AP Photo/Richard Drew

COVID-19 roundup: Uber eyes GrubHub for U.S. food-delivery dominance

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It’s day 63 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 71,100 as of publication time, up 1,119 since yesterday—a 10 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of new cases. On their respective 63rd day, U.S. daily new cases were down 14 per cent from the seven-day prior average; the U.K. was down 26 per cent in daily new cases from the seven-day prior; and in Italy, new cases were down 20 per cent.*

Pivot to cheeseburgers: Uber has reportedly made a takeover offer for Grubhub. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the gig-economy giant’s main ride-hailing business hard—bookings dropped about 80 per cent in April compared to 2019, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on last week’s earning call, and the five per cent year-over-year decrease between January and March was its first-ever quarterly decline in the segment. But Uber Eats bookings grew 50 per cent over the same period last year. 

Combining its food-delivery business with Grubhub would allow Uber to rival DoorDash—the leader according to consumer data firm SecondMeasure—for U.S. market share, as it concentrates on its home turf. Uber has sold its meal-ordering operations in some overseas markets to local competitors, like a January deal with Zomato, which gave Uber 9.99 per cent of the Indian meal-ordering service. It also left seven smaller markets in March. That mirrors an earlier set of transactions in its core ride-hailing business, including trading its Chinese presence for a 17.7 per cent stake in Didi Chuxing in August 2016, then acquiring Middle East rival Careem for US$3.1 billion last year. 

In the lead-up to its underwhelming IPO last year, Uber presented itself as much more than a ride-hailing app. But in many of those supplementary businesses—like self-driving cars or freight—it lacks first-mover advantage or has faced operational challenges. That makes the continued success of UberEats even more important—proof the model can work. But it’s not the only one looking to consolidate. An Uber-Grubhub deal would continue a wave of delivery mega-deals, including Europe-focused Takeaway’s US$8-billion takeover of Just Eat in January. 

In the markets: All major North American stock indices closed down over 1.4 per cent today. The TSX fared the best, down 1.47 per cent, after oil prices rose on Saudi Arabia’s plans to cut production. Meanwhile, the dollar fell to 71.11 cents U.S. On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve started buying corporate bonds for the first time in its history. The central bank intends to purchase US$750 billion as part of a bid to reopen credit markets. There are some early signs the program is working. PayPal, for example, issued US$4 billion in bonds on Monday that will be used to repay US$3 billion from a credit line it purchased in March. 

Chinese venture capital investment into the U.S. fell to US$400 million in the first quarter, compared with US$640 million in the same period last year, as tensions between the two countries are on the rise. International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva said it was “very likely” the fund would cut global growth forecasts even further, following last month’s projection that the pandemic would throw the world into the worst recession since the Great Depression. ESG investing is a rare bright spot amid the market turmoil, with at least US$12.2 billion put into such funds in the first four months of 2020, more than twice the amount invested during the same period last year. U.S. public pensions reported their biggest one-quarter drop in at least 40 years, following Canadian public pensions reporting their steepest drop since 2008. 

“Incoming data from many countries is worse than our already pessimistic projections,” the IMF’s Georgieva said. “Very likely we are going to come up with the update to our projections sometime in June, and at that point … our expectation is that there would be a bit more bad news in terms of how we see 2020.”

Trace me on my cellphone: India’s contact-tracing app has been downloaded by 100 million unique users in 41 days since its release; the app is mandatory for those who travel by rail. Iceland’s download rate for its contact-tracing app is the best in the world, according to MIT Technology Review: 38 per cent of the country has downloaded the app since it was launched in April. But one official said the app “wasn’t a game-changer” compared to manual techniques like calling.

In the lab: The National Research Council of Canada is planning to begin human trials in the country of a potential vaccine made by China’s CanSino Biologics, one of the first globally to be approved to start human trials. One of Canada’s leading vaccine candidates is being tested on ferrets. Elsewhere, U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna announced that the Food and Drug Administration is fast-tracking the review of its experimental vaccine. Pfizer hopes to expand its human trials to thousands of test patients by September.

Misinformation nation: Eleven per cent of Canadians believe there is some truth to the unproven theory that the Chinese government engineered the coronavirus in a lab, while eight per cent believe there is a great deal of truth to it. Five per cent believe there is some truth and four per cent a great deal of truth to the false claim that Bill Gates “is using the coronavirus to push a vaccine with a microchip capable of tracking people,” according to a Vox Pop Labs poll on the virus and conspiracy theories. Vox Pop polled 2,271 Canadians, with the results weighted on the bases of age, sex, education level and political affiliation. 

The poll, results of which the company provided to The Logic, suggests age, gender and political affiliation affect one’s propensity to believe in conspiracy theories. Overall, respondents who are male and supported the Conservative Party of Canada were more inclined to believe the Bill Gates theory to some degree. Social media consumption also plays a role, with those who get more of their news and information from social media more likely to believe the false claim that the Microsoft founder was taking advantage of pandemic to seed a system of global mass surveillance, according to the poll. Those aged 18 to 34 are also more likely to believe the Gates canard.

5G aficionados can take heart. Recent vandalism of 5G towers notwithstanding, three per cent of Canadians there is some truth to there being a link between the cellular technology and the coronavirus, according to the poll, while a scant one per cent believe there is a great deal of truth to it.

Cross-country checkup: The federal government is expanding its infrastructure funding for provinces through its Investing in Canada program to help with COVID-19-related projects. Ottawa will allocate up to 10 per cent of its $33.5-billion budget for projects like expanding bike lanes and park trails and retrofitting schools and health-care facilities to allow for safe physical distancing. Meanwhile, migrant workers in Canada who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 can now apply for a visa with a new employer in the country; the government will fast-track applications for essential services. Federal government workers were told not to halt payments or flag employment insurance applications for possible abuse, as the government prioritizes getting money out quickly and plans to investigate fraudulent claims down the road. Most post-secondary students have been affected by COVID-19, according to a Statistics Canada survey of over 100,000 students from April 19 to May 1: 35 per cent of respondents have had work placements delayed or cancelled, and 26 per cent have had some of their courses postponed or cancelled, while 11 per cent of students said they were not able to complete their programs as planned because of the pandemic. The Calgary Zoo is sending two giant pandas back to China, as a coronavirus-induced bamboo shortage in Canada threatens the animals’ health. 

Bay Street to Main Street: Canada’s largest malls collected about 15 per cent of rent in May, according to real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which compiled data from landlords and tenants. The drop comes on the heels of April’s 25 per cent rent-collection estimate; JLL is expecting June to bring in similarly low numbers. “I think June rent looks the same as May. It may pop a bit,” said executive vice-president Tim Sanderson. Part of the problem is major retailers like Aldo Group and J. Crew, which haven’t paid rent for two months and are in the process of filing for bankruptcy. They aren’t the only ones, though. GoodLife Fitness, for example, which is not billing members during the pandemic, hasn’t paid in two months, either. 

  • The Ontario government selected Kitchener-Waterloo based Knowledgehook to provide online math education for students in Grades 3 to 10. 
  • Toronto-based internet services firm Tucows is looking to add over 50 staff to work remotely.
  • Canada and South Korea are tied for the best download speeds, with the Netherlands in third and the U.S. in 25th place. 
  • Vancouver-based meal-kit-delivery firm Fresh Prep raised a $7-million Series A.
  • Shopify has launched its retail-card reader in Canada and will be giving away 3,000 devices to Toronto retailers. 
  • Demand for plexiglass fabricators is soaring as firms seek to protect workers and reopen businesses. 
  • TMX Group reported an uptick in first-quarter revenue and profit as trading surged on the Toronto Stock Exchange, which it operates. 
  • The number of complaints about telecom companies filed with the federal telecom and television ombudsman dropped 12 per cent after three years of increases. 
  • Propel CEO Barry Bisson is retiring on October 31 after three years with the New Brunswick-based accelerator. 
  • British Columbia’s departing innovation commissioner recommended the province create innovations hubs like Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. 
  • IA Financial Group clients will have access to Montreal-based telemedicine firm Dialogue’s services as part of a new partnership between the companies. This follows similar deals Dialogue signed with Sun Life and Canada Life in the past two months.
  • WestJet is cancelling most flights until July 4 due to the pandemic. 

Crowdsourcing the crisis: The brainchild of Montreal-based retail-tech startup ENDVR, The Shop Local Project allows brick-and-mortar shops to sell discounted gift certificates, giving independent sporting goods retailers much-needed cash flow while COVID-19 keeps their doors shut. Some 40 stores have signed up across the continent for the initiative, which is supported by outdoor brands Salomon, Bollé and Spy. “We needed to do something to make sure there is a vibrant retail scene to come back to when this is all over,” said ENDVR co-founder Steve Gendron.

Drinking from the firehose:

  • Facebook said it has put misinformation warning labels on about 50 million pieces of content related to COVID-19 in April.
  • Some Twitter employees can work from home permanently. 
  • Amazon Web Services and Google are upgrading U.S. states to their cloud and AI technology to help process the unprecedented number of EI claims. 
  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing privacy complaints against Zoom Video Communications. 
  • Companies like General Motors, PepsiCo and Domino’s Pizza are rescinding advertisement spending commitments they made to broadcast and cable networks. Ad buyers estimated a loss of US$1 billion to $1.5 billion in third-quarter ad spend.
  • WeWork is considering subleasing its headquarters in Manhattan.
  • Instacart is discussing new financing that would boost its valuation by at least 50 per cent.
  • Sequoia-backed Dingdong Maicai, the Chinese online grocery that delivers to people’s doorsteps, has raised US$300 million in a new funding round that values it at US$2 billion.

Around the world: The Trump administration has ordered White House officials to wear masks as it responds to the first cases of coronavirus inside the West Wing. A bipartisan U.S. House bill could deliver COVID-19 relief to more VC-backed startups, while House Democrats released a plan for US$3 trillion in additional economic stimulus that includes aid for state and local governments. Britain’s wage-subsidy program has been extended by four months. India has announced a US$266-billion stimulus package, equivalent to around 10 per cent of its GDP. 

Wuhan, China has launched a 10-day push to test all 11 million of the city’s residents. China has suspended imports of red meat from four Australian slaughterhouses in what analysts called “politically motivated punishment” for that government’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Some businesses in Singapore were allowed to reopen today. South Korea has reportedly deployed 8,500 police officers to track down 11,000 people who visited clubs and bars in one district of downtown Seoul, where the number of cases has risen to more than 100. 

The Dunder Mifflin Slack: MSCHF, a creative collective, is recreating all 201 episodes of the TV show “The Office” over Slack. Viewers can join a live Slack, where different channels are dedicated to various departments, including accounting, warehouse and general office.

* We’re emphasizing new cases, rather than running totals, because “flattening the curve” is when each day’s new cases are fewer than those of the previous day. The percentage increase is determined based on how today’s cases compare to a rolling seven-day prior average. Numbers may also vary based on countries’ individual testing capacity and reporting.


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