The Growing Signs That Tech Investors Are Getting Disillusioned: Data Sheet

May 31, 2019, 12:20 PM UTC
The Nio ET Preview car displayed on the opening day of the Shanghai Auto Show in Shanghai on April 16, 2019.
Greg Baker—AFP/Getty Images

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A mere eight months ago I called the Chinese electric car startup Nio “a bright, shiny object masquerading as a real company.” This was in reference to its ultimately successful attempt to raise $1 billion in a U.S. initial public offering. Nio was adept at capital collection, marketing, and even automotive design. Yet it had sold only a few cars while losing gobs of money.

As time has passed Nio has sold more cars, lost even more money, and, critically, let down the investors who believed its premature promise. Nio’s shares have plunged from an offering price of $6.26 each to $3.24. The shares plunged 10% Thursday alone, the day after Nio announced financial results and a slew of strategic shifts.

A weakening Chinese car market, the slow-motion unraveling of its American doppelganger, Tesla, and its own changes are to blame. Nio announced this week it will form a joint venture with a state-controlled company to make down-market cars—the opposite of the high-performance , premium-priced pitch it made to investors last year. Says “ Shareholders who bought one company will end up with another.”

Nio is square in the middle of what tech investors might call the Great Disillusionment of 2019. An appreciation for value goes in cycles. Sometimes investors are willing to pay up for anything that looks like it will grow, whether or not it will ever make money. Other times, investors come to their senses.

Now seems to be one of those times.


What words do you need me to say to make you feel safe? Slightly larger auto-related company Uber reported its first quarterly results as a public company on Thursday and those results were...meh. Revenue increased 20% to $3.1 billion with a net loss of $2.26 per share, just as Wall Street expected. Food delivery unit Uber Eats was a bright spot, with revenue up 89% to $536 million. Uber's stock, which was priced at $45 in its recent IPO, was listed around $40 in premarket trading on Friday. Elsewhere on Wall Street, Dell Technologies disappointed with revenue up 3% to $21.9 billion and adjusted earnings of $1.45 per share. Its stock, previously up 36% this year, fell 3%.

We are friends for life or you don’t exist to me ever again. Those negotiations over how T-Mobile and Sprint could appease antitrust regulators suddenly got interesting. Amazon is a potential buyer of Sprint's Boost prepaid service, Reuters reports. Sounds like big news, though Google hasn't done too much with its wireless service, likely because it lacks any retail presence. Perhaps Amazon could do better pairing cheap phones with fancy lettuce at Whole Foods? Regulators have also met with cable giants Comcast and Charter Communications about buying the spin off wireless unit, Bloomberg reports. Elsewhere in telecom land, Sprint kicked off 5G phone service in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City.

I don't lie to myself and I don't hold on to a loser. At Facebook's annual shareholder meeting, a resolution to remove Mark Zuckerberg as chairman failed. Several attendees also questioned Zuck's role as chair. Across the pond, a privacy lawsuit against Facebook for shifting user data out of the EU will go forward at the European Court of Justice. The Irish Supreme Court on Friday rejected Facebook's effort to stop the case.

Kennedy wasn't under as much pressure as I am. Just ahead of Apple's annual developer conference, market research firm IDC predicted that the company's iPhone shipments will decline 12% this year. Apple rival Samsung may copy the iPhone maker by removing the headphone jack from its upcoming Galaxy Note 10 phone. The device also may lack physical buttons for power and volume.

What is it you do that you're the best in the world at? With privacy protection increasingly in the news, Google said it would tighten limits on personal data accessed by Chrome browser extensions and apps that interact with Google Drive.

(Headline reference explainer, from the great Showtime show Billions.)


A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:

Will Personalization Ever Truly Fly? (AdAge)
We’ve been talking about how advances in digital media and data will result in every person on the web seeing a deeply personalized ad for every occasion since the days of AOL dial-up. Why, then, do most of our digital ad experiences still feel like a "groundhog day" of what we searched and bought in the previous week?

Was Shakespeare a Woman? (The Atlantic)
Had anyone ever proposed that the creator of those extraordinary women might be a woman? Each of the male possibilities requires an elaborate theory to explain his use of another’s name. None of the candidates has succeeded in dethroning the man from Stratford. Yet a simple reason would explain a playwright’s need for a pseudonym in Elizabethan England: being female.

The Wealth Detective Who Finds the Hidden Money of the Super Rich (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Thirty-two-year-old French economist Gabriel Zucman scours spreadsheets to find secret offshore accounts.

How Football Leaks Is Exposing Corruption in European Soccer (The New Yorker)
While Rui Pinto sits in jail, his revelations are bringing down the sport’s most famous teams and players.


The music industry is having a bit of a revival, at least financially. Thanks to streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, U.S. retail sales grew for the third straight year in 2018, hitting $9.8 billion. But not all musicians, composers, and other players are getting their due, Dani Deahl, a reporter for The Verge, notes in an investigative piece peering into the industry's problems with metadata. If a streaming service doesn't have the correct players listed, it won't know who to credit for a listener's listen:

Each database has its own set of rules. If Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Jessie J collaborated on a new track, and it was delivered to Apple Music with all of their names in the same artist field, that would cause what Apple Music and Spotify call a “compound artist error.” Entering an artist’s name as “last name, first name” would also result in a rejection. There are ways to embed metadata in a song file to ensure everything travels together, but distributors generally request that it be removed since it can cause “issues with the upload.”


How the Golden State Warriors Achieved Unicorn Status By Terry Collins

Drivers Cheer Uber's Move to Warn—and Potentially Ban—Badly Behaved Passengers By Alyssa Newcomb

Investment Banks Are Pressing 'Play' on Podcasts By Rey Mashayekhi

How the Trump Administration Wants to Speed Up the Arrival of 5G Wireless By Aaron Pressman

Target Recalling 90,000 USB Charging Cables By Chris Morris

British Spies Tried to End Tech's Encryption Debate. But Their 'Ghost Proposal' Only Rekindled It By David Meyer

The Best and Worst Airlines, According to J.D. Power By Chris Morris


It's Friday so I don't mind ending with a bit of silly fun today. Sometimes big data is illuminating, sometimes just diverting. Excellent tech web site The Pudding has created an interactive map of the United States that replaces the names of cities and towns with the name of the person who was born or lived there and is looked up the most on Wikipedia. Princeton gets renamed Albert Einstein, Elon Musk for Los Angeles, and Kris Kristofferson is the man in Brownsville, Texas. You can lose hours zooming around the map–and hours more figuring out the connections. Have at it.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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