as meal kit sellers and convenience stores.

Sales at its mainstay U.S. cafes open at least 13 months rose 5 percent in the latest quarter. Traffic turned slightly positive, reversing three straight quarters of declines that the company attributed in part to changing its loyalty program to focus on dollars spent rather than the number of purchases they make.

Still, executives cut Starbucks’ full-year net earnings per share target to a range of $1.96 to $1.97 from a previously lowered forecast of $2.06 to $2.10, following a deceleration in U.S. same-store sales that has continued into July.

“We think it’s a prudent thing to do,” Johnson told Reuters.

Same-store sales from China, where there are 2,800 stores in 130 cities, were up a robust 7 percent in the latest quarter.

The 16,302 cafes in Starbucks’ U.S.-dominated Americas region contributed $974.8 million in operating income in the quarter. In contrast, the 7,183 cafes from the China/Asia Pacific region posted $223.8 million.

Johnson told Reuters that the cash deal in China, which will give it ownership of about 1,300 stores in Shanghai and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, is part of the company’s “long game” in the country that is its fastest-growing market outside the United States.

“Starbucks’ opportunity for growth in China is unparalleled … and we are just getting started,” Johnson said.

Starbucks, which bought Teavana for $620 million in 2012, said most stores will be closed by Spring 2018. It will continue selling Teavana branded products in its Starbucks stores.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernard Orr

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Amazon plows ahead with high sales and spending; profit plunges

(Reuters) – Inc on Thursday reported a jump in retail sales along with a profit slump, as its rapid, costly expansion into new shopping categories and countries showed no sign of slowing.

The world’s largest online retailer posted second-quarter revenue of $38 billion, up 25 percent from a year earlier. The breakneck growth stood in contrast to the fate of many brick-and-mortar rivals, who have struggled to find their footing as more people shop online.

Yet Seattle-based Amazon posted a 77 percent drop in quarterly income, and even said it could lose up to $400 million in operating profit during the current quarter. Beyond reflecting retail’s notoriously thin margins, the forecast signaled Amazon would invest heavily to maintain its dominance.

Shares – up nearly 40 percent this year – fell 3.2 percent to $1,012.68 in after-hours trading. The company had earned 40 cents per share instead of $1.42 as analysts had expected, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“Q3 is generally a high investment period,” Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said on a call with reporters, citing spending on fulfillment and hiring to prepare the company for the Christmas holiday rush. He added, “Our video content spend will continue to grow, both sequentially and quarter over quarter.”

Indeed, investing in faster shipping and video has become a refrain of sorts for the company. While some expected Amazon’s spending in these areas – stepped up since last year – to ease, the company is plowing ahead to reinforce its fast-shipping club Prime.

Olsavsky said video content included with Prime membership has helped Amazon retain subscribers and persuade those on a free trial to sign up for $99 per year in the United States. A cornerstone of the company’s strategy, Prime encourages shoppers to buy more goods, more often from Amazon.

Subscription sales including Prime fees rose 51 percent in the second quarter to $2.2 billion. Cowen Co analysts have estimated that more than 50 percent of U.S. households will have Prime membership by the end of 2017.

“The fact that they are investing on so many fronts right now just speaks to the opportunity that they have before them,” said Edward Jones analyst Josh Olson. “We are giving them the benefit of doubt here because they have executed so well historically.”

New Frontiers and Costs

Shares of Amazon had touched a record high of $1,083.31 earlier on Thursday, helping Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos briefly unseat fellow tech billionaire Bill Gates to become the world’s richest person, according to Forbes. His wealth has followed the meteoric rise of Amazon’s stock.

From its origins as an online bookseller, Amazon has jumped into areas that historically had barriers to e-commerce, from apparel to appliances. The specter of Amazon’s disruption now hangs over a dizzying array of industries.

Grocery is the latest to feel the threat. The company said last month it would buy Whole Foods Market Inc for $13.7 billion, pending regulatory approval.

Olsavsky declined to discuss in detail the company’s strategy for the upscale grocer but said, “We really think it will be a big boost for us as we expand our grocery and consumables offering.”

Amazon also announced its two-hour delivery service Prime Now in Singapore on Wednesday, part of its ongoing investment to be a major retail player in Asia. Amazon has committed to investing $5 billion in India and earlier this year said it would take on commerce in the Middle East by acquiring Dubai-based

Even excluding the proposed Whole Foods deal, Amazon forecast an operating income of between $300 million and a loss of $400 million for the current quarter. Analysts had expected $931 million, according to FactSet StreetAccount.

“You tend to expect companies like this to grow their expenses at a slower rate than their revenues,” said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities. “GA up 50 (percent) is crazy,” referring to general and administrative costs in the second quarter.

Operating expenses rose 28.2 percent to $37.33 billion in the second quarter ended June 30. Costs for fulfillment, marketing and technology all rose.

Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian said in a note Amazon’s profit margin was “a bit mixed” but added, “accelerating growth in core retail and relatively steady growth in AWS underpin our positive long-term view.”

Sales from Amazon Web Services, the company’s cash cow and the biggest cloud-computing business in the world, rose 42 percent to $4.1 billion. The subsidiary will expand in France, Sweden and China in the near future, Olsavsky said.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Rishika Sadam in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Lisa Shumaker

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Toshiba reaches $2.2 billion deal over SCANA’s South Carolina nuclear project

(Reuters) – Toshiba Corp has agreed to pay $2.168 billion to walk away from two unfinished nuclear reactors in South Carolina being built by its Westinghouse subsidiary, according to a statement by the owners of project.

SCANA Corp (SCG.N) and its partner, state-owned utility Santee Cooper, said Toshiba will make the payments in installments beginning in October and ending in September 2022.

Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric Co filed for bankruptcy in March, overwhelmed by the cost overruns at the VC Summer plant in South Carolina and a similar unfinished nuclear project known as Vogtle in Georgia. The projects are years behind schedule.

The agreement allows Toshiba and its Westinghouse unit to exit the nuclear construction business and caps Toshiba’s liability for guaranteeing that Westinghouse complete the VC Summer contract.

Toshiba reached a similar agreement for $3.7 billion in June with the utilities, led by a unit of Southern Co (SO.N), that own the Vogtle project.

Toshiba has warned that losses from Westinghouse threaten its future and it is considering bids for its flash memory chip unit, worth around $18 billion, to raise capital.

The owners of the VC Summer project said on Thursday they expect the cost of completing the project will “materially exceed” Westinghouse’s estimates and the payments due from Toshiba. They said they hope to decide soon whether they will continue with the two projects, modify them or abandon them.

Westinghouse is expected to deliver this week a five-year business plan to its lender, an affiliate of Apollo Global Management (APO.N). That plan will help shape bids for Westinghouse, which has attracted the interest of U.S. private equity firms.

As part of that plan, Westinghouse is expected to reach an agreement with SCANA under which it will continue to provide engineering and other services. Westinghouse has a similar agreement in place with the owners of the Vogtle plant.

Westinghouse asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, New York, on Wednesday to give it until Dec. 6 to file a plan of reorganization. The company said it needed more time in part due to talks with SCANA.

The request will be heard by the court on Sept. 7.

The Georgia and South Carolina plants were the first new nuclear power projects in the United States in three decades.

However, the projects have been dogged by design problems, disagreements with regulators and poor quality work by Westinghouse’s partners.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Dan Grebler

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Wisconsin governor defends $3 billion deal for Foxconn plant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Thursday defended his plan to give a $3 billion tax break over 15 years to convince Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to build a $10 billion LCD flat screen factory.

The 20-million square foot plant will initially employ 3,000 people, but Walker and Foxconn said the company ultimately may employ 13,000 people at the site.

Rival Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan tweaked Walker, saying: “You have to ask what price is Wisconsin paying to get them to come there?” Snyder told WJR Radio on Thursday, adding: “I don’t believe in buying companies into our states.”

“What we’re proposing is not outrageous,” Walker told a local radio station, saying the deal would also create 10,000 construction jobs.

Walker’s office said the incentives are projected to cost between $200 million and $250 million a year, capped at $3 billion. That includes up to $1.5 billion in state income tax credits for job creation, up to $1.35 billion in state income tax credits for capital investment and up to $150 million for the sales and use tax exemption – a sales tax holiday.

The Wisconsin state legislature must approve the incentive package and may take it up in August.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning said “while we are all thrilled at the prospect of new jobs coming to the state” she was concerned about “handing over taxpayer funds to foreign investors that could potentially leave Wisconsinites with the bill decades into the future.”

Not all Foxconn investments announced have resulted in new jobs. In 2013, Foxconn said it would invest $30 million and hire 500 workers for a new factory in Pennsylvania. But that facility was never completed.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said the company is “thrilled to build a state-of-the-art display fabrication plant in America’s heartland.”

Syracuse University Professor Jason Dedrick said the main issue is “whether the benefits outweigh the costs of various subsidies likely used to attract Foxconn’s investment” and if “this investment can attract other manufacturers of key components to the U.S., and eventually create a supply chain that can support final assembly of smartphones.”

Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple Inc (AAPL.O) for its iPhones, is formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (2317.TW). It said last month it plans to invest more than $10 billion in a display-making factory in the United States.

Foxconn is expected to select a 1,000-acre site in southeast Wisconsin and could be eligible for some additional local incentives, officials said.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

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