Will Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction sober up Silicon Valley?

Theranos chief executive Elizabeth Holmes gestures as she speaks at a Wall Street Journal technology conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 21, 2015. (AFP)
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Theranos chief executive Elizabeth Holmes gestures as she speaks at a Wall Street Journal technology conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 21, 2015. (AFP)
Will Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction sober up Silicon Valley?
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Elizabeth Holmes walks into the United States Federal Courthouse in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 05 January 2022

Will Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction sober up Silicon Valley?

Theranos chief executive Elizabeth Holmes gestures as she speaks at a Wall Street Journal technology conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 21, 2015. (AFP)
  • In seven days on the witness stand, she cast herself as a visionary trailblazer in male-dominated Silicon Valley who was also a young woman emotionally and sexually abused by her former lover and business partner, Sunny Balwani

SAN JOSE, California: The fraud conviction of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes could do more than just send a once-celebrated ex-billionaire to prison. In theory, it could also deliver a sobering message to a Silicon Valley culture that often gets lost in its own hubris and swagger.
Will it? Don’t hold your breath.
For that change to happen, entrepreneurs would have to dial down their own hype, which could mean losing potential investors to louder startups with fewer qualms. Meanwhile, venture capitalists and other startup investors — always on the lookout for the next big windfall — would need to get a lot more skeptical about the ambitious pitches they’re hearing, despite the Valley’s decades-long habit of throwing money at a variety of sketchy startup ideas. Most fail, but the rare successes can more than make up for a passel of losers.
“I think it will generate some more caution among entrepreneurs, but for the most part, human nature being what it is, there is still going to be a tendency to exaggerate, especially when you know you might not get funded if you don’t,” said Richard Greenfield, a lawyer who represents investors in startups.
“And I don’t think it will change many investors’ attitudes,” he added. “People are still going to want to reach for the moon.”
Holmes got slapped down hard for going overboard with her relentless sales pitch while running Theranos, a blood-testing startup she founded as a 19-year-olld college dropout in 2002.
A jury found her guilty on Monday of duping investors into believing that Theranos had developed a revolutionary medical device that could detect a multitude of diseases and conditions from a few drops of blood. She could face up to 20 years in prison for each of those four convictions, although legal experts say she is unlikely to receive the maximum sentence. The jury also acquitted Holmes of four felony charges accusing her of trying to defraud patients that paid for Theranos blood tests.
Federal prosecutors depicted Holmes as a charlatan obsessed with fame and fortune. In seven days on the witness stand, she cast herself as a visionary trailblazer in male-dominated Silicon Valley who was also a young woman emotionally and sexually abused by her former lover and business partner, Sunny Balwani.
The trial also laid bare the pitfalls of one of the go-to moves of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs — conveying a boundless optimism regardless of whether it’s warranted, known as “fake it ‘til you make it.” That ethos helped hatch groundbreaking companies such as Google, Netflix, Facebook, and Apple — the latter co-founded by one of Holmes’ heroes, Steve Jobs.
As soon as Holmes was indicted in 2018, the US Justice Department made it clear they hoped to use her case as a prod that would jolt Silicon Valley — not to mention Big Tech companies that continue to extend their dominance in everyday life — back to reality.
“They wanted to send a message,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who followed the Holmes trial. “Now we shall see whether it’s enough to change some of the risky behavior we have been seeing for years.”
Few expect the Holmes conviction to lower the wattage on the brash promises and bold exaggerations that have become a routine part of the tech industry’s innovation hustle.
The Holmes verdict “will send a message to CEOs that there are consequences in overstepping the bounds,” suggested Ellen Kreitzberg, a Santa Clara University law professor who attended the trial. On the other hand, she said, “investors are still going to want to make more money on a promising idea. They will always go in for the golden ring.”
The bold dream Holmes pursued when she founded Theranos had become a nightmare by the time she was indicted on felony charges in 2018.
She set out to create a less painful, more convenient and cheaper way to scan for hundreds of diseases and other health problems using just a few drops of blood instead of filling vials with blood for each test. She aimed to upend an industry dominated by giant testing companies such as Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp, starting with setting up “mini-labs” in Walgreens and Safeway stores across the US that would use a small Theranos device called the Edison to run faster, less intrusive blood tests.
The concept — and the way Holmes presented it — enthralled wealthy investors eager to buy an early stake in a game-changing company. It helped Theranos raise more than $900 million from savvy billionaires such as media mogul Rupert Murdoch and software magnate Larry Ellison, as well as well-to-do families such as the Waltons of Walmart and the DeVos clan behind Amway.
“Some people like to throw money at things and have too much unfounded optimism, and Elizabeth Holmes took full advantage of that,” Greenfield said.
Holmes also wooed a well-connected board that included two former US secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and the late George Shultz: two former secretaries of defense, Gen. James Mattis and William Perry; former Sen. Sam Nunn; and former Wells Fargo CEO Richard Kovacevich. She charmed former President Bill Clinton in an on-stage presentation and impressed then-Vice President Joe Biden, who effusively praised her during a 2015 tour of a Theranos lab.
But investors and board members were both surprised to learn that Theranos’ blood-testing technology kept producing misleading results. Evidence showed that Theranos took great pains to conceal that fact, including forcing patients to undergo regular blood draws instead of the promised finger sticks and secretly testing those samples with conventional technology.
Evidence presented at the trial also showed that Holmes lied about purported deals that Theranos had reached with big drug companies such as Pfizer and the US military.
The deception backfired in 2015 after a series of explosive articles in The Wall Street Journal and a regulatory audit of Theranos uncovered potentially dangerous flaws in the company’s technology, leading to its eventual collapse.
During her testimony, Holmes occasionally expressed contrition for the way she handled a variety of issues. But she also often avoided answering pointed questions, saying she had forgotten the circumstance surrounding key events spotlighted by the prosecution. She insisted she never stopped believing that Theranos was on the verge of refining its technology.
“Let’s face it: Silicon Valley is based on dreams,” Greenfield said. “And you need people to keep stoking the fire to help keep those dreams alive.”


Saudi authorities taking steps to prevent artificial price hike, says minister

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
Updated 06 July 2022

Saudi authorities taking steps to prevent artificial price hike, says minister

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
  • After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply

JEDDAH: Major events including the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have caused price hikes around the world, Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi said in a periodic government communication conference on Tuesday.

The press conference discussed four key areas: Global events that led to price increases, the Saudi leadership’s guidance to address the effects of the hikes, repercussions of global events on prices, as well as a question and answer segment.

“Let us rewind two years and a half back to February 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was an economic, social and mental tsunami. It was the biggest economic crisis in the world,” Al-Qasabi said.

“This pandemic affected the whole world all at once, and suddenly without any warning. We are still suffering from its effects,” he added.

“We stayed in the pandemic for 13 months, and after that, it was the beginning of recovery.”

After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply.

“The demand was more than the supply, and this causes an imbalance in the market, when the demand exceeds the supply. Of course, the result will be that prices have risen,” he added.

Al-Qasabi pointed to the Suez Canal obstruction in March 2021 as another event that added to global economic woes.

“We saw the blockage of the navigational movement and the cessation of the navigational movement in the Suez Canal, then after three months — in July 2021 — the second variant of the virus appeared and imposed a curfew again, which caused the closure of some ports and some cities,” he said.

In February 2022, the Russia-Ukraine conflict began. The minister said that the war affected transportation, too.

“We had a crisis between Russia and Ukraine, and we still do not know how long this crisis will last. These events combined, overlapped and completed, leading to a crisis in transportation and supply chains,” he said.

The transportation and supply chain crisis includes the disruption of some transportation ports, such as the main port of Shanghai, a sixfold increase in the cost of transportation, as well as surging freight insurance rates.

Al-Qasabi hailed King Salman’s royal order on Monday that approved the allocation of SR20 billion ($5.32 billion) to help citizens mitigate the impacts of rising global prices.

Half of the allocated money will go to social insurance beneficiaries and the Citizen Account Program.


NRG Matters: QatarEnergy signs deal with Shell for $30bn North Field East project; Germany’s renewable energy consumption up

NRG Matters: QatarEnergy signs deal with Shell for $30bn North Field East project; Germany’s renewable energy consumption up
Updated 05 July 2022

NRG Matters: QatarEnergy signs deal with Shell for $30bn North Field East project; Germany’s renewable energy consumption up

NRG Matters: QatarEnergy signs deal with Shell for $30bn North Field East project; Germany’s renewable energy consumption up

RIYADH: On a macro level, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has discussed measures for monitoring petroleum product trading in the emirate. Zooming in, QatarEnergy has signed a deal with Shell for the Gulf state’s $30 billion North Field East expansion. 

Looking at the bigger picture

  •  Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has discussed measures for monitoring petroleum product trading in the emirate, according to WAM.
  • Renewable energy accounted for 49 percent of the total German power consumption in the first half of 2022, up 6 percent from a year earlier, Reuters reported. 

Industry groups have attributed this increase to favorable weather conditions. 

Through a micro lens:

  • QatarEnergy has signed a deal with Shell for the Gulf state’s North Field East expansion, the first phase of the world's largest liquefied natural gas project, according to Reuters.

This happens as the country partners with international companies in the first and largest phase of the nearly $30 billion expansion that will boost Qatar’s position as the world’s top LNG exporter.

  • Siemens Gamesa and Germany’s renewables developer wpd have signed a supply agreement for  a 927-megawatt Gennaker offshore wind power plant, according to Trade Arabia.

Located 15 kilometers off the German coast, the project will feature 103 Siemens Gamesa Direct Drive offshore wind turbines each with a 167-meter rotor.


Gas consumption set to contract due to Russia: IEA

Gas consumption set to contract due to Russia: IEA
Updated 05 July 2022

Gas consumption set to contract due to Russia: IEA

Gas consumption set to contract due to Russia: IEA

Gas consumption will contract slightly this year due to high prices and Russian cuts to Europe, with only slow growth over coming years as consumers switch to alternatives, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday.

The IEA chopped its forecast for global gas demand by more than half in its latest quarterly report on gas markets.

It now expects growth of just 3.4 percent by 2025, an increase of 140 billion cubic meters from 2021 levels, which is less than the 175 bcm jump in demand registered in 2021 alone.

“The consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global gas prices and supply tensions, as well as its repercussions on the longer-term economic outlook, are reshaping the outlook for natural gas,” said the IEA.

HIGHLIGHTS

The IEA chopped its forecast for global gas demand by more than half in its latest quarterly report on gas markets.

It now expects growth of just 3.4 percent by 2025, an increase of 140 billion cubic meters from 2021 levels, which is less than the 175 bcm jump in demand registered in 2021 alone.

“Today’s record prices and supply disruptions are damaging the reputation of natural gas as a reliable and affordable energy source, casting uncertainty on its prospects, particularly in developing countries where it had been expected to play a growing role in meeting rising energy demand and energy transition goals,” it added.

While Russia has cut supplies to Europe and European nations have pledged to wean themselves off Russian gas, the impact quickly rippled throughout the world.

European nations are trying to make up the shortfall by importing more liquefied natural gas shipped by tanker, which the IEA said is creating supply tensions and leading to demand destruction in other markets.

It warned that the scramble for LNG risked not only causing economic harm to other more price sensitive importers, but pushing up prices and thus contributing to additional revenues for Russia.

“In this context, an accelerated phase-out of Russian gas should primarily focus on reducing gas demand and scaling up domestically produced low-carbon gase” such as biogas, biomethane, and green hydrogen, said the IEA.

The IEA, which advises energy importing nations on policy, said in its new forecast for lower gas demand growth that only a fifth of the reduction came from expected efficiency gains and substituting renewables for gas.

“Our forecast’s lower gas demand growth compared to last year does not guarantee an accelerated transition to net-zero emissions, as the bulk of the revision comes from lower gross domestic product and fuel switching rather than by faster gas-to-electricity conversion and efficiency gains,” said the report.

The IEA said additional green energy transition measures would, in additional to their long-term impact in reducing emissions, ease pressure on gas prices globally by reducing supply tensions while also delivering short-term improvements in air quality by quickening the move away from coal.

“The most sustainable response to today’s global energy crisis is stronger efforts and policies to use energy more efficiently and to accelerate clean energy transitions,” Keisuke Sadamori, IEA director for energy markets and security, said in a statement.


Oil slumps $10 per barrel as recession fears darken demand outlook

Oil slumps $10 per barrel as recession fears darken demand outlook
Updated 05 July 2022

Oil slumps $10 per barrel as recession fears darken demand outlook

Oil slumps $10 per barrel as recession fears darken demand outlook

NEW YORK: Oil plummeted by about $10 a barrel on Tuesday on concerns of a looming global recession curtailing demand, even with expected supply disruptions as oil and gas workers in Norway began to strike.

Global benchmark Brent crude was down $10.77, or 9.5 percent, at $102.73 a barrel by 11:43 a.m. EDT (1543 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate crude fell $9.30, or 8.6 percent, to $99.13 a barrel from Friday’s close. There was no WTI settlement on Monday because of a US holiday.

“The market is getting tight, but still we're getting creamed and the only way you can explain that away is fear of recession in every risk asset,” said Robert Yawger, director, energy futures at Mizuho, New York. “You’re feeling the pressure.”

Oil futures sank along with equities, which often serve as demand indicator for crude, as investors fretted about the possibility of an economic downturn as central banks across the world take aggressive actions to limit inflation.

Supply concerns still linger, initially lifting WTI and Brent earlier in the session, due to potential output disruption in Norway, where offshore workers began a strike.

The strike is expected to reduce oil and gas output by 89,000 barrels per day, of which gas output makes up 27,500 bpd, Norwegian producer Equinor has said.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, raised August crude oil prices for Asian buyers to near record levels amid tight supply and robust demand.

Meanwhile, Russia’s former President Dmitry Medvedev said a reported proposal from Japan to cap the price of Russian oil at about half its current level would mean less oil on the market and could push prices above $300-$400 a barrel.

G7 leaders agreed last week to explore the feasibility of introducing temporary import price caps on Russian fossil fuels, including oil, in an attempt to limit resources to finance Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.


Oil sector under siege due to underinvestment, says OPEC secretary-general

Oil sector under siege due to underinvestment, says OPEC secretary-general
Updated 06 July 2022

Oil sector under siege due to underinvestment, says OPEC secretary-general

Oil sector under siege due to underinvestment, says OPEC secretary-general

ABUJA: The oil and gas industry is facing huge challenges on multiple fronts and is “under siege” due to years of underinvestment globally that has led to market tightness, Mohammad Barkindo, the OPEC secretary-general,  said on Tuesday.

“Our industry is now facing huge challenges along multiple fronts,” he told delegates at an energy conference in Nigeria’s capital.

“And these threaten our investment potential now and in the long term, to put it bluntly, my dear friends, the oil and gas industry is under siege,” he said, citing geopolitical developments in Europe.

The fallout from the war in Ukraine has left many countries globally vulnerable to soaring energy prices. 

He said the supply shortage could be eased if extra supplies from Iran and Venezuela were allowed to flow.

Years of sanctions have limited supplies from Iran and Venezuela.

In addition, the West has imposed sanctions on Russia, a member of OPEC+ that groups the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, tightening oil markets further.

“We could, however, unlock resources and strengthen capacity if the oil produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Venezuela were allowed to return to the market,” Barkindo said.

Strain on the industry has been increased by some countries' efforts to divest from hydrocarbons, he said.

While they are seeking to limit global warming, he said oil demand was growing even as investment in capacity falls and prices surge.

Nigeria’s Oil Minister Timipre Sylva said Africa’s top oil producer would not abandon fossil fuels.

“For us in Nigeria, fossil fuel will always have a share in our energy mix, for the foreseeable future. We will not at this time abandon fossil fuels. We have adopted ... gas as a transition fuel,” he said.