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Daily Archives: January 28, 2022

Charts: Global Fintech Funding Exploded in 2021

US$100M+ Mega-rounds Triple YoY

Source : CB Insights

Chart: Wall Street’s Volatility Index

The Volatility Index — or VIX — is a good indicator of how nervous markets are because it tracks how much investors expect stock prices to fluctuate over the coming month. When the VIX is higher it means investors expect prices to move around a lot (i.e. they’re more uncertain), and when it’s lower it means they don’t expect prices to move around much.

The latest reading on the VIX is about 30, which is well above the average of about 18-19 from the last 15 years, but still some way from the readings of 80+ during the “call your family and go full panic mode” of the global financial crisis of ’08-09 or March 2020.

Reasons to worry

If the market was a person, telling a friend everything they were worried about, they’d have a lot to say:

  • Inflation is rising around the world, for the first time in a long time.
  • Tensions between Ukraine, Russia and NATO are rising.
  • The pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere, with the ongoing risk of new variants.

Figuring out which of those is most responsible for the market jitters on any one day is more art than science, but all 3 together certainly aren’t helping.


Source : Chartr

Chuckles of the Day




Be Careful What You Wish For


A married couple in their early 60s were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic little restaurant.

Suddenly, a tiny, yet beautiful fairy appeared on their table saying, “For being such an exemplary married couple and for being loving to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish.”

The wife said, “Oh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband.”

The fairy waved her magic wand and – poof two tickets for the Queen Mary II appeared in her hands.

The husband thought for a moment, “Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this will never come again. I’m sorry my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me.”

The wife, and the fairy, were deeply disappointed, but a wish is a wish. So the fairy waved her magic wand and – poof the husband became 92 years old.

The moral of this story . . . . . . be careful what you wish for.

* * * * * * *

The Old Miser

There was an old man who had worked all his life, had saved all of his money, and was a real “miser” when it came to his money.

Just before he died, he said to his wife, “When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me. I want to take my money to the afterlife with me.”

And so he got his wife to promise him, with all of her heart, that when he died, she would put all of the money into the casket with him. Well, he eventually died. He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there – dressed in black, and her friend was sitting next to her.

When they finished the ceremony, and just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait just a moment!”

She had a small metal box with her; she came over with the box and put it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket down and they rolled it away.

So her friend said, “Girl, I know you were not fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband.”

The loyal wife replied, “Listen, I’m a Christian; I cannot go back on my word. I promised him that I was going to put that money into the casket with him.”

“You mean to tell me you put that money in the casket with him!?!?!?”

I surely did,” said the wife, “I got it all together, put it into my account, and wrote him a check…. If he can cash it, he can spend it.”




IMF Slashes U.S. and China Growth Forecasts

Julia Horowitz wrote . . . . . . . . .

The pandemic will continue to stoke uncertainty and inflation in its third year, undermining the global recovery from the coronavirus and pushing total economic losses toward $14 trillion.

That’s according to the International Monetary Fund, which on Tuesday slashed its global growth forecast for 2022 by half a percentage point to 4.4%. The group said the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, would grow more slowly than it predicted in October.

The IMF sees America’s economic output increasing 4% this year after rising by 5.6% in 2021. It shaved 1.2 percentage points off its previous forecast due to “lower prospects” that Congress will pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic plan, lingering supply chain disruption and the rising chance of aggressive action by the Federal Reserve to rein in inflation.

In China, economic growth for 2022 is now pegged at 4.8%, 0.8 percentage points lower than previously expected and a marked slowdown from the 8.1% growth achieved in 2021. The IMF pointed to the ongoing pullback in the country’s huge real estate sector and a “weaker-than-expected” recovery in personal spending.

The IMF now expects the pandemic to have cost the world $13.8 trillion in lost economic output by the end of 2024. While advanced economies are expected to return to their pre-pandemic trajectories this year, that’s not the case for “several emerging markets and developing economies,” which are still poised to suffer “sizable output losses.”

“The last two years reaffirm that this crisis and the ongoing recovery is like no other,” Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s first deputy managing director, said in a blog post. “Policymakers must vigilantly monitor a broad swath of incoming economic data, prepare for contingencies, and be ready to communicate and execute policy changes at short notice.”

Rising prices present a major challenge. The IMF revised up its estimates for global inflation, predicting that “elevated price pressures [are] expected to persist for longer.”

It now sees consumer prices rising 3.9% in advanced economies this year and 5.9% in emerging market and developing economies — sharper increases than were recorded in 2021, when consumer prices rose 3.1% and 5.7%, respectively.
Inflation in advanced economies is expected to fall back toward 2%, the target for most major central banks, in 2023. But the IMF said that a number of conditions will need to be met.

Assuming expectations for inflation don’t get out of hand and “the pandemic eases its grip, higher inflation should fade as supply chain disruptions ease, monetary policy tightens, and demand rebalances away from goods-intensive consumption towards services,” the IMF said.

The organization emphasized that its forecast is “subject to high uncertainty.” It’s on alert for new variants of the coronavirus that could prolong the pandemic, fresh damage to supply chains due to China’s policy of suppressing all Covid outbreaks, and “higher inflation surprises” in the United States that could force the Fed to be even more aggressive with interest rate hikes.

It also cited “rising geopolitical tensions and social unrest” as risks to the outlook. Western countries are currently engaged in a high-stakes standoff with Russia to avert an invasion of Ukraine.


Source : CNN

Wisk Aero Secures $450 Million from The Boeing Company to Advance Certified Autonomous Electric Flight

Wisk, a leading Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) company and developer of the first all-electric, self-flying air taxi in the U.S., has secured $450 million in funding from The Boeing Company, making it one of the most well-funded AAM companies in the world. Combined with previous funding, this investment reinforces Wisk’s strong position as a privately-backed AAM leader and highlights the strength of Wisk’s strategic partnership with Boeing and their collaboration on critical technology development.

This investment will further advance the development of Wisk’s 6th generation eVTOL aircraft, a first-ever candidate for certification of an autonomous, all-electric, passenger-carrying aircraft in the U.S. The funding will also support the company as it enters an intensive growth phase over the next year, its preparations for the launch of scale manufacturing, and the company’s Go-to-Market efforts.

Within five years following the certification of its 6th generation aircraft, Wisk intends to operate one of the industry’s largest fleets of AAM eVTOL aircraft. The scale of this fleet is enabled by the company’s autonomous technology, a competitive differentiator and industry-recognized key to scaling services and maximizing safety. In this timeframe, Wisk anticipates close to 14M annual flights bringing time savings to over 40 million people across 20 cities – all with zero emissions.

Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk said:

“Wisk is extremely well-positioned to deliver on our long-term strategy and commitment to safe, everyday flight for everyone. We are incredibly fortunate to have Boeing as not only an investor but a strategic partner, which provides us with access to a breadth of resources, industry-leading expertise, a global reach, extensive certification experience, and more. As we enter this next stage of our growth, this additional funding provides us with capital while allowing us to remain focused on our core business and our number one priority, safety.”

Marc Allen, Chief Strategy Officer of Boeing said:

“With this investment, we are reconfirming our belief in Wisk’s business and the importance of their work in pioneering all-electric, AI-driven, autonomous capability for the aerospace industry. Autonomy is the key to unlocking scale across all AAM applications, from passenger to cargo and beyond. That’s why straight-to-autonomy is a core first principle. Boeing and Wisk have been at the forefront of AAM innovation for more than a decade, and will continue to lead in the years ahead.”

With its deep expertise in autonomous, electric flight, its extensive flight test history, key knowledge and insights from the development of five generations of aircraft, and the strength of its partnerships, Wisk is positioned to maintain its leadership in the AAM and broader mobility space.

Wisk began in 2010 as Zee Aero, with a mission to deliver safe, everyday flight for everyone, and later merged with Kitty Hawk Corporation. Upon recognizing the commercial potential of Wisk’s 5th generation aircraft, the aircraft and team were spun out to form Wisk, with an investment from The Boeing Company. Over the past decade, Wisk has achieved a number of aviation and industry firsts, most notably, the first flight of an all-electric, autonomous, eVTOL aircraft designed for passenger use, in the U.S.

Previous undisclosed funding rounds were led by The Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation, through a joint venture, making Wisk one of the only AAM companies to be backed by two aviation leaders. Kitty Hawk remains an investor and has supported the development of Wisk’s previous generations of aircraft.


Source : Wisk

COVID Hits One of the Last Uninfected Places on the Planet

Nick Perry and Sam Metz wrote . . . . . . . . .

When the coronavirus began spreading around the world, the remote Pacific archipelago of Kiribati closed its borders, ensuring the disease didn’t reach its shores for nearly two full years.

Kiribati finally began reopening this month, allowing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to charter a plane to bring home 54 of the island nation’s citizens. Many of those aboard were missionaries who had left Kiribati before the border closure to spread the faith abroad for what is commonly known as the Mormon church.

Officials tested each returning passenger three times in nearby Fiji, required that they be vaccinated, and put them in quarantine with additional testing when they arrived home.

It wasn’t enough.

More than half the passengers tested positive for the virus, which has now slipped out into the community and prompted the government to declare a state of disaster. An initial 36 positive cases from the flight had ballooned to 181 cases by Friday.

Kiribati and several other small Pacific nations were among the last places on the planet to have avoided any virus outbreaks, thanks to their remote locations and strict border controls. But their defenses appear no match against the highly contagious omicron variant.

“Generally speaking, it’s inevitable. It will get to every corner of the world,” said Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “It’s a matter of buying enough time to prepare and getting as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Only 33% of Kiribati’s 113,000 people are fully vaccinated, while 59% have had at least one dose, according to the online scientific publication Our World in Data. And like many other Pacific nations, Kiribati offers only basic health services.

Dr. Api Talemaitoga, who chairs a network of Indigenous Pacific Island doctors in New Zealand, said Kiribati had only a couple of intensive care beds in the entire nation, and in the past relied on sending its sickest patients to Fiji or New Zealand for treatment.

He said that given the limitations of Kiribati’s health system, his first reaction when he heard about the outbreak was, “Oh, my lord.”

Kiribati has now opened multiple quarantine sites, declared a curfew and imposed lockdowns. President Taneti Maamau said on social media that the government is using all its resources to manage the situation, and urged people to get vaccinated.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in the U.S. state of Utah, has a strong presence in many Pacific nations, including Kiribati, where its 20,000 members make it the third-largest Christian denomination. The church has about 53,000 missionaries serving full time around the world, working to convert people.

The pandemic has presented challenges for their missionary work, which is considered a rite of passage for men as young as 18 and women as young as 19.

As the pandemic ebbed and flowed, the church responded. It recalled about 26,000 missionaries who were serving overseas in June 2020, reassigning them to proselytize online from home before sending some back out into the field five months later.

When COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in many countries in April 2021, church officials encouraged all missionaries to get inoculated and required it of those serving outside their home countries.

Church spokesperson Sam Penrod said the returning missionaries remained in quarantine, were cooperating with local health authorities and would be released from their service upon completion of their quarantine.

“With Kiribati’s borders being closed since the onset of the pandemic, many of these individuals have continued as missionaries well beyond their 18 to 24 months of anticipated service, with some serving as long as 44 months,” he said.

Before this month’s outbreak, Kiribati had reported just two virus cases: crew members on an incoming cargo ship that ultimately wasn’t permitted to dock.

But the Kiribati charter flight wasn’t the first time missionaries returning home to a Pacific island nation tested positive for COVID-19.

In October, a missionary returning to Tonga from service in Africa was reported as the country’s first — and so far only — positive case after flying home via New Zealand. Like those returning to Kiribati, he also was vaccinated and quarantined.

Tonga is desperately trying to prevent any outbreaks as it recovers from a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami earlier this month. The nation of 105,000 has been receiving aid from around the world but has requested that crews from incoming military ships and planes drop their supplies and leave without having any contact with those on the ground.

“They’ve got enough on their hands without compounding it with the spread of COVID,” said Petousis-Harris, the vaccine expert. “Anything they can do to keep it out is going to be important. COVID would be just compounding that disaster.”

In the long term, however, it is going to be impossible to stop the virus from entering Tonga or any other community, Petousis-Harris said.

Nearby Samoa, with a population of 205,000, is also trying to prevent its first outbreak. It imposed a lockdown through until Friday evening after 15 passengers on an incoming flight from Australia last week tested positive.

By Thursday, that number had grown to 27, including five front-line nurses who had treated the passengers. Officials said all those infected had been isolated and there was no community outbreak so far.

While the incursion of the virus into the Pacific has prompted lockdowns and other restrictions, there were signs that not all traditional aspects of island life would be lost for long.

“Government has decided to allow fishing,” Kiribati declared on Thursday, while listing certain restrictions on times and places. “Only four people will be allowed to be on a boat or part of a group fishing near shore.”


Source : AP

Fast, Cheap Test Can Detect COVID-19 Virus’ Genome Without Need for PCR

James Urton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new test for COVID-19 that combines the speed of over-the-counter antigen tests with the accuracy of PCR tests that are processed in medical labs and hospitals.

The Harmony COVID-19 test is a diagnostic test that, like PCR tests for COVID-19, detects genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But whereas conventional PCR tests can take several hours, the Harmony kit can provide results in less than 20 minutes for some samples and with similar accuracy.

“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere,” said Barry Lutz, a UW associate professor of bioengineering and investigator with the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine. “We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”

Lutz is senior author on a paper published in Science Advances that describes the Harmony COVID-19 test kit. The researchers developed Harmony to be simple and easy-to-use, employing ready-to-use reagents. The test uses a “PCR-like” method to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome in a nasal swab sample with the aid of a small, low-cost detector, which was also designed by Lutz’s group. A smartphone is used to operate the detector and read the results. The detector can handle up to four samples at a time and would fit into a standard car’s glove compartment.

The accuracy of COVID-19 tests has been a pressing matter throughout the pandemic. Many at-home antigen kits for COVID-19, which detect pieces of the proteins the virus creates instead of its genetic material, are 80-85% accurate, though accuracy may drop with the omicron variant, which harbors a relatively high number of mutations not found in other strains. PCR tests are generally 95% accurate or better — a key FDA benchmark — but require expensive equipment and a long wait for results.

Initial results reported in the paper show that the Harmony kit is 97% accurate for nasal swabs. The Harmony kit detects three different regions of the virus’ genome. If a new variant has many mutations in one region, the new test can still detect the other two. It can, for example, detect the omicron variant, which has dozens of mutations in the region of the genome that encodes the so-called spike protein.

Though tests based on PCR — or polymerase chain reaction — are highly accurate, a key limitation is that PCR tests require dozens of cycles of heating and cooling to detect genetic material in a sample. The test developed by the UW team sidesteps this issue by relying on a PCR-like method known as RT-LAMP, which doesn’t have the same stringent temperature-cycling requirements.

“This test operates at a constant temperature, so it eliminates the time to heat and cool and gives results in about 30 minutes,” said Lutz.

Lutz and two colleagues spun out a new company from the UW, Anavasi Diagnostics, which last year was supported by $300,000 from WE-REACH and later received $14.9 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop the Harmony prototype kit into a product and scale up manufacturing to help address the ongoing shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

Initially, Lutz and his team hope the kits could be made available first for use in clinics, as well as other settings with medical oversight, such as workplaces and schools. Later, they would like to adapt the test for home use.

“For a long time, the options have been either a PCR test that is expensive and typically takes a day or more to get a result, or a rapid antigen test that gives fast results and is low cost, but typically has lower accuracy than a lab PCR test,” said Lutz. “From the first day, we designed our test to be manufacturable at low cost and high volume, while delivering fast results with PCR-like performance.”

The NIH funding will support high-volume manufacturing at a new Anavasi facility near Seattle.

“We plan to make our test accessible and affordable throughout the world,” said Lutz.


Source: University of Washington