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Greetings from the home office, where there is a willing suspension of disbelief on that Seferian-Jenkins play. Please remember to send tips and feedback via email (dan@axios.com), anonymously (http://axios.com/tips) or messaging apps like Signal, Telegram and Confide (Dan Primack / 857.472.3072). Okay, here we go...

Top of the Morning

Earnings call for listed private equity firms are usually sleepy affairs, but this The Blackstone Group's phoner this Thursday could be different:

Infrastructure: Blackstone in May announced that it was raising up to $40 billion for its first-ever infrastructure fund, including a $20 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia. Now we've got a Bloomberg report that the vehicle won't begin investing until it secures around $10 billion in outside commitments — which would temporarily reduce the Saudi check, given that it's basically a 1:1 match.

  • The earnings call question will be how fundraising has been affected by what appears to be a stalled U.S. infrastructure plan that was supposed to heavily leverage public-private partnerships. Back in May, the Trump Administration was still talking about infrastructure as a 2017 priority, and Blackstone boss Steve Schwarzman was still leading a presidential council of CEOs. Neither of those are still operable.

Retail: The WSJ has a front-pager today about how Blackstone is lowering its threshold for individual investors to participate some affiliated feeder funds, from $5 million in liquid assets to $1 million: "There were 7½ times more U.S. households with $1 million to $5 million in assets at the end of 2016 than there were households with $5 million to $25 million, according to market research firm Spectrem Group."

  • The earnings call question will be how Blackstone plans to attract these investors at scale, in an era in which low-fee index fund have become conventional gospel. Particularly given increased competition within this niche, with The Carlyle Group and Oppenheimer today announcing the launch a joint venture that will offer access to global private credit opportunities for those with at least $1 million in liquid assets. And, if it doesn't really scale, is this just viewed as the price of stage-setting for (maybe) someday being allowed to access the defined-contribution market?

• Road trip: Axios tech editor Kim Hart spent last week with Steve Case and the Revolution crew, on their "Rise of the Rest" bus tour through the Midwest. Here are her dispatches from Columbus, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor and York, PA. She also did a Q&A with Hillbilly Elegy author (and Revolution investor) J.D. Vance, about jump-starting the Midwest's startup scene.

  • More from Kim: "Fly-over" states each get only around 1% of the venture capital pie every year, but they're scrappy and have figured out how to punch above their weight in certain industries. Worth watching."

• Centralized crypto? Russia reportedly plans to launch something called the "cryptoruble," which likely would be a "closed model with a certain volume of regulated emissions."

• Where in the World? Next week I'll be (briefly) in Las Vegas for the Money 20/20 event, interviewing Stripe co-founder John Collison. Arrive early, because we're on stage Sunday night...

The BFD

Saudi Aramco is reconsidering its plans for floating around a 5% stake, as first reported Friday by the Financial Times. One alternative option for the oil behemoth would be to sell shares via private placement to sovereign wealth funds or other large institutional investors.

  • Why it's the BFD: Because this is supposed to become the largest IPO of all time, with Saudi Arabia expected to put its tens of billions of dollars in proceeds toward a long-term economic modernization and diversification plan. Aramco called the FT report "entirely speculative" and said that its 2018 IPO process remains "on track," but that's not necessarily a denial (plus, we're hearing similar rumblings). Pretty remarkable that Saudi might be getting cold feet this far into the process. Is it really possible that concerns over transparency are just coming to the fore now, or is this more about pre-IPO financing — locking in a few large, long-term holders — than it is about IPO replacement?
  • Bottom line: "Score this round one point for the forces of transparency in the capital markets and zero for the forces supporting transparency in Saudi Arabia." — David Goldwyn
Venture Capital Deals

🚑 InflaRx, a German drug startup focused on chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, has raised $55 million in Series D funding from Bain Capital Life Sciences, Cormorant Asset Management and RA Capital Management. The deal includes a $30 million primary tranche and a $25 million secondary tranche. http://axios.link/SSog

• LimeBike, a San Francisco-based bike-rental startup, has raised $50 million in Series B funding. Coatue Management led the round, and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, DCM, GGV, Section 32, Yuri Milner and Kevin Durant. http://axios.link/PP4F

• Lefit, a Chinese provider of membership-based access to fitness clubs and instructors, has raised $45 million in Series C funding led by Hillhouse Capital. http://axios.link/Grwd

• The Chope Group, a Singapore-based restaurant booking platform, has raised $13 million in new VC funding. Square Peg Capital led the round, and was joined by C31 Ventures, Moelis Australia and return backers NSI Ventures, Susquehanna International Group, DSG Consumer Partners and Singapore Press Holdings. http://axios.link/whRQ

• CastBox.FM, a Beijing-based podcasting startup, has raised $12.8 million in new VC funding from firms like IDG Capital and GSR Ventures. http://axios.link/wZUw

• Onmyway (f.k.a. OmnyPay), a San Francisco-based "augmented digital commerce" startup, has raised $12.75 million in Series A funding from Nyca, CommerzVentures, Fintech Investment Fund, Commerce Ventures and Industry Ventures. http://axios.link/xhS7

• RenewBuy, an Indian online insurance aggregator, has raised $9.2 million from Amicus Capital. http://axios.link/e4zP

• Qtshe.com, a Chinese, reportedly has raised $9.1 million in Series B funding from backers like Baixing.com and Jinzhe Capital. www.qtshe.com

• 123Go, a Chinese automated convenience store operator, has raised $5.3 million in seed funding from Jiuwan Capital and Wu Bo (founder of Lashou). http://axios.link/Grwd

• Flont, a New York-based "jewelry as a service" startup, has raised $5 million in funding led by C Ventures. www.flont.com

• Supersolid, a UK-based maker of casual mobile games, has raised $4 million in new VC funding led by Index Ventures. http://axios.link/NSrE

• Visual Vocal, a Seattle-based developer of virtual 3D environment productivity tools, has raised $3.6 million in new VC funding led by Eniac Ventures. http://axios.link/aR2C

• Groupize, a Boston-based provider of corporate meeting booking and management solutions, has raised $3.25 million in Series A2 funding. Thayer Ventures led the round, and was joined by Wayfare Ventures, NTX Venture Fund, Ace Fund and return backers Golden Seeds and Launchpad Ventures. www.groupize.com

• Beauty Bakerie, a San Diego-based cosmetics startup, has raised $3 million in seed funding led by Unilever Ventures. http://axios.link/X3MV

• SidelineSwap, a Boston-based online marketplace for sports gear and equipment, has raised $2 million in new seed funding from Global Founders Capital, Haystack Partners, Riverpark Ventures, Fullstack Sports Ventures and The Players' Impact. http://axios.link/YRWp

Private Equity Deals

• 3i Group has acquired Smarte Carte, a St. Paul, Minn.-based provider of airport luggage carts and lockers, for $385 million (including assumed debt) from Fortress Investment Group. http://axios.link/eqwh

• Castanea Partners has acquired a minority equity stake in Tatcha, a San Francisco-based luxury skincare brand. No financial terms were disclosed. www.tatcha.com

• Colony Capital has entered into exclusive talks to buy all or some of The Weinstein Co.'s assets. It also will provide an immediate investment.

🚑 Invo Healthcare has acquired Autism Home Support Services, an Austin, Texas-based provider of home and center-based applied behavioral analysis therapy to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. No financial terms were disclosed. Invo is a portfolio company of Wicks Group, The Jordan Co. and Post Capital Partners. www.invocompanies.com

• J.C. Flowers will bid to take over German shipping lender HSH Nordbank, according to the FT. http://axios.link/fXOy

• Nordic Capital has acquired a 9.96% stake in Stockholm-listed bank Nordax, with an option to purchase an additional 5.04% from Carnegie Investment Bank (pending regulatory approval). http://axios.link/84W4

• Prima Solutions, a French portfolio company of The Carlyle Group, has acquired Tricast, a Paris-based provider of predictive insurance analysis software. No financial terms were disclosed. www.tricast-group.net

🚑 SciClone Pharmaceuticals has been taken private for around $605 million, by an investor consortium that includes GL Capital, Bank of China Group Investment, CDH Investments, Ascendent Capital Partners and Boying. The deal had been announced in early June. www.sciclone.com

Public Offerings

• Six companies are expected to price IPOs this week on U.S. exchanges: MongoDB, Qudian, LiveXLive, RumbleOn, Rise Education and Sea. http://axios.link/gbAO

• Vincom Retail, a Vietnamese shopping mall operator backed by Warburg Pincus, is raising up to $713 million in what could become Vietnam's largest-ever IPO. http://axios.link/SyQS

Liquidity Events

• The Carlyle Group has hired Harris Williams to find a buyer for British snackmaker Graze, which could fetch £300 million, per The Telegraph. http://axios.link/699P

• Hellman & Friedman has hired Centerview Partners to explore a sale of OpenLink Financial, a Uniondale, N.Y.-based provider of transaction lifecycle management software, that could fetch over $1 billion (including debt), according to Reuters. http://axios.link/Mej7

• Nice (Nasdaq: NICE) has acquired Workflex, a Cincinnati-based provider of workforce engagement solutions that had been backed by CincyTech. No financial terms were disclosed. www.nice.com

More M&A

• Aramark (NYSE: ARMK) has agreed to acquire Avendra, a Rockville, Md.-based provider of supply chain management solutions to the hospitality industry, from Marriott International (Nasdaq: MAR). Aramark also is purchasing Minnetonka, Minn.-based uniform and linens supplier AmeriPride Services. The two deals are worth a combined $2.35 billion. http://axios.link/J7LJ

✈ Bombadier (TSX: BBDb) is exploring strategic options for its aerospace business, according to Bloomberg. http://axios.link/LUJY

• Chongqing Jintian Industrial and Longshang Decoration Co., both of China, each pulled out of a consortium that is seeking to buy a minority stake in the Chicago Stock Exchange, after the SEC "sought more details from the participants about their bid," per the WSJ. http://axios.link/En9y

• SS&C Technologies (Nasdaq: SSNC) has acquired CommonWealth Fund Services, a Toronto-based fund administrator servicing over $8 billion in assets. No financial terms were disclosed. www.commonwealthfundservices.com

🚑 Warp Drive Bio has struck a licensing agreement with Roche that could be worth upwards of $387 million. The Cambridge, Mass.-based antibiotics developer is backed by Greylock, Third Rock Ventures and Sanofi. http://axios.link/ssiQ

Fundraising

• Draper Esprit has allocated £75 million for backing European seed funds, with initial commitments to Seedcamp and Episode 1 Ventures.

• Precinct Partners has launched as a new Abu Dhabi-based venture capital and growth equity firm led by Amjad Ahmad, former CEO of NBK Capital Partners. http://axios.link/O0tp

It's Personnel

• Chris Sargent has joined San Francisco Equity Partners as a vice president. He previously was with investment bank Sawaya Segalas. www.sfequitypartners.com

Final Numbers
  • Go deeper: "Because private equity managers are less constrained than public market participants by the forces of no-arbitrage pricing, they have greater discretion to introduce biases into their valuations. Based on an extensive sample of private equity valuations, we find persuasive evidence that private equity managers produce positively biased valuations that appear to be rationalized by information that should not be relevant."Private equity valuations & public equity performance