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Breakfast Briefing: US Trade, Apple’s Books & SoftBank’s New Move

US Reinforces Trade Measures

Steven Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross defended the Trump administration’s stance on trade. 

Editor’s Remarks: Speaking in Davos, both Mnuchin and Ross argued that the US’ supposedly protectionist practices are in fact a response to widespread, unfair trade arrangements around the world. The pair also rejected the notion that the Trump administration was prompting a new wave of worldwide protectionism that might threaten the global economy. Many expect that Washington’s current investigation into Chinese intellectual property law will lead to further restrictions on Chinese investments and products. Ross argued that far from causing concern, Trump’s government has triggered consensus among nations that the global trading system needs systemic change.

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Theresa May Talks Bitcoin

The UK Prime Minister said that her government needed to “look” at bitcoin.

Editor’s Remarks: In a talk that touched on the UK’s efforts to monitor illicit online activity, Theresa May said that her government needed to “be looking at” bitcoin “very seriously”. May also spoke of the UK’s relationship with tech companies post-Brexit world, and specifically whether or not her government would take a more lenient stance towards them. The prime minister said that since the UK is already leading the way in artificial intelligence and London is increasingly favoured by young tech companies, Brexit will not cause this to change. May made no mention of whether the sterling would face restrictions in light of it also being used in illegal transactions.

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Apple Challenges Amazon

Apple is redesigning its iBooks application to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the e-book sector.

Editor’s Remarks: Apple’s new app will be released in the next few months and is set to feature a smoother interface  for readers and a better digital book store that will look more like the new App Store. The announcement followed an early release of its iOS 11.3 system update to developers earlier this week, which was interpreted as a sign that the iBooks unveiling is imminent. The app will also be renamed just “Books” in a similar way to how iTunes is now just called Apple Music. After Apple was hit by a $450m fine in 2016 for allegedly unfairly inflating the price of e-books, the company largely retreated from the area.

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SoftBank Backs Real Estate Tech

The Vision Fund invested $865m into Katerra, a real estate tech company.

Editor’s Remarks: Katerra designs, sources materials, manufactures components and builds properties at its Phoenix, Arizona factory. The startup currently has an order book of over $1.2bn, and has a plan in place to scale up its manufacturing operations. Katerra’s CEO Michael Marks founded the company after observing how fragmented and low tech the construction industry is. SoftBank has been active in the property market, and last year acquired Fortress Investment Group, which had an extensive portfolio of real estate assets. SoftBank Investment Advisers managing director Jeffrey Housenbold will join Katerra’s board as part of the deal.

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Sky Invests in Original Content

The media giant struck a deal to produce a four-part drama on the life of Catherine the Great. 

Editor’s Remarks: The new production is a collaboration with Time Warner’s HBO and coincides with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox’s attempt to acquire Sky, while Fox is itself being bought by Disney. Sky has around 23m customers in the UK, Ireland, Italy and Germany, and is committed to spending £7bn in 2018 on producing in-house content. Sky’s strategy has been somewhat harmed by regulators finding that Fox’s purchase of Sky News will negatively impact the UK media. Helen Mirren is tipped to star in the new show as the lead character.

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