Facebook Exploring Audio-Chat Products to Rival Clubhouse

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. has multiple internal teams researching audio-related chat products that could eventually rival the upstart Clubhouse service, according to people familiar with the efforts.One possible product involves Messenger Rooms, the video chat feature Facebook introduced last year to compete with the service from Zoom Video Communications Inc. It’s possible users could one day use Rooms to broadcast conversations in a more public way, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. While it’s possible to turn off video during a Rooms call, the feature currently has a 50-person limit. Clubhouse discussions can be broadcast to thousands of people.Another team looking into interactive audio resides within Facebook’s New Product Experimentation group, which builds new standalone apps and services for the company. The audio efforts are very early, and it’s possible the company’s plans will change, the people said.“We’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people,” said a spokeswoman for the Menlo Park, California-based company. The New York Times previously reported on Facebook’s potential chat products.The social media company’s plans coincide with the success of Clubhouse, which lets people create digital discussion groups while other users tune in to listen. Clubhouse recently raised $100 million at a reported $1 billion valuation, and some of the most notable technology executives, including Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, have joined the service.Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg appeared live during a Clubhouse discussion last week to talk about his company’s augmented- and virtual-reality products. Other top Facebook executives participated in the conversation.Facebook has a history of copying products and features from competitors that show early promise in the industry. The company is being sued by federal and state regulators who argue Facebook’s strategy of buying or copying rivals is anti-competitive.Audio chats have taken off as a form of entertainment and community in the midst of the global pandemic, which is making in-person gatherings difficult and hurting industry-sponsored conferences. Twitter Inc. is also interested in audio, and is testing a product similar to Clubhouse called Spaces. That feature is only available to a subset of users, but CEO Jack Dorsey has spoken publicly about Spaces as a foundation of public discussion.These types of audio conversations “present a new model for how we think about instantaneous and potentially ephemeral communities in public conversation,” Dorsey told analysts Tuesday on a conference call.Facebook tested a separate standalone product called CatchUp last summer to encourage more voice calls between users, and previously said voice calls on its WhatsApp and Messenger services increased dramatically during the early days of the pandemic.(Updates with previous product test in the final paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the name of Zoom Video Communications.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P. Read More...


2 “Strong Buy” Cannabis Stocks Showing Monster Growth

Investors have been fixated on growth companies over the past year, and one segment which has been on the rise is the fledgling cannabis industry. The sector offers a unique proposition and the prospect of further growth, as there is still a major catalyst on the horizon which will completely alter the industry. As expected, a Democrat led senate has been good news for those banking on marijuana reform at the federal level; And it looks like the anticipated changes could happen faster than initially expected. Backed by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senators have stated that they will push for federal-level legalization of marijuana, promising “a unified discussion draft on comprehensive [cannabis] reform” in the first half of this year. The statement feeds expectations that the Democratic Congressional majority will pass – and that President Biden will sign – a bill to legalize marijuana. Investors are also looking at further state-level legalization moves; one key state in this regard is New York. So, the cannabis industry is looking up. There is an expanding network of state legalization regimes, and expectations of a change in federal policy; both are putting upward pressure on cannabis shares. Against this backdrop, we used TipRanks’ database to find two cannabis stocks that have been earmarked as ‘Strong Buys’ by the analyst consensus. Both have posted impressive year-to-date performances, and stand to rise even more in the year ahead. Village Farms International (VFF) We will start with Village Farms International, a company that has long been involved in the niche agricultural business. The company started out as a farmer, producing high-quality greenhouse vegetables year-round for sale in the North American market. That background fit the company well for a transition to the cannabis industry – Village Farms has experience in greenhouse production and industrial-scale growing. Village Farms’ shares are showing a tremendous growth profile, up 327% in the past 12 months – with a strong spike in recent days. Two important pieces of news precipitated the surge since the end of January. First, the company has fully repaid – ahead of schedule – the $15 million debt it incurred during its November acquisition of the cannabis growing company Pure Sunfarms. And second, Village Farms increased its investment in the Asian cannabinoid company Altum by 50%, to hold a 10% stake in the company. The move increases the international reach of Village Farms, and its ability to increase Altum holdings in the future. The company was able to fund these moves because it had a successful equity sale in January, putting an additional 10.8 million shares on the market, and raising US$135 million in new capital. In addition to its strong capital and expansion positions, Village Farms has been reporting solid financial results. The company saw US$43 million in revenue for 3Q20, a gain of 12.5% year-over-year. EPS came in at 1 cent per share, a turnaround from the US$0.10 loss in the year-ago quarter. Covering Village Farms for Craig-Hallum, 5-star analyst Eric Des Lauriers writes: “Village Farms has clearly established itself as the leading cannabis producer in Canada with #1 brand share and industry-leading profitability. Canadian cannabis sales in 2020 through October (latest available) were up 128% y/y, and dispensary counts are set to accelerate through 2021, providing a tailwind to VFF revenues.” Turning to the US markets, and VFF’s position in Canada’s larger neighbor, the analyst goes on to add, “With 5.7M SF of greenhouses in TX, the company also has real US optionality, which is finally being appreciated by investors after the GA election. VFF has historically been undervalued compared to less profitable peers, but we expect shares to continue working higher … as the prospect for US reform increases throughout the year.” To this end, Des Lauriers rates VFF a Buy, and his $25 price target suggests the stock has room for ~26% upside in the coming year. (To watch Des Lauriers’ track record, click here) Overall, there are 3 recent reviews on VFF shares, and all are Buys, giving the stock a Strong Buy analyst consensus rating and showing a general agreement on Wall Street about the company’s strengths. Shares are priced at $19.90, and the $24.33 average price target implies an upside of ~23% for the year ahead. (See VFF stock analysis on TipRanks) TerrAscend Corporation (TRSSF) The next cannabis stock we’re looking at, TerrAscend, is another major cannabis producer in both the US, Canada, and Europe. The company is involved in both the medical and recreational sides of the market, and both grows and produces cannabis and markets a range of products through numerous brand names. TerrAscend’s US operations are located in California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Utah, and the company looks to expand as more states legalize cannabis. In a strong sign of the cannabis industry’s strength, TRSSF shares are up a sky-high 624% over the past 12 months. Growth has been fueled by expansion of the cultivation operations in California and Pennsylvania, and by the move into the adult-use recreational market in New Jersey. Last month, TerrAscend closed a non-brokered private placement stock sale, putting more than 18 million common shares on the market. The sale price was C$12.35 (US$9.72), and the offering grossed C$224 million (US$176.3 million). The bulk of the proceeds – some 80% of the total – was put up by four large US-based institutional investors. The funds raised will be used to continue expansion of the company’s cultivation operations (TRSSF has plans to expand growing and manufacturing ops in New Jersey), as well as to pursue merger & acquisition activities. TerrAscend’s rapid growth and strong future prospects have attracted attention from top-rated analysts, including 5-star analyst Eric Des Lauriers of Craig-Hallum (stated above). “TerrAscend is a leading multi-state operator (MSO) in the US cannabis market with top-tier management, assets, and access to deal flow. We have been bullish on the company since initiating coverage last year and are happy to say the TRSSF team has exceeded our expectations, generating rapid increases in margins and operating leverage that have earned them a place solidly in the Top Tier of MSOs,” Des Lauriers noted. The analyst summed up, “[With] US$280M+ raised since the elections and federal reform moving quicker than expected, we think TRSSF does deserve a premium to peers.” In line with his bullish comments, Des Lauriers rates TRSSF shares a Buy, and has a $20 price target that implies a ~31% upside potential for the next 12 months. Once again, we’re looking at a stock with broad agreement from Wall Street’s analysts – the Strong Buy consensus rating is unanimous, based on 7 recent reviews. Shares are selling for $15.30, and their recent appreciation has pushed that price almost up to the $15.43 average price target. (See TRSSF stock analysis on TipRanks) To find good ideas for cannabis stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.

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