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Firefly Aerospace becomes the latest space unicorn after $175 million raise

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Firefly Aerospace becomes the latest space unicorn after 5 million raise


The company prepares its first Alpha rocket for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Firefly Aerospace

Firefly Aerospace raised $175 million in private capital, the Texas-based space company announced on Tuesday, as it prepares for the inaugural launch of its Alpha rocket.

“This gives us runway to have multiple successful Alpha [rocket] launches, successfully execute a lot of the main milestones for the Blue Ghost [lunar] lander program,” Firefly co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic told CNBC.

The company’s latest financing was led by DADA Holdings, a private investment firm that largely holds positions in metals and mining companies. The round was joined by several other investors, including Astera Institute, which will have Jed McCaleb join as a representative on Firefly’s board of directors. McCaleb is most well known for his roles in the cryptocurrency landscape.

Markusic declined to specify what Firefly’s valuation is after this raise, only noting that it’s “just over a billion dollars” – and therefore making it the latest space company to reach unicorn status. Firefly’s fundraise was also unique in that the company itself offered $75 million in equity, while its majority investor Noosphere Ventures sold $100 million of its stake. Noosphere – based in Menlo Park, California but led by Ukrainian investor Max Polyakov – now owns less than 50% of Firefly.

“It just makes business sense to have a more diverse cap table,” Markusic said, emphasizing the addition of U.S. investors into Firefly.

Firefly also outlined its intention to raise an additional $300 million later this year, after it launches its inaugural Alpha rocket. While the $175 million finances its near-term development plans, the company wants to expand its services across the space industry. Firefly is most well known for its launch business, with the Alpha and the planned Beta, but it is also working on a lunar lander called Blue Ghost and a space utility vehicle – also known as a “space tug,” to transport satellites into unique orbits after a launch.

“From the beginning we architected the company code in a completely different way,” Markusic said. “We’re not a rocket company, we’re not a launch vehicle company. We are an end-to-end space transportation company.”

A rendering of the Genesis lunar lander.

Firefly Aerospace

The company is evaluating whether its second fundraise this year will be another private round or possibly a SPAC deal, a route other space companies have taken to raise significant amounts of capital. Markusic said Firefly will “figure that out” in the next few months, but emphasized that he wants to hit more milestones before then.

A SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, raises capital in an initial public offering and uses the proceeds to buy a private firm and take it public.

“I think a company, before it goes public, should have established a steady revenue stream; should have proven the fundamental technology that undergirds the business plan of the company,” Markusic said.

Inaugural Alpha rocket launch

In the meantime, Firefly is focused on its first Alpha rocket launch, which has been delayed since late last year.

Standing at 95 feet tall, Firefly’s Alpha rocket is designed to launch as much as 1,000 kilograms of payload to low Earth orbit – at a price of $15 million per launch. This puts Firefly in the “medium-lift” category of rockets, pitting it against several other companies including Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, ABL Space and Relativity Space.

Markusic said that Firefly “ran into some problems with readiness of the launch site” at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and also had a significant delay from a supplier of the rocket’s flight termination system – a key piece required for the rocket to launch.

“Just from our side, we did not get the launch site ready as quickly as we thought we could. We kind of miscalculated on where we were in readiness and that’s on us. This is something we didn’t do well,” Markusic said.

The CEO added that Firefly hopes to launch Alpha by mid-June, but emphasized that an inaugural launch comes with “a lot of unknowns.”

“We’re going to keep working through the problems, and we will launch eventually,” Markusic said.

On the regulatory approval side, Firefly received its Federal Aviation Administration launch license a few weeks ago, which Markusic declared to be the “biggest hurdle in getting approvals” to launch.

Additionally, a Federal Communications Commission filing in November noted that Firefly’s FCC license was requested for review from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Investment Review Section, with the DOJ saying it would take a look at Firefly’s license application “for any national security and law enforcement concerns.”

Markusic “didn’t really hear much” more about that review, saying the DOJ “dropped” the review and that Firefly received its FCC license earlier this year. Notably, Firefly is waiting for a second FCC license after the company made an adjustment to the trajectory of the Alpha launch, but Markusic expects to receive approval for that one “any day now.”

“From a regulatory perspective, I think we’re in good shape,” Markusic said.

Markusic – who worked at Elon Musk’ SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic before Firefly – sees the space industry as more cooperative than competitive.

“We’re all kind of brothers in arms, ushering in a new space revolution, and in some way we’re all on the same team – making space accessible,” Markusic said.

More broadly, he believes there is “a lot of mutual respect that goes around” given the difficulty of what companies are each trying to achieve in space.

“This is really, really hard stuff. There are a lot easier ways to make money in the world,” Markusic added. “It’s like the most difficult technical problem, and the financial problem is about the most difficult financial problem you can solve as well.”

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Trading bounce back helps French bank Societe Generale smash analyst expectations in first quarter

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Trading bounce back helps French bank Societe Generale smash analyst expectations in first quarter


A logo outside a Societe Generale SA bank branch in Paris, France.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — French bank Societe Generale reported net income that beat analyst expectations for the first quarter of 2021, getting a boost from a strong performance in its global markets division.

Net income for the first quarter came in at 814 million euros ($977 million), the lender said Thursday. Analysts were expecting a net income of 204 million euros.

The company also surprised markets at the end of the four quarter with a net income of 470 million euros, and well above the 252 million euros estimated by analysts ahead of the results.

The stock is up nearly 40% year-to-date.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated shortly.



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China suspends economic dialogue mechanism with Australia as relations curdle By Reuters

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China suspends economic dialogue mechanism with Australia as relations curdle By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Australian flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People during a welcoming ceremony for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (not in picture) in Beijing, China, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China “indefinitely” suspended on Thursday all activity under a China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, its state economic planner said, the latest setback for their strained relations.

“Recently, some Australian Commonwealth Government officials launched a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination,” China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a short statement on the decision.

The commission did not say in the statement what specific measures prompted the action.

The Australian dollar fell sharply on the news, and was as low as 0.7701 to the U.S. dollar from Wednesday’s $0.7747.

Bilateral ties were strained in 2018 when Australia became the first country to publicly ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network. Relations worsened last year when Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, prompting trade reprisals from China.

Australia’s trade minister, Dan Tehan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on China’s decision.

The last meeting under the mechanism, intended as a framework for economic cooperation, was in Beijing in 2017, when Australia’s trade minister signed an agreement on cooperation on Belt and Road projects in third-party countries.

Australia has, however, declined to sign agreements on direct participation in China’s flagship foreign policy initiative.

In April, Canberra cancelled two Belt and Road deals struck by its state of Victoria, prompting the Chinese embassy to warn that already tense bilateral ties were bound to worsen.

Reuters reported this week that Australia was reviewing the 99-year lease of a port in its north to a Chinese firm, according to a government source.

Australia’s federal parliament granted veto power over foreign deals by states in December amid the deepening diplomatic dispute with China, which has imposed a series of trade sanctions on Australian exports ranging from wine to coal.

In the 12 months to March, Australia exported A$149 billion ($115.04 billion) worth of goods to China, excluding services, of which iron ore was by far the largest product.

(Graphic: Australia exports to China vs the rest of the world – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/jbypryjnjve/AustraliaExportstoChinavsRoW.png)

A trader said he expected the latest strains would not have a major impact on the iron ore trade.

“We believe the iron ore trading relationship between Australia and China will remain ring-fenced in relation to current political tensions between the two nations,” said Atilla Widnell, managing director at Singapore-based Navigate Commodities Ptd Ltd.

“This is a co-dependent relationship whereby either party cannot survive without the other.”

($1 = 1.2952 Australian dollars)

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Copper is ‘the new oil’ and low inventories could push it to $20,000 per ton, analysts say

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Copper is ‘the new oil’ and low inventories could push it to ,000 per ton, analysts say


A worker labels copper products at Truong Phu cable factory in northern Hai Duong province, outside Hanoi, Vietnam August 11, 2017.

Kham | Reuters

The world risks “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits, according to Bank of America, and prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025.

In a note Tuesday, Bank of America commodity strategist Michael Widmer highlighted inventories measured in tons are now at levels seen 15 years ago, implying that stocks currently cover just over three weeks of demand. This comes as the global economy is beginning to open up and reflate.

“Linked to that, we forecast copper market deficits, and further inventory declines, this year and next,” Widmer said.

“With (London Metal Exchange) inventories close to the pinch-point at which time spreads can move violently, there is a risk backwardation, driven by a rally in nearby prices, may increase.”

Backwardation is when an underlying asset is trading at a higher price than the futures market for that asset.

Widmer also highlighted that a rise in volatility resulting from falling inventories was not without precedent, since nickel shortages in LME warehouses in 2006/7 drove nickel prices more than 300% higher.

Given the fundamental environment and the depleted inventories, Widmer suggested that copper may spike to $13,000/t in the coming years after notching $10,000 last week for the first time in a decade.

Copper prices stood at just under $4.54 per pound as of 5:30 a.m. London time on Thursday, up 30% for the session.

After deficits in 2021 and 2022, BofA expects the copper market to rebalance in 2023 and 2024 before fresh shortfalls and a further draw down on inventories kick in from 2025.

“In our view, scrap supply is critical and our analysis suggests that scrap usage at smelters/refiners could increase from around 4,200t in 2016 to 6,700t by 2025,” Widmer said.

“If our expectation of increased supply in secondary material, a non-transparent market, did not materialize, inventories could deplete within the next three years, giving rise to even more violent price swings that could take the red metal above $20,000/t ($9.07/lb).”

‘The new oil’

Along with the broader economic recovery, demand for copper is also being boosted by its vital role in a number of rapidly growing industrial sectors, such as electric vehicle batteries and semiconductor wiring.

David Neuhauser, founder and managing director of U.S. hedge fund Livermore Partners, told CNBC on Wednesday that metals were receiving a general tailwind from a weaker dollar and increasing moves toward green infrastructure.

Commodity prices rose 3% in April, taking the global index up 80% since April 2020, and HSBC commodity analysts highlighted in a note Wednesday that demand for copper is being supported by investment in electrification as emission reduction strategies are further bolstered by policymakers.

Copper remains Livermore’s favorite commodity at present, Neuhauser said.

“I think copper is the new oil and I think copper, for the next five to 10 years, is going to look tremendous with the potential for $20,000 per metric ton,” Neuhauser said.

“We think there are some very solid small cap companies that have massive production potential, and valuations are attractive, and Livermore could make great return on investment.”



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