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Are financial crossbreeds monstrosities or labradoodles?



Crypto-SPAC fusions shed light on the question.

The ancients knew the source of real terror. Lions, snakes, and goats (apparently) are scary creatures to stumble across, but it is the combination of different bits of them that is the stuff of nightmares.

The Chimera, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake, whose “breath came out in terrible blasts of burning flame”, was a truly fearsome beast. Yet crossbreeds can also be cute and cuddly. Just think of Labradoodles.

What about financial crossbreeds? Are they minotaurs or maltipoos? Finance has adapted and innovated at a frenetic pace over the past few years.

In 2019 there were hardly any deals using special-purpose acquisition companies (spacs), blank-cheque vehicles which take firms public via a merger. In 2021 they raised $163bn of capital and agreed to take 267 firms public.

As recently as 2020 few people had heard of non-fungible tokens (nfts), the cryptocurrency chits attached to pieces of digital media, such as a picture or video.

But interest rocketed after Beeple, a digital artist, sold one for $69m at auction at Christie’s almost a year ago. Cryptocurrencies and associated trading platforms entered the mainstream.

Institutional investors now chatter about including bitcoin in their portfolios. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency trading platform, went public in April 2021. It has a market capitalization of $45bn.

As these newfangled technologies and financial vehicles have grown in size and scope they have begun to mate.

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First, in July 2021, Circle, a Boston-based company that issues usdc tokens, a type of stable coin pegged to the dollar, agreed to merge with Concord Acquisition, a spac founded by Bob Diamond, a one-time boss of Barclays, a bank, in a transaction that valued Circle at $4.5bn.

Then in December 2021 Aries Acquisition, another spac, announced plans to merge with InfiniteWorld, a Miami-based nft and metaverse-infrastructure platform valued at around $700m.

Keeping up? There’s more. Not to be outdone, on February 11th Binance, a cryptocurrency trading platform founded in China, announced it was making a $200m investment in Forbes, a publisher and ranker of billionaires, ahead of Forbes going public via a merger with the modestly named Magnum Opus, another space.

Binance’s rationale for backing the union, its boss helpfully explained, was that media is “an essential element” as cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and “Web3”, the supposed next generation of media and internet businesses where crypto-holders run social media platforms, come of age.

What should an investor make of all this? It is tempting to dismiss these new beasts—call them Cryp spactaurs—as nonsense.

There is nothing particularly cute or cuddly about the way spacs typically treat their investors. In part, thanks to the fat slice of shares grabbed by deal sponsors, investments in pre-merger spacs have underperformed major stock indices by around 30 percentage points on average.

Add in the risks typically associated with crypto-ventures and some punters may conclude that it looks more appealing to invest with the next Bernie Madoff.

That may also explain why these crossbreeds are yet to reach maturity. Infinite World has not yet completed its merger with Aries.

Circle and Concord have not tied the knot either, despite announcing their coupling around eight months ago. The Binance investment in Forbes, meanwhile, seems at least in part motivated by the prospect of the Forbes spac deal otherwise failing to come off.

The $200m infusion replaced those mulled by other outside investors, who appear to have got cold feet. Perhaps the Chimera and the Cryp spactaur are alike: not because they are both monsters, but because they are both seemingly mythical creatures.

Still, the prospect of facing the bright lights of public equity markets might be just what is needed to sort the puppies from the pigs.

When quizzed about why the Circle spac transaction was taking longer than some others, Jeremy Allaire, Circle’s chief executive, explained that to enter public markets “companies have to be in a position where they have to meet necessary regulatory, disclosure and accounting standards so that the public can invest.

That is a good process.” But it can take longer still for firms like Circle, which are “a very new kind of financial institution”.

Only when one of them actually goes public will it start to become clear whether Crypspactaurs are beasts to fear or pooches to pet.

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Three Global Firms Signed By Nairobi Financial Hub On Its Launch




Three companies were signed by Nairobi’s international financial centre on the day of its launch. The three include Prudential plc, ARC Ride Kenya and AirCarbon Exchange (ACX).

The Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC) is a special economic zone for financial firms.

Prudential, one of the world’s biggest insurers and asset managers, became the first firm to formally join the NIFC.

Singapore-based global carbon exchange ACX came along with Prudential. It seeks to set up a carbon exchange in Kenya.

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NIFC has also admitted ARC Ride Kenya. It is a new start-up that is going to establish an electric vehicle assembly plant in Nairobi. The plant will produce two and three-wheeled electric bikes and scooters.

Also, the Financial Centre is determined to bolster the manufacturing sector in the country. It has signed an MoU with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), to help increase financing and investment in the sector.

NIFC authority has hinted at being in discussion with other participants seeking to join it and will give official news soon.

“Last year Prudential Plc, one of the world’s biggest insurers and asset managers, made a commitment to relocating their Africa headquarters from London to Nairobi and join the Centre. Today we are proud to announce that Prudential becomes the first firm to formally join the Nairobi International Financial Centre,” Vincent Rague, Chairman NIFC Authority.

After many years of waiting, the hub will eye large foreign firms, boosting capital flows to Kenya and the region.

The authority has singled-out four sectors that it will prioritise for growth: financial technology, green finance, investment funds, and becoming a hub for regional multinationals.

The NIFC general regulations have been enacted, as the initial set of tax incentive proposals have been passed.

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Certification from the NIFC Authority must be applied by Firms considering conducting business through the NIFC.

A 15% corporate tax will benefit firms operating a carbon market exchange or emission trading system under the NIFC. The 15% advantage will happen for the first 10 years of operation.

Companies certified by the NIFC Authority and have invested a minimum of Sh5 billion will benefit from the certainty that, the Capital Gains Tax applicable at the time they make their investments will remain unchanged during the lifetime of the investments.

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Hackers Make Tactical Change, Now Targeting Small Businesses




Traditionally, cybercriminals have been targeting big companies with aim of demanding ransoms running into millions. Nonetheless, the trend no longer holds, as new studies have shown the shift in hackers’ interest from big companies to small and medium ones.

Studies have shown that hackers are shifting their focus to small online businesses which they believe are more vulnerable.

Experts have warned that these SMEs and payment portals, especially those relying on mobile payment solutions, are now facing high risks of cyber attacks coordinated by these hackers.

Speaking during the inaugural Africa Cybersecurity Congress held in Nairobi, Hadi Maeleb, Agora Group co-founder and CEO said the threats to online businesses were growing at a high rate.

Further, he stated that more than 90% of business owners are unaware that their enterprises are at risk, despite the high growth rate of the attacks.

“Cybercriminals are now targeting small businesses more as they have realized that these enterprises do believe they would be exposed due to their comparatively low turnovers until they lose their data and payments are compromised,” said Mr Maeleb.

With the adoption of e-commerce platforms, State agencies, financial institutions, healthcare, energy and utilities have persistently faced cyber-attacks in the recent past.

According to CAK- Communications Authority of Kenya’s first-quarter data (between January to March 2022), a total of 79.2 million cyber-attacks were reported. This has prompted the government to issue 28,848 advisories in an attempt to fight the rising attacks.

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Mr Maeleb noted that business owners should invest in cybersecurity tools as there is no magical solution to cybercrime.

“This ‘democratization’ of cyberattacks is expected to push losses due to business interruption, financial theft, personal data breaches and even ransom payments over the Sh4 trillion mark by end of 2022,” he said.

At the peak of the pandemic, several states adopted tough lockdown measures such as social distancing, working from home, and online learning.

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Hackers shifting focus to small businesses.

This adoption of digital solutions such as e-commerce, remote working and banking went up as Kenyans turned to online platforms to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately for them, the business of cybercrime has evolved to a point where attacks like ransomware are now sold as a service,” he added.

Even though these measures triggered the adoption of digital platforms, they also increased vulnerability such as ransom, data breaches, harassment, cyberbullying, and data breaches.

Kenya’s ICT Policy which came into effect in 2006, is credited for creating an enabling environment for the growth and usage of technology.

Kenya’s ICT Policy which came into effect in 2006, is credited for creating an enabling environment for the growth and usage of technology.

To achieve Kenya’s Vision 2030 goal of a regional ICT hub, the tech sector was expected to contribute directly and indirectly to an additional 1.5% of Kenya’s GDP by 2017/2018.

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Why Buyers Are Now Running Away From Popular Used Toyota Cars




As it has been noted that Kenyans are now running away from the popular used Toyota car models, contrary to what has been a tradition in the country. The rise in their costs has seen even dealers cut down on imports of these vehicles due to decreased demand.

Traditionally, popular models such as Toyota Premio and RAV4 have been synonymous with middle-income earners over the years. However, this is no longer the trend.

Car dealers say more Kenyans are now going for vehicles such as Nissan Sylphy and Mazda, which cost less compared with popular Toyota models.

Toyota Vs Nisaan and Mazda models

According to Charles Munyori, the secretary-general of Kenya Auto Bazaar Association, Nissan Sylphy and Mazda’s CX5 and Axela, are quickly gaining popularity among Kenyans.

Mr Munyori said the price of a Toyota RAV4 has short up to Sh3 million currently from Sh2.8 million in February while a Premio is going for Sh2.2 million from Sh2 million four months ago.

On the contrary, Mazda Axela is now selling for Sh1.6 million with Nissan Sylphy (Blue Bird) going for at least Sh1.5 million.

Currently, consumers find these brands to be the best alternatives to their preferred models, as they are relatively cheaper and good.

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With the rising household costs, these car prices are making them affordable to most Kenyans as they struggle to balance the high cost of living.

“We are seeing a shift where Kenyans are now moving from the popular brands such as Toyota Premio and RAV4 to other models. This shift has been occasioned by the high cost that these cars are now fetching at the market,” said Mr Munyori.

“In fact, most of the car dealers are hardly bringing in Premio and RAV4 models because they are not moving and they will tie up money that they would need for importation of more vehicles,” he said.

Ex-Japanese vehicles

Ex-Japan vehicles dominate the Kenyan second-hand sector with a more than 80% market share.

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The buyers in the sector prefer these cars as their spare parts are easier to obtain locally compared to other brands. Additionally, buyers believe that the resale value of Toyota vehicles are higher than that of other brands like mazda or Nissan.

Reasons for risisng vehicle cost

The rising cost of vehicles in the country has been linked to the unavailability of dollars locally, a shortage of electronic chips in Japan, and a weakening shilling against the dollar.

The country is currently experiencing extreme dollar shortage, that one has to wait for at least three days to get $20,000 or $25,000 from the banks.

“We have to wait for like nine days in order to accumulate $80,000, and this has seen car dealers delay in making their orders. We are really feeling the impact of the dollar shortage in the market,” Mr Munyori said.

banks have imposed regulations on dollar purchase. This has forced traders to face difficulty in meeting their obligations.

Industrialists are forced to start seeking dollars in advance. The shortage puts a strain on supplier relations and the ability to negotiate favourable prices in gap markets.

On the other hand, Semiconductors are used in making electronic devices. Their shortage has forced the vehicle manufacturers to scale down the production. The quantity and quality cannot be maintained with decrease in one of the crucial raw material.

Finally, the shilling has persistently remained weak against the dollar. this has made it costly for importers shipping in goods.

The shilling has hit a record low trading at of Sh 117.06 against the dollar. This predicts a continued rise in imported goods, and signifies a further dollar shortage crisis.

The continuous depreciation in shilling stability is attributed to increased demand for dollars from importers. This highly arises on importaion of crude oil and merchandised goods.

It should be noted that most external debt is repaid in the dollar. Therefore, a weakened shilling increases prices of imported goods, and puts pressure on the country’s debt repayment.

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