June 20, 2024

Top of the Morning

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) this month launched an investigation into Affinity Partners, the Saudi-backed private equity firm led by Jared Kushner.

Why it matters: Wyden is chair of the Senate Financial Committee, and as a member of the majority could get enough votes to subpoena documents that House Democrats have unsuccessfully sought.

Catch up quick: Kushner formed Affinity shortly after leaving the White House, and by the end of 2021 had raised $3 billion for a debut fund.

  • This included a $2 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, even though PIF staff reportedly raised red flags. Overall, nearly 99% of Affinity's fund capital came from non-U.S. sources.
  • So far Affinity has invested in at least eight companies, including an Israeli auto services group and a California solar energy fintech.

The big question is if Kushner discussed his plans for Affinity with foreign governments while still serving as senior adviser to former President Trump, or if it was some sort of retroactive quid pro quo.

  • Kushner has brushed off such suggestions, telling me at Axios BFD Miami that he didn't plan to launch a private equity firm until after leaving the White House.
  • During that same interview, Kushner said he's made a long-term commitment to Affinity and won't return to the White House were Trump to be re-elected this November.

Zoom in: Sen. Wyden argues in a letter to Affinity that Kushner may have run afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which is designed to prevent individuals from surreptitiously lobbying in the U.S. for foreign governments. In short, he believes Affinity may have been designed to fall through a loophole.

  • So far, however, Wyden's argument is entirely circumstantial and pretty light on circumstance.
  • It's absolutely true that Kushner used relationships from his time in government to raise Affinity's fund, but the same goes for a slew of other folks who've swapped D.C. for Wall Street; including former Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, who now runs a Saudi-backed PE firm.
  • Wyden also suggests that Affinity enables Saudi Arabia to indirectly acquire U.S. companies without CFIUS review. But a majority of Affinity's disclosed deals have been for non-U.S. businesses, and the domestic ones aren't involved in activities that would normally be on national security radars.

The bottom line: The purpose of an investigation is to uncover the unknown, and it's certainly possible that Wyden could find a smoking gun.

  • It's also possible, and maybe likely, that Affinity will try to run out the clock in the hopes of Republicans regaining Senate control.
  • For now, however, Affinity seems to be a fairly vanilla private equity firm whose founder cashed in on his contacts. Arguably unsavory, but not seemingly illegal.

The BFD

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Sainsbury's (LSE: SBRY), the British grocery giant, agreed to sell its banking business to NatWest (LSE: NWG), which will receive both the customer assets and £125 million in cash.

Why it's the BFD: Sainsbury's becomes the latest retailer to reverse course on offering financial services to customers, deciding that the competitive challenges were larger than the customer loyalty rewards.

By the numbers: NatWest says it will add around 1 million customers and £2.6 billion in customer deposits.

  • It also will assume £2.5 billion in gross customer assets, including £1.4 billion of unsecured personal loans and £1.1 billion of credit card balances.

The bottom line: "The UK was among the first to embrace open banking technology, which was meant to induce more competition for lenders by making it easier for consumers to switch providers. Even with that effort, big banks Barclays and Lloyds have been among the largest beneficiaries of people switching accounts." — Sam Nagarajan, Bloomberg

Venture Capital Deals

🚀 CesiumAstro, an Austin, Texas developer of space communications tech, raised $65m in Series B+ funding. Trousdale Ventures led, and was joined by Development Bank of Japan, Quanta Computer, Kleiner Perkins, Lavrock Ventures, L3Harris Technologies, InMotion Ventures, Matter Venture Partners, MESH Ventures, and Assembly Ventures. axios.link/45zYgUo

Genspark, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based AI search engine startup, raised $60m in seed funding led by Lanchi Ventures. axios.link/4eFS0im

Daydream, an e-commerce platform led by Julie Bornstein (The Yes, Stich Fix), raised $50m in seed funding. Forerunner Ventures and Index Ventures co-led, and were joined by GV and True Ventures. daydream.ing

🚑 Pomelo Care, a virtual maternal care provider, raised $46m in Series B funding, per Axios Pro. Andreessen Horowitz and First Round Capital co-led, and were joined by Stripes, BoxGroup, Operator Partners, and SV Angel. axios.link/45vhFpL

GrayMatter, a Gardena, Calif., industrial robotics company, raised $45m in Series B funding. Wellington Management led, and was joined by NGP Capital, Euclidean Capital, Advance Venture Partners, SQN Venture Partners, 3M Ventures, B Capital, Bow Capital, Calibrate Ventures, OCA Ventures, and Swift Ventures. graymatter-robotics.com

Vecna Robotics, a Waltham, Mass.-based maker of autonomous warehouse forklifts, raised $40m in new Series C equity and debt funding from Tiger Global Management, Proficio Capital Partners, and Impulse. vecnarobotics.com

Zencity, a community engagement platform for local governments, raised $40m in Series C funding. StepStone Group led, and was joined by TLV Partners. zencity.io

PQShield, a British post-quantum cryptography startup, raised $37m in Series B funding. Addition led, and was joined by insider Oxford Science Enterprises. axios.link/4bdq6r5

Qblox, a Dutch quantum control stack startup, raised $26m in Series A funding. Quantonation and Invest-NL Deep Tech co-led, and were joined by QDNL and the European Innovation Council. axios.link/3VTgdug

🚑 Humata Health, a health-care prior authorization startup, raised $25m, per Axios Pro. Blue Venture Fund and LRVHealth co-led, and were joined by Optum Ventures, .406 Ventures, Highmark Ventures, and VentureforGood. axios.link/3RwXxhd

C12, a French quantum computing startup, raised €18m from Varsity Capital, EIC Fund, Verve Ventures, 360 Capital, Bpifrance, and BNP Paribas Développement. axios.link/3zb6Kp0

PointFive, an Israeli cloud cost optimization platform, raised $16m in seed funding. Index Ventures led, and was joined by Entree Capital, Sheva Capital, and Vesey Venture. axios.link/4etEnTc

Amplify Life Insurance, an SF-based life insurance platform, raised $20m in Series B funding co-led by Crosslink Capital and Anthemis. axios.link/3VHxmXv

Hero, a French banking services platform for small businesses, raised €11.3m led by Valar Ventures. axios.link/45uP3wR

Ramify, a French wealth management platform, raised €11m in Series A funding. 13books Capital led, and was joined by Fidelity International Strategic Ventures, Crédit Agricole, Newfund, and AG2R. axios.link/3Vx1mEj

🌎 Kilimo, an Argentinian water management tool for farmers, raised $7.5m in Series A funding, per TechCrunch. Emerald Technology Ventures led, and was joined by iThink VC, Kamay Ventures, and Salkantay Ventures. axios.link/3XvA6Zj

Bisly, an Estonian building energy management platform, raised €6.2m in Series A funding from Aconterra, SmartCap Green Fund, Pinorena Capital, and Foxway co-founders Urvo Männama and Paul Padrik. axios.link/3z9HD60

Wordsmith, a Scottish developer of AI paralegal agents, raised $5m in seed funding from Index Ventures and General Catalyst. axios.link/4eyNxOu

Butterflies AI, a social network that integrates AI, raised $4.8m in seed funding. Coatue led, and was joined by SV Angel. axios.link/3VPtOT6

Aikido, a floating wind turbine startup, raised $4m in seed funding, per Axios Pro. Azolla Ventures led, and was joined by Propeller Ventures, Sabanci Climate Ventures, Cisco Foundation, and Anthropocene Ventures. axios.link/3xulEpV

🌎 Forward Earth, a German environmental data management startup, raised €3.2m. Speedinvest led, and was joined by Revent and Lucid Capital. axios.link/3xpjiZl

Coming attractions: Ilya Sutskever, the OpenAI co-founder who left the company last month, unveiled a new AI startup focused on developing "a safe superintelligence." No word yet on investors.

Private Equity Deals

Blackstone launched a tender offer for Japanese e-comics provider Infocom (Tokyo: 4348) at a $1.7b enterprise value. axios.link/4bcjGZh

🚑 H.I.G. Capital acquired Health-E Commerce, an FSA and HSA marketplace, from BPOC. health-ecommerce.com

Octopus Energy, a PE-backed British power company, is entering the U.S. renewables market via the acquisition of solar farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania from Vesper Energy Development, a portfolio company of Magnetar Capital. axios.link/3RvvHSA

🚑 Riverpoint Medical, a Portland, Ore., portfolio company of Arlington Capital Partners, acquired CP Medical, a maker of surgical devices and wound closure products. rpmed.com

Public Offerings

Golden Goose, an Italian luxury sneaker brand owned by Permira, postponed its Milan IPO, amid reports that it would have priced at the bottom of its proposed range. axios.link/3ziI264

Guzman y Gomez, an Australian fast-food chain, raised A$355m in its Sydney IPO and then saw shares pop 36% on their first trading day. Private market backers included Cooper Investors, Hyperion Asset Management, Firetrail Investments, and QVG Capital. axios.link/3VQ2eW0

🚑 MapLight, a Burlington, Mass, developer of neurological disease drugs, picked Morgan Stanley and Jefferies to lead an IPO that could seek to raise up to $200m, per Bloomberg. It's raised nearly $300m in VC funding, including a $230m Series C round last year led by Novo Holdings. axios.link/3VKH4bD

SPAC Stuff

HCM II Acquisition, a SPAC formed by Hondius Capital Management, filed for a $200m IPO. axios.link/3Xt6gVm

SilverBox IV, a SPAC formed by SilverBox Capital, filed for a $200m IPO. axios.link/3XvhybH

United Hydrogen, a Chinse hydrogen services provider with $133m in 2023 revenue, agreed to go public at an implied $1.6b enterprise value via Aimei Health Technology (Nasdaq: AFJK). axios.link/4ctSOVv

🚑 Voyager Acquisition, a health care SPAC led by Adeel Rouf (Cohen & Co.) and Warren Hosseinion (Nutex Health), filed for a $261m IPO. axios.link/3xpkBrd

Liquidity Events

Apax Partners is seeking to sell Lutech, an Italian IT services provider that could fetch around €1b, per Reuters. axios.link/3VNUWlv

CBRE Group (NYSE: CBRE) acquired Direct Line Global, a Fremont, Calif., infrastructure services provider for data centers, from Guardian Capital Partners. dl-global.com

Dedagroup, an Italian IT firm, acquired Quod Orbis, a British provider of cybersecurity continuous controls monitoring. axios.link/4eriPGP

Honeywell (Nasdaq: HON) agreed to buy CAES Systems, a Colorado Springs maker of electronics for defense and aerospace, from Advent International for around $2b. axios.link/4ceF4yo

🚑 Sidekick Health, an Icelandic digital care startup that's raised over $100m from VCs, acquired Pink, a digital health companion for breast cancer patients that had been seeded by Innovationsstarter. axios.link/3zkhFww

More M&A

BP (LSE: BP) agreed to buy the remaining 50% stake in a Brazilian biofuels joint venture with Bunge (NYSE: BG) for $1.4b. axios.link/4exSkja

Tate & Lyle (LSE: TATE) agreed to buy CP Kelco, an Atlanta maker of pectin and specialty gums, for $1.8 in cash and stock from J.M. Huber (which retains a 16% stake).axios.link/3VQEDED

🚑 Vanda Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VNDA) rejected an unsolicited $460m takeover approach from Cycle Pharmaceuticals and a third takeover offer from Future Pak. axios.link/3XvNCwc

U.K. antitrust regulators launched a formal investigation of HPE's (NYSE: HPE) planned $14b acquisition of Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR) for around $14 billion in cash.

Fundraising

Charlesbank Capital Partners raised nearly $1.3b for its second tech opportunities fund. charlesbank.com

General Catalyst, the U.S.-based VC firm, is expanding into India via a merger with Venture Highway. axios.link/4cauVT7

Zendesk, a customer support software company taken private in 2022 for $10.2b, tells Axios that it's launched a corporate VC arm to back early-stage AI startups. axios.link/3RwCb3x

It's Personnel

Hugo Hu joined Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as head of China private equity. He previously was CFO of JD.com unit Jingdong Industrials. axios.link/4csTPNt

Final Numbers

SPAC chart
Source: SPAC Research. Data through June 20, 2024.

The SPAC market is experiencing a minor resurgence, as investors in failed SPACs reallocate capital.

  • This week already has seen six SPACs file for IPOs, seeking to raise over $1.1 billion. That brings the total SPAC IPO pipeline to 44 issuers.
  • Another three SPACs priced IPOs, raising $410 million in aggregate.

Caveat: The year's most talked-about SPAC deal, Trump Media & Technology Group, is having a rough month. Shares today opened 41% lower than they did on June 1, and are trading at less than half of where they spiked on merger day.

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