Axios Markets

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July 29, 2019

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Situational awareness:

  • The Chinese government will issue a response for the first time to escalating civil unrest in Hong Kong that has taken place since June. (SCMP)
  • Blackstone is expected to announce the merger of Refinitiv, formerly Thomson Reuters, with the London Stock Exchange within a week. (Reuters)
  • SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son says it will invest $2 billion in Southeast Asian ride-hailing app Grab. (Reuters)
  • “The global economy has weakened. I think partly it’s weakened because of conflicts over trade and the uncertainty that’s caused for businesses,” former Fed Chair Janet Yellen said of her support for a rate cut expected at Wednesday's FOMC meeting. (CNBC)

1 big thing: The world is catching up on AI

Data: CB Insights; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: CB Insights; Chart: Axios Visuals

Last year for the first time ever, the U.S. share of global artificial intelligence startup funding deals fell to less than half the world's total.

  • The U.S. was home to nearly 75% of all deals in 2013, data shows, but is fast losing share in the startup market — a key driver of innovation.

Why it matters: AI is a major growth force for American companies and "of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States" President Trump said in an executive order signed in February dubbed the "American AI Initiative."

  • However, Trump's order allocated no new federal funding toward AI research and development, only calling on federal agencies to prioritize existing funds toward AI projects.

The big picture from Axios emerging tech reporter Kaveh Waddell: The U.S. had a head start in commercializing AI, thanks to unmatched talent and eager VC money.

  • But the number of startups in the U.S. has been relatively flat since the financial crisis — in part because Big Tech quickly snaps up the most promising shoots — while AI startups in Europe and especially China have flared into prominence, driven by their governments' concerted strategic planning to dominate in AI.

What's happening: In addition to the Chinese government allocating significant spending to AI, more new companies are being started in a raft of different countries and raising equity, analysts from CB Insights tell Axios in an email.

  • In 2013, there were only around 20 AI startups in countries outside the U.S. that raised funding, data shows. In 2019, there are more than 60.

Yes, but: The total amount of funding is still tilted heavily toward the U.S. — with the exception of a handful of Chinese mega-companies like TikTok owner ByteDance, which is the top-funded AI startup in the world. The U.S. funding lead is likely to continue because of its concentration of AI experts.

  • Many U.S. startups "have graduated from the seed-funding stage and entered later stages such as expansion and pre-IPO," says Joy Dantong Ma, an analyst at the Paulson Institute. "Funding in these later stages tend to be more sizable."

ICYMI: AI startups generated their highest level of funding ever in this year's second quarter, $7.4 billion, CB Insights' data shows.

2. Wealthy investors are less worried about politics than ever

Data: UBS Global Wealth Management; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: UBS Global Wealth Management; Chart: Axios Visuals

UBS' latest survey of high net worth investors and business owners in the U.S. shows concerns about the political environment are the lowest they've been in the history of the survey.

  • The multinational investment bank's investor sentiment data dates back to Q1 2013.

Details: While the political environment was still the top worry in the survey of business owners and wealthy investors' "Country/Macroeconomic Issues," beating out concerns such as health care costs, tax increases and social security, the percentage of investors who identify it as a concern has fallen significantly.

  • Analysts from UBS' Client Strategy Office tell Axios the results don't necessarily mean wealthy clients aren't worried about the political environment. They just don't think it will negatively impact their money.

3. Disney keeps smashing box office records

Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals

Disney's 2019 movie run has broken the all-time annual global box office record just 7 months into the year. And with more big-budget blockbusters still to come this year, and already in possession of more than a third of the world's total box office receipts, the company seems unstoppable.

What's happening: Disney's acquisitions of Lucasfilm and Marvel have delivered huge wins for the company, but it's been the ability to produce live-action remakes from its own catalogue that has set the table over the last decade.

  • "The Lion King" is the latest Disney release to become the No. 1 film in the world, and it held onto the crown this weekend, having generated nearly $1 billion worldwide in just 2 weeks.
  • The company has made $7 billion at the box office from the remakes since the release of "Alice in Wonderland" in March 2010, per CNBC.

What's next: Disney is releasing a sequel to “Maleficent” in October and a live-action version of "Lady and the Tramp" in November. The company has also announced a live-action remake of “Mulan” in 2020.

Of note: Disney broke its own box office record this year, which it set in 2016 when the studio recorded the first ever $3 billion domestic box office haul and brought in a total of $7.61 billion worldwide.

  • Its 36.7% share of total box office receipts so far this year is far and away the highest ever for a studio. The previous record, also held by Disney, was almost 10 percentage points lower, according to data from Nash Information Services.

4. Mauritius is the world's latest billion-dollar tax haven

Data leaked from law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman’s former Mauritius branch shows the latest tax haven scandal comes from the tiny African nation.

  • Documents show firms like Sequoia Capital, a leading U.S. venture capital firm, used Mauritius to avoid U.S. and local tax collection in countries in Africa and Asia.

What it means: Sequoia, an early investor in the likes of Apple and Google, "invested $1.2 billion in more than 75 Indian companies with combined revenue of more than $3.5 billion" by 2013 largely through its tax shelter in Mauritius, according to reporting from Quartz.

  • "The leaked Sequoia documents offer a rare detailed look at how global companies use venues around the world—even far-flung islands like Mauritius—to get the most favorable tax treatment for their activities," Max de Haldevang writes.
  • "The Tax Justice Network, a research and advocacy group, estimates that multinationals shifting profits to tax havens costs the world’s governments more than $500 billion per year."
  • "To see what that means on the ground, look no further than Aircastle, a Connecticut-based plane-leasing company, which likely avoided $14.8 million in South African taxes over four years. That stash could have paid Johannesburg’s yearly social housing budget twice over."

Go deeper: How Sequoia Capital is trying to avoid taxes on over a billion dollars in Indian investments