The online travel market is the perfect financial petri dish for the coronavirus crisis
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I tried my level best to be positive yesterday, bringing you some hopeful stories from the world of tech in the time of coronavirus. Indeed, on a day the market was shellacked, Zoom Video Communications was off just a smidge, and Chinese delivery giant Meituan eked out a gain.
Later in the day, a pandemic pure play of a different sort, Booking.com, withdrew its previously issued earnings guidance, disclosing to investors what everyone already knew about the state of Europe and North America: Things are getting worse and no one really knows how bad they’ll get or when they’ll improve.
Booking.com is the perfect financial petri dish for the global crisis. A worldwide leisure-oriented travel business, it issued its previous guidance on Feb. 26, less than two weeks ago. The company was a raging e-commerce success story, especially when it was known as Priceline but was making all its money on its acquired Booking.com business. “Given the rapidly evolving situation, we are unable at this time to reliably quantify the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on our future financial results,” the company said in its withdrawal statement.
Tom White, an analyst with brokerage D.A. Davidson, told clients that Booking was the only travel company it covers that had issued a first-quarter guidance in the first place. (The group includes Expedia, Tripadvisor, and Trivago (down 17% Monday.) “Should the impact of COVID-19 continue to meaningfully impact travel demand into the second quarter (which we generally expect it will), we anticipate the other public companies in this space will also likely need to cut or withdraw their calendar-year 2020 guidance,” he said.
In the financial crisis of 2008-09, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway was here, there, and everywhere, providing capital to stressed but otherwise sound companies, notably Goldman Sachs. Today, Egon Durban’s private-equity fund Silver Lake seems to be playing a similar role, helping de-risk Waymo for Alphabet and, Monday, plowing $1 billion into a besieged Twitter. Silver Lake claims to have $43 billion in assets under management. It appears to be just getting going.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Just one darn tootin' minute. Many wrote off Amazon's lawsuit against the Trump administration over the $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract. Seems that was a mistake. Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith of the Court of Federal Claims says the challenge “is likely to succeed on the merits” and ordered Microsoft, which won the JEDI contract over Amazon's bid, to stop work temporarily. But the judge focused on "a lone technical finding," Microsoft said, not Amazon's headline claims that Trump biased the decision.
Excited molecules. While companies large and small try to build working quantum computing hardware, Google is getting ready for the quantum era with software. The company on Monday released open-source programming to develop quantum machine-learning apps. Called TensorFlow Quantum, the software extends the company's existing TensorFlow kit.
Invisible man. After developing cashier-less stores of its own, Amazon says it will sell the technology to other retailers, too. The “Just Walk Out” system relies on customers using a credit card when they enter a store and cameras on the ceiling that track the items they pick up.
Major Tom to ground control. I'm not sure we can take Elon Musk at his word when it comes to financial strategy matters (remember "funding secured"?), but the Tesla and SpaceX boss says he is not thinking of taking Starlink, his space Internet effort, public on its own. “We’re thinking about that zero,” he said on Monday at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C.
(Correction, March 10, 2020: An earlier version of this summary misstated how customers check in with Amazon's Just Walk Out system. They use a credit card to check in.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The coronavirus outbreak is forcing an increasing number of school districts to cancel classes and ask students to log online for lessons. But there's a pretty serious problem with that strategy, as Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel explained to Fortune on Monday.
"The coronavirus is exposing hard truths about the digital divide in this country," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tells Fortune. "Everyone doesn’t have broadband, and that has consequences if people need to remain at home to educate themselves."
The actual number of Americans lacking access to high speed broadband is a source of dispute. While the FCC has suggested the number is around 21 million, Rosenworcel says the actual number is much higher, because the agency uses a methodology that concludes everyone in a census block is wired, if even a single subscriber has broadband. According to Gigi Sohn, a former senior FCC staffer who is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Institute, the real number of Americans lacking high speed Internet is around 141 million.
ON THE MOVE
Estee Lauder's current CFO Tracey Travis and former McKinsey director Nancy Killefer are joining Facebook's board of directors, bringing the board's composition to 40% female...NXP Semiconductors CEO Rick Clemmer, who tried and failed to sell the company to Qualcomm, is stepping down and will be replaced by Kurt Sievers, the chipmaker's current president...Automated Data Processing is losing its chief security officer Roland Cloutier to TikTok, where he will hold a similar title and report to top boss Alex Zhu... Google is grabbing Sony game development leader Shannon Studstill, who oversaw major hit God of War, to run its Stadia Games and Entertainment studio.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
New federal rules allow patients to access medical records via smartphone By Fred Schulte and Erika Fry
Robinhood crashes for third time as markets tank By Chris Morris
Why focusing on a startup’s ‘exit strategy’ stifles innovation By Polina Marinova
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BEFORE YOU GO
While the current medical crisis rages on, some scientists are still focused on cool ideas to make the future better, like fusion-powered generators to create power with no pollution. Europe's ITER project this week revealed that its first giant magnet is ready. It weighs 320 tons. Now the project only needs to make 17 more to start generating a field of super-hot plasma, at 150 million degrees Celsius, to create a mini Sun on Earth. And who couldn't use a little more sunshine right now?