Category Archives: USA

Roblox IPO – Prospectus Peek

Roblox Corporation will list on the New York Stock Exchange as RBLX.

How much do we know about Roblox? Kids spend hours on it every day, but do they how Roblox works and the numbers behind it? Take a peek into the IPO prospectus for Roblox. 

About Roblox:

  • Founded in 2004 by David Baszucki and Erik Cassel. Today, Baszucki is the CEO and second-largest shareholder with 12% behind Altos Ventures that has 21%.
  • The company has eight classes of stock some preferred, some convertible and more restricted share units have been granted to employees in the IPO. 

Numbers:

  • The company had $489 million revenue in 2019 and $589 million in the first nine-months of 2020. $409 million (70%) of its revenue is from US/Canada, 17% from Europe, with Asia-Pacific adding 8% and the rest of the world is 5% (28.2 million).
  • The company has $1.49 billion assets, 801 million of which is in cash.
  • It lost $86 million in 2019 and $205 million in the first nine-months of 2020. It has carried forward accumulated tax loss credits with the US government of $162 million and $54 million in the state of California.

Users & Experiences:

  • Key attractions that draw users to Roblox are unique identities, interaction with their friends, low friction (easy to join) and the variety of 3D experiences easily accessible on most devices whether they run on iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Xbox, Oculus Rift etc.
  • Most experiences are free and users can then purchase others such as clothing and avatars.  Users do this using ‘Robux’ which they purchase with a credit card, subscriptions or one-time mobile payment (such as with M-Pesa), and use the Robux is to access digital items such as avatar and features.
  • The user base is currently 51% male and 44% female, with 72% of uses using mobile devices. Geographically, 33% of users are in the US /Canada, 29% in Europe 15% in Asia and 22% in the rest of the world. The Roblox business case going forward depends on growing internationally, particularly in Europe (Germany & France), and Asia (South Korea). Also, in February 2019 they entered a joint venture with Tencent to use the Roblox platform in China and Roblox owns 51% of the JV.
  • Users aged 9-12 years are 29%, under-9s are 25% and 13-16 are 13%, while 14% of Roblox users are over 25 years. They hope to grow the over-13 crowd as they have a higher propensity to spend on content.
  • During Covid-hit in 2020, active users have gone up from 18 million in 2019 to 31 million by September 2020 from 180 countries. On average, people spend 2.6 hours per day on Roblox.

Operations:

  • Roblox has 18,000 servers in the US, Europe and Asia that handle 10 million requests per second.
  • Users are able to draw from a library that has 18 million experiences and the company uses machines and 1,700 humans to moderate this content.

Developer Program:

  • It has 7 million developers and 960,000 of them earn on the platform. Developers can build in their native languages and machines translate the content into 11 languages including English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, German and French.
  • Creators receive 30 % of revenue from the creations while developers receive 70% of Robux spent on their experiences. In the nine months to September 2020, developers earned $209 million up from 72 million in the same period last year. 1,050 developers earned $10,000 or more and 250 earned more than $100,000 in Robux.
  • If they want to cash out of the developer exchange program, the rate is one Robux is equivalent to $0.0035.

Advisors:

  • Underwriters of the IPO are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Allen & Co, Bank of America, and RBC.
  • The auditor is Deloitte while the firm of Wilson Sonsini is the legal counsel.

To be continued.

KPMG on Geopolitical Risks and Opportunities

KPMG’s Audit Committee Institute series organized a breakfast session in Nairobi today that assessed the risks posed by global events & trends and the potential opportunities that could emerge. The session took place at a time when countries and industries around the world are gripped by concerns and efforts to contain the spread and impact of the Coronavirus.

Sophie Heading, KPMG Global’s Head of Geopolitics, who is on a tour to speak in different capitals around East Africa mentioned that geopolitics now affects the developed world as much as it does for developing countries. She said that US domestic governance is the number one political risk across the world, and that while there has been a shift in leadership away from the US & Europe (G-7 nation) towards China, currently we are in a G-Zero world in which there is no clear leader.

She referenced three distinct areas of technology, trade and trust in which geopolitics could be traced along, and the opportunities they presented for different African countries.

Excerpts

  • Technology: Advances bring geopolitical power and this is likely to spread to other markets – as seen in the battle between the US and China over spectrum (5G), data, and platforms. China is looking to reshape the Sub-Saharan Africa technological space while the US wants to protect its security interests and intellectual property.
  • Trade: The US and China have decided to decouple and go separate ways and other countries will have to choose who to align with. Both are seeking new alliances, investors, partners, suppliers, staff etc. but this is also at a time that other key markets are increasing their regulations in terms of capital, policies, taxes and data, etc. Foreign aid used to be a tool that Western states used to influence economic events in Africa, but with the Chinese model of financing infrastructure being so successful, she expected that there will be a drop in aid from the West as it is no longer seen as being effective.
  • Trust: There is social discontent across the world as young populations feel that government systems are not meeting their needs. This is different in developed nations versus it is in developing ones. But because of their debt levels, most nations now have less policy flexibility to address their internal issues. Also with global growth having slowed down to about 3%, and which may reduce further to as low as 1.5% with the Coronavirus outbreak, any such interventions may widen the social wealth divides within countries.

She said that there is more need to pay more attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. This is something that Europe, and the private sector, have championed, but which other governments have not, while the US, China and India have all stepped back on the environmental front.

She cautioned that Nairobi, which is the second-biggest hub in the region for impact investing, but without the Kenya government signalling its interest in championing of ESG issues, may lose out on future investment and client opportunities.

UNCTAD report shows an unequal digital global economy

The increased use of digital platforms in everyday lives across the world is leading to a divide between under-connected nations from hyper-digitalized societies

The Digital Economy Report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that China and the USA have done the most to harvest the digital economy and now dominate the rest of the world and leading to an unequal state of e-commerce. The two countries host seven global “super-platform” companies – Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba that account for two-thirds of the total market value of the seventy largest digital platforms with Naspers as the only African company in the group.

Google and Facebook collected 65% of the $135 billion spent on internet advertising in 2017, while, in Australia, Google took 95% of the “search advertising” revenue while Facebook took 46% of the “display advertising” revenue.

Europe’s share of the digital economy is only 4% while Africa and Latin America combine for 1%.  In Africa, progress has also been uneven with four countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa accounting for 60% of digital entrepreneurship activity. They are followed by a second tier of Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda (with a combined 20%)

The Report showed that the evolving digital economy has a major impact on achieving sustainable development goals (SDG’s) and calls for governments in developing nations to focus efforts on things like:

  • Skills development & re-education e.g. consider that in the Western world, you can do a whole university degree online.
  • Revising policies on data privacy & sharing e.g. have restricted local data sharing pools and have tariffs on cross-border data.
  • Revising competition regulations e.g. curb the tendency where platform companies tend to capture/acquire young promising companies in the developing world.
  • Taxation e.g. developing country governments should seek to tax digital platform companies.
  • Employment e.g. by setting minimum wages & work conditions for gig-economy workers.
  • Break down silos: no longer think of government as being separate from academia, private sector, civil society and tech communities.
  • Also, while the US and Europe have divergent views on data protection, it cites a survey which found that Kenyans had the least concerns about data privacy (at 44%).

Speaking at an unveiling of the Report in Nairobi, Dr. Monica Kerretts-Makau said that the world is trending towards a captive society where you have to be on a platform to transact in an economy and that presents problems and opportunities in the African context.

The 2019 issue of the Report, that was previously focused on the “information economy”, can be downloaded here.

EDIT June 2020: The Kenya Revenue Authority announced the introduction of Value-Added Tax (VAT) on digital marketplace suppliers in the Finance Act 2019. Member of the public can send their views on the draft proposal  by June 15 to stakeholder.engagement@kra.go.ke.

How can the US engage in Africa, and go around China?

.. Extracts from “Deconstructing the Dragon: China’s Commercial Expansion in Africa,” a recent report by Aubrey Hruby that postulates what the United States can do to reposition its influence in Africa whose governments have received extensive assistance from China, mainly in terms of infrastructure projects.

The looks at the nature of infrastructure deals that have come to be dominated by China state-owned enterprises through a combination of feasibility studies, negotiations financing through Chinese loans, and eventually mobilization to start construction. Quick-decision making is a factor and McKinsey found that over half of investment decisions for Chinese construction and real estate companies were made in under a month.

The US can counter to these mainly be through US government to African business initiatives, while contracts with China’s “government to government programs.

Recommendations include:

  • Niche infrastructure that fall within the US competitive advantage like renewable energy, oil exploration and urban/smarter city solutions. However on the last one, the report points out that China has made significant inroads in media, telecommunications and security services.
  • Push for anti-corruption agenda, as this will level the playing field for US companies. This can be through supporting African government efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
  • Generate a pipeline of projects, data, and trade links to assist US businesses to invest in Africa. This can be through sponsoring competitions and investor trips.
  • Support the creativity and education sectors. There is an opportunity in the entertainment spaces as recent deals involving Netflix, Mavin Records and the National Basketball Association have shown. Also a quarter of African children (66 million) could be studying in private schools by 2021.
  • US financial institutions can work towards providing working capital, which remains a great challenge for individuals and small businesses in Africa.

It also notes that more US intuitional investors have opened up to putting more funding to African venture. These include the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which has allocated $6 billion to investments in Africa and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund that have invested in two African private equity funds.

EDIT: A story in the Africa Report shows how a new US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which combines the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) is part of the broader economic and trade battle led by the USA against China.  

The new organization has more latitude than its predecessors in that, it will be able to make equity investment in private firms (previously they were restricted to debt) and a restriction that OPIC could only support projects with “a significant link with the American private sector” has been removed.

CIA Economic Data on Kenya and its President in 1978

Excerpts from a declassified CIA document from August 1978. 

The Economic Intelligence Weekly Review issue, dated 24 August 1978, was published two days after Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta, who had led the country since independence in December 1963, passed away.

The document is meant for US government officials and was done in a format that is useful to them. It has economic indicators, industrial material prices, and contains data from sources like the IMF, and the Economist (their index of 16 food prices). There are also charts on Inflation, unemployment, trade patterns (imports and exports), unemployment rates, interest rates etc. in different countries that are classified by segments such as the Big Seven (US, Japan, West Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada), other OECD, OPEC (oil-producing nations) and also Communist countries, and other ‘World’ countries.

There are detailed write-ups in the CIA weekly review on:

  • The black market in Cuba: Hustling of consumer goods is vibrant, reflecting shortages of consumer goods. Most consumer goods are rationed except a few luxury items like rum and cigarettes. It also notes that aggregate personal incomes in Cuba are up 38% since 1973 and have reached the rank and file of Cuba, with no evidence of appreciable corruption among top-level officials.
  • The USSR has borrowed more than it needs to build a pipeline. It obtained $2.5 billion, which was $1 billion more than required, from the CEMA International Investment Bank (IIB). Five Eastern European countries helped build it, and in exchange, they will receive gas annually, while sales of natural gas to Western Europe are expected to yield $750 million to $1 billion. The IIB borrow funds in European markets and on-lends them to Eastern European countries at rates better than the countries could obtain on their own. Items paid for with the loan funds included equipment bought from West Germany, Italy and France.
  • Concern about Poland debt payment problems despite a shrinking deficit: For a third year, Poland had to borrow $4 billion and could face a financial crunch or debt rescheduling. Cutbacks of available industrial materials have been severe, affecting production, while debt service payments are now double what they were in 1976 – amounting to 60% of Poland’s exports to the West, compared to 37% in 1976. 
  • The USSR is engaging with Iraq and India.
  • On Kenya, it looked at the transition era and economic stakes of the Kenyatta family, whose inner circle controlled key economic posts and had extensive commercial and agricultural investments, and land tracts around the country. 

The CIA found that the substantial economic investments built over 15 years would deter them from unconstitutionally challenging Acting President Daniel arap Moi, even as they predicted that the Moi-Njonjo group’s (Njonjo was Kenya’s Attorney General and a key ally of Moi in the transition phase) efforts to increase the economic pie could cause disenchantment with the Kenyatta clan.

It was expected that economic pressures would cause the government to push for redistribution of the country’s wealth as it also noted that the family is big in two activities – charcoal and ivory whose exports were banned. At the time, Kenya was considering applying to the IMF for assistance with its balance of payments in the coming years as oil prices had risen, key foreign exchange earners like coffee and tea were slumping, and there was a need to modernize the military while Kenya had also lost its top destination market – Tanzania with the collapse of the East African Community.

It is an astonishing amount of economic data, from fourty years ago – so what does the CIA collect today on different countries and economies?

See also this story from the Standard newspaper.