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Frustration shows through as Congress grills social media CEOs yet again

Members of Congress faced off with the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter in a five-and-a-half-hour hearing about misinformation.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies during a remote video hearing held by subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on “Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation” in Washington, March 25, 2021.

U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce | Handout | via Reuters

In what has become a regular occurrence in Congress, lawmakers faced off with the CEOs of three of the most influential tech platforms on Thursday in a five-and-a-half-hour hearing about misinformation.

The key legislative focus of the discussion was Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the legal shield that protects platforms from liability for their users’ posts and allows them to moderate content as they see fit. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were the three witnesses before two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at the joint hearing.

At points, the exchanges took a tense tone. Several times throughout the hearing, lawmakers attempted to conserve their time by asking “yes or no” questions, to which the CEOs consistently answered in full sentences. Dorsey sent a tweet during the testimony that seemed to mock the mode of questioning: A poll where users could simply choose either “yes” or “no.”

“Your multitasking skills are quite impressive,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., after asking him which answer was winning.

There were still a few moments where lawmakers appeared out of step. Several lawmakers mispronounced Pichai’s name and one misstated Zuckerberg’s as “Zuckerman.” One lawmaker initially confused Zuckerberg by asking about his family’s use of YouTube, a Google-owned service. When Zuckerberg clarified that was really what was being asked, it harked back to the infamous moment when he had to explain to a senator how Facebook makes money by selling ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies during a remote video hearing held by subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on “Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation” in Washington, March 25, 2021.

U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee | Handout | via Reuters

Still, it appeared that lawmakers are itching to hold the major tech platforms accountable, and many are eager to do so through reforms to Section 230.

That prospect worries many tech advocates, including groups that are often critical of the major platforms.

They fear that limitations of Section 230 protections will harm the smallest players by making it more difficult to fight lawsuits, while well-resourced tech companies will be able to foot the bill. Evan Greer, director of the progressive digital rights group Fight for the Future, said at an event ahead of Thursday’s hearing that using Section 230 as a lever to incentivize behavior “is inherently a monopoly maker.”

Some lawmakers have expressed skepticism about Zuckerberg’s stated willingness to see some reforms to Section 230, although the CEO emphasized at Thursday’s hearing that greater accountability should fall only on the largest platforms. Dorsey, who represented the smallest company on the witness stand Thursday, expressed concern that it would be difficult to distinguish between what should count as a small and large platform for the purposes of such legislation.

What about the children?

Protecting children was a prominent theme in Republicans’ questioning on Thursday, suggesting how the two sides could come together to pass changes.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the ranking member of the full committee, set the tone in her opening remarks.

“I have two daughters and a son with a disability. Let me be clear,” she said in her written remarks. “I do not want you defining what is true for them. I do not want their future manipulated by your algorithms.”

McMorris Rodgers and several other Republicans talked about the mental health implications of social media on kids and how their safety could be jeopardized on the platforms. Some lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg on an Instagram-for-kids service his company has been exploring for children under 13, who would not otherwise be eligible for Facebook’s services. Zuckerberg said the project is in an early stage but that part of the goal is to give kids an alternative platform to sign up for so they don’t lie about their age to access the regular service.

Some Democrats also expressed interest in the issue. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., pressed the CEOs about features of their kids-focused services that she implied could be harmful, such as endless scrolling, recommendations and unnatural face filters. She also said it’s not enough to put the onus on parents to set up controls for their children.

“The last thing overworked parents need right now, especially right now, are more complex to-dos, which is what parental controls are,” she said. “They need child-centric design by default.”

Sundar Pichai, Google testifies at congressional hearing, March 25, 2021.

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There were other, more divisive issues as well. Some Republicans resurfaced allegations that the platforms systematically censor conservative voices, which the CEOs have all denied, and Democrats tried to assess the platforms’ roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

By the end of the hearing it was still unclear whether lawmakers have moved any closer to passing substantive reform. But the sense of urgency among members was palpable.

As Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., told the CEOs at the start of the hearing, “Self-regulation has come to the end of its road.”

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Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/25/tech-ceo-hearing-recap-lawmakers-frustrated-with-social-media.html

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RH beats earnings, hikes outlook as retail rebound boosts high-end home goods; shares jump

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer surged Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.

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Jason Kempin | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer RH surged in extended trading Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.

RH also hiked its full-year outlook, building on the momentum it’s seeing in the luxury home category, and gave a stronger-than-expected sales forecast for the second quarter.

In a letter to shareholders, Chief Executive Officer Gary Friedman said the remainder of this year “will surely be a tale of two halves” for the retail industry. But he said that “the un-masking of the general public could lead to a Roaring Twenties type of consumer exuberance.”

The company’s stock was last up more than 7%.

Here’s how RH did in the quarter ended May 1 compared with what analysts were anticipating, using Refinitiv estimates:

  • Earnings per share: $4.89 adjusted vs. $4.10 expected
  • Revenue: $861 million vs. $758 million expected

RH’s net income for the fiscal first quarter grew to $130.7 million, or $4.19 per share, compared with a loss of $3.2 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time adjustments, it earned $4.89 per share, topping expectations for $4.10.

Revenue surged 78% to $861 million from $483 million a year earlier. That also beat expectations for $758 million.

Friedman said that a strong housing and renovation market, a record stock market, low interest rates, and the reopening of the U.S. economy all bode well for the company in the quarters ahead.

RH hiked its fiscal 2021 outlook for revenue growth to a range of 25% to 30%, compared with a prior range of 15% to 20%. Analysts had been looking for a 19.7% increase year over year.

For its fiscal second quarter, RH expects revenue to grow 35% to 37%. Analysts had been looking for a 27.2% jump.

The company is preparing to kick off its global expansion in the spring of 2022, starting with England. To drive future growth, it is also considering expanding into new services, potentially into areas such as landscape architecture. It currently offers interior design consulting.

RH shares are up roughly 37% year to date. The company has a market cap of about $13 billion.

Find the full earnings press release from RH here.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/09/rh-earnings-q1-2021.html

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Blue Origin auctions seat on first spaceflight with Jeff Bezos for $28 million

The winning bidder will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20.

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A New Shepard rocket launches on a test flight.

Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos‘ space venture Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on its upcoming first crewed spaceflight on Saturday for $28 million.

The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.

Bidding opened at $4.8 million but surpassed $20 million within the first few minutes of the auction. The auction’s proceeds will be donated to Blue Origin’s education-focused nonprofit Club for the Future, which supports kids interested in future STEM careers.

Blue Origin director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornell said during the auction webcast that New Shepard’s first passenger flight will carry four people, including Bezos, his brother, the auction winner and a fourth person to be announced later.

Autonomous spaceflight

New Shepard, a rocket that carries a capsule to an altitude of over 340,000 feet, has flown more than a dozen successful test flights without passengers, including one in April at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. It’s designed to carry up to six people and flies autonomously — without needing a pilot. The capsule has massive windows to give passengers a view of the earth below during about three minutes in zero gravity, before returning to Earth.

Blue Origin’s system launches vertically, and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land vertically on a concrete pad at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes.

The interior of the latest New Shepard capsule

Blue Origin

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and still owns the company, funding it through share sales of his Amazon stock.

July 20 is notable because it also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Branson and Musk

VSS Unity fires its rocket engine shortly after launching on its third spaceflight on May 22, 2021.

Virgin Galactic

Bezos and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are in a race to get to space, but each in different ways. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic are competing to take passengers on short flights to the edge of space, a sector known as suborbital tourism, while Musk’s SpaceX is launching private passengers on further, multi-day flights, in what is known as orbital tourism.

Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been developing rocket-powered spacecraft, but that is where the similarities end. While Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is released mid-air and returns to Earth in a glide for a runway landing, like an aircraft.

Virgin Galactic’s system is also flown by two pilots, while Blue Origin’s launches without one. Branson’s company has also flown a test spaceflight with a passenger onboard, although the company has three spaceflight tests remaining before it begins flying commercial customers – which is planned to start in 2022.

SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit atop its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, having sent 10 astronauts to the International Space Station on three missions to date.

In addition to the government flights, Musk’s company is planning to launch multiple private astronaut missions in the year ahead – beginning with the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission that is planned for September. SpaceX is also launching at least four private missions for Axiom Space, starting early next year.

Blue Origin’s auction may have netted $28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spacecraft is typically much less expensive. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $200,000 and $250,000 per ticket, and more recently charged the Italian Air Force about $500,000 per ticket for a training spaceflight.

Musk’s orbital missions are more costly than the suborbital flights, with NASA paying SpaceX about $55 million per seat for spaceflights to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft named “Resilience” is seen docked to the International Space Station.

NASA

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The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/12/jeff-bezos-blue-origin-auctions-spaceflight-seat-for-28-million.html

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GameStop sales rise 25% as retailer chases e-commerce growth, says it may sell 5 million shares

GameStop sales rose 25% in the fiscal first quarter as the company focuses on e-commerce and tries to stage a turnaround.

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SELINSGROVE, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES – 2021/01/27: A woman walks past the GameStop store inside the Susquehanna Valley Mall. An online group sent share prices of GameStop (GME) and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (AMC) soaring in an attempt to squeeze short sellers.

Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

GameStop‘s sales rose 25% in the fiscal first quarter, as the video game retailer embarks on a turnaround strategy partially fueled by a Reddit-inspired stock rally. The company also named former Amazon executive Matt Furlong as its new CEO.

Shares fell more than 12% in extended trading on Wednesday, after the company declined to provide an outlook for the year and said it may sell as many as 5 million shares.

Here’s how the company did for the fiscal first quarter ended May 1, compared with Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • Loss per share: 45 cents per share adjusted vs. 84 cents expected
  • Revenue: $1.28 billion vs. $1.16 billion expected

In the quarter, GameStop reported that its net loss narrowed to $66.8 million, or $1.01 per share, from a loss of $165.7 million, or $2.57 per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, the company had a loss of 45 cents per share. Analysts were expecting GameStop to report a loss of 84 cents per share, according to Refinitiv.

Total revenue grew to $1.28 billion from $1.02 billion a year earlier, topping Wall Street’s expectations of $1.16 billion.

The company declined to provide a forecast for the year. It said sales momentum continued into the second quarter, with total sales in May increasing about 27% compared with the same month a year ago.

GameStop filed a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell up to 5 million shares of its stock from time to time, in “at-the-market” offerings. The funds it raises through these stock sales will be used for general corporate purposes, investing in growth initiatives and strengthening its balance sheet, the company said.

As of May 1, GameStop said, it had paid off its long-term debt and no longer had any borrowings under its asset-based revolving credit facility.

The video game retailer’s stock has gyrated wildly over the past several months as retail traders have shared tips on Reddit and tried to fuel short squeezes for companies including GameStop, AMC Entertainment, Bed Bath & Beyond and Clover Health — collectively the group has become known as meme stocks.

GameStop’s shares are up 1,506% so far this year. Its shares have swung from a 52-week low of $3.77 to a 52-week high of $483. As of Wednesday’s close, shares were $302.56. Its market value is $21.41 billion.

The trading frenzy has gotten the attention of the SEC. In a filing Wednesday, GameStop said it had received a request from the SEC on May 26 to voluntarily provide documents and information. The company said it was reviewing that request and planned to cooperate.

GameStop has tried to catch investors’ attention in other ways, as it focuses more on e-commerce and poaches talent from other companies. This spring, it tapped Chewy co-founder Ryan Cohen to lead efforts to grow the online business. He was named chairman at a shareholder meeting Wednesday. The company also hired several former Amazon executives, including Jenna Owens, its new chief operating officer; Matt Francis, its first chief technology officer; and Elliott Wilke, its chief growth officer.

Yet some analysts are unconvinced that the longtime brick-and-mortar retailer can pivot its business and believe the company has been propped up by speculation.

Loop Capital analyst Anthony Chukumba dropped his coverage of GameStop earlier this year following the Reddit frenzy. He told CNBC that the video game retailer’s challenges run deep regardless of who it hires.

“It’s great that these guys worked at Amazon. Amazon is a very successful retailer that I do cover, that I’m very familiar with, but at the end of the day, GameStop’s problems have very little, if anything, to do with e-commerce,” Chukumba said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

“Their problem is not that they’re not a good omnichannel retailer. The problem is that gamers are increasingly downloading video games,” he added. “Look, they can hire Jeff Bezos when he comes back from space. … It’s not going to make a difference. The symptoms are not aligned with the medicine that the doctor is giving them. You can hire anyone you want from Amazon — not going to make a difference.”

Read the company’s earnings press release here and its CEO announcement here.

— CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this story.

Correction: GameStop named former Amazon executive Matt Furlong as its new CEO. An earlier version of this story misstated his first name.

Here’s how the company did for the fiscal first quarter ended May 1, compared with Refinitiv consensus estimates:

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/09/gamestop-gme-earnings-q1-2021.html

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