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Deutsche Bank and Jeffrey Epstein: Here Are The Executives Who Served Him

Jeffrey Epstein, the sex criminal and financier, didn’t act alone. Now we know in vivid detail who some of his financial enablers were: executives and bankers at Deutsche Bank.

Last week the New York Department of Financial Services laid bare at least some of the financial underpinnings of Mr. Epstein’s sophisticated enterprise. Deutsche Bank agreed to pay a $150 million fine for its dealings with Mr. Epstein, who committed suicide last August, and for two other matters.

Mr. Epstein’s bankers “created the very real risk” that payments through the bank “could be used to further or cover up criminal activity and perhaps even to endanger more young women,” the department asserted.

Deutsche Bank executives approved Mr. Epstein as a client in 2013 and then kept working with him, even though employees worried about the fact that “40 underage girls had come forward with testimony of Epstein sexually assaulting them,” as the bank put it in internal communications about Mr. Epstein in early 2015.

And even though such high-risk clients are required to be carefully monitored to detect and prevent illegal activity, once Mr. Epstein was a client, “very few problematic transactions were ever questioned, and even when they were, they were usually cleared without satisfactory explanation,” the New York regulator concluded.

Deutsche Bank itself is a corporation, and, as has often been said, it’s people, not corporations, who do bad things. Responsibility for working with Mr. Epstein permeated the ranks of the private-banking division that caters to wealthy clients.

Yet Deutsche Bank declined to publicly identify any individuals involved — and the authorities didn’t demand it. The so-called consent order with the New York agency included no names of the bankers or executives who were implicated; instead, the document is littered with references like RELATIONSHIP MANAGER-1 and EXECUTIVE-2. A bank spokesman, Daniel Hunter, said the bank meted out appropriate punishments to employees who were still at the bank, but declined to name anyone.

Based on descriptions of the employees in the consent order and interviews with current and former Deutsche Bank officials, The New York Times was able to identify nearly every person anonymously described in the order. At least one high-ranking executive remains in her position: Jan Ford, the bank’s head of compliance in the Americas.

It is rare for companies and regulators that are settling allegations of crimes or other misconduct to name the individuals responsible for those misdeeds — a practice that perpetuates the myth that such acts were inadvertently committed by a faceless institution and were not the consequence of decisions made by human beings.

Large companies “will happily pay a big fine as long as senior managers are protected,” said John Coffee Jr., a Columbia Law School professor and author of the forthcoming book “Corporate Crime and Punishment: The Crisis of Underenforcement.”

Fines paid by public companies, even of the $150 million magnitude Deutsche Bank is paying, fall almost entirely on shareholders rather than the individuals responsible. When those individuals bear no discernible consequences, the result is an astonishing rate of recidivism, Mr. Coffee noted, despite repeated apologies and promises that bad behavior won’t happen again.

New York’s Department of Financial Services, not Deutsche Bank, wrote the consent order that omitted the executives’ and bankers’ names. “The New York State Department of Financial Services is the first and only financial regulator to take action against a financial institution in connection with Jeffrey Epstein,” said a spokeswoman for the agency, Sophia Kim. “The department’s consent order provides a wealth of detail about the course of conduct of the bank, consistent with D.F.S.’s role as the New York licensing agency for the institution itself.”

While the bank may not be legally obligated to name those responsible for the Epstein relationship, it should do so to rebuild public trust, said Brandon Garrett, a professor at Duke Law School and author of “Too Big to Jail.” “When a company does something seriously wrong, then accountability is all the more important,” Mr. Garrett said. “You want assurances they’re cleaning house. That’s especially true for Deutsche Bank, which has been around this block many times.”

Indeed, Deutsche Bank is a symbol of corporate recidivism: It has paid more than $9 billion in fines since 2008 related to a litany of alleged and admitted financial crimes and other transgressions, including manipulating interest rates, failing to prevent money laundering, evading sanctions on Iran and other countries and engaging in fraud in the run-up to the financial crisis.

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Credit…Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Deutsche Bank claimed to have put all this behind it when it named Christian Sewing as chief executive in 2018. “We all have to help ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again. It is our duty and our social responsibility to ensure that our banking services are used only for legitimate purposes,” Mr. Sewing said last week in a message to employees.

Since neither the regulator nor the bank would reveal the people responsible for the misconduct, my colleagues and I decided to fill in some of the blanks left by the consent order. (Some of the bankers and executives confirmed their roles; none would comment on the record.)

“RELATIONSHIP MANAGER-1,” who brought Mr. Epstein into Deutsche Bank, is Paul Morris, who had previously helped manage the Epstein account at JPMorgan. Despite Mr. Epstein’s conviction in 2008 of soliciting prostitution from a minor and widespread press coverage of his involvement with underage girls, Mr. Morris in 2013 introduced Mr. Epstein to his Deutsche Bank bosses as “a potential client who could generate millions of dollars of revenue as well as leads for other lucrative clients to the bank,” according to the consent order.

In a subsequent email to higher-ups at the bank, Mr. Morris noted that the Epstein relationship could generate annual revenues of up to $4 million.

Mr. Morris needed approval for a client who carried such reputational risk. He sent Charles Packard, the head of the bank’s American wealth-management division and described in the consent order as “EXECUTIVE-1,” a memo detailing Mr. Epstein’s controversial past. In a subsequent email, Mr. Packard said that he had taken the issue to the division’s general counsel and the head of its anti-money-laundering operation and that neither felt Mr. Epstein required additional review. “We can move ahead so long as nothing further is identified,” Mr. Packard wrote in a May 2013 email to Mr. Morris.

(Deutsche Bank told regulators that it found no written record of any approval from the executives Mr. Packard said he consulted.)

At the time, Deutsche Bank was aggressively expanding its U.S. wealth management business under its new co-chief executive, Anshu Jain. The bank developed a reputation for courting wealthy clients who other banks shunned — including a default-prone real estate developer named Donald J. Trump.

Once the Epstein relationship was underway, Deutsche Bank executives ignored repeated red flags, including suspiciously large cash withdrawals and 120 wire transfers totaling $2.65 million to women with Eastern European surnames and people who had been publicly identified as Mr. Epstein’s co-conspirators, according to the consent order.

That and other activity — including media accounts of Mr. Epstein’s sexual misconduct — led employees in the bank’s anti-financial-crime department to urge executives to further scrutinize the Epstein relationship.

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Credit…Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

Mr. Morris and Mr. Packard met with Mr. Epstein at his East 71st Street mansion in January 2015 and asked him “about the veracity of the recent allegations,” according to the consent order. No one took notes; the bank told regulators it had no record of the substance of the meeting.

Whatever Mr. Epstein said, Mr. Packard “appeared to be satisfied,” according to the consent order. No one subsequently asked Mr. Morris for his opinion. Deutsche Bank apparently didn’t further investigate the allegations against Mr. Epstein.

Eight days after the visit to Mr. Epstein’s mansion, a bank committee charged with vetting transactions that pose risks to the bank’s reputation held a meeting. According to a bank official familiar with the meeting, it was chaired by Stuart Clarke, chief operating officer for the Americas; other attendees included Michael Chepiga, acting general counsel for the Americas; and Ms. Ford, the compliance executive who had joined the bank just one week earlier.

The committee concluded that it was “comfortable with things continuing” with Mr. Epstein, according to an email that a committee member sent Mr. Packard. One committee member “noted a number of sizable deals recently,” according to the consent order. In other words, the relationship was making money for Deutsche Bank.

The following week Ms. Ford, the head of compliance, memorialized the decision in an email to Mr. Packard and other executives that put the onus squarely on Mr. Packard: Deutsche Bank would “continue business as usual with Jeff Epstein based upon” Mr. Packard’s “due diligence visit with him.” Ms. Ford also imposed some conditions on the relationship, but Mr. Packard and others “inexplicably” failed to convey those conditions to all of those who regularly dealt with Mr. Epstein. The bankers “continued conducting business with Epstein in the same manner as they had,” the consent order said.

Only after The Miami Herald revealed in November 2018 the extent of Mr. Epstein’s sexual misconduct and lenient plea deal did Deutsche Bank begin to wind down its relationship with Mr. Epstein. Even then, a bank executive wrote letters to two other financial institutions essentially vouching for Mr. Epstein.

By then Mr. Morris and Mr. Packard had both left the bank. Mr. Morris went to Merrill Lynch, where he’s a private wealth adviser. Mr. Packard joined Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund founded by Ray Dalio.

Of the members of the risk-assessment committee who approved continuing the Epstein relationship, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Chepiga have both left the bank. Only Ms. Ford remains.

The bank’s Mr. Hunter declined to comment on her behalf. “Deutsche Bank undertook appropriate disciplinary actions based upon its findings regarding the underlying conduct, including termination for some employees,” Mr. Hunter said. “We do not comment on individual instances of employee discipline.”

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Hong Kong Disneyland to Close Again, Days After Disney World Reopens

Hong Kong Disneyland will close again on Wednesday to comply with a government-directed rollback of public activities in the region after an increase in coronavirus infections, the Walt Disney Company said on Monday. Disney called the closing of the theme park “temporary” and said its resort hotels at the Lantau Island complex would remain open.

With attendance of 6.5 million last year and an estimated 5,000 employees, Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest park in Disney’s portfolio. Shutting it down again means little for the company’s bottom line. In fact, the theme park and resort hotel property has lost money for the last five years. Losses totaled about $13.5 million last year. Pro-democracy demonstrations in the city have resulted in a sharp decline in tourism.

But it is re-closing at a highly awkward time for Disney. Over the weekend, Disney executives in Florida cited the smooth reopening of Hong Kong Disneyland and other Disney parks in Asia as evidence that the company’s largest resort, Walt Disney World, could reopen safely, even as coronavirus cases in Florida surge to alarming levels. On Monday, Florida officials reported 12,624 new infections, one of the largest daily jumps in the state since the pandemic began.

Hong Kong Disneyland, 53 percent of which is owned by the local government (with Disney controlling the balance), initially closed because of the virus on Jan. 26. It reopened on June 18 with limited capacity and other safety measures, including temperature checks for visitors and employees. The 14-year-old complex includes three hotels with more than 1,700 total rooms. Attendance has been very light since it reopened.

In re-closing Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney is complying with government restrictions announced on Monday by Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, after local health authorities reported 52 new cases of coronavirus. (Since late January, Hong Kong has reported 1,522 cases.) The park’s closure was “required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong,” Disney said.

Gyms, mahjong parlors and cinemas will also close on Wednesday. Hong Kong also prohibited all dining inside restaurants every evening from 6 p.m. Health officials said the territory’s new spate of cases was mainly connected to taxi drivers, restaurants and nursing homes.

Shanghai Disneyland reopened on May 11. A pair of Disney parks in Japan, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, reopened on July 1.

Disneyland Paris is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.

Disney also plans to reopen two more Florida theme parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, on Wednesday, a decision that has been greeted by enthusiasm from many fans and extreme dismay by others, including some Disney workers. Disney World, which attracted more than 50 million visitors last year, has recalled roughly 20,000 furloughed union employees for its phased reopening, which includes an array of safety protocols.

County and state officials in Florida approved Disney World’s reopening plan. NBCUniversal reopened its three theme parks in central Florida more than a month ago.

“Covid is here, and we have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, said in an interview last week. “Businesses across the country are open, whether it’s a local pizza shop in Orlando or an airline taking on new guests.”

But authorities in California have slowed down the entertainment company’s plan to reopen the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. After an increase in coronavirus cases in California and an outcry from some Disneyland workers about safety, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear that he would not give theme parks in the state a green light to reopen in time for Disneyland to come back online this Friday, as Disney had hoped.

No new timeline has been given.

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NBC Starts Streaming With a TV-Style Platform, Peacock

NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, Peacock, looks a whole lot like broadcast TV.

The free version comes with commercials and plenty of vintage hits like “The King of Queens” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” And it offers something viewers might have missed while they were logged onto other streamers: the ability to channel-surf.

The service said it has brought back the analog-era pastime by grouping its programming into distinct feeds, with one dedicated to NBC’s late night hosts and another for the network’s morning franchise, “Today,” among others.

Peacock, which becomes widely available Wednesday, is also trying to distinguish itself from Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and other competitors by betting that viewers want a free or low-cost streaming option during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are looking for more affordable options,” said Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises. “That was true before the pandemic and now that we are in the middle of it, arguably heading toward a recession, affordability is even more relevant than when we first laid out our strategy seven months ago.”

In April, Comcast offered a sneak peek of the streaming service to 15 million subscribers who use either its cable offering XFinityX1 or the cord-cutting model Flex. Executives said people stuck at home because of virus restrictions were feasting on old shows — “comfort-food TV,” as Mr. Strauss put it.

Mr. Strauss, who was the executive vice president of Comcast’s Xfinity Services before taking the helm of Peacock in October, said the three-month testing period had proved that streaming viewers were just as happy to flip through options before settling on a show, just as they did in the traditional TV era.

That finding prompted the company to build 20 channels within Peacock. In addition to the late-night and “Today” feeds, it will have one dedicated to “Saturday Night Live” and others for news and sports. The company said it will expand the offering to 40 channels within the platform in the coming months, on its way to 70 by year’s end.

“There has been a false narrative that, because ratings have been declining, people don’t watch linear TV anymore,” Mr. Strauss said. “That was never true. We have found with our cord-cutters that the channels are getting 10 times the usage they were getting with a pay TV subscriber.”

Peacock is vital to Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, a late arrival to streaming. The company has designed the service so that it generates the bulk of its revenue from advertising, rather than subscriptions.

The ad-supported version offers more than 10,000 hours of content, with no more than five minutes of commercials for each hour of programming. The platform also comes in two other versions: Peacock Premium, with ads and more 20,000 hours of content, at $5 a month (or free for Comcast and Cox cable subscribers); and a second iteration of Peacock Premium, with no commercials, at $10 a month. The basic Netflix plan costs $9 a month. Hulu offers a low-cost option, with ads, for $6 a month.

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Credit…Steve Schofield/Peacock

NBCUniversal’s competitors have moved in on the market for free, ad-supported streaming services. ViacomCBS bought Pluto last year, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp. announced in March that it had made a deal for another free streamer, Tubi.

Despite its back-to-the-future feel, Peacock will offer original programming, with nine series to be unveiled Wednesday, including “Brave New World,” an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 science fiction classic starring Alden Ehrenreich and Demi Moore, and “Intelligence,” a comedy with the “Friends” alumnus David Schwimmer.

Greg Portell, the head of global consumer industries and retail and management consulting firm Kearney, said audiences are still hungry for streaming content. “Many of us have been locked up for four months now,” he said. “We’ve gone through Disney+, Hulu and we are looking for something new.”

The rollout of Peacock was originally planned to coincide with one of NBCUniversal’s biggest, most expensive and highest-rated productions: the Olympics. Now, instead of the frequent television ads that would have promoted the service between competitions at the postponed Tokyo Summer Games, NBCUniversal, the exclusive broadcaster of the Olympics in the United States, will have to get the word out in a less splashy manner.

The lack of hype may mean that Peacock could catch potential customers by surprise. According to a Variety/YouGov survey, as of mid-June, awareness of the platform has hovering in the 27 percent range, just above Quibi’s 24.8 percent rating and well below Netflix’s 92.8 percent.

Despite the changed circumstances of the debut, Mr. Strauss said he had not changed Peacock’s original goal of attracting 30 million to 35 million users and $2.5 billion in revenue by 2024.

Mr. Strauss added that he expected awareness of Peacock to be at a high level in January, when the platform becomes the exclusive streaming home of “The Office.” The NBC sitcom has had a lucrative afterlife, not only as a syndicated series, but as a Netflix staple, since its first run ended in 2013.

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Huawei posts revenue growth in H1 despite sanctions and pandemic

Huawei reported a 13.1% year-over-year revenue growth in the first half of 2020, even if countries around the world continued to weigh up bans on its equipment and smartphone sales shrink amid the pandemic, the telecom giant said in a brief on Monday.

The firm’s revenue reached 454 billion yuan ($64.88 billion) in the period, with its carrier, enterprise, and consumer businesses accounting for 35%, 8% and 56% of total revenue, respectively. It finished with a net profit margin of 9.2%, a slight increase from 8.7% in the same period last year.

The privately-owned company did not specify what contributed to its H1 growth, but said in the release that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “information and communications technologies” — the main focus of its business — “have become not only a crucial tool for combatting the virus, but also an engine for economic recovery.”

The growth came amid the U.S.’s ongoing campaign urging allies to remove Huawei from their network infrastructure. The U.K. is reportedly scheduled to phase out Huawei gear in its 5G network as soon as this year, a plan that critics warn could cause network outages and other security risks.

Though Huawei does not break down its regional sales, it’s reasonable to expect China to be its bedrock of growth as it stumbles abroad. The company and its local competitor ZTE — which is also on the U.S. trade blacklistdivide up the bulk of 5G base station contracts from China’s main carriers. The network operators have also agreed to procure 5G phones from Huawei, which would naturally give the company a boost in sales.

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Luckin Coffee replaces chairman Charles Lu

Luckin Coffee has replaced co-founder and (now ex-) chairman Charles Zhengyao Lu, despite his efforts to maintain control over the troubled Beijing-based coffee chain. The company disclosed in an SEC filing on Monday that Jinyi Guo, another co-founder, board member and former acting chief executive of Luckin, has been appointed as its new chairman and chief executive officer.

In today’s SEC filing, Luckin also said a total of four directors have left the board (Lu, David Hui Li, Erhai Liu and Sean Shao) and two new independent directors have been appointed. The new additions are Jie Yang, vice dean of the business school at the China University of Political Science and Law, and Ying Zeng, who was a partner at law firm Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe and previously served as El Paso Corporation’s vice president and country manager for China.

The company’s disclosure comes after weeks of strife during which Lu sought to hold onto control of Luckin. Earlier this month, an attempt by Luckin Coffee’s directors to remove Lu as chairman failed to get enough votes during a board meeting.

The proposal to oust Lu was made on June 26 after an internal investigation found that Luckin Coffee’s net revenue in 2019 was inflated by about RMB 2.12 billion (US $300 million) and that fabrication of transactions began in April 2019, with Lu, former chief operating officer Jenny Zhiya Qian and several other employees participating in the false reports.

Luckin Coffee disclosed last month that Nasdaq had decided to delist the company, a spectacular fall from grace after it raised $651 million in its United States public offering in May before allegations of fraud caused its stock to plummet.

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Ford blends tech and nostalgia in the 2021 Bronco

The Bronco is officially back. After 24 years, Ford relaunched the 2021 Bronco in a splashy reveal streamed Monday evening on ABC, ESPN and National Geographic, each short film showcasing a different member of the family: the Bronco 2-door, Bronco 4-door and Bronco Sport.

The Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles — is a brand that leans heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology such as the automaker’s next-generation infotainment system and a digital trail mapping feature that lets owners plan, record and share their experiences via an app.

This is not the 1966 Ford Bronco, the first year that the rugged two-door off-roader came to market to compete with the Jeep CJ-5. However, the DNA from that heritage model is present in this modern take of the Bronco 2 as well as a new four-door version. The third model, the Bronco Sport, is a comfier, smaller snd cheaper spinoff that is designed to be capable off-road as well as function as a daily driver on the city streets and highways.

Production on the new Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 will begin in early 2021 with the first models arriving in dealerships next spring. The Bronco Sport is slated to reach dealerships later this year. All three of Bronco models will be built at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Ford has also opened up reservations, where prospective customers can plunk down $100 to hold their spot for the Bronco two- and four-door models.

The base model Bronco 2 starts at $29,995 and the Bronco 4 starts $34,695. The base version of the Bronco Sport starts at $28,155. (all prices include the including $1,495 destination and delivery charge)

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the basics of the Bronco two-door and Bronco four-door vehicles as well as the smaller Bronco Sport. Then we’ll dig deeper into some important themes including nostalgia, design, customization and technology.

Bronco 2 and Bronco 4

Pre-production versions of the 2021 Bronco, shown here, include Bronco two-door in Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat and Bronco four-door in Cactus Gray. Photo: Ford

Both models have a steel chassis and an independent front suspension, the aim here being to improve control. At the rear, the solid axle design features coil springs with five locating links to provide control off road and strength. The vehicles come with two possible engines — a 2.7-liter V6 or 2.3-liter four cylinder— and are available in 7-speed manual and 10-speed automatic transmissions. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine is projected to produce 310 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, while the 2.3-liter four cylinder engine has torque of 310 lb.-ft. with an expected 270 horsepower.  No word yet on gas mileage.

Ford gave Bronco 11.6-inch ground clearance, a 29-degree breakover angle and 37.2-degree departure angle. It also has water fording capability of up to 33.5 inches. Just to be safe, Ford designers added more protection and heft, including modular steel bumpers with integrated winch mount. Some of the higher-end versions of the Bronco comes with steel shields to protect critical hardware, including the engine, transmission, transfer case and fuel tank.

Oh, and how could I forget. Ford is making 35-inch off-road tires available in every trim level on the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4.

Bronco Sport

The all-new Bronco Sport Badlands series in Rapid Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat.

Meanwhile, the Bronco Sport is a slightly different animal aimed to be that go everywhere and do everything family truckster. The Sport offers a lot of the same off-road capability in a smaller package.

The Bronco Sport has two EcoBoost engines to choose from, depending on the trim. There’s a 2.0-liter  engine that produces 245 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque or a 1.5-liter engine with a targeted 181 horsepower and 190 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Certain trims of the Bronco Sport also come with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The vehicle also has a Safari-style roof that provides enough space to put two bikes in the back. The vehicle also has the flip-up liftgate glass, a convenience detail that lets you quickly throw gear back into the vehicle. The five trims levels are base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition and have starting prices that range between $28,155 all the way to $39,995.

Digging deeper into the family of Bronco vehicles a few themes emerge, particularly with the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4. The vehicles are meant to remind us of the original while pushing forward to the future. They’re designed to be rugged and institute modern human-centered functional design, while embracing technology in some key areas.

Nostalgia

Pre-production 2021 Bronco two-door SUV takes its design cues from the first-generation 1966 Bronco.

While technologists might cast a bit of side eye at nostalgia, there’s no denying its power. As TechCrunch’s Matt Burns noted last week Ford is going to use the old Bronco to sell the new Bronco, just like Nintendo uses past games to sell new games.

The 2021 Bronco 2 is clearly new, particularly once you look inside. But glancing over the exterior it’s hard to miss inspirations from the original.

The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 has square proportions, short overhangs and a wide stance, all aspects that make these vehicles primed for off roading. They also harken back to the original design. From the side, you’ll notice distinct edges and flared fenders, again a nod to the first Bronco.

Customization

Here’s where the 2021 Bronco series really shines. Ford has comes up with innumerable ways to customize the Bronco 2 or Bronco 4 and even the Bronco Sport.

The automaker is offering seven different versions of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 with matching color and trim combinations. There are also 11 different paint choices and four content package. The options begin with the base no-frills version and ends with the Wildtrak and Badlands versions for for more extreme off-road adventuring. The Big Bend, Black Diamond and Outer Banks sit in the middle. And of course, there’s a limited-production First Edition that will be offered at launch. The base models of all three Broncos fall under $35,000. But that price starts to rise as with the trim levels and other options.

The automaker also has more than 200 factory-based accessories.

The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 are meant to be configured in multiple ways. For instance, the Bronco 2 models come with a standard three-section roof system. There’s also premium-painted modular top with four sections that adds a removable panel over the rear seats and cargo area.

The Bronco 4 has four removable roof sections, all which Ford promises can be removed by one person by unlocking the latches from the interior. The models are also available in soft or hardtops, or can be optioned with both. Even the large open wheel wells are a modular design with a quick-release attachment for customization.

The doors of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 can also be removed. The doors are frameless, a design decision that aims to make them easy to remove and store in protective bags. The Bronco 4 is large enough to store all four doors onboard.

All of those options come with a price, however. The most expensive trim level, the First Edition hits just below $60,000.

While it might not have the same degree of customization as the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4, there are plenty of ways to configure the Bronco Sport as well.

The vehicle is available in five trims, including the base model, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition as well as four available accessory bundles. Ford is offering more than 100 factory-backed standalone accessories to transport a variety of gear including kayaks, skis and camping equipment.

Technology

Much of the technological focus is on the four-wheel drive system and is at the heart of the brand’s so-called Terrain Management System.

Ford is offering two different 4×4 systems on all Bronco models, a base setup and an advanced system. The base system uses a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case. The optional advanced system has a two-speed electromechanical transfer case that adds an auto mode for on-demand engagement that lets the driver select between 2H and 4H (two high and four high). The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 have up to seven driver-selectable modes for off-road driving, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl.

There is other technology in the vehicle beyond the 4×4 system. The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 comes with the next-generation Ford SYNC 4 infotainment system and a feature that stores more than 1,000 curated topographic trail maps that are accessible online or offline. The maps can also be shared with others.

The infotainment system features a multifunction color LCD instrument panel that Ford says were inspired by the first-generation Bronco. The SYNC 4 infotainment system, which has twice the computing power of the previous generation, includes an 8-inch or 12-inch center display and features natural voice control, real-time mapping and will be able to be updated wirelessly just like the software on your smartphone. The SYNC system also displays an optional 360-degree camera system that gives drivers “spotter” views of the vehicle, a feature that could come in handy while in technical off-roading situations like rock crawling.

Moving down from the center display, the driver can interact with the transmission shifter/selector and G.O.A.T. Modes controller (off road modes) in the center console.

Customization details include an available leather-wrapped shift lever for the 7-speed manual transmission, as well as grab handles. Image Credits: Ford

Grab handles are actually integrated into the modular instrument panel and center console for those Oh S—T moments (obviously for the passenger).

Ford also included attachment points that are built into the instrument panel to mount pretty much any device you might want, including cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

The instrument panel in the 2021 Bronco two- and four-door models is ready for installation of accessories such as a bring-your-own-device rack shown on this prototype. Image Credits: Ford

Design

Another big piece of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 is the focus on functional design. This is meant to be an off road vehicle, after all. And it should function as such.

For instance, the trail sights on the front fenders also can be used as tie downs and can handle longer items like canoes. Those trail sights are placed so a user can tie off a boat or other equipment without scratching the paint or lights. But they can also be taken off or replaced with other gear, Bronco chief designer Paul Wraith noted in a briefing before the reveal.

Image Credits: Ford

“You can swap them out or bolt on extra lights or Go Pros,” Wraith said. “And, especially if you’re shorter, you can simply use them to tell you where the corners of the truck are, which just goes to show that innovation doesn’t always need a microchip.”

And as mentioned above, the interior is also designed with an accessory-hungry owner in mind. Other design features include a floor drain and flooring material on select models, hooks on the back seats for lashing down gear while on the road and a slide-out rear tailgate.

A slide-out rear tailgate. Image Credits: Ford

Want more photos? OK, click the gallery. (All photos from Ford).

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BigCommerce files to go public

As expected, BigCommerce has filed to go public. The Austin, Texas, based e-commerce company raised over $200 million while private. The company’s IPO filing lists a $100 million placeholder figure for its IPO raise, giving us directional indication that this IPO will be in the lower, and not upper, nine-figure range.

BigCommerce, similar to public market darling Shopify, provides e-commerce services to merchants. Given how enamored public investors are with its Canadian rival, the timing of BigCommerce’s debut is utterly unsurprising and is prima facie intelligent.

Of course, we’ll know more when it prices. Today, however, the timing appears fortuitous.

The numbers

BigCommerce is a SaaS business, meaning that it sells a digital service for a recurring payment. For more on how it derives revenue from customers, head here. For our purposes what matters is that public investors will classify it along with a very popular — today’s trading notwithstanding — market segment.

Starting with broad strokes, here’s how the company performed in 2019 compared to 2018, and Q1 2020 in contrast to Q1 2019:

  • In 2019, BigCommerce’s revenue grew to $112.1 million, a gain of around 22% from its 2018 result of $91.9 million.
  • In Q1 2020, BigCommerce’s revenue grew to $33.2 million, up around 30% from its Q1 2019 result of $25.6 million.

BigCommerce didn’t grow too quickly in 2019, but its Q1 2020 expansion pace is much better. BigCommerce will file an S-1/A with more information in Q2 2020, we expect; it can’t go public without sharing more about its recent financial performance.

If the company’s revenue growth acceleration continues in the most recent period — bearing in mind that e-commerce as a segment has proven attractive to many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — BigCommerce’s IPO timing would appear even more intelligent than it did at first blush. Investors love growth acceleration.

Moving from revenue growth to revenue quality, BigCommerce’s Q1 2020 gross margins came in at 77.5%, a solid SaaS result. In Q1 2019 its gross margin was 76.8%, a slightly worse figure. Still, improving gross margins are popular as they indicate that future cash flows will grow at a faster clip than revenues, all else held equal.

In 2018 BigCommerce lost $38.9 million on a GAAP basis. Its net loss expanded modestly to $42.6 million in 2020, a larger dollar figure in gross terms, but a slimmer percent of its yearly top line. You can read those results however you’d like. In Q1 2020, however, things got better, as the company’s GAAP net loss fell to $4 million from its year-ago Q1 result of $10.5 million.

The BigCommerce big commerce business is growing more slowly than I had anticipated, but its overall operational health is better than I expected.

A few other notes, before we tear deeper into its S-1 filing tomorrow morning. BigCommerce’s adjusted EBITDA, a metric that gives a distorted, partial view of a company’s profitability, improved along similar lines to its net income, falling from -$9.2 million in Q1 2019 to -$5.7 million in Q1 2020.

The company’s cash flow is, akin to its adjusted EBITDA, worse than its net loss figures would have you guess. BigCommerce’s operating activities consumed $10 million in Q1 2020, an improvement from its Q1 2019 operating cash burn of $11.1 million.

The company is further in debt than many SaaS companies, but not so far as to be a problem. BigCommerce’s long-term debt, net of its current portion, was just over $69 million at the end of Q1 2020. It’s not a nice figure, per se, but it is one small enough that a good IPO haul could sharply reduce while still providing good amounts of working capital for the business.

Investors listed in its IPO document include Revolution, General Catalyst, GGV Capital, and SoftBank.

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Snapchat tests TikTok-style navigation for exploring public content

Snapchat could be gearing up to more directly challenge TikTok. The company confirmed it’s testing a new experience that allows users to move through Snapchat’s public content with a vertical swiping motion — a gesture that’s been popularized by TikTok, where it allows users to advance between videos. Snapchat says the feature is one of its experiments in exploring different, immersive visual formats for community content.

The test is focused on content that’s published publicly to Snapchat Discover, not your friends’ private Stories. But because Stories can have multiple parts, users will still tap to advance through the Story, as before. But in the new experiment, a horizontal swiping motion — either to the left or right — will exit the experience, instead of moving you between Stories, as before.

For anyone who spends much of their time on TikTok, the vertical swipe now feels like a more natural way to move through videos. And it’s almost disorienting to return to Snapchat or other apps where the horizontal swipe is used.

This test was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, citing a post from Twitter user @artb2668. One photo being shared shows the pop-up in the app which explains how to navigate the new experience, while a video gives you an idea for the feel.

Snapchat declined to offer specific details about the test, beyond clarifying it’s in the early stages and only viewable by a very small percentage of its user base.

“We’re always experimenting with new ways to bring immersive and engaging content to our mobile-first Snapchat community,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The timing of Snap’s test is interesting, of course.

The Trump administration is currently threatening to ban TikTok in the U.S. due to the app’s ties to China and fears that Americans’ private user data will end up in the hands of China’s Communist Party. The app has already been banned in India for similar reasons. On Friday, Amazon instructed its employees to remove the app from their company-issued smartphones, before retracting that demand around five hours later. U.S. military branches have also blocked access to the app, following a Pentagon warning earlier this year. Meanwhile, Musical.ly (the app that became TikTok) has had its acquisition by China’s ByteDance come under a U.S. national security review. 

Amid the threat of TikTok’s removal, rival social apps have climbed the app store charts, including Byte, Likee, Triller and Dubsmash. Instagram, meanwhile, has been expanding its TikTok-like feature, Reels, to new markets, including India. Even YouTube began testing a TikTok-like experience in recent days.

It’s no surprise, then, that Snapchat would want to do the same among its own user base, as well, given that the TikTok U.S. audience could be soon up for grabs.

The test also shows how influential TikTok has become in terms of dictating the social app user experience. Where Snapchat once had its concept for short-form Stories stolen by nearly every other social app, including most notably Instagram, it’s now the swipeable TikTok vertical feed that everyone is copying.

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Tesla stock went into reverse and took the Nasdaq with it, possibly signaling near-term top

Tesla cars are seen at a shopping mall showroom in Los Angeles.

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

The Nasdaq’s stunning reversal, led by Tesla, could signal that big tech has run out of steam and hit a near term top for now,  strategists said.

Some of the hottest Nasdaq names and both the Nasdaq Composite and the Nasdaq 100 hit new highs Monday, before a massive turnaround, which started just before midday as high-flying Tesla suddenly went into reverse.

Tesla was rallying hard early Monday, up 16.2% at a new high of $1,794.99, before sharply reversing to close down 3% to $1,497.06. The stock has been on a tear, crossing above $1,000 for the first time at the end of June.

“Tesla is the poster boy of a parabolic move here, and Tesla started to roll over at about 11:40 a.m.,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist at Bleakley Advisory Group. “That sell-off accelerated and at about 2 p.m., the California headlines exaggerated the move … We know it’s a one-way street. It got really just stretched and overbought and overcrazed in these tech stocks.” 

Stocks like Amazon, Adobe, NVIDIA and Facebook all hit new highs before doing an about face, and ending sharply lower. They were among the biggest drags on the Nasdaq, which closed down 2.1% at 10,390.84, more than 430 below its intraday high. Apple also hit a new high, but it only closed down a half percent.

“There is a case to be made that this is what reversal days are made of,” said Boockvar. He said Monday was considered an outside day reversal, a leading indicator for a potential trend change.

The stocks were already tumbling when California announced it would shut down some businesses, like indoor restaurants, movie theaters and bars because of the renewed spread of the coronavirus.

Rob Sluymer, technical analyst at Fundstrat, said Monday’s Nasdaq trading may signal a short-term rotation from growth to cyclicals. Technically, the move was a negative reversal because the Nasdaq hit all-time highs before reversing hard, ending below Friday’s close.

“We had a big move in growth. It’s ripe for profit-taking. … I think we’re now going to see a tactical move in another direction,” he said, adding the tech bull run is not over.

“At the very opposite end, you had banks and cyclicals trying to bottom here. I think you’re setting up for at least a short-term reversal in the market from growth back to value,” he said. “I think it’s a short-term peak likely developing.”

The Dow ended the day higher, up 10 points at 26,085, while the S&P 500 was down 0.9% at 3,155. The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund ETF was up 0.4% Monday. The S&P industrial sector ended the day in the green, up 0.4%.

“I think there’s a lot of support for the QQQs even if it pulls back to its 50-day moving average. That’s a big hit but there’s a lot of support there.”  The QQQs  ETF represents the Nasdaq 100, and its 50-day moving average is 237.32, about 20 points from Monday’s close of 258.54.

Sluymer said Tesla’s volume of over 37 million was the largest since February.

“Tesla is a pretty good lightning rod for high momentum, high growth stocks,” said Sluymer. He said index options expire Wednesday and equities options expire Friday, potentially driving some of the volatility.

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China says the latest U.S. move is aggravating tensions in the South China Sea

U.S. Navy multirole fighter landing on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) aircraft carrier as it sails in South China Sea Oct. 16, 2019.

Catherine Lai | AFP | Getty Images

China said Tuesday that the latest U.S. rejection of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea unnecessarily provokes tension in the region.

The highly disputed body of water — with its islands, fisheries, energy resources, military bases and trade routes — lies on the southern coast of mainland China and between Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In a rare move, the U.S. Navy sent two aircraft carriers to conduct operations and exercises in the region on July 4, America’s Independence Day. Beijing was already carrying out military exercises in the South China Sea from July 1 to July 5.

“The United States champions a free and open Indo-Pacific,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday in an online statement on the State Department’s website. “Today we are strengthening U.S. policy in a vital, contentious part of that region — the South China Sea. We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”

The Chinese embassy in the U.S. responded with its “firm opposition” in an online Chinese-language statement early Tuesday, according to a CNBC translation.

“The statement issued by the U.S. State Department on July 13 defies China’s and ASEAN countries’ efforts to safeguard the stability and peace of the South China Sea, recklessly distorting the relevant objective facts of the South China Sea and laws such as the ‘UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,’ turns the South China Sea into a tense situation, provokes China’s relationship with regional countries, and unreasonably accuses China. China is firmly opposed to this,” it said.

Neither side is itching for a military encounter … However, foreign policy tensions between Washington and Beijing have been rising significantly this year and neither side will be inclined to dial down the temperature.

Eurasia Group

The South China Sea is a globally important shipping route, and according to think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, about $3.4 trillion of the world’s trade passed through the waterway in 2016.

High-level rhetoric between the U.S. and China has turned increasingly aggressive in recent months, amid a swath of issues ranging from technology and national security to Beijing’s increased control of Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region that has enjoyed far more democratic freedoms than the mainland. 

Over the weekend, the U.S. issued a security alert for its citizens in China on “heightened risk of arbitrary detention.” It was unclear what prompted the move, which echoed language used in a China travel advisory issued in January 2019. 

Many analysts expect tensions between the world’s two largest economies to increase ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

Pompeo’s statement is an “escalation of the US-China dispute in the South China Sea in diplomatic terms,” geopolitical risk consulting firm Eurasia Group said in a note Tuesday.

“It does not by itself signal a change in US military policy, though the hardening US position and Beijing’s likely reaction do increase the risk of an accidental collision – the most direct way the issue could spiral into a serious crisis,” said the authors of the report.

“Neither side is itching for a military encounter, as China thinks the South China Sea can be won peacefully through long-term attrition and President Trump has shown little appetite for military confrontation with China,” the note added. “However, foreign policy tensions between Washington and Beijing have been rising significantly this year and neither side will be inclined to dial down the temperature.”

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