Apple’s Siri will stop defaulting to a female voice in the U.S., two new voices coming

Apple will add two new English language voices to its Siri voice assistant in an upcoming version of its iPhone software, the company said on Wednesday. Users will be able to choose from four voices for Siri, which will no longer default to a female voice in the U.S.

The change is currently available in a beta version of iOS 14.5 that was released on Wednesday. Apple previously said the update will be released for everyone sometime in “early spring.”

Digital assistants with default female voices have been scrutinized by researchers in recent years, with critics saying the choices reflect a male-dominated artificial intelligence industry and reinforce stereotypes.

“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”

Apple previously offered male voices as the default in some regions, as well as Australian and British accents, but it has defaulted to a woman’s voice in the U.S. since its release in 2011.

Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant both currently default to feminine voices for English speakers but offer a range of alternative voice options.

Apple’s iOS 14.5 will be a major update for iPhones. In addition to the new voices, it will add the ability to unlock a phone with an Apple Watch, new emojis including one that depicts a vaccine, and will include a privacy change restricting access to a device ID that mobile advertisers use.

U.S. EV charging system a priority under Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Senators from both parties in the White House on Feb. 11, 2021.

Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Joe Biden is prioritizing a national EV charging network under his $2 trillion infrastructure bill, promising to have at least 500,000 of the devices installed across the U.S. by 2030.

The Biden administration is rolling out Wednesday a $174 billion plan to spur the development and adoption of EVs that includes money to retool factories and boost domestic supply of materials, tax incentives for EV buyers and grant and incentive programs for charging infrastructure.

But it’s going to take more than government support to successfully expand EV infrastructure. There aren’t enough EV drivers to make it a viable business yet, and building a network of chargers is far more complex than it sounds. It takes a mix of private-public partnerships that can involve local municipalities, businesses and utility companies as well as automakers and an emerging group of EV charging companies. It’s not as simple as having a gas station at every corner.

“As electric vehicles become more primary vehicles for people, certainly it’s not like we’re going to replace the gas station with the charging station and that’s it,” said Mark Wakefield, a managing director and global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

$300 billion

AlixPartners estimates $300 billion will be needed to build out a global charging network to accommodate the expected growth of EVs by 2030, including $50 billion in the U.S. alone. Costs for EV chargers vary based on the “level” of charger. The higher the level, the quicker the charge and the more expensive it is to install.

Charge Point EV stations

Source: Charge Point

“It is a big pill to swallow for anybody,” Wakefield said. “These are really, really expensive, especially these fast chargers” that some automakers are promising will take as little as 10 minutes to charge upcoming EVs about 80%. That compares to lower level chargers, including home outlets, that take several hours. Level three chargers cost $120,00 to $260,000 installed on average, according to AlixPartners. “These are not cheap.”

But demand for the networks isn’t quite there yet. Plug-in vehicles, which include EVs and hybrid electric vehicles with traditional engines, only accounted for about 2% of the more than 17 million new vehicles sold domestically in 2019, according to the Energy Department. But many believe now is the beginning of the end of gasoline vehicles.

“It’s no longer a matter of if, and it’s no longer a matter of when, it’s now the question is how fast? Because we know that the automakers have clipped the money in the retooling,” said Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer of EV charging company EVgo.

While automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen are heavily investing in improving performance and lowering prices of EVs to catch up to Tesla, they’re far less interested in building, owning and operating their own charging networks. The profit margins and amount of effort involved to maintain them just doesn’t make sense. Tesla, an early leader in the industry, built its own charging network out of necessity and, in part, to help sell its cars.

Mainstream adoption

“The answer is not one size fits all,” ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano told CNBC. “You’re going to need an entire universe of charging infrastructure that is easy to use and accessible for the different scenarios to kind of play out.”

Charging suppliers and operators have largely focused infrastructure at destination points in urban and suburban areas such as grocery stores and other places where people regularly shop. Businesses consider it a draw for EV owners. There’s also a growing call for additional fast chargers between major cities to enable faster and longer trips for EVs. Tesla has been building out such a network for its owners for nearly a decade.

‘Peanut butter and jelly’

“It’s not ‘chicken and egg’ because we’re not starting from scratch,” he said. “We have charging, we have EVs. It’s not what comes first. It’s peanut butter and jelly, in that we need to build these things out in a complementary way.”

About 30% of Americans don’t have access to home or workplace charging that are going to need a way to charge future EVs, according to Levy.

As for 2020, IHS Markit reports EVs were only 1.8% of new light-duty vehicle registrations in the U.S. AlixPartners expects there to be 18 million EVs on U.S. roadways by the end of 2030.

Business models

A Tesla Inc. vehicle charges at a charging station in San Mateo, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

ChargePoint is Cowen’s “top pick” for the recharging market, which the investment firm believes will be a total addressable market of about $27 billion by 2040. The company went public March 1 through a SPAC deal with Switchback Energy Acquisition Corp.

While largely new to public investors, Cowen believes ” the sector is poised for tremendous growth and value creation, underpinned by a large, strong unit economics, and recurring revenue,” according to a report on EV charging earlier this month.

But that growth needs to come with EV sales as well as incentives and investments from several sources, including the federal government, according to officials.

“Right now you absolutely need government funding at some level,” Wakefield said. “The reality of it is that the automakers don’t have the money. Utilities have some of the money, but the business case isn’t there. It’s so expensive.”

Goldman is close to offering bitcoin to its richest clients

Goldman Sachs is close to offering its first investment vehicles for bitcoin and other digital assets to clients of its private wealth management group, CNBC has learned exclusively.

The bank aims to begin offering investments in the emerging asset class in the second quarter, according to Mary Rich, who was recently named global head of digital assets for Goldman’s private wealth management division. Her promotion was scheduled to be announced Wednesday in an internal company memo seen by CNBC.

We are working closely with teams across the firm to explore ways to offer thoughtful and appropriate access to the ecosystem for private wealth clients, and that is something we expect to offer in the near term,” Rich said in an interview this week.

Goldman is looking at ultimately offering a “full spectrum” of investments in bitcoin and digital assets, “whether that’s through the physical bitcoin, derivatives or traditional investment vehicles,” she said.

The move means that soon, clients of two of the world’s preeminent investment banks – Goldman and Morgan Stanley – will have access to a nascent asset class that has intrigued billionaires and digital currency believers alike. Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley told its financial advisors that they could place clients into bitcoin funds starting in April, CNBC was first to report.

Mary Rich, named global head of Digital Assets for Goldman’s private wealth management division

Source: Goldman Sachs

It is the latest sign of the staying power of blockchain-related assets including bitcoin, a new kind of money that emerged out of the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis and whose exact origins are still unknown. Until now, big U.S. banks have mostly shunned bitcoin, deeming it too speculative and volatile for clients.

But the industry capitulated after the latest boom in bitcoin’s price. The surge has drawn in institutional investors, corporations and fintech players, and the infrastructure to hold digital assets is continuing to mature.

In the end, it was client demand that won out, according to Rich. Goldman’s private wealth management business mostly targets individuals, families and endowments with at least $25 million to invest.

“There’s a contingent of clients who are looking to this asset as a hedge against inflation, and the macro backdrop over the past year has certainly played into that,” Rich said. “There are also a large contingent of clients who feel like we’re sitting at the dawn of a new Internet in some ways and are looking for ways to participate in this space.”

The bank may offer bitcoin investment funds, similar to those that Morgan Stanley will have, as well as other ways to invest that are “more akin to the underlying asset class which trades 24-7 globally,” Rich said. Some cryptofunds, such as the Galaxy Bitcoin Fund, can only be sold or bought once per quarter, while Galaxy’s institutional bitcoin fund can be liquidated on a weekly basis.

“We’re still in the very nascent stages of this ecosystem; no one knows exactly how it will evolve or what shape it will be,” Rich said. “But I think it’s fairly safe to expect it will be part of our future.”

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

Michael Jordan launching grant program to assist Black communities

Former professional US basketball player Michael Jordan at a press conference at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Patrick Kovarik | AFP | Getty Images

Michael Jordan is taking the next step to his $100 million commitment to the Black community.

Through his Jordan brand company, the basketball icon will offer social organizations funds from a $1 million community grant program to help meet objectives in combating issues that plague Black communities. Firms with budgets of $3 million or less will be considered for the grants.

Applicants can apply until April 30, are required to be U.S.-based and 501(c)(3) confirmed. Non-profit group Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors is coordinating the program, which will distribute money from Jordan brand’s $100 million pledge to fight racism and income inequality.

“Since announcing our commitment to the Black Community in June of 2020, we’ve been focused on two things – action and impact,” Jordan brand president Craig Williams said in a statement. “I’m excited about the impact these grants will have in the Black Community. We know that when we create positive change for the Black Community, there is a benefit for almost every other group.”

Jordan’s brand joined top companies who donated funds to the Black community following a series of high-profile police killings in 2020, including George Floyd’s death. Former police officer Derek Chauvin is currently standing trial for killing Floyd and faces charges of second and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The Jordan brand made donations of up to $1 million last July, distributing money from the pledge to the NAACP, the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM), and Black Voters Matter organization.

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 27, 2021 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Barry Gossage | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Suns owner gets involved with NBA Foundation

Microsoft’s message to managers after decline in team connections

A Microsoft patch is shown on the shirt of an employee at the Nokia Oyj mobile handset factory in Komarom, Hungary.

Akos Stiller | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Programming note: The CNBC @Work Summit returns this fall on October 13. Facebook CIO Atish Banerjea, Bank of America COO/CTO Cathy Bessant, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani and Estee Lauder CFO Tracey Travis will talk about building a resilient future and more. Register now.

Microsoft is bringing more employees back to offices, but it is continuing to learn big lessons about keeping hybrid and remote work productivity up in the Covid era. That has been slipping.

Recent surveying of 150,000+ Microsoft employees by the tech company’s head of people analytics, Dawn Klinghoffer, and her team, picked up a significant decline in team sentiment about connections since the mass pandemic work from home experiment began. Microsoft saw employee reporting about feeling connected decline, though not in a straight line, from 91% in April 2020 — its baseline for this data point as it did not track it pre-Covid. Connectedness fell to 75% by November 2020; was at 79% in December 2020; and then fell as low as 71% in February of this year.

“The shift to remote work was slowly eroding team connection,” Klinghoffer notes in a report out Tuesday. “At the beginning of Covid, people were really focused on staying connected in new ways,” she says. “But as time went on, those team connections grew harder to maintain.”  

What hasn’t worked (hint: virtual happy hour)

So what hasn’t got the job done? According to Kathleen Hogan, chief people officer at Microsoft, one ineffective method was the attempt to lead with the recreation of team experiences in a virtual environment— from lunches to offsites, desk-side chats and happy hours. 

“Our data tell us that our employees need us to focus on the basics first, like work life balance and prioritization,” Hogan, who spoke at the CNBC @Work Summit on Tuesday, relayed in an email to CNBC about the latest data ahead of her appearance. “Only then can a spectrum of formal and informal touch points like team moral events help strengthen team bonds.”

Hogan didn’t say the virtual cocktail hour doesn’t have a place in virtual work. Some teams might enjoy it, while other teams thrive on virtual chat. “But the most important takeaway for me is that before those things can be effective, the fundamentals must be in place first,” Hogan wrote.

Microsoft managers who have made this distinction have the teams which have continued to thrive throughout the pandemic versus those experiencing collective fatigue. Managers who have taken on a greater role in helping individual employees prioritize tasks and manage work/life balance have kept team morale higher, the company’s survey data indicates.

At Microsoft, managers with this focus often have weekly “1:1s” during which they can help employees prioritize and overcome challenges. But it’s not just the “scheduled time” that pays off, Hogan says. Microsoft teams have also started to set aside time at the beginning of meetings for check-ins. “When work gets busy, it’s easy to focus on the work, but when managers take the time to show they care about the whole person, it boosts the entire team’s connection and morale,” she explained.

Hybrid is the new permanent state

If it seems intuitive that managers are important to teams, that’s because it is.

“Managers have always mattered,” says Hogan.

In fact, Microsoft manger programs and best practices were in place before the pandemic, rather than being enacted due to the pandemic work data. But Microsoft’s data suggests that manager support matters even more in a digital world.

Microsoft is betting the permanent state for many companies will be as a hybrid work organization, and that means this emerging role of managers will be critical to understand, and support with training and resources.

The 91% survey number in team connection which Microsoft tracked in April 2020 was a data point “we felt pretty good about,” Hogan wrote to CNBC.

Getting back to that level is the goal for the hybrid era.

“As we adjust to hybrid work, our job is to look for ways to bring those levels back up to where they used to be,” she wrote.

During her comments at the CNBC @Work Summit on Tuesday, Hogan added, “As we think about hybrid it is about empowering managers to empower employees.”

For a company with employees in 190 countries it is difficult to have one policy for all, especially in a world of work going through unprecedented changes. Decisions on hybrid and remote work are still evolving — Microsoft says for the majority of employees up to 50% of time working from home will be possible without manager approval. But other issues like relocation policy remain less clear and “ultimately, it is dialogue with manager and employee,” she said at the CNBC event.

One focal point for manager support to retake the highs in team morale: new employees.

Onboarding 25,000 new employees during Covid

Microsoft added 25,000 employees during the pandemic and Klinghoffer’s team found that at the 90-day point, managers were substantially more important than peers for new hires. 

The data showed that, compared to pre-pandemic Microsoft, new employees said reliance on managers for support during the onboarding process increased almost 20%, while reliance on peers for initial support declined 15%. 

This focus paid off quickly in new employee sentiment, with Microsoft new hires who said managers played an active role 3.5 times more likely to say they were satisfied with their onboarding experience, and 1.2 times more likely to feel like they were making important contributions to the team. 

The Microsoft findings echo other recent research on the importance of managers in the evolving study of remote work. A study conducted by Harvard Business School professors Raj Choudhury, Iavor Bojinov and Jacqueline Lane, looking at remote interns participating in a large corporation’s flagship summer internship program, found that the interns who had randomized opportunities to interact synchronously and informally with senior managers were significantly more likely to receive an offer for full-time employment, achieved higher weekly performance ratings, and had more positive attitudes towards their remote internship.

The findings on managers should not be taken to mean other relationships are less important, Hogan said.

Especially for new employees, “onboarding buddies” — someone who has recently gone through the onboarding process themselves — should be a source of support. “They are great for questions like what an acronym means or how to find tools and resources at the company,” she says. Peers, meanwhile, are key to gaining institutional knowledge, and an understanding of team culture and what is expected on the team.

“Each of these support areas are critical to a great onboarding experience,” Hogan explained. “It just takes a bit more effort from managers to keep the team rowing in the right direction.”

Facebook gives users more control over content with feed filter bar

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Facebook is introducing a new feature that will make it easier for users to choose what content shows up in their News Feed.

The new feature, announced on Wednesday, is called a feed filter bar. Rather than just relying on Facebook’s algorithms to determine what they see, users will now be able to toggle between viewing algorithmically ranked content, the most recent posts and updates from their favorite friends and pages they follow.

While Facebook already allows users to view their feed ranked by most recent posts or those created by top friends, those options are buried deep in the app and hard to find. The feed filter bar will make them readily apparent.

The feature will roll out to Android users on Wednesday, and it will become available to iOS users “in the coming weeks,” Facebook said.

The new feature was announced Wednesday in a 5,000-word essay published by Nick Clegg, Facebook vice president of global affairs and communications. The post was titled “You and the Algorithm: It Takes Two to Tango.”

Facebook also plans to introduce more ways for users to understand why content is showing up in their feed. This includes a “Why Am I Seeing This?” feature, which is similar to a function that let’s people see why they’re being shown an ad.

The company will additionally unveil more information hubs to show users “authoritative information in more areas where there is a clear societal benefit,” Clegg wrote in the post. In 2020, Facebook introduced hubs to provide users with accurate information regarding Covid-19, the 2020 U.S. election and climate change. Clegg said that a racial justice hub is coming this year.

WATCH: Facebook battles Apple over user privacy features in iOS update

Slight drop in mortgage rates didn’t stop the bleeding in refinances

A sign advertising an open house in Corona Del Mar, California.

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Higher mortgage rates are hitting the refinance market hard and may finally be taking their toll on homebuyers.

Mortgage application volume fell 2.2% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) did fall slightly to 3.33% from 3.36%, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. The rate, however, had been rising for seven straight weeks and is now significantly higher than at the start of this year.

As a result, applications to refinance a home loan decreased 3% for the week and were 32% lower than a year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 60.6% of total applications from 60.9% the previous week.

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“Higher mortgage rates continue to shut down refinance activity, as the pool of borrowers who can benefit from a refinance further shrinks,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 2% for the week but were 39% higher than a year ago. That large and seemingly strong annual comparison, however, is due to the fact that the entire housing market basically stalled when the pandemic hit a year ago. It then came roaring back just a few months later. The weekly drop is likely more indicative of what’s happening now with homebuyers.

“Many prospective homebuyers this spring are feeling the effects of higher rates and rapidly accelerating home prices,” said Kan. “Record-low inventory is pushing home-price growth at double the rate from a year ago, and even above the 10% growth rates seen in 2005. The housing market is in desperate need of more inventory to cool price growth and preserve affordability.”

Mortgage rates started this week on the upswing yet again. Some believe higher rates will help to cool the growth in home prices because potential buyers will simply be sidelined. Demand, however, does not appear to be abating, and the inventory situation is not easing at all, even with the onset of the popular spring season.

Biden infrastructure plan includes corporate tax hike, transportation spending

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers an update on the administration’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response and the state of vaccinations during an event in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, March 29, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President Joe Biden will unveil a more than $2 trillion infrastructure package on Wednesday as his administration shifts its focus to bolstering the post-pandemic economy.

The plan Biden will outline Wednesday will include roughly $2 trillion in spending over eight years, and would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% to fund it, an administration official told reporters Tuesday night.

The White House said the tax hike, combined with measures designed to stop offshoring of profits, would fund the infrastructure plan within 15 years.

The proposal would:

  • Put $621 billion into transportation infrastructure such as bridges, roads, public transit, ports, airports and electric vehicle development
  • Direct $400 billion to care for elderly and disabled Americans
  • Inject more than $300 billion into improving drinking-water infrastructure, expanding broadband access and upgrading electric grids
  • Put more than $300 billion into building and retrofitting affordable housing, along with constructing and upgrading schools
  • Invest $580 billion in American manufacturing, research and development and job training efforts

The president will kick off his second major White House initiative after passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan earlier this month. The administration aims to approve a first proposal designed to create jobs, revamp U.S. infrastructure and fight climate change before it turns toward a second plan to improve education and expand paid leave and health-care coverage.

Through the plan announced Wednesday, the White House aims to show it can “revitalize our national imagination and put millions of Americans to work right now,” the administration official said.

The White House plans to fund the spending by raising the corporate tax rate to 28%. Republicans slashed the levy to 21% from 35% as part of their 2017 tax law.

The administration also aims to boost the global minimum tax for multinational corporations and ensure they pay at least 21%. The White House also aims to discourage firms from listing tax havens as their address and writing off expenses related to offshoring, among other reforms.

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Biden hopes the package will create manufacturing jobs and rescue failing American infrastructure as the country tries to emerge from the shadow of Covid-19. He and congressional Democrats also aim to combat climate change and start a transition to cleaner energy sources.

The president was set to announce his plans in Pittsburgh, a city where organized labor has a strong presence and the economy has undergone a shift from traditional manufacturing and mining to health care and technology. Biden, who has pledged to create union jobs as part of the infrastructure plan, launched his presidential campaign at a Pittsburgh union hall in 2019.

While Democrats narrowly control both chambers of Congress, the party faces challenges in passing the infrastructure plan. The GOP broadly supports efforts to rebuild roads, bridges and airports and expand broadband access, but Republicans oppose tax hikes as part of the process.

“We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier this month.

Biden has said he hopes to win Republican support for an infrastructure bill. If Democrats cannot get 10 GOP senators on board, they will have to try to pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would not require any Republicans to back the plan in a chamber split 50-50 by party.

They would also have to consider whether to package the physical infrastructure plans with other recovery policies including universal pre-K and expanded paid leave. Republicans likely would not back more spending to boost the social safety net, especially if Democrats move to hike taxes on the wealthy to fund programs.

The administration official did not say whether Biden would seek to pass the plan with bipartisan support.

“We will begin and will already have begun to do extensive outreach to our counterparts in Congress,” the official said.

Asked Monday about how the bill could pass, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would “leave the mechanics of bill passing to [Senate Majority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer and other leaders in Congress.”

As of now, Democrats will have two more shots at budget reconciliation before the 2022 midterms. Schumer, D-N.Y., hopes to convince the chamber’s parliamentarian to allow Democrats to use the process at least once more beyond those two opportunities, according to NBC News.

The party passed its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package without a Republican vote.

— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report

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Growth slows dramatically as U.S. sanctions hit

The logo of Chinese company Huawei at its main U.K. offices on January 28, 2020.

Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP via Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Huawei’s revenue growth slowed dramatically last year as the impact of U.S. sanctions and the economic fallout from the coronavirus weighed on the Chinese technology giant.

Revenue for 2020 totaled 891.4 billion yuan ($136.7 billion), a 3.8% year-on-year rise in yuan terms. That was slower than the more than 19% revenue growth Huawei saw in 2019.

China was the only region where Huawei operates that saw positive revenue growth. Sales in China totaled 584.9 billion yuan ($89.7 billion), up 15.4% year on year and accounting for over 65% of total revenue.

In 2020, China’s economy grew as the country managed to broadly contain the coronavirus. Other major economies saw contractions as the pandemic continued to sweep across the world and numerous countries enacted lockdowns of varying degrees.

Huawei’s net profit for 2020 was 64.6 billion yuan ($9.9 billion), up 3.2% year over year.

U.S. sanctions bite

Both measures have damaged Huawei’s smartphone sales. At the time of the Entity List inclusion, Huawei was the second-largest smartphone player by market share. But in the fourth quarter, Huawei fell out of the top five biggest vendors by market share as sales around the world plunged.

Huawei said its consumer business recorded revenue of 482.9 billion yuan ($74.1 billion), a 3.3% year-on-year rise. That was slower than the 34% growth seen in 2019.

Ken Hu, Huawei’s rotating chairman, said the results of the consumer business “fell short” of the company’s expectations due to a fall in smartphone revenue.

“Because of the unfair sanctions placed on us by the U.S., our mobile phone business saw a revenue decline,” he said, according to an official English translation of his Mandarin remarks.

However, some of Huawei’s other products including tablets, laptops, wearables and smart home devices saw an increase in sales that helped offset the smartphone decline, according to Hu.

In 2019, Huawei launched its own operating system called HarmonyOS which is designed to work across devices. The company is looking to roll out the operating system across a number of its products and last month announced the software’s arrival on its foldable smartphone, the Mate X2. Huawei is hoping that may help its consumer business.

Besides the smartphone business, the U.S. has also looked to target Huawei’s telecommunications unit. Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the U.S. sought to push allied countries to block Huawei from their 5G networks. 5G refers to next-generation mobile networks and Huawei is one of the leading companies making telecommunications equipment to support that.

Countries including Australia and the U.K. have blocked Huawei from their 5G networks.

That, along with a potential slowdown in mobile network spending on equipment last year, is likely the reason behind Huawei’s carrier business eking out growth of just 0.2% in 2020.

A bright spot for Huawei was its enterprise business which includes products it sells to companies across various industries. This could include cloud computing, which has been a big focus for the company recently.

In 2020, the enterprise business brought in revenue of 100.3 billion yuan ($15.4 billion), up 23% year-on-year, making it the fastest-growing of all of Huawei’s divisions.

Amazon-backed firm starts trading in London today

A Deliveroo cyclist in London, U.K.

Dinendra Haria | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

LONDON — Shares of British food delivery start-up Deliveroo sank in its stock market debut Wednesday, as the company faces pressure from top investors and trade unions over workers’ rights.

Deliveroo, which is backed by Amazon, saw its shares down around 30% in early deals compared to the issue price.

The company priced its shares at £3.90 ($5.36) Tuesday, giving it a market value of £7.59 billion, which is at the bottom end of its IPO target range.

But the company’s share price was down to around £2.73 as shares began conditional trading.

Deliveroo is selling 384,615,384 shares, equating to an offer size of approximately £1.5 billion. Of that, £1 billion will go to the company itself and £500 million will go to existing shareholders, with Amazon and Will Shu, the company’s CEO and co-founder, among those set to gain the most.

The company’s shares began trading under the ticker “ROO” at 8 a.m. London time on Wednesday. However, retail investors won’t be able to trade Deliveroo shares until conditional dealings end on April 7.

Deliveroo’s IPO offer is the largest in the U.K. since e-commerce firm The Hut Group raised £1.88 billion in a listing last September. In terms of market cap, it is the biggest IPO to take place in London since Glencore went public nearly a decade ago. It’s also Britain’s largest-ever tech listing by value, surpassing that of The Hut Group and Worldpay which debuted in 2015 before delisting.

‘Next phase of our journey’

“I am very proud that Deliveroo is going public in London — our home,” said Shu in a statement. “As we reach this milestone I want to thank everyone who has helped to build Deliveroo into the company it is today — in particular our restaurants and grocers, riders and customers.”

He added: “In this next phase of our journey as a public company we will continue to invest in the innovations that help restaurants and grocers to grow their businesses, to bring customers more choice than ever before, and to provide riders with more work. Our aim is to build the definitive online food company and we’re very excited about the future ahead.”

It’s a major vote of confidence in London, as the U.K. capital looks to attract high-growth tech companies and boost its financial clout after Brexit. British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak described Deliveroo as a “true British tech success story” when the company announced plans to list in London.

However, the IPO has been hit by concerns over Deliveroo’s treatment of its drivers, the company’s governance and valuation. Legal and General, Aberdeen Standard, Aviva and M&A — which collectively have about £2.5 trillion in assets under management — have all shunned Deliveroo’s debut.

Test for London

Deliveroo’s IPO will be a test of London’s tolerance for high-growth tech companies that spend heavily on growing at scale before prioritizing profits. 

It’s a mantra that gained popularity in Silicon Valley with Amazon, which had initially been unprofitable for a number of years. Deliveroo remains heavily lossmaking, having reported a loss of £223.7 million million in 2020. But the company has managed to enter the black in recent months thanks to a rise in demand for food delivery.

But U.K. investors are worried by Deliveroo’s lofty £7.6 billion valuation, especially at a time when vaccines are being rolled out and countries are plotting a reopening of their economies. DoorDash, a U.S. rival to Deliveroo that went public last year, has a significantly higher market cap of around $42 billion.

Deliveroo warned it could have failed early last year as an investment from Amazon, its largest outside shareholder, was put on hold amid a competition review. Amazon’s stake in Deliveroo was later approved by regulators.

“A lack of blockbuster listings in London and pent-up investor demand during the pandemic have created encouraging market dynamics for Deliveroo,” said Nalin Patel, EMEA private capital analyst at PitchBook.

“However, near term volatility facing public equities and questions surrounding workers’ rights have impacted IPO pricing and investor participation,” Patel added.

Nevertheless, several tech firms are flocking to London to list their shares, with the likes of Trustpilot and Moonpig having both done so recently. A number of other firms, including Wise and Darktrace, are expected to debut later this year.