March 15, 2024

Top of the Morning

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cleaning out the notebook as we head into the weekend...

🔨 D.C. dollars: Federal antitrust enforcers are busier than at any time since the early 1900s, but that isn't necessarily translating into greater financial resources.

  • A spending bill passed by the House earlier this month would divert some pre-merger filing fees from the DOJ and FTC, removing an estimated $45 million in fiscal 2024 funding.
  • The White House says it will "work with Congress" to restore the full fee flow, but no word yet on how those negotiations are progressing.
  • Meanwhile, Biden's fiscal 2025 budget proposal would include $63 million increase for DOJ's antitrust unit and $105 million more for the FTC — although both bumps are smaller than what he requested for fiscal 2024.

☠️ Literal liquidity: Canned water company Liquid Death raised $67 million in new VC funding this week, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's postponing 2024 IPO plans.

  • A source says the round was designed so distributors could invest, rather than because the company needed cash.
  • Expect that Liquid Death's board is closely watching the stock of fellow canned beverage maker Celsius, which is up 230% over the past year, giving it around a $22 billion market cap.

💰 Burning pockets: Private equity dry powder hit $1.2 trillion last year, with a record 26% of that in funds that are at least four years old, per a new Bain & Co. report.

  • In other words, a lot of PE fund managers are under intense pressure to do deals. Another option would be to hand back uncalled capital, but the next time PE funds do that will be the first time.

🤔 Antisocial capital: When Chamath Palihapitiya fired two Social Capital partners on Sunday night, the apparent rationale was that they'd formed a special purpose vehicle to invest in an AI company called Groq.

We've since obtained the SPV docs, and learned some things:

  1. Social Capital's general counsel and its CFO both invested in the SPV, which raises questions as to just how surreptitious it could have been.
  2. A third Social Capital employee, an analyst, was listed alongside the fired partners as a "deal lead" on the SPV, which raised $2 million, and as eligible for carry. One of the fired partners, Jay Zaveri, neither invested in the SPV nor is eligible for carry.
  3. A Social Capital spokesperson declined to comment.

The BFD

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cleveland-Cliffs said Thursday that it would consider another bid for U.S. Steel, were a $14.9 billion takeover by Japan's Nippon Steel to collapse.

Why it's the BFD: The Ohio steelmaker, whose earlier offer had labor union support, is trying to make it easier for U.S. regulators to block Nippon's deal. And maybe get itself a bargain in the process.

By the numbers: U.S. Steel stock closed yesterday at $38.26 per share, more than a 30% discount to its $55 per share agreement with Nippon.

Reality check: "A president has only blocked a foreign transaction seven times since 1990." — Emily Peck, Axios

Venture Capital Deals

InDrive, a Mountain View, Calif.-based mobility and urban services platform, raised $150m from insider General Catalyst. https://axios.link/3TByUBl

🚑 Tubulis, a German developer of antibody-drug conjugates for solid tumors, raised €128m in Series B2 funding. EQT Life Sciences and Nextech Invest co-led, and were joined by Frazier Life Sciences, Deep Track Capital and insiders Andera Partners, BioMedPartners, Fund+, Bayern Kapital, Evotec, Coparion, Seventure Partners, Occident, and High-Tech Gründerfonds. https://axios.link/49YxB5q

🚑 Pi Health, a Cambridge, Mass.-based oncology clinical trials platform, raised over $30m in Series A funding. AlleyCorp and Obvious Ventures co-led, and were joined by Invus Capital. https://axios.link/3wYAJPZ

Sealed, a New York-based residential energy efficiency startup, raised $30m. Keyframe Capital led, and was joined by Cyrus Capital, CityRock, and Fifth Wall. www.sealed.com

🚑 X-Therma, an SF-based developer of regenerative medicine and organ preservation tools, raised $22.4m in Series B funding co-led by new Starling Locke Capital and insider Lorea AG. https://axios.link/3TC4spJ

Omni, an SF-based biz intelligence platform, raised $20m from Theory Ventures. www.omni.co

Polyhedra Network, the developer of a zero-knowledge interoperability protocol, raised $20m in funding at a $1b valuation. Polychain Capital led the round, which also included Animoca Brands, Hashkey Capital, Longhash Ventures, Emirates Consortium, and Mapleblock Capital. https://axios.link/3VblZHA

WarpStream, a cloud-native data streaming startup, raised $20m co-led by Greylock and Amplify Partners. https://axios.link/3viqaGP

🚑 Siolta Therapeutics, a San Carlos, Calif.-based biotech focused on atopic diseases in newborns, raised $12m in Series C funding. SymBiosis and Khosla Ventures co-led, and were joined by Time Ventures, Seventure, and Global Brain. www.sioltatherapeutics.com

Freed, an Indian debt relief platform, raised $7.5m led by Sorin Investments and Multiply Ventures. https://axios.link/3wTgTFX

Dodai, an Ethiopian EV startup, raised $4m in Series A funding from Nissay Capital, Musashi Seimitsu, and Inclusion Japan. https://axios.link/43jzqr6

🌎 Orbio Earth, a German real-time tracker of methane emissions, raised $4m in seed funding. Initialized Capital led, and was joined by YC and the European Space Agency. www.orbio.earth

Acto, a German decision intelligence startup for B2B sales teams, raised €3.7m. 468 Capital and Cusp Capital co-led, and were joined by Adesso Ventures. www.heyacto.com

Work and Mother, a Houston-based provider of lactation suite amenities for commercial office buildings, raised $3.5m in seed funding led by Building Ventures. www.workandmother.com

Allium Engineering, a Somerville, Mass.-based steel rebar producer, raised $3.3m in seed funding from Propeller, Aera VC, Greatwave Ventures, and Anthropocene Ventures. https://axios.link/3TEA13q

Kuehnle AgroSystems, a Honolulu-based microalgae producer, raised $3m led by S2G Ventures. https://axios.link/3PiohRt

Smartschool, developer of AI tutors, raised $1.5m co-led by Inovo VC and The Explorer Fund. https://axios.link/4cqgbjI

Tookeez, a Morocco-based startup that consolidates loyalty points into one wallet, raised $1.5m led by Azur Innovation Fund. https://axios.link/43jJd0k

Moxey, a New Orelans-based digital trade network for local businesses, raised $1m. SpringTime Ventures led, and was joined by Clocktower Ventures and Service Provider Capital. https://axios.link/3x5QYdS

🚑 Jukebox Health, a New York-based provider of clinical home modifications, raised funding from Home Depot Ventures. www.jukeboxhealth.com

Private Equity Deals

Advent International, Hellman & Friedman, and Thoma Bravo are among those weighing bids for SIG, the $3b software integrity business of Synopsys (Nasdaq: SNPS), per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/3TC9y6t

Bharcap Partners bought Insurvia, a Las Vegas-based insurer focused on the Hispanic market, from Gemspring Capital. www.fiestafranchise.com

Evergreen Services Group acquired Centered, an Australian managed services provider. www.centered.com.au

Nordic Capital is investing in One, a Folsom, Calif.-based digital payments platform for insurers whose existing backers include Great Hill Partners. https://axios.link/43g4Cr7

Permira is weighing a take-private offer for Exclusive Networks (Paris: EXN), a French cybersecurity firm in which it's the largest shareholder, per Reuters. https://axios.link/4ah6z97

Sixth Street Partners completed its acquisition of GreenSky, an Atlanta-based installment lending platform, from Goldman Sachs. Other members of the Sixth Street Group include KKR, Bayview, and CardWorks. https://axios.link/4ahdnDF

Stonepeak completed its $2.1b take-private purchase of container lessor Textainer. https://axios.link/45Q8rDa

TA Associates invested in PowerGem, a Clifton Park, N.Y.-based provider of simulation software for the electric power industry. https://axios.link/3VjwU22

Public Offerings

Ingram Micro, an Irvine, Calif.-based IT company owned by Platinum Equity, will seek around an $8b valuation in its upcoming IPO, per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/4cgGYyI

Liquidity Events

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) acquired DarwinAI, a Canadian provider of vision tech for manufacturing, per Bloomberg. DarwinAI raised over $15m from BDC, Obvious Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, and Inovia Capital. https://axios.link/3IDx5gZ

Genstar Capital is weighing the sale of a control or minority stake in Prometheus Group, a Raleigh, N.C.-based industrial software firm that could be valued at $6b, per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/43grOWf

KKR is considering a sale of EuroKids International, an Indian preschool and early-learning chain that could fetch around $1b, per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/4caJ1o5

KPS Capital Partners agreed to sell IKG, a Houston-based maker of metal grating and access infrastructure products, to Germany's Meiser International. www.ikg.com

Platinum Equity hired Goldman Sachs to find a buyer for Club Car, an Augusta, Ga.-based golf cart maker that could fetch more than $2b (including debt), per Reuters. https://axios.link/3vdEMY8

Zscaler (Nasdaq: ZS) acquired Avalor, an Israeli data security startup, for $310m in cash and stock. Avalor had raised around $30m from firms like TCV, Salesforce Ventures and Artisanal Ventures. https://axios.link/3IBX8oM

More M&A

Altice France agreed to sell Altice Media to affiliates of France's Saadé family for €1.55b. https://axios.link/3TD3tGM

Fisker (NYSE: FSR), a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based EV maker, hired restructuring advisers for what could be its second bankruptcy, per the WSJ. https://axios.link/3PrLDEb

PublicSq (NYSE: PSQH) acquired Credova, a Bozeman, Mont.-based BNPL startup focused on shooting sports and firearms sales. https://axios.link/3Pn2GHp

Request Finance, a French crypto payments startup backed by VC firms like Balderton Capital, acquired Consola Finance, an Austrian crypto accounting platform seeded by firms like Speedinvest. https://axios.link/3TxUWF8

Vodafone (LSE: VOD) agreed to sell its Italian unit to Swisscom (Swiss: SCMN) for €8b in cash, and said it will buy back €4b in stock. https://axios.link/3IF84Su

Fundraising

1984 Ventures is raising up to $75m for its third fund, per an SEC filing.

Ballistic Ventures, a cybersecurity-focused firm led by ex-Kleiner Perkins partner Ted Schlein, raised $360m for its second fund. https://axios.link/49RKOwJ

Bitkraft Ventures is raising up to $275m for its third fund, per an SEC filing.

It's Personnel

Edwin Low, former CEO of Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific business, joined Global Infrastructure Partners, per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/3wTFnyP

Edward Ruff, a managing director in Citigroup's equity capital markets group, was put on leave after a "verbal altercation with a junior banker," per Bloomberg. https://axios.link/4ablb9O

Final Numbers

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

Dealmakers are banking on three rate cuts in 2024, but optimism is fading as inflation remains stubbornly high.

  • The Producer Price Index rose 1.2% in February, driven by higher energy and food prices, according to data released yesterday by the Labor Department.
  • Earlier in the week we got hotter-than-expected Consumer Price Index data.

Look ahead: The Fed's policy committee could trim its rate cut projections to two from three when it meets next week, Axios' Neil Irwin writes.

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